Saturday, May 18, 2013

Champions of Madras cricket: MJ Gopalan

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Left-arm Genius

Dated 1st June 2003, The New Sunday Express

Wasim Akram was a wonderful competitor.  But he will never be the ultimate role model, says   V Ramnarayan

When Wasim Akram first played at Chennai, way back in 1986-87, he was a wiry, excitable young fast bowler with seemingly inexhaustible energy. He charged in and delivered the ball with an arm speed rarely seen before or since in the Test arena. His captain and mentor, Imran Khan, who came to India with a huge reputation and a past record to defend, had dis­covered his raw talent when he was barely 18 — give or take a couple of years to make allowances for regional varia­tions! — and believed his young protégé would one day be acknowledged as a phenomenon.

How prophetic he proved to be, with the young tearaway developing, in a career span­ning 18 years, into the most complete left handed purveyor of speed, swing and seam the game of cricket has known!

Neither the ustad nor the shagird had much success with the ball in that Chepauk Test, though they were far more productive with the bat, involved, as they were in a century partnership for the eighth wicket, with Imran Khan making an impeccable, unbeaten 135, and each batsman smashing five huge sixes.

Wasim had already shown evidence of huge natural abil­ity with the bat, but in the years that followed, he pre­ferred to concentrate on domi­nating batsmen with pace, though he was still some way yet from 'making the ball talk' as he began doing in his mature years.

He remained a genuine quick for most of his career, sacrific­ing only a little of his pace as he added a whole range of deliveries that no batsman could honestly claim to decode from his action or his grip before the ball was upon him, hissing and spitting fire, swinging one way and seam­ing another.

The speed with which he brought his arm down at the start of his career hardly diminished nor did his bustling run-­up slow down with advancing years, while his wrist stayed supple and strong, changing the angle of delivery and degree of deviation ever so subtly and causing havoc in the minds of unsuspecting batsmen.

Wasim never did make the transition from a fierce, versatile pace bowler who could also on his day demolish most bowling attacks with the power and sweep of his bludgeoning bat into a consistent all rounder in the mould of an Imran Khan, an Ian Botham or a Kapil Dev.

Like that other modern master of fast bowling who found greater meaning in perfecting his bowling craft than in occupation of the crease, Sir Richard Hadlee, Wasim chose to express his genius rather more through the seemingly infinite variety of tricks he played on the best batsmen of the world, than harnessing his explosive batting talent to the prosaic task of building innings.

Yet his immense batting potential flowered occasionally; he is that rarest of bowlers whose batting average column reads 22.64, followed by a highest score of 257 not out!

Indian batsmen seldom enjoyed the prospect of facing Wasim in his prime, or even in the twilight years of his career.  The younger Wasim tended to thud into their rib cage, find the outer edge of their dangling bat or have them scrambling for cover or mishooking, rarely giving them the width or length to score off him.

The older version drew them more often on to the front foot, but the invitation to drive was generally treated with suspicion and rarely accepted with confidence. It needed the genius of Sachin Tendulkar and all the courage of his colleagues to survive his torrid opening spells when he toured India last as captain of Pakistan.

If he continued to bowl with relentless aggression, constant­ly probing batsmen's weakness­es, he captained positively, never giving up a game as lost until the last ball was bowled. An electrifying example was the victory he and his men, led by off spinner Saqlain Mushtaq, fashioned at Chepauk after Tendulkar, in the company of Nayan Mongia, brought India to the doorstep of victory.

If the three Ws, Weekes, Worrell and Walcott dominated the West Indies batting of the 1950s, captivating enthusiasts with both wristy elegance and sheer power, the nineties belonged to Pakistan's two Ws, Wasim and Waqar, two dreaded fast men who perfected the art and science of reverse swing, first unveiled to the world by Sarfaraz Nawaz and Imran Khan in the seventies.

Much praise has been show­ered on the pair and their inventive skills, but equally substantial has been the criti­cism of their methods. Ball-tampering and scuffing up the cricket ball selective­ly to make it do unexpected things when it is old, is perhaps as ancient a prac­tice among weary bowlers doing the county cir­cuit as English cricket itself, but it is the Pakistanis who succeeded in adding a new genre of bowling to the game, a contribution to cricket that rivals the googly and the leg glance for sheer originality.  This they did by teaching the old ball new tricks.

What Wasim and Waqar achieved in the course of mastering reverse swing was to shorten Test innings forever. For nearly a decade they dis­missed an incredible number of batsmen in the lower order for negligible scores. No longer could nine, ten or jack plonk his front foot forward and hope to survive by offering stout resistance. An amazing number of batsmen were out bowled or LBW to Wasim (53 per cent), his partner, Waqar Younis (57 per­ cent) being the only bowler to send a greater percentage of his victims to their doom by the same route.

There are many who believe that Wasim was the greatest left arm pace bowler of all time, even better than Australia's Alan Davidson or Sir Garfield Sobers. Even dissenters will concede that he has been quite the best bowler of all time in one-day limited overs cricket. His 500 wickets in that form of cricket at a miserly rate of under four per over is a monu­mental achievement, and com­ing on top of his 414 Test wick­ets, is unlikely to be bettered by any bowler.

In one-day cricket, Wasim and Waqar were responsible for attracting a new breed of spec­tators to the ground: those who came to watch their bowling in contrast to the usual crowds assembled solely to cheer fours and sixes. At their best, they made the first 15 as well as the slog overs completely irrelevant. Invariably, Wasim man­aged to prise out early wickets and often came back at the death — to spell just that to batsmen hoping to launch an offensive towards the end.

A cricketer of such surpass­ing accomplishments should have been the recipient of the highest accolades, but there's a question mark over Wasim's conduct off the field, as is well known by now. Though charges of abetting match fixing were never conclusively proved, he did not come out of the scam with his reputation untar­nished. And, unlike his mentor Imran, who unearthed and nur­tured some of the best young talent Pakistan has produced, Wasim has not played elder brother to aspiring fast bowlers, nor has he always given 100 per cent to the cap­tains who replaced him. History will remember him as a great competitor and a genius of a bowler, but he will never be the ultimate role model.

V Ramnarayan is a former Ranji Trophy player who bowled off spin for Hyderabad between 1975-80


Born: 3 June 1966, Lahore, Punjab;
Major Teams: Pakistan Automobiles Corporation, Lahore Cricket Association, Lancashire, Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan, Hampshire;
Batting Style: Left hand bat;
Bowling style:  Left arm fast;
Test debut: Pakistan v New Zealand at Auckland, 2nd test, 1984/85;
Latest test: Pakistan v Bangladesh at Dhaka, 1st Test, 201/02;
ODI debut: Pakistan v New Zealand at Faisalabad, 2nd ODI, 1984/85;
Latest ODI: Pakistan v Zimbabwe at Bulawayo, World Cup, 2002/03;
Wisden Cricketer of the Year 1993.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Abdul Jabbar

Abdul Jabbar came to Madras some time in 1972, to join State Bank of India as a cricket recruit, leaving his native Hyderabad where job opportunities for sportsmen were limited. State Bank was a good employer and entry into the Hyderabad Ranji Trophy team did not seem easy. When the talent scouts of State Bank of India, Madras landed in the twin cities, and the captain, VV Kumar walked into the Nizam College ground where Jabbar and his mate Rashid Mirza were playing a match and made them both an offer of a job in Madras, neither had any hesitation in accepting. Jabbar had a brilliant record at the university and junior level.

The young left hander was athletically built and quickfooted. His batting was marked by commonsense rather than any exaggerated notions of style. Compact in defence and fluent in strokeplay, Jabbar played very straight, concentrated hard, but could hit the ball explosively hard, when he chose to. He was a good judge of a single, his sense of timing and placement was sound, and his demeanour on and off the field was sober, alert, conservative. A pious Muslim, Jabbar came from a middle class family with a keen interest in sport. Elder brother Wahed was a more than useful medium pacer and younger brother Abdul Azeem, a successful batsman for Hyderabad, once scored a triple century against a Jabbar-led Tamil Nadu attack.

Once in Madras, Jabbar began to make a positive impact on State Bank's and Tamil Nadu's cricket, lending the middle order unprecedented stability. By temperament, he was a long innings player, and time and again he gave evidence of that in the league, Ranji Trophy and Buchi Babu matches. Tamil Nadu was those days in the process of developing into a good batting side, but not yet so consistent as to provide a No.6 batsman ample opportunity to build innings. Jabbar often ran out of partners, and had to be satisfied with forties and fifties. Only in 1976, did he cross three figures for the first time in the Ranji Trophy, making 201 not out against Karnataka.

In due course, Jabbar accumulated more than 3600 runs at a healthy average of 44.57, and became known for his ability to rise to the occasion whenever the chips were down for his state. Given belated recognition in Duleep Trophy, Jabbar had a reasonable run in the tournament, but it came too late in his career to take him further upwards in his career.

Jabbar developed into a very useful off spinner, in which role he was a huge asset to the State Bank team, in the local league, in intra- State Bank competition and for the all India team in national level tournaments, especially in limited overs cricket. His state captain Venkataraghavan too saw merit in Jabbar as an off spinner in his mature years, and he was a quite a good foil to Venkat and left arm spinner Vasudevan.

Jabbar was a brilliant close-in fielder, a brave short leg in the early years, and a fine catcher in the slips later. He was a team man all through his career, someone the youngest player felt free to go up to for advice and comfort when in trouble.

After serving State Bank for 18 years, Jabbar joined the Sanmar group and turned out for its team Jolly Rovers in the league for a few years, achieving tremendous success with the bat. In the second innings of his career, he began to play some daringly attacking cricket.

After his playing days, Jabbar has turned to coaching youngsters. He is especially good with very young players, grounding them well in the basics, and motivating them with a gentle touch. His coaching clinic is one of the most popular in the city, with pupils and parents alike. He has also been the coach of the Jolly Rovers and the Tamil Nadu teams, besides other state teams.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

V Sivaramakrishnan

V Sivaramakrishnan, the tall, left handed opening batsman, who played first class cricket between 1973 and 1988, had the highest Ranji Trophy aggregate for a Tamil Nadu batsman for a long time, before another lefthander, S Sharath, went past him. My youngest brother, he had a great appetite for runs even as a boy. Five years older, I did not watch him much in competitive cricket until we were pitted against each other in the Ranji Trophy. At that level, he was my senior, making his debut for Tamil Nadu three seasons before I made mine for Hyderabad. As he was playing for Bihar during my first season, I had to wait one more season before I bowled to him for the first time outside our home compound back in Madras all those years ago (Had we not surrendered to Bombay after gaining the lead in the quarterfinal, we might have faced Bihar in the final). Fittingly as his elder brother, I got him out in that game at Lal Bahadur Stadium, Hyderabad, but only after he had made a bright 61. Thereafter, we sort of shared the honours more or less equally, with him scoring consistently and I dismissing him more than once in Hyderabad-Tamil Nadu matches.

Sivaramakrishnan represented the beginning of a batting revival in Tamil Nadu cricket which gradually turned the state's fortunes around in the seventies to a position of dominance in the South Zone, until its batting reached its pinnacle towards the end of the eighties—when it won the Ranji Trophy—and the nineties.  He was a product of university cricket, an important member of the Madras University team that won the Rohinton Baria trophy for the first time in its history.  The year was 1971 and under the captaincy of R Ravichandran, Madras discovered a galaxy of young stars in Sivaramakrishnan, Krishnaswami, Mukund, Sushil Haridas, Bhargav Mehta, P R Ramakrishnan, and a whole host of others.  The left hander's best contribution in the tournament was a fine hundred in the final against Bombay. I watched most of the games Madras University played that season at Waltair, Visakhapatnam, as I was working at nearby Anakapalle. A hundred and other good scores in the Vizzy Trophy followed, South Zone winning the title.  Sivaramakrishnan's good form continued the next season in which he scored a double century, besides playing several innings of character.

Making his debut against Karnataka in 1972-1973, Sivaramakrishnan wasted no time in establishing his credentials.  Run out for zero in the first innings, he gave evidence of his class in the second, when he punished Prasanna and Chandrasekhar in a display of quick footwork and daring strokeplay to make 53.

With stiff competition building up for batting places in the Tamil Nadu eleven with the arrival of P Ramesh, another left hander of great promise, and a line-up that had in it Krishnaswami, TE Srinivasan, Jabbar, Satvinder Singh and Mukund, Sivaramakrishnan, moved to greener pastures in the steel town of Jamshedpur in Bihar, where he played for the TISCO team and Bihar in the company of Ramesh Saxena and Daljit Singh.  His consistent performances, with a highest of 99 versus Assam, won him a place in the East Zone team straightaway, and he scored runs in the Duleep and Deodhar Trophy matches against North Zone, dancing down the wicket to Bishan Bedi and the like.

Sivaramakrishnan returned to Madras in the very next season, with his reputation enhanced by his Bihar sojourn and an earlier stint in Calcutta where he had proved his competence against the moving ball, playing quality swing bowlers with consummate ease.

Back in Madras for the Ranji Trophy, the left hander batted in the middle order against Karnataka and scored a magnificent century against Prasanna, Chandrasekhar, Vijayakrishna and Co.

Sivaramakrishnan went from strength to strength from that point onwards to become Tamil Nadu's most reliable batsman and consistent rungetter.  He was a strong driver of the ball and revelled in the cut. He was particularly good when the chips were down and when there was something in the wicket for the bowlers. His 5039 runs in 126 innings included 11 hundreds and an equal number of dismissals in the nineties.  One of the most brilliant close-in fielders Tamil Nadu has produced, he held more than a hundred catches in the national championship, besides occasionally turning his arm over usefully with gentle in-swingers.

Sivaramakrishnan came close to being picked to tour Australia  in 1977-1978, when he made 74 for South Zone against North at Bangalore. His rival to the second opener’s slot Chetan Chauhan failed in that game, but North piled up a large total after debutant Yashpal Sharma made an impressive 173. The only way South could have gained the first innings lead and by virtue of it, the match, after being down at 50 plus for 3 was for Siva and TE Srinivasan (who scored a hundred) to put on a massive partnership, but Siva virtually threw his wicket away just when the attack was tiring and South Zone yielded a lead of over 100. North went on to win that match and Chetan Chauhan made a hundred in  the final at Bombay, to clinch a place in the squad.  The rest is history as Gavaskar and Chauhan struck a durable partnership thereafter.

Opening the innings for South Zone against Tony Greig’s Englishmen at Hyderabad (I was warming the reserve benches), Siva negotiated the seam and swing of John Lever and Co., and was on the verge of launching an all-out attack on the spinners, when he was run out while he and GRV attempted an impossible single to Derek Randall. He had made 27. In those pre-helmet days, he was out fending off bouncers from Imran Khan and Malcolm Marshall in the tour matches against Pakistan and West Indies, and failed to convert a good start against Rodney Hogg and Co. of Australia. These failures kept him out of the Test berth he otherwise richly deserved. His last chance was against England again in 1983, following a hugely successful Ranji season, but again he was dismissed for 38 and 30, though he made batting look relatively easy facing Bob Willis at his quickest.

Some of Siva's best batting against fast bowling came in Colombo in 1982, and Perth, six years later. In Sri Lanka, he batted so well in the first innings of the Gopalan Trophy match, against genuinely quick bowling on a fiery wicket, that the coach Peter Philpott advised the captain not to enforce the follow on so that the Lankan bowlers gained more practice bowling to a quality left hander, ahead of the forthcoming tour of Australia, which had a few southpaws.  In Australia, playing for the Ranji Trophy champion Tamil Nadu, he blunted a pace attack which had three Test fast bowlers on the Perth wicket notorious for its pace and bounce. It was a brave counterattack amidst a general batting collapse.

Winning the Ranji Trophy that season was a personal triumph for Sivaramakrishnan.  He had come back successfully into the side for the knockout stage of the championship after announcing his retirement at the start of the season, scoring heavily in all three matches he played, including a hundred in the semifinal and 94 in the final.   That had been the crowning moment of this extraordinary team man's first class career -- unrewarded at the highest level, but deeply satisfying at the State level. He continued to play league cricket in Chennai for many more seasons, playing selflessly for his team and amassing runs.

K R Rajagopal

K R Rajagopal came like a breath of fresh air to Madras cricket from Bangalore, when he joined the star-studded Jolly Rovers team of the 1960s. He quickly established himself as one of the most entertaining batsmen in the state, an opener crowds went miles to watch.

Rajagopal was one of the most aggressive opening batsmen around. He played his shots from the word go, shots based on a straight bat, free downswing and follow-through. With his keen eye, swift footwork, perfect balance and steely wrists, all buttressed by a sound technique, he looked for scoring opportunities all the time, and for a few years culminating in the 1967-68 season, he electrified both local and national matches played at Madras.

In an era of swing bowling, Raja had an equally delightful answer to the outswinger and the inswinger. He cover drove imperiously, but he also played a gorgeous ondrive. He was equally fond of hooking and cutting.

Raja struck a fine partnership with his teammate and captain Belliappa. Both were openers and wicket keepers, and as state captain, Belliappa was the first choice behind the stumps, though Raja was brilliant in that department. When Raja was a strong contender for a place in the Indian team touring Australia in 1967-1968 after a magnificent domestic season as a batsman, another wicket keeper Indrajitsinhji was preferred to him on the pretext that Raja did not keep for his own state.

Raja is a simple man. For most of his playing days in Madras (he earlier played for Mysore), he worked at Sankarnagar, Tirunelveli, and took the night train to Madras to play league matches on the morrow for Jolly Rovers, the highly successful team sponsored by his employers. He brought as luggage a ridiculously small bag and went straight to the house of another "Raja", P N Sundaresan, The Hindu's cricket correspondent and the father of his teammate P S Narayanan. On the morning of the match, Raja would jump on to the pillion of Narayanan's Lambretta, tousled hair, stubble on his chin, crumpled shirt and trousers and all, with his cricket shoes wrapped in an old copy of The Hindu.

Such was Raja's pre-match preparation, but once he put on his pads and settled down to face the first ball of the innings, the change in him was electric. Slight of build and short in stature, he was a picture of poise as the bowler started his run towards him. Little notice did he give of the daring strokes he would soon play all round the wicket.  Few batsmen in the history of Tamil Nadu cricket have given as much pleasure to so many.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Vaman Kumar

When Sir Garfield Sobers came to Chennai ten years ago to assist former India leg spinner Vaman Kumar  at the MAC Spin Academy, he was obviously impressed by the energy and dedication of the veteran who was already well into his sixties. During an informal dinner some of us were privileged to attend at the Madras Cricket Club at the end of the camp, Sobers was therefore not very surprised when we named VV the best orthodox wrist spinner in India after Subhash Gupte in reply to his query if Subhash’s younger brother Baloo would have fitted that description.

Like many cricketers of my generation from the south, I have been a life-long admirer of VV Kumar the leg spinner, and an equal fan of his sense of humour and eccentric, unpredictable ways on and off the cricket field.

Long before I saw him in flesh and blood, Kumar had excited my imagination with his heroic deeds in Pakistan as a member of the Indian Starlets team that toured that country circa 1960 under the captaincy of Lala Amarnath, by then retired from Test cricket. It was a great opportunity for young Test hopefuls on both sides of the border to impress the national selectors. On the Indian side, Kumar and fellow Madras cricketer AG Milkha Singh were the undoubted successes of the tour. At my grandfather’s Trivandrum residence, I excitedly awaited the arrival of The Hindu around 4 pm everyday from Madras bearing all the cricket news of the day. VV and Milkha rarely belied my expectations that summer.

I first saw VV in action when he made his Test debut not long afterwards at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla and my father, then working in the capital, took me and my brothers to the match. I was barely 14 then and my memory of the action is clouded by the passage of time, but I can never forget the thrill I experienced when VV snared his first victim—Imtiaz Ahmed, the Pakistani wicket keeper. Kumar went on to take five in the innings and seven in all in the match.

Unfortunately, Kumar’s dreams of prolonged success as a Test bowler were crushed after his second appearance for India. By a strange coincidence, I happened to be one of the spectators at the Brabourne Stadium, Bombay, next season, as my father had by then joined Bank of India there. It was a miserable match for Kumar, as he finished with none for 70 in the first innings, did not bowl in the second and did not distinguish himself in the field. There were murmurs about a hidden finger injury leading to this debacle, and even though only one of the four Indian spinners, Chandu Borde, was among the wickets, VV’s failure was highlighted by his critics. 

One of the other Madras players in the Indian team, left-hand batsman AG Milkha Singh—who had a decent outing at the Kotla versus Pakistan—failed too and was booed by an unsporting crowd, while his elder brother Kripal Singh scored 38 and 13, both not out. Neither VV nor Milkha played for India again despite sterling performances in the Ranji Trophy for several seasons, and Kripal came back into the side under Tiger Pataudi’s captaincy. It was all so depressing for the young fan from Madras.

Returning to Madras in 1962, I had several opportunities to watch Kumar bowl in the local league and the Sport & Pastime (later Hindu) trophy matches and eventually play with and against him—with him in the BS Nets organised by the cricket association, and against him in league games. 

He was a master bowler who was constantly improving, adding new weapons to his armoury while perfecting those he already possessed. He did not believe in exaggerated flight, but tossed it up in a tantalizing arc, varied his pace, bowled two different types of googlies and bowled an effective flipper, though it was not yet known by that name. He was accuracy personified, as was his younger spin partner in the state team, S Venkataraghavan. Both were workhorses, wheeling away in the nets for three hours every evening. 

I once made the foolish mistake of charging VV in the nets with some success, and he made my life miserable forever afterwards by switching over to the net I was batting in from wherever he was bowling in the practice complex of half a dozen wickets. He did this day after day for a whole season, even though I was a miserable tailender, not a frontline batsman. He was really intent on testing himself against someone who seemed to master him for a solitary session of practice. It is this competitive streak that made him such a successful bowler against all the top batsmen in the country.

Kumar  some 12 years my senior, was always kindly disposed towards me, as he knew my father as a banking industry colleague. As I left Madras soon after my first full season in the First Division, I did not get to play too often in his company, but vividly remember the few occasions I did. The first instance was a warm-up game for Madras Cricket Club Mr Annadurai of the cricket association arranged against a young eleven of future state prospects to be led by VV in a mentoring role. I bowled a few blistering overs to PK Belliappa, the state captain who seemed all at sea against me. Frustrated by the several near misses, I lost my patience and tossed up a couple of lollipops which the experienced Belli promptly dispatched to the boundary. That is when my captain walked up to me and said, “Don’t ever do that. You had the batsman in trouble. You should keep him under a tight leash, never offer him free hits.” It was the exact opposite of the advice I received at the Brabourne a few years earlier; and the captain kept me on as well! This is a piece of advice I never forgot in my cricket career, and it also gave me a glimpse of VV’s own cricket thinking.

I also witnessed another side of the VV Kumar persona in that game. Once when stand-in umpire CS Dayakar (our own teammate) negatived an lbw appeal by VV, the bowler reprimanded him sharply, and then carried on as if nothing happened. He’d actually snapped “Idiot” at Dayakar but, made of sterner stuff, Dayakar was unmoved. It was one occasion when Kumar’s gamesmanship had no effect on the umpire, unlike the occasion when he barked at KB Ramaswamy.  He caught the umpire nodding away at the crease and waking up startled by his appeal for leg before. “Told you not to stuff yourself with curdrice at lunch,” he admonished. “Come on VV, mind your tongue,” the umpire retorted. A couple of balls later, VV rapped the batsman on the pads again, but though the ball was clearly missing the leg stump, he nonchalantly turned to the umpire, and said: “How about this one, I say?” This time, up went the umpire’s finger (This story appears elsewhere in this blog).

No batsman in domestic cricket mastered Kumar, with the solitary exception of V Subramanyam of Karnataka, who in the course of a double century in 1967, punished his bowling severely. In the South Zone, the leading lights of Hyderabad and Karnataka, like Pataudi, Jaisimha, and Vishwanath always found him a handful. He had more than 400 Ranji Trophy wickets and 599 first class scalps in all in his long career. He took part in two hard fought Ranji Trophy finals against Bombay in 1967-68 and 1972-73, both of which Madras lost despite Kumar’s splendid bowling. Despite all his consistent successes, his return to Test cricket was blocked by the emergence the unorthodox but match-winning leg spinner BS Chandrasekhar.

I was lucky to win Kumar’s approval for my off spin bowling—he even mentioned me as a Test prospect in a newspaper article. He and I were teammates in the SBI side in the Moin-ud-Dowla Gold Cup, when I enjoyed his company on and off the field. To cricketing matters, he always brought an original perspective, as when he said Rakesh Tandon bowled brilliantly in a particular match between Bombay and Hyderabad, though he did not watch the match and two of us who played in that game insisted that Tandon had been extremely lucky to get six wickets in the final innings of the match despite bowling full tosses and long hops galore. VV just dismissed our version of the story as baseless!