Overs 3.4 - The Bohemian Cricket Alphabet - Part 2
Image: Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi. Getty Images - Patrick Eagar/Popperfoto

Image: Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi. Getty Images - Patrick Eagar/Popperfoto

N - Nawabs of Pataudi - Firstly, Nawab Mohammad Iftikhar Ali, the 8th Prince of the Pataudi Palace, captained the touring Indian team to England in 1946. Then his son Nawab Mohammad Mansoor Ali Khan Siddiqui at age 21, was made the captain of the Indian cricket team. Nawab Iftikhar had the distinction of being the only cricketer to play test cricket for both India and England.

O - Origins of cricket - It was said that the game of cricket was played as early as 1300, with King Edward shown to be wielding a bat. The sheep-raising countryside of the Southwest of England was the most plausible assumption due to its short grass of pastures conducive to rolling a ball at a target. The earliest recorded match, however, was in the year 1646, in the county of Kent. The word "cricket" is derived from the word "cricc' which implies shepherd's staff. It is widely believed that the first cricketers were shepherds wielding their 'criccs' as bats and the wicket gate of the sheep acted as targets. 

P - Packer's World Series - In 1977, Kerry Packer changed cricket forever. Due to a falling out with the Australian cricket hierarchy and the pay crisis, Packer decided to create a rebel league which ran in opposition to international cricket. Packer signed some of the world's best players in Clive Lloyd, Greg and Ian Chappell, Tony Greig, Viv Richards, Imran Khan and many more.  The series also provided opportunities for banned South African players to perform on the world stage. The series lasted till 1979 but cricket has been impacted forever. Coloured clothing, lucrative contracts, day-night cricket and broadcasting power are now embedded in the DNA of contemporary cricket.

Image: Kerry Packer’s World Series. Image credit - ESPNCricinfo.

Image: Kerry Packer’s World Series. Image credit - ESPNCricinfo.

Q - Qasim Ali Umar - is the first Kenyan born cricketer to play test cricket for Pakistan national team. Qasim played 26 tests and recorded two double centuries. His most important innings was against a ferocious Australian outfit where he was battered and bruised by the great D.K. Lillee but compiled a brave 113. In 1985, Umar gave evidence against several cricketers, including his countrymen about receiving bribes that included jewellery, money, alcohol and women and laundered drugs to the Europe. Cricketers like Imran Khan and Asif Iqbal totally refuted such claims.

R - Rahul Dravid - Dravid was and is still known as the Wall. However, he holds the record for having his stumps disarranged. The Wall has his defence breached a record 54 times in test matches, including nine of the last thirteen innings he played in the test arena. 

S - Sharma - Ishant Sharma most probably will not be proud of this fact. The three highest scores against India in the 21st century has been Alistair Cook (294 runs at Edgbaston in 2011), Brendon McCullum (302 runs at Wellington in 2014 and Michael Clarke (329 runs at Sydney Cricket Ground in 2012). Sharma dropped all three early in their innings.

Image: Riana CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons

Image: Riana CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons

T - Traicos - John Traicos holds a distinction that is not seen in cricket. He was born in 1947 in  Zagazig, Egypt. Traicos is the only player to be born in one country and practice his art for two different countries in South Africa and Rhodesia, which is the modern day Zimbabwe. Traicos represented Zimbabwe in the 1983 Cricket World Cup, which included a shock defeat of the Australian cricket team.

U - Undefeated fortress - The Gabba cricket ground of Brisbane or affectionately known as the Gabbatoir due to the incredible supremacy of the home team, Australia against touring sides. Australia has not lost to an opposition team at the Gabba for over 30 years. The last time Australia lost was against the amazing West Indies outfit in 1988. 

V - Victor Trumper - no cricketing alphabet is complete without the great Victor Trumper. The Australian cricketer was arguably the best batsman of his era with elegant strokeplay and undeniable genius. Trumper did not believe in coaching, but had an enormous amount of confidence in his own talent. He lived close to the Sydney Cricket Ground and practiced on a concrete pitch with his father. Statistics may not tell the full story, but Trumper was a true icon of cricket. He died at the age of 37 from Bright's disease. 

Image: The famous Victor Trumper drive captured by George Beldam

Image: The famous Victor Trumper drive captured by George Beldam

W - Wilfred Rhodes - Rhodes played 58 test matches for England in an international career that lasted 31 years. Rhodes has an unbelievable first class record. He accumulated 39969 runs and an eye-popping 4204 wickets with 287 five-wicket hauls and 68 ten-wicket hauls. 

X - Xavier and Xen - There are only three cricketers in the history of international cricket to have their name starting with X. Australia's Xavier Doherty, South African Xenophon Balaskas and West Indian Xavier Marshall form the trio X-cricketers.

Y - Yorkshire Cricket Club - By far the most successful of all county cricket clubs. The club has lifted the trophy 31 times, including sharing a championship. Along with this, Wisden Cricket has chosen 42  Yorkshire cricketers as their Cricketers of the Year. These include Len Hutton, Herbert Sutcliffe, Geoffrey Boycott, Fred Trueman, Darren Gough, Michael Vaughan and the likes. 

Z - Zimbabwe - There have been many instances where brothers have played together, such as Yusuf and Irfan Pathan, Michael and David Hussey, the Waugh twins, Kamran and Umar Akmal and so on. But in 1997 against New Zealand, Zimbabwe fielded not one, but three sets of brothers. Andy and Grant Flower, Paul and Bryan Strang, and Gavin and John Rennie made up six of the Zimbabwean XI. They drew the match and the series with Grant Flower being adjudged man of the match.

Image: Clockwise, from top left: Andy and Grant Flower, Gavin and John Rennie, Bryan and Paul Strang © Getty Images

Image: Clockwise, from top left: Andy and Grant Flower, Gavin and John Rennie, Bryan and Paul Strang © Getty Images

Shakti Gounden
Overs 3.3 - Cricket - A Sport for All

The game of cricket has had a lot of curve-balls thrown at it with vicious intensity during its long history. Whether it be endless rumours and sagas involving match-fixing or spot-fixing, or the inadequacy of administrators, or the irritating confusion when it comes to the Duckworth Lewis method and bad light policies. But last weekend I experienced just what is so good about cricket. As Cricket Australia puts it, Cricket is, truly, "A Sport for All".

The National Cricket Inclusion Championships was definitely an eye-opener for me. High praise must go to Cricket Australia putting in place some wonderful initiatives to continue the growth of the game and creating outstanding pathways to really make the game inclusive to everyone. To see the game being made accessible to the blind, the deaf and intellectually disabled is very heartwarming. To play the game with optimal sensory function is already difficult, but to play it with an impediment is superhuman. 

Sunday 19th January was a momentous day for cricket. It was the first time in history that a women's deaf cricket match was played anywhere in the world. This achievement should not be underestimated. If you wanted to see noble humility and authentic gratitude, then it was plastered on the faces of these incredible women. These individuals are the inspiration that the game needs. In the world of lucrative contracts and an insane amount of money thrown at the cricketers, here were these amazing people who have unconditional love for cricket and would play the game for nothing. Congratulations to Cricket Australia administrators who really get inclusions cricket and the unbelievable number of volunteers that make the dreams of those affected come true.

The land that we stand upon today belongs to the traditional custodians, our Indigenous people. The first Australian team to travel overseas was in the year 1868. Incredibly the team was made up of Aboriginal cricketers from Victoria, who, despite racial tension, vilification and discrimination performed admirably. However, they were forgotten for over a century. Last year, Cricket Australia announced a commemorative tour of the United Kingdom that included an indigenous men's and women's teams to mark the 150th anniversary of the inaugural tour.  It is not the action of having a commemorative tour that is important, but the consistent and continuous support of the indigenous game that sets Cricket Australia apart. They have made it clear that they would like to correct the oversights made in the past, focus on growing the game amongst Indigenous Australians and further educate the community on the importance of Indigenous cricket. 

Then there is the growth of women's cricket. The success of women's cricket whether the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) or the Southern Stars cannot be possible without the backing and support of Cricket Australia. The popularity of the women's game has never experienced such highs previously. Television viewership, attendances at the venues and the quality of cricket produced by the cricketers has increased markedly. Cricket Australia with all its negative publicity in the recent past, has set the benchmark in growing the women's game. They have set comprehensive pathways for female participation starting at school and at grass-roots. This is not limited to cricketers only, but for female administrators, coaches and umpires. 

Giving respect where it is due, cricket is a universal sport with inherent goodness. There are many in the game that has wonderful intentions and would do anything to help others. I, wholeheartedly commend cricket in Australia and those involved in the governance of the game. A Sport for All.

Shakti Gounden
Overs 3.2 - Around the Wicket's "Best Swing XI" of the last 25 years

The dearth of swing bowlers has made the cricketing world a sadder place. If you ask any batsman, whether express fast bowling is more difficult or quality swing bowling, 90% of them will choose the latter. And there have been some absolute beauties in my cricket viewing career. There are very few in contemporary times who can claim to be supremely skillful exponents of true swing bowling. There may be some who may not agree with some of my choices, but if there are any swing bowlers who can match these eleven then they must be some bowler. Here is Around the Wicket's "Best Swing XI" of the last 25 years.

Image credit: Nic Redhead CC - Flickr

Image credit: Nic Redhead CC - Flickr

WPUJC Chaminda Vaas (Sri Lanka)

Try saying Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas. Unfortunately for batsmen, his bowling was more difficult to handle. The former Sri Lankan spearhead lacked pace, but not the skill. On dead subcontinent pitches, the left-arm swing bowler was the leader of the Sri Lankan Cricket team for over a decade with the peerless Mutthiah Muralitharan. He has captured 755 international wickets and most of them on spinner-friendly dry subcontinent pitches, which makes the achievement more impressive. 

Brett Lee (Australia)

Brett Lee is known more for his deadly pace than swing bowling. The Australian when in full-flow had a vicious outswinger and when the ball went old, his dangerous reverse swing toe-crushers sent nightmares to numerous tail-enders. Along with Shoaib Akhtar, Lee was consistently the fastest bowler in the universe. With over 700 international wickets and being part of a bowling quartet that included Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne, they could collectively go down as the statistician and skillfully, the greatest ever bowling unit in world cricket.  

Shane Bond (New Zealand)

There will be few of the current cricket watchers who will remember Shane Bond. The current Sydney Thunder coach has a career riddled with injuries. He has been arguably New Zealand's best fast bowler since Richard Hadlee. Bond only played 18 Test matches and took 85 wickets. His strike rate of getting a wicket is the second best amongst bowlers who have bowled a minimum of 2500 deliveries in the history of test cricket. Bond presented an impeccable seam and sent rapid inswingers that would swing late. Ask Ricky Ponting, who Bond removed in all of the six one day internationals he played against Australia. If Bond was injury free, he could have taken over 400 wickets.

Trent Boult (New Zealand)

The second Kiwi in this list and conditions have a lot to do with the production of swing bowlers from New Zealand. Trent Boult or "Lightning/Thunder Boult" as he is commonly known and Tim Southee form NZ greatest ever opening bowling combination. Unsurprisingly Boult's hero growing up was Wasim Akram and the left-arm swing bowler like Akram can swing the ball both ways at pace. Boult worked really hard with Shane Bond to ensure he got the most out of his natural bowling style and was one of New Zealand's most dependable and lethal cricketers under the captaincy of Brendon McCullum.  

Image credit: Harrias [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Image credit: Harrias [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Zaheer Khan (India)

Zaheer Khan or Zak has been rated by Kevin Pietersen as the five best bowlers he has faced. Khan has taken over 600 wickets in international cricket for India. Khan was most effective with the old ball when getting reverse swing at searing pace, but he could move the new ball both ways as well. India was not known to have world-class fast bowlers since Kapil Dev, but Khan was all quality. He decreased his pace to increase the longevity of his bowling-life and with that came increased intelligence. Khan had an outstanding record against left-handers and was instrumental in India claiming top ranking for the first time in Tests. 

Mohammad Amir (Pakistan)

When Mohammad Amir burst into cricketing limelight, there were smiles on almost every cricket viewer as wide as the smile possessed by the man himself. Amir was touted as the next Wasim Akram. In 2010 in England, he became the youngest to 50 Test wickets with prodigious swing bowling. Perfect action, perfect wrist position and the perfect age to become one of the greatest. What could go wrong? In 2011, his whole world turned upside down after being found guilty for spot-fixing. Unfortunately, he has not been the same since that incident.

Image credit: Rediff.com - Imran Khan at an exhibition game at the Crystal Palace stadium, July 28, 1992.

Image credit: Rediff.com - Imran Khan at an exhibition game at the Crystal Palace stadium, July 28, 1992.

Imran Khan (Pakistan)

The state of Punjab has produced some exceptional bowlers whether swing or fast. And no one is as charismatic, erudite and engaging as Imran Khan. The former Pakistan captain is the leader of this talented XI. The Pakistani prime minister put the country on the cricketing map which his peerless leadership. His playboy lifestyle went against the norm of Pakistan cricket, but without Khan, Pakistan would not have lifted the 1992 World Cup trophy. Sarfraz Nawaz is known as the person who first started the art of reverse swing but no one was better at executing it than Khan as India found out when they got rolled over in the second test of the 1982-83 series when Khan took 8-60 in the second innings. Khan was also credited with mentoring the other two great swing bowlers who are to follow.  

Waqar Younis (Pakistan)

One of Imran Khan's biggest achievements as a captain was to give the world the privilege to see Waqar Younis. If you look at some of the vision of Younis and his banana-bending inswinging yorkers, you would come to the realization that there were not may if any like him. He changed the perception that short bowling was the way to take wickets. It was an unreal sight when watching the "Burewala express" steam in and instead of trying to bowl short of a length or bouncers, he would aim for the base of the stumps. Until a certain Dale Steyn appeared, Younis had the best strike-rate amongst bowlers with over 200 wickets. Younis went on to get over 780 international wickets and along with the other W, Wasim Akram, they became the most skilled and fearful bowling attacks in the history of world cricket.  

Jimmy Anderson (England)

James "Jimmy"  Anderson is statistically the most successful fast-bowler of all-time. With 565 test match wickets, he went past the great Glenn McGrath as the highest wicket-taker amongst fast bowlers. He also has over 260 one-day international wickets. He struggled initially to cement his place in the England line-up. In the last decade, however, he has been the premier fast bowler along with Steyn. Anderson's action is side on and bowls a natural outswinger and like all the great swing bowlers, he has the ability to reverse the old ball. In English conditions, Anderson is almost unplayable. He is the "King of Swing" and there is a general consensus that if Jimmy does not swing it, then no one can.

Dale Steyn (South Africa)

Dale is the greatest fast bowler of the modern era and his strike rate says that he may be the greatest of all-time. Steyn possesses everything a fast bowler needs - athleticism, fire, aggression, pace and tremendous swing bowling. Just a week ago Steyn became South Africa's greatest ever wicket-taker, but to get from 400 to 422 test wickets took him over 3 years due to numerous shoulder injuries. It is one of the more beautiful sights in world cricket when Steyn runs in at full intensity and with a front on action delivers the classical outswinger at 145-150 km/h.  Steyn is also very clever at getting the best out of conditions by altering his pace and lengths at will.

Image credit: Getty Images Patrick Eagar/Popperfoto

Image credit: Getty Images Patrick Eagar/Popperfoto

Wasim Akram (Pakistan)

Many on this list would agree that Wasim Akram was the greatest of them all. Akram never played first-class cricket before being drafted into the international side. He is another product of the state of Punjab and the fourth Pakistani cricketer on this list. Akram has an eye-opening four international hat-tricks in international cricket. One-half of the "Sultans of Swing" along with Younis, Akram had mastered the art of swing bowling. West Indian great, Viv Richards, confessed that Akram was the best bowler he had ever faced. Whether it was swing, seam, inswing, outswing, reverse swing, Akram had it all. All of these secreted with his ultra-fast arm action and quick release. He had complete mastery. With over 900 international wickets, there will never ever be another Wasim Akram. 

Honourable mentions: - Tim Southee, Shoaib Akhtar/Stuart Broad/Mohammad Asif (not an out and out swing bowler), Lasith Malinga.

Shakti Gounden
Over 3.1 - Smith and Bancroft interviews - an ordinary publicity stunt

In March of 2018, Australian cricket was rocked by the Newlands scandal that is now famously called sandpaper-gate. Captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft were suspended for their roles in premeditating the tampering of the ball with the use of sandpaper.    

Nine months on, and a lot has changed. Tim Paine is the new captain of the Australian cricket team and leading admirably I must say, the Australian cricket hierarchy has had a complete revamping, India is on the cusp of winning their first series in Australia ( not quite ) and I have a 5-month-old. But a lot has stayed the same. Virat Kohli is still making a mountain of runs, New Zealand is still the most loved cricket team by the neutrals, MCG is still a poor cricket pitch and Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft are still either very poorly advised or making poor decisions. 

Fox Cricket yesterday aired both Smith's and Bancroft's version of what happened at Newlands. And I feel that they have caused more damage to their reputations than earned sympathy from the cricketing public. The interviews were more suited for "Oprah" or "60 minutes" then as fillers for the lunch or tea break. The timing and the substance were all wrong. The drama was weak and the plot even weaker. One thing is for certain, they have definitely thrown Warner under the bus and the public now has every right to hear from the final piece of the Trinity- and from Warner himself. 

Bancroft is the greenest of them all in terms of cricketing experience. But at the age of 26, he cannot use the excuse that he was too young to think clearly. He valued "fitting in" as his first priority. I am not questioning anything that Bancroft mentioned in his interview, which I feel is the truth. I am questioning the timing. To bring his dirty laundry out on the biggest day in the Australian cricketing calendar is poor form.  The attention rather than being on the cricket has been on the revelations. The alarming thing is that Bancroft mentioned in his interview that he felt that he would have let the team down if he did not carry out the action. That raises some really interesting question regarding the values that the Australian cricket team prioritize. 

I watched Smith bat and help Sutherland win the Kingsgrove T20s at the SCG last fortnight. He is a polite man with a supremely gifted talent with the bat in hand. This is the Steve Smith that the public wants to watch. The one who accumulates an extraordinary amount of runs and is a pleasant young man underneath a nervous frontier. Similar to Bancroft, Smith decided to use the same medium and same day to unwrap the events of the saga. Smith mentioned that he "did not want to know anything about it" and that it "was a failure on my (Smith's) leadership". Smith pointed fingers at the former CA chief James Sutherland and high-performance manager Pat Howard, for creating the win-at-all-cost mentality. And oh wait, he also mentioned the role of Warner. As if the Vodafone advertisement was not enough. 

Both Smith and Bancroft accepted blame but has indirectly blamed Warner for coming up with the plot to illegally tamper with the ball. It would have been much more respectable if they scored tons of runs, stayed away from commercial avenues to air their opinions and opened up much earlier than yesterday to tell the public about what happened. I am not a big fan of Warner, however, the aggressive campaign to push the blame entirely to him is off the mark. What does Warner have to say about the incident? Is this a one-off situation? Will Warner be discarded from the Australian cricketing circles? Is Smith going to captain again? Are the relationships between Smith, Bancroft and Warner untenable? These are some intriguing questions that will probably be answered in the near future. But unfortunately, these interviews have not painted Smith and Bancroft in a positive light. 

Shakti GoundenComment
Over 2.6 - The Kohli-brand taking a dangerous turn

"A lot of people were talking about the head of the snake, but I think the snake did pretty well by itself, so it’s not just about one individual". This was the statement made by Virat Kohli after the 2nd test in Bangalore in 2017 in response to Nathan Lyon's infamous "head of the snake" jibe. It may well be the case, however, the Kohli-brand is dangerously bordering into being bigger than the game. Not just on the field or the circling hyenas in the media, but also the relations between the Australian and Indian fans on social media.

Kohli is rendered with two shades of perception - one of an incomparable protagonist or one of a despised antagonist. Both these attitudes are largely due to his own brand, although there are certainly a significant number of these perspectives created by the cricketing fraternity.

Firstly, there is Kohli-the man who is an ultra-competitive human being in the mold of a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Michael Jordan in their respective sports. Personally, I am a massive follower of Kohli-the batsman and the person he is off the field. I would go on to say that he is my favourite cricketer of the current era. But unfortunately, Kohli-the captain has left me slightly perplexed both with tactics and antics. Kohli's Indian team is fearless, some may even say brash and arrogant. On one hand, he has brought a sense of belief due to his own superhuman batsman-ship. But his will to conquer is precariously in the vicinity of the recently disintegrated Australian cricket team. Definitely not to the same extent. But being a follower of the Indian cricket team, I hope they do not become what the previous Australian cricket team became - the most disliked team in cricket.

Kohli is no doubt the best all-round batsmen of the modern era. Australians may disagree, but that is certainly the truth if you look at his record across all formats. But Kohli-the batsman is not the one creating most of the negative publicity, it is Kohli-the brand. All you have to do is turn on Fox Cricket or Channel Seven's coverage of the recent Border-Gavaskar trophy to understand the pulling power of Kohli. Unfortunately, the shameless salivating of the "King-Kohli" brand by both the networks have dragged the game of cricket into the distant shadow of one man. The media have made this series about Australia against Kohli. It was Cheteshwar Pujara, who can be defined as the polar opposite of Kohli, that won India the match in Adelaide. Nevertheless the entire match the focus was on the "head of the snake". Kohli's intensity and emotions are box office for networks and commentators, but the responsibility of broadcasters is to provide the viewers and listeners with a balanced view of the game of cricket. Everything Kohli does and does not (as seen by the recent alleged banter of "I'm the best player in the world" that was most probably a media beat-up) is magnified to an extraordinary extent. This puts an enormous responsibility on Kohli-the role model to pipe down. Of course, some of it is controllable, but the constant insinuations and even fabrications of the media make it very difficult to change public perception. Nowadays broadcasting is more about selling newspapers and drawing more viewers.

Kohli also has a lot to do with this type of exposure. Before the Border-Gavaskar series even began, Kohli put out a controversial message in response to a tweet from someone who preferred foreign batsmen over him. He in no uncertain terms told the subject to live somewhere else and not in India and to sort out their priorities. Indian cricketing media personality, Harsha Bhogle, stated that Kohli's statement reflected the "bubble" that people with fame have created and anything untoward this opinion is frowned upon. The responsibility of Kohli-the brand is more than what is limited to the cricket pitch. Former Indian cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar believes the Kohli-brand gets away with much more than others because of his success as a batsman. There are over a billion people, including yours truly, who respect and look up to Kohli's hunger, skill and perfection as inspiration. But there is a danger associated with such stardom. Youngsters will believe they can get away with certain things using him as an example. This was the situation representative of those following the Australian Cricket Team, albeit not exactly alike.

The hate and aggressive bitterness between India and Australia are not only shared on the pitch but more deeply off it. I am talking of society's - biggest menace and most important influencer - social media. And the key centrepiece for this emotion is Kohli. Whether it is the comparison between Kohli and Steve Smith, or cricket pages using Kohli's antics as the headline of almost every story, social media has created a nasty precedence. The public has resorted to racial maliciousness and we all know there is only one way this can end. Comments such as "who is looking after your seven eleven", "go back to driving your taxi", "you convicts should be in jail", " curry munchers", or "white imperialists", only add fire to what was already a tension-filled relationship between the two nations. This type of reactions is only possible with polarising characters such as David Warner, Harbhajan Singh, Andrew Symonds and Kohli himself. This type of hostility needs to stop until something catastrophic happens.

Cricket is bigger than one person and the public, media and Kohli himself need to realize that. Cricket unites people, but the Kohli-brand currently creates a much more divisive effect. Cricket needs to be careful before this takes a dangerous turn.

Shakti GoundenComment
Over 2.5 - Australia vs India - interesting history in numbers

With the first test between Australia and India going to the fifth day, there are some interesting facts that contribute to the significance of the contest between these two proud cricketing nations. Here is a little taste of their history in numbers.

1947 - Was the first ever test match between Australia and India which was hosted by Brisbane. "The Invincibles" as they were known, completed a convincing win by an innings and 226 runs, thanks largely to Sir Don Bradman's 185 and a match haul of 11 for 31 by Ernie Toshack who was also known as the Black Prince.

329 - Michael Clarke's highest test score is also the highest score by any batsman from either side in an Australia vs India test match. Clarke's knock consisted of 39 boundaries and a six and was the first triple century ever at the SCG. Clarke joined Ricky Ponting when Australia were reduced to 3/37, but Clarke and Ponting and then Clarke and Hussey pummeled India to an innings loss.

11- The number of centuries scored by Sachin Tendulkar against Australia. This came in 39 test matches at an average of 55. Sunil Gavaskar had 8 centuries in 20 test matches. But the recently suspended Steve Smith has an almost unbelievable 7 centuries in 10 matches against India at an eye-popping average of 84+. If you are wondering what was the record of Bradman. Well, he had four centuries in five matches at a rather mediocre average of 179!

348 - This was the number of runs India needed to win the famous tied test in Chennai in 1986. After a first-innings of 210 by Dean Jones in sauna-like conditions that contained urination and vomiting, Kapil Dev brought India back with a rearguard century. Australia declared at 170-5 and set India the daunting target. India raced along and reached 204-2 with Gavaskar making 90. A flurry of wickets put India in a precarious position at 344/9 needing four of the last over. Ravi Shastri batting with Manindar Singh got three runs, but Manindar Singh could not get the necessary single as he was adjudged LBW to Greg Matthews. Matthews finished with figures of 10 for 249.

0 - The number of series India has won in Australia. The closest they came was the 2003-2004 series where a Sourav Ganguly century helped India draw the match and then over 300 runs by Rahul Dravid secured a historic Test match win in Adelaide. In Melbourne, India lost even after Sehwag's 195 as Ricky Ponting was a man possessed when he countered with back to back double centuries. Steve Waugh helped Australia secure a draw in the final Test at the SCG and his last test and henceforth continued India's winless streak.

111 - No, we are not talking about the Nelson. Anil Kumble has taken 111 wickets against Australia. This is the most wickets taken by any bowler in Australia vs India contest. It will surprise you that there are only two Australian bowlers in the top ten. They include Nathan Lyon and Brett Lee. One thing that will not surprise you, is that of the Indian bowlers in the top ten only two of them are fast bowlers - Zaheer Khan and the peerless Kapil Dev.

525 - 2018 Adelaide centurion, Cheteshwar Pujara is the only Indian batsman and fourth overall after Ken Barrington, Len Hutton and Wally Hammond (thrice) to face over 500 balls - 525 to be exact, in an innings against Australia in the third test of the 2016-2017 test in Ranchi. Pujara's marathon innings of 202 lasted for over 672 minutes.

77 - In the same test match, Steve O' Keefe bowled the most amount of overs by an Australian bowler against India. O'Keefe had figures of 77-17-199-3. Only one bowler has bowled more overs against India and that was Pakistan's Haseeb Ahsan, who bowled 84 overs at Corporation Stadium, Chennai in January 1961.

21 - In the 1947-1948 series in Australia, India registered the unfortunate and an unenviable record of 21 ducks in a test-match series. This was also Don Bradman's last test series at home.

Shakti GoundenComment
2.4 - The Border-Gavaskar Trophy - Let's play!

When your four-month-old is turning his head 360 degrees with his eyes firmly entrenched on every ball, then you know summer is well and truly here. The fragrance of cricket is stimulating my olfactory nerves just as much as my mum's spicy curry. 

Before anyone throws any vitriol directed this way, I hope you can understand that even though I am an Australian for the last 18 years, Indian blood runs deep through my veins for over a century. My great grandparents were taken from the South of India to work in sugar plantations in the beautiful Fiji Islands. The British called them indentured laborers. Make no mistake, they were treated as slaves. Moving to Australia has provided our family with acceptance, perspective and opportunity. And I have tried really damn hard to support the Australian Cricket team, but unfortunately, the predilection of once an Indian - always an Indian, is intensely embedded within me. Bring on the test series!

The Border-Gavaskar trophy, named after two individuals who exemplified the cricket played by both nations, is fast becoming one of the more iconic battles on world sport and between two proud countries with rich cricketing histories. 

Allan Border was a gritty batsman but as impressive as he was with a bat, he will be known as the person that changed Australian cricket with his captaincy. Stoic, courageous, determined and honourable were the qualities that led the embattled Australian outfit from the dumps. He urged his team to play the "Australian way", which stood for playing hard but fair. This philosophy has recently been challenged by the famous Capetown scandal. I have no doubt, however, that Australian cricket will be on their feet again. It is in their DNA.  That was what I admired and to an extent, envied most about them. They were so good that I was hoping they failed. Only recently have they shown vulnerability, which I hope India can capitalise on. Sunil Gavaskar, on the other hand, was a textbook opening batsman who as Harsha Bhogle mentioned: "instill(ed) pride in a generation of brought up on low self-esteem". Gavaskar was the hope India needed when all else failed around him. He encountered a plethora of some of the greatest fast bowlers that included Lillee, Thomson, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, and averaged an astounding 67+ against the deadly West Indies bowling line-up of the 70s and 80s. Gavaskar showed India that they can be the best of their trade. And the legacy of these two stalwarts of Indo-Australian cricket has given birth to some of the more memorable series in recent memory.

As an Indian supporter, there have been more times of disappointment than elation whenever India has travelled to Australia. There has not been much to write about apart from 2003 when India drew their four-match series 1-1 on the back of some brilliant Rahul Dravid batsmanship. Then there was the infamous 2007-2008 series that took the relationship of these proud cricketing nations to as low as a relationship can get. Watching the brilliant documentary - 2 Nations, 1 Obsession, by Peter Dickson has resurfaced the emotions that the 2007-8 series. I used to loathe the Australian cricket team due to a number of reasons which was not limited to, their behavior on the field, but deep down I feel it was more due to their excellence, skill and superior team mentality. India has not been saints themselves with the Monkey-gate scandal at the forefront of all cricketing controversies. These incidents and the presence of antagonistic characters have made the encounters between both nations heated and fiery. 

For the very first time, India goes in as favourites. Even though I feel that India have their best opportunity to win a series in Australia, I am not convinced that it will be as one-sided as is the opinion of the broader cricketing public. The Australian line-up still has the best fast bowling cartel in world cricket and possibly the best spin bowler in the world in Nathan Lyon. Ian Chappell used to always say that it is not the batsmen that win test matches, but bowlers that can get you 20 wickets. And Australia has the potential to get them even if India is stacked with some outstanding batsmen. India has competed well both in South Africa and England, but as with their previous endeavors, they came back empty-handed. This is also one of the few times that India has some quality in their fast bowling department. Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav can all hit speeds of 145km/h. But more than the speed is the development of maturity in their bowling. The key, however, is Ravichandran Ashwin who was very poor in England and had many opportunities to give India the advantage. But Ashwin's maturity seems to desert him when touring. This is where he can learn a thing or two from Lyon. 

Whatever the scenario, I am hoping for closely fought series played in great spirits. I am keeping my fingers crossed for an Indian victory, but by no means am I disregarding that Australia will still be difficult to beat in home conditions. 

Shakti Gounden
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.

Let’s play!
Around the Wicket!