Saturday, August 7, 2010

India tour of The Emerald isles

Probably the most boring tour for any subcontinent cricket fan, having seen the two sides play each other almost once every 5 months in one form or the other, this 3 match test series was all set to be yet another one of that. Or was it?

Just to spice things up, there were these factors to make the tour more interesting than “Oh My God! Not this again :-( “. Here they are –

1. If SL beat IND 2-0, India will lose the number one position that it held for about an year as of now.

2. Ace off spinner Muthiah Muralitharan announced that he will retire after the first test at Galle, a pitch he loved very very much. The Wiz was 8 short of 800 wickets.

3. Lankan captain, Kumar Sangakkara, had his own problems regarding the ICC test ranking system, pointing out that a team which has never won a series in many foreign tours for decades is still sitting pretty at the top of the table.

Enough to start a good series?

Well, the first test at Galle was the perfect send off Murali needed – a victory, a 5 wicket haul and the 8 wickets for the 800 mark. What a warrior. He said that he will just “enjoy” the game as it unfolds, and so he did...making it more enjoyable for himself with every scalp. As dramatic as it can be, he was the one who picked the last wicket, to wrap up the match, the 800, the career. The best spinner to have ever set foot on the earth, I doubt if there can be anyone better, anyone even close.

It was the trio of Warne, Murali and Kumble who saved the art of spin from, what the whole cricketing world thought, extinction. Now, the world is in search of the next bunch of spinning talent. Countries like India, Australia, West Indies, South Africa are still looking for a genuine talent in the spin department. India, have Harbhajan Singh, but he hasn’t been anywhere close to the levels of the trio. New Zealand will not have Vettori for long. Sulieman Benn, the best of WI spinners now, is still nowhere close to what Lance Gibbs was. Pakistan has Ajmal and Kaneria, one is old, the other is inconsistent on foreign tracks, but the two are pretty good to be called their team’s imposing spin duo. England has, probably, the best spinner now available in Graeme Swann. Even without the help of weapons like doosra, Swann has the ability to deceive the batsmen with subtle variations in degree of spin and pace on the ball. The number of rotations on the ball, is an important factor for a spinner, to control the spin. And Swann has been controlling it well. Let us hope there are a few more good spinners coming up soon.

Knock knock! Back to the present please. (I’m so good on diverting from the subject, that I can go on for hours on such diverted topics :-P )

Ah well, the second test at Colombo’s SSC was so bad, sooo bad, SOOOO bad, that it might be termed as the worst test in the past 2 years, probably even worse than the one Lanka and Pakistan, in the black-marked, marred tour of Pakistan last year. From Sri Lanka’s point of view – they had won test-1, and needed one more test to win. They were pretty sure they will win the test at P Sara, their fortress. So, a draw will do good in the 2nd test. And a draw it was, at the expense of patience of atleast half a million viewers and onlookers. My take on this – dismiss the curator. If the curator at Kotla got dismissed for a shocker for genuine reasons, so must this *&^&%*&( who brought this one up. In an age when test cricket is needing the care and interest, this pitch will do no good to its sustenance.

I was so happy the third test (P Sara Oval)dawned. Finally I can watch a test with all comforts in my home  . Plus, this match promises to be more interesting than the other two, a result was surely on the cards. Once again, Lanka opted to bat first and put on a massive score, which India matched. Then, the third innings showed the typical P Sara pitch character. Spin took main stage and the Indian spinners wrecked havoc before Samaraweera helped Lanka to set India a big target, of 257. Never ever easy on this track, given that the Lankan duo, of mystery Mendis and the more dangerous, and bounce-equipped Randiv, were waiting in the ranks. And by the end of day-4, India were still needing almost 200 runs, but lost their three top order wickets, to Randiv. Day 5 was a crunch day! Lanka had all the weapons they wanted, and India had all the artilleries to save the series. Thought the Lankan captain had attacking fields for most of the day, no bowler seemed to be vicious for a duration long enough to pose a problem to the Indian middle order. Randiv, huffed and puffed, blew a few blocks down, but thats all Randiv , and Lanka in totality, could do. And soon enough, India, riding on the stylish century from the bat of the back-spasm hit Laxman, won the match with 5 wickets intact! India levelled the series 1-1, and prevented itself from sinking down any ranking in the ICC test ranking table.
Sticking to the test, I will like to point out some things that were so inexplicable. One from each side. Only one from each side, I don’t want to talk about all. As it is I receive complaints that my blog posts are too long :-P .

1. Sri Lanka are 7 down for 86 in the second innings and Samaraweera is joined by matter who it might be in the center, i would’ve certainly wanted the captain to attack the batsmen in the middle and try to wipe out the tail. But MSD had a very defensive field, allowing Samaraweera to take easy singles, (most of which he converted into twos) and allow the tail enough time and space to settle. As a captain I would’ve had atleast 4 close in fielders around the batting geniuses of the likes of Mendis and Malinga! Nearly 180 runs to 8th and 9th wicket partnerships says how bad India was in wiping off the tail. Jumbo, wherever you are, India misses you a lot.

2. Kumar Sangakkara is one of the most sound batsmen in the world. He is an icon for many young cricketers, and the face of the stability of the Lankan middle order, along with Mahela Jayawardene. Sangakkara is synonymous with calmness, as cool as you like. But watching this test match, if at all anyone wondered “If only Lanka scored X more runs, batted for Y more hours, Lanka could’ve saved or even won the match”, then blame it on Sangakkara. He threw his wicket as a birthday gift in both innings of the test. In the first innings, he charged at Ojha and holed out to the man positioned at long on. In the second innings it was even worse, with the team on top of a snow laden mountain waiting for the avalanche, he gave the all so necessary push, with a wild pull at a slow short ball and hitting it straight to square leg fielder. What a bad ball that was, what a worse shot that was. Just imagine how this test might’ve been had he stayed there for longer than what he did

So, thats about it. 1-1 it stands. India retain the bi-national series.

Elsewhere, Pakistan made a dramatic equaliser in the two test series, but have been less than good i the series against England, down 0-1 in a four test series. And as far as the second test is concerned, after day-1, the signs of parity is nowhere in the vicinity.

In the near future, in cricket, there will be more of India vs Sri Lanka (as if Asia cup and Zim tri series wasn’t enough), this time along with NZ ( déjà vu ?). Pakistan and England have three more tests to finish in the four test series (I bet more interesting than the tri series in Sri Lanka). September will bring on the T20 fever once again with the “Champions Trophy”.

Enjuoy thee creeekit. Eye weel bee baak soon aufter.
Comments and suggestions welcome :-)

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