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POSTED BY Akshay Sawai ON 10 March 2011, 12.34 PM

When a match is dull, it is not just the spectators who get bored. You also see it in the body language of the fielders. They drag themselves around.

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POSTED BY Akshay Sawai ON 7 March 2011, 6.52 PM

India’s win over Ireland was like an easy paper in an examination that you fail to fully capitalise on. This was a scoring subject, as they say. India could have blazed their way to 90 marks on 100. They would have to be happy with about 75. The strongest batting line-up in the competition had to chase 208 against Ireland. They made it close. Only the start and the end was comfortable, giving India the somewhat deceptively commanding victory margin of five wickets and four spare overs.

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POSTED BY Akshay Sawai ON 25 February 2011, 1.03 PM

The Indian team left Dhaka for Bangalore as early as possible because they did not get to watch Pogo in the Bangladesh capital. They tried. The previous evening, the team assembled in a banquet room at the Dhaka Sheraton. Twenty television sets were arranged in front of them. A remote was given to each member, including Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president. After half an hour of jabbing their thumbs, they gave up and decided to fly back to India. Bus tickets were not available.

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POSTED BY Akshay Sawai ON 20 February 2011, 1.48 PM

An excited group of female performers at the World Cup opening ceremony on Thursday finished their routine and jogged into an exit, squealing. A volunteer ushering them in put a finger on his lips, demanding quietness. But he was smiling. He knew adrenalin is not easily silenced.

Moments later, another girl from the same group headed towards the exit. She was limping and leaned on a male volunteer for support. It was obvious she had hurt herself, and now she appeared to be holding back tears.

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POSTED BY Akshay Sawai ON 24 September 2010, 12.28 PM

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are the best things in contemporary sport. It has been so for some time now. Usain Bolt runs infrequently. Cricket has credibility and overkill issues. Football matches frequently disappoint. At the World Cup in South Africa, the biggest attraction was a has-been in a suit and a beard. (But what a has-been.)

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POSTED BY Akshay Sawai ON 27 April 2010, 1.05 AM

Lalit Modi now has one more reason to forget this year’s IPL. The Chennai Super Kings defeated the Mumbai Indians in the final. Chennai is N Srinivasan’s team.

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POSTED BY Akshay Sawai ON 23 April 2010, 6.27 PM

The IPL’s second semifinal between the Chennai Super Kings and Deccan Chargers was an uncharacteristic Twenty20 match. It was low scoring. Tight. It was about the bowlers.

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POSTED BY Akshay Sawai ON 22 April 2010, 11.26 AM

Sachin Tendulkar dug the toe of his shoe in the crease at the Dr DY Patil Stadium and dragged it six times to mark his guard. He did not stay long at the wicket, though. But his fans need not have worried. There was the other guy with a surname starting with ‘T’—Saurabh Tiwary. With Ambati Rayudu and Kieron Pollard, Tiwary (52 not out, 31 balls, 3x4, 4x6) saved the Mumbai Indians in the IPL semifinal against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Pollard emerged the Man of the Match because he also took three wickets. But if not for Tiwary’s innings, which straddled the doubt-ridden middle overs and the confident later ones, Mumbai would not have had a strong total to defend. What would Raj Thackeray have to say about this? But that is a debate for another day.

By taking care of Tendulkar in the second over and forcing a sluggish pace of scoring, Bangalore appeared to have immobilised Mumbai. Mumbai did not collapse, but their legs were gradually losing strength. By the middle of the innings negativity was obvious in their body language. When JP Duminy tamely top-edged Anil Kumble into the hands of Kevin Pietersen at short cover, he hung his head and shoulders and stood at the wicket. The lumbering Kumble was in command of the proceedings, animatedly making field changes, squatting and rubbing his hands in the earth before sending down a delivery, all the while a white handkerchief flapping out of the high waist of his pants.

Rayudu (40, 38 balls, 4x4) and to some extent Abhishek Nayar (a scratchy 22 from 18 with two fours) were Mumbai’s first soldiers of the balmy night, if not the most swashbuckling. They resisted Bangalore’s asphyxiating grip.

Tiwary came at No. 6, a little lower than expected. Like all players, he too cast an ‘X’ shaped shadow on the floodlit turf. Fifteen large ‘X’s (two batsmen, a bowler, ten fielders, two umpires) described different patterns on the green disc of the field throughout the match.

Tiwary is a big 20-year-old with wide shoulders. With a bat and a helmet and his long hair he looks like a character out of the Mahabharata. The willow could be his mace. As a Jharkhand boy, he is often compared to Mahendra Singh Dhoni. His hair, too, is reminiscent of the young Dhoni. Importantly, their batting is similar. Brute force is the hallmark of both. Strength is their strength. There are times when Tiwary does not find the sweet spot, yet the ball reaches the ropes. Evidence of his power could be seen in the aerial but flat four he clubbed off Jacques Kallis in the 16th over and a cross-batted six over Kumble’s head in the next.

Even he, however, took time before the eyes, feet and massive muscle packs coordinated to inject blood in the veins of the so far pale Mumbai scoreboard. There was a particularly arid 28-ball spell, starting from the fifth delivery of the ninth over and ending with the second of the 13th, when Mumbai went without a boundary. But Tiwary struck water on the next ball with a six off Virat Kohli. It was the first six of the Mumbai innings. The IPL is a river where sixes are abundant. You don’t have to wait long to land one. But this match was an exception.

Mumbai were like a late blooming teenager, transforming in one remarkable burst from gawky to able-bodied and handsome. They grew by 77 runs in the last five overs. Quite a few of these were struck by Pollard, increasingly justifying his status as the most expensive buy in the tournament. In the stands, Mukesh Ambani, the owner of the Mumbai Indians, pumped his right fist. Lalit Modi was with him. At one stage, Modi even revealed a new side to his personality. He yawned. There is some truth, then, in the rumours that he is human.

Bangalore started their chase well. After nine overs they were well-placed at 80 for two. “But two wickets in two balls didn’t help,” captain Anil Kumble said, lamenting the successive departures of Robin Uthappa and Rahul Dravid. Mumbai were through by 35 runs.

For Tendulkar, it was a bittersweet day. He took a low catch in the slips of Rahul Dravid off Zaheer Khan’s bowling and celebrated. The experienced Dravid, though, stood his ground. Tendulkar had grounded the ball. Not only was the catch turned down, Tendulkar also suffered a split on his right palm, which immediately started to bleed. It will be a surprise if he can play the final and an irony if he doesn’t.

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POSTED BY TR Vivek ON 24 March 2010, 5.18 AM

If the listlessness of L Sivaramakrishnan’s IPL commentary and the vapidity of cricket-challenged Samir Kochhar and Gaurav Kapoor is making you reach for another stiff one, turn your attention to this red-hot recommendation. I already know I have your undying gratitude.

Go to www.testmatchsofa.com, go now, take my Beetle if you wish, for some of the most humorous, pointlessly entertaining cricket commentary ever. Pitched as an alternative to the BBC’s Test Match Special, half a dozen beer-soaked fanatics of the five-day game hole up for 35 hours of a Test in a south London flat, in front of microphones for some good old adda.
Sometimes (as it’s now with England playing Bangladesh), the live podcasts begin at 3.15 GMT, but that affects the sofa’s Six Sigma standards of anarchy little. Why would it if you have the Old Speckled Hen for very early breakfast. The cast changes, but on most days it’s Daniel who plays the lead.

Daniel describes himself as “without a doubt the greatest captain never to have scored a hundred for England in a Test match, and the love child of Douglas Jardine, Che Guevara and Jeffrey Bernard, who showed great promise in his youth with his smear through the off side and his chop behind point, rivalling the grace and elegance of his great hero David Gower in his pomp.” He intends to retire from cricket at 70 to take up Morphine and Golf.

Daniel’s self-deprecating humour is delivered in public school accent. Crossbat’s other favourite occupants of the sofa include Jarod Kimber, an unfairly gifted Australian cricket writer, who runs the devilish blog cricketwithballs.com, and Manny, presumably the oldest member. Sample Kimber’s description of Tendulkar’s double hundred against South Africa: “Tendulkar, on the other hand, faced the world’s number one bowler, opened the batting and brutalised an entire attack. It was the cricketing equivalent of shagging someone so long and so hard that you both know you are going to wake up sore in the morning, but keep doing it because you’re having fun and you know that, in some sort of masochistic way, they are, too.”
The description of live action on the pitch is rather insignificant (especially when England play Bangladesh), but it leads to conversations of great importance. Who is the ugliest cricketer ever. Will Paul Harris ever turn a cricket ball. How good Mark Nicholas would be hosting the celeb show ‘Come Shit with Me’. Is Andy Flintoff a tax-evading git? Even if you miss the live commentary, there are plenty of goodies in the archive.

Do not miss the interview with cricket writer Gideon Haigh. As the sofa will tell you, it’s too effing good.

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POSTED BY Akshay Sawai ON 18 March 2010, 12.48 AM

Kris Srikkanth did a breezy television interview during Tuesday’s game between the Chennai Super Kings and the Kolkata Knight Riders in Kolkata. A caption came on the screen. It told us that Srikkanth, who everybody calls ‘Cheeka’, played for India from 1981-92.

Two things struck me. Srikkanth, who seemed a part of the Indian team forever in our childhood, actually had an international career spanning only 11 years. I realised once again what sportsmen mean when they say they have short careers. The Bheeshma Pitamah of Indian cricket, Sunil Gavaskar, was out in the spotlight just 16 years. This year I completed 15 years in journalism. I’m not even at the halfway point of my career. Now I know why sportsmen are in a hurry to make the most of their fame.

The other thing that struck me was Srikkanth’s hair. It is thick and black and appeared even more lustrous in the glow of the Eden Gardens floodlights. The man is fifty. How does he have such a magnificent mane? Gavaskar, a greater batsman but less fortunate in matters trichological (guess what that is), would not mind exchanging a few of his Test hundreds for the fertility of his opening partner’s scalp. If Srikkanth’s youthful hair is not owed to some hairdye, it’s a miracle of genes, rasam and Maltova. (‘You become a Maltova mum!’ Remember the jingle?)

No one dislikes Srikkanth. Not even Joel Garner and Michael Holding, who felt the sambar-like heat of his Slazenger bat in the 1983 World Cup final. He laughs easily, always a sign of a person without malice. He is spontaneous and childlike.

It is nice to see Srikkanth smiling again because a few years ago things were not going too well for him. Business trouble. An exuberant man had begun to appear care-worn. In 2004, I sat near him on a flight from London to Mumbai. The ICC Champions Trophy was on and we were returning after watching India lose to Pakistan at Edgbaston. I heard Srikkanth talking on the phone to someone. He was making some kind of a pitch to a pitchee who evidently was not Indian and did not know cricket. “I played cricket for India and am still reasonably well-known in the country,” Srikkanth told him. While it was not tragic, it was somewhat sad.

Life is rosy again for a man who once swept, if memory serves me right, Wasim Akram. As chief selector of the Indian team, Srikkanth earns about Rs 40 lakh a year. He is also a brand ambassador of the Chennai Super Kings. That further swells the purse. Naturally, his hair looks, to say it as he would, “abzolutely fantastic.”