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(This blog was written at one of my weakest moments in my solitude. When I was hating myself, when I tried to put up an image which doesn’t actually go around with me..This shall be the disclaimer for the facts written in this blog)

Traditionally, the first mess table in Jam mess is occupied by the final years. And a few third years also used to occupy this table if there are some free seats. But this tradition was blown away last year when the then seniors where not strict enough in enforcing this so called “law”, partly due to the soft corner a few seniors had towards the fellow third yearites.

But this year, I feel things have changed. The first and second table is totally occupied by the third yearites. If I really want to sit with my year mate, I have to go as back as the third or fourth table. Of course there is nothing morally or ethically wrong with this, but it leaves a feeling in the heart of me, am I really not enforcing “my seniority” third yearites? It’s hurting my ego… After all, I am one of the senior most guys in the hostel right?

As a result, last week, I took pains and sat on the first table (You know, it’s really a fight to sit there, I see people queuing up for the seats). And around me were the usual first table occupiers, especially the office bearers of our hostel. I think none of them have sat on the second or third table this semester. Just when I was about to start, my ear drum was shattered by the shout of our honorable secretary. I just looked at his face; he was trying to convey something to his friend sitting opposite to him. I was really amazed about his yelling skills. Really man, I never thought this guy could speak that loud, I mean he is a timid guy, who I thought was the kind of very reserved and taciturn kind of guy. I have never seen him coming to forefront last year. Man, can people change like that?? Surely, the secretary post has really given him some kind of authority. That’s great, I thought!

I thought this guy will settle after that. But that didn’t happen. He continued his high volume discussion which can be heard at the last table in the mess. Later on he started talking to the guy sitting next to me. I was totally at sea with these conversations as they were speaking in some foreign language (German I suppose!!). I felt as an outsider in the whole group. I am not able to make the head and tail out of their conversations. I looked around, is there any 4th year guy sitting in group. I realized I am the lone wolf in the group. I got up from the table with agony and moved to the next table for eternal beatitude.

Finally England has done it.. Though I was supporting Aussies in the series, seeing the English rejuvenation and joy, I feel the “excitement”, the same enthusiasm when I see India win a series (that rarely happen these days). I feel I am also a Brit. Kudos to the English team. They have achieved the unachievable. They have tamed the world champions. Of course, this will be the greatest moment for every English fan.
Some unforgettable Ashes moments (These are picked up from my memory, so may not be in the chronological order, and I have watched only the first and third tests. So many moments will be missing)…
1. Steve Harmison hitting Langer, Ponting and Hayden on the first hour of the series. The “bleeding” punter.
2. McGrath on a roll in the first test. The balls which took Flintoff and Bell were a peach of a delivery. The celebration of his 500th wicket is something which I will remember forever
3. Pietersen shows his mettle and substance on the first day.
4. Struggling Gillespie… it was very distressing to see the old war horse struggling to find his rhythm. I feel had someone backed him up, he would probably have made a comeback. But the Aussies team was in a miserable condition that nobody bothered to back him.
5. Lee back with a bang in the second test, so is Flintoff.
6. Surprise first day total for England in the second test.
7. The partnership of Lee and Warne, and Lee and Kasprovicz, which almost saw the Aussies through. Had they won that test, things would have been different.
8. The England relief seeing the fall of Kasprovicz.
9. Flintoff getting Gilchrist out by bowling around the wicket.
10. Warne magic. He bowls with a big heart. The wicket of Bell in the first test is a befitting example. He showed once again that he is a true champion. He is a professional to the core. The whole cricketing world will miss this spin wizard. Hats off to Warnie… It is so sad that he didn’t get a chance to lead the Aussie team in his long and prolific career. Whenever the critics wrote him off, back he came like a phoenix with a bang. His batting average was also good in this series. I feel he is the best spinner ever.
11. The clash of captains: Both the captains shrugging off their lousy form, with well played centuries. Michael Vaughan is such a delight to watch on his day, and he showed he is a class apart from the other English batsmen. The match saving innings of Ponting was another gem of an innings. This innings reminds us about Steve Waugh, who induced the fighting spirit into the Aussie line up.
12. Simon Jones- I had a feeling in the first three tests that Vaughan is underutilizing him. But in the fourth test, he was unleashed by Vaughan. I believe he kept him as his secret weapon and the gamble paid off. He ripped apart the renowned Aussie batting line up with his reverse swinging deliveries.
13. Shaun Tait: First for his weird action, then for his pace. He will be a frontline bowler for the Aussies in the years to come. He needs to learn to be consistent.
14. Lee and Warne bowling in tandem in the final session of fourth test, shows the Aussie fighting spirit and their never say die attitude. Though they set a paltry target of 129, they didn’t give up.
15. Finally Warne magic again. He single handedly overhauled the Englishmen except Pietersen. His Ashes saving innings on the final day will be something which he will never ever forget in his life.
16. And… finally England lifting the Ashes. Oh man.. who can forget that?
17. The biggest names in Aussie cricket now, Warne and McGrath going out of the ground hugging each other leave us a sad moment… Sure, we are going to miss them…

Cheers to the English team. They outplayed the Aussies in the series. This should be the most cherishing moment in the ECB history.
One last note: Though England outclassed Australians in batting, bowling and fielding, the Australians still outclassed them in one aspect: “The Fighting Spirit” They went down fighting. No other team in cricket history would have done that. That is the mark of a true champion. If England needs to reach the top, they need to outclass the Australians in this aspect in the future.
Finally a thousand cheers to Shane Warne… the best spinner ever.

Sania Mirza is the new sports icon amongst the youngsters. She is having a phenomenal run for the past one and a half years. Her exemplary performance in various tournaments, considering the fact that she is trained in India where tennis is popular among hardly 0.001% of the people, is something that deserves a large merit. Sania is inside the top 50 in world rankings and is going strong. The US Open website is predicting a very bright future for her. According to them, she has one of the most powerful forehands in the woman tennis and shows promise. Last Monday, I was infront of TV at 1 in the night to see her playing against Sharapova. I was actually stunned to see her forehands and cross court backhands. Sharapova, the current No. 1, was struggling against her forehands and cross court shots which went booming all around the court. I strongly believe Sania has a bright future ahead. A couple of short comings in her game are her weak second serve and the number of unforced errors she is making. If she is able to improve her second serve and curtail the number of unforced errors, she should be a formidable force in the women’s tennis in the near future.

True, Sania has worked her way up. She has really toiled for each of the penny she is getting and the huge fan following she is enjoying right now. She has set some realistic short term aims for herself and has, so far easily achieved all of them. Her goal for 2005 was to get into the top 50, and she comfortably accomplished it by the beginning of August. She was always focused on her game. The fame and money has not adversely affected her game. We can observe her determination when she speaks about her goals. During her earlier days, I remember reading an article in which her father was saying, “She has great talent in her and I see a bright future for her. For that, we need to train her. We don’t have enough money to train her. We hope the government would help us in this aspect”.

I am not sure whether the government did anything about this. I strongly believe they didn’t bother to help her when needed. Now, when her career graph is shooting up, when her stakes have increased from 20 lakhs in Nov 2004 to 1.5 crores now, when she is only next to the great Sachin in terms of the sponsorship money, the bureaucrats woke up. They decided its time to give her some consolation for her efforts, and they gave her Rs 20 lakhs. The question here is, does she actually need it? The answer is a big NO.

Of course Sania is not the only one to be rewarded by the government. The cricket stars, who actually are the highest earners of the country, get occasionally such rewards from the government where as an Asian Games Medalist or National Champion in athletics will get not more than a central government job, the reason being, they are not a brand value. Take the case of Anju Bobby George or Bobby Alosyius or Beena Mol. Not many people know about them. Since the sports facilities in India, are far below par, they went for foreign training, taking cash out from their kitty. Where was the great government then? The National Hockey team was struggling for a number of years for sponsorship, when the cricket team was relishing with lump sum grants. Remember the achievements of the Hockey team are gallons more than that of the cricket team. It’s just that cricket is the flavor of people right now. Even inside cricket there are double standards. National Cricket is not given as much importance as the India tour of Bangladesh or Zimbabwe. But for this, BCCI is responsible. They expect cricketers to come up with their own efforts and then sell them. Ironically BCCI is the richest cricket board in the whole world. What about women’s cricket? Does anyone care about that?

This attitude should be changed. The Government is interested only to doing things which will be a headline in all the leading newspapers. Who will report if the government is giving aid to Bobby Aloysius or Beena Mol? They deserve only a government job, right? If the Rs 20 lakhs given to Mirza is given to any of the above, probably, India would have produced another big name in world sport. That would have created another sporting icon in the country. That would have made every Indian feel proud of them and many more youths would have taken up long jump or high jump ahead of cricket or tennis. I believe the only persons who choose athletics or football as their career are the ones from poor families, who find no other way to procure a government job. So, I believe that the government has wasted our money by giving it to Sania. But this will be a big credential for them; this will be best instance to highlight the government’s interest in sports. I am not saying that Sania doesn’t deserve that financial aid, of course she deserves much more that that, what I am saying is that there are people who need that money more than her.

Kudos to the Government. Long live Rajasekhar Reddys………….

Australia:
Justin Langer: In swinging ball pitched on or outside off stump. Result: LBW or clean bowled. This is because of the recent Australian attitude of attacking the bowler than waiting for him to bowl to the strength of the batsman. Many a times Langer moves sideways so that the gap between bat and pad is minimum. So if it’s an in swinger, he is plumb in front.
Matthew Hayden: He is not a legendary batsman, as he has to bring down his arrogance and complacency. He used to hit the bowler out of the park, taking advantage of his long stride and his stands. He stands outside the crease, so all the good length balls are over pitched for him. Frustrate him with short of length balls and he will get rid of himself. A catch in the cover or slips can be anticipated.
Ricky Ponting: Very good batsman, but has starting problem due to his shuffle in front of the crease. When the ball is new, and swings a lot, he struggles with good length balls, as he has the tendency of coming onto the front foot always. So he will be forced to edge many of the good length swinging deliveries, mostly to the slip cordon.
Damien Martyn: Another batsman who relies on hand-eye coordination, a pleasure to watch if he is in form, has the most bizarre way of getting out. Give him a loose ball, short pitched wide outside off stump. Instinctively he will bash at it, which can be easily held at third man.
Adam Gilchrist: Again an aggressive batsman, don’t give him room outside off stump. He will get frustrated and try to play cross bat shots. Will result in edging. Bowling around the wicket is very effective as he struggles in that line. A catch in the slip cordon can be expected. If he connects properly, a catch at square leg boundary is very much possible.

England:
Marcus Trescothick: No footwork. A good length ball outside off stump will see him through. Needs to put 4 slips at least.
Michael Vaughan: A great batsman, great experience to watch him play. If he is denied chance to play the pull shot in the beginning, he is done. This guy is so desperate to play the pull shot every once in a while, if denied the chance, will pounce at every ball and try execute the pull and many a times, he will drag the ball onto the stumps.
Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen: No room to play aggressive shots. Frustrate them with the good length deliveries especially on the off stump, they will come after the bowler and get themselves out caught at slips or bowled many of the times.
Andrew Strauss: Another batsman, who loves to pull the ball.

Newzealand:
Stephen Fleming: Plays only to leg side. So bowl only in the offside, he will get out peacefully.
Craig Macmillan- No footwork. Any good length ball will do, but has to get him before he gets settled.

A few contemporary batsmen who have not been picked up, or has evolved:
Sachin Tendulkar
Brian Lara
Jacques Kallis
V V S Laxman
S Chanderpaul (he has to play shots in order to get picked up!!!!)
Chris Gayle
Kumar Sangakkara

The End

PS: These days, if we see the statistics, the tail-enders is contributing a significant amount of runs to the team’s total. This can be due to the fact that, most of the teams underestimate them. All of them think that if they are able to pick the main batsmen, they have done their job, which is not in most of the cases. So these tail-enders are not ever looked into. The teams still go with the good old rule saying york them or bounce them or give them a juicy ball and wait for the next one, it is enough. But I feel most of the tail-enders these days know how to play a yorker or a short pitch delivery. I still don’t understand why the same coaches, who coach their tail-enders how to play a yorker or a bouncer, fail to see the other coach also doing the same. Hope they realize this point soon.

(I have given up on reading cricket articles or watching them regularly. My sincerest gratitude to Ted Corbett and Peter Roebuck of “The Hindu”, Our CC for blocking cricinfo and the lousy series like India tour of Srilanka, India tour of Zimbabwe etc.)

Cricket has been always a batsman’s game. Always the rules and the popularity were biased towards batsmen. The bowlers were/are just another ancillary on the way to fame for a batsman. This is particularly true off late, as the duty of the bowler has been redefined as getting batsman out by exploiting his weakness than the bowler’s strength. As a result, I should say a bowler has lost his identity as many a times, he is successful only to a particular set of batsmen or batsman, and he struggles against all others. Of course there are a few exceptions here like McGrath, Muralitharan, Pollock, Akram etc (I am listing only contemporary players). With the advent of technology, the focus has shifted to picking up a batsman’s weakness. Never we see, some commentator saying the team has picked up on the bowler (yeah exceptions like Saqlain Mushtaq still exist). This I feel is partly because bowlers have been underestimated. Also as the bowlers are more customized, it calls for great difficulty and strategy to pick him if needed. The batsman always enjoys the freedom to use his free thought and implement them.

A few batsmen who have been picked up recently:

India:
Ganguly: Of course, even a school kid knows his agony in playing short pitch balls. If we go back in time, we can see that almost all batsmen had the same problem. It’s just that no one noticed it then owing to the lack of live media and technology. Amongst the contemporary players who have struggled against short pitch balls, Steve Waugh is the most famous. But he was picked up for that only late in his career, by then, he had acquired the maturity and experience to tackle it. When he is attacked by a short pitch delivery, he takes the ball on to his body, and there is nothing more he does. Probably, in course of time, Ganguly has to tackle this problem as it is posing a serious threat to his career.
Sachin: This guy has been, so far, evolving faster than the technology does. This is what makes him one of the all time greats in cricket. Earlier he was famous for getting out in wide outside the off stump, which he has successfully countered, by becoming more selective in playing the shots. The critics who are dumb enough not to realize this evolution now says his era is over. May God help them to come up with at least one correct prediction.
Dravid: Another evolving batsman, who has problem facing the deliveries pitching just on off stump and swinging. If it’s an out swinger, our man used to give catch to the wicket keeper (I believe he gets out more often caught by the keeper than the slip cordon). If it’s an in swinger, he will be stuck in front of the wicket. Now he has somewhat countered it by shortening his otherwise long stride to play those balls, and hence he plays the shot late on such balls recently. But he is yet to master this tactic.
Sehwag: His aggression is good enough for the bowlers to get him. Bowl straight to him and frustrate him. He will either try cross bat shots or square cut.. Cross bat will see him bowled. A catch at gully or third man can be anticipated. I feel, this will be tackled by him in course of time just like Sachin.
Laxman: So far I believe has not been picked up. He gets 99% out by his own fault, so why bother about picking him up? That’s why he plays either a big innings or get out cheaply. Only thing noticeable about him is his lack of footwork. But his hand-eye coordination is good enough to compensate for that.

(To be continued….)