Brainfades and Lines in Sand(paper)

Schedenfreude, how long has it been since we met.

I noticed something was afoot when I switched the TV on this morning. It looked like the camera was zooming in on some object in the hand of an Aussie fielder. My first reaction was chewing gum. Almost naturally the mind went to the mintage episode in the last series between these two sides (South Africa and Australia) where the Protea captain Faf Du Plessis was charged with using mint coated saliva to alter the condition of the ball. Chewing gum gate I thought.

But as the visuals closed in it looked like the object (gum or whatever) was headed to a different place instead of the pocket. In what seemed furtive and sinister from a distance the fielder Cameron Bancroft seemed to place it inside his flanneled pants.

As it turned out the item in question was a piece of tape that had been smeared with dirt or “granules” from the surface. In other words the ball had been tampered with.

In the press conference that followed there were the predictable noises. In some sense there was no other option for the skipper Steve Smith. With the visuals beamed live on the big screens and tweeted world over there was no place to hide. Contrition was predictably on display during the press conference but given the history of this Aussie team it did not seem genuine.

It also seemed bizarre that Smith would let Bancroft take the heat – it was supposedly the “leadership group” that decided it but chose to have the most junior member of the side execute it. The act itself seemed incredibly naive, risky and stupid. It would be natural to question the leadership skills of the group. To think of the marginal benefit out of a monumentally risky act seems stupid to say the least.

Given the context of the events of the series it will be hard for Australia to ever claim the moral high ground. Anything they say or do about the shenanigans of the opposition or of “not crossing the line” will be met with incredulity at best and derision at worst.

It remains to be seen what the match referee will say. Common sense suggests that anything other than the maximum demerit points will seem like a travesty of the whole points system but then again common sense isn’t common when it comes to such rulings. Inconsistencies have been rife when dealing with misbehavior on the cricket pitch. I am hoping the referee applies logic and reasoning to this but I am not holding my breath.

Steve Smith had used the term “brain fade” for an earlier misadventure. This time the words were “poor choice” “integrity” and “regret”. Hopefully the lack of any action suggesting punishment in the former case will not be true here.

It will be interesting to see how Cricket Australia reacts to this. If they want to claim the moral high ground it may be worthwhile to consider sacking the coach Lehmann (he is closer to the end of the term in any case), replace Smith as captain and ensure Smith and Bancroft stand down for the next test.

My 8 year old has been watching and following this game pretty intently this past year. Hopefully I can use this an an example of what happens when you don’t follow the rules. Any inaction here on the part of authorities will dilute this message for all young cricket watchers.


The Five Stages ..

As always there is an air of anticipation at the start of the first match of a widely billed series of the summer. Unlike the overenthusiastic former player who tries to invoke McGrath in the mental disintegration with talks of a 4-0 whitewash I am filled with trepidation. Pune has not been a happy hunting ground for India recently as the World T20 game against New Zealand proved. On a spin friendly wicket roles were reversed and tables turned.

When a similar wicket greeted viewers for this test match – most people thought the obvious. Same script seen multiple times in the past. Asian teams bullying tourists on dust bowls in the name of home advantage.
What I experienced and probably  a few other fans did too – was the five stage grieving process.

Denial was an emotion I started feeling early on the second day. At around 11 pm central with eyelids heavy with sleep I looked up and saw the scoreline – 45 for 3. Ah but all three had gone to pace – surely that could be an aberration. The pacemen will not operate for long and the spinners shouldn’t trouble the batsmen.

It can’t be happening – at about 3 am in the morning Australia is batting again. With half open eyelids I can make out 6 wickets against a bowler – he is listed second on the card so probably is Hazelwood. Still it can’t be real – am I dreaming? Hopefully the morning will change things. But sleep is elusive – what if it’s true. Now I am sitting propped up against the pillows. Let the eyelids open fully – surely I was mistaken earlier. It cannot be true can it?

Disbelief leads to sleep deprivation. A void seems to be forming in the mind – a blankness slowly taking over the senses.

Its the nature of sport. What goes around comes around. Game is a great leveller. All those aphorisms come to mind – and there is something I can feel welling up. Anger.

I am angry at myself first. For letting myself along this path again. The anger then expands its range finding new targets – the individual players, openers, Pujara, Kohli, spinners for coming second best, the curator for again succumbing to the fallacy of home field advantage, DRS for turning decisions into a lottery, the powers that be that had to go for a new venue and the list goes on.

But maybe not all is lost. Maybe there is a grander design here – a come from behind victory that will be a crowning moment of Kohli’s captaincy. It is possible still. They are still only 300 ahead. What if its a target less than 400. Maybe more than what we bargained for but it could happen. Laxman and Kolkata may be coloring my view of the world a bit but can this hope fall short of foolishness and naïveté?

Sleep does not come easy.  Lots of emotions trying to pop their head but I fight them and keep my mind clear. The eyelids open halfway at 3 am. Nervousness and an impending sense of doom take over. The fingers unlock the phone and the browser shows the scorecard. This time it does not take long to register.  The crevices begin to open up and despair and depression engulf the canvas of the mind.

I toss and turn – what if we could rewind the whole situation. Pretend it never happened and start over.

A new day. I try hard to avoid reading any reviews or news related to this event. But some news filters through. Of 12 wickets in the match by a spinner but not the one you expected. Of this being a wake-up call.

Meanwhile the kids still wake up at their usual time, the school bus comes as before, the meeting with the boss happens at its scheduled time. Life as has been defined for me seems to move along. And in that path acceptance is a given.

Time to take fresh guard.

Not quite the heist


Followed the match until the most dramatic session. This was just like every other instance where you as fans give up and the game pulls a fast one on you. The Kaif and Yuvraj heist comes to mind. I gave up when the 5th wicket fell and left the live telecast only to desperately scour for the highlights later in the day.

NZ innings was reasonably decent. Guptill provided evidence of one of the reasons he wasn’t chosen at the IPL last year. He tends to give it away after getting set – and while better batsmen have been guilty of it most of them have better scores and averages to boast of. This was attractive while it lasted. So were the brief flurries by Neesham and Broom towards the end. The Aussie bowling was what I was most interested in – with a same attack coming to India in a few days. Starc and Hazelwood were threatening although not for sustained periods. Pat Cummins might be the surprise package. The pitch had bounce and seemed like he was trying too hard to make it work to his advantage. Stoinis seemed like an honest trier – one that would once in a while get you wickets in bunches. Better than Mitch Marsh at sustaining pressure but not one to cause sleepless nights to Indian batsmen.

What was surprising was the Australian top order – it was undone by decent and not great bowling it seemed. The shot that Shaun Marsh tried left Ian Smith and others in the commentary box at a loss for words. I liked the look of their new bowler Ferguson. Hopefully he can remain injury free with the action he has – it seemed a bit like Pat Cummins’ and we know the struggles he has been having.

At six down for sixty odd I thought the Aussie goose was cooked.  That’s when cricket as a game offered a punch in the face for all the doubting fans. Granted the last four could hang around but to take it to within six runs of the total – no words to describe it. Marcus Stoinis, take a bow.

Dove for the highlights as before – but while I could catch the breathtaking shots I am still ruing the fact that I could not keep awake for a little while longer. What a game and what spirit the Aussies displayed. Trans Tasman rivalry is not something to be dismissed lightly – whatever the format there will always be moments for the cricket fan to cherish.