July 12, 2013

J-Q of the Ashes


Jardine, Douglas. The England captain who devised bodyline to restrict Bradman in the 1930’s. Bradman still averaged in the mid-50’s. England won the Ashes. Everyone went home happy, except the Australians. 

James Anderson. The England cricket team’s Tom Cruise. Shares a first name with Mr. Bond. Is as devastating as Dale Steyn when the ball is swinging. Used to be just as useless when it is not.  Has saved two Tests for England with his third best skill – batting. One of them was the Ashes Test at Cardiff in 2009, with Monty Panesar at the other end. Australians from that team, please eat your hearts out. 

Jaded. What England's leading spinner Graeme Swann a.k.a never is. Even when a number eleven - albeit one with a back lift uncannily reminiscent of Yuvraj Singh and three first class fifties - lofts him for two sixes. Also what an irrepressible South African-born England right-hander (see (K)) used to feel when the country versus IPL question came up. Now he is sufficiently "reintegrated" into the team, as evident from Andrew Strauss' commentary yesterday.

(Joker. The late Australian actor Heath Ledger's terrifying opposite number to Brit Christian Bale's (American) batman in the appetiser to the 2009 Ashes, The Dark Knight. Batman rose again but the Joker got the Oscar.) 


Let us talk about Kevin (Pietersen). South African by birth. And spelling. England cricketer. Troubled genius. Troublesome thirty-two year old kid. On his day he can be devastating, as he showed in his debut Ashes in 2005 (and has shown many times afterwards). On his day he can leave himself and his team devastated. His brain used to freeze, until recently, when his eyes spotted anyone who carried a ball in his left-hand. Once sent some text messages that almost ruined his international career. Does not have an ugly batting style, but a tolerable one. 

Kryptonite. What Australian bowlers might need to dislodge captain Cook once he gets a start.

Katich, Simon. Former left-handed opening batsman who averaged in the mid-forties in his 56-Test stint for Australia. Well-known for a stance that was part Gary Kirsten, part Chanderpaul and, therefore, fully dangerous for the visual health of watchers. Less known for his solitary Ashes hundred before England escaped at Cardiff in 2009 (see (C) and (J))).  


Lord’s cricket ground, the home (a.k.a 'Mecca') of cricket, the prestigious Marylebone Cricket Club and the Middlesex county (which once fielded the elegant, the locally rapacious, the internationally frustrating, Mark Ramprakash). Hereabouts grey-haired gentlemen in grey suits applaud boundaries and wickets in an 1800's rhythm that makes English rain and a run rate of less than one per over sound more enthusiastic. 

Lonely. How a young cricket fan used to grandstanding (or Virat Kohli), generously foul vocabulary and dancing will feel when he watches the second Ashes Test that starts on July 18 at Lord’s.

Lawry, Bill. Also known as “the man who talks nothing like he batted” (in my mind). And he batted, from what I hear, a little like the Don of death-to-bowlers using the forward defensive, Geoffrey Boycott. Was wrong-handed unlike Boycs who was right-handed. Averaged a Boycott-esque forty seven nonetheless. Aggregated over 5000 Test runs. Seven of Lawry’s thirteen tons came in the Ashes. Which is more than Boycott’s ton-tally against the Australians. (Aside: Lawry also delivers more minutes a word than Boycott does on commentary).


McGrath, Glenn. Could not move the ball an inch or bowl fast on most days. Remains test cricket’s fourth highest wicket-taker. Carries the nickname Pidge. Predicted the drubbing of England in every Ashes series during his playing days, and was right except on one occasion. Directs the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai these days. Probably realises that his chances of making it as a specialist no. 11 batsman in the Australian squad are all but over after Ashon Agar's 98 yesterday. 

Michael Atherton: A Test opener who was all British in grit and grumpiness. Once made 185* to save a Test at Johannesburg against Donald & Co. Nicked off McGrath’s deliveries to slips far too often, his final innings included, like many opening batsmen of his age. Attended Cambridge University and is now in the commentary box

Merv Hughes: Known as ‘big Merv’, one wonders if the avuncular Australian had one big Mac too many during his time. Clearly, the Jesser Ryder of his time - Jarrod Kimber would approve. Hughes is, perhaps, more famous for his mustache than the fact that he played a third of his Test matches against the Englishmen. Was a handy bowler like David Boon was a handy batsman. Ended up with 212 Test wickets, which is more than what Thommo (Jeff Thomson) got.


Nineties. The decade which saw the clash of the Australian titan Brendon Julian, who bowled left-arm fast medium, with English demi-god Philip Tufnell, who bowled quick-ish left-arm spin. Tuffers got a seven-for in a Test (against New Zealand). Julian made 56* in only his second Test, against England. The match was drawn. 

Also the ten-run sequence that makes batsmen nervous (unless the batsman responds to the name Virendar Sehwag). Michael Slater and Australia's Captain Tough (see (W)) managed nineteen score between 90 and 99 between them in Tests.

Naught: The number of Ashes series the Australians have won this decade. Also, the number of Ashes that England won between 1990 and 2005. Also the number of people who will not watch the Ashes on illegal streams in countries where cricket is not on the telly. Also the percentage of trust Mickey Arthur will feel towards Cricket Australia after his sacking. 

No love lost: An idiom allegedly coined to describe the relationship between Australian and England cricketers as well as the fans of the two cricket teams. Also one of a few possible descriptions of the twitter hashtag #Pontingface and the face behind it (see (P)).


(The) Oval, short for Kia Oval (formerly Kennington Oval). Name of the cricket ground in London which will host the last Test of the ongoing Ashes series. As good a batting track as you can hope to see in England. Not to be confused with Kensington Oval in Barbados, which is far from the best batting track you will hope to find in the West Indies. Even without Holding, Ambrose, Walsh and Garner around. 

October. The tenth month of the year. A period when England and Australia’s domestic cricket calendars are sparsely populated. A period when the team that loses the ongoing Ashes in England will begin to plan for the return campaign when the oldest cricket show hits Downunder in December. That team may well be England or Australia.   

Owl. A nocturnal bird which is carnivorous. Also Ashes aficionados in England and Australia who stay up late to follow ‘away’ Ashes Test matches. 

(O: Not the sound used to refer to zero in cricket. 'Blob', 'duck', 'naught', 'no score' and 'without troubling the scorers' are preferred. That last one is a Shastri-ism, so we will not be hearing it at the Ashes. Thankfully).


Ricky Ponting. Him the world loves to hate and hates to love (even more than his look-alike George W. Bush). Former cricket captain of Australia. Arguably the second best batsman in Australia's cricketing history. Only gent, well, bloke, in world cricket to have been part of a hundred Test victories. Set up many of them with his ferocious pulls and hooks. Still had the technical skill to grind out a match-saving Ashes ton at Old Trafford in 2005. Still lost that Ashes and two more. In between, whitewashed England 5-0 with the help of McGrath and a blonde leg-spin legend (see (W)) in their final series. People remember him as a decent captain who presided over some great teams. Or for the cheekiest grin in the business. It was a punter's grin all right.

Pretty: Not the adjective you would use to describe the batting of the current England top three (Cook, Root and Trott) or the previous top three (Cook, Compton and Trott) or the one before (Cook, Strauss and Trott). Not the adjective you would use to describe (m)any Australian left-handers. Or the trio of Gary Kirsten, Graeme Smith and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Not the complexion of Ponting’s palm after all the spittle that has gone into it. Not the word you would use to describe the (leg side stroke play of the) Michelangelo of Australian batting, Mark Edward Waugh who debuted in the 1991 Ashes with a ton because elegant is more like it.

Peter Roebuck. The late British writer whose cricket- writing was all poetry, compassion, sunshine humour and life. Found issue with the attitude of the all-conquering Australian teams of the last decade, particularly their captain Ponting. Piscean, and need it be said, with the-foot-in-the-mouth syndrome. Defied a visiting Australian team to score a first-class ton for Somerset. Could not, sadly, manage the same defiance in life. 


Quiney, Rob.  Included here because he is an Australian, has a surname that starts with Q and is not in the Ashes squad currently playing in England. Also because he has a scarcely believable Test average of 3.00 and a highest score of 9 as a proper batsman. Admittedly, after two Tests.

Quit. It is what losers do (according to those who think they are not losers), and the mighty Australian team of the late 1990’s and the noughties seldom did. 

Quizzical. An understated description of the look on England bowler Stuart Broad’s face when he is denied a leg before appeal: only because the ball was pitching out side the left-hander’s leg stump, might have just clipped said jump if it had not bounced so much. 

Quiet The Australian crowd before Ashton Agar’s rearguard yesterday. The England crowd and team during the course of Ashton Agar’s 98  yesterday. Phil Hughes’ critics after this Ashes if he bats the way he did in the first innings.(And me, in the face of the brickbats I will receive for this post.)


July 11, 2013

A-I of the Ashes

This piece (and the installments to follow) are an admixture of fact and fiction. Do I need to even say that? Other standard disclaimers apply as well.


Ashes, The. A cricketing rivalry as old as time itself. If time in your understanding predates cricinfo (and the worldwide web) but not the first official Test match played at Melbourne in 1877. 

 Australia. One half of the rivalry. 

Adelaide Oval. Home of the greatest batsman of all time (see (B)), and one of the prettiest cricket grounds in the world until recently. Has seen some wonderful batting. And a double-hundred from England stodge-meister Paul Collingwood. To restore balance to the world, England still lost.

(Also: The likely state of an Australian cricket fan’s dreams as of next February if their cricket team’s top order does not reign in its affection with balls pitched in the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ (see (G)).


Sir Donald Bradman. Born to bat. His final innings duck is as famous as his immortal per-innings count of 99.94. 

Bodyline: A controversial 1930’s on-field action flick directed by an England captain (see (J)) who asked his bowlers to aim at batsman’s ribs and above to: (a) restrict Batsman’s run scoring; and (b) urge the powers that be to invent a batsman’s helmet urgently. Which came swiftly enough, fifty years later. In the meanwhile further 'bodyline' flicks were banned by the censor board.

Beefy’: Sir Ian Botham himself. Once beat Australia single-handedly in a Test many years ago (see (H)). Retired into the commentary box to see Australia regularly return the compliments in the next two decades. Evades bouncers from Indians these days on twitter, and not very well. 

Boof: Nickname of the current Australian coach, Darren Lehmann who once made a triple hundred for Yorkshire. Perhaps, the third coolest bald man after Ralph Fiennes' Dumbledore in the Harry Potter franchise and Chris Martin's phantom. 

Beer: "Those days such problems were settled over a __." "Ah, we used to play hard on the field but had a __ later, mate." "He is an old-fashioned coach who will invite the boys to have a __ with him." Fill in the blanks. And if the word is anything other than beer, it means (a) you have not been following the Australian cricket scene closely enough, which is pardonable; (or) (b) you have not been following Australia closely enough, which is excusable; (or) (c) you don't know what beer means, which, unless you are (also) a (verbal) teetotaler, is simply not acceptable.


Clarke, Michael. Has the most innocuous nickname in the world – ‘Pup’. Current captain of the Australian cricket team. Comes out to bat these days at 20-2, 25-3 or 35-4. Has batted like a dream in the last two years, and sometimes is forced to bat in one because of his back. Australia's only realistic batting hope at this year's Ashes. Unless Steve Waugh and Allan Border return from retirement.

Cardiff. England’s great escape in Wales 2009 which inspired them to a second straight Ashes triumph at home. Was also the second of three Ashes losses that the Australians suffered under the G.W. Bush look-alike (see (J) and (P)). 

Cook, Alastair. Current captain of the England cricket team. Made 700 runs when England beat Australia Downunder 3-1 in 2011. Rumour has it that the Australian bowlers and fielders were so traumatised by ‘watching’ Cook’s batting style that they could not care less about regaining a bloody urn! 

Crikey. A very typical British exclamation. David Lloyd specialises in them.


Draw. A match or a series result where no team wins or loses. England and Australia have not played out too many of them in recent memory. 

Dull. The complexion of the last half a dozen Ashes series. So hopelessly one-sided that even Damien Martyn’s batting cannot uplift you, unless you are an Australian supporter.

Dizzy: Jason Gillespie’s nickname. Dizzy was a large-hearted Australian fast bowler who once made a Test double-hundred, albeit against Bangladesh. Dizzy is now contemplating a return to the Australian team as a no. 3 batsman.


England. The second half of the Ashes rivalry. A country where people love to hate the IPL and praise the county cricket season, half of which gets washed out anyway. Also home of the current cult hero of cricket comedy, the icon of alliteration and the Schopenhauer of statsguru-aided stats, Andy Zaltzman. 

Edgbaston. Name of the cricket ground in Birmingham. ‘Nas’ Hussain of the retort-to-Ravi Shastri fame once made a double hundred – complete with square drives on one-knee and all – of such rare class and supremacy there against the Aussies, portending the arrival of an England batsman who might average in the early fifties. And promptly proceeded to scold portents-schmortents to end on an Atherton-esque 37.1 as Test average.

Eleven. The number of players in a side. Even in an Ashes Test, yes.


Fair dinkum’ An Australianism that means fair, honest, good and so on. English writers like to over-use it in their pre-Ashes build up in the hope that it will annoy the Australians into batting and bowling rashly. The ruse has begun to work in recent years. 

Fire. What Mickey Arthur got from the Australian Cricket Board recently. 

Filth. It is what many think Mitchell Johnson, the Australian quick bowler, offers when he is one of his moods, which often last for entire matches.


Geoffrey Boycott. Credited with coining the term Corridor of Uncertainty. Often defended until the Thames froze over, and defended his batting saying ‘you cannot score ruuns in the pavilion’. Was once dropped from the England Team after scoring 246*. Once returned to score his 100th first-class hundred at his home ground in an Ashes Test. Legend, with demons as incomprehensible as his pronounced Yorkshire accent. 

Gareth Mallory: Oops, forgot that this post is strictly about the Ashes. 

Gabba: Name of the cricket stadium at Woolloongabba, Brisbane. Hosted the inaugural Test of the Ashes in 2006. Steve Harmsion, the England quick who could be deadly on his day, sent the first ball of the match to second slip. By the time he and the England team had fully warmed to the task at hand, Australia had taken the series 5-0.


Headingley. The cricket ground at Leeds. Scene of Boycott’s 100th hundred, it was also here that Sir Ian Botham out-batted and out-bowled twenty other men to confiscate a Test match from Australia’s grasp. The ground also has a special microphone which makes the ball talk.

Hoggard, Matthew: An Ashes-winning fast bowler. Also from Yorkshire.

Harmison, Steve: See under Gabba.


Ian Bell: England’s current third-drop and response to Mark Waugh, Mahela Jayawardena and V.V.S Laxman. Can elegantly thread a ball between two short cover fielders to the fence. Can just as elegantly pick out the only fielder at deep cover. Is considered to be one of England’s better players of spin. And Dale Steyn is a slow-medium bowler. 

IJL: The initials of England’s current no. 3, Trott. Trotted to a debut hundred at the Oval (see (K)) in London and helped England to the Ashes series  win in 2009. According to some Englishmen, Trott is the best batsman in the world at the moment. Provided Hashim Amla, Kumar Sangakkara and Michael Clarke decide to retire at this instant.

Indian cricket team (short for Board of Control for Cricket in India’s cricket team). Lost to England in England 4-0. Lost to Australia in Australia 4-0. Lost to England in India 2-1. Defeated Australia in India 4-0. The upshot: England will win the Ashes. Unless, they don’t.

(J-Q on the next installment).

July 3, 2013

Chris Martin walks

If Martin Crowe is the best international batsman New Zealand has ever produced, Chris Martin is the worst. The latter has now called time on his New Zealand career.

Never mind Martin was a number eleven! He will be remembered for his thirty-six blobs, in an era of boring multi-purpose tailenders where - heck - even Glenn McGrath scored a Test fifty! And McGrath, even the proud Australians will agree, was marginally better than Courtney Walsh with bat in hand.

Never mind that Martin finishes with 233 Test sticks, third only to the great Sir Richard Hadley and the  versatile Daniel Vettori among bowlers from the land of the long white cloud! He will bring to mind the nicknames 'walking wicket', the amusing 'phantom' or the downright ghastly 'the walking wicket'. Producers of Japanese horror films can take a walk.

Heck, I do not even remember  Chris Martin's bowling action. I do, however, recall that he once scythed through an Indian top-five including Tendulkar, Sehwag and Dravid for below fifty aggregate runs in the second innings of a Test match in India some years ago. New Zealand could still not win the Test as Harbhajan Singh of all people flayed a Test hundred. More serious men must have thought the world cruel, not Martin, I don't think.

Shane Bond, as the co-author of this blog might say, was badass and brilliant at the same time. Less Dale Steyn than Steyn due to a Zaheer-esque physique, statistics and for being a leader without a compelling support cast. Bond was, ahem, New Zealand's cricket's bowling Vinod Kambli; a fantastic could-have-been that fans world over like to imagine. Chris Martin on the other hand has been Kiwi cricket's has-been, a swing bowler of the kind English county cricket regularly produces. And despite looking like a willfully amusing version of Ralph Fienne's Lord Voldemort, Martin has spearheaded New Zealand's Test bowling attack when the country's international stocks have dipped to new lows. Good bloke Chris!

Personally, I have always loved seeing characters on the field. If Shane Warne is cast as the ultimate sorcerer and Chris Gayle as the cool guy next door with bat in hand, Chris Martin has been an entertainer who seems to not take himself too seriously, and who has thereby brought the meaning of sport right back into the game. For that alone, he deserves some Christmas cards every year. Philip Hughes may be sending one too because the next time he faces upto New Zealand he need not worry about "c. Guptill b. C. Martin' next to his name.

Goodbye, Mr. Martin. The glimpses have been fun, but I wish I had seen more of you.

PS: Here are two wonderful tributes to Martin, a poignant one by Iain O'Brien who had seen an elder brother in the retiree, and a more cheerful variant by Paul Ford.