Saturday, 29 September, 2007

'Aussie Way' Vs the 'Mahi Way'

Australia takes on India in the first ODI match at Bangalore in couple of hours from now. And the Australian skipper has begun their so-called ‘fine art of mental disintegration’.

No surprises there. You will rarely find an Australian skipper in Mark Taylor’s mould, let alone in a Kim Hughes one. Australians play their own brand of cricket and pre series blabber is an essential part of it. Whether it really leads to ‘mental disintegration’ is another topic of debate. I believe it only spices up the proceedings a bit. But tell me, how many teams have guts to make public, their intention of making a ‘clean sweep’ of almost every other series?

Ricky Ponting would be aware of it as much as anyone else. With two world cups and a Champions Trophy under his belt in last five years, Ponting has had a smooth sailing thus far. And when the going got tough – like it did in the Ashes 2004 as also during Australia’s straight loss to England in the triangular series just before the world cup – he fought back with vengeance. With Dhoni’s team denying him Cricket’s Grand Slam in Johannesburg – Test Championship, Fifty50 WC, Champions Trophy and Twenty20 WC – trust Ponting to strike hard at the Indians in their own background.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni on the other hand is a rookie, and for a change, hugely successful too. To call Dhoni’s journey a ‘dream’ would be gross understatement. How many captains have laid their hand on a world cup in their very first assignment? You can look beyond cricket, yet won’t find any parallel. (In cricket, Kapil Dev probably comes closest with a world cup win in only his fourth month of captaincy).

What stands out for Dhoni is his temperament, whether as a batsman or a leader. He has played many innings, both match winning and match saving, in tests and the ODIs, which went against his natural instinct. More importantly, in his short reign he has shown to be ‘different’, without being really stupid.

As Saurav Ganguly has said of Dhoni, beneath the cool demeanor lies an extremely aggressive man, who trusts his instincts. How many captains would have the guts to toss the ball to a young bowler in a world cup semifinal and final and say, ‘Look, doesn’t matter whether we win or lose, give it your best shot.’ Not many, I guess.

For me, this one day series is a battle of two captains, one who plays cricket the tough ‘Aussie Way’, and the other whose style is yet to evolve, but which will, most certainly be called ‘The Mahi Way’, few years down the line.

Bring it on, Aussies!

On a different note, my ‘bitter’ half (pun intended) has a theory on why India succeeded in the recent Twenty20 world cup. She believes Indians are brilliant only in phases and lack consistency to be successful over a period of time. Twenty20 format allows them that luxury. It also explains our mediocre performamce in tests and only moderate success in the Fifty50s.

Time for Dhoni and co to prove her wrong.

Friday, 28 September, 2007

28th September and all that

When the history of One Day Cricket in India is written, 28th September will find a mention in bold. Exactly 23 years ago on this day, Australia played the first of the five match ODI series at Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in New Delhi. Ashok Patel, who soon faded into oblivion, made his debut for India in that match.

But obviously, this isn’t the only trivia associated with the match.

28th September marked the first official ‘Day/Night’ match in India. That, it was also the first ever official day/night match played outside Australia, makes it even more significant. I am saying ‘official’ because, almost exactly a year before this match, on 21st September 1983, Kirti Azad had single-handedly scripted one of India’s first and most famous wins over Pakistan in a day/night encounter on this very stadium. The match was however accorded a ‘festival tie’ status.

So when the Australian team led by Kim Hughes, played the first day/night ODI match in New Delhi, little did they know that it would be the harbinger for what has essentially become an Asia centric format today. Little did they imagine that the novelty of day/night cricket coupled with India’s success in England in1983 and Australia in 1984/85, was to spell death knell for Test matches in India.

As the Aussies, led by Adam Gilchrist, take field for the first of seven ODIs, cricket is once again at similar cross road. The success of Twenty20 World cup, and more importantly, the success of Asian teams in the inaugural championship, has put a question mark over the future of Fifty50 format. Can the Twenty20 do to Fifty50, what the latter did to Test cricket in India?

I am inclined to believe so, unless ODI format undergoes a radical change and reinvents itself.

Foot Note:

September 28th also marks Lata Mangeshkar’s birthday. A known cricket buff, she was amongst the lakhs of Mumbaikars who treated MS Dhoni and his team to a grand welcome on Wednesday. Dhoni must be hoping that the next seven one dayers against Australia are as melodious as the ‘Sargam’ or the ‘Seven Swaras’ of the nightingale.

But beyond these ‘Seven Swaras’, Sachin would be hoping to play his own Octave – a string of 12 consecutive one-day matches – seven against the best team in the world and remaining five against his traditional rivals.

With over 15000 runs and 41 hundreds to his name, there isn’t a thing that Sachin needs to prove in the shorter version of the game. And 2011 World Cup looks miles away.

What better way then for Sachin, like all maestros, to end his great ‘One Day Mehfil’ with a classic rendition of ‘Bhairavi’ at Jaipur on 18th November 2007?