Monday, 8 February 2016

Mohammad Azharuddin – The Artist among the Housepainters

It’s the stuff dreams are made of. Near impossible to emulate, memories of such feats are passed through generations as folklore, etched into the books of history. What do you make of a Batsman who, in this generation when players are idolized for scoring centuries in their debut tests, scored centuries in his first three test matches? Do you call him ‘Special’? Do you call him ‘Gifted’? Who can you even compare him to, since he has no equal in this respect? The only thing you can do, the only thing that would do justice to his talent, is to sit back and enjoy the genius at display. You watch a perfectly pitched delivery outside off-stump flicked away through mid-wicket for a boundary. You applaud the subtle flamboyance and silken touch of the maestro– Mohammad Azharuddin.

It’s strange how a simple piece of wood can take so many different forms. Sir Viv Richards and Virender Sehwagused their bats as clubs. Mark Waugh and Rahul Dravid waved them like magic wands. Azhar, however, was an artist. His bat was his brush, which he used to paint strokes on the canvas of the cricket field.

In the modern era, batting is about thwacking the bowlers, helped often by bigger bats and small boundaries. Outside edges fly for sixes, and mishits run away for fours. But very rarely do we now find anything reminiscent of Azharuddin’s stroke play. It makes you wonder how a man, who used the lightest of bats, in an era preceding fielding restrictions and batsman friendly tracks, scored, what was then, the fastest ODI century. For the curious, he reached the milestone in 62 deliveries.

Growing up in India during the 90’s required us to idolize Sachin Tendulkar. Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly came close to achieving the God-like status Sachin enjoyed. Perhaps their status as the saviours of Indian cricket was accentuated, and to certain extent, perpetuated, by the explosion of cable television. But this mass explosion of public broadcasting missed the prime years of Azhar’s batting. How different would our perceptions of Indian batting geniuses have been had we been able to witness the most artistic exhibition of his batting, now only available on YouTube for those who are interested? For a cricketer who spent his early days in the shadow of Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar, and his latter under Sachin and Souravs, India’s youth has never, unfortunately, been exposed to his exploits in international cricket.

During one of the 2015 World Cup promotional events, which I was fortunate to attend, Gary Kirsten, then coach of the National Indian team, was asked who he considered the finest ever stroke maker in Indian batting. Many were thinking about the usual “Sachin as finest” answer, but he surprised everyone by naming Mohammed Azharuddin and Virender Sehwag and it doesn’t take much to understand why. During India’s tour of South Africa in 1997, when Gary Kirsten was a key member of the Proteas side, he got a first-row seat to one of the finest batting performances of the modern era. India were down in tatters against Donald & Co. at  58/5, staring at a first innings total of 529 put on the board by the opposition. What followed over the course of the next 40 overs was some of the most majestic batting against one of the best bowling attack of its times. Azhar, along with Sachin at the other end, put on a 222 run partnership to avoid a follow on. The bowling looked pedestrian among a plethora of boundaries in the session after lunch. Maybe a brief chat with ‘Madiba’ (Nelson Mandela, then President of South Africa) was enough to boost the duo. Lance Klusner, who ended up conceding 88 runs in 12 overs he bowled, can probably testify that Azhar’s inning was the finest exhibition of cover drives and wristy flicks. Two months earlier, at the Eden Gardens, a ground where Azhar’s lowest test score is 52, against the same opposition, he conjured up one of the fastest 100s in test cricket.  He followed up with another 163 in the next match in Kanpur to win the series for India. If this was not enough proof of his authority against premier attacks, rewind to England, 1990. At Lord’s, Graham Gooch, after being dropped earlier during the innings, had scored 333. Centuries by Allan Lamb and Robin Smith followed too. But anyone who was part of the game will probably tell you that the innings which stood out in this fest of run-scoring brilliance was Azhar’s 121 off 111 balls. John Woodcock, one of the foremost cricket journalists, said of Azhar, “It’s of no use asking an English Batsman to bat like Azhar, for it would be like expecting a Greyhound to win the London Derby”.

Azhar’s prolific run scoring was not just on display in tests. His record in ODI’s was equally admirable. Before Sachin surpassed him, Azhar was the highest run scorer in One Day International cricket. Nine thousand runs in an era of quality fast bowling was no mean achievement. His knock of 90 in the Hero Cup semi-final against South Africa laid the foundation of one of the most famous victories on home soil, where India were the eventual winners of the trophy. A captain made for 90’s, Azhar enjoyed success in both ODIs and Tests at Home. Teams like England, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and West Indies were at the receiving end of his captaincy.

If his conquests with the bat, and leading the country, weren’t enough, Azharuddin’s skills in the field, an area perennially neglected by Indian cricket, were a sight to behold. Azhar was the arguable India’s most dynamic fielder of his generation, laying down the foundations of the unbelievable display of athleticism we witness, and applaud, in the youth today. While there were fielders who were specialists in certain positions, Azhar’s fielding and catching abilities, transcended any one particular position. He was as sharp in the slips, as he was graceful at long on. The 250 catches in international cricket, along with the innumerable run outs he instigated, gave us a glimpse of his superior reflexes and the impact on the game.

As much as we can try to avoid it, no conversation about Azhar will be complete without addressing the elephant in the room. At the turn of the century, allegations of match fixing allegations were made against him, fuelled by Hansie Cronje’s (former South Africa captain) statement claiming that Azhar was the one who introduced him to bookies. He was handed a life-ban in 2000 by BCCI and ICC as a result of these allegations, and robbed of the opportunity to play what could have been his 100th Test Match. Since then, BCCI has revoked the ban and in 2006 even honoured him during the Champions Trophy which was being held in India. In 2012, Andhra Pradesh High Court lifted the ban too. We may never find out who fixed the match, but a lot of sentiments were hurt when the news broke out to the world. That one of the heroes of Indian batting was named in such a case didn’t go down well with the public. For if you take his name now and ask a random cricket follower what he could associate Azharuddin with, ‘Match Fixing’ is the only thing that this brilliant cricketer is associated with. Not his batting, not his fielding, not his captaincy but Match Fixing.

Yet for a lot of people around the world, who grew up while watching Azhar at his prime, he remains that special player who mixed art and pleasure with his batting. That people from that generation fondly recall his heroics in his debut test series and boast about being present at Green Park in Kanpur where he scored his 3rd of the lot, (two of my uncles keep quoting that match over and over again) talks about the impact he left on the fans. For someone who scored 22 test centuries, including in his first and his last match, and scored more than 15000 international runs, Azhar never quite enjoyed the respect as other former cricketers have from their peers and fans. It’s sad that one incident marred the legacy of 16 years of high quality international cricket.

And while we all can argue over the rights and wrongs of his career, today on his 53rd birthday, we can play those innings on loop in front of us and enjoy the lost art of batting. Some of my personal favourite ones are listed below:

1.       115 vs South Africa, Cape Town, 1997
2.       102 vs New Zealand, Basin Reserve, 1998
3.       163 vs Australia, Eden Gardens, 1998
4.       121 vs England, Lord’s, 1990
5.       109 vs South Africa, Eden Gardens, 1996

I hope you could find some time out of your busy schedule and watch these magnificent innings played by one of the finest artists of the game.

with contributions from Nitesh Kumar

First published on

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Showmanship ends with KP ‘s exit
-Agransh Anand

Ian Botham, the legendary all-rounder, retired from international cricket in 1992. With him, he took away whatever flamboyance, charisma, a flair for dominance and stardom that the English side ever possessed. They did produce a lot of ‘competent’ cricketers thereafter, but none who could match the aura of Botham. Most of them were ‘wooden’, far too deep-rooted in the snobbish culture which has gripped England and the England Cricket Board (ECB) for years now. Too afraid to think out-of-the box, to adapt with the changing times, too much bound by the code of conduct and punishing those who didn’t toe the line.

In the summer of 2005, during one of the most historic test series ever played, against their arch rivals Australia, the home team was joined by a cricketer named Kevin Pietersen (KP). A tall, lanky cricketer, with golden streaks of hair, charging down at Shane Warne at the Mecca of Cricket, Lord’s, didn’t really cut the figure amongst the rest of the English side. And how could he?

He belonged to the ‘Rainbow Nation’ – South Africa. As with that country, KP’s personality was as colourful as it could be. He defied the challenges thrown at him by the Australian bowlers, which included the likes of McGrath, Warne, Lee, Gillispie – and became the highest run getter of the series. The overall result of his presence, assisted by some stunning performances by Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff, another character in the English dressing room, was, that England reclaimed the Ashes after a gap of 18 years.

Suddenly the world was taking note of the aura which had returned to the English side after many-many years. Their own countrymen, where they still wonder why cricket is their national game in a soccer frenzy nation, who had lost interest in the growth or decline of their team, were out on the streets celebrating the home-coming of the Ashes Urn to their land. The English cricket was not to remain the same afterwards.

With Kevin Pietersen, not only the side became a threat in the longest format of the game, the opposition was wary of them even in the shorter formats like ODIs and T20s. It’s of no surprise that the only ICC silverware they have in their cabinet, World T20 2010, was won when KP powers were at their peak, and was awarded the Player of the Tournament. The team’s success rose and fell with KP’s form.

A positive Pietersen in the dressing room meant that the team would augur well in the field. When one comes to think of great knocks played in test cricket over the last decade by batsmen world over, nobody could ignore his innings of 186 against India at a square turner in Wankhede, Mumbai, 2012. England won the series for first time in India after 28 years. Nor his duel with Dale Steyn at Headingley, Leeds in the same year could be passed so easily from the memory, where Steyn was pulled and driven around with aplomb and a match-winning effort against Sri Lanka of 151 at Colombo.

These are just a few of many fine innings which he played for England. But more than the runs on the scoreboard, it was the swagger which KP carried with himself. It was the fear of match-is-not-over till he is around which gave the viewers a high. No other batsman in the England’s history of last decade had been such a threat or a joy to watch as this man has been. The likes of Cook and Strauss and Trott etc. have all been silent accumulators of runs. They had numbers to back their performances. But so did Pietersen. Rather his were achieved in style and class which none of his peers could imagine of.

There are always players around in every type of sport, who should be given a free-hand when it comes to managing them and including them in your scheme of things. They are not just meant to be bound by your principles and rules. For when they take the field, and when they get going, they can put the best of the students of the game to shame and walk back to pavilion as if it was as normal a day for them in the office as it could have been, while the world is still gasping at their brilliance. They have their own battles going during a game and take pride in winning them.

The art of counter-attacking takes a new form when they transcend into the zone of their own and are unmoved by the presence of mortals around them. Once they are off the field, normalcy returns to the ground. In cricket it happens quite often. And its players like KP, Sehwag, Shoaib, Viv Richards, Lara at times, Gibbs, Flintoff, Donald, Warne, Klusner, Kohli now, who choose the biggest of the occasions to rise above the rest and stamp their mark on the game.

You won’t find Sachin or a Kallis or Dravid or even Ponting , as legendary players as they are, amongst the “showmen” of the game. They toed the line, rarely stepped out of their comfort zone but played within the dominion of the game. As exciting as they were to watch, given a choice between the traditional and the show-stoppers of the game, any of us would go along with the former set of players mentioned here.

ECB has once again made a blunder of calling it the end of road for a player like Pietersen. They don’t have many cricketers who can boast a hefty record of 8000 test runs to go along with 23 hundreds. To make things worse, they were shown the mirror by an emerging West Indian side a few days back and even though the scoreline showed series drawn 1-1, it was England who lost the psychological battle.

Andrew Strauss, Director, ECB, who has some ‘trust issues’ with KP, is hell bent on making things worse for the team, ahead of a test series against a buoyed New Zealand side. Maybe when they face Trent Boult’s swingers, they might remember the tall, lanky fellow once again who could take on the opposition head-on.

Just read somewhere that KP is leaving for India to join his mates in Sunrisers Hyderabad in IPL. Trust me, many of us who choose to keep away from watching SRH matches, might just get one reason to switch on the TV, for the pleasure of watching him bat. England’s loss would be IPL’s gain. KP might play in a number of leagues around the world and keep surprising us with his heroics, but it certainly is the “end of Aura, Charisma & Magnetism”, which he brought along with him to the otherwise boring test side.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Happy Birthday Sachin!!

It’s his birthday today and he has not let his fans down”, said Ravi Shastri. On 24th April 1998. Sharjah. But when did he ever let his fans down. Not many cricketers have the privilege of people remembering their birthdays. Sachin’s birthday too would have been like any other day, had India not been playing against Australia that night. He had just turned 25. An age when a whole lot of people are not able to figure out where they are heading in their lives, Tendulkar was carrying the burden of the nation on his shoulders.

The Desert-Storm had come and gone two nights before, 143, against the same opposition. There were murmurs in the Australian dressing room that Tendulkar had played the best innings of the tournament and a repeat of such a knock is of a low possibility. Not knowing that Sachin had other plans for them. One of the most iconic images of the birthday match was Shane Warne swatting away mosquitoes, just after and just like his first delivery to Sachin was swatted away over long-on. Tom Moody, Michael Kasprowicz, Mark Waugh, Damien Fleming – All were treated with same disdain by the Little Man. There are many ‘Most’s’ and ‘Highest’s’ Tendulkar has achieved in his 24 year long career, but if you ask Sachin fans to recall their favourite Sachin moment and the numbers 143 and 134 will be the first ones to pop up in their heads. 98 against Pakistan might give a close run to these knocks but the sheer joy of Sachin single handedly taking his team to victory in Sharjah cannot be matched by other memorable knocks he played in his career. The fact that the final was played on his birthday and the result was in India’s favour, made this date immortal amongst the Indian fans.

It’s been 17 years since, and without fail, every year, it brings back the fondest of memories. Those days when Cable-Tv was getting big in India, when it all depended on the cable operators whether to telecast ESPN or Star Sports, when scoring a century in ODIs used to be a big deal, when 270 was a score which meant the game was half yours. Sachin’s career can be broken down into two eras – Pre and Post 1998. Never was the impact same after that. And this is not to say that there was less consistency but the sheer domination of 1998 could never be seen again. I remember reading the special edition of Outlook in December that year – it was dedicated to Sachin and it read ‘In an year of Gloom, One Man brought us cheer’. No other line could have suited more. When elections were happening far too frequently, PMs were changing more often than the wicket-keepers in the Indian team, the only source of joy was watching Sachin bat. It remained the same even 15 years later, when he finally decided to leave the game in the hands of the next generation.

For people who grew up watching Sachin, 90s was a memorable decade. And it’s just amazing that how every fan of his has almost same stories to share with each other. Switching the TV off after Sachin’s dismissal, our mothers telling us to get back to work once his batting was over, numerous superstitions one used to follow when Tendulkar was batting, our dads saying – why are you wasting time watching cricket when you can’t become like him, picking up fights with anybody who said anything against Sachin, getting depressed over a missed century and while the books were open in front of you, the mind was fixated over what might have been the result of the game had Sachin not played that shot. 

No other cricketer, past or present has that kind of impact over the viewers. The likes of Kohli, Dhawan, Raina, Rohit, however much talented as they are, can never ever enjoy the following which Sachin had. Their centuries are applauded and dismissals are frowned upon. But that’s where it ends. Nobody ever brought together a nation as much as Sachin. For when team victories were rare, we found ourselves celebrating individual brilliance of this man. Like McGrath once said “nowhere else do they want their team’s wicket to fall only to see a particular batsman play”, such was the impact. Dravid said, “my wicket was always met with the loudest cheer because the next batsman used to be Sachin”. 

If ever Pied Piper was to be given a form of a human being, nobody other than Tendulkar could be better to essay the role. In years from now, a whole lot of other superstars will come to stamp their authority on the game but never would they be able to match the aura of Sachin. His numbers might get conquered, his records might get broken, but there has always been more to Sachin than just mere numbers. A lot of us say that 90s was the best decade ever – now we know why it was the best – because we had the privilege of watching the most glorious years of one man. Thank you Sachin, for all the wonderful memories that you gave us to last our lifetime. Happy Birthday Sachin!!

Thursday, 16 April 2015

When Oldies Took The Centrestage…

Width offered outside the off-stump. The bat comes down like a Magic Wand, slashes the ball over Point region. No foot movement. Simply Stand and Deliver. Third Man doesn't get a chance to move. The ball wins the race, as it always has since 2001. That's Virender Sehwag for you.  

A left-arm Off Spinner flights the ball . The bat comes down in an arc. A full-swing. It’s a perfect connection with the white leather. By the time heads turn, the ball is soaring high into the night skies for a maximum. Umpire raises his hands, crowd loves it, opposition admires it. That's Yuvraj Singh for you. 

Last night’s match between Delhi and Punjab in the on-going IPL was one which gave us the sheer pleasure of watching two greats of the game coming together and construct match winning innings for their respective teams. Alas, there could be only one winner. But not often these days you find matches when Viru and Yuvi come together to give the crowd their money’s worth. What more could a person wish for than seeing two of the finest stroke makers of the game, find their lost touch and bat as if all’s too easy for them. It was a night when the ‘oldies’ shone the brightest. The strokes were back, the runs were flowing, they surely took the Centre Stage.

I would like to stick my neck out and say that the Match Fixing scandal was in a way a blessing in disguise for Indian cricket. It allowed new faces to emerge and take charge of a sinking ship, and redefine the way cricket was to be played in India for years to come. Of course, a big plus also was having a leader like Sourav Ganguly, who steered the team perfectly to the safe shores.  Ably assisted by fellow seniors like Sachin, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble and Srinath, the Indian cricket team post-2000 was a cynosure for every cricket lover’s eyes in the country.  

Two youngsters, out of the many who made their debut in Ganguly regime, were to become the finest of their generation. One of them even went a step ahead and stamped his authority in Test Cricket as one of the All Time Great openers of the game. Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh.

A brief look at the history of Indian cricket over the last 15 years, would suggest that the Indian team’s success was often dependent on how these two cricketers played. If the team had a good day at the office, no deep research was needed to find out who turned the tables during the course of the game. It was often either of the two who had left his footprint on the game. India, in them, had found players who did not need centuries to win matches – suddenly their quick fire 30 or a 40 had found their way to admirable levels amongst the spectators and were enough to dent the opposition. No more the team depended only on Sachins, Souravs, Rahuls etc., who had the art of accumulating the big scores but lacked that Knock-Out Punch to run away with the game. Any statistician can figure out, that in the last decade or so, whenever the Indian team has gone through a lean patch, it has coincided with Viru or Yuvi’s loss of form. Such was their overall impact. With them, there was a belief that India can chase down any total or can put up a daunting one.

It’s hard to see, as a cricket lover, these two geniuses spending the latter half of their careers trying to figure out ways to get back into the Indian team. One which could not have been thought of for the better part of last two decades. Having been out of favour for far too long, it’s a distant dream, for them as a player and for me as a fan, to see them donning the Indian colours once again. Maybe a lot of us watch IPL because of the charm these payers bring with them to the field, evoking the cherished memories of yesteryears, telling the world that they still have it in them to take on the opposition. That their names are still the first ones for whom the teams plan out strategies. That the impact they have cannot be measured by the runs scored alone, it’s on the psyche of the bowler, who can get dispatched for a six or a four even when he has bowled a fine delivery. It’s the suspense attached to them, what’s next, that makes the game worth watching. There are plenty of amazing new talents in the frame these days, yet the name Viru or Yuvi is enough to attract crowds from far and near to fill up the stadiums. That there might be a Maxwell or a Miller waiting to unleash their powers, but it’s Sehwag’s dismissal which is enough to get people back to work. The cuts, the pulls, the drives, the glance – where artistry meets brutal force, that’s what these two have always bought to the table. That’s what they did last night. They say the memory of an Indian fan is a short one. If that’s the case, then those of all the great innings played in the last 15 years would have been refreshed in an instance. Somewhere you think, is this their last waltz or is there a hope to see them win games for India once again. You think that inspite of India’s brilliant campaign in the World cup, could their presence have made a difference? That did India went a bit too far in ignoring them for the Cup? It’s all over now so no use to mull over the past. If’s and But’s have made and destroyed a whole lot of careers. 

They both still have a more than a month of cricket to play and carve out such specials for their teams and fans. Who knows that by the end of it all they might find favour with the selectors. All I can do is sit back and enjoy each run scored by them. How I wish the Oldies take a Centre Stage each time they go out to bat.  

Monday, 6 April 2015

Indian Premier League - To See or Not to See…That’s the question.

It’s been more than a week now that the World Cup got over, with a finale that promised us the moon but left us high and dry. I won’t say that it was the most exciting end to the grand tournament but certainly was played by the two teams which deserved to be there for that momentous occasion. In the end, Australians showed that while the rest of the cricketing world struggles to find their foot in ICC events, for them it’s far too easy to produce champions generation after generation. If McGrath will win for them in 2007, then Starc will do the honours in 2015.

Having said that, we are once again, in that period of the year when the biggest cricket carnival arrives to keep the public engaged for a good measure of two months. In due course, the debates between the purists of the game and the modern administrators will spark up again, whether IPL is good or bad for the game. Some will crib about flat tracks, shorter boundaries, commercialization of the game, while some will rave about De Villiers dispatching Steyn to all corners of the ground. Crowds will be there, stadiums would be full. Atmosphere - electrifying, pressure - inevitable. Every six shall be cheered and loyalties will stand divided.

To take a cue from Lana Del Ray, I would like to christen IPL as “Summertime Madness”. From the moment Brendon McCullum hit that unforgettable knock of 158 in the opening game of first ever season of IPL, the tone was set for the change that cricket would go through over the next decade or so. It was a statement to the predecessors that no more the arena belonged to the marathon runners - it shall be owned by the sprinters. Time and again we saw the fury of the batsmen getting unleashed on the bowlers and deliveries being clobbered around way into the stands. It has become too regular to see that how easily mistimed shots find their way to the boundaries and how even an asking rate of 10 in the last few overs is not a cause of concern for the teams anymore. Or how the crowds feel it’s a waste of their time and money if they don’t go back home without seeing a Maxwell or a Gayle or a Sehwag special. When one sees that how inventive batsmen have become with their shot selection, it feels that everything was already out there in the head, it just needed an occasion, a reason, to pop out. 8 years down the line, we saw much more than glimpses of the IPL effect in the recently concluded World Cup. Cricket for sure has come a long way.

There are always two sides of a coin. Few would disagree that IPL is like a welcome opportunity for all those cricketers who have languished at the bottom of the pyramid for far too long. For those who have been ignored by the selectors consistently, for those who were paying a heavy price for pursuing their passion and giving their blood and sweat for a better cause. In a country of a billion, where more than half of them dream to represent India, only 15 fortunate souls at a time get the privilege to deliver the goods. Far too many dreams run out of steam in an effort to make their name on a grand stage. Some succumb after University level, some after Zonals and some find the highest honour at the Ranji level.

This tournament is like a lease of hope for many aspiring cricketers, young and old. Look no further than Pravin Tambe’s story – A cricketer making his mark at the age of 43, when most would be advising their children to take the right career decision. Or how many times would an 18 – 19 year old budding cricketer get an opportunity to get the brain share of the legends of the game – Cricketers whom you have idolized, sharing dressing rooms with them, getting guided by them and at times even outscoring them, just in a hope to get their efforts acknowledged and become a household name, even if it’s only for few weeks. About the monetary aspect – less said the better. Suddenly parents have started encouraging their children to get into cricket, for if not the Indian team, one can always aspire for an IPL contract and the rest shall take care itself. When cities like Ranchi, Pune, Raipur start hosting matches at state-of-the-art stadiums, one can feel proud about the penetration of the game and how the money generated has been spent well for the betterment of the game and on the facilities being provided to cricketers. Many complain that IPL is all about glitz, glamour and entertainment. But there’s more to it – the fact that the Indian team has a strong bench and promising young cricketers on the horizon, can be attributed to the exposure and opportunity that IPL has provided over the last 7 seasons.

The flip side, however, is the number of controversies that have marred down the ‘trust quotient’ of IPL. Spot fixing, match fixing, scandals involving the owners of the teams have put in a lot of doubts in the mind of an average cricket fan in India. One doesn’t know whether he is watching a pre-decided game or not. Whether there’s a hint to the bookies every time a player tucks in a towel in his pyjamas. Or is there a catch involved when small time actors find their way to the VVIP Stands to sit right next to the ‘Big Daddies’ of the game.  Worse, when cricketers are made scapegoat for the rest to come out unscathed from the corruption issues battling the league. It just kills a viewer from inside when he contemplates if his idols could be involved too. That what if he finds out that the tickets he bought was for a game whose outcome was decided way before the first ball was bowled. That all the hours in the scorching heat, rooting for his home team, had gone to an utter waste. Maybe a lot of them have started keeping themselves at a distance from the league. They might have realized it’s futile to involve emotions with cricket now. But for loads of them, for whom cricket is a source of happiness, it’s a bitter pill to swallow if forced to disconnect from the game. One would also wonder whether IPL scores over playing for the country. That a bowler with a twisted action (read Sunil Narine), who has been instrumental in his team’s twin IPL titles, takes a break from the World Cup to work on his action and be ready for the league. The ugly side, when a team threatens to quit from IPL if this KEY player is not allowed.

In two days from now Mumbai Indians shall be playing against Kolkata Knight Riders. Hoards of people will be queuing up to enter the Eden Gardens. Business shall resume as usual. And I, as a fan, would still be wondering, whether to watch it or ignore it… that’s the question.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

An Open Letter to Times Now

Dear Arnab,

You and your channel people must have been the only one rejoicing yesterday when Dhoni & Co. were shown the exit door at SCG last night. There anyway was not much happening on the political front these days. At least not big enough for your channel to garner the TRPs, especially with the World cup going on. So what better than wait for an opportunity for the Indian team to faulter once and just pounce on that opportunity to feed the viewers with your channel's hallmark - Sensationalism

How I wish that sometimes you were on the other side of the camera. I would be surprised if you would last the entire length of NEWSHOUR (read Noise Hour). To make things worse, other journalists of your channel (Siddharth Vaidyanathan) have started following your suit. I don't blame them. Since they must have seen that the only way to put across your point in front of the audience and become famous, to hell with for right or for wrong reasons, is when you shout at the top of your voice, interrupt your panelists, enforce your opinion on others, and make a mountain of a mole. 

It was no surprise that the most trending topic on twitter last night #shameontimesnow. Your personal "Crusade" did no favor to your viewers or your channel. Because all of you were busy ridiculing the efforts of the Indian Team, to it no one was giving even a minimal chance to reach that advance stage of the tournament. I wonder if your channel covered their heroics in a similar manner when they defeated Pakistan or South Africa or West Indies etc. Or whether there was a panel to celebrate Virat Kohli's feats in Australia when he scored more than 700 runs in Test Series. Where you were when the same team won the Champions Trophy in England only two years back? When they qualified for the World T20 last year? Oh wait!! That wouldn't have been enough for you guys, because we didn't win the finals - merely reached the finals. Undefeated though. 

As a passionate follower of the game, the defeat pinched me too. There were far too many frustrating moments during India's batting. At times I felt that we were back in 90's - Kohli gone and the rest follow. But your coverage through the post match analysis was not only demeaning but annoying at the same time. I wondered if these cricketers committed a crime or were part of some SCAM and got away with it. In sports, and I wonder if you have ever played one, there is only one winner. It is very easy for you and your team to sit in their AC rooms and blabber away to glory by criticizing the men who were playing for their country with full honor and pride. Talking about a team which has been on road for the last 4 months, away from their families, tirelessly pouring their hearts out to RETAIN the World Cup. This was a team which had only 4 players who had previously played in a World Cup. This was the same team which had been written off, fought the ghosts of a horrible tour, and got their act straight when it mattered the most. Worse, by the time they heal their injuries and reconcile themselves, they will be playing in IPL again. Oh.. there was a player there, one of the greatest modern day cricketer cum captain cum wicketkeeper, who is yet to see the face of his new born daughter. Ridiculing a man who has changed the face of the Indian cricket, has 2 World Cups, Asia Cup, CB Series, Champions Trophy and has been the greatest finisher of our times. This could have been done only and only by your channel. Actually we are a nation, which craves for Heroes and when you find them, ridicule them, forget about their achievements and step over their shoulders to find your moment of glory. 

My only appeal to your channel is, spare us from unwanted crusades of yours. And especially when it comes to sports, do not even attempt to do what you did last evening. Stop living in a world of your whims & fancies, where everything works according to your way or rather should work as per your way. Go and pick up a bat. See if you can differentiate between a fuller delivery or a bouncer, an in swinger or a yorker. Check for yourself who's in a more comfortable position. Kohli facing Mitchel Johnson or you giving a thumbs down for his effort. 

Nation does not want to know, unless of course your other name is 'Nation Goswami'. Take a break. Breathe. Remember your donkey days. When you would have prepared a 2 page report on a subject only to see it going into the bin because your Editor didn't like it. These men had right intentions too. They just slipped at the wrong time. Right now, WE as the lovers of the game stand in solidarity with our Team. Would request you to join the gang. 

Yours Truly

A Passionate Fan

Sunday, 15 March 2015

How will we remember this World Cup?

We are through with the league stage. Entering now in the business end of the tournament. Fate of 8 teams has been decided, and by the next fortnight, rest shall follow suit. One will emerge as a champion. Rest will ponder on intangibles of the game. Some spells shall change the course of the match, some knocks will define careers, a few will call curtains on their glorious journey over the last two decades.

Every four years, the cricket world cup becomes a spectacle for millions, raises hopes for a nation, brings people together and leaves with memories for ages. Memories, I believe, whether pleasant or unpleasant ones have always inspired individuals and teams. And no wonder, each edition of a World Cup comes back with inspired cricketers, some who try to emulate success and some who try to turn new corners in the books of history. Each of the previous editions lived up to the expectation. Countless heroics have come together to define the success of the tournament. This suddenly becomes a stage where every cricketer wants to essay the role of a hero. Some succeed, some flounder.

The loyalists of the game have always taken pride to figure out those defining moments which changed the fortunes of the match, those which will be recalled every time one shall speak of a World Cup. While a few would agree on a century being the highlight, or an inspired bowling performance, a few will drift towards less appreciated but much needed skill of fielding.

So how will we remember this World Cup in years to come? Its predecessors have given us some great performances to fondly recall. From Clive Lloyd century in ’75 to Adam Gilchrist’s in’07. From Kapil Dev playing what many have labelled as the one of the Greatest ever knock played in One Dayers to when Lance Klusner almost took the South African side across the line, into the world of finals, a territory that is yet unknown to them.  No better effort of team work has ever been witnessed in this game, than the one demonstrated by Pakistan in’92 and Sri Lanka in ’96. Its hard to believe how one fine leader, Arjuna Ranatunga, got together his team mates and scripted a success story for his nation just as it was battling through a Civil War and brought his country on the world map for all the good reasons. 2003, Sachin, 98, Pakistan. Need we say more about it? Of course us Indians witnessed a few heart breaking moments too when Ricky Ponting decided to make the biggest stage in cricket his own and showed why his name shall be etched along with the legends of the game forever. And how after a 28-year long wait, MSD gave us a moment which an entire generation had wanted a repeat of since that glorious summer of 1983.

As I write this, I am well aware that the most defining moments of this world cup are yet to arrive. That like every time since last 40 years, few extraordinary men will step up the gear and deliver the goods for their team. As a proud Indian, victories against Pakistan and South Africa will be cherished.

But for me I would remember this as one where the willow took over the leather. And HOW. I would look back and say, that yes, I remember this RUN FEST, which took place in Australia-NZ in 2015, where the spectators stood more chance to catch this Identified Flying Object more than those unfortunate ones who could only see it sail over their heads.

Short boundaries, batsmen friendly rules, heavier bats, 300 becoming the new par score and inconsequential double hundreds. These features will grab the top spots if I recall the last one month of cricket. It’s strange that amongst all the matches that were played, I had the most exciting time watching these low scoring thrillers of Aus-Nz and Scotland-Afghanistan, which went down to wire. And how an inspired Pakistani team maintained their legacy of bowling their opposition, one of tournament’s favorites, South Africa, out, and are suddenly looking a force to reckon with in the later stages of the tournament.

There is no rocket-science behind figuring it out that the best of action will come out in a game of cricket when there’s a balance between the bat and the ball. That the administrators of the game shall look into the matter with utmost seriousness is the only hope that’s left for us.

Rise of the Minnows – One definite plus that’s come out of this World Cup. A step towards building a better future for the game. Where even the small cricketing nations got the opportunity to display their talent against the Big Boys of the game.
Often left to fend for themselves, teams like Ireland, Scotland, Afghanistan, UAE, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh  have been ridiculed in the past for making the tournament long and boring, time and again producing matches for only statistical purposes, not good enough to attract the crowd or the sponsors or staging an upset once in a while when they defeat the favorites.

But over the last one month, seeing some of the finer performances coming out by their players has been an absolute joy. From Porterfield to Mahmudullah, Coetzer to Taylor, Davey to Williams, Shapoor to Anwar, each shone on the biggest stage, carved a spot for himself amongst the Sangakkaras and Dhawans and Kohlis and DeVilliers of the game.

It would be a big jolt to a whole lot of teams who look forward to participate in World Cup if it gets decided that to shorten the duration of the tournament, only a few teams can participate. Imagine a war-stricken country like Afghanistan, which needs heroes for generations to come, will be deprived of an opportunity to celebrate victories, to display talent. The Irish captain has already made it evident – “No point playing if World Cup gets reduced”. There is a pronounced need to value the blood and sweat these players put into the game. The financial shortcomings that they ignore and the dreams they want to see for the betterment of Cricket. Sure there can be better ways to handle a crisis. That’s what the people sitting in those comfortable offices of ICC Headquarters are paid for.

Action packed and high octane games await us. And how I hope that the next 15 days of this World Cup produce some high quality games, some nail biting finishes and prove me wrong in judging the book by its cover. Wishing each of the 8 teams all the luck for the road ahead. May the Best Team Win!!