Monday, March 26, 2007

One-Day Batting: Part 3

Class is temporary. There definitely is a timeless quality to Tendulkar’s straight and off drives or Lara’s cuts and on drives, but none of those classy strokes can ultimately survive the ravages of time. Like Dravid’s soft-handed defensive pushes or Hayden’s baseball-style hard hits, those shots require footwork, hand-eye coordination and muscles as well. In baseball, 40 might well be the new 30, but does that also apply to someone who has already spent 1059 days of his life playing international cricket scoring a staggering 25515 runs –- 3345 more than the next batsman on the list, the other contender to the hotly contested title of greatest batsman of this generation, if not of all time –- in the process?

To complete the reversal of the cliché, form is permanent. No. Despite what hypermodern Ponting might say -- and I will not be surprised if he continues his current form until retirement and usurps the title so coveted by romantic Lara and modern Tendulkar just by the sheer magnitude of numbers -- this part of the reversal does not quite hold. Form, regardless of the exact combination of mental state and physical fitness it is derived from, is transient too. However, its significance is not.

Therefore, even though I did not have the printout of this spreadsheet handy until now, it was not very difficult to sense irrationality in the exuberance. Staring at cricinfo scorecards for hours and more importantly, ignoring most of the articles there, usually keep the expectations well-grounded. None of the weekend potluck addas, caffeinated water cooler conversations or even the inebriated pub prediction sessions with the eternally optimistic brigade convinced me of the same-bigfour-as-2003-with-Dhoni-Uthappa-stronger-than-Kaif-Mongia-and-a-more-mature-Yuvraj line of argument especially when Yuvraj was recovering from an injury and Dhoni was largely untested outside India. Pollyannas did concede that the fielding was definitely going to be worse and the bowling probably was not much better than 2003. However, the extra 20-30 runs scored by a stronger batting line-up will make up for it. Now if you compare the Top4 averages in the 50 and 25 matches going into the two world cups, the expectation should have been of 20-30 runs less than 2003, not more. But when did reason and logic win against hope and marketing?

And I was not totally immune from the delusion either. With New Zealand’s brilliant out-cricket and recent successes, and with Sri Lankan, Australian and South African top four batsmen enjoying superior forms relative to their Indian counterparts and perhaps even more importantly -– given how crucial confidence is to batting success -– relative to their own career averages, the top three slots looked beyond India’s reach. However, in the face of constant accusations of being a cynical Cassandra, I occasionally had to admit that, with an upset or two, there was an outside chance of India sneaking in to the semis as the fourth team and after that, to continue with the cliché theme, it was anybody’s world cup. That usually brought the cricket-addas to amicable conclusions. With hindsight, I clearly underestimated the risk of a single misstep in the new format and the strength of great Indian tradition of adjusting to opponents’ standards, just to keep things interesting. Although I must say the failure to match Bangladesh in any department of the game was unprecedented even by India’s standard.

To end on a more cheerful note, we’ll always have chess.With the money I saved by not betting on cricket, I will wager you did not know that Anand, for the first time in his incredible career, will be the number one chess player on FIDE’s next list to be released in a week. I bet you also missed the chess analogy in the description of three of the greatest batsmen ever – romantic, modern and hypermodern are three different schools of chess. If you are getting a little turned off by the geek-speak, feeling a little skeptical about taking pride in Anand and thereby reinforcing nerdy Indian stereotypes, fear not. If those pictures do not cheer you up, nothing will. Or maybe you just need a magic triggered by Murali’s doosras or a Lara century that will stop the three-peat.

Go brownz and blackz! Get the Aussies! Let the games begin!

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