Sunday, September 04, 2005


Talking of the urn...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

OK let’s talk Ashes now. As Michael Atherton had mentioned earlier (and I had voiced similar concerns too), there comes a time when the upward rising curve for a team X’s performance (assuming X to be the second best team in the world, and …. and neecessarily a young, hungry squad), would intersect with that of the reigning champions, let's call them Y. And then Y would not remain the champions anymore, and be upstaged by X. And then the same loop would continue with the champions holding fort for a generation-and-a-half with a gradually downward sloping curve, unless something catastrophic happens to the reigning champions and somebody else comes in and takes their position. 1995 in West Indies was that intersection of the curves. A one-series old Glenn McGrath and a yet-to-be-termed-God Shane Warne, along with the relatively unproven Mark Waugh and his twin, till then a fringe player, upstaged an ageing, wearying West Indies. True, a catastrophe almost happened, with the South Africans, unseen, unknown, coming out of cricketing wilderness, much hungrier but with one Shane Warne less in their team than the Aussies, almost upstaged the champions at their peak.

It is normal, I maintain. With the arrival of one generation of greats comes the inevitable submergence of two subsequent generations of substantially good cricketers. The four great spinners of the ‘70’s ensured that Rajinder Goel and Padmakar Shivalkar never played test cricket. Anthony Grey and Sylvester Clarke, and Vanburn Holder and so many other WI quicks never could establish themselves in International cricket. It was only the untimely retirement of Colin Croft that allowed Malcolm Marshall to be the great Macho ... Macho who to me was the greatest fast bowler of his generation. Oh yes, better than Lillee. Definitely better than Lillee. And in hindsight, Amol Muzumdar never played test cricket either.

A corollary to the theory is that the newer players get dependent on the real big guns to shore them through. And this habit remains with them even after the old hands retire. An Ambrose and a Walsh are rare, who develop to take on the mantle of a team’s attack with the greats before them retiring. Examples? Lee could never develop control. Ditto McGill. Gillespie never could, and never did need to pitch in that half a foot fuller, such that he gets the batsmen to edge to the slips, and not just play and miss. Yuvraj and Kaif never instill confidence, and Damien Martyn will always be an under-achiever. So what does that make? With Waugh S. and Waugh M. retiring, and McGrath and Warne on the verge of the same, and the next generation not quite ready to pick up the mantle…. The aura of the invincible Aussies is definitely tarnished, even if by a tiny bit.

Corollary 2 to the earlier theory is that nobody will ever remember Viswanathan Anand apart from the few of us Indians and the die-hard chess fanatic, in 30 years’ time. Nobody would remember the South African eleven of the mid-to-late’90s, a team which was invariably better than both of the teams in focus today. Nobody remembers a certain Evelyn Ashford or a Steve Ovett. Neither a John Landy. Nobody remembers the second best.

So then, let’s go back to the same question. Is this it? Is this 1995 revisited? Is this the demise of the ruthless Aussie Juggernaut? I have a little bit of a doubt. England does not have a genuine killer bowler, who will just roll over the opposition. Did you get what I am talking about? I am talking about a Shane Warne. A Muttiah. Even a Harbhajan at his peak. Harmison, you said? But Harmison is too much of a maybe. There’s hardly any mystery in him. Flintoff is never a destroyer of good batting attacks, and will never be either. My money, if on anybody, is on Simon Jones. The ball he got Michael Clarke with in the last match was nothing short of miraculous. But Jones is a maybe too, and that’s mostly because of his fitness. Otherwise, the Brits work fine. They have a genuinely good opening partnership, and with all the Strauss-ing by the media, Trescothick is the man for me up there. He has a Boon-like, Gooch-like thing about him (ah, the same example again). The skipper is aggressive and forceful. And his batting will fall a bit with the burden of captaincy, but that’s ok for the team cause. The two young turks are a study in contrast, and that is just perfect. Flintoff at six is a bit of a question mark. I am not doubting his ability in any way. But sometime in his career, his form will desert him a bit. And then, he will be a very weak No. 6. Technically, he is poor. Thus, when form deserts him, he would IMHO never be able to graft and get runs. Geraint Jones is fun while batting and funny while keeping. But so was Jeffrey Dujon in his younger days. I think Jones G. should stay for a while more. A pre-requisite for a world-beater team is a keeper who is a good batsman. Hmm… and now to No. 8. And I wish Gareth Batty would start performing. I maintain, Ashley Giles is not test class, notwithstanding the Damien Martyn ball. He is a quick-fix, temporary solution, and he has done his bit for his country. A well done and godspeed are on the line for him. And, well, the bowlers are fine as of now. We will wait for Harmison and Jones S. to develop that mystery. So, are the Brits the aforementioned team X, then? Maybe. May not be. I think not..... but one never knows. I am not committing.

But……. But I am not predicting anything this time as for the results of the Ashes.

And you are right. Headingley and Old Trafford were astounding. And I can’t wait for more.

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