Venkat Ananth

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Blog Posts by Venkat Ananth

  • Why India doesn’t look like a Cup winner

    It's rather bizarre when the captain of the national team walks into a press conference after a game and blames the conditions on the back of one of the most clueless bowling and fielding displays in recent memory.

     

    In a way, that statement sums up the situation: India's problems lie with the bowling and fielding but there is little or nothing that the captain can do about it (he in fact admitted in that same presser that there was nothing he could do about the fielding), so the only thing left really is to blame the conditions.

     

    The batting, mercifully, seems to be in top form with two near-perfect performances in Mirpur and Bangalore, but against that, a bowling unit that could not defend 338 runs under lights against an England team coming off a 6-1 defeat and with a dismal track record in Indian conditions does not augur well for India's prospects in this Cup.

     

    Restrict or dismiss?

     

    One of the most interesting things about this Indian bowling attack is that it is not designed

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  • The backbone of Sri Lanka’s WC win

    In a chilly English summer of 2009, a late night discussion with one of my Sri Lankan friends was all about the 1996 World Cup, and how the island nation and it's cricketers wrote one of the most surreal sporting stories of all time. The conversation moved towards the final, and my mate made one of the most telling statements on the topic. He said, "If Asanka Gurusinha was an Indian, he'd now be worshipped as 'God' or celebrated as a national treasure." I asked him why, and he quipped, "'Gura' (as he's popularly known in Sri Lanka) is a forgotten hero, machang. People in our country see more value in Aravinda, Sanath aiya and even Arjuna aiya". I felt a touch cheated by that statement, given that Gurusinha played one of the most important innings in Sri Lankan cricket history on March 17th at Lahore, yet never got the same recognition as his peers did, for reasons I will elaborate upon. Indeed, Gura was never in the same league as his erstwhile colleagues in Aravinda or even

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  • For Bangladesh, progress is the mantra

    Four years is a long time in sport, they say. Not only are medals and World Cups won and lost, records surpassed and horizons breached, but also the duration becomes quite the benchmark to gauge progress made by individuals and sporting teams - or as they put it, a four-year period is pretty much a sporting cycle of sorts. That's where we are at with Bangladesh cricket - frustratingly enough, still a project and work in progress and virtually on the threshold of breaking into the big league, but a side that has emerged through virtual anonymity to a confident, belief-oriented unit that on its day has learnt not to take a backward step.

     

    The 2007 World Cup is by far the most important reference point for progress in Bangladesh cricket today - an event where they surpassed their own expectations, beat two of the strongest teams in the game - India and South Africa along the way and since, have managed to quietly move upwards, overcoming several challenges and crises of their own.

     

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  • Making The Case For Sreesanth

    "Left arm spinners cannot unclog your drains, teach your children or cure your diseases. But once in a while, the very best of them will bowl a ball that will bring an entire nation to its feet. And while there is no practical use in that, there is most certainly value."

     

    The quote above is from Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, the debut cricket novel from the fine young Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka.

     

    What - or rather, who - those lines remind me of is an Indian bowler who cannot unclog your dreams, or teach your children how to behave; but he can sure as hell bowl the occasional ball (ask Jacques Kallis) or the occasional spell (ask South Africa) that can bring a nation to its feet.

    That bowler is Shantakumaran Sreesanth.

     

    Apart from Zaheer Khan, the Indian pace bowling cupboard makes Mother Hubbard's look chock-full. Given that, Sreesanth is by far the second most important member of the Indian pace attack; his potential as a match-winner cannot - should not - be

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  • The Invisible Man

     

    Seven years ago almost to the day, a teenaged seam bowler grabbed headlines in the New Year's Test against Australia at the SCG with an eye-poppingly hostile spell of bowling, with that yorker to Adam Gilchrist as the exclamation mark – the perfect start to what promised to be an illustrious career.

    That was then. Today, a mature Irfan Pathan is on the last stretch of a long, tortuous road to redemption, and hoping to resucitate a career suspended thanks to recurring injuries and a general lack of direction.

    I spoke to Irfan on New Year's day – for the rest of us, a day to rest and relax and recover from the revelries of the previous night; for Pathan, a chance to catch his breath after a strict training schedule at the National Cricket Academy, Bangalore.

    His last appearance in Indian colors was as part of the disastrous World T20 2009 campaign in England, where the team exited in the second round. On that campaign, the inswinger into the right hander was conspicuous by its

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  • Harbhajan Singh: India’s ‘mystery’ spinner

     

     

    In the wake of the Centurion Test, India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni came down unusually hard on his bowlers.

     
    His post-match comments were an exercise in stating the blindingly obvious -- and stating them with unusual vigor. You need to take 20 wickets to win a Test, Dhoni pointed out -- and the bowling lineup showed no sign of being able to accomplish that task. Worse -- again, as Dhoni pointed out -- the morning session of day 3, in course of which India gave away 225 runs, made defeat inevitable by allowing South Africa to declare and bury India not merely under a mountain of runs, but also time.

     
    The points Dhoni made were well taken, but they were also characterized by a glaring anomaly. When going into specifics, this is what the skipper said:

     
    Our bowlers are not express quick. They don't generally bowl over 140-plus. They have to be very precise with their line and length. We tried different fields. We tried to work around their bowling aspects, which, more often than

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  • Tis the time to be bloody

    The tendency among the lazier sports writers is to create simplistic narratives — and in recent times nothing is more simplistic than this: India has achieved the statistical distinction of topping the rankings on the ICC Test table, hence India is the best Test side in the world.

     

    While admitting to the obvious — that India has attained the statistical milestone and, to its credit, held on to it for the better part of the year in defiance of the attempts of the dethroned Aussies to snatch it back — I would argue that India is still a long way away from being a champion side.

     

    That goal is a journey, a process — not something that is attained through a calculator. And that process is long; it is accomplished one incremental step at a time; it is a function of identifying the bedrock basics of the sport and becoming extraordinarily good at every aspect of it.

     

    Somewhere along this journey, there will be moments where opponents outweigh you through sheer brilliance; there will also be

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  • The making of Graeme Swann

    It's not often that you find an Englishman of all people, a spinner no less, find himself in an unchartered perch of being the finest exponent of his art, amongst his peers. Quite obviously, times have changed, and Graeme Swann's emergence demonstrates that very fact.

     

    Every single time, Andrew Strauss and England are going through a dry patch, an eventless session where the on-crease batsmen seem to have their way, comfortably perched, settled and making their bucks, the captain throws the ball to his trump card, and almost unfailingly, Swann strikes. And this story of arguably the world's best spinner going around today, a story, which is quite a healthy departure from a Victorian fable that has come to define English sport over the years, but a story which cricket, in times of growing professionalism deserves to be told - the just triumph of a character with colossal self-belief, sturdily backed only by a refreshing smack of self-assuredness in one's own ability and talent.

     

    To

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  • India in South Africa: The Ultimate Challenge

    It is almost with a sigh of relief, and I speak for the majority here, that I note that the Test-leg of the home series against New Zealand has come to a relatively successful end, with a deserved 1-0 win to the hosts. Though the series did have its moments, it was - to put it bluntly - overall an excruciating watch for a Test cricket connoisseur, with India doing just enough to clinch the outcome.

     

    In three weeks, the focus shifts to  South Africa, where the cricket is  as much a test of technique buttressed by a measure of belief, of sheer mental fortitude and an intense examination of approach. In other words, it is going to be the polar opposite of the just concluded Tests against New Zealand, and how India performs against the Proteas will go  a long way in dispelling doubters, me included, about whether the team really deserves its recently acquired number one tag.

     

    In a sense, this tour of South Africa comes at the right time for the Indian Test team: a historic series win

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  • Ashes is an important series

    In exactly a week's time, the first ball might be sent down in one of the most anticipated Test series of the year -- The Ashes. And given the manner in which the subcontinent is quite shamelessly offering a dull view of Test cricket in recent times with flat wickets by the matches, The Ashes could well, I hope, dish out what it has always been about -- Test cricket at a level typified by its rich intensity, unrivaled passion and unmatched dynamism. The Ashes of 2010 comes at a time when cricket is in dire need of a folklore to talk about, a cricketer whose achievements could capture a nation's imagination, with cricket being his tool of expression -- someone not quite dissimilar to the Freddie "Jesus" Flintoff of Lord's fame. And that's where I believe the Ashes is an important cricketing series.

     

    Add history, and it gives the contest a sense of context, a past that went on to define the game through its complex yet contrasting narratives. The dominant theme of this year's Ashes

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