Sanjay Manjrekar en Wed Nov 02 11:28:22 IST 2022 big-ben-and-plucky-perera <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The World Cup this year was like fantasy cricket. Many nerve-jangling matches through the league stage climaxing with the best-ever final, where even the Super Over could not decide the fate of the game. The chances of this happening in 50-over cricket are almost zero. That is how rare the game was!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the past few years now, 50-over cricket has been showing a steady decline in fan interest, but then the World Cup comes along and suddenly there is spike in viewership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Organisers are in a bit of a fix. The format gets true global attention only once in four years and that is insufficient to sustain cricket’s economy. Test cricket has also not been too different this year; most Tests are now getting results as pitches are getting spicier and batsmen trained to play the attacking, power game are struggling to defend to survive. Attack can only take you so far in Tests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To succeed in Test cricket, a certain amount of defence is absolutely necessary. Even the great Virat Kohli had to draw on his defensive game in big doses against Jimmy Anderson in England last year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like the World Cup this year, in Tests, too, we saw some terrific matches, including two games that had unbelievable results made possible by two all-time great innings. And when one says “all-time” in the context of Tests, it carries a lot of weight. Test cricket today is 142 years old!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka beating South Africa in the Durban Test in February was one such game. It was a David and Goliath situation, with the current Sri Lankan team being the weakest it has ever been. Then in comes Kusal Perera, a replica of Sanath Jayasuriya, to play one of the greatest innings in Tests (153 not out). It was not only a great spectacle, but if you feed all the data of that innings into a computer, it will rate that innings as one of the best ever.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Six months later, we had another one! This time crafted by Ben Stokes, the talismanic all-rounder from England. On the brink of losing another Ashes Test, Stokes, in the company of the number 11 batsman, took his team to an impossible win! The last wicket added 76 runs to win the game for England and the contribution of the other batsman in that partnership was one run! That shows how special Stokes’s innings (135 not out) was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now here is where being an attacking player really helps; a defensive player cannot accomplish such a feat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sadly, despite such great advertisements for the two formats of the game, these formats may still struggle to stay relevant. Perera’s great innings was watched by only a handful of spectators. In fact, the applause we heard on television after every shot was of the Sri Lankan players cheering from the balcony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thankfully, Stokes’s blinder came in England, a country that loves Test cricket like no other, and thousands saw his innings at the ground and it got more attention worldwide than Perera’s innings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the two formats are losing ground to T20s is from no fault of the players. The world is changing and so are the tastes of sports fans. What I find amazing is that the modern players who are groomed to thrive in the power game are still putting on such great performances in the longer formats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tests will clearly not make the sport rich, but will be a platform for us to discover true greatness and performances that fans will remember for years, and not for just a week, like it can be with a performance in a private T20 league.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We still have classical singing and also an audience for it, and I guess so it will be for Tests and ODIs. Fingers crossed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Sat Sep 07 17:00:04 IST 2019 the-lessons-i-learnt-from-chappelli <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>One of my first stints as commentator was soon after I retired as a player. I was approached by WorldTel, the company that raised the stakes in Indian cricket from lakhs to crores of rupees by signing Sachin Tendulkar. WorldTel went on to make him one of the biggest sporting brands in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, off I went to Sri Lanka for the first time in my life. Funnily enough, I never got picked as player in the team that toured there. I checked into the hotel in Colombo, and as I opened the door to my room, I heard a voice, “Hi Sanj.” I looked behind. It was Ian Chappell. “What are you doing for lunch?” he asked. We had lunch together and after that began a long friendship and an exploration of a human being whom I find truly exceptional. My admiration for Ian Chappell grew as I got to know him more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In that series, I was, of course, a greenhorn as a commentator. Once, while we were on air together, he teased me saying that fans in India had tried using a piece of glass to reflect sunlight into his eyes while he was playing, and asked if I was aware of this. I said, “Yes, the same thing happened to me in Australia.” He laughed heartily. I could see pride in his eyes that a young commentator had a retort and because it had become a fun moment on TV.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have known commentators who do not like such retorts, even if it is just banter. Chappelli, as he is fondly called, is different. Ian Chappell was my mentor in commentary when I started off. There was one occasion during commentary when a batsman reached his 100, and I excitedly began to react to it. He gently put his hand on my arm, stopped me, and said, “Let him have his moment. Let us not say anything. Let the moment just play out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ian Chappell, despite his legendary status as a player, became a hardcore media person after retirement. He put in the same amount of time and commitment into it as he did into playing cricket. When only his opinions on the game would be enough for any production company, Chappelli still takes the pain to know statistics. He has a special software that gives him details of all matches played all over the world. He is not just an expert on Australian cricket. Hamilton Masakadza of Zimbabwe holds as much interest for him as Steve Smith.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I was in Australia in 1992 as player, I did a quick radio interview during a rain break. When I came out of the commentary booth, Chappelli was waiting for me. He asked me why I was not pulling the short deliveries bowled by the Australian pacemen? He suggested very animatedly that if I did that I would be able to put the Australian bowlers off their game. So here was a great Australian cricketer who wanted a player from the opposition to play better so that Australia would be challenged more. Chappelli stood for quality and not nationality when it came to world cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ian Chappell is not looking to make friends in the world. He is very choosy about who he spends time with, and once you have passed through his scanner, then you get the best of Ian Chappell. The rest have to be careful, because for them, he puts on the hard, ex-Australia captain’s hat. I have seen a few famous cricketers sneak out of the room when Chappelli enters. It is a matter of pride for me that I am not one of the people who has to do that. Get well soon, Chappelli!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Fri Aug 09 11:14:53 IST 2019 the-quadrennial-spike <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The 50-over format is going through an interesting phase.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bilateral ODI series are seeing a steady decline in viewership. The sheer excess being one reason; the randomness without any relevance, the other. Also, after tasting the pleasures of T20 cricket, 50-over cricket seems just too long for today’s fans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Almost half the game is about batsmen running ones and twos, which is never really entertaining for the crowd. And, because of the length of the innings, close finishes are very rare; even in this World Cup, real nail-biters can be counted on one hand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In T20s, well, every second game is a cliffhanger, and weaker teams compete better against strong teams. The shorter the format, the less the inequality. Afghanistan and the West Indies are great examples of this. The West Indies have, in fact, won the world T20 title twice, but have not won a 50-over World Cup in the last 40 years. Afghanistan looked like what they are in the longer formats—minnows.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>ODIs are slowly and steadily losing their sheen, but here is where it gets interesting. The World Cups are getting bigger and bigger every four years. This time, too, it has broken all records of viewership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ICC is in a bit of a quandary. ODIs are losing their connect with the masses, but reach new peaks every four years when the world comes together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Be that as it may, we have once again seen how the World Cup is such a special event. There is an ODI between two countries and then there is an ODI between two countries in a World Cup. And they are like chalk and cheese. We see high scores on a regular basis in general one-dayers, but come this World Cup, even with the small grounds in England, those kind of scores are not being seen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Batsmen just bat differently when the match has the World Cup tag on it. It is the grain of anxiety that seeps in when you are batting out there.... “What if I get out?” The whole world is watching and there is so much at stake here. It is not just a defeat in a seven-match one-day series; those setbacks are forgotten two days later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The stakes make all the difference. Fans can rattle off the names of the World Cup champs since the event started in 1975. It is at the tip of their tongues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is the same with bowlers. When it comes to bowling that 49th over in a close game, it is not just about controlling the line and length of the ball, but also about those jangling nerves as you run in. Yes, that cliche is so true. Events like these separate the men from the boys and that is why you see the truly established, class players topping the charts with runs and wickets. These are not just men with skills, but also those with a temperament of steel. Shakib Al Hasan, David Warner, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Mitchell Starc and Jasprit Bumrah, to name a few.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another revelation that hit me as the World Cup went on was that, for a while now, since Dhoni and Virat became an integral part of the Indian team, I have been a huge admirer of modern-day Indian batsmen and their ability to chase down targets. In our times, it was the harder thing to do than bat first.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember our coach Ashok Mankad suggesting before an India-Pakistan game at Sharjah, “Let’s bat first.” He thought chasing against them in a highly intimidating atmosphere where there was massive support for Pakistan would take a toll on our nerves, and he was right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And here I was seeing Dhoni, Virat and Co chase down scores nonchalantly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But come the World Cup, the old adage came true—put runs on the board and watch the chasing team handle the immense pressure unsuccessfully.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 20 games before the semis, 16 were won by the team batting first, and it is not just because of the pitches.... Yes, you guessed right, it is because it is the World Cup!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Fri Jul 12 11:20:13 IST 2019 world-cup-predict-a-winner-at-your-peril-says-sanjay-manjrekar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Someone up there really likes cricket. In what is essentially a format that is likely to lose fans’ interest first, the 50-over cricket World Cup continues to drum up great interest around the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What’s more, two teams have suddenly bulked up and become serious contenders for the title—West Indies and Australia. Now, you have at least six teams with a very good chance of becoming world champions. Three months ago, Australian cricket was a shambles and we were lamenting that Australia, too, has joined the group of teams that had seen better days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then they came to India, beat India in a one-day series, in which they discovered a couple of impact batsmen. Then, two batsmen who were banned, joined them soon after, and Australia are now looking like a pretty rounded unit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am glad the Australian Cricket Board did not waste any time in getting David Warner and Steve Smith back in the team the moment their ban period was over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These are two class players and this sport desperately needs as many quality players as it can have. Also, it was not like these two had fixed matches. They had done something, namely tampering the ball, that no country is innocent of. Even India has been caught in this act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why, even South Africa’s Faf du Plessis was caught twice tampering the ball and after his second offence he was made captain of South Africa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The timing of this event was unfortunate for Warner and Smith. There was a general disapproval of player behaviour when this incident happened. It was like the last straw on the camel’s back. It also showed us that the Australian public does not mind the odd sledge. But, they do not like cheaters and that is what Warner and Smith were guilty of.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it was still not fixing matches, a far graver crime. But you would think that is what Warner and Smith did! I mean, how dare English fans boo them?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>England has its own culprits of ball tampering. One from their team who recently threw 15 punches at another human being in a drunken brawl is being lauded. Anyway, this World Cup is getting very exciting. In the first week, Bangladesh beat South Africa, and Pakistan beat England. Those results have just given us a teaser as to how all teams can be vulnerable and no one can be ruled out from scoring an unexpected win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pakistan and Bangladesh are not even among the top six contenders for the title, but they have already demonstrated that they can beat the big boys. So predict a winner at your peril, I say.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, as a former cricketer, and now in the opinion industry, I cannot hide behind this fact that I am duty-bound to predict a likely winner and my vote goes to India!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like all other teams in the fray, India, too, is not a team without vulnerability. India’s middle-order is its soft underbelly that could get exposed on a bad day. But why do I still pick India?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because India has the best temperament among all teams, the ability to hold its nerves on the big stage. In M.S. Dhoni and Virat Kohli they have two players who create this culture in the team. The culture of playing on the biggest stage like it is just another game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why has South Africa not won as much on the big stage? Temperament. Why has England never won the World Cup? Again, temperament. Why has Australia won it five times? A champion’s temperament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Host England is the in-form team with an excellent current record and a style of play which is ‘attack at all times’. But can they keep playing this way, when there is a world title at stake? 2019 will tell us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Sat Jun 15 22:43:35 IST 2019 the-stars-of-this-ipl <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Fifty-three matches in total! It goes on non-stop for weeks. An IPL season is like life itself. You see ups and downs, periods of joy followed by days of gloom, players find form and lose it—all in one season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, when the season is over, it leaves behind evidence, footprints that you can draw conclusions from—about T20, about IPL.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is after all such a new format, that we are trying to get more acquainted with it all the time. Test cricket is 142 years old. T20s is just about 15.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two factors stood out for me in this IPL season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With regard to players, in this IPL, I observed that the Indian contingent of uncapped bowlers showed greater temperament than young Indian batsmen, especially in pressure situations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian bowlers were calmer and less anxious when things got tense.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not an easy challenge where the overs have shrunk to 20 but wickets in hand are still the same—10. So, batsmen have the licence to go crazy and they don’t get crucified when they fail. It is considered an occupational hazard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A bowler, meanwhile, has just four overs in which he has to make an impression—small boundaries in the IPL make their task even tougher. I guess when thrown into the deep end people have no choice but to flap their hands and legs to survive. That is what has happened to the young Indian bowlers. IPL has made them hardened competitors. They develop a thick skin and don’t lose sleep when after bowling three terrific overs, they are tonked for 20 in the last over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prasidh Krishna of Kolkata Knight Riders impressed me. His super-over performance vs Delhi Capitals won my heart and my vote, too, as one for the future. He is tall, has a good bowling action and seams the ball well. He also possesses a calm demeanour. I foresee Krishna becoming the perfect third seamer for India in Tests, a ‘like for like’ replacement for Ishant Sharma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Navdeep Saini from Delhi, who played for Royal Challengers Bangalore, is another bowler who caught everyone’s attention. He is naturally quick and potentially a better version of Umesh Yadav. This kid can’t help but bowl quick.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I, especially, liked the attitude of Rahul Chahar of Mumbai Indians and Shreyas Gopal of Rajasthan Royals. Both bowl wrist spin and it is easy to see that they like being in the spotlight. Yuzvendra Chahal, India’s incumbent leg-spinner, must watch over his shoulder now, for these young men are likely to give him a run for his money.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I will remember this IPL season also for the big hitting. I am not saying that the ball is getting hit further, but it was the amazing consistency of the big hitting. Hardik Pandya and Andre Russell were flag-bearers of this new wave. No matter what the pitch, or the bowling—pace or spin—they rarely miscued their big shots. Innings after innings, they kept striking at an unbelievable rate. This kind of consistency in big hitting was never seen before.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One piece of remarkable hitting was when Hardik went after RCB left arm spinner Pawan Negi on a rank turner at the Wankhede stadium. He was hitting massive sixes against the spin—one of the hardest thing to do in cricket.</p> <p>I love this format more and more every year. Like Tests, it is a platform for excellence, but of a different kind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Fri May 17 19:42:24 IST 2019 the-ipl-own-nerds <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Before the T20s and the IPL came along, there were just two formats in cricket—Test cricket and ODI. I remember at the time someone calling this new entrant—T20s—as ‘cricket for those who do not like cricket’. This was not far from the truth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A fan had to dedicate five full days of his life, coinciding with his working hours, to win the recognition of being a Test cricket fan, and to qualify as an ODI fan, you had to take out eight hours from your daily schedule. IPL was the perfect fit for those not willing to make such ‘sacrifices’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A ridiculous MCC survey suggested that 83 per cent of today’s cricket fans prefer Test cricket, and my immediate reaction to this was that this 83 per cent should now actually go and watch Test cricket!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For many years now empty stadiums have greeted Test matches, its TV viewership has plummeted, but the MCC claims that an overwhelming majority of cricket fans love Test cricket. It is like, I love music, but I do not listen to it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>T20s were a blessing for a world that got really busy. It also offered an option to do something different in the evening—go to a cricket ground or gather at someone’s place to watch nail-biting cricket filled with fours and sixes. As T20s started growing in popularity, its followers started changing, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were obviously those who loved watching the fours and sixes, but now there was a new breed that was really getting into T20s and the IPL. A breed I call the ‘cricket nerds’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I use the term nerds fondly, for it is their company I keep most while working on the IPL.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These nerds are your typical chemical engineers, lawyers, chartered accountants or IITians, who are fascinated by what IPL offers—the multiple teams in it, the little match-ups within a match. They meticulously assess and suggest their team tactics and selections on Twitter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They analyse strengths and weaknesses of each player—all this based purely on numbers and not on perception or instincts like, we, the former cricketers, mostly do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These are guys who like Dravid more than Tendulkar. So, for instance, when I make my ‘expert’ analysis like “[Rajasthan Royals] looks a good team this IPL season and may make the play offs”, the nerd shakes his head. He will bring to my notice that four of their key players will be missing during the final stage of the IPL because of their national commitments. The nerds are brilliant at this. They study every aspect of the IPL and, most importantly, remember each detail; that is how they passed their big, fancy exams, remember? But some of them have a tendency to get under my skin when they get carried away with their numbers and think they know best. They will proclaim that a certain foreign player will be the rage of this IPL only to discover that the poor batsman did not have the temperament to play in front of 50,000 noisy fans, and their ‘rage’, four matches later, is warming the benches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the nerds I adore are ones who tear their hair out when they listen to us cricketer commentators draw easy conclusions from basic numbers. Yes, these are the nerds who watch cricket on mute.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their advanced research of statistics shows that Sunil Narine of Kolkata Knight Riders was the greatest performer in the last IPL for his impact with both bat and ball, but the official best batsman and the best bowler awards went to someone else.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For IPL to have the same passionate following for years to come, it must engage all kinds of followers and not just lovers of fours and sixes. And that is why IPL coverage must take care of the cricket nerds—the discerning members of the IPL fan club.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Thu Apr 18 12:18:04 IST 2019 the-ridiculous-imbalance-in-odis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>With the cricket World Cup due in a few weeks, the timing of this article is not great, but then I was never known for good timing even as a batsman, so what the heck!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every time I watch 50-overs cricket, I realise that it is my least favourite format. Yes, the World Cup is just round the corner and it is the biggest, flagship event in cricket. But, that is not because it is 50-overs cricket, but because it is the World Cup, and it comes once in four years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Barring the starting few overs and the death overs—which are the six overs at the end, as Harsha Bhogle rightly calls it—it is a non-aggression pact between two teams. No team is really desperate to take the initiative in these 35 overs or so phase; the bowling team is happy to concede four to five runs an over, while the batting team is happy to pick four to five runs an over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyway, what I truly dislike about 50-overs cricket is the ridiculous imbalance it has; it is such an easy game for the batsmen, but a tough one for the bowlers. This imbalance exists even before the game starts, because of the basic rules. When a batsman is batting well, he can keep batting the whole 50 overs; a bowler cannot bowl more than ten, even if he is bowling the spell of his life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, I know T20 cricket also sets limit on bowlers, but because of its very short duration, all the action in it is compressed. So a little event has a massive impact on the game. A couple of dot balls for instance, and the batman is as nervous as the bowler, and this brings in some balance in T20s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But in 50-overs cricket, well, if you are not finding your touch as a batsman, no problem, take your time, take an over or two or even more to get into the “groove”. That is is why I do not care much about top run-getters in ODIs. First, they are mostly openers, and once you have some clout in the team you can ensure that you are opening the innings in 50-overs cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I went to Australia in 1992, I was at the top of my game. But, I failed in the first two ODIs and I was thinking what is happening here! How is that even possible? After that, I proceeded to get two consecutive 50s and thought to myself, “OK, that is more like it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For batting greats like Tendulkar and Virat, getting 100s in ODIs would be the easiest thing to do at the international level. And, that is why I have always believed that the true greatness in Tendulkar’s feat of hundred 100s were his 51 Test hundreds, not his 49 ODI hundreds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You will find in Test matches, so also in T20s, bowlers getting ‘man of the match’ awards as much as the batsmen do. But, this is not the case in 50-overs cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Tests are about batsmen defending or getting runs and bowlers trying to get batsmen out, 50-overs cricket is mostly about picking ones and twos, and hitting the odd boundary. Yes, even today, it is mostly about ones and twos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In T20s, well, the batsman is under pressure to hit a six of two balls, and as the bowler is in denying that, pressure is equally divided.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fifty-overs cricket, as I see it now after all these years, is for batsmen to make a name for themselves. Know any legendary one-day bowler? No.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And yes, it is also ten overs too long. So many little innovations have been tried to infuse life in 50-overs cricket, when the simplest thing to do is to make it 40 overs. That will reduce the middle-overs’ boredom, and most importantly batsmen will have lesser time in their comfort zone, and with it, less imbalance in the game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, the World Cup will be 50-overs cricket, so along with finding out who is going to be the champion, let us also see which batsman is the man of the series in this World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Sat Mar 23 16:53:00 IST 2019 the-coach-who-runs-the-team <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ian Chappell once famously said that the only coach a cricket team needs is the one that takes it to the ground. My view is not as extreme, but I do believe that in cricket, a coach’s role is not as crucial as in, say, football.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I maintain that the most insignificant player in the cricket squad adds more value to the team than a coach does; if you want a member of the squad ill before a game, it rather be a coach than a player. The coach’s contribution is at best marginal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here is a very interesting detail. When India put in one of its best performances away from home, in 2007/8—that is when it competed superbly against Australia in Australia and went on to win the T20 World Cup—who was India’s coach?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lalchand Rajput. Not too many people remember this, nor was Rajput given too much credit for it because he is not a big name in world cricket and keeps a very low profile. Anil Kumble and M.S. Dhoni were the Indian captains then, and they were really the ones leading the winning efforts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, you know what, like with everything in life, there is an exception to this, too. It is Chandrakant Pandit, the current coach of the Vidarbha Ranji team. Before he took over as coach two years ago, Vidarbha was a nondescript first-class team. Since then, they have won the Ranji trophy twice and the Irani trophy twice. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Why? Let me explain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pandit, by nature, cannot play second fiddle to anyone, he has to be the ‘boss man’ of the team. When he was coach of Indian junior teams, which were putting up some impressive performances, I asked Pandit how much credit he would take for the team’s success. “80 per cent” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was a cheeky grin on his face. But he was being honest to me and himself, too, because that is what Pandit does. Unlike other coaches, he actually calls the shots in the team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is not shy about shouting out bowling changes and making field adjustments from the pavilion. Being a typical Mumbai street-smart cricketer himself, his tactics are sharp; the captain just executes his ideas without questioning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, Pandit cannot be a coach if Virat Kohli is captain, but his method works with teams like Vidarbha. He does not care about decorum, he does what he thinks will work. He is hard on his players and believes that if “I have a sharper mind and more experience than a bunch of 20-year-olds, why don’t I plan and they do what they can do best–execute.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I can’t fault this approach, makes for a lot of common sense.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, considering the misplaced, exaggerated importance given to most cricket coaches, why not actually give them more powers? Like it was tried way back in the 1999 World Cup by Bob Woolmer, the South African coach, why not have a constant communication line going from coach to captain?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In today’s world, where optics matter a lot, if a captain blunders on the field, the coach respectfully stays out of it, letting the captain rule in his domain, even if he is clearly making some bad calls. But Pandit will not allow such things to happen on the field. He will intervene right then and not after the damage is done and the team has suffered the consequences.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I know there is no one winning way, but Pandit’s way seems to be working brilliantly for one cricket team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Sat Feb 23 11:07:23 IST 2019 dhonis-method-and-madness <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In India, MSD is as famous an abbreviation as RBI or LIC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There will come a time when Mahendra Singh Dhoni will no longer be playing the game, and when that time comes he will go down in Indian cricket history as one of the true legends of the game, a global legend.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Dhoni took over as captain, his greatest gift to Indian cricket was to help it get rid of its anxiety. In the 1990s, when I was part of the team, there were many matches we let slip because we were too anxious in crunch situations. Even under Sourav Ganguly there were traces of this weakness—India bowling first on an obvious ‘bat first’ pitch in the finals of the 2003 World Cup against Australia was symptomatic of this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chasing scores under pressure prevented India from becoming real champions. Remember all those matches versus Pakistan in Sharjah? By the time Dhoni finished as captain, Virat Kohli inherited an Indian team that are master chasers with Virat himself leading the way in this regard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was just incredible to see Dhoni, a small-town boy, lead an Indian team that had the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble. They were not only greats, but also big city boys.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhoni, interestingly, had no small town traits. Just to compete and measure up to the big city boys (a trap so easy to fall into) he never went over the top with the authority that he had as captain. He never disrespected the greats, nor did you ever wonder who was in charge out there on the field. It was Dhoni.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the 1983 World Cup win was momentous in the history of Indian cricket, a David beating the Goliath of world cricket (the West Indies), the 2011 World Cup win, in my view, was a greater accomplishment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The win in 1983 was freakish. The same West Indian team toured India a few months later and beat us 6-0.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 2011 World Cup was about an Indian team performing with the burden of immense expectation. India was expected to win the World Cup at home. If not for Dhoni’s calmness, India would not have won the 2011 World Cup. It is 2019 and Dhoni is still around, but he is not leading an Indian fight this time. That is now Kohli’s thing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhoni is fighting his own fight, to stay relevant, and more importantly, useful to this team. He still runs quickly between wickets, but his powers as a batsman have clearly diminished, and he knows it. The great mind of his has recognised that he has to now rely on his partner, one who can hit the ball out of the ground at will, to keep up with the required run rate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the warrior in him still wants to be out there on the front lines, trying to win the game for his team; his weapons are a bit rusty, but the will is as strong as ever.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhoni knows only one way of winning matches in a run chase—to stay till the very end, almost until the last ball of the innings, even when it is possible to win the match earlier. This approach of his is highly debated. But, this is Dhoni’s way. It is risky, especially given his current ability.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhoni fans believe in him and think he can still win matches for India like he did in 2011. As for me, his methods worry me, and as a huge Dhoni admirer I pray they do not backfire on him on any big night in the 2019 World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Fri Jan 25 18:46:37 IST 2019 beat-that-stump-mic <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After winning the first Test in Adelaide, India lost the second Test in Perth. The four-match series is now poised 1-1. The Indian and Australian teams carry similar traits—quality bowling, but a fragile batting unit. That is why the result of this series is a hard one to predict. Both teams are living in glass houses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though India lost the second Test, there were a couple of high-quality performances from Mohammed Shami and Virat Kohli. Shami has had this reputation of being a ‘blow hot, blow cold’ kind of bowler for a while, but recently he has been mostly ‘red hot’ for India. In Perth, he picked up his second five-wicket haul this year, while Kohli got another high-class hundred, the only hundred in the match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But you know what the fans and media were talking about after that match? The little squabble on the field between Ravindra Jadeja and Ishant Sharma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now such exchanges are very common in matches when you have mostly 20-year-olds, high on adrenaline, involved in a contest. Until now there may have been a million such minor altercations between players of the same team. This is not your Javed Miandad and Dennis Lillee coming-to-blows kind of confrontation. This was innocuous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So why is it getting so much attention?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because, now the television broadcasters have become more mischievous than the players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While covering the match, they are carrying on a ‘sting operation’ of their own to catch players who are slightly out-of-line, and then share that footage with a hungry media. Thankfully, Indian channels’ cricket coverage is much more responsible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such controversy-driven TV channels are feeding gossip from the field and the media is lapping it up, and why wouldn’t they! There are soap operas running for years on TV, based on such themes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kerry Packer, the owner of Australia’s Channel 9, was a game-changer in cricket coverage. He introduced stump microphones for the first time. Packer wanted to enhance the viewer experience of watching cricket on TV—to give cricket fans not just the sight, but the sound of the game, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Taking the fan closer to the action was Packer’s idea. So, for the first time, fans at home heard what a non-striker on the field heard, the rustling of a fast bowler’s motion through the crease as he bowled. Viewers also got to listen to the scraping sound of a batsman’s shoes as they shaped up to play the ball. It all added to the appeal of the game. Stump microphones are even used to help umpires in decision making.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Test cricket’s limited appeal these days, some channels are taking the short-cut to get people interested in Test cricket by using the stump mics technology to feed gossip that has got nothing to do with the game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the ongoing series in Australia, stump microphones were turned up full volume, all the time, even between overs, just to hear what the players are saying. Players, meanwhile, are still coming to terms with it. Some are aware of its presence and its potential threat, while others like Sharma and Jadeja are caught off guard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How can eavesdropping on what is being said among players and then revealing it to the world be right? I am amazed players have not officially protested against this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A very smart thing was done by a player recently to get rid of this intrusion. He started praising rivals of the match sponsors straight into the stump mic. The stumps mics went down immediately. I suggest Sharma and Jadeja do the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Sat Dec 29 11:06:15 IST 2018 england-the-underachiever <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>England invented cricket and the first Test was played in 1877 between England and Australia. For many years there were just two or three countries that played Tests and England was quite a force. Then along came the West Indies in 1928, 51 years later, and what happens in the coming decades? England starts getting a real beating.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The West Indies, the new kid on the block, was hammering the daylights out of the veterans. Australia took over from the West Indies to mete out the same treatment to England, and with it the rest of the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cricket, since it has become more than a four-nation global sport, has had two teams ruling the sport. The true champions of the world—the West Indies and Australia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>England started struggling the moment there was increased competition. It was still a country that loved its cricket and had the best infrastructure in the world for it, but it somehow has not been able to produce a champion team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here is a shocking fact about ICC or world titles, essentially the winners of the World Cup and the Champions trophy for 50 overs cricket and the World T20 for the 20 overs format.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Australia leads the charts with seven world titles. The West Indies has five. Sri Lanka, an island nation with simple infrastructure for cricket, has two, plus one shared Champions Trophy title with India. Pakistan, with zero infrastructure for cricket and now hardly any international cricket at home, has three. India has also done well with world titles; three plus one shared with Sri Lanka. England? Just one! Yes, one. That was the World T20 title in May 2010 in the West Indies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember bumping into an English journalist after that superb England win. He wasn’t looking very happy, and when I congratulated him, he said, “Thanks, but is this really an England team?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were at least five non-English players in the eleven that won the final, including [South Africa-born] Kevin Pietersen. When I say non-English, I mean players who were born and played most of their cricket outside England. That was why the journalist was reluctant to take pride in the win as a truly English one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite such a poor record, England still continues to command respect for its cricket and its ways, maybe because it is so sophisticated and pristine. The cricketing landscape, I mean. Also, the media coverage of its cricket is highly impressive. England may not have the best cricket team, but it has the best commentary on its cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So why has England underachieved so much? The main reason is that it has not really acknowledged that it has underachieved. So, what hope is there? The English are also the ultimate ‘geeks’ of the game (when I say geeks, I mean people in sport who tend to complicate sport). They have not quite learnt the lessons from their own cricketing greats like Ian Botham, that to really excel at sport you have to simplify it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the ‘geeks’ are currently consumed by some more bizarre thinking and tactics, though they are winning a few games, like in Sri Lanka recently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They have concluded that this win came because of some brave selections and tactics. No guys, you won because Sri Lanka is a bad team now, and India beats it regularly without breaking a sweat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>England are supposed to be hot favourites to win the 2019 World Cup, to be played at home. I am not so sure. For, to be a champion, you have to think like a champion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Tue Nov 27 19:01:47 IST 2018 baptised-for-greatness <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Is it the waters of India? How else do we keep producing all-time-great batsmen with such regularity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sunil Gavaskar retired in 1987, paving the way for another great—Sachin Tendulkar—in 1989. As Tendulkar was winding up his career, Virat Kohli took up the mantle to be the great of this generation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And yes, these are true batting greats acknowledged by the entire cricketing world, and not just us Indians. So this is not like mera Bharat mahan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sunil Gavaskar was my icon; more than my father, it was because of him that I wanted to become a cricketer. In fact, I gave up leg-spin bowling that I used to bowl decently, lest I become an all rounder and be nothing like Sunil Gavaskar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gavaskar played at a time when India went about playing international cricket with an inferiority complex. These were pre-helmet days, so fast bowling and the West Indians with their four fast men were the challenges that you had to take on as an Indian player.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sunil Gavaskar passed this test by fire with flying colours and made us all proud. India loved him for the courage he showed as an Indian on the world stage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This era was about defensive batting and Gavaskar was a model of the perfect defensive technique, we up-and-coming batsmen marvelled at how he left the ball alone as it passed his chin. West Indians bowled at least three bouncers per over; they called it “chin music”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tendulkar took Indian batting to the next level. He was the first Indian batsman who dominated foreign attacks in their homes like Viv Richards did in the Gavaskar era.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tendulkar was unique in the way that it was the first time fans saw an Indian batsman hit good balls for boundaries. This was the phase when India had earned the reputation as a team that were tigers at home and lambs overseas (they still carry that tag). Tendulkar was the only guy who looked at home away from home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the West Indians respected and loved Gavaskar, Tendulkar earned the adulation of the Australians, the best team in his time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Gavaskar willed himself to batting greatness, Tendulkar was a child prodigy who may have found batting at the international level easier than Gavaskar did. But his confidence never became arrogance. This was his special quality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, the baton has been passed on to Virat Kohli. If Tendulkar got hundreds, this guy gets match-winning ones. When he leaves the scene, he will leave behind the legacy of physical fitness and mental toughness. His batting is as much about him running singles and twos with child-like enthusiasm, as it is about the signature cover drives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This batting great keeps putting his body—that he has developed to bear exceptional rigours—on the line day in, day out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The hotter the conditions, the more physical his innings become. His hundreds are generally studded with only ten boundaries. It is not that he cannot hit big shots, but he is a believer of risk-free run accumulation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In England we saw the mental toughness, too. Unlike Tendulkar, who had no batting flaw, Virat clearly has a chink in his batting armour when, in helpful conditions, bowlers target his off stump.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is where his great character kicks in. When he got his first hundred in the recent series against England, he left almost seven overs of James Anderson alone. This from a guy who is a game changer in T20 cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As I said, it has to be the waters of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Sat Nov 10 19:13:01 IST 2018 thanks-for-coming-afghanistan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In a crowded Indian cricket calendar, an Asia Cup tournament was a hindrance. As players, too, we felt that way. It never quite had the charm that other non-bilateral series had. But, after this year, things will change. Asia cup will be an event cricket fans will look forward to. Why?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because now we have five teams of international standard out of which four are pretty evenly matched with India the clear number one team by a distance. So, henceforth, the fun will be about the four teams—Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh—fighting for a chance to play India in the finals and win the Cup. India will have to carry the burden having to keep its position as ‘numero uno’. They cannot even blink as these four teams are perfectly capable of upsetting them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the Asia Cup will always be played in Asian conditions means that these teams are all playing on pitches they are familiar with. In overseas conditions, the competition between the four teams I mentioned, would not be so close.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India won the 2018 Asia Cup, but this year’s edition of the tournament will be remembered more for Afghanistan’s exploits and their rise in international cricket, ripping off of the tag of minnows put on them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They played five matches, won two, nearly three. If it were their nights, they would have beaten Pakistan and Bangladesh twice and also beaten (albeit not at full strength) India, a match that ended in a tie. Afghanistan’s rapid rise confirms the fact that more than infrastructure and sophisticated academies, it is really inspiration and a drive from within that fuels the growth of a player or a team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Afghanistan wants attention, success and fame, and cricket has become the medium to achieve these goals. Everyone wants success and fame, but considering the situation back home for the Afghanis, I guess they want it more badly than others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rashid Khan, their fantastic wrist-spinner, a high value cricketer in T20 leagues around the world, is their poster boy now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rashid Khan is a game changer for all teams that he plays for, like how he is invaluable for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League. You can just imagine what effect his showings in the IPL would be having on all those young boys in Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When you are growing up with an impressionable mind, nothing stimulates the urge to become a star more than watching a star at his peak. It was Sunil Gavaskar for me. For many 12-year-olds, it must be Rashid Khan. If he can do it, why can’t I? They must be thinking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rashid Khan, in a recent interview, said there are hundreds of wrist-spinners like him back home, including a few within his family. So, don’t worry. There will be a regular supply of these game-changing wrist-spinners from Afghanistan that all private leagues will be wanting to have a piece of. There is already Mujeeb Ur Rahman who plays for Kings XI Punjab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is great to see that the glamorous and lucrative T20 leagues have not spoilt their (Afghanistan’s) players. Their desperation to win international matches is the same. I guess they don’t know any other way to play. They are a very likeable team, too, and hence a welcome addition to the shrinking pool of quality teams in international cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are not over the top with their aggression or celebrations, high adrenaline moments are handled with an air of calmness by these guys—a rarity in today’s cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thanks for coming, Afghanistan. Hope you have a long and enjoyable stay in international cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Fri Oct 05 19:05:29 IST 2018 safe-and-sorry <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When it comes to safety, there is no country like England. ‘Safety first’ is their motto in all aspects of their lives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember one incident when we were covering a World Cup game in 1999 in Taunton. It was an India-Sri Lanka game. Our broadcasting crew had left some of their equipment in the corridor outside our commentary box. A steward came up to our box and told our producer that the three little boxes and a camera stand in the corridor had to be removed as that area was a fire exit route and nothing should be kept there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a spacious corridor and these were just a few pieces of equipment lying in one corner, coming in no one’s way. Our producer was too occupied with the ongoing game and ignored or may have forgotten the steward’s request.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ten minutes later, a policeman came into our box asking who the producer of this broadcast was. In no uncertain terms, he said just one thing to our producer: “Sir, if those items lying in the corridor are not removed in the next five minutes, I am going to put an end to this broadcast.” Our producer jumped off his seat, forgot completely about the World Cup match, and in two minutes had the corridor cleared. It is an incident I will never forget, as it tells you so much about a country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When you fly an English airline, you will find their in-flight crew puts safety well above hospitality. They are passionate about safety.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is all very good, but when your obsession with safety starts spilling over into sport, well, then it is not such a good thing. Take, for example, the ongoing Test series against India. They have a pure batsman called Jos Buttler batting at number seven. Yes, it is that preoccupation with safety. “What if our top order fails? We need to have a back up for that,” they think.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their media and their experts keep harping on the fact that they have great depth in batting. “Even our number nine can bat,” they say. But, their deep batting lineup often fails and they struggle to put up big scores. It is a team that loses Tests at home more than any other top team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When England selectors want to pick a bowler and they have a choice between two, they will pick the one who can bat even if he is slightly inferior to the other as bowler. Moeen Ali is a fine cricketer, whose main strength is his off-spin bowling. But, England expects him to bat as well, and when he fails with the bat, they are disappointed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All their batsmen in this series have gone on record saying they would want to bat one position below their current place. This is again a sign of being defensive, and being safe rather than positive and courageous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The history of this game has shown that the two sides that ruled world cricket for a span of time—West Indies and Australia—kept it simple. They picked pure bowlers and pure batsmen and one wicketkeeper. They trusted the purity of skills of a player to win them matches. They did not think, “What if our batting fails?” Instead they thought, “If our batting fails, our pure bowlers will bring us back in the game by decimating the opposition for an even lower score.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>England has never ruled world cricket, and never won a World Cup or a Champions Trophy, in all these years, which is a shocking statistic. It shows that ‘safety first’ in sport does not quite work, but by losing another series in England, it seems India is the only country out there to prove that it does.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Fri Sep 07 17:13:28 IST 2018 see-sceptics-its-a-century <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I had once tweeted that the only thing remaining between Virat Kohli and ultimate batting greatness is his vulnerability outside the off stump.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I knew I was being a bit dramatic here, but you know what, there were a few sceptics out there who kept bringing up the fact that he averaged just 13 in four Test matches in England, and how he kept nicking the ball to the slips, especially off Jimmy Anderson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Something about performing in England. To be acclaimed as a true great somehow you have to put up a good show in England, maybe it is because cricket in the summer of England gets global attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, I see a cricketing reason for it. It is like in tennis, a master of clay courts has to win the odd title on grass to show that he is not just a great player in conditions that suit him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>English conditions are alien to batsmen who are brought up on hard pitches where the ball skids on to the bat nicely. On these English turf pitches, the ball tends to just hold into the pitch and change direction. A very subtle occurrence that has a big impact on a batsman’s performance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, now that Virat has a 100 in England, the sceptics will nod their head and say, “hmm... he is special, this guy”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is an amazing country in this regard. We had Sunil Gavaskar in the 70s and 80s—the undisputed batting great. When he packed up, in just two years, we had another batting great in Sachin Tendulkar. While Tendulkar’s long career was winding up, the brick and mortar was laid for another Indian great that the cricketing world could marvel at—Virat Kohli.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My theory is that Indian batsmen play so much on flat pitches that they end up playing long innings from a very early age, as early as 12 and they do play a lot of matches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, when an Indian batsman reaches the international stage, at say, age 20, he has faced and hit three times more balls than a batsman of the same age from England, New Zealand, South Africa or Australia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After that, the only hurdle is adjustment to different conditions. Once you are able to do that, the advantage of the batting hours kicks in, and, lo and behold, we have another Indian batsman ruling the world!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For one of the greatest stroke players in the world, Virat’s first 100 in England was about not playing strokes. He had to fight off his biggest threat, Jimmy Anderson, by reining in his natural instincts of playing shots, especially his favourite, signature shot, the cover drive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When he reached his 100, Virat had deliberately left 40 balls outside the off stump, out of which 26 were off Anderson alone. That is more than four overs of Anderson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Can you imagine that? This is a modern player, where in one format he has to belt every ball for a four or six, in the other score off every ball, but come Test cricket, he was able to do the extreme opposite.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, that was the real hallmark of that Virat 100. Sure, he was dropped on 21, when for once he was sucked into the England trap, but like great batsmen do, he made the opposition pay a heavy price for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is all very nice—Virat’s dominance and all that—but, what about India the team? What about India replicating its home performance overseas?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well, that issue still remains. And for that, at least on this England tour, Indian batting cannot be a sole proprietorship, for in a competition between a team and an individual, even if that individual is Virat Kohli, the team will generally win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Fri Aug 10 17:13:32 IST 2018 kuldeeps-not-a-freak <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>My calendar can get pretty tight as a commentator, but whenever I get an offer to do commentary in the under-19 cricket world cups, I grab it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is nice to cover a comparatively low profile event, the hyper activity that goes around big event productions can get to you sometimes, so this makes for a refreshing change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, more importantly, it is very fulfilling watching young talent at the cusp of their careers, where in a matter of two years or so, they will become real stars of mainstream international cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When this happens, it is a nice feeling. Because you have seen them at the under-19s as kids with big dreams in their eyes, you feel a certain kind of affiliation towards them, a soft corner perhaps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is how neighbours must feel when that kid they have seen playing around, smash a few windows, goes on to become a Virat Kohli. The list is long, of under-19 boys I saw who went onto become famous household names, the latest in that list is India’s new game changer with the ball—Kuldeep Yadav.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I saw him in the under-19 World Cup of 2014, held in Dubai. I remember coming back from Dubai carrying images of two cricketers in my head. One of a tall, athletic fast bowler from South Africa with a beautiful action, running in and terrorising batsmen—that was Kagiso Rabada.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other was that of a Chinaman bowler from India bamboozling everyone with his skills, yes, it was Kuldeep Yadav.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a matter of just three years, Rabada attained top ranking in senior cricket and as for Kuldeep, well, just yesterday, as I write this, he picked up five wickets in a T20 International versus England. His stock as a cricketer is rising every day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Actually I do not like him being called a ‘Chinaman bowler’, a term used in cricket for his kind, who bowl leg spin left handed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been no great Chinaman bowler in cricket, so this breed is traditionally looked at as slightly freakish , more a novelty than anything, their skills are taken a bit lightheartedly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kuldeep is nothing of the kind. He is as pure as they come with sound fundamentals, just that he bowls leg spin left handed, he is a mirror image of the great Shane Warne.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reason Kuldeep stole my heart in Dubai was because he was all I wanted a spinner to be. With batsmen getting stronger, hitting the ball further and the boundaries staying the same distance they were 50 years ago, spinners are bowling quicker and flatter. It is interesting actually to see fast bowlers bowl slow and spinners bowl quick to survive in today’s world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kuldeep is different, he holds onto the age-old belief that spinners must deceive batsmen by guile and flight, a theory rubbished by people saying it will never work in today’s power-driven game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kuldeep has proved them wrong. He has shown that deception still works, in fact it rocks!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is just mind boggling to see Kuldeep sometimes bowl as slow as 73kmph and flight the ball above the eye line of the batsman, the kind of spin bowling you saw in the 70s from Bishan Singh Bedi and E.A.S. Prasanna.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, basically Kuldeep is using the methods of the 1970s in 2018 to make a winning impact, and, that too, in the frenetic format of cricket—the T20s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>England decimated the Australian seam bowlers recently, but were like fish out of water against Kuldeep. Spin is still king, guys, and if you are as good as Kuldeep Yadav, the cricketing world is your kingdom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator •</b></p> Fri Jul 13 13:02:03 IST 2018 a-land-that-has-already-risen <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ticked off another item on my bucket list last week—a visit to Japan. I knew cricket was not going to take me there. So, it was not a trip that was going to happen just like that. I had to make it happen. Taking ten days off, I cracked that code. Now, it is ‘been there, done that’. Feels good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was always fascinated by this country—so far away from the west, not speaking the language of the west, but made such an impact in the west. I had to see Japan up and close, see their ways, their culture, even if it was to be in a limited time of ten days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first thing that struck me about Japan was its richness. Their city pavements are floored like in a luxurious Mumbai flat. Expensive stones of different textures and colours are used to create patterns and designs, and this goes on for miles all over its cities. Every item used in its public infrastructure is of high quality. But, no, it is not the ‘in your face’ kind of opulence. The understated richness and class of it all is what comes through.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their favourite colour combination is grey and cream. Most of their houses and buildings flaunt this colour scheme, very subtle. It gives you a sense of calm, being surrounded by these colours. I plan to repaint my bedroom in these colours now. I have not been sleeping too well, lately.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hygiene, the Japanese are very big on this, almost obsessed by it. Their bowing practice and general respectfulness towards others is well known. That is exactly how they will tell you to remove your footwear from the outside, and offer clean slippers the moment you step indoors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their toilets should be a tourist attraction, if you ask me. They are squeaky clean, and, yes, very hi-tech. Being pioneers in technology, it is no surprise to see Japan using technology in every aspect of their daily lives. It is actually worth travelling to Japan just to use their toilets and take showers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Forgive me for getting into details of this, but I have to, for this will be one of my abiding memories of Japan. When you sit on the potty, it feels like you are in an aircraft seat, surrounded by all these buttons. Think of everything you do while going through this daily ritual of our lives. It is all taken care of by a light touch of a button.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Right from warming up of the seat to lifting it and all the rest after it, everything is automatic. Same with the showers. The best shower experience of my life has come in Japan. Did you know that many hotels in Japan have a community spa for its guests called onsen? It is like a paddle pool that is filled with hot water.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, where does this hot water come from? From the underground natural hot springs. I have no idea how they source that into the hotel—must be some Japanese technology again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, to my favourite subject—food. A warning here: If you do not like Japanese food per se, you may not enjoy the whole Japanese experience as I did. For those who love spices in their food, Japanese food may seem like fish, meat or vegetables dipped in hot water. I have come to a stage where I cannot enjoy food, however tasty it is, if it is high calorie and not healthy. So, Japanese food was just perfect for me. I do not think my family liked the food very much. But, I gorged on it, even on their desserts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, the biggest takeaway from Japan has to be its people and their culture. I used to actually go down to the hotel lobby to see a particular practice of the hotel staff. Every staff, senior or junior, would bow towards the hotel before opening the door behind them to enter the staff area.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Staff coming out would do the same when stepping out from the hotel, a very solemn bow, like you would do in a place of worship. Work is truly worship here in Japan, and, I guess, that is what makes this country so special.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jun 16 12:44:37 IST 2018 indian-potentials-league <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I guess 2018 will be the year when the Indian Premier League became truly Indian. A simple evidence of this is the orange cap presented to the leading run scorer. For the first time, it is mostly Indian players. Glance through the bowlers’ list, and that will also show more Indians than foreigners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This could be because some terrific overseas players like David Warner, Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc of Australia, and Kagiso Rabada of South Africa are missing in this edition of the IPL.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Young Indian players—not the established Indian internationals, but fringe Indian players—have come into their own and taken centre stage in the IPL. They genuinely believe now that the IPL is their platform, and there is no longer any inhibition in them being on a world stage, with big global stars around them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this IPL, Rishabh Pant has overshadowed AB de Villiers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like Pant, Shreyas Iyer of Delhi Daredevils and Suryakumar Yadav of Mumbai Indians are playing well. Even an 18-year-old Prithvi Shaw of Mumbai, who got break a little late for Delhi Daredevils, is batting like he would in his backyard. In one of his first matches, he was going after Mitchell Johnson (still quite a fearsome bowler) as if Johnson were a rookie.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a proper cricketing reason why it has not been a great IPL for the foreign players. An interesting change is happening in world cricket. Players, even the good ones from a country, are struggling to make an impact in another country. You have players from England playing well in England and getting decimated by the same opposition away from England. South Africa beat India recently in South Africa, but when they come to India, India bosses them around. Also, there aren’t any truly great teams around like we had in the earlier days. Teams that were winners in all conditions, like the West Indians and the Australians. That’s because there aren’t enough players in today’s teams who excel in all conditions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being versatile is being great. Like a Smith or a Virat Kohli or a Kane Williamson, but their number is very small.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today you have a lot of good players, but the exceptional ones are rare. I am not talking about the truly great players; their number has always been very small through the generations. I am talking about world-class players, who are just a notch under great players, and are the spine of any great team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To be versatile is not about fitness, strength or power. These qualities are found aplenty in players of today. But, to be effective in varying conditions, you need the subtleties—subtle adjustments of your game and your instincts. Throw in a bit of street smartness—to behave differently in different landscapes. This is more about the mind than the body.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is also the reason why teams in this IPL have lost their way after a great start in the first six overs. The first six overs is about power hitting, the middle phase, well, it is about the cricketing ‘smarts’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is great to see young Indian players show this quality, but will they be versatile? That, the IPL can’t show us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri May 18 15:14:34 IST 2018 amar-tomar-kolkata <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When I got my IPL schedule, I quickly checked how many matches I was slotted to commentate on in Kolkata. It is interesting, right from my playing days I have always looked forward to my visits to Kolkata.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I first went there as a player, I was dazed watching the adulation an Indian cricketer received. We would be put in that wonderful hotel, Grand Oberoi, which is located right in the middle of the city, in the epicentre of Kolkata’s chaos. There were hundreds of people gathered at the main gate of the hotel, which opened to the main road.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Obviously, these poor souls were not allowed inside the premises of the hotel. So, they would all huddle together outside the main gate just to catch a glimpse of an Indian cricketer, passing through that gate in his car.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As players, we could see their expressions when they looked at us. It was something I will never forget in my life. In the lobby of the hotel, there would still be a crowd. These were the more influential cricket fans who had the right ‘contacts’ to get up till there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You do not see such scenes any longer, by the way. Today’s cricketers are bigger brands. But, I cannot say that they are more popular than players from the bygone era.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a heady feeling for a 20-year-old cricketer, to get this kind of attention and the pampering that came along with it. But, then I quickly saw the other side of this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I once played a match-winning innings at the iconic Eden Gardens and the spectators there went crazy. I felt the full force of their love and fanfare. A few weeks later, I failed in a run chase, and, as I walked back to the pavilion, I could hear boos, and there might have been a few orange peels thrown at me, too. This was my early reality check, to not take fanfare too seriously.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are quite unique, the fans at the Eden Gardens. Like most venues around India, there is always a pin drop silence when the opposition hits a boundary. But, at all other times too, there is generally silence here—fans sit still as a T20 match unfolds itself. Like you would experience in most other places, especially in Mumbai and Bengaluru, you do not hear the general noise that you hear when 50,000 excited people gather in one place. But, suddenly there will be an eruption of noise when their team has had a happy moment. After that, they go silent and still again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has got slightly left behind among Indian metros, but it is the old charm of Kolkata that appeals to me, I tell my overseas friends to visit Kolkata if they want to see the quintessential India. Bengal’s music, their food, wow! I adore them both.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Forget meditation, just listen to Rabindra Sangeet and that should take care of your stress levels. I win people over quite easily here, I just hum a couple of lines from it and they are my well-wishers for life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bengali cuisine, for me, is the best Indian cuisine. Perhaps because it suits me in the sense that it is not hot. Bengali food is not about putting hot, spicy masala and chillies in to make an impression. They opt for the more tedious ways to make food delicious.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Somehow I keep forgetting to carry an extra bag to Kolkata, to take home all the gifts and the Bengali sweets that I receive from all my ‘well-wishers’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Apr 20 17:09:09 IST 2018 enchanting-island <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A TV producer called me two weeks ago, asking if I would be interested in doing a short commentary stint for a T20 tri-series. I asked him the location. He said, Sri Lanka. Yes, I said instantly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka has been one my favourite places, to travel for work, and also to generally unwind. With the long civil war behind them, every time I visited Sri Lanka after that, it has looked better and better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Somehow, as a player, I never got picked in the team when India toured Sri Lanka. But, my first overseas tour as a commentator was to Lanka. I did not know what to expect then. I had a vague image in my head of it being like Goa or Kerala. But, after I explored it, I came to realise that although its topography is a bit like south India, it is nothing like India. Its people are nothing like Indians.For starters, it is clean. The entire country is clean. You will see obvious poverty in the smaller towns, but you will not see dirt. Give India a nice scrub and you get Sri Lanka. They are already ‘Swachh Sri Lanka’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like the Worli seaface in Mumbai, they have the Galle face in Colombo, where people turn out in the hundreds to take walks and generally hang around in the evening. There are a few stalls serving local food. After the people leave, the place remains litter-free and clean.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kerala is perhaps the cleanest state in India, and it has a very high literacy rate. I wonder if there is a connection between the two, because Sri Lanka has a 100 per cent literacy rate, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lankans are not necessarily comfortable with the English language, and that hinders their progress somewhat on the world stage. But, as I said, they are still educated people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What struck me the first time I went there was how Sri Lanka was nothing like its neighbours, India or Pakistan. Come to think of it, they are more like Europeans in their general lifestyle and instincts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I watch with fascination how people react when they see a celebrity, say a cricketer, wandering into a hotel lobby. In India, fans will scream when they see one, topple a few things around them, as they rush to meet him, hoping to take a picture or two. In Pakistan, I have noted, they love their handshakes. When they see a cricketer they recognise, they will come forward and offer a firm handshake. While in Sri Lanka, even when they spot someone like a Kumar Sangakkara or Mahela Jayawardene, they will only exchange knowing looks with their friends, murmur about the presence of a celebrity near them, and generally feel very happy about it. That’s it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of the more excitable and brave ones will come up to you, and you think they are going to ask you something very awkward by the way they approach you, but all they will want is a picture. They love cricket, but they are not as passionate about it as their neighbours are.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You see this quality of theirs at cricket matches, too. They come to the ground to support their team, they will play their music, beat the drums and basically have a party at the ground. But, when their team loses, they quietly leave the ground, some still playing the drums on their way home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They speak Sinhalese; its tone is very soft and polite-sounding. So, when they speak English, it is in that same style. A Sri Lankan will never come across as disrespectful or cocky. As I said, I love a lot of things about Sri Lanka and no, I have not been paid by their tourism department to write this piece.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Mar 24 16:17:55 IST 2018 a-new-captain-a-new-team <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Post 2000, Indian cricket has shown a steady improvement. Sure, there have been setbacks like in 2011 when India lost to both England and Australia 4-0, but, generally, the graph has been northbound.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Sourav Ganguly, as India captain, brought self-esteem to Team India with the way they competed overseas, Mahendra Singh Dhoni injected calmness under pressure into Indian cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 1990s, India would lose many a close match out of sheer anxiety. Think of the the 1992 World Cup game against Australia in Brisbane—a classic case of nerves getting the better of the team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Dhoni gone as captain, Virat Kohli has taken over the reins of Indian cricket. He is still young as captain, but what has become evident is that he is bringing a quality into Indian cricket that was never seen before. The ‘never say die attitude’, and this was so visible in the last Test of the series against South Africa. India had lost the Test series when they came to the Wanderers to play this final Test, but they played this inconsequential game as if their lives depended on it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a poor pitch, bordering on dangerous. Balls were rearing up from good length and batsmen were getting hit on their hands and ribs regularly. The physios of both teams would have lost a few pounds from the many runs they had to make on to the field to attend to the batsmen’s bruises.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But India was very happy, in fact, very keen to carry on playing even after the umpires had clearly hinted that they would be okay if the teams did not want to continue playing on that surface. Every time an Indian batsman got hit, he would immediately let the officials know that he was fine and wanted to continue. And, the captain led from the front in this regard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My heart went out to them. Watching them fight this way, especially in a dead rubber, the desperation to still win a Test, made me feel really proud of this Indian team. It was a unique Test win for India in the end. One I will always remember for the courage shown on a treacherous pitch in an already lost series. It would have been so easy to take the other option and finish 2-0, but, no, they wanted it to be 2-1.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I guess Virat wanted the win to regain some self-respect and the others had no choice but to follow him. Yes, Virat has that kind of hold on this team. He leads and the others follow, wherever he takes them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the one-day series of six matches started after the Test series, at the toss, Virat used the win in the last Test to gain a psychological advantage over his opponents. He went out of his way to say that his team was very confident after the last Test win and kept highlighting that fact in all his talks. Anyone would think, it was India, and not South Africa, who had won the Test series. Virat had created that kind of a mood. The value of that last Test win, seemingly meaningless, came through in the one-day series.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Come the one-dayers, the South African captain confessed that the last Test had taken a lot out of his team. Keeping these tenacious Indians at bay had taken its toll on the South Africans. India won the one-day series 5-1.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This result had a lot to do with the ‘never say die attitude’ that India showed in the last Test.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Manjrekar, former cricketer, is a commentator.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Feb 24 17:08:31 IST 2018