Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Baggy Green !

There is something exciting about waking up at 5:00 in the morning (“rather crazy”, some of you may mumble); cautiously opening the creaky bedroom door (trying to anticipate, unsuccessfully, the next creak); tip-toeing down the stairs in dead darkness (a slip, a stumble and a few missed stairs to show as price paid for not waking up the other less excitable inmates of the house); and on reaching the living room - groping, locating, and cringing as the remote crashes on the floor; before finally switching on the telly and frantically pressing ‘Mute’ in quick succession, so that a scream may not escape the speakers into the pre-dawn darkness.

Such were the start of the days of my childhood, and to a certain extent even now, whenever the Indian cricket team toured down under, to Australia.

The dark screen of the telly would slowly light-up - wiping the darkness from my face and chasing the darkness from the room.

As my eyes adjust to the light, and I find myself a chair (a stubbed-toe and a sore knee to show for the attempt), I would be greeted with live feed from Australia – Boxing Day Test Match!

Shaking off drowsiness from my head, I would find myself being hypnotized by the likes of a Richie Benaud or a Mark Taylor, or that affable Carribean, Micheal Holding – refreshing!

As far as cricketing venues go, there is no better place than Australia to play the game. Unlike the dustbowls of India and Pakistan, the grey-chilly-damp-stiff-upper-lip English weather, or the faded and worn-out greens of muggy South Africa and West Indies, Australia provides a feast for the eye – a huge circle of green, with stripes of light and dark running across, restricted in the middle of those sprawling, handsome stadiums. The pitch, the colour of golden wheat, one that is assured to offer both bounce and pace; and the weather warm, sunny and crisp (Yes, that is the word that comes to my mind when I think of cricket in Australia – Crisp!); ideal for Test cricket. The cricketers wearing their fresh starched whites (the Aussies have always had a slight distinct yellow tinge to their clothes, as if unwashed, but likeable, nevertheless).

With some of the longest boundaries in the world, where batsmen run Fours (I have seen them run 5 once for an over-throw – good for the athletic Aussies; not so good for the Indians who relish hitting the boundaries than running the quick singles), the Aussie tour is a real endurance test; from the quality of stroke-play, to the aggressive opposition, cricket down-under is enough to make or break careers (So, would concur a V.V.S. Laxman, but not so, would say an Aakash Chopra).

The fascination does not end there. Even the telecast would be different each time, with ever changing fonts, new camera angles like stump vision, new forms of dynamic game analysis like ultra-slow motion, and even presentation styles – with players introducing themselves (on T.V.) as they stepped onto the field to bat.

As it is with other tours, one could also get to see veteran players who have now either turned commentators or coaches or have just dropped in for the match – the David Boons, Allan Borders and Mark Taylors of Australia.

And then the ‘quicks’ would start steaming in from the bottom of the TV screens towards the trepid batsman at the top, batsmen with tenuous grips on their bats trying to stop the cherry from crashing into their stumps. Sound of the ball nicking the outside edge, fielders grassing a catching, the ball scampering towards the fence fearing the sweet thump of the willow, Chin music – noise for the batsmen and a good beat for the spectators, the Hook, the Pull, the-one-that-bounced-a-bit, one on the chest another on the helmet, the chest-thumping on knocking down ‘Timber’, and huge Australian men and women waving Fours with a beer in one hand!

MCG, Sydney, Perth (!!), Adelaide, Gabba .. Bring it on!


I woke-up late for the Boxing-day test of the 2007 series. But what greeted me were 3 of the most beautiful dismissals I had seen in recent times.

Phil Jacques, fooled by a Kumble Googly was dragged out of the crease, and Dhoni did the rest behind stumps (there are very few instances in cricket that can match the embarrassment of a spinner completely fooling the batsman, I feel).

Zaheer followed up with a beauty to dismiss Ponting - the left-armer bowling from around the stumps with a bowl that angles in and moves away just that little bit from the right handed batsman, clipped the bails on its way back. With Ponting, the ball disappeared from the screen as the batsman played on the front-foot, and the next frame was that of the batsman outside the crease, covering the stumps completely, with the bails flying off on either side.

Hussey, the person to have the biggest test average after Sir Don, was next. Cool, efficient, professional, and determined (he made it to the side when 30+), he was fooled by a Kumble Googly (again!) that caught him on his back-foot plumb in-front.

As I publish this post, India has lost the MCG test by over 300 runs, and are struggling in the New Year’s test at SCG. The injuries are hurting India - with Zaheer returning to India. With the bouncy track of Perth to come next, the Indians have some hard work up ahead.

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