Mission Redemption

When India tours England in June this year for a five test series, the prestigious Pataudi Trophy isn’t the only thing they need to regain.

Ups and downs are part of every sport and cricket is no exception. Great cricket teams of the past have been associated with a certain aura and a feeling of invincibility. Case in point, the West Indies team of the 1970s and the Australian team of the early 2000s. Rankings of today are not the rightful indicators of a team’s performance, yet they make a subtle point. Today, India is ranked 5th among the test playing nations. With a rating of 102, they are ranked below their arch rivals Pakistan, who despite their lack of home advantage, are ranked 4th with a rating of 103.

When India toured England for a four match test series in 2011, they started as the No.1 ranked team with a star studded batting line-up and an okay-ish bowling attack. Six weeks later, their pace spearhead had already pulled out of the series due to a hamstring, their batting was in shambles except for one superhuman gentleman (literally, as he did everything apart from rolling his arm over) called Rahul Dravid and their team morale was utterly shattered and considerably beyond recovery.

For a team which was on the high of a limited overs World Cup victory after 28 years, it was a fall that can be best described using a mathematical graph with a near to vertical slope (although it is undefined, it pretty much stands for this case). Soon after the debacle, the explanations and excuses followed. People listed excessive cricket, player fatigue/ burnout as reasons and some of them even had the atrocity to blame the pitches for assisting excessive swing and seam, a traditional chink in the Indian batting armoury. Yet, for all the hullabaloo that emerged, the bottomline was that India, being the top test ranked team, lost 4-0 to an opposition who was very well prepared and came out all guns blazing. On the other hand, India looked under-prepared, burdened and lost.

So much so that they had to recruit a seam bowler midway through the series, who until a week earlier, was partying on the beaches of Miami. Predictably, R.P.Singh’s first ball after his comeback was a dud, bouncing three times before it reached the batsmen. The delivery was called a dead ball and the stands were filled with laughter, with people wondering if this was a joke.

Throughout the series, India never managed to score more than 300 in eight innings, with only Dravid managing to get to the three figure mark thrice, with a top score of 146. Two of the losses were innings defeats while the other two featured huge losing margins of 196 and 319 runs respectively. Probably the only time when they had England on the mat was in the first innings of the 2nd test, when Ishant Sharma ran through the English top order to reduce them to 88/6. Stuart Broad then played a fighting knock of almost run-a-ball 64 to lift England’s spirits. He came back to claim 6-46 with the ball with an economy of 1.96; a spell that is remembered for sharp, incisive seam bowling. India never really recovered from this onslaught.

Incidentally, this series started a period of steep decline for India in tests, with yet another whitewash against a rampaging Australian side down under and a shock series defeat at home against England. In retrospect, India’s rise to the top of the test rankings was a painstakingly slow process. It took years of toil for stalwarts like Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Kumble to lift India to the top. Yet, the slide to the bottom was pretty swift and shocking rather than surprising.

Three years later, Indian cricket has moved on. The greats have bowed out. The young guns are establishing themselves and the pain of those humiliating defeats is just a memory. Barring MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma, none of the other squad members have played Test cricket in England, let alone being a part of that horror series. Yes, the squad does not carry the burden of defeats, but then it is also largely short of experience. Among the batsmen, MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir have played 81 and 54 test matches respectively. Ishant Sharma, for all his unfulfilled potential, is the only bowler to have crossed the 50 tests landmark.

Preparations to the tour seem to be on track, with the BCCI resting most of the squad members for India’s tour of Bangladesh. For obvious monetary reasons, it values the IPL participation of its stars more important than an international fixture against Bangladesh. Probably the BCCI is aware of the fatigue factor and deems it necessary to send a mentally fresh squad to the series. While Bangladesh might be crying foul over the lack of interest shown by the Indian board, it at least provides a much needed rest to the players.

From an Indian fan’s perspective, this is an exciting series. An opportunity to redeem the lost glory. With an exciting bunch of players, most notably the batsmen, India has the chance to start its ascendancy to the summit. Make no mistake, this series is not the platform to avenge the humiliation of the past. Sport has no place for revenge sagas. Rather, it is a chance to recover the lost respect and re-establish the faith and pride among the supporters.

To quote Confucius:

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.

India has not won an overseas test for about three years now. Trent Bridge looks like the perfect place to start.

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De Villiers knocks England out from the T20 World Cup

South Africa defeat England, makes it into Semi’s

The official broadcasters of the T20 world cup had been publicizing the tagline “How one over that will change the game “. As the script unfolded in Chittagong last night, a mere 6 balls of the 18 over of the innings, was all it was required to swing the fortunes in the favor of the “Proteas”.

The wrecker-in-chief was none other than arguably the best batsman in T20 cricket at present AB De Villiers who hammered a hapless Jade Dernbach all over the park and consequently made the target a lot more than it looked for the majority of the innings.

Dernbach is a bowler whose frequent debacles with the bowl have long been overlooked by the ECB for this ability to win matches .Perhaps after the show last night, if the board has any sense of meritocracy left surely he has bowled his last balls in international cricket.

England began the day as the lady luck finally shined on them as they won the toss and opted to ball first. This has become the trend as the heavy dew factor has time and again come into play in this tournament. England skipper Stuart Broad pre match claims that it was time ‘Mother Cricket’ owned them a few favors was put rest after umpire Rod Tucker’s shocking decision to rule a no ball which reprieved last match centurion Alex Hales when he was caught at Point.

Earlier in the day, despite being forced to start their innings three times over due to the recurring floodlights failures,  Hashim Amla and Quinton De Kock managed to put up a partnership of 90 runs for the first wicket . Amla was finally out of Broad but not before he reached his maiden half century in T20 internationals.

The England players were sloppy in the field; they were leaking runs, dropping catches, missing regulation stumping chances thus they are only themselves to blame for the disappointing result they got in the end .

De Villiers was the man of the moment, the stand in skipper in place of suspended regular Faf Du Plessis took the responsibility on his hands and delivered on all fronts, smashing an astonishing 69 of just 28 balls which comprised of lusty hitting as well as innovative shots being showcased at will. It was majorly his efforts that made the final score reach 196 and ensured that the English batsmen start their innings with the asking rate near about 10.

In reply, England got off to a flying start courtesy Alex Hales and MIcheal Lumb, It was finally in the 8th over when the downslide began when Wayne Parnell got Hales out slicing it straight to David Miller.Hales raised his eyes to the heaven as he walked back and surely he knew that was a turning point as next ball Moin Ali got a thin edge to De kock .

Eoin Morgan and Ian Butler tried to steady the ship, but with the required rate climbing over to 12, something had to give, Morgan went for leggie Imran Tahir had perished in the attempts. Buttler briefly threatened while Ravi Bopara did at least manage to take the game into the final over with a breezy but inconsequential 31.

Ever if any team requires 22 runs of the final over, they would never wish to face Dale Steyn. After his last match heroics, South Africa sensed that the match was in the bag. Needing 20 off the final 3 deliveries a frustrated Tim Bresnan finally made some contact hitting it consequently over for 6, 4 and a 6 and finally losing it by just 3 runs.

The South African’s were phenomenal in the field and that probably made the difference. Having qualified for the Semis now, the team cannot drop their guard now as their ‘choking’ credentials will certainly come to haunt them if they fail to be right up their mark.

Meanwhile all England team can do now is play for pride against Netherlands in their final match and return back to the British soil with the warm memories of their triumph over Sri Lanka.

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Indian Partition League

Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Kolkata, Mohali, Hyderabad, Pune. Five years ago, if you asked someone what these nine cities had in common, you would get a bunch of confused and varied answers, if any at all.

Now, however, the same question would trigger a spontaneous response from a six year old. IPL.

Sadly, what connects these cities is also what divides them. Summer has become a time when the country is cleanly divided into nine.

Club over Country? : It’s time cricket took the limelight

Divisions are synonymous with sports, especially team sports, and even more so when the teams are based on pre-existing geographic and cultural divisions. The IPL, following on the footsteps of the English Premier league, one of the biggest sporting events in Europe, has divided the teams in such a way so that people can identify with their team.

Even though this has not caused problems in England, it is risky to assume that the same can be applied to a country as diverse and culturally sensitive as India.

The huge brand value and fan following of the IPL has made things worse.

Advertisements of IPL mock cultural stereotypes, instead of promoting the event. A lot of people are sensitive to such depictions, and an even greater number of people enjoy making fun of such people. Soon, it will no longer be about the cricket. As if cheerleaders and popular actors weren’t enough.

In spite of all this, the IPL is still a huge event. It should just take it down a notch. Instead of promoting rivalry among different regions, the focus should be on cricket. If IPL is promoted as a cricket extravaganza rather than a civil war, then everyone will benefit, and we can all go back to watching Chennai win.


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Michael Owen calls it a day

The two Argentine defenders, with twenty years of experience between them, didn’t know what hit them. He was past both of them in the blink of an eye. He let fly from the edge of the box, and as always, the ball nestled in the corner of the net. England’s manager Sven Errikksen, therefore, was not exaggerating when he called Michael Owen a “killer”, a clean killer.”

After 17 years of terrorizing defenses, the prolific striker has decided to call it a day. Michael Owen, on Tuesday, announced on his personal website that he will be retiring at the end of the ongoing Premier League season. He will be drawing the curtain on a career decked with  three League  cup medals, one  F. A.cup victory , one UEFA cup and one Premier League trophy.

Michael Owen calls it a day

Owen started his career at Anfield, when he signed for Liverpool at the age of 17. Liverpool managed to pry him from the grasp of Manchester United and Chelsea, who were also vying for the talented youngster’s signature. Owen went on to become a legend in Merceyside, finishing as Liverpool’s top scorer for eight consecutive seasons, from 1997 to 2004, even as he was fighting constant knee and hamstring injuries. He also won English hearts when he scored that amazing goal against Argentina in the ’98 world cup, at the ripe age of 18. In 2001, he led Liverpool to a treble which won him the coveted Baland’or. Liverpool’s fall from grace at the end of the 2004 season, when Owen was at his peak, led to fears among fans that the club was not good enough for Owen.

It was a year later that the inevitable happened. Owen moved to Real Madrid for a hefty 8 million pounds. Owen enjoyed a good run in Spain, even though he was playing second fiddle to Brazilian superstar Ronaldo. Towards the end of his tenure, however,  he was plagued  with injuries and bad form. Eventually, the arrival of big players like Robinho meant that Owen was surplus to requirements at the Bernabeu. He was sold to Newcastle United in  2005 .

Injuries continued to haunt him, and he was forced to sit out the majority of the 05-06  season. He returned after this long layoff to become captain of the club, but soon moved to Liverpool’s arch rivals Manchester United, amidst much controversy in 2009. The highlight of his short stay at Manchester came when he scored an injury time winner in The Manchester Derby. The goal was vintage Michael Owen. Even though that was his only league goal for that season, Michael Owen will not forget his time at Manchester United, as it was here that he won the premier League medal that had eluded him for so long.

Owen moved to Stoke City in  2012  and continues to play there, as of March 19th, 2013, when he announced , ” I now feel that it is the right time to bring down the curtain on my career. I have been very fortunate that my career has taken me on a journey like I have dreamt of.”

His 124  goals in the Premier League  and  40 goals for England, including a hat-trick against Germany,  will remain in the hearts of football fans for many years to come.

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