Friday, April 29, 2011

Surinder Khanna remembers India's 1984 Asia Cup win at Sharjah

Surinder Khanna, one of the chief architects of India’s Asia Cup win in 1984, walks down memory lane with Suhrid Barua.

The Sunil-Gavaskar-led Indian team made mincemeat of Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the round-robin format to come up trumps in the 1984 Rothmans Asia Cup at Sharjah.

One of the chief architects of that victory was wicketkeeper-opening batsman Surinder Khanna, who slammed back-to-back half-centuries to emerge as the Man of the Series.

“It all clicked at the right time for me. I was picked in the starting eleven despite having a stalwart like Syed Kirmani in our squad. There is a lot of pride in playing for the country and when I realised on the day of our first game against Sri Lanka that I would be opening the innings and also keeping wickets, I was really happy,” recalls Khanna. “

So, was all at ease between him and Kirmani given the fact that he was preferred over the experienced pro?

“Absolutely!” says Khanna. “Kiri is a thorough gentleman. In both the games where I got fifties, Kirmani and Sunny bhai (Sunil Gavaskar) patted me for my efforts after the game. We had wonderful team spirit, every player was happy about each other’s success.”

The tournament was robbed of some sheen with a couple of big names missing. “Kapil Dev missed the tournament and went to London to undergo a knee surgery. In fact, Kapil came to Sharjah to watch our first game and then went to England while Imran Khan gave the tourney a miss because of an injury.”

The Sharjah wicket has a reputation for being a nightmare for bowlers. But the Asia Cup was an exception. “It was a green top - something you hardly hope to find in Sharjah. Our seamers Chetan Sharma, Madan Lal, Manoj Prabhakar and Roger Binny relished the conditions and shot out Sri Lanka for just 96.”

It was a game in which Khanna smacked an unbeaten 69-ball 51 and together with Ghulam Parker facilitated a ten-wicket win in just 21.4 overs.

Khanna was again on song when India batted first after winning the toss against Pakistan. He made a 72-ball 56 as India finished at 188 for four in 46 overs. “Pakistan had had four seamers in Sarfraz Nawaz, Azeem Hafeez, Shahid Mahboob and Mudassar Nazar and just one spinner in Abdul Qadir. The seamers take more time to bowl their overs and it affected their over rate.”

How about India-Pakistan rivalry in those days?

“Both teams played hard on the field, but off the field we were all friends. Since most of the players in both teams were playing in England, the bonhomie was very much there. Of course, things were said in the heat of the moment, but then they are part and parcel of the game.”

Winning in Sharjah is something big for the Indian team and it showed when the team went on a shopping spree. “Dubai is a great place for shopping. Thanks to our victory, we got heavy discounts. The generosity extended to even free gifts!”

Thursday, April 21, 2011

“Hope Dhoni has seen in Paul Valthaty what the Mumbai selectors could not”

By Suhrid Barua

The likes of Manish Pandey, Manpreet Singh Goni and Swapnil Asnodkar had announced themselves through the IPL platform in its previous editions.

And the 2011 IPL saw a little known Mumbaikar – Paul Valthaty set the cash-rich tournament on fire on Wednesday with a blistering unbeaten 120 - off just 63 balls – to almost single-handedly help Kings XI Punjab engineer upset defending champions Chennai Super Kings (CSK).

Valthaty’s buccaneering knock panned out to be the first century of IPL4. His innings was punctuated with 19 fours – a new IPL record and two sixes.

The 27-year-old right-hander had little cricketing pedigree to boast of going into this match. He had played just one List A game for Mumbai in 2006 and 13 T20 matches. He turned out for Rajasthan Royals in the 2009 season but met with very little success. His previous IPL best score was just six.

The manner in which he took the strong Chennai bowling attack to the cleaners was a treat for sore eyes. The fierce square-cuts, the delicate late-cuts and robust pull shorts were executed when the ball was pitched short, and he would hit them straight when the ball was pitched up.

Makarand Waingankar, who seen the boy from the time he used to hone his skills at the ELF Vengsarkar Cricket Academy, opines: “He’s a kind of player who may not play with regularity, knocks like the one he played on Wednesday, but he will win you games. I thought he batted very smartly. He kept playing off the back foot for most part and murdered the Chennai bowling.”

Valthaty joined the Vengsarkar Cricket Academy at the age of 11 as a medium-pacer. “Once during an under-14 game he opened the innings and massacred the opposition attack. That’s when one first saw the brutal side of his batting,” Waingankar recalls.

The veteran cricket scribe smsed him on Wednesday morning to keep him pumped up: ‘You hang around for 10 balls and rest of the time the bowlers will be watching you.’

Waingankar is happy that he heeded the advice and didn’t play any rash shots early on. “He just played in the ‘V’.”

Valthaty was part of the India Under-19 team for the 2002 World Cup in New Zealand that had players like Irfan Pathan and Parthiv Patel. “He suffered an eye injury when he was hit by a ball in one of the matches. When you suffer an injury like that it obviously affects your confidence. And that’s exactly what happened with him,” Waingankar says.

At 27, Valthaty isn’t exactly young, yet he can be optimistic about breaking into national reckoning by the sheer weight of Wednesday’s innings. For good measure, his pyrotechnics was seen by none other than Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the stumps. “I hope Dhoni is not as blind as the Mumbai selectors to what unfolded in the middle on Wednesday,” Waingankar says, a touch upset.

Former Indian captain Dilip Vengsarkar, who saw Valthaty go through the paces at his academy, was pleased to see his one-time ward come up with a special knock. “He was at our academy for eight years before he joined Air-India. He always had the potential, but I think the eye injury he sustained really set him back.”

Tiger Pataudi played international cricket with one good eye, so there is no reason why with two good eyes Valthaty cannot come good, as he showed against CSK.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

“IPL is a great stage for youngsters like me,” says India’s fastest-ever bowler

By Suhrid Barua

He is yet to play for India. He is yet to even play his first IPL game, but Varun Aaron has grabbed the spotlight by bowling the fastest ball ever bowled by an Indian. Part of the Delhi Daredevils side in IPL4, Aaron hurled the red cherry at 153 kmph in Jharkhand’s final game against Gujarat in the Vijay Hazare Trophy at the Holkar Stadium, Indore.

“I came to know that I had bowled the fastest ball after one of my team-mates told me in the dressing room. I was mighty surprised and felt happy about it. Actually, I was more delighted that Jharkhand won the title,” Aaron said in a chat with CricketCountry.com.

An Indian fast bowler bowling at 150kmph plus is as rare as spotting Halley’s Comet. The last time one saw an Indian bowl clocked above 150kmph was Ishant Sharma, during the CB series in Australia in 2007-08 season. Is there any other Indian bowler who clocked that in the speedometer? Maybe, Mohammad Nissar in the 1930s, but there were no speed guns then.

The news of Aaron’s pace has been greeted among Indian cricket fans with a bit of cynicism. And this time, it’s not unjustified. Just about every Indian new ball bowler who arrived with much promise and pace, slowed down considerably over a short period… be it Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Zaheer Khan or any other Indian quickie in recent times. This is in sharp contrast to other nations, where fast bowlers add to their speed with passage of time.

Will Aaron go the same way once he establishes himself in the big league? “It’s difficult to say what will happen in future. I love to bowl fast and for now, want to help my team Delhi Daredevils do well in IPL4, whenever I get a chance to play,” he says.

The 21-year-old tearaway was part of the Kolkata Knight Riders team for 2010 IPL but didn’t get to play in any of the games. But, he was richer with the experience of getting pointers from former Pakistan pacer Wasim Akram.

“Akram sir told all the bowlers the importance of yorkers and focussing on reverse swing in the T20 games,” he revealed.

Aaron made his Ranji Trophy debut for Jharkhand in 2008 and picked up 14 wickets with a five-wicket haul against Tripura last season.

Aaron is excited about playing in the IPL. “I think it’s a nice stage for youngsters to showcase their skills. But honestly, any youngster’s ultimate goal is to represent the country.”

The Jamshedpur-born boy - his parents moved to the Steel City from Bengaluru in the ’80s - adores West Indian Andy Roberts for his fearsome pace. “I like his intimidating style of bowling.”

Saturday, April 9, 2011

To be auctioned for $900,000 was mindboggling, says Deccan Chargers’ Daniel Christian

By Suhrid Barua

Daniel Christian made all and sundry sit up and take notice of him when he was signed by Deccan Chargers for a whopping $900,000 for the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League.

The South Australian is a handy medium-pacer and can hit the cricket ball a fair distance and is seen as a genuine all-rounder for Deccan Chargers, who could provide the impetus with both bat and ball.

Fittingly, Christian was playing in a Twenty20 match at the Adelaide Oval when he got the good news about Deccan buying him for the hefty amount which was much, much, more than his base price of $50,000.

The 27-year-old Aussie spoke to CricketCountry.com about his IPL foray.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: What was your initial reaction when you got the news that Deccan Chargers had bought you for $900,000?


A:
To be honest, I was just excited about getting an opportunity to play in the Indian Premier League and was not thinking about anything else. Of course, to get $900,000 in my first season in IPL is mind-blowing.

Q: Did you ever imagine that you would be bought for 18 times more than your base price of $50,000?

A:
Obviously I was lucky that Deccan was quite keen. There’s always a chance the bidding will continue until they get the person they want and fortunately I was that person.

Q: How do you compare the money paid to domestic cricketers in India as compared to those in Australia?


A:
Everyone who has played the league has said that the IPL is a fantastic experience and not just for the cricket but everything that goes with it - the big crowds, the bright lights, and the extravagance of it all. It really depends on the player and what they were sold for, but in the end we are just fortunate to get paid for doing what we love.

Q: Do you think your bility to bowl and your big-hitting prompted Chargers to go the extra mile to bid for you?

A: I think Darren (Lehmann) knows what I’m capable of and I’ve had a fairly good domestic season in Australia, so that might’ve also helped my cause.

Q: Darren Lehmann is the Deccan Chargers’ coach. As you have said that he knows your game well, do you think having somebody who is well acquainted with your game would be of big help to have as coach of the side?

A: Having playing against and with him, it’s easy to see why Darren has performed at the highest level. He’s got a fantastic cricketing knowledge and definitely knows how to get the best out of each individual. He’s very down to earth and very easy going and having already known him will definitely help as I will know what he expects from me.

Q: There was intense bidding between Deccan Chargers, Delhi Daredevils and Kochi IPL as they have Australian coaches – Darren Lehmann, Greg Shippard and Geoff Lawson. You must have felt very special to know that. What’s your take?

A: All three of them have seen me play a fair bit over the Australian summer but I definitely didn’t expect it to be that intense.

Q: Tell us a bit about your experiences of playing for Australia in three Twenty20 games?

A: As a kid you dream of representing your country and stand next to players like Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke. So, it was a fantastic experience, something I will always cherish. With the opportunities the Redbacks have with the Airtel Champions League and KFC Twenty20 Big Bash, if I keep performing the way I’ve been, it will look after itself.

Unforgettable catches of 2011 World Cup

By Suhrid Barua

Catches win matches and the 2011 World Cup was witness to some stunning catches. Here’s a look at some of the best catches of the big-ticket event.


Kieren Pollard - West Indies vs Ireland at Nagpur

The tall West Indian is known more for his big-hitting skills but he showed his fielder prowess against Ireland, plucking an absolute blinder at long-off off the bowling off Darren Sammy, to get rid of another big-hitter Kevin O’Brien at a crucial juncture of the game.

Pollard ran in from the deep and timed his dive to near-perfection and grabbed it – a catch that revives memories of Ajay Jadeja pulling off a similar stunner to dismiss Allan Border during the 1992 World Cup match in Brisbane.


Nathan McCullum - New Zealand vs Sri Lanka at Mumbai

Nathan McCullum pouched a ripper of a catch off his own bowling against Mahela Jayawardene but the catch was disallowed as the third umpire Amesh Saheba was convinced that the ball had hit the ground after it was referred.

It was a sight to see - McCullum flew to his right and got his palms under it even as the ball was dying on him after the batsman offered a defensive shot to a delivery that stopped a bit on him.


Munaf Patel - India vs England at Bangalore

Munaf Patel is never considered as one of the agile fielders in the Indian team but he surprised all and sundry at Bangalore’s M Chinnaswamy Stadium with a superb catch to dismiss Kevin Pietersen off his own bowling.

The lanky bowler put his hands to a full-blooded shot from Pietersen, more as a way to save his face than catch it even while slipping to the ground. The ball popped up of his palm and Munaf grabbed it with his left hand to effect a crucial breakthrough after KP blazed his way to a quickfire 31.


Brett Lee - Australia vs Pakistan at Colombo

Brett Lee produced something out of the ordinary when he plotted the exit of Pakistan opener Mohammad Hafeez. Lee came up with a zippy delivery and induced a leading edge of Hafeez after the batsman had closed the face of the bat early and attempted to work a straight ball through mid-wicket. Lee rushed out of his follow-through and plucked a wonderful catch.


Robin Peterson - South Africa vs England at Chennai

Robin Peterson took a magnificent catch to get rid of Ian Bell of his own bowling. The left-arm spinner, opening the bowling for South Africa, beat Bell all ends up with a flighted ball. Bell gave Peterson the charge but tried to check his shot when he realised he was not to the pitch of the ball – spooning a catch which the bowler gobbled diving to his left.


Mahela Jayawardene - Sri Lanka vs Zimbabwe at Colombo

Mahela Jayawardene has one of safest pair of hands at slips and he only enhanced that potential, snapping up a brilliant catch to dismiss Greg Lamb of the bowling of Tillakaratne Dilshan.

Jayawardene exuded superb reflexes and put out his left hand to take a catch after the edge of Lamb’s bat flew between the wicketkeeper and slip.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Former cricketers salute Dhoni’s World Cup champion team

By Suhrid Barua

India’s moment of glory at the Wankhede has sent the cricket-crazy nation into frenzy. Mahendra Singh Dhoni led from the front to replicate what Kapil Dev’s men did at Lord’s, 28 years ago. And what made the World Cup triumph all the more sweet was that the epochal win happened on home turf.

Former Indian cricketers hailed Indian cricket’s greatest moment after the 1983 World Cup romp. Some of them spoke to CricketCountry.com:

Madan Lal, member of the victorious 1983 World Cup winning team, felt that the team played exceedingly well and deserve to be the World Champions.

“It’s never easy to maintain your consistency and focus in a tournament which is spread over 45 days. Hats off to them. Mahendra Singh Dhoni didn’t get high scores in the run-up to the final, but he showed on Saturday what delivering the goods when the team needs most.”

The former all-rounder said that Dhoni did a fabulous job of covering up the weak point in India’s bowling – the absence of a fifth frontline bowler. “Yuvraj Singh bowled really well throughout the World Cup and enabled us to cover up the inadequacy of not having a regular fifth bowler. Remember one thing; he got crucial wickets and not just wickets of tailenders.”

Sunil Valson, another member of the triumphant 1983 World Cup team, said the win was a top-of-the-world feeling for every Indian and not just the players.

“We lost two early wickets, but the way Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli batted showed the kind of depth and talent the Indian team have before Dhoni provided the killer punch. Of course, winning it at home made it even sweeter.”

Valson, who is famously remembered for not playing a single game at the 1983 World Cup, said all the criticism of Dhoni when he was not getting runs, prior to the World Cup final, was unfair. “If you look at his performance for last two to three years, you would see that he done well for himself and for the team. Full marks to him for the manner in which he shepherded his team to World Cup glory.”

Maninder Singh, India left-arm spinner and member of the 1987 World Cup team, was on cloud nine when speaking to cricketcountry.

“I was not part of the 1983 World Cup winning team and neither I’m part of the 2011 World Cup winning team, but I feel these two wins are the biggest moments of my life. I feel proud to be Indian.”

Maninder said that Dhoni’s inspiring leadership was a big factor in the team’s success. “Dhoni marshalled his troops very well. His calm presence was a big asset to the side. He reserved the best for the final and came out with a fabulous knock. Don’t forget Sachin Tendulkar – his experience must have rubbed off on to the other players and it showed.”

The legendary Gundappa Viswanath said that the men in blue were the deserving winners. “From the beginning of the World Cup, I have been saying that this Indian team had all the potential to win the World Cup and they proved it on Saturday. It’s a fantastic achievement and one of the biggest days in Indian cricket after the 1983 World Cup glory.”

Vishy felt that Dhoni’s unbeaten knock of 91 was a fitting riposte to his critics. “He was criticised by many for his selection of players, but he silenced all with a superb innings while promoting himself up the order ahead of Yuvraj Singh.”

Jadeja’s knock at Bangalore was one of the finest in ODI history: Rashid Latif

Rashid Latif, the Pakistan wicket-keeper who figured in the 1996 World Cup quarter-final match against India at Bangalore, revives memories of that high-voltage encounter in a chat with Suhrid Barua of Cricketcountry.com

There’s invariably a heightened adrenaline flow among players and fans alike whenever arch-rivals India-Pakistan face-off in a cricket field. So much is at stake – players are expected to reserve their best for such encounters. They are aware the failure may trigger a public backlash. The sight of flag-waving, whistle-blowing, drum-beating, slogan-shout fans with their faces painted in their national colours is something we have got used to over the years.

The 1996 World Cup India-Pakistan quarter-final match at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium was one such game which India won amid much drama.

Fifteen years down the line, Latif relives the high-voltage contest. The ‘keeper was witness to a blinder from Ajay Jadeja which proved decisive. The 42-year-old Latif, who appeared in 37 Tests and 166 One-Day Internationals, talks about that knock and much more in an exclusive interview with CricketCountry.com

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: Firstly, tell us what memories flash through your mind when you think of the 1996 India-Pakistan World Cup game at Bangalore?

A: Well, I can never forget that game. It was the last international match of the great Javed Miandad. The atmosphere at Bangalore (now Bengaluru) was electrifying with the crowd very vocal in rooting for their team. And how can I forget the explosive innings of Ajay Jadeja! I also
vividly remember the television commentary by Imran Khan.

Q: Yes, Ajay Jadeja played a stupendous knock at the death, scoring a 25-ball 45 at a juncture when the Indian innings was struggling to get a serious push-on. What are your thoughts on that innings?

A: It was a majestic knock from Jadeja. In my book, its one of the best One-Day Internationals knock of all times. Having said that, I must also tell you that very few people know that Jadeja was out to the very first ball he faced from Waqar Younis. However, the umpire negated the lbw appeal. Since I was the wicketkeeper, I was in a perfect position to judge and had no doubts that he was plumb. But these things are part and parcel of the game.

Q: Navjot Singh Sidhu laid the early foundation of the Indian innings with a superb 93, forging a solid opening stand with Sachin Tendulkar and provided the launch pad for somebody like Jadeja to go after the Pakistan bowling in the final overs. What memories you have of that innings by Sidhu?

A: Sidhu really batted out of his skin to hold the Indian innings together. In fact, I had never seen Sidhu bat so aggressively against Pakistan before that encounter.

Q: Regular Pakistan captain Wasim Akram pulled out of that game citing an injury, leading to public outcry in Pakistan. When did you realize that Akram was not going to play? Was it on the day of the game or the day before and how serious was the injury?

A: Look, Wasim Akram was not fit for sure. And I knew it at least two days before the quarter-final match. Akram’s injury was very serious and all the talk about him crying out at the eleventh hour is mere speculation.

Q: You took a brilliant tumbling catch off the bowling of Waqar to dismiss Indian captain Mohammad Azharuddin just when he was settling down nicely. What went through your mind then?

A: I am often asked about this catch. I feel happy that people still remember my effort. We needed a wicket at that time and I am happy to have played a role in it.

Q: The Bangalore match is infamously remembered for the verbal duel between batsman Aamir Sohail and bowler Venkatesh Prasad. Sohail has thumped Prasad to the off-side for a boundary and raised his bat towards the bowler as if to say, ‘Go fetch it’. Prasad cleaned him up the next ball and gave him a fitting send-off. What’s your take?

A: It was a routine incident which was blown out of proportion. I had a word with Aamir and he said that it was a ploy to pressure the bowler, something which it did not work out for him that day.

Q: You are currently the head coach of the Afghanistan cricket team. How do you visualize the future of Afghanistan cricket?

A: I have seen that the youths here are highly enthusiastic, even more than India and Pakistan. But because of the dearth of playing fields, they end up playing on the streets. Afghanistan won the silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games. If the authorities concerned have a decent infrastructure in place, build three-four stadiums along with academies, I’ve every reason to be optimistic about Afghanistan acquiring Test status in two year’s time. Afghanistan has risen phenomenally in the past two years from 80th position to the top-15 bracket.

“World Cup win would be my biggest gift from my son Yuvi,” says his dad Yograj Singh

Yuvraj Singh’s father talks about his superb run in the World Cup, marriage and much more, in an interview to Suhrid Barua.

Yuvraj Singh has been a major factor in India’s campaign in the 2011 World Cup. He has been the pivot around which the Indian middle-order has revolved. In seven games, the southpaw has amassed 341 runs at a staggering average of 113.66 – embellished with one century, four half-centuries and four Man-of-the-Match Awards. It’s a fitting reply to the carping critics who ranted that the best of Yuvraj was over.

Yograj Singh, the former India pacer and Yuvraj Singh’s father, spoke to CricketCountry.com on his son – now the cynosure of the entire nation.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: Yuvraj has been in phenomenal form in the ongoing World Cup. It must be extremely satisfying to see your son come so good on the World Cup stage, especially after going through the horrors last year?

A: I’m happy that Yuvi is doing what he is good at – scoring runs and helping India win matches. He called me up on Friday morning to wish me on my birthday and asked me whether I enjoyed the birthday gift (his knock of 57 that steered India to a win over Australia on Thursday evening). I told him that winning the World Cup would be biggest birthday gift for me.

Q: The 2010 was a difficult year for Yuvraj. He was in and out of the national team in both One-Day Internationals as well as in Tests. How did you keep him motivated?

A: I kept telling him one thing: Have faith in God, be consistent in working hard and the Almighty would never let you down. Nobody bothered to know what Yuvi was going through when he was grappling with injuries and poor form while being on the sidelines. Every player goes through tough times, even the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag have gone through the same. I’m sure the tough times would stand him in good stead for the future.

Q: Yuvraj last played a Test on the 2010 Sri Lankan tour where he played the first Test and got injured in the second Test, and missed the decider after his replacement Suresh Raina hit a hundred on debut. Subsequently, he was kept out of two home series against Australia, New Zealand and later for the South Africa Test series. Do you think this superlative performance at the World Cup would help him earn a Test recall?

A: Why not? I’m pretty optimistic that Yuvi would cement his spot in the Test side as well.

Q: There is always a belief that Yuvraj is blessed with loads of natural talent, but he hasn’t quite done justice to his immense potential. What’s your take?

A: Every player is different. Some players mature early, while some take time to mature. As for Yuvraj, I can tell you that the best of Yuvraj is yet to come. You also got to remember that Yuvraj is a true team player and not one to chase personal records. Had Yuvi had been like that, he would have scored more than 25,000 runs till date. You know what, he once told me: “Dad, I am prepared to die for the country diving on the field.” That’s the spirit and pride he has in playing for the country.

Q: Yuvraj is always a big hit among the fairer sex. and has been linked with Bollywood actresses like Deepika Padukone and Kim Sharma among others. How do you handle all his link-ups?

A: Yuvi tells me one thing: Dad, if you trust me, don’t read newspapers and don’t watch television news channels.

Q: Yuvraj is the most eligible bachelor. When would you like to see him settle down?

A: Marriage for Yuvraj can wait for another five years. He is at the peak of his career and I would want him to realize his potential and do well for the country. I would want my bahu to be someone like Sachin Tendulkar’s wife Anjali. I also have a dream – to train my grandson (Yuvraj future son) to be the most lethal fast bowler in the country.