Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Cricket’

1983 reasons why we should watch the cricket world cup finals, just for the sheer joy of sports

Very few moments in sports, capture the pure joy of any spectator event, as this goal by Diego Maradona in the 1986 world cup does. Voted the goal of the century, this is one sporting moment that anybody who has never played football, or never watched the game, or has no clue about Argentina, England, or the Falklands war, or can’t understand a word of the Spanish commentary, would appreciate. I was 5 when this happened, so can hardly claim to have watched it live, but I do remember watching it before the 1990 Italia world cup, as part of the preview show and being blown away.

Just as you don’t need to be Russian to admire Tchaikovsky, or Colombian to tap your feet to a Shakira beat, you don’t need to have known about the Falklands war, the Latin American pride on display as Argentina beat England, the controversial hand of god goal scored by Maradona just a few minutes back, the well justified criticism of the poor sporting gesture by the international press, or about Maradona subsequent decline into drug abuse and later redemption as a national coach, to admire that one singular moment where he dazzled the 11 English players and millions of us with a few minutes of football magic. You need not have ever kicked a football in your life to appreciate the genius at work, but if you have actually played football, you’d probably appreciate the nuances even further

Sporting moments, without context, have the capacity to stir neutral observers, young and old alike, and un – prejudiced minds.

Sporting contests, with the spice of the socio- political context, or historic rivalry thrown in as context, are definitely spicier. And when you happens to be one of the camps, supporting team A or team B, player A, or player B, completely change the playing field altogether

As the cricket world cup 2011, draws to its grand finale, and a billion Indian fans, and millions of Sri Lankan fans gear up for a fitting title contest, I thought it pertinent to write about sports at a much more basic and primal level, and liberate it from some of the clichéd, stale and frankly annoying prisms through which most Indians see the game. This is not to say, that other countries are not guilty of silly behavior when it comes to sport, but I can only speak for my country.

Here are my thoughts on the most un- healthy trends in India when it comes to following cricket, and how it manifests itself through crowd behavior, poor quality of commentary, and outpouring of idiotic arguments online through social media:

  1. Intense jingoism and connecting a sports win / loss to all sorts of thing unrelated to the game itself
  2. The demographics of the audience and commentators is skewed, and there are too many people who make too much noise, without the right facts, or without having ever played the game

 I would want to briefly discuss these negative trends, leave you with some  very well articulated points of view on the above by other authors, and focus more attention on what really we ought to be looking forward to and appreciating with more fervor

First, some context into the recent matches involving India. Starting off from the quarter finals game against Australia, and building up a crescendo to the semi finals against Pakistan, India has ridden a wave of jingoism and national fervor. I am a super proud Indian, but I do believe there are some lines you don’t cross, and a lot of Indians are guilty of crossing many of these lines.

The first shock to me, even half anticipating the typical Indian fan mentality, was the abuse and boos to Ricky Ponting, during the quarter finals. Now, I am no Ponting fan, and neither do I believe Australian cricketers make great ambassadors for sporting fair play, but in the context of that game, Ponting played a master class that should have been applauded whole heartedly for what it was. Instead, he walked off the ground to boos upon scoring an epic century, and I held my head down in shame by the behavior. I know Australian crowds are partisan, I quite often find their behavior boorish, and if Ponting claimed a bump catch or shouted at an Indian player that day, he would have asked for those boos. But any great player walking off after a brilliant hundred in a high stakes game, would have expected a fair bit of appreciation for his game. For the record, the Australians have always applauded Sachin whole heartedly, and he is constantly compared to their national cricket icon – Don Bradman. The only crowd that has ever booed Sachin was in Mumbai!

Here is an excellent article, which explains how many of us felt about Ponting and his final ODI innings:

http://chroniclesofdementia.blogspot.com/2011/03/dear-ricky.html

A lot of bridge has flown under the water when it comes to Indo – Australian relationships, and sporting rivalries.

On the cricketing field, India challenged the Australian dominance more than any other team, and had much more success against them than the others. This of course did not go down well with Aussies, and while the result was a good decade of high-octane cricketing contests, there were also bitter incidents like the Monkey gate / Sydney test fiasco. Purely as an Indian cricket fan, I felt cheated when it came to the Sydney test, marred by horrendous umpiring against us, and poor sportsmanship by Ponting & co, but Bhajji’s racial abuse of Symonds was equally shameful.

The non cricketing development was the growing racial attacks against Indians in Australia, and the detailed media coverage of it. While I am horrified by these incidents, I strongly believein  the following: A. Our media is not really credible, so this means they paint a distorted picture of everything. So 2 attacks in 2 months translates to a dozen Indians attacked everyday in their world, B. These issues are far more complex, and need a more intelligent understand of the root causes and the solutions. I am not going to solve it, but neither is some Indian abusing all Aussies online going to solve it, C. We do not hold the truly responsible people accountable enough – how many critical reviews of S.M Krishna’s performance as foreign minister have happened in this country, where we have asked him how he has worked with the Australian government on this issue? Instead we chose to pick the wrong battles, and believe that beating the Aussies in cricket somehow heals the trauma of the Indians mugged in the alleys of Melbourne and Sydney.

Thankfully the game of cricket itself was of a very high quality, and Indian sealed a thrilling contest in style. And that meant, we were up for an even more high volatile political game – India Vs. Pakistan

Needless to say, as a proud and intelligent Indian, I find Pakistan’s political leadership as a threat to India’s security and stability. It is an open secret that Pakistan has always been an unstable country, dominated by religious identity, obsession with Kashmir, military influence on social life, the omnipresent hand of ISI in war mongering cross the sub continent, and of late, a strong Al Qaeda and Taliban safe haven

The terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008, by Pakistanis, should not ever be forgiven or forgotten, but that does not make every Pakistani an enemy, leave alone 11 cricketers. No victory in a cricket match, will recover the lives of those people murdered by the Pakistani terrorists. India and Pakistan have been perennially at war with each other, but that should be left to diplomatic and political battlefields

From politicians across parties, journalists, film starts, and all sorts of wannabe celebs wasted no time in exploiting the India – Pakistan to grab attention their way and scoring silly brownie points.

The cricket itself was of pretty high quality, though I have seen better contests. But how many people noticed the finer cricketing points. The cricket itself was lost in the din of the politics played out for the match.

Manmohan Singh did not make any progress on bilateral relations; Rahul Gandhi being featured on NDTV’s webpage as they celebrated the Indian win was a crass insult to the 11 cricketers who won the match and a horrible example of how sold out the main stream media is; Gilani can smile all he wants, but frankly he is far safer in Mohali than in his Taliban controlled Pakistan and should rather have tried to fix that problem; No India – Pakistan problem was solved, and neither will ever be, by watching a cricket match, or by abusing Afridi, who has been a fantastic cricketer, leader, and ambassador for his country.

An excellent article, written by Akash Chopra, captures these sentiments well, and gives us fascinating insights into how cricketers themselves approach such matches: http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/current/story/508967.html

The other problem that plagues the Indian cricket following is the mushrooming of highly non sensical commentators and self-made experts. This includes people nominated by T.V and print media, and those of use who extend our cricket chatter to online social media. With advent of IPL all sorts of people who never played the game or had anything to with it before are experts on who should be or not be in the team, who would win, what should the captain do etc

I cannot claim to have played cricket at a higher level than school / university, and till today regret certain physical disorders that blew always my pipe dreams of being a cricketer. I do not believe that you must have played the game to speak freely or comment on it, and by nor does having played the game gives one a divine right to be an expert who gets it right

But the sheer extent to which the profile is skewed, and the significant number of people, talking, and talking loudly about the game without having ever picked up a bat or a ball, is crazy.

I am all for freedom of speech, but I guess I have to exercise my freedom of speech someday to say “If you think that’s an easy catch, why don’t you try to catch this ball I am going to throw at your face now!”

I can’t think of what is more annoying: Examples like the entire country clamoring to pick Sreesanth, based on his good test match bowling in S.A (and no one bothered to check Cricinfo  for his horrendous ODI stats), and having SMS polls on who should be in the team, or noises of match fixing  now and then

As a seasoned cricket observer, and one time cricket player at a small level, I can say that there is absolutely no use obsessing over match fixing in every match. Yes fixing exists, and yes it has been rampant in the past, and yes it still does happen now, but not even Albert Einstein can say exactly which match was fixed, how and by whom. And even if a specific match was fixed, it need not necessarily influence the outcome. You could buy half the team, but if Viru decides to smash a century nevertheless, or if Zaheer finds reverse swing, the team would still end up winning. So, it is quite futile getting into nitty gritty of the murky world of betting. So, why bother at all? Can’t you just leave that angle alone and enjoy the match?

While enough sensible voices in the media, and cricket writers have written about topics I have alluded to, I do believe the only way to make the country mature in its following of the game, is to actually give positive examples of what a thing of beauty cricket, or any sport is, even when stripped from all the context, sub plots, and analysis

I would love all Indians to watch the game with passion and support the men in blue. But along with all the nationalistic fervor, I would also urge you to look out for beauty in so many finer details of the game.

Watch the game for the bubbly enthusiasm of Sachin Tendulkar. Not Sachin the national hero, or god, or the man with 99 international hundreds, or anything else you may want to call him, but for the Sachin who loved the hit ball as a little kid. Here is the man, nay boy, in one of his early interviews as a 16 year old in love with the game:

This man is still in love with the game, and still loves to fight hard for that elusive Indian world cup win. I think the biggest way to insult this man is talking non stop about his greatness, and his 100th century, and how we should win the world cup for him. I am pretty sure if he scored his 100th century and India lost he would be gutted, just as I am sure he would take a duck happily if India still wins

Let’s wind our clock back to just one game, to that semi final against Pakistan, when Viru started off like a bullet train. How many of us observed Sachin playing carefully at first and giving the strike to Sehwag. How many of us know what a difficult thing that is to do?

I played a lot of cricket in my school days as an opener, along with brilliant left-handed partner and friend called Gaurav. Gaurav was all flash, dazzling stroke play, and attacking batting – stuff that I was capable of matching now and then, but was humble enough to accept that he was far better, and the smart thing to do was to give him strike.  But quite often, I would be on strike after Gaurav has crashed a flurry of boundaries, I would be tempted to play that flashy shot. Just to say, you know I can hit a cover drive too?

Now put yourself in the shoes of one of the greatest ever players in the game, a destroyer of bowling attacks in his younger days. How easy do you think it is for Sachin to take a single and get to the other end, when the crowd is egging him on for a boundary? Watch the finals for how the same Sachin would impose himself and take charge, if he observes Viru to be struggling to get his customary flurry of boundaries in the first few overs.

Watch the game for the fine science that is the game of cricket: Look at a dozen batsmen playing the cover drive, or the back foot punch in the match, and compare how each angle is differ, and each follow through is different. Watch it for how well-balanced Sachin always looks, as opposed to let’s say Dhoni. Watch it for how Dhoni hits the ball harder than most people.

A beautiful passage of play during the India –Pakistan game, was completely lost on most people who saw every moment of the match. Wahab Riaz, the Pakistani left arm seamer had to make a strong statement to justify his place in the team, ahead of the much fancied Shoaib Akhtar, and he did that with style picking up 5 wickets, with high quality swing bowling. Having done all that, he had to try to win the match out of nowhere with the bat. Ashish Nehra, much maligned in the Indian public ha d a similar point to prove, and had the ball in had. Ashish bowled a couple of lovely left arm deliveries, and Wahaz could not get bat on ball. There was a moment when Ashish completely fooled him with a beautiful swinging delivery, Wahab realized he was beaten in his own game by a more experienced practitioner, looked up to Ashish and both exchanged smiles. Forget India Pakistan wars, Sachin, Mohali, Prime ministers, semi finals, and all that jazz; it was just one young left arm swinger admiring the skills of another, and appreciating how the older man went about his trade.

Watch the game for the man with the big eyes, big smile, and an ability to spin the ball from Arabian sea to Bay of Bengal:  Muthiah Muralitharan.

Watch how he goes about his game at the age of 37, half – fit, and playing his last ever game. Watch how he turns the ball at different angles, directions, varies his flight and sets his field. Buy a cricket ball, run in a few steps, and try spinning it. Try all day and see if you can actually spin it both ways, and control how much you spin. Observe how much your shoulder pains if at all you managed to be it for more than 20 minutes.

Be ready to stand up and applaud him if he beats Sachin or Sehwag and gets their wicket, in the last match of a glorious career. It takes a lot of skill to do that, and you do not have to be a Sri Lankan to applaud the magic at work. Neither does applauding Murali make you anti national. For those who understand Tamil, here is a priceless interview of Murali in Tamil, speaking about with child like enthusiasm about the game. You cannot help, but admire the man who has survived near death situations with the Tsunami, and terrorist attacks, talk about how it was back to cricket the next day for him:

Watch the finals, for the sheer audacity of a bloke called Virender Sehwag; observe how days of media build up, hype, minute analysis, the noise of a packed audience, and the knowledge that his house could get lynched if he fails and India loses, matters not one bit to him when he face the very first ball; watch how he hits most first balls for a boundary, whether they are good or bad. Watch how he would tease Murali by dancing out to him and how Murali would give one more of those big smiles, walk back and beat him the very next ball. Try and hear their friendly banter after that, and observe great minds at work.

Watch the finals, for the incredible sight of a freak called Lasith Malinga. Be ready to cheer every Indian boundary scored of him, but also be ready to let yourself be amazed at the sight of those toe crushing yorkers, very few cricketers who have ever played that game, can match that skill and impact.

Watch how Dhoni and Sangakkara go about marshalling their teams in a cool collected way. Whatever be your identity, or your opinion of either one of them, tell yourself that this finals features the two best modern captains in the game.

Look out for Dhoni the keeper, standing up to the stumps when Munaf is being attacked, and think of how hard it is going to be if he misses and get a 120 kmph ball in the eye or hand.

Look out for Zaheer Khan’s slower, knuckle ball. You have seen that against Mike Hussey, would he try that against Sangakkara?

You have heard the name carrom ball, a million times before, and you know Mendis bowls it, and so does our Ashwin; Can you watch closely and observe if they both do the same thing, or have a different way to bowl the carrom ball?

Watch out for how all these actors come together in a fascinating cricketing drama. Look out for some less heralded names, doing their best to steal the thunder from the super stars. Look out for Suresh Raina trying to contribute in every way possible – every attempt at a risky single and dive, just to add1 more run to the total, or every dive to save 2 runs. Look out for Dilshan, trying to carve his identity as a great opener and trying to over shadow Sachin, Sehwag, Jayasuriya

If you have gotten this far, you would observe suddenly how winning or losing has a different perspective altogether. Clichéd as it may sound, this has been a great cricket world cup, and the cricket will be the real winner. If the crowd does take part and cheer sportively, there is no doubt in my mind this would be a very good world cup final, between two closely matched teams.

If you have come so far, perhaps you may start following some more sports for the sheer quality of skills on display. A brilliant goal by Lionel Messi is as difficult to execute as a Lasith Malinga yorker, or a Roger Federer forehand winner.

If you have gotten this far, perhaps you may stop for a minutes when little kids play cricket or football, at the neighborhood park or beach, and watch the fun. Perhaps one day this may inspire you to join a local sports club, or team, or just play back yard cricket with your kids, instead of pouring vitriol on how non athletic Munaf Patel is

India should win, and am basing that on a strong gut feeling built on watching cricket for years. If not, I am pretty sure they would fight hard and show enough skills. And we can be sure that they have done a great job making it to the finals against strong oppositions, and the weight of expectations playing at home.

So, come Saturday, may the best team win, and may sports continue to spread more of joy and less of sorrow to millions around the world!

Footnote: Even if India win on Sunday, which I really hope they do, it would not be as big a deal as the 1983 triumph, which remains the seminal event in Indian sports history, as well as world cricket history, for its sheer impact on the game.

Advertisements

Why an Indian win in the cricket world cup 2011, would prevent China taking over the ICC in 2027

This is a rapidly typed-out, tongue-in-cheek, meant to be taken lightly, collection of thoughts on the up coming cricket world cup in India. (I am not using the ICC or sponsor’s name share, as they don’t pay me to advertise their name on my blog! For the record I actually don’t know if it is the Pepsi, Sahara, or LG world cup, and I don’t give a damn)

1. Here is my pick for what should be India’s A team, under most conditions:
Sachin, Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli, Raina, Dhoni, Pathan, Bhajji, Zaheer, Nehra, Munaf. This team may or may not win, but this plus the bench we have selected is the best possible combination India can play.
Yeah I know there have been sensible & melodramatic noises on Piyush Chawla’s selection, lack of reserve wicket keeper, no place for Sreesanth originally, noises on bias in Ashwin’s selection, some people calling for Dravid’s recall etc. To me, these are marginal calls that could have gone either way, and would not impact the final result. I strongly believe that if the A team above, can’t win you a world cup, Sreesanth / Piyush / Ashwin / Dravid / Saha / Kapil Dev at 50 plus age, cannot. While no cricket team selection is ever controversy or debate free, I have seen far worse to care about this one (Deep Das Gupta, Sameer Dighe, MSK Prasad, Sujith Somadunder, Shiv Sunder Das, David Johnson, Noel David, Dinesh Mongia etc)

2. By the next world cup, I hope we watch footages of Dhoni’s boys lift the cup, so that:

A. Sachin finally gets what he so well deserves, more than any other cricketer playing in the tournament. Also, I am pretty sure that if we don’t win, he is going to play on and on, till one fine day he is playing with his son in the 2023 world cup.
B. People finally stop calling Dhoni just a lucky captain. I am not a Dhoni fan per se, and neither do I believe he is always right, and I do think it’s about time he fired as a batsman. But it is annoying to hear the “Yeah he is just a lucky dude” line. Well if he was just lucky, he would win the bloody toss more often
C. Much as I can admire Kapil and his devils, whose 1983 victory changed the cricket world, it is getting a tad boring to watch the nostalgic Kris Srikanth (MS office spell check cannot tell you how many Ks are there in his name!) / Sandip Patil interviews every 4 years some time around February! Especially Srikanth claiming he just hammered the living day lights out of Marshall and co (well he didn’t actually say that, but he is capable of saying that. But he did actually claim to drop one of the KKKs in his name, if India wins the WC). Just as I believe every Indian cricket supporter should know the story of Kapil’s 175 at Turnbridge wells in 1983, the next generation deserves its heroic success stories from 2011. Okay, I am asking for too much now, just win the cup at least now, will ya?

3. If at all we don’t make it, I am wishing its the Wakka Wakka time for South Africa, because:

A. It is boring to watch Aussies win all WCs.  Also, it is going to be quite difficult for Ricky Ponting to shove Sharad Pawar out of the post world cup presentation dias, compared to the act a few years back.  Sharad Pawar has been taking rugby tackling lessons from Andrew Symonds.
B. Anything to do with how Sri Lankans play cricket is boring and annoying
C. A Pakistan win would be the dream of bookies and crooks involved in the game. Not that other countries are not rampant with bookies, but Pakistan takes the cake for the most creative ways for cricket corruption
D. We will miss the preachy English press and ex-cricketers advice the world on the supremacy of test cricket. If they win an ODI WC, we would have to put up with stories of how Neil Fairbrother was the greatest ODI cricketer ever. Or I have to hear Michael Atherton speak about how his masterful innings of 12 from 60 balls in the 1992 world cup, laid the foundation for the resurgence of ODI cricket in England. Or some such BS.
E. It’s a shame to watch supremely skilled South Africans choke non stop at the final hurdle for 20 years. (If I am South African, I would be hoping badly that they either win, or get hammered in the group stage playing risky and aggressive cricket, instead of them having to die wondering in the knock outs; However if I were to cherry pick 1 team for India to meet in the knock outs, it would have to be South Africa)
F. I don’t see any other marginal contenders, or any underdog stories like 1983. But if you an a kid from Ireland or Afghanistan, please feel to dream on!

4. I hope one day the 13th century feudal lords that run BCCI, provide spectators on the ground with facilities that they deserve for the money, time and energy they bring. I don’t see it happening now, but I hope we can do a half-decent organizing job. The Common wealth games mess, and the Eden Gardens fiasco point otherwise, but I am hoping with my fingers crossed, for a miracle on this! If they screw up again, I would propose that Sharad Pawar, N Srinivasan, Shasank Manohar, and co, should be deported to the wildest section of the Eden Gardens crowd, during a match where it is announced that Saurav Ganguly is making a comeback to international cricket, only to be replayed by Shahrukh Khan at the 11th hour. A punishment option for the less violent readers would be that they be sent as contenders to a dance talent search show, where the judges Sreesanth and Harbhajan slap for participants every hopeless dance move.

5. Some how I miss the WC buzz. May be because I live abroad, or maybe somewhere along the line I grew up with less time for cricket and even less time for the match fixing rampant LOI tournaments, or may be I lost all faith in India winning any tournament final as soon as Ponting and Martyn started annihilating us in 2003. I wish I can conjure up all the cricket watching excitement and craze I had from the 92 to 2003 world cups. This world cup has been designed to be a bore by organizers who haven’t learnt lessons from the last one. Let’s hope the cricketing action on the field brings back cynical and bored fans like me!

6. If you are a teenager, or young kid following the world cup with crazy devotion, here is all I can say: Enjoy and absorb every minute of the WC, whatever the match results. A world cup at home, and when you are young and passionate about the game, is a once in a life time event. 1996 world cup was not the best ever, and India lost out in a shameful manner, but it’s probably the world cup I followed the most and is so strongly entrenched in my mind. And if god forbid, India crashes out, remember it’s not the end of the world! But if we do win, you would have memorable I was there stories to tell your kids one day. My dad still gets dreamy eyed about how he bought a T. V just before the 1983 world cup, and how everyone switched of the T.V for good at the lunch break when it looked like we were all set to loose. Only to hear the radio commentaries tell a different story a few hours later…:)

7. That said, ODI is definitely too boring for my liking, and I do hope it is the last world cup in a format where the matches as well as the tournaments itself are getting long, boring, and tedious. Bring on the test championships and the plethora of international and club T20s I say! An awesome world cup, where the best team wins an exciting final, would be a great way for ODI cricket to ride into the oblivion. So in a nutshell I am hoping ODI cricket can go, and that it can go with a bang, and if possible Sachin / Dhoni and co provide the bang. Vijay Mallya can take care of the post world cup victory fizz 🙂

P.S:
1. Just as there would always be a King Viv Richards for batting, and 100 other pretenders, to me the king of cricket satire is Andy Zaltzman. I do not ever hope to do cricket satire regularly, and I do not claim to be remotely as funny. But this guy’s articles crack me up, and serve as a massive inspiration for this blog post!
2. The blog title, is what is known in cricketing terms, as a googly
3. Harbhajan Singh took offence to P.S 2, and asked me to correct it from googly to doosra

From Chennai to Chelsea, Anaivarukkum iniya puthaandu vazhthukkal!

“I wish Chennai a very Happy Tamil New Year” M.S  Dhoni signed off, after Chennai Superkings (CSK) thrashed Kolkata Knight Riders at Chepauk, in the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament.

It brought a rare smile on my face on what has been a day of lousy, but not to unexpected news alerts, on the ugly affairs behind the scenes of IPL. For those who are bothered in reading further, I would recommend an excellent blog and discussion on this topic, which I’ve been tracking all day: http://prempanicker.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/actions-reactions/

It made smile because CSK jumped from 7th place to 2nd place, in a league so tightly contested that there are enough voices guessing that all this is all fixed to ensure a successful IPL 2010. While I am not jumping the bandwagon with the conspiracy theorists, given the people involved in running the show & our cricket history, I won’t be too surprised. And Chennai’s 7 to 2, and may be back to 7 in a few days show, just makes you wonder and indulge the conspiracy theorists for a while.

 That was a curiously funny smile 🙂

It made me smile, because CSK is one of the teams I support, and though ultimately I don’t really care who wins, sometimes native loyalties can break all cynicism and indifference you may have for a sports tournament. To me, the real buffet as a cricket lover is India touring South Africa this year, and Australia next year; that what would be the last time I get to see pillars of the Indian game like Sachin and Dravid, before they fade away into the sunset. It’s probably our best chance ever for those two missing series victories to justify our #1 test team tag.

The IPL is a good evening snack to have before the sumptuous buffet later this year, but a CSK win brings out a chuckling smile nevertheless 🙂

For the record, my loyalties for the IPL are divided between Chennai (where I was born and grew up), Bangalore (lived most of my adult life, and is a second home), and Delhi (I’ll back any team Sehwag plays for in any format)

It made me smile, for one of the few positives amongst the hordes of stupidity that the IPL brings. That Dhoni, a man from Jharkand, is seen as their own by the Chennai fans is beyond doubt. He was obliviously playing to the gallery, and expects the Chennai crowd to be even more vociferous in support in the coming matches. I am hoping the IPL does not divide us even more, and make us add to our four walls of religion, community, language and social strata. The bonding that happens between a Dhoni and Tamils; a Yusuf Pathan and Rajasthanis; a Bhajji with Mumbaikars (how did Raj Thackeray allow him to play in the first place?); and a Sachin Tendulkar with all Indians is a special feeling that only sports can provide. Witness the Argentine Messi playing at Barca, for sheer magic!

That was a genuine smile 🙂

It also made me smile, as officially I do not think it is the Tamil New Year in the first place! There was an utterly unwanted, and stupid political move thrust upon by the DMK government a few years back to make January 14 the Tamil New Year, changing the traditional date of April 14. All their petty agendas aside, the people still celebrate April 14 as the New Year, and January 14 as Pongal. I do not know what the official stance is now and I do not care. Even Wikipedia is inconclusive.

 Just as Madras will always be Madras to me, (and so it goes for Bombay, Calcutta etc), April 14 is always the New Year, and it usually means good food. And oh yeah, I would celebrate January 1 and any other new years that are there as well; the more festivals there are the merrier, I say!

That Dhoni was oblivious to the controversy, and wished folks of his temporary adopted home well, and in the process give a middle finger to divisive politicians who have no other work, brought out the biggest smile of the day for me  🙂

So here I am wishing any person reading this now, “Iniya puthaandu vazhthukkal”, or a happy new year in Tamil. We have a short life, so any occasion to celebrate and be festive is precious, and meant to be lapped up.

 I’ll leave you with a song from one of the few Tamil films I loved in the recent past, called Subhramaniapuram. This  is a period film set in early 80s, and this song is a modern fusion of traditional Tamil folk sounds. Sort of represents the good, silly, and funny things about our culture in an interesting way. The dances and village road shows (Thiruvizha) are truly representative of life in the Tamil hinterland.

Have a ball everybody 🙂

Cheers!

Vasu 

Footnote: If you are inclined to comment, please wish me a happy new year in your language, in addition to whatever you had to say. That would be nice and interesting 🙂

Update on April 25: Thanks for those who voted on the poll earlier. For the record, Chennai won the IPL in a classic final beating Mumbai Indians. In spite of all the controversies around, the game was the winner, and Dhoni is on track to become Tamilnadu’s chief minister in the future, given our love for embracing an outsider who shines in our territory 🙂

Pitch battles ahead…

So, India managed to beat South Africa in a terrific nail biter to draw the series and retain their tag as the # 1 test cricket team in the world. If Morne Morkel survived a few more balls that wouldn’t have happened and SA would have been #1 instead. That is to take nothing away from India, but just to highlight how thinly separated the top 3 teams are.

There are broadly two kinds of people in the cricket world now, as far as this topic goes:

  • The over the top desis, fuelled by an even more over the top media, who believe that our cricketers are the best ever to have descended on the planet, and we are the undisputable kings of the cricket world.
  • The media in the “white” cricketing countries that still hasn’t come to terms with the new pecking order, and a lot of Indians grown up to believing that any cricketing observation is true only when Geoffrey Boycott or Tony Greig thinks so.

The reality, as always, is somewhere in the middle. India are truly the #1 team in the world today, but not by much, and if they don’t maintain / improve further, not for too long.

So here are some points to consider to the two different camps:

To the “we are the best” and our cricketers are gods brigade:

  • Away record: We still haven’t beaten Australia in Australia, or South Africa in South Africa. Not yet!
  • Batting: We rely heavily on the top 4 batsmen, specifically on Sehwag performing a super human feat to win matches in a few hours for us. On bad days like we have had in Nagpur / Sydney / Ahmedabad / Cape Town, we have been thoroughly exposed.
  • Key personnel: Dravid is 37, Sachin 36, Laxman 35. In the next 2-3 years all of them would bow out some time or the other. What we have seen so far of Yuvraj, Vijay, Badri, in tests, and Kohli, Raina, Rohit in ODIs does not seem to suggest they can fill in those massive boots in terms of batting class, temperament, stature, grit, and slip catching.
  • Bowling: Frontline bowlers: Our bowling is highly reliant on Zaheer Khan. Ishant is on a learning curve, Sreesanth is inconsistent, Bhajji blows hot (when he is about to dropped or when the batsmen have piled on a huge score, or the pace men have softened the top order), and blows cold (all other occasions). He is our number one spinner because no spinner in the country is bowling any better.
  •  Bowling: Back-up bowlers. Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie Gilliespie, are some names that had served as back-up men and change bowlers for years before they became the strike bowlers in their respective all conquering teams. Think R.P Singh, Munaf Patel, Dhaval Kulkarni, Irfan Pathan, and compare them to the class above. No further arguments

To those who loathe India’s new growth across all walks of life, can’t accept a new cricketing world order anymore, and to those Indians who still have a colonial hangover:

  • England:  The sun has actually set on your empire. Actually long time back, please wake up! You are not a good enough cricket team for me to include you in this discussion, and that’s because all your sporting performances since my birth have been average, spun as “extra ordinary” by your media. I mean Michael Atherton averages 30 something in test cricket, and he played over a 100 test matches as you couldn’t find any one better, and is a so called legendary player / cricket expert now. Its about time somebody in your media noted that:  A. India is officially the #1 cricket team in the world B. England are 4/5 or thereabouts. C.  Andy Murray has 0 grand slams D. England haven’t won a football world cup for 50 years, or  reached the semis in the last 20 years
  • Australia:  Australia is doing pretty well considering how terrible you could have become after losing a golden generation. But you lost the Ashes, lost to South Africa at home, and got thrashed by India in India. And, I still maintain that without Steve Bucknor & the luck associated with winning teams, India should have won 2 series against you, some other teams would have won more matches in Australia, and Shane “Umpire charmer” Warne would have ended up with 100 less test wickets. Johnson, Bollinger, Siddle, Hiffenhaus, Hauritz, are all decent blokes, but not quite Warne and McGrath.
  • South Africa:  No, I will not use that C word, but you know what I mean. You can’t win any 100m sprint if you run the first 95 faster than anyone and stop at the 96th meter. Even today, you needed to bat out 8 more balls against India, but you failed at the very last gasp. I know it hurts, but unless you can overcome that, and unless you can find a spinner who actually spins the ball, you would never be the #1 team
  • To all my desi friends who are still not convinced:Exhibit  A: Vikram Rathore, Deep Das Gupta, Rajesh Chauhan, Venkatapathy Raju, Salil Ankola, W.V Raman, Abey Kuruvilla, Venkatesh Prasad, etc etc. Exhibit B: The present Indian cricket team. Grow up guys, we are actually the best we have ever had, and as of today, the best in the world!

 So, where all this does leaves us? 

 I’ll use the game of Monopoly as an analogy. You start with may be a half-dozen players, and after a few rounds of buying and selling, the weak players are out. You have 3 players left now (India, Australia, and South Africa; in the sequence of whom I rate as the present 1, 2, 3) and India is marginally ahead. The next few rounds will determine who wins and losses, and while India has a slight advantage, it can’t rest on its laurels, and anything’s possible from here! 

Let the pitch battles commence!

Fantasia cricket…

Warning: If you are not a fanatic of that silly game called cricket, don’t bother reading further! 

Picking a fantasy team is the favorite sport for those who don’t actually play the sport at any decent level! Cricket is no exception to the rule, and has billions of arm chair critics and experts like me going around! 

And, as if to induce us to do this even more, Cricinfo – that mother of all cricket websites, is picking an all time XI for all test cricket nations. 

India’s turn has not yet come, but they’re done with England, Australia, New Zealand, and are now with South Africa. 

There is a panel of experts and there is an online voting too, so you pretty much end up with two different teams, but there are many names that would make it to both the teams.

 One common trend I noticed is that the online generation, which is typically young, picks more contemporary players, where as the “experts” tend to grow for players from my grand dad’s generation, of whom there is much written about, but nobody has actually seen.

 I guess all this is speculative, and subjective; so each one is free to play selector! 

Though I am Indian, I think the best two all time test teams would be Australia, and West indies. It’s a no brainier actually! And boy what a contest that would be,  in the imaginative world of your brain where this match could take place!

 Here is Cricinfo’s all time Australia XI: Victor Trumper, Arthur Morris, Don Bradman, Greg Chappell, Allan Border, Keith Miller, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Bill O’Reilly, Dennis Lillee, Glenn McGrath 

Give and take a couple of names based on your taste, this is as good as any team that could take the field. But is it as good as an all time West Indies XI? 

Since Cricinfo hasn’t picked its XI yet, I took the liberty of making my own West Indies list: Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, George Headley, Vivian Richards, Brian Lara, Gary Sobers, Jeffrey Dujon, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Lance Gibbs 

That’s a bloody mighty team, and although Australia would fight like hell, I think West Indies will prevail. 

Picking an Indian XI though, is not easy, primarily because there are a few glaring weaknesses (fielding, fast bowling) that will make it tough against any top team, and because we have very little videos of olden players.

 So I gave myself a few golden rules to pick this XI: 

  • Generation: I am going to pick only from players I have seen in action. So that rules out names like Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, Lala Amarnath, Subhash Gupte, Amar Singh, Mohammad Nissar
  • Batting: Variety in batting: a good mix of players with aggressive, risky games + solid technicians who can grind it out + players who can capitalize and score fast against spinners and the old ball.
  • Fielding & catching: This has to be the best fielding & catching XI we can play, as our fielding standards are lousy, and against a real top team we would be made to pay dearly. This was a tough rule for me, as it ruled out a personal favorite G.R Vishwanath, in favor of another personal favorite, but not quite Vishy’s caliber: Mohammed Azharuddin. Thankfully, our slip & close-in catching is as good as any with Dravid, Sunil, and Sachin.
  • Keeping: Since I am playing 5 batsmen + 4 bowlers + one all-rounder, I wanted to pick a wicket keeper whose batting was pretty good & versatile, while being a safe keeper. Amongst M.S. Dhoni, Syed Kirmani, Nayan Mongia, and Farokh Engineer, Dhoni was the better wicketkeeper batsman at number 7
  • Bowling: There has got to be variety in bowling: 2 pace and swing bowlers (spin and reverse swing will be the only factors that will help us get 20 wickets against strong teams), one bowling all-rounder (Kapil, the de facto choice), one leg spin, and one finger spin. Kumble was the obvious first choice spinner, and my second choice had to be a finger spinner (that ruled out Chandra in spite of terrific numbers and a mystery factor) that got good turn (as Kumble doesn’t spin much). The choice was between two sardars: Bedi & Harbhajan. Numbers being fairly similar, I went for Bhajji for his batting at number 8, better fielding, and a slightly modern aggressive streak that has helped us compete better.
  • When in doubt, go by gut instincts, personal bias, and throw stats to the wind: Sehwag, Azhar, Bhajji, Srinath (struggled in early days with no guidance, matured into a deadly bowler, but fitness and terrible support from fielders and other bowlers let his statistics down) are such personal picks. They may make the cut even by statistics – Sehwag’s stats for example, are as good any anybody else’s, but there will be naysayers. That’s why Kapil is also captain ahead of most others. Kapil is the best all-round player in this team, and while that itself is no consideration for captaincy, he deserves the honor purely for his attacking instincts and style of play. And he is the only bloody Indian captain to win a world cup. So I let my favorite’s reign- after all it’s my team! 

And so, here is my all time best Indian test XI dream team:  Kapil’s devils:

Sunil Gavskar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Azharuddin, M.S. Dhoni,  Kapil Dev (Captain), Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath

 I would rate this team as the joint 3rd best with Pakistan & South Africa, but behind West Indies & Australia. 

My verdict (for a 3 match series):

  • Fast pacy pitches against an all time Australia / West indies XI : Will lose
  • Fast pacy pitches against an all time SA XIs : Draw
  • Sub continental pitches against:
    • England, SA, NZ, SL: Will win
    • Pakistan, West Indies, Australia: Draw
  • Swinging conditions against England / NZ XI: Will win 

The most awesome sight for me would be to watch the chalk and cheese pair of Sehwag, and Gavaskar open. If they happen to survive the first session against an attack that has any one amongst: Lillee, McGrath, Ambrose, Holding, Marshall, Imran, Wasim, Waqar, Warne, and then we can beat any opposition anywhere. 

And the contest to savor for a life time would be: India Vs. Pakistan, on any good pitch amongst the few available on the sub continent. 

Here is to some more day dreaming  🙂 

Cheers!

Vasu

 P.S: Those who think the IPL & T20 is cricket may have a different opinion if they watched some classic Australia vs. West Indies clashes from the 60s through the early 90s, which are up on YouTube. That’s pretty much how my fantasy game would have played out.

Select clips that I am in awe of:

Empire of cricket series’ story on the historic series in 1960 featuring the first tied test in Brisbane:

Gary Sobers smashes a double hundred at Melbourne, playing for a Rest of the World XI against Australia:

Dennis Lillee Vs. Viv Richards:

Curtly Ambrose’s spell of 7 for 1 at Perth:

Why is Rahul Dravid so underrated by the Indian media & public?

Rahul Dravid, one of my most favorite cricketers of all time, hit 177 runs  in a day’s play of test cricket, rescued India yet again from a terrible start, and crossed a monumental 11,000 runs in test cricket, all in one day.

Yet you never have anybody talking about him as often as some of the Indian media’s favorite celebrities.

You may ask, why this injustice? It’s all too easy to understand,  I‘ll tell you why:

  • He never slapped his team-mate on a cricket field, or called his an opponent a monkey (official version is Teri Maa ki)
  • He never got slapped by his team-mate (and hence he couldn’t cry on TV for getting slapped), never danced on a cricket field, and never spoke of himself in third person and said things like: “I think Rahul Dravid is a terrific guy!”
  • He took a world record 184 catches in test cricket with a lot of ease, and no fuss. Little did he realize that unless he flaunted a new hairstyle or wig, and pump his fist looking at the camera, those are not counted as catches.  Poor guy!
  • He’s always had the same boring hairstyle. No wigs, extensions, coloring, or perming. How boring!
  • He was never involved in any serious rumors with bollywood starlets. Now that’s a terrible thing to do. How could you be so condescending towards the media and the eager public?
  • He never leaked confidential emails; never ran to his government asking for support to get back into the team when he was dropped shamelessly (actually he should have, if a left-wing government batted for a left hander terribly out of form, wouldn’t you expect a right-wing government to support a right hander in pretty good form?)
  • He never kissed his ex girlfriend in public at her birthday party. Hence nobody played his smooch a few thousand times on TV, and so he was never a media sensation.
  • He did not have the attitude or the body to be shirtless a few hundred times in public, and do the same cool dude dance for the same song for twenty years
  • He never bashed up a bowler screaming “Howzaatttt” in English, during test matches played in Mumbai. If he can’t speak Marathi, he has no business playing in Mumbai, does he?
  • He never wrote a book called “Going Rogue: A cricketer’s life”
  • He did not participate in Big Boss,  and hence nobody could have made a racist taunt at him
  • He proved again and again that nice guys do not necessarily finish last
  • And last, but the most important factor: He is Rahul Dravid and not Rahul Gandhi

Cheers!

Vasu

Doing what you love doing for a life time and excelling at it – a case of 3 role models

Act  1: 15 grand slam titles, 4 different surfaces, one cool Swiss man. 

On a hot summer day, when cooling off at home was the best option, or basking by the glorious River Rhine was the fashionable thing to do in Basel, I made my way to a specific restaurant / café in town. I wouldn’t have been anywhere else if anybody  paid me a million Swiss francs. There is nothing special about this place, it’s just another restaurant around Barfusserplatz that serves coffee, drinks, sandwiches and crepes. But this place is close to my heart nevertheless.

Cut to India in early January, me and a bunch of my close friends in Bangalore were watching the Australian open finals.  Federer was beaten and broken in a heart breaking, gut wrenching epic against Rafael Nadal. As a hard-core Federer fan, I had a grudging admiration of Nadal’s powers. There were a few voices including me that said, Fedex will be back, and Rafa cannot go on forever with his style of play. Our voices were feeble, as we felt our hero going down. But that’s not how the man himself saw it and that is the stuff that separates the champions from us.

On my first weekend in Basel, I was at the club where he grew up playing tennis and I had goose bumps all over me. Later, on a hot Sunday afternoon in Mid may,  I made my way to the crepe shop where the pair were in another final showdown, this time at the Spaniard’s home turf of Madrid. Federer went on to beat him, and I scented something was brewing. From then, I have been to that shop every time Federer plays and he has won every time. He went on to win that elusive French open, and that incredible Wimbledon finals where he wrote another record of 15 grand slam titles. For the records, I did not watch his US open finals there, and you could say that’s why he lost!

What is it that makes an Indian man, who plays a little tennis at the amateur level, go crazy over a racket wielding Swiss man? Sports, arts, cinema, and music transcend all barriers of race, culture, sex, and age. I am every bit a huge Federer supporter as anybody from Basel, and its all down to that man’s aura, incredible longevity in a fact paced game, and the will to push beyond all records and keep going higher. 

15 grand slam titles, 4 different surfaces, a bunch of challenging opponents including that mountain of a man – Rafa, 237 consecutive weeks and may more as world number 1, playing top-notch tennis at the age of 28, when he should rightfully be changing nappies and giving commentary by most yardsticks. Phew, that’s my all time favorite player there even if he did not have any of those records, just for his style of play.

 Act 2: The man with many faces, who is one of India’s lest celebrated cinema jewels. 

A few months earlier there were a series of shows and events organized across the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu,  to celebrate one man’s achievements. It’s a state where heroes are made and brought down on a daily basis, and where benchmarks for excellence in arts / sports / politics are shockingly low. Its pretty easy to whip up a media frenzy and create a hype around anybody, but on this rare occasion the entire state and knowledgeable people from across the country, stood up and took notice, and gave this man every bit of attention he deserved.

Tamilnadu is where I am from, and though I have not lived there for a while, I am a proud Tamilian. Of the few living people who make me proud of being a Tamilian, Kamal Hassan is pretty much one of the biggest names.

Kamal Hassan is a sworn atheist and communist and you can see that in most of his movies; I don’t have any issues with atheism as long as atheists don’t try to impose their views (which is akin to religious conversion and ideological extremism), and while Communism is a good utopian idea, when it goes wrong, as it often does, it goes terribly wrong. In spite of these difference of views, millions of people like me would watch every film of his, and we would watch many of his films over and over again.  I grew up watching his films, went on to watch many more films of the world in different languages, and spanning genres. Without sounding patronizing to a man from my part of the world, I can say he is one of the best movie makers the world has seen. 

Here are some select, lesser acknowledged facts that support my case: An acting, movie making, writing & singing career spanning 100s of films over 50 years; 7 entries to the best foreign film at the Oscars; 4 national awards; 19 film fare awards; an entry in Time magazine’s list of “Top 100 films ever made”; an incredible variety of characters, most notably a short midget, an autistic person, a woman, and 10 different roles in the same movie; all of the above are Indian records, and span movies across  5 distinct Indian languages;  a  Padmashri award to boot. 


Act  3: The boy genius who is still a cheeky little boy at heart, but a towering giant of a man in stature.  

A few days back, Indian cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar passed a very rare milestone, in a career full of milestones. He has been playing for twenty years since the age of 16, and it’s a phenomenal achievement by any yard stick. The tributes have been pouring in from  every nook and corner of India, and cricket lovers across the world have taken notice. Sachin is NOT one of my favorite cricketers, for highly subjective perceptions (such as playing for records, not finishing too many games with a win as he should have),  and his style of play from an aesthetic point of view. None of these are hard facts and each one is free to have his perception. But a career of 20 years, 30K odd international runs, 87 centuries, countless man of the match and man of the series awards, wickets, catches and victories, are hard numbers that can never be ignored, or even matched.

He has too many well cherished records for me to list here, but there has always been a section of naysayers who doubt him. I have been in that list, and I can tell you that we all make the mistake of not acknowledging that he is judged with a very different prism from the rest.

I mean there is even a xenophobic zealot accusing him for saying that he is an Indian first and a Mumbaikar later. Give me a break guys. Let us for once, forget all the scrutiny of his words and actions, the  detailed statistical analysis of his career, and just celebrate Sachin for what he is!

In spite of the various opinions on his place among cricketing legends,  I put him right up there with the very best in the world in any field when it comes to passion for your job, career longevity, single minded focus to excel, and carrying your celebrity status in the most ideal manner possible.


The takeaways (I know this sounds like a consulting jargon, but let me use that for the lack of a better word…) 

The  most obvious common factor to these set of people was that they were destined to achieve greatness by virtue of being gifted with an abundance of abilities. Not everybody is as lucky, but if I choose to ignore the element of luck, I can think of a few unique traits that we all can try and adopt from them (results not guaranteed, but the effort is worth it!) 

  1. Choosing the field you love,  and doing it for as long as you are meeting the highest standards in it
  2. Allowing yourself to learn & grow, in an environment where you focus only on what you love doing,  and let everything else remain a lower priority
  3. A certain stubbornness / pig headedness that appears arrogant,  but is  actually based on tremendous self-awareness
  4. An oceanful of sheer sweat and blood
  5. Constantly re inventing yourself and keeping yourself contemporary, and up to any new challenge
  6. Carrying the attention, and scrutiny of your success with humility and ease.
  7. Staying young at heart
  8. Being tremendously competitive without ever being disrespectful to opponents / peers 

I must say the above is a bloody tough list to follow, but I find it useful  to have it noted somewhere nevertheless. Sometimes, we can learn so much by watching the lives of others unfold in front of us…

Hello world!

Hello world!

This is not my first blog, but it’s my first at word press. After irrationally switching blogs from different sites just to see if I am more active with it, I am here!

Sounds fairly stupid, but what is a life without any stupidity or silly acts?

My “About me” section is not going to tell you anything, and most probably a few good friends would be the only people to read his blog to start with, so I thought I would start with a short intro and a long list of topics I want to write about.

I am an Indian man, in late twenties, single, working in business consulting, and living in Europe after seeing a few snippets of other countries. The rest, you either know if you are a friend, or would know if and when you read my blogs.

So without further ado, here is a very ambitious list of topics close to my heart that I have strong views on, and where I wish to write, and get critical feedback on: 

  1. The story of my experiments with charting my own path to life:
  2. Role models:
  3. Indian politics and social issues
  4. Religion & faith
    • Religious, ideological and cultural dogmas that ail the world
    • Can you be rational, liberal and not a communist
    • Can you be a believer, spiritual, and not religious?
    • The supremely powerful entity called I
  5. Globalization: the Good, the bad, and the Ugly
  6. Us and them: Impact of globalization on India:
  7. Relationships
    • Why do we complicate, essentially simple things?
    • Inter cultural relationships: why I find the concept so exciting!
    • From an Indian perspective: why are most Indian men jeans wearing patriarchs?  Family system and feudal mindset vs. western inspired romantic and sexual awakening: where is this clash going?
  8. Travelogues from planned and spontaneous, long, and short trips, to faraway lands, or nearby villages
  9. Funny / light hearted tales from everyday life
  10. The life of an expat
  11. Movies I have loved and watched over and over again
  12. My bucket list of whims and fancies that posses me, what I managed to do, and what are still pipe dreams: Ranging from owning  a German Shepherd, to making a film,  to climbing Everest
  13. Epics and mythologies: what we can learn from them, and what should be taken with a pinch of salt
  14. The big, bad, virtual world: How a lot of us have learnt a lot using the internet vs. how stunted our social skills could become due to / in spite of social networking
  15. Links to interesting blogs / articles / videos  that I have an opinion on, or that I find just plain funny
  16. Quotes and statements that resonate with me 

That’s it for the lofty plan! 

I have started at this website by sharing links to a few select blogs I wrote earlier, and are dated pretty much mid 2007

Cheers!

Vasu

%d bloggers like this: