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R Benaud caught Channel-9 bowled Sky 42

Richie Benaud, the best spinner that Australia could boast of before a certain Mr. Warne was smashed for more than 200 runs in an innings for just the solitary wicket in a test match down under, and legendary commentator, has decided to retire from commentating in England after 42 years of some awe-inspiring bits of oratorial wizardry. I remember listening to him sometimes and getting so enthralled by his words that I would lose track of the happenings on the pitch.

First English cricket viewers lost free-to-air cricket broadcasts atleast till 2009, after BBC expressed its inability to show test matches and Channel 4 lost out to the mighty Sky in bidding, and now this. Whats really ironical is that it is happening at the exact same moment when the English cricket team is finally claiming its place at the top of the world cricket hierarchy by giving a hiding that the Kangaroos will be hard-pressed to forget.

Such has been the dominance that Matthew Hayden and Jason Gillespie are almost certain to be out in the wilderness, probably for ever. And horror of horrors, even Adam Gilchrist, the tornado with a bat, has been unable to pull them out from the holes they have repeatedly digging themselves into.

With the notable but not spectacular exception of Simon Katich, whose workman-like innings of 50s and 70s have saved Australia from further embarrasment, none of the famed Aussie line-up has fared to their billing. In fact Shane Warne's average in the last 3 tests is probably higher than any of them.

And now I read that the English are coming to India early next year to play 3 tests and 7 one dayers on a 60 day tour. So a strong team, with determination to conquer something of a minor last frontier, and enough time to acclimatise will be pitted against one which lost 8 wickets for 44 runs in a one day match the other day in Bulawayo.

It reminds of the time when Graham Gooch lead a team to India which included Mike Gatting, of the Shane Warne ball-of-the-last-century fame, and everyone expected India to capitulate. In fact Swatantra Bharat, the Hindi broadsheet daily that we used to subscribe to then, actually came out with a set of articles which covered the entire 8 pages of its daily all-colour supplement Uphaar and were titled

Ek taraf Gooch, Gatting
doosari taraf lachar batting

I found it pretty corny, and still do, but it pretty accurately reflected the mood of the media at that time. That Anil Kumble, Venkatpathy Raju and Rajesh Chauhan ran circles around the English while Navjot Sidhu and Sachin Tendulkar ground them into the dust is now the stuff that old cricket records are made of and will be pointless come January 2006.

The last time they came to India, Ashley Giles had to pitch the ball behind the the backward square leg fielder in an attempt to bore Tendulkar to death, so useless were his regular balls while Andrew Flintoff was merely the trundler who was asked to bowl only to give some much needed rest to their frontline pacers, who were about 5 mph slower than Kumble, and some easy runs to the Indian tailenders who were pretty useless with the bat in the best of times.

The sight of Matthew Hoggard, with clean shaven head, running in earnestly and bowling with his guts in his mouth, only to be dispatched to the cover boundary by every Indian batsman from the opener to numbers nine, ten and jack is still fresh in the mind.

But, and this is a crucial but, Ashley Giles has reportedly got three Aussie wickets in one innings in a test match, Andrew Flintoff is knocking batsmen over and blasting runs like nobody's business and Harmison and Jones mean business like no English bowler has meant before.

In Michael Vaughan they have a captain who is in pretty good knick and, more importantly, knows how to use his players effectively while in Kevin Pietersen, or PK as he is lovingly called by Shane Warne, they have a batsman who doesnt even give any heed to the conventions of test cricket and hits all and sundry as if every innings is a Sunday Benefit Match. Not to speak of the other minor irritants like Marcus Trescothick, Ian Bell and even Mark Butcher will be back from his injury with Robert Key waiting in the wings.

I wonder how Saurav Ganguly will react to an almost certain repeat of the Flintoff shirt waving drama. maybe I shouldn't. Ganguly might not be around till then.

Interesting, indeed.

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