Over 2.3 - The Bohemian Cricket Alphabet - Part 1

The game of cricket can be dull for some, but for cricketing partisans, there are moments in cricketing history that makes the game unique and interesting. Behold the Bohemian cricket alphabet.

A - Allan Border - It is an exceptional achievement if a cricketer plays 100 Test matches in his whole career. But to play 153 consecutive test matches without missing a single test match, even through injury, is insane. That is some effort from Captain Grumpy.

B - Bradman/Bodyline - If you do not know about the Bodyline series, then can you really call yourself a cricket fan? English captain Douglas Jardine introduced the tactic of short bowling to curb the brilliance of Don Bradman, the greatest ever batsman in cricketing history. But the English may have not have needed it as Bradman withdrew from the first test in Sydney due to a dispute with the board. There were rumours Bradman was disappointed with talk of him having a nervous breakdown.

C - Chepauk, Chennai - this was the venue for the 1986 tied test between Australia and India. Australian batsman Dean Jones scored an incredible double hundred in sauna-like conditions. Unfortunately, his body could not handle the conditions anymore and Jones involuntary urinated on the pitch with severe vomiting and dehydration. Jones had to spend time in hospital after such an effort.

D - Double hundreds - It is a known fact that getting a double hundred in one-day international cricket is bloody difficult. Sachin Tendulkar achieved that feat in 2010 and has been followed by Rohit Sharma, who has achieved it twice, Virender Sehwag, Chris Gayle and Martin Guptill. But move aside gentlemen, the first person to achieve the feat was Australian Belinda Clark from the Australian Women's cricket team. Clark's 229 runs came against Denmark in the 1997 World Cup.

E - Eleven-Eleven - Australia were taking on South Africa in a Test match at Newlands. The clock read 11:11 a.m., South Africa needed 111 runs and the date was 11/11/11. Coincidence? I think not.

F - First-ever-women's-cricket-match - The year was 1745. Bramley Village took on Hambledon Village in the county of Yorkshire. The Bramley maids wore blue ribbons and the maids from Hambledon wore red. Hambledon won the match by 8 runs.

G - George William Gillingham - Reverend Gillingham was a great servant of the Worcestershire Cricket club. Though he was not good enough to play professionally, he was a cricketing zealot and became the secretary of the club. During a winter in the 1920s when River Severn flooded the county field at Worcester, Gillingham swam across the ground to gain access to the pavilion and returned back with the account books. Such commitment!

H - Hylton - West Indian cricketer Leslie Hylton played 6 test matches for the national team between 1933-1936. The great Neville Cardus stated that "Hylton was "unmistakenly a good bowler, possibly more than good". He also was a very useful lower order batsman. However, Hylton is known for being the only test cricketer to be hanged for the murder of his wife who was having an affair with the notorious adulterer, Roy Francis.

I - International cricket game - The first ever international match was not between any current top tier teams. It was between Canada and the USA in 1844 in Manhattan. Would you believe if I told you that it was the first official game of any sport? The British Empire's Canadian Province won the match by 23 runs in front of a packed crowd. The return fixture was scheduled for 1845. The resulting legacy which is the Auty Cup is still being played, albeit intermittently.

J - James Southerton- Southerton was one of the greatest slow-bowlers of his generation. But he made his debut at a ripe old age of 49 years and 119 days for England against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground achieving the status of being the oldest cricketer to make a test debut. He only played two test matches and ten months later he became the first Test cricketer to die when he was diagnosed with pleurisy.

K - King Cole - 13 indigenous cricketers toured England in 1868 for what was an astonishing 47-match trip. This was Australia's first ever sporting team. All of the team returned home except for one. Cole was known as Bripumyarramin and after a narrow loss to the Marylebone Cricket Club, he fell ill and died midway through the tour contracting the combined symptoms of tuberculosis and pneumonia. This year marked the 150th anniversary, which was commemorated by the current group of players.

L - Longest Match - If you feel that five days is exhausting, spare a thought for the poor fellows who tussled it out for 9 days in a test match in 1939. South Africa took on England in Durban and the match ended in a draw because the English had to catch their boat back home. They only needed 41 runs to win.

M - Mitcham Cricket Green - Mitcham Cricket Green is a cricket ground that is found in South London in the county of Surrey. It is currently the oldest cricket ground still use having had the first match played in 1685. Lord Nelson, who was the Admiral from the London Borough of Merton, used to travel to the ground to watch the local team. During Nelson's time, the changing rooms were in the nearby Cricketers Inn while the scorer was on the pub balcony. During World War II, the inn was bombed and replaced by the current building.

Shakti Gounden
Overs 2.2 - When Laxman painted a masterpiece with his bat

The canvas was ready. Eden Gardens has hosted over 90 international matches since being established in 1864. But none were as enthralling as the one in 2001 between the all-conquering, supremely successful and invincible Australia outfit (so we thought) and an Indian cricket team that has never lost to Australia in their own backyard previously. The series was the making of a great cricketing rivalry and what transpired in those five days kindled the renaissance of Indian cricket since their famous World Cup glory in 1983.

The Australian team was on the cusp of creating history after winning the first test very comprehensively at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. They had compiled a world-record of 16 successive wins stretching back to 1999. Steve Waugh, the Australian captain labelled this series as the "final frontier" before leaving the shores of Australia. With names such as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist and the Waugh twins, it was probably the greatest team assembled on a cricket pitch. Enter Vangipurapu Venkata Sai Laxman (VVS). The Hyderabadi stylist and the defiant Rahul Dravid put on a partnership that will never ever be forgotten in the annals of cricketing history. No painter could have painted a perfect picture.

I did not have commercial television at that time. I remember coming home from school and switching on the ABC Grandstand radio. It was perfect timing. We clocked off at 3 p.m. AEST from school just in time for the first ball of every day in India. I can safely say that this was the first test match that I listened to the dissection of every single delivery. Such was the tension and importance of what was being played out at the Eden Gardens that people tend to forget that Hayden made an important 97 and that Australia was in a deep state of bother when S. Waugh compiled one of his trademark centuries batting with the tail. People also overlook Harbhajan Singh's hat-trick or Gilchrist becoming the first Australian cricketer to register a king pair.

The Australians knew the ability of Laxman before this Test match. Even though Laxman averaged just over 20 in his ten test matches, he did play a sublime innings of 167 against the Aussies in Sydney in 2000. Dravid had struggled against the opposition for some time now and was grappling on to keep his place at the top of the order. After his first innings struggles and the form of Laxman, Dravid was pushed down the order to accommodate Laxman, who came at first drop. Whether it was destiny or luck, Indian captain Sourav Ganguly conjured up a masterstroke.

After Australia amassed 440 odd runs and bowled India out for 171, Waugh decided to enforce the follow-on with India already 275 runs behind. It was a moment where the ruthlessness to dominate became a chink in the nearly impenetrable armour of Australia. And that is all that Laxman and Dravid needed. Warne had mentioned numerous times after that the decision to make India bat again was one of arrogance as the bowlers were tired, the heat was sweltering and here presented an opportunity to make it impossible for the Indians to get the result.

John Buchanan, who was the Australian coach at that time felt that Australia could take advantage of the switch between Dravid and Laxman and try and expose Laxman with the new ball. But Laxman's innings was one of godlike patience, outstanding endurance, incredible skill and artistic batsman-ship. It did not matter where the Australians bowled, Laxman used his flexible wrists to churn run after run after run.

There was a massive amount of rough outside the leg-stump. But whatever Warne and co. bowled on it, Laxman stroked his way into history. As a painting rises from the brushstrokes, so did Laxman's innings from his elegant batsman-ship that day. Neville Cardus once said that "a true batsman should in most of his strokes tell the truth about himself". This given day, the Australians found a lot about Laxman. Whether it was Gillespie with those vicious off cutters or Warne with those ripping leg-spinners, Laxman effortlessly toyed with Australia for two days in the scorching Kolkata-weather. I still remember seeing the highlights of those delightful on-drives against the spin and the lazy elegance of the flicks off his legs. This was as true as batting can get.

To also put the enormity of Laxman's brilliance into perspective, he was nearly ruled out before a ball was even bowled. Andrew Leipus, the Indian team physiotherapist told Cricinfo that Laxman had a condition called antalgic posture where the body shifts away from the pain. Laxman was suffering from a stiff back and to compensate for the problem, his shoulders were not in line with his pelvis. As Leipus said, Laxman endured " pain, the heat, the exhaustion, the dehydration, the cramping, the opposition, the pressure". Let us also not undermine the resilience, the importance and fortitude of Dravid, who for most of his career has been in somewhat of a similar position - shadowed from the limelight.

India went on to script the greatest comeback in cricketing history and win the test match by 171 runs. That test will be remembered as the moment Laxman painted a masterpiece with his bat.

Shakti Gounden
Overs 2.1 - The new breed of cricketers with the world at their feet

With the ridiculous amount of cricket that is being played all over the globe, it is challenging to pinpoint which young players will enter the status of super-stardom. With the rigours of international cricket so closely scrutinized, most of the young cricketers do not survive the test of time. This could be due to a plethora of reasons. The consistency of performances, the pressure of being an international cricketer and the expectations associated with it and even poor discipline to name a few. But mark my words, these young cricketers will be the next superstars of the game. Some have already tasted success in their short time in international cricket. Some still have not been introduced to the sacrament of fire. Here are the eleven (21 years old or younger) that I feel will provide cricket lovers with a reason to enjoy the game for a little while longer.

1. Prithvi Shaw (India-18 years)

At the age of 14, Prithvi Shaw was given the highest praise in Indian cricket. He was touted as the next Sachin Tendulkar. The comparisons are not limited to Tendulkar's physical attributes, but the fearlessness of his batsman-ship. Shaw gained his first test cap against the West Indies earlier this year and became the fastest ever Indian to record a century in his debut match at the age of 18 years and 329 days and behind only Tendulkar as the second youngest century getter for India. Shaw was the captain of the successful India Under-19s team earlier this year. The upcoming Border-Gavaskar series will provide the cricketing world with a glimpse of his natural talent. Under the splendid tutelage of Rahul Dravid, Shaw understands that the game will always be larger than any individual and this grounding is a crucial ingredient for success.

2. Shimron Hetmyer (West Indies - 21 years)

The future of the West Indies looked very bleak, but with the aid of some excellent young batsmen in Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer, West Indies could still be very competitive. Hetmyer also captained West Indies to the Under-19 World Cup against India in 2016 and was fast-tracked into the ailing Windies line-up in both the Tests and the one-day internationals. After scoring his first ODI century against the UAE, Hetmyer highlighted his pedigree with a scintillating century against a very strong Indian lineup. If your first three one-day international centuries have come faster than the great Brian Charles Lara and the imperious Viv Richards, then there is something special about you.

3. Shubman Gill (India - 19 years old)

In my opinion, Shubman Gill will become the next Virat Kohli. Not in his personality or intensity, but more so in his batsman-ship and hunger for runs. The 2018 Under-19 player of the tournament has all the recipes to be the next true superstar batsman. Although Gill has not cracked into the India team yet, it is only a matter of time with impressive performances for India A and B both home and abroad. The common link with both Gill and Shaw improving every outing is due to the presence of Dravid. Gill has stated previously that Dravid is the best thing that has happened to his batting. What is it with India creating elegant, classy and technically superior batsmen?

4. Jason Sangha (Australia - 19 years old)

Kerry O'Keefe has said that Jason Sangha is the "best since Ponting". Talk about high praise. Sangha is a stylish batsman and captained the Australian Under-19 World Cup squad in 2018. Sangha scored his maiden first-class century against England last summer against a bowling line-up that included Stuart Broad, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes. He became the second youngest after the great Tendulkar to register a first-class century against England. Sangha continues his impressive rise after putting on a record partnership with fellow gun Jack Edwards in NSW Blues Sheffield Shield match against Tasmania.

5. Ollie Pope (England - 20 years old)

Ollie Pope has had a very quick transition from grade to first-class to test cricket. Pope played for Campbelltown/Camden in Sydney's southwest in 2016 and two years later he made his test debut at Lord's for England against India in the exciting series played earlier this year. Alec Stewart has mentioned that Pope has what it takes to be an international star. Pope reminds me of former English batsman Ian Bell with his compact technique and has the intensity of captain, Joe Root. To model his game on these two legends of English cricket is not a bad start. Pope is also a decent wicket-keeper, but that spot is reserved for our next selection.

6. Rishabh Pant (India - 21 years old)

Rishabh Pant's second ball six to get off the mark in test cricket paints a perfect picture of who he is as a cricketer. Pant is a fearless cricketer, however, for him to take the next step, he needs to improve on two aspects of his cricket. The first is his shot selection and the other is his wicket-keeping. Pant started his test career by grabbing seven catches, but his wicket-keeping has a lot of room for improvement. When Pant's on, pun very much intended, he is a very dangerous cricketer as highlighted by his maiden test hundred against England off 117 balls and his IPL exploits. India has lost MS Dhoni but may have unearthed another potential match-winner.

7. Sam Curran (England - 20 years old)

While most nations struggle with finding that important all-rounder spot, England keeps delivering quality in this department. Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and now the impressive Sam Curran. Already in his short career, Curran has shown his tenacity with the bat and his skill with the ball at crucial times. The left-arm swing bowler from Surrey was named joint Man of the Series against India and was so impressive that Indian coach, Ravi Shastri went on to say that it was Curran and not England that hurt India. In Curran and Pope, England has two excellent cricketers to build their team around for the future.

8. Rashid Khan (Afghanistan - 20 years old)

Rashid Khan is already a superstar and it is absolutely incredible to think that he is only 20. Khan has put Afghanistan truly on the cricket map after becoming the youngest cricketer to top the ICC one day bowlers' ranking and is currently the best T20 bowler in the world. Khan has bamboozled batsmen all over the world, whether in the BBL, IPL or in international cricket. The great Jason Gillespie only has positive words for Khan. Khan is to Afghanistan what Shane Warne was to Australia. The king of leg-spin has already heaped praise on the young spinner by saying that he is the type of bowler that loves the big stage and the pressure cooker situations.

9. Lloyd Pope (Australia - 18 years old)

Who doesn't like a cheeky redhead? Lloyd Pope burst onto the world scene with his record-breaking 8 for 35 against England in the U-19s World Cup. Recently, Pope became the youngest person in the 126-year old history of the Sheffield Shield to take seven wickets in a first-class innings. Predictably, he has drawn comparisons with Warne, but I feel that it is unfair to place such a huge responsibility on his young shoulders. Pope needs time to mature and develop. The "Wizard" as he is known as, has an outstanding wrong-un and excellent control of his deliveries. It is great to see some quality leg-spinners coming through the system. With Lloyd Pope and Ollie Pope, the world will be a better place.

10. Oshane Thomas (West Indies - 20 years old)

Over 6 feet tall and shaped as a colossus, Oshane Thomas is the new West Indies fast bowling sensation. Bowling at searing pace which has registered past 150km/h consistently, Thomas recently showed his promise by continuously troubling the top three of the Indian batting line-up. His impressive start to his international career has drawn comparisons with the great Michael Holding from his captain. Now it is still a long way to be discussed in the same breath as Holding or Joel Garner, but Thomas has all the ingredients to be the talk of the cricketing fast bowling cartel. The game has become predominantly a batsman's game, but nothing excites me more than a fast-bowler making them jump.

11. Kamlesh Nagarkoti (India - 18 years old)

Such is the strength of young Indian cricket currently, Nagakoti joins Shaw, Gill and Pant in this list. Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi wreaked some serious havoc during the 2018 Under-19 World Cup and in the process crushing the idea that India can not produce genuine fast bowlers. In Nagarkoti, India has someone who can bowl at 150 km/h and has a tight technique to complement it. The former West Indian fast bowler, Ian Bishop has high hopes for Nagarkoti and believes he can add another five kilometres per hour to the speed gun if he keeps his body fit and works hard on his fitness. Along with the speed and action, it is Nagakoti's control which makes life difficult for most batsmen and it is only a matter of time before he gets exposed to the international arena.

Honourable mentions:- Jack Edwards, Raynard Van Tonder, Finn Allen and Shaheen Afridi

Shakti GoundenComment
Overs 1.6 - Day at Old King's Oval - cricket, commentary and atrocious scoring

My first time as a supporting commentator at the NSW Kingsgrove Sports T20 game on the weekend and I have learnt a great deal. Yes, it was only a grade cricket match. And yes, there were only a handful of cricket lovers in attendance. But to do commentary for the radio, you need to be flamboyant, knowledgeable, have interesting cricketing stories and topics to fill up the dead air and most importantly have the correct score. I discovered that the hard way.

It was a perfect Sunday afternoon with the temperature ideal for a game of cricket. Add to this the backdrop of the majestic refurbished Western Sydney Stadium. The wind was slightly strong and could be heard from the stadium microphone. Walking up to the Doug Walter's stand - named after the legendary Australian cricketer himself, I could be forgiven for being spellbound by the surroundings. The venue was the Old King's Oval, the home ground of the Parramatta District Cricket Club. The club has a rich history and was founded in 1843 boasting the likes of Walters, the great Richie and John Benaud to add to their pedigree.

Outside the commentary box sat a lady named Chris. She had been the official scorer for the club for an astonishing 33 years. After a brief introduction, she mentioned that it was only in her 32nd year (2017) that she got to experience a grand final win. Such dedication and commitment to the club are worthy of a heartwarming story and Chris deserved that championship just as much as the playing unit. As the conversation drew to a close, I could see the Parramatta and Hawkesbury teams warming up and going through their routines. I managed to take a quick snap with Peter Forrest, who was lining-up for Hawkesbury. The former Qld Bulls batsmen played for Australia in several one-day internationals. I was about to help call a professional cricket match.

Championing the commentary team was Nick - a stalwart from the Hawkesbury radio and Dave who is an experienced caller for Alive 90.5 FM sports. Both are naturals and excellent voices for commentary. Another colleague of mine, Harry and I were the supporting cast. I thought the young Harry did really well. I was given the role of scoring, albeit not officially and provision of opinions when called upon. The updating of scores in the commentary box provides the callers with a guide for when to alter the tempo of excitement and to build the intensity for the audience to experience. And I failed at that miserably, which I will get to later.

Hawkesbury won the toss and sent Parramatta in to bat. Opening batsman and prolific run-scorer, Nick Bertus started really well with a flurry of boundaries. Along with his opening partner, Ben Abbott, they built a strong opening partnership. But it was Luke Dempsey whose 51 including five monstrous sixes, one of which went over our heads provided Parramatta with a respectable total of 176. Hawkesbury spinner, Jake Wholohan took 4-31 from his four overs in an impressive performance. Nick in commentary reminded us that Wholohan was thinking of giving up the game but persisted and his performance justified his decision. Up until now, my scoring was decent with a couple of visits to Chris to ensure I could provide the listeners and the commentary team the correct updates. Though on the personal commentary front, I found the experience not too nerve-wracking however, I realised that I lacked polish.

When Hawkesbury started their pursuit of Parramatta's total, it was clear to all of us present that the total will be a tough one to chase. Opener Tom Wilson started briskly and was eventually run-out for a respectable 41. But wickets at continuous regularity by Parramatta spinners stifled Hawkesbury. So much so that I felt that they needed 70 runs off the last 3 overs. Which was pretty much game over. Before the last ball of the final over, I signalled to my fellow commentators that that was the penultimate delivery. We could hear from outside, Chris yelling at us and signalling - two more overs left. Embarrassingly for me, the runs required were 60 needed the last five. We had told the listeners that the match was over and presented the incorrect score update. Now we were faced with the uncomfortable situation of the telling them of the miscalculation. Thankfully Nick and Dave took it in their stride and made my gaffe less clumsy. Game on.

Hawkesbury eventually fell eight runs short thanks largely to a brilliant knock of 96 from the young Dale McKay. He only faced 53 deliveries which included 11 sumptuous boundaries and 2 delectable maximums.

After the end of the match, Nick was encouraging and provided me with some valuable advice. He mentioned that it is very important to do your research and to have interesting tales about players to share during the commentary. This is what listeners want. Not dull, ball by ball occurrences. The other lesson is that it is difficult to keep score and provide valuable opinions simultaneously. Regardless, this opportunity and experience were very helpful and a significant step in my growth as a sports presenter.

Shakti Gounden
Overs 1.5 - "Peeved" and you should be!

There has never been a period in Australian cricket history such as the one they are faced with today. The substandard results on the pitch by the men's cricket team and the absolute shambles off it have made Australian cricket a laughing stock. Whilst the signs of the derailment were present for a long period of time, Cricket Australia (CA) failed to acknowledge them. And I am peeved. Admittedly there would have been a time where I would lap up these state of affairs, but inherently I have always respected and admired the talented Australian cricket outfit and the tenacious nature of their cricket.

David Peever, former chairman of CA handed in his resignation only a few days after being re-elected for a second term. I promised to myself after blogging live the Capetown controversy, that I will never resurface that incident again. Such was my disappointment as a passionate cricket follower. But since that incident, CA have lost their captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner, coach Darren Lehmann, CEO James Sutherland, manager of team performance Pat Howard who will be stepping down in 2019 and now Peever. The impact of the ball-tampering saga has been colossal, however, things have been brewing for a while now.

CA had lost sight of the fabric of the game. Cricket is a gentlemen's game and those that play it are judged by upholding the spirit of the game. In being absorbed with the "win-at-all-costs" mentality, CA have lost the support of the players and more importantly the people that support it. Even though it is the players that face the music due to some of the poor behaviour they have dished out, the buck starts and stops with the poor management and leadership of the governing body in this country. The Longstaff review conducted due to current mismanagement found that "Australian cricket has lost its balance...the reputation of the game of cricket, as played by men, has been tainted. Women's cricket remains unaffected". The report also vehemently states that the leadership of CA were responsible for the imbalance created by their ruthless desire to win and a sheer disregard of moral and ethical responsibility.

These issues have been prevalent well before the ball-tampering saga and could have been nipped in the bud but CA chose to sweep it under the carpet. Since the Argus review in 2011 on team performance, Australia's on-field performances had improved including clinching their fifth World Cup championship at home and convincing winners in last Ashes series. Furthermore, the success of the BBL competition, the increased exposure to women's cricket, the growth of WBBL and game-changing broadcast deals were part of their impressive resume. But instead of speaking about these incredible achievements, the general public are smothered with the ineptness of CA and the constant histrionics associated with the men's cricket team.

As many experts have pointed out, these reviews are well and good but unless there is a change in the conformist and elitist style of management, CA will continue to be a fragmented organisation. The statement by Peever about not being embarrassed by the results of the findings and the appointment of Kevin Roberts as the chief executive highlights the massive cracks still present in the organisation's setup. Peever was elected for a second term before the state associations had a chance to appraise the Longstaff review. The end of his tenure was sealed after a short phone-call from NSW chairman John Knox. This lack of transparency has been a recurrent tale of Australian cricket. Whether it is the selection policies, the governance and cricket ambition or the much-publicised pay dispute between the cricket board and the players - the Australian cricketing public just can not catch a break. Roberts championed CA's negotiations during last year's bitter pay dispute with Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA). The review also stated that the negotiations were of "arrogant" and "aggressive" nature and contributed to the "toxic" environment both on and off the pitch. Time will tell if this is an inspired change or a case of deja vu.

If Australian cricket has to transform, the need not look too far. There is a reason that the Australian women's team is so well respected and admired across the world. Australian cricket management could do worse than build their culture around the pilaster of integrity and humility displayed by the women's cricket team. But if the recent trends are any indication then there is a fat chance that this will culminate.

Shakti GoundenComment
Overs 1.4 - The growth of Australian Women's game

Who is the best performing Australian national team currently?

Kangaroos?! Umm ... no!

Wait! If it is not the Kangaroos, then it must be the Wallabies.

Guess again!

Australian men's cricket team?

Definitely not.

**Drum roll please**

It is the Australian women's cricket outfit. The previously named Southern Stars are the world's premier team in both the one-day internationals and the T20 format. They also have five players in Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning, Megan Schutt, Beth Mooney and Jess Jonassen making the top five across different formats in the official International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings. Furthermore, their consistent performances and excellent brand of cricket have made them a very attractive proposition for the Australian public.

The growth of the women's game in Australia has reached new heights and the popularity of women's cricket has gained incredible momentum. Recent research by sponsors Commonwealth Bank state that the interest in women's sport is about 47 per cent higher than last year. The astonishing aspect is that six in every ten participants at the grassroots level are girls. Cricket Australia who are normally in the headlines for the wrong reasons, deserve a lot more plaudits for their part in this development. The women's game has become more professional with larger remuneration at the elite level and facilitation and provision of coaching allowing cricketers to commit to having a full-time career playing cricket.

A study from Deakin University in 2014 (1) revealed that a holistic approach to women's cricket has made an enormous difference. The Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) is central to this change with their continual push for professionalism and their relentless negotiations to get educational grants for life after cricket being universally appreciated. The cultural shift in women’s cricket has been aided through the increased exposure via the media providing the women with lucrative contracts, sponsorship deals and commercial arrangements. Even though there still is a long way to achieve parity in terms of equality, the foundations of the process are well-placed.

The triumph of the women's brand has allowed Cricket Australia to introduce a standalone Big Bash League to give further credence for the outstanding growth of the women's game. The standalone tournament will start in 2019 and in the process moving away from the shadows of the men's tournament. Earlier this year before the final of the 2018 tournament, both Perry and Villani (captains of the Sixers and Scorchers respectively) has supported the idea of having their own tournament to showcase the game and to create their own product.

With the World T20 tournament about to commence in less than a fortnight in the Caribbean, it is well overdue that we get behind a team that has limitless talent, plays with intensity and dignity and is a glowing endorsement to sports.

Reference: C Hickey, et al. (2016). The professionalisation of Australian women’s cricket - New times and New opportunities. Published by Deakin University, Geelong Victoria.
Thumbnail image credit: By Robert Drummond (IMG_2776) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Shakti GoundenComment
Overs 1.3 - The Dying Art of Cricket Commentary

 

“He lifted the game from a state of conventional excitement to one of unbelievable suspense and drama, and finally, into the realms of romantic fiction.”

A telling phrase which Dan Waddell wrote in his book “Test Match Special Book of Cricket”. He was making a reference to the highly revered and recently retired BBC radio cricket commentator, Henry Blofield. 

The most exceptional cricket commentators have elevated cricket beyond being a simple spectacle to narrating a compelling story. Throughout the decades, legendary commentators such as Henry Blofield have captured audiences by skilfully educating and entertaining them with intimate knowledge of the game, articulated with measured enthusiasm, coalesced with meticulous humour and having a faultless touch of recognising the perfect opportunity to verbalise. The sad truth is that there are not too many in the current climate who can claim to be, in the perfect sense, a cricket commentator just like Henry Blofield.

Maybe well-versed ex-English captains Nasser Hussein or Mike Atherton. Or maybe the delightfully eloquent Alison Mitchell and her smooth, velvety-voiced colleague Jonathan Agnew.  To break the English contingent, the ever-reliable Jim Maxwell deserves to be in this category. Gone are the golden days of Blofield, Richie Benaud, John Arlott, Bill Lawry, Tony Greig and the like. Admit it. The previously populated cupboard of enjoyable cricket commentators is almost bare. 

When I turn on the TV to watch cricket these days, I hear less about cricket and more about what one had for dinner last night. Minimalist chat about tactics and continuous drivel about the individuals who did not make the team. The commentary has resorted to one of "mates-man-ship", whereby you are forced to listen to past anecdotes of the panel's non-cricketing exploits together. Every person is known by their nicknames, such as Tubby, Slats, Warnie or Beefy. Oh, what I would do to hear Shane Warne speak about leg-spin, and Mark Taylor preach about captaincy! From the childish sniggers to the continuous back-patting, you would be forgiven for thinking that you were watching a sub-par Adam Sandler movie. 

Then there are instances where a commentator forgets that there is a difference between television and radio dialogue. With television broadcasting, one can afford to allow the golden virtue of silence to plug between analysis. Arguably the greatest TV commentator, Richie Benaud was the finest example of precisely this sentiment. For a commentator, silence is their greatest weapon. Benaud would say, “Don’t speak unless you can add to the picture.” Due to commercial pressures and also personal preferences, however, cricket commentary has dived to the depths of loquaciousness. 

Cricket commentary was supposed to be a practice in impartiality, where your personal agenda against a person or an organisation should not be aired. One can deconstruct a batsman's technique,  a bowler's action or a captain's tactics, but using the vehicle of sports media to disintegrate someone's character is unprofessional. Whether it is Kevin Pietersen and his subtle digs at the English board and Andrew Strauss, or Warne and his relationships with Steve Waugh and John Buchanan, these should be reserved for their biographies and not the media box.  Certain Boards of cricketing nations have also placed restrictions on their commentators and their coverage of touring teams. This, therefore, has provided an avenue for biased analysis and a limited range of opinions. 

Cricket commentary is no longer the same, and will probably never return to the golden years if we continue in the same trend. Unless we talk cricket of course.  With dignity. With panache. With timing. With humour.

 

Shakti GoundenComment
Overs 1.2 - Virat Kohli - The Cricketing Warrior

Last night Indian captain Virat Kohli went past 10000 runs in one-day international cricket. He reached the milestone in only 205 innings. Absolutely ridiculous! To put this into perspective, India's greatest ever batsman, Sachin Tendulkar reached the 10000 runs in 259 innings. But these superhuman numbers and Kohli's batsman-ship is not the biggest ingredient for my fascination and admiration for him. It is the super-natural drive and the unbreakable mental fortitude that paints him, in my eyes, as a modern-day warrior. A warrior's character traits include leadership, discipline, and most importantly an undying love for the fight. Love him or hate him, you cannot help but respect him.

Since his early days, Kohli had been earmarked as a leader. In 2008 Kohli led India to under-19 World Cup glory. Ten years on, the consistency, intensity and hunger are still burning. The pressure that is on his shoulders as the Indian captain and the kingpin of their batting line-up is unfathomable. Kohli has however taken this responsibility as an opportunity to get the best out of him and the team. Kohli has lost only nine tests of the 42 he has captained, four of those coming in the recent series against England. Even though his captaincy has room for improvement, Kohli's batting has been a demonstration of "leading from the front". As captain Kohli has scored over 7500 runs across all formats for India in just over 130 innings. Sourav Ganguly, former Indian captain and probably the first pioneer of India playing the attacking brand of cricket they are playing today, has provided high acclaim for Kohli's leadership. "Kohli ... is such a fantastic leader. He creates a team, he builds a team and he takes everyone along," Ganguly said.

Any successful sportsperson will admit that whilst talent is important, discipline and hard work are more precious. Earlier this year, Indian bowling coach Bharat Arun stressed the importance of Kohli's preparation and attention to detail as his recipe for success. Arun emphasised that Kohli's fitness, game preparation and skills should be a source of motivation for any cricketer. If you follow Kohli's Instagram, which I unashamedly do, you will appreciate his commitment to fitness. They say that hard work will get you to the summit, but discipline is what keeps you there. Kohli's relentless work ethic has consolidated his position as the most valuable player in cricket.

Kohli's love for a fight is evident in his astonishing record whilst chasing down a total. He has reeled in totals with meticulous timing and interminable patience. Kohli has 20 successful centuries in just75 innings and averaging almost a 100. Personally, the most impressive indicator of Kohli's combative nature was his performance in England this year. In 2014, Kohli performed poorly with the bat averaging 13.5 in ten innings which was universally criticised. As if to prove a point to himself and his greatness, Kohli amassed 593 runs in the five tests which were almost 250 runs more than the next best in Jos Buttler.

There is much more that defines Virat Kohli. But one thing is for certain. Virat Kohli is a warrior. Period!

Shakti Gounden Comments
Overs 1.1 - Relentless microscope on Test cricket

Even with the introduction of two fresh new faces in the form of a gritty Ireland outfit and the immensely talented yet raw Afghanistan, the future of Test cricket nonetheless remains in limbo. According to many superstars and luminaries of the game, including Indian superstar Virat Kohli, test cricket still remains the pinnacle and rightly so. However, for the traditional format to keep its head firmly above cricketing waters, it needs to start cleaning up its act and not sweep the issues under the carpet. Promotion for the longest form including viewership, preparation of good test wickets, and more opportunities for nations other than the Big 3 (India, England and Australia) should be at the forefront of their agenda.

In a recent interview with Alison Mitchell on BBC's Stumped, former Australian cricketer and possibly the greatest ever test spinner Shane Warne underlined that the governing body needs to do more to advocate and endorse Test cricket. Furthermore, he adds that in test cricket, the best more often win but no so in the shorter formats. Warne believes Test cricket can co-exist with twenty-twenty cricket, but the authorities need to be "promoting test cricket" more than what they currently are. Warne uses the analogy of a "nice roast" when describing Test cricket as compared to "fast-food" nature T20 cricket. Due to the increasing popularity of T20 cricket with the flourishing IPL, BBL, Caribbean and other leagues across the globe, the promotion of Test cricket has taken a back seat.

2019 will provide an interesting perspective with the introduction of the World Test Championship which has previously been cancelled, twice! The World Test Championship will provide an incentive for nations to get better and provide fans with the opportunity to get behind their nations, however, the challenge may be bigger than the International Cricket Council anticipates. Leading Indian journalist and commentator, Harsha Bhogle told Cricbuzz that the context of the championship is unclear and is dreading that this could be a reaction at the expense of T20 cricket. Bhogle believes that the governing body is like any other major influencer in society - one or two steps behind reality. He adds that the ICC should give the viewers what they want and not what the governing body wants whilst creating a platform for Test cricket.

Viewership is also another reason that Test match cricket is waning. Firstly, even though test match attendances at venues in founding nations England and Australia has improved, the crowds around the rest of the cricketing world leave a lot to be desired. This could be due to any number of reasons - ridiculous ticket prices, poor quality of cricket, the dominance of T20 cricket and many more. More importantly, the TV viewership, especially in India, the global powerhouse of the game, has decreased remarkably over the course of the last decade. Introduction of the Pro-Kabaddi league, the increasing popularity of the Indian Super League Football competition and the giant shadow of the IPL have cast an uncertain future for Test cricket.

Australia was once the pinnacle of sporting pitches with every wicket around the country being of a different nature. There was an even contest between bat and ball. Unfortunately, the current pitches are a shadow of its predecessors, so much so that the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground was rated poor by the ICC at the aftermath of the 2017 Boxing Day Test. Some of the great encounters in the recent past have been played out on pitches that have had something for both the bowlers and the batsmen. Ex-Australian captain, Ian Chappell wrote in an article for Cricinfo during the final test match between South Africa and India, that he is firmly of the opinion that the pitch preparation should be left entirely to the ground curators and staff.

"The good curators are like the best players. They take great pride in their work. The best ones I've spoken to all say a similar thing: "I want the pitch to provide opportunities for all players and a result late on the fifth day", Chappell said. England probably has the most balanced pitches, and the recent Test series against India was a testament to this. The argument that Test matches should be four days and not five is understandably amplified due to the poor state of the pitches dished up today.

In 2014, England, India and Australia were provided more authority and a larger share of the revenue. The Big Three had been established. But due to numerous shortcomings and ignominies of the Indian cricket board, the balance of power weakened, and the decision-making shared amongst the member nations. If Test cricket is to survive, all member nations need to be given equal opportunities and not just voting privileges. The Test championship, even if it provides other nations with opportunities, does not necessarily mean that the opportunities are equal. Providing countries such as Ireland and Afghanistan with more exposure suggests that the vision of expansion is there, however, these nations need to be provided more matches against the more experienced nations. Pakistan and NZ for example, only play 28 tests as compared to 37, 46 and 40 tests for India, England and Australia respectively. Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe play less than all their established counterparts. For cricket to be taken seriously in these nations, they need to be provided with equal opportunities.

As a traditionalist, I hope Test cricket resurrects itself from the Ashes (pun very much intended) and consolidates itself to be the premier brand of cricket. And for it to do so, changes need to be made. And it starts with how the game is run.

Opening the batting

“The moment you hesitate, you are in trouble”. These words by former Australian captain, Steve Waugh, are possibly the most pertinent for the existence of this blog - “Around the Wicket - All things Cricket.”

My name is Shakti Gounden. During the day, I examine teeth, interact with patients and treat decay. By night however, I examine batting techniques, interact with cricket enthusiasts and treat myself to an exquisite Virat Kohli cover drive.

Cricket brings joy to many around the world and I am no different. I have been supporting the game for a good period of time and am certainly aware that the drama is not limited only to the pitch. What happens beyond the pitch adds to the narrative.

I could not wait any longer to share my opinions and to bring another aspect of this wonderful sport to you. Cricket unites people due to its diversity and universality and I hope that this blog can amalgamate facts with insights, emotions and experiences of those involved in the game.

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