Capturing the Tension

With access to satellite TV and unlimited time it's been possible to watch a lot of cricket in the UK over the past week or two - India v Sri Lanka, Australia v West Indies, South Africa v England.

The New Zealand-Pakistan series is the odd one out. While there's probably a way of seeing it here I don't know how, and, well, I haven't lost any sleep about that as I have a life which I occasionally wish to lead. But the first Test in Dunedin was one of those games where it was possible to see from the scores just what a good contest it was. While the Kiwis ended up as worthy winners, the most significant aspect of the game in the long run was the brilliant debut of Umar Akmal, a player who, according to Osman Samiuddin, we're going to hear a lot more of.

This, from Iain O'Brien, captures the vibrancy and tension of the last day superbly from the viewpoint of a member of the victorious attack.


As Good As It Gets

After the first couple of days in Kanpur I was ready to join the chorus of anguish about the future of Test cricket in an age where pitches often seem only to come in various shades of dead. Today, though, we had a reminder that you can still make things happen pretty well anywhere if you bowl well enough. And the man who made it all happen was Kerala's finest.

Back in this blog's early days, in the summer of 2006, I wrote admiringly about Sreesanth's potential. But the volatility of his temperament and some injury issues hindered him to the point where, in the brave new Indian world of the ultra-fit Zaheer and the ultra-promising Ishant Sharma, he seemed little more than a dated afterthought, reduced to earning a crust on the county circuit with Warwickshire in a seemingly vain attempt to bowl himself back into contention for a place in his national team.

His bowling today comprised an alchemic mixture of reverse and conventional swing (sometimes, seemingly, with the same delivery), coupled with a quality of seam position rarely seen outside a coaching manual. The dismissals of Rangana Herath, bowled by a subtle away-swinger to the left-hander late in the first innings, and Dilshan, caught behind to begin Sri Lanka's follow-on slide, stood out, with the latter as good a piece of finely-honed seam-bowling as I've seen since Glenn McGrath, or even Richard Hadlee, retired.

In case anyone was in any doubt, today proved it. This is a man who can really, really, bowl.


Bottling It (and not bottling it)

The pros and cons of Paul Colingwood have been done to death in places such as this these past few years: Resilient batsman, handy seamer, truly exceptional fielder, but, equally, someone who, when out of form, can make the game look very difficult.

Which, in a sense, it is. It's hardly an original view to state that he doesn't possess the innate talent of the majority of his fellows, but I think it's a correct one. Of course, compared to the likes of me his talent is off the scale, but when you think about players like Mark Ramprakash, well, it's a different story.

Not for the first time, I found myself thinking yesterday about what would happen if you could bottle Collingwood's mental strength and imbue more fragile but more talented players like Ramprakash or Graeme Hick, with it.

Of course, you can't. In cricket, as in life, people are different. Colly will do to be going on with.


Where There's Life

Still convalescing after my encounter with the surgeon's knife early in the month (what's usually described as a 'minor' operation, although the immediate post-operative pain was anything but minor), I've had a bit of time this week to follow the first game of the India-Sri Lanka Test series, which was called off as a draw this morning once Sachin Tendulkar had reached his 43rd Test hundred.

It was a counter-intuitive affair; the type of Test which, on the face of it, you'd say was certain to drive another nail into the coffin which the likes of Peter Roebuck have been cobbling together for the five-day game recently: 426 plays 760 plays 412. Too many runs, too few wickets, everyone's bored.

Or perhaps not. Until the last day the scoring rate was excellent and there was a series of innings whose merits went well beyond mere accumulation; Rahul Dravid showing he can still mix it with the best in the world (like Mahela Jayawardene) for both strokeplay, and, of course, concentration, Gautam Gambhir emphasizing again how far he's come and how indispensable he now appears at the top of the Indian order, the one and only SRT, twenty years a Test player and counting, doing what he does best these days, building a ton without fuss in benign conditions and slamming the door shut in Sri Lanka's face. There were even a few people there to watch.

Well, I enjoyed it (even if nobody else did), and it'll do to be going on with, but we, and the Test game itself, will need more if it's to sustain itself into an uncertain future. Much is made of the fact that England's the only country left where Test grounds are routinely full, despite the insane cost of tickets, but it needs to be remembered that usually, in England, wickets fall.

But where there's life there's hope, and this game showed that India's ageing order still has plenty of life. The strands of hope, though, need to be supplemented by a strip with a bit more life in the next match at Green Park in Kanpur.

I'll not be holding my breath.


Half an Eye

Feeling like death warmed up after someone's cut your abdomen open and rearranged the contents (it's okay, the person responsible was a surgeon) isn't a great frame of mind in which to watch any game of cricket, but I managed to keep half an eye on yesterday's events while wondering about my immediate future on earth.

I always thought Suresh Raina was class, and the boy Tendulkar (as an English football manager would say), well, he's got something too.

I'm off for a good lie down. See you in a couple of weeks.

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