Posts Tagged ‘Steve Waugh’

Goutham Chakravarthi

Steve Waugh found greatness when fighting with his back to the wall. He relished a fight and often got the best out of himself when he reduced a battle to that: individual fight with the opposition bowler. He thrived on it and often came out on top. He saved his career with that hundred against England. It gave him another year in the top flight cricket (he averaged 80 plus) and went out with a two month send off against the Indians the following Australian summer.

Now even Chappell and Benaud are calling for his head.

Now Ponting finds himself in a similar corner. Like Waugh, his greatness is not in question. His greatness is in front running and doing it like few others before him. Perhaps only Lara surpassed him among his contemporaries in doing it better.

A man of dazzling feet movement befitting the best of dancers, his gift was also in great shot selection. His ability to reduce the game to a fight and his immense desire to win made him a stand out. Few can claim to have dominated the best attacks of their time like Ponting has. Over the years, invariably, he has fallen, learnt, succeeded and failed like the rest of us. Very few can achieve the maximum of their abilities. Ponting did, and touched greatness. Of that, there is little doubt.

Not many would fault Ponting’s qualities as a batsman, but as a person he divides public opinion: considered short tempered, arrogant, loud mouthed by some, and as responsible, sharp man who understood his shortcomings and overcame them. Captaining Australia isn’t given to just any larrikin. It is a profile that is constantly scrutinized: by the public, media and even the prime minister. Shane Warne would count it among his top regrets not to captain Australia. Ponting did. His public acceptance to drinking problems as a young man and his switch to light beer showed him as man willing to learn and understand his position as an ambassador of his country. Soon, he was to become Australia’s finest batsman since Bradman and also its most successful captain.

Not that he has always been right. For that matter, no one is. He would lose temper on occasions and his ugly side would show up, not least in the Sydney test of 2008 against India. In a fiasco that defied belief, he would end up ruffling a full media contingent that questioned his team’s behavior and integrity. Not that the Indians were innocent in that Test either. That the incident propelled a huge fallout of the Australian team with the rest of the world did shake him up and his teammates to take a deep look at themselves.

Ponting’s attempts over the years of wanting to leave the game in a better shape than when he started playing is genuine. While gamesmanship may not be one of those, he feels strongly about over rates and substitutes. It has landed him in a quandary on a few occasions, especially in India where he has chosen the moral high ground over the push for a Test victory on more than one occasion . It didn’t go down well with many of his countrymen and former cricketers. That his lows as captain and as Test batsman should have come in India might be a personal regret. His successes far outweigh the inevitable failures.

Like with all great players, ability doesn’t last forever. What’s accumulated in the mind of a master batsman like him cannot be discounted for the waning of the physique. But the acceptance of falling from greatness has to come from within. Often, that is the hardest to accept. After all, Viv Richards didn’t wear a helmet just because his reflexes slowed down as he was reaching his end. He dusted it off as a dip in form and not of eroding ability. Some live in denial. Viv’s last three years had no Test hundreds. Kapil Dev’s last few years were a folly and so were Jayasuriya’s last many.

Now, Ponting is in danger of falling in that category. He has been found wanting playing the short ball over the last few seasons, yet he continues to play it. A signature shot, one that will always be associated with him, is suddenly a weakness. Falling over to straight deliveries and ending up in a walk to length deliveries are old problems now back to haunt him. Even stout Ponting supporters like Chappell and Benaud are calling for his head.

Ponting is still a mighty fine batsman. Perhaps he is hoping that there is a second wind for him like there was for Tendulkar and Dravid. Perhaps, being a good batsman is not enough for him. Once dipped and draped in greatness, it must be difficult to accept routine and the ordinary. Perhaps Wanderers will be his secret attempt at redemption; at greatness. A big innings would be most welcome for this struggling batsman and his tattered team. The end seems nearer than ever before, but may be, he can do a Waugh.

 Goutham Chakravarthi

 13 August 2011

The wonderful former deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer, Emma John, would have described Alastair Cook’s innings something on the lines of “mulishness, obduracy, bloody-mindedness.” And a very tired Indian side would be thanking their stars that this wasn’t a timeless Test in which case you could switch on your TV sets a week later and you would still find Cook batting.

Alastair Cook displayed enormous concentration in his marathon knock

They say cussedness is a quality much admired in a Test cricketer. His strength of mind and discipline in executing his brand of batting has made him into a remarkable accumulator of runs. Rahul Dravid, a man who is renowned for grit, determination and stone walling would much appreciate the qualities he sees in Cook. Chandepaul, Steve Waugh would approve of Cook. Heck, even Geoffrey Boycott would have had a crush on him today!

India’s docile bowling never looked like getting an English wicket at any time. That they managed to reign the scoring of the English batsmen with Cook only scoring three boundaries till tea suggested that they at least bowled to their plans. There was still a bit in the wicket for the bowlers when they got it right, but Cook’s insatiable appetite for accumulating runs coupled with his determination to play long hours in turn ensured that he and England crossed many milestones in the day – the highest individual score at Edgbaston and England’s highest score in an innings in a non-timeless Test – being just two of them.

If stodge and defiance described Cook’s innings, Morgan was more fluent and ensured that he made the most of the reprieves given to him by the Indian fielders on Thursday. To the calm, determined, predictable methods of Cook at the other end, Morgan was the modern-day young batsman – unorthodox, skillful and improvising. Between the two of them and Ian Bell, one would think England will see a lot of runs being scored for them. Morgan went trying to loft Raina over Sehwag in the covers and his dismissal ensured India kept England batting for longer than they would have wanted.

Eoin Morgan made the most of his two reprieves with a hundred

India on the other hand looked surprisingly better with the ball and in the field. There was better execution of plans though they never looked like getting Cook or Morgan out. They might as well have sent a bowling machine to the middle to bowl to them and nothing would have changed. Knowing fully well that England would run them ragged, they did their best to not let England get away. Their lack of potency has been a great matter of concern for the captain. It has again only shown how much Zaheer Khan means to this team.

England have had another outstanding day. With Sehwag lasting all of two balls in two innings, it has put to rest all theories of him perhaps being the saviour at least for this Test. England have again exposed another cricketer being rushed back into top flight cricket with little match practice. May be there is a lesson in it to players as much as to administrators.

There is plenty of time in this Test and the ball still moved a bit under overcast conditions for the English quicks. With the wicket now also keeping low sporadically, and with Swann and Pietersen getting it to spin big, it is but a matter of time before time is up for India in this Test.

India will hope to put their best batting display of the tour in its second innings. They have collectively not scored 294 in any of their innings. It has been Cook’s Test so far. India will do well to make England and Cook bat again in this Test.