A sentimental journey

Monty Panesar is now a brand that sells well in England. He stares at you the moment you step out of the St. John's Wood station.-Pics: AP

Catching three trains to reach St. John’s Wood and walking 15 minutes against a strong chilly wind to get to Lord’s can be trying. However, you forget the pain and ordeal when you hear the traditional bell ring from above the Long Room to announce start of play, writes R. K. Raghavan.

Watching cricket at Lord’s is an experience that makes one go lyrical. It is the ultimate in life for many. Sweeter is the pleasure when you get to see Sachin Tendulkar or Anil Kumble on this hallowed turf. But the vagaries of an English summer can be, no doubt, exasperating.

Catching three trains to reach St. John’s Wood and walking 15 minutes against a strong chilly wind to savour the feast can be even more trying, particularly when you carry a declining frame that has already seen sixty-six summers. You, however, forget the pain and ordeal when you hear the traditional bell ring from above the Long Room to announce start of play, a privilege that was accorded to Sir Ian Botham on the fourth morning of the first Test between India and England at Lord’s.

Lord’s is an architectural beauty with two red-brick balconies sitting majestically above the Long Room (a setting from which a handful of the privileged alone are allowed to watch the game), and which accommodate the rival teams.

The media box at the Nursery End, which came up a decade ago, is however an abomination that not only does not gel with the ambience, but actually mars the beauty of the setting.

It is a long walk for the batsman from the pavilion (through the Long Room) to take his place in the middle. Sreesanth took such a long time to arrive, during the dying moments of the match, that I was worried he could be ‘timed out’. What happened to all the tradition that the incoming and outgoing batsmen cross a few yards inside the boundary?

Lunch at Lord’s is an extended ceremony — that can sometimes easily go into the tea interval — particularly when you stray into a marquee reserved for the corporate bosses. Cricket becomes very incidental, with business deals dominating the discussions.

The five-minute discussion of the state of the game at lunch, moderated by Charles Colville, during which Graham Thorpe and Bishan Bedi mumble a few inane observations, hardly excites those sipping champagne or gulping down a harder drink.

Food trucks at the ground sell an assortment that serves every possible palate. Even going by London prices, the ‘Truly Indian’ that sells ‘samosa’ at £4 (Rs. 300), is an outrage beyond words.

Dravid and company escape defeat by the skin of their teeth. One is inclined to speak in terms of a moral victory for England. But the incredibly strong Indian contingent at the ground hardly cares. It is delirious when there is a formal announcement that the match has been abandoned. It is easy to be critical of the Indian performance. Let us look at the positives.

Karthik and Jaffer did exhibit the technique and temperament to play a long innings. Let us not disturb this promising combination even if it fails once in a while. Karthik is hyperactive, and the one blemish of flooring a hot chance offered by Strauss at deep point on the first morning should not be held against him. But he better watch a clip of Nasser Hussain’s reconstruction of the incident to learn a lesson or two for the future.

Nasser felt the Chennai lad should not have shut his eyes during the critical moments. A stabler positioning of the body would have also helped, according to Nasser, who perhaps still has a soft corner for the city where he was born.

Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan and R. P. Singh bowled their hearts out. They surprised the England batsmen with their speed and swing, and kept them guessing all the time. (Pietersen himself acknowledged this at the end of the match, when he said that his hundred this time was his best so far, because it was notched under the most difficult of circumstances.)

The trio needs to be nursed for the season, especially with no signs of the dreadful summer plagued by rain and high wind changing and yielding place to a more clement weather. But Venkatesh Prasad, our bowling coach, has his work cut out with Sreesanth. The Kerala boy’s motivation is commendable. The pace he generates is awesome, but he strays and sprays too often. Also, can somebody tell the Kothamangalam kid that his aggressive gestures, however merited, border sometimes on the crude and invite derision. If he needs a role model, it should be Javagal Srinath.

Monty Panesar is now a brand that sells well in England. He stares at you the moment you step out of the St. John’s Wood station. The Sikh boy with an infectious zeal must be enjoying every moment of the adulation that greets him every time he merely stops even the gentlest of strokes at mid-off. His skill with the ball is a revelation of sorts. At Lord’s — not known for assisting the spinners — he was able to turn the ball viciously. The ball with which he deceived Sachin in the second innings was a beauty.

What irony that a boy in whose rise Bedi had at least a modest role is proving to be a menace to us. But then, where are our lefties, those who can definitely make the difference? Murali Karthik is one name that comes readily to my mind. If my information is correct, he is languishing somewhere in the English league.

Rain clouds gather during the third day’s play of the first Test between England and India at Lord’s. The vagaries of an English summer can be exasperating.-

Rain clouds

One final thought that borders on sacrilege. Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, V. V. S. Laxman and Kumble have done very well by us. Their motivation and pedigree are unquestionable. But then, how long can we be hamstrung by sentiment? There is something that goes by the name of shelf life, a hard reality of modern life. (Tendulkar was dismissed leg before twice in the match. According to some, this was a sign of his slowing reflexes. I wish critics are wrong.) Let us face and brave the pain of mortality, and install their replacements readily available in the form of Yuvraj Singh and others.

The longer we dither the greater is the harm that we are going to cause Indian cricket.

The writer is a former CBI Director