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Bini Sathyan

It was the most amazing innings of a T20 match and probably the innings of a lifetime played by Marlon Samuels. And that he chose to do it on the biggest stage when the chips were down and his team was literally on the mat and the fact that he decided to take on the best T20 bowler in the world to fight it out and to come out a winner makes it the most awesome come-back-from-behind of performances. The end result is that the Calypso Kings are back and are crowned the World T20 champions. Sri Lanka again ended up as the second best in 4 finals since 2007.

The T20 finals did not look like a T20 match, instead it looked like a battle for life. With West Indies electing to bat, everyone expected the Gayle storm to simply blow the opposition over. But the Sri Lankan bowlers came well prepared to absorb the impact and they did so well that Gayle looked like a man lost in the storm.

With the runs just not coming and the mystery bowlers of Sri Lanka tightening the noose after Gayle’s exit, the West Indies looked to fall flat. At 34/2 in 10 overs, no one except a hardcore West Indian fan would have expected a miracle. But the miracle did come in the form of Marlon Samuels. He just stood there in the middle leading the West Indian resistance striking at less than a run a ball and it looked like he was fighting a lost battle. But he had other plans. Lasith Malinga who was given only one over by Jayawardene and held back to be used at the death was given the ball to to take out the West Indian resistance. And the game changed.

West Indies came from behind to choke Sri Lanka to take the title. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Everyone expected the toe crushers to come curling in to knock down the West Indians. They definitely did come. But this time the script was not the usual one. Samuels dispatched the first one for six. The more they curled in the more higher and longer he hit them. One of them from Samuels’ bat became the biggest six of the tournament. 22 runs came of the over and Slinga Malinga thought it was just one odd over. But that was not the end. By the end of Malinga’s 3rd over, half of the West Indies’ total was scored from his overs. And he ended up giving away 54 runs without a wicket. It took only a couple of overs to destroy the reputation of the best and most lethal T20 bowler. Then came Captain Sammy and delivered when it mattered the most taking the West Indian total to a fighting one.

Rampaul and Co. gave it back in an almost similar fashion to the Lankans. By the end of 12 overs, it looked a long and rough road ahead for Sri Lanka. Then Kulasekhara decided to do a Samuels in the 16th over. He targeted the West Indian fast Rampaul and hit him for a six. Rampaul responded angrily by sending in short pitched balls and Kulasekhara skilfully dispatched all of them to the fence.

This pedestrian performance from Rampaul after an extraordinary beginning almost shifted the momentum away from the West Indies. And the great man Gayle had to come and put an arm around him to cool him down. Sammy then decided to use his trump card in the next over. He gave the ball to Sunil Narine, the coolest bowler you can come across in the world. His face did not give away the carnage that had happened in the over before. Neither did his face reveal any feeling that this could be the deciding over of the match with Kulasekhara in murderous mood threatening to finish off the match. Cool, calm, composed and full of concentration he just stuck to his task and was rewarded in the 2nd ball with the wicket of Kulasekhara. Sammy went wild and so did the West Indians. The trump card worked. And now it was just a matter of time.

Bravo got to take the final catch and with that the cup and he got to celebrate his birthday with a world cup win. And the West Indians celebrated like no other. Gayle with his antics and Bravo with his dancing skills amused the crowd. Sammy was the most criticized captain of recent times but looks like no one will be talking about the negatives soon.


Taking Guard In Style

Posted: May 11, 2012 by binisajan in Cricket, IPL, Opinion
Tags: , , ,

Bini Sathyan

Some of the big hitters of the game whom I admire very much have peculiar styles when they come out to bat. A few of them I felt really peculiar are Chris Gayle who I think comes in like the Predator, Morne Morkel who always looks lost, Virender Sehwag who gives the impressions of a lazy goose and Dhoni who is emotionless. Read on.

Chris Gayle: When he comes out to bat with the helmet on, the locks hanging from behind his ears and the black bandana shielding his neck, he looks like the alien from Predator in full body armour. Moves around sluggishly as if unbothered about the territory he is in and has a cold stare. The bat looks like a small club like weapon attached to his left hand whenever he is in armour. He looks menacing. Before taking guard, he will look around sluggishly once again as if to find a target. Then just like his cold looks and slow movement, he will start tapping his bat in slow motion which means he is ready. Now he fixes his stare on the bowler running in. Once the ball is delivered, his hands move so swiftly and the ball is hit so hard with the bat that it more often than not lands in the stands and sometimes attains escape velocity. He launches his attacks with such ferocity that bowlers start erring in line and length. It is immaterial where the ball lands on the pitch as Gayle ensures that it lands in the stands after that.

Gayle: The predator

Albie Morkel: A 6 foot plus giant, he strides into the middle unassumingly and in no hurry and looks like a child lost in the forest. Looks around in surprise, as if he was suddenly awakened in the middle of his sleep and finds himself in hostile territory. Looks around once again and realizes that he is in the middle of a cricket ground. Takes guard but still looks surprised. Prods at the first couple of balls and then suddenly understanding dawns. The next ball probably lands in the stands. He is probably the most powerful hitter around. Some of his sixes have hit the roof and threatens to go overboard.

Virender Sehwag: The laziest goose around. The man with the most laidback attitude. His body shape and movements will never reveal that he is a sportsperson. Comes out to the middle in a very casual way. And in the middle, he simply refuses to leave the crease for a run. And when he does, his running looks funny. You realize that he simply does not love moving around too much. Left to face the bowler, he takes his stance in an easy manner and waits and waits like a cat for the ball to be released. Then all of a sudden there is transformation. His eyes widen. The bat swings in his hand. It’s all over in a flash. The ball vanishes in thin air and reappears outside the field. Fetch is the call to the fielder. All this while his feet doesn’t move. To know what happened, the television crew invented slow motion replay. He is a magician. A man gifted with such perfect timing. He relies only on his eyesight. Once his eyes spot the ball, his brain knows where to despatch it. The hand just executes the order. No coaches will prescribe to their scribes to learn from him because he does not follow the copy book. But has written one for himself.

The TV crew inveted slow motion to study Sehwag’s stroke-play

M S Dhoni: He seems to be a man in a hurry. Comes out to bat in a hurry. Before taking guard, looks around, keeps moving and exhibits plenty of gestures. He touches his pads, hits his gloves, touches his face and the motions continue for a while before he settles down to face the bowler. This peculiar action sequence is repeated before every ball. He is a slow starter to bat. But once he gets going there is no stopping him. The speed at which he moves the bat and the power which he garners when he hits is matched by none. He remains unfazed when he comes out to bat whatever the situation. Out in the middle he expresses no emotions. If he hits the winning runs, still the emotions are hidden. And when he is out, he still seems to be a man in a hurry. He walks quickly back to the pavilion again without revealing any emotion.

IPL Addiction

Posted: May 6, 2012 by binisajan in Cricket, IPL

Bini Sathyan

Contrary to popular perception of the media that the fifth edition of the IPLT20 will not draw enough eyeballs and the concern of the cricketing authorities about the dwindling numbers of fans at the venues, the 5th season of the IPLT20 is a runaway hit. Though it began with a few low scoring matches, it gained momentum with the century scored by Ajinkya Rahane. The thrills started coming with the chases led by Rohit Sharma and then Morkel. From there it just took off with a lot of big hitting high scoring and nail-biting finishes. Now the stadiums are full and the television ratings are picking up.

For me it was goodbye to boring TV shows. Great entertainment in the evenings. And sleeping past midnight. I am addicted to the IPL and have my own reasons for being so. My love for this two month entertainment carnival started in the first match of the first season when Brendom McCullum went berserk and hit anything hurled at him out of the park. He scored a staggering 158 runs which could be more than the average total of most of the teams. He was nuts and I got stuck.

It is not often that you get to watch Sehwag bat along with Kevin Pietersen. Now that is aggression from both ends. You get to watch this only in the IPL. The forthcoming showdowns are even better. For the Delhi Daredevils, it will be Sehwag opening the innings with his double: Warner! That combination will be a death warrant for the bowlers. Another destructive combination is the Gayle force that will blow away the best and the explosive batting of Dilshan in tandem to open the entertainment. And a de Villiers coming down the order to sow devastation all around for the Royal Challengers Bangalore.

For those who are missing the smashing opening style of the retired Gilchrist who ran away with a world cup final in the blink of an eye, the IPL has brought him alive from retirement and he is captaining, keeping and opening for a Punjab side. The Wall is rebuilt by the IPL in a different avatar. He is the captain, the opener and a fast one at that for the Rajasthan Royals an exciting side which showcased India’s hidden gems more often. The world’s boldest and most result oriented captain, Michael Clarke playing under Saurav Ganguly for Pune Warriors owned by the Sahara Pariwar, the sponsors of the Indian Cricket team. The world,s best fast bowler Dayle Steyn bowling his heart out for a South Indian team of Hyderabad. A big hitting Pollard playing alongside Sachin for Mumbai Indians under Harbhajan Singh. Muthiah Muralidharan and Daniel Vettori bowling in tandem for Royal Challengers. Fancy a showdown between two of the greatest captains of Indian cricket – Ganguly and Dhoni, and you have it.

A combination of different nationalities joining forces brought together by the business power houses of India and the Kings and Queens of Bollywood entertaining a cricket crazy nation whose thirst for cricket is unsatiable. These scenes would have simply been in the realms of fantasy had it not been for IPL T20.

An Ajinkya Rahane who could be India’s future opener getting to facing Dale steyn or an Awane who is yet to debut on the international stage would not have got an opportunity like this to test their mettle against the best of the best.

The IPL has thrown in many amazing moments like the immaculate power hitting of Dhoni where he sends the ball floating out of the stadium. The switch hits of Pietersen. The Dilscoops. The Upar cuts of Sehwag. Gayle scoring 31 runs in an over and also launching a few into orbit. Albie Morkel smashing 28 runs in an over for a famous victory when all seemed lost. Rahane’s deft touches bringing him 24 runs off an over. Awana fearlessly sending down bouncer after bouncer when Pollard was in his elements and tying him down to the crease. An amazing fiery spell of fast bowling by Steyn against MI. And then the most amazing of them all – Steve Smith flying like superman and pulling back a ball from the air which was sure to land out of the boundary. The way in which he was flying in the air in a blue dress with one arm outstretched looked like watching superman in action sans the cloak. These are a few of my favourite and amazing moments of IPL-V.

A Ganguly of the yesteryears running across the ground in excitement on getting a wicket was hair raising and took me back to the memories of the Natwest trophy final. A 41 year old Brad Hogg diving around and celebrating like a kid at the fall of each wicket. And most interesting of all was the paradox of Ganguly fans. The same crowd that was rooting for Dada with all those placards and banners across the stadium celebrated at his fall! Well that was because he was felled by the Kolkata team. Welcome to the great cricketainment carnival of India!

This year’s tournament has also seen the rise of new players specially a couple of good spinners and the fall of some mighty ones. Yousuf Pathan has been one of the most explosive batsmen in the first few editions. But has turned out to be the biggest flop till now. The greats like Jacque Kallis  who seemed to have cracked the T20 format look to have forgotten how to bat in the shortest version. But Sachin has shown his class against CSK after a few forgettable outings. Kohli is another star whose firepower is yet to be seen. The match winners like Husseys, Shaun Marsh, Ross Taylor too have not performed. Dada at times showed the glimpses of his old self when he was considered the God of the off side but seems to be too slow for the format.

The tournament is getting more and more exciting with 17 matches that went down to the wire. Lot more tight finishes and big hits are expected with the Australians too coming in full force and a few more big guns yet to boom.

The IPL is a power packed treat condensed into just 3.5 hrs where you need not wait for the explosion till the end of the innings if you have missed the opening treat. It is action packed throughout. In such a short span of time you can see many wicket taking deliveries and a lot of wickets tumble. The boring centuries are no more. If there is one, it will certainly be explosive. The thrills are guaranteed. A last over finish if not a last ball finish has become the norm. Now this is value for money. Keep chewing your finger nails and be glued to the entertainment.

The Impregnable Fortress Calls It A Day

Posted: March 9, 2012 by binisajan in Cricket, India Cricket, Opinion

Bini Sathyan

‘If I wanted someone to bat for my life, it would be Rahul’ said one of Crickets finest batsman, Brian Lara.

There could be no better compliment to Dravid, the Wall of Indian cricket and no better expression on the style of play that Rahul Dravid adopted.

Always the silent warrior who never got his due. Fought pitched battles across the world and defended with his life. People call you ‘The Wall’. In fact, you were ‘The impregnable Fortress’ who held up one end all through your career. But the mighty blows that you took for more than a decade has worn you down and the cracks started showing. There should surely be a way to mend those cracks. But then, you have decided to let time pass you by. To us, you are one of the bravest warriors India has seen.

You were the savior that team mates and we fans looked upon to carry the team when it was all at sea. You were the silent warrior who kept the wolves at bay when the lambs were being slaughtered. You were the ray of hope when all else seemed lost. With a rock solid defence that the best in the game had no clue about breaching, you built a wall brick by brick that many a time held its fort and saved India from defeats and many times brought victory with some master strokes.

Rahul Dravid is one of the greats of the game who got late recognition. He went unnoticed whenever he played a valuable innings as fate would have it or call it bad luck, some one else would always steal the limelight.

In 1996, on debut, in the swinging pitches of England, when the Indian team was writing its famous collapse story, Dravid walked in and and almost made a century but then the innings was not so much noticed as the century crafted by the elegant co-debutante Ganguly. Even though Dravid and Ganguly made dream debuts and both of them went on to play many good innings together, Ganguly always had the luck to come out better. The 145 runs that he scored in the 1999 world cup match against Sri Lanka was also not praised much as Saurav Ganguly again pipped him when he made 183 in the same match. Even though there was a world record partnership there, it was the 183 that naturally caught everyone’s attention. Then in a test regarded as one of the most remarkable turnarounds by any country, Dravid started the resistance and went on to score 180 valuable runs but the test later came to be known as Laxman’s Test as the flamboyant Laxman played a gem of an innings which Wisden has rated as the second best innings ever played in cricket.

One of India's finest calls it a day

Dravid’s valuable contributions always came as partnerships which served the team’s cause but little did it contribute to individual glory. The two partnerships with Laxman in Tests and the partnerships with Ganguly and Sachin in ODIs are world records. He is involved in 80 century partnerships for India which is another world record. He may not be as elegant as Ganguly or as flamboyant as Laxman. He might not match the master stroke for stroke. But with a great technique and tons of determination he was a selfless fighter who went on climbing heights and created a space of his own. Most of his contributions to the team were overshadowed by the big trio’s achievements.

Dravid also was a team player who adapted very well to all forms of cricket and any conditions better than anyone else though rather slowly. When he was labeled as a misfit in ODIs for being a slow run-getter and faced the axe, he went onto score at a faster pace. There came a time when the team needed a keeper-cum-batsman to accommodate an extra batsman and Dravid was more than keen to play the role for the teams benefit. His fans thought it as an insult or a punishment but he took it all in his stride. Wonder whether any other star cricketer of India would have done that. But here was a great player who put team before self and was ready to play any role that would benefit the team and make sacrifices regardless of individual concerns.

And it was at this time that he produced some of his finest knocks in ODIs. The match that he scored 145 against Sri Lanka in the world cup was the first in which he kept wickets for India. This not being enough his batting position was constantly changed to find out where he fitted best. This landed the team management in more trouble as he excelled in any position he was thrown in. When he was tried as an opener he fitted in easily. Once when he came as a finisher, he had scored 50 runs from a mere 22 balls against New Zealand which is the 2nd fastest for an Indian in ODIs. I still remember a shot hit by him which looked like a square cut but went for six. And I don’t think there is someone more adaptable to the game than Rahul Dravid.

After the epic Test against Australia, he slowly started emerging from the shadows of the giants. He came on his own and achieved a near Bradmanesque feat when he hit 4 consecutive centuries in Tests in 2002 and also went on to score 5 double tons in all which was an Indian record before Sehwag overtook him recently. No one else in the world has scored Test centuries in all the Test playing nations. He has produced his best outside India in the hard and fast difficult pitches. Especially in England. He has another unique record of scoring 23% of the teams total runs in wins which came under a single captain, Saurav Ganguly. Now that makes one ponder whether it was Ganguly’s captaincy skills or Dravid’s silent contribution which made this team the most successful one. He went on to forge century partnerships with 18 different partners and partnered Sachin in 19 of his centuries.

A hard working, selfless cricketer, he was the rock on which the Indian team was built in the new millennium which saw India rise to the No. 1 status, slowly and steadily. And the beginning of the new decade which also saw the decline of India in Tests in harsh conditions, India looked to Rahul Dravid to stand up and deliver. And he delivered in style. In his favourite land, England, he was the lone man standing with three centuries. But the next battle in Australia was the defining moment which has led to his decision to retire from the game he loved most. He must be respected for the decision to bow out with grace.

The Aussie paceman Glen McGrath is believed to have said ‘if there was one Indian player who would get an automatic entry into an Australian team filled with stars, it would be Rahul Dravid’. That sums up the respect that he earned from the team known as the invincibles.

Bini Sathyan

They came in fast. They charged in furious. They delivered in precision. And they never stopped coming. We fell in a heap. The story repeated. The fall continued. Again and again. The pace battery of Australia assumed the proportions of a battering ram and the battering continued unabated. Until The God fell from his pedestal and was brought down to earth. Until the wall cracked and crumbled. Until the legends lost their greatness and fell from glory. The big guns were silenced. And Indian cricket lay in tatters.

Another series whitewash. The fall from grace that started in England was completed with another similar script in Australia. From the first innings of the first test to the last innings of the last test, the Indian story was the just the same. Repetitive and boring. The story scripted by Clarke & Co. failed to generate thrills because the storyline seemed too predictable. Four venues. Four matches. Four failures. Same players. Same story copied and pasted. Only the duration changed.

Billed as the Agneepath series, with India considered the favourites and Australia the underdogs, Clarke & Co. made sure that the Indians faced the heat rather than them. At the beginning of the series, there was a talk that the Australian camp had a few problems in the batting department. Irregular openers, an out of form middle-order and a captain fighting to gain the respect of his team. Whereas India was a team which had the two greatest run scorers of all times, an opener who could end the game before it all actually began, a very special batsman who took a special liking to Australian bowling and a captain considered to be the shrewdest of cricketing brains around. The four tests that followed resulted in busting many myths about the various sentiments about some India’s all time greats.

Their faces tell the story. © Getty Images

More than the defeats the manner in which it was brought upon them was saddening. In all the series that preceded this, even though the series was lost, the Indian team always put up a tough fight and it was remembered for the valiant effort than the defeat. And at times they were brilliant enough to turn the tables on the invincible team of the times and that is what made these men legends. So when the first test ended in four days, there was still hope that they would put up a fight in the next. But that turned out to be a bigger shocker when it ended in four days again with the Indian team refusing to put up a fight. The third one was the most humiliating when they could not fight for more than two and a half days. Australia should have invited Bangladesh rather. They would have done better.

Retirement calls started for the ageing brigade. But though not valiant enough on the field, they shamelessly fought on off it. When the young guns continued their wait for ever to be blooded, the greats continued to hold on to selfish motives. Little did they realize that other legends before them had moved on to bring them in.  Little did these guys seem to care about a series white wash. The hope was that the billions back home would be pacified with that one ton even if they went down 4-0.

After three failures, luck had it that the captain was banned. A new captain and a new keeper could change the fortunes of the team. Expectations were that the maverick Sehwag would surprise with his unorthodox ways. Since the series was lost after trying the same tricks in the first three tests, the fourth one could have been taken up for experimentation. Two spinners could have been brought forth. May be Ojha could have replaced Ishant. Kohli could have been sent to open the innings or brought in at no.3. A new opener like Rohit could have replaced Gambhir. Sehwag could have come lower down the order. But it was not to be. He stuck to the conservative and traditional thinking of the think tank. Same field placings. Same mistakes. Same body language. Batting collapse. Some catches dropped. Another record for the Clarke-Ponting pair. The agony continued. Retirement calls grew louder.

The experts analyzed that the Indian greats have outlived their sell by date and could not survive in the swinging conditions in England. And the pacy pitches in Australia. Come Adelaide. It was a batting beauty. A much better batting display was expected from India. Australia’s 600 runs in the first innings gave the Indians the much needed hope. But then Siddle’s riddle caught them unawares. He made the batting pitch look like a lively track. The way he bowled, the Indian’s had no answers again. This test would also have ended in four days had it not been for Clarke’s concern that India could bat them out of the game. But he failed to understand that the Indian cricketers were spineless and had lost all interest for a fight after all the battering they received. Clarke tried to show some sympathy to the Indian batsmen by withdrawing his quick guns and giving them an opportunity to play a game they are experts in. May be the Australians were concerned about the dipping revenues as the first three tests did not last five days. But Lyon proved to be trickier than they expected. The web was spun and the plot only got murkier. He accounted for Sehwag, Sachin and Laxman all great players of spin bowling. And to add insult to injury, Clarke then put all his fielders around the night watchman! Such was the state of the famed Indian batting.

Virat Kohli’s performance was the only blessing that India had. He fought well and used his chances to declare that he is India’s batting mainstay in the future. Ravichandran Ashwin and Umesh also proved that they have it in them to excel in the big stage. Saha too has shown that he is a fighter. They need to cement their places through consistent performance and constant improvements. There are many more spinners, pacers and batsmen waiting in the ranks to grab their opportunities which are sadly not coming by. They will have to bide their time till the big guns call it a day. Or they will have to keep waiting till the selectors realise that the future of Indian cricket lies not in record holders whose glorious days are past but in youngsters who can bring back those glorious days for the country.