Monday, February 28, 2011

I was there

February 27th, 2011. Bangalore. India and England played a cricket match at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. I am pretty sure that highlights of this match would be replayed over and over again on sports channels for the next 50 years.
After having expressed my outrage that my beloved Kolkata had been denied the chance to host this match, fate had taken a turn for the nicer when Bangalore - my current location - got the match. And thanks to a friend of mine, I did get a ticket for the big game, although I did have to pay a small fortune for that.
It was a nice and cool day and I reached the stadium rather early. Before that, there was the small matter of a breakfast at MTR, but curiously enough they had run out of Vadas and Sambhar. But then with Idly and Dosa in my tummy, and hope in my heart, there we were - almost right above the sight screens in Block N.
Reaching early gave me the chance to have a closer look at the two teams - who went about their practice in rather different fashions. The English - a lot more brisk and business like, the Indians - relaxed and laidback. The crowd was already beginning to find its voice though and there were particularly loud cheers for KP - the RCB hero - a massive hit here. Well, of course the cheers for Sachin and Dhoni were louder when they came out to practice.
Somewhere in between, we had Sourav Ganguly and Nasser Hussain, Sunil Gavaskar and Mike Atherton come out and have a look at the pitch. The experts were in the middle and there was a lot of "expert advice" coming from the crowd as well.
And so the toss and there was an upset straightaway. MS Dhoni won a TOSS!! and as the crowd had been wanting all along - India were going to bat. A quick word about the crowd - they were in all shapes and sizes. The massive hunk with the 16 inch biceps to the petite, young teenage girl, the young kid in his shorts to the Dadaji in his pyajamas. And in between - a fair number of Englishmen - all of them extremely sporting and cheerful - with some of them even getting the tricolour painted on their cheeks as a symbol of goodwill.   I suddently realised that this was India's first World Cup game at home since THAT evening at the Eden Gardens in 1996. Dravid and Ganguly never got a chance to play a home World Cup and I felt sad about that. Indian cricket has changed totally since that game. Well, almost. Because there was Sachin Tendulkar - still a constant - like the sun - he was the brightest star then, he is the brightest star now.
Time for the national anthems then. The English one first and God Save the Queen got a generous round of applause. And now time for Jana Gana Mana. Now I have sung the anthem in school assemblies and Independence Day/Republic Day functions. Perhaps in crowds of one or two thousands at the maximum. But the feeling of singing together with 30-35 thousand people, with our heroes and icons out in the centre is quite undescribale. Goosebumps and all that - you have to be there to feel it - hope you get a chance for that as well.

And then the match began. Sehwag on strike and as his game - he was "living on the edge" from the first ball itself. And then suddenly the roar of the crowd went up dramatically. It was like someone put the volume of a TV up to the max, the decibel levels went up quite incredibly. Yes, God was on strike and what an innings he went on to play.
And the innings went pretty much as per the plan. A Sehwag cameo, a Gambhir 50 in a controlled fashion, a Yuvraj 50 to signal his slow return back to form and a few staggering hits by Dhoni.
But most importantly, a Sachin 100. To see him play the way he did - controlled, determined, precise, immaculate -I pinched myself a few times to believe it was all truly happening in front of me. He did have a slowish start though - slow enough for a couple of aunties behind me to crib - Oy Sachin - score runs yaar - useless fellow - wasting balls. But he made it up. He made it all up - by bringing up his 47th hundred, hitting no less than 5 sixes in his knock. The sensation of seeing him get the 100 was quite something. Divine is the word.
And so while it finished in a bit of a rush of wickets - we had got 339 on the board (or so we believed - the 1 run deducted proved to be oh, so crucial) - and time to have some food. The rather expensive ticket of mine entitled me to some free food. There was a piece of Jalebi thrown in. Little did I know that the shape of the match would be resemble that.
So back with some food in the stomach and the Englishmen were right on top of our bowling from the start. KP really had Zak's number and it took a fortuitous catch from Munaf to get his wicket. Trott came and went, before Bell and Strauss put up what eventually became a staggering partnership. Over after over - the runs kept coming and the slowly but surely they kept coming at the target. The confidence in the supporters started to waiver, then shake, impatience came, followed by desperation. The Bell UDRS drama only increased the frustration as a few cheater chants were thrown. With Ganguly and Hussain, both in the crowd, it looked like Lord's and the Natwest win might just be avenged here by the English.
A few words about Strauss' knock. He played as relaxed, as controlled, as composed a knock as he almost comes across as a person. He stays so still at the crease, so balanced - his movements so economical and so precise. 150 of the very best ODI runs you would see - scored in a clinical fashion, but this was not really what the Doctor (Mallya) had ordered for the Indians.
There was talk of rain as well before the match, but the weather remained nice and cool throughout, just like Andrew Strauss in the middle and so Messers Duckworth and Lewis (who had England in the lead almost througout) were kept at bay.
The practical (the ones who have to reach home early - as the next day is a Monday) and the smart ones (India will surely lose) left early - somewhere in between the Strauss-Bell marathon. The passionate and the stupid however remained. And while most of us where grumbling and muttering about our abject bowling, unathletic fielding and the flat pitch, there was always someone in the crowd - a totally hopeless moron who would start a chant every now and again - trying to galvanise the crowd - one more time - one last time.
The English took the Power Play in the 43rd over. Something incredible happened then. It's hard to describe what happened but suddenly the desperation of the crowd created what can only be be described as a "magical atmosphere". An atmosphere charged with intense frenzy, emotion, passion. It was crowd pressure on the English of the highest order. And then in two balls two wickets fell - Ian Bell clearly affected by a little injury picked up in the last order, succumbed to the crowd - hitting a skyer, followed by a yorker from Zaheer to get Strauss out LBW. It was almost like the Zaheer of 2000, as this one zoomed in middle stump. The crowd erupted with joy - now there was hope when 5 minutes ago there was none. And Collingwood, Prior and Yardy - perished in the delirium as the match swung dramatically in India's favour.
The Power Play had started with England needing 58 to win of 42 balls with 8 wickets in hand. It ended with 29 to win off 12. We had wrested back the game from the English who it appeared had picked our pockets and run away with the game.
But there was a sting in the tail of this one. The next over from the young Piyush Chawla produced 15 runs with 2 massive sixes. The roller coaster had suddenly taken yet another turn - this time for the worse and suddenly we were nervous, shaking, panicking again. They needed 14 of the last over and the stunning six of the 3rd ball by Ahmed Shahzad, reduced the equation to 5 of 3. The last 3 balls were better from Munaf and the match ended in a Tie.
Funnily , I had told an NRI supporter who was curiously enough cheering with both the Indians and the English that I think it will be a tie - whatsay when the powerplay started. I was joking of course, but I have got into this habit of predicting absurd results correctly from some time.
We left the stadium - half happy, half sad, half relieved, half gutted. We had got out of jail, we had blown an easy win. The term mixed feelings came to mind. But for those 5 magical overs - the scenes in the stands were incredible. We were high fiving with absolute strangers in the crowd - people whom you have never met before, people perhaps you will never see again - united by the love of the game and support for the team. The now twitter joke of "In the end, cricket was the winner" also came to mind. Walking out - there was a few nods of respect to the English fans as well - in all fairness their team did not deserve to lose. But neither did this crowd. A tie was a fair result.
This Indian team has its limitations. We all know it. And so for us to go deep in this tournament, we will need our crowds to do their bit. So if you are in Chennai, Nagpur, Delhi, or indeed if and when we play the Quarter Finals, Semi Final or indeed the Finals in Ahmedabad, Mohali and Mumbai - go out and shout. You can make the difference.
Truly unbelievable stuff. And yes, I was there. 
(Pics courtesy: Aditya and Cricinfo)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Viru Almighty

Viru: Who are you?
God: I'm the one. The Divine Being. Alpha and Omega.
Viru: Oh, I see where this is going.
God: Viru... I'm God.
........
Viru: Where are you going?
God: I'm taking a vacation.
Viru: God doesn't take vacations. Does he?... Do... ye?
God: Did you ever hear of tennis elbows? Besides, I'm covered. You can clear everything up in five overs, if you want to. Right?
God: [walking across the pitch with Viru] You have all my powers. Use them any way you like. There are just two things you can't do: You can't tell anyone you're God. Believe me, you don't want *that* kind of attention.
Viru: And the other?
God: You can't mess with YOUR free mind.
Viru: Can I ask why?
God: Yes you can! That's the beauty of it!
.........
Viru: [standing in the middle of the pitch] I am Viru Almighty! My will be done!

God: Aaila !! He's got the Power !!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thank You Arsenal

The wonderful Gilberto Silver of Gunnerblog created this wonderful blog post based on Rudyard Kipling's IF . It has become a sort of rallying call for Arsenal fans (at least for me) before a big game on twitter and I actually get very moved every time I see the page. And may Gooners would have visited the page yesterday as well.
Last night's win against Barcelona is one of the best feelings I have had being an Arsenal fan. It's over a decade now - I don't remember exactly when I became one. But it's been a long time for sure. I started watching the match and somewhere in between went to sleep - exhausted by my day's work and seeing Barcelona's tiki-taka. They were playing bloody brilliant. But there was something about the way we were playing which just made the heart swell with pride. And the pride of Arsenal was wonderfully on display in the form of young Jack Wilshere battling against the likes of Xavi and Iniesta.
And then we scored two goals, got a bit of luck and it finished 2-1. The term EPIC WIN is appropriate to describe this. I think.
For posterity's sake - here is  today's Arseblog. And I am taking this picture from there (so credits to @arseblog and @tottz82). Every picture tells a story. This is THE story.
So, Thank You very much Arsene and my beloved Arsenal. Godspeed.
[PS: Some beautiful pictures from the most beautiful of nights.]

Saturday, February 12, 2011

There is only one Dada

It is difficult for me to write about Sourav Ganguly. It gets very personal, very emotional and hard to string together coherent sentences.

Sourav Ganguly divides opinion among cricket fans like no one else. Some love him and some hate him. But very few could ever ignore him. Till the IPL 4 auctions happened and no one made a bid for him.

I had tried to write something about him since then, made a few attempts and then gave up. And then I thought why not put down some interesting things written about him by the writers that I admire and so cricinfo archives provided me the place to go and get the "good stuff". This blog is more about that "good stuff" and less from me.

When I think about it, his early years were like one of those beautiful elegant cover drives. There was a certain sense of freshness that he brought to the crease - an aesthetically pleasing left hander - the first that I had seen in the Indian team. Those days he was, as Rahul Dravid famously quipped, the "GOD of the off side".

Then came the captaincy phase - years I would described best by his dance down the crease lifting spinners out of the ground. Quite simply a triumph.

And then his latter years - the trials and tribulations and the comeback - best portrayed by the shot which he played quite often in ODIs - charging and making room on the leg side against the fast bowlers - flaying them over the 30 yard circle for a four. A shot of defiance.

How he batted on ODIs  is described in a beautiful but simple way by the genius Sidvee here in this random match report I picked where he made a modest 59. There is a touch of nostalgia about it as well, considering that this is written in 2007:
Ganguly comes with his tailor-made methods, backing away, taking his right leg out of the way and connecting with awesome timing. It is these violent, manic innings that suit him best. Streaky one moment, controlled the next. That is the Ganguly we knew, the one who was quite an unstoppable batsman in his prime.

Dileep Premachandran, one of the best out there wrote this recently No one divides like Ganguly
Apart from Sachin Tendulkar, no other Indian cricketer has inspired such devotion. Even after he quit the Test arena, with an innings of 85 and a first-ball duck, "Dada" would be lavished with admiration wherever he went. I've been at IPL games in Mohali and Bangalore where other opposition players would be booed and jeered. But for the man perceived as Indian cricket's lionheart, there was only adoration.

The well respected Australian Peter Roebuck wrote this article The many sides of Sourav on Ganguly's retirement:
It has been an astonishing career. Some men prefer to follow a predictable path and their stories tell of a slow rise to the top and an equally measured decline. To that end instinct is subdued, contention avoided and risk reduced. That has been altogether too dull for Ganguly. Throughout he has toyed with his fate, tempting it to turn its back on him so that once again he could surprise the world with a stunning restoration. Something in him rebelled against the mundane and the sensible. He needed his life to be full of disasters and rescues, and comebacks and mistakes and memorable moments. To hell with the prosaic. At heart he is a cavalier, albeit of mischievous persuasion.

The wonderful Rahul Bhattacharya, cricket writer extraordinaire (and a Bong) wrote the following as the first paragraph in this wonderful article The Heart of the Matter:
At some stage, hard to say when, Sourav Ganguly no longer remained a cricketer and turned into a folk hero and a folk villain. Averages and the rest came into it but with Ganguly things became a matter of convictions of the soul. Anything he did or did not do could provoke an outcry. Everything that was done to him or not done to him could provoke an outcry. Ganguly issues took the form of movements. In many ways he is the cricketer-phenomenon in India's modern pop culture

It really sums up almost everything I would want to say about him, but with far greater beauty than I can ever come up with.

There is this great mystery in my mind as to how good a captain he really was. Was he truly instrumental, single-handedly responsible for making India an overseas test winning, aggressive outfit ? Or was he simply lucky to be the captain of side which had God, The Wall, VVS, Sehwag, Kumble etc. I don't think it is quite possible to objectively segregate the collective contribution of these legends and the impact of Ganguly's leadership, but I will say this. Being the captain of a cricket team in these days of intense media scrutiny, match referees, oppositions who sledge and involve in gamesmanship et al is not an easy job. My belief is that as a captain of the Indian team, Dada allowed the more talented amongst his team-mates to get on with their games, concentrate on their individual contributions and make the most of their considerable talent and skills, while taking the flak of the opposition and dealing with those who threw the rule book at him. He did the dirty work and the others flourished around him, with him.

[Quick Edit: This tribute by Greatbong is a must read as well: His Last Bow ]
All this is fine but how does one end without mentioning the most memorable of Ganguly moments. The moment which Sidvee (again :D) recalls so vividly (literally) here: Ganguly takes his shirt off . Here's a few lines from that to end on a happy note:

I remember it vividly. Mum was woken from her sleep, dad was going ballistic in his rocking chair, and I was prancing between hall, kitchen and mid-air. All of a sudden, one glance at the television and there was Sourav Ganguly baring his torso, swinging his India shirt, hurling invective, making quite a spectacle of himself. ...

An extraordinary match got its perfect climax - hero extracting revenge and indulging in a war dance. The Wankhede and Lord's would be treated equally. We needed no further vindication that this Indian team was playing an inspired brand of cricket, not only with bat and ball but also with the head, and that it would wear its heart on its sleeve...

I think it is fair to say, Indian cricket was changed that day. And for the better.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Known or Unknown #youprefer

Donald Rumsfield once said:
As we know,

There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.
For some stupid reason, I thought this was very smart and had quoted this in a letter to someone, trying to be a smart alec. That person obviously did not find it very funny.
Reading The Black Swan this week, sort of triggered a flashback about this quote, so sharing this again. Enjoy.

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