July 29, 2006

What happened when nothing really was happening:
Tidbits on Freddie, Jumbo, Dada and Jaggu chacha.
By Gaurav Sethi

It’s not often, if ever, that cricket takes a backseat in India. Miraculously, over the last few months it’s been more like the boot for bat-ball. What was the last series we played? Never mind. It started with the bullish bad boys of soccer stealing headlines for a month and a half - relegating cricket to little weather report like boxes, with most cricket news courtesy some news agency or the other – look no exclusive reports by a special correspondent in England covering the Pakistani series. But that rarely happens, and matches without India elicit far less interest, not to mention, that it’s a test series being played. That too, minus Freddie Flintoff, possibly the only real superstar from either team – and though this is a tad unkind to Kevin Pietersen, that’s the way it is.

Credence to this: most drab cricket news off late concerns Flintoff’s well being or lack thereof – surgery? Will he be fit for the Ashes? And yeah, the Aussies want him fit, something on the lines of beating a fully fit Flintoff’s English team will delight them no end. Oh, so the Aussies have already started thinking on the lines of reclaiming the Ashes - almost like a forgone conclusion. Wasn’t that the thinking last summer in England?

Closer home, Anil Kumble, for dearth of anything sensational, and for proving all the critics wrong (all the time), has emerged as a new and news favourite – Kumble’s inclusion/exclusion in the Lanka tri-series in August has raised plenty of debate. But then, in spite of state-mate and good friend, Rahul Dravid being at the helm, his non-inclusion created only a little stir, if any. It’s as if, some players don’t court controversy, whether they’re playing or not. In fact, Kumble starting a fresh county stint might just thank Dravid for saving him the rigours of a thankless series in the emerald isle – his record against the Sri Lankans, more so in the Island, has been way off the mark – for long, going back to the days of Arvinda De Silva’s prime (a decade back) the Lankans have picked him off like a slow medium pacer with aplomb. It’s another thing that since then, De Silva has retired and Kumble has tightened his game, added to the arsenal, improved discipline (if that was possible) and become unquestionably India’s spearhead, especially in test matches.

The logic behind Kumble’s exclusion: bring him back at-the-right-time (is there such a thing in cricket?) for the ICC champion’s trophy a few months on. And for once, it does appear to be a judicious move – if Anil Kumble is India’s most precious player, (read effective, experienced, match winner) then it’s only prudent to ration him, and treat him thus – and save him the troubles of a rough, thankless tour in sweaty, sultry Sri Lanka. And though Kumble isn’t exactly taking it easy, playing county cricket in England at this time might be a tad more leisurely – the racial outbursts Akash Chopra had to endure, notwithstanding. Of course, Kumble was understandably upset at being left out yet again.

Leaving Kumble behind, as so often happens in the news, Dada stole the limelight once again. Firstly, Saurav’s continuous run of poor scores led to the staple “Saurav fails again” headline. Augmented by Zaheer Khan knocking him a good few times. Talk of rubbing salt… Anyway, these were never big headlines, and with Ganguly’s flailing form one had come to accept it as the way the cookie crumbled. But hey, this is Dada we are talking about, no aya ram, gaya ram player. And when push comes to shove (or not) Dada strikes back – by far, the only real contender for breaking news anytime – irrespective of the wars in the middle east or moles in the PMO, Dada always has something for the scribes.

This time, it was his erstwhile Jaggu chacha (Mr. Dalmiya for him now) – accounts of an e-mail that should be in every junk folder considering its relevance today. And regardless of what Dalmiya did or didn’t do, the timing was opportunist to the tee – election time, and yes, one last nail in the coffin. Whether the e mail was leaked by Mr. Dalmiya many moons ago, seems inconsequential; but it sure looks like Saurav Ganguly will leave no stone or persons unturned to get a whiff of his damp Indian cap once again. May be an open apology citing deep remorse to Chappelli chacha might do more wonders, and yes, have that leaked to the press too. That way, all might be forgotten for the time being.

Who else? Almost forgot, Superman Returns and Krrish is back - Sachin Tendulkar made it to the Wimbeldon Finals – what? Courtside in the Royal Box no less, with his missus. And yes, Sachin also scored runs for a certain Lashings World XI in England. But best of all, he’s fit and back to the Indian team. And didn’t need any fitness test to announce that.

More recently, on Thursday, 27th July, two test matches kicked off – and with it, two teams would have kicked themselves, you know where – both South Africa and Pakistan, as if emerging from a nasty soccer hangover were bowled out in less than two sessions.

As for the Indians, their rest days are over too. The countdown to the 2007 World Cup has started yet again in earnest. And with the return of the almost forgotten Dinesh Mongia (last seen in the last World Cup or thereabouts), it now appears nobody’s place is safe. Right, Irfan?

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