Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Forgotten Pledge

When we were in school, we used to recite this every morning.

India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters.
I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.
I shall always strive to be worthy of it.
I shall give my parents, teachers and all elders respect and treat everyone with courtesy.
To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion. In their well-being and prosperity alone, lies my happiness.

Thousands, maybe millions of students have been saying this every day of their school life. And yet, we behave like animals with our fellow citizens.

We don't treat women with respect and courtesy. There is nothing to be proud about as a citizen. 

Thanks a ton !

It has been almost a week now since the news of Sachin Tendulkar's retirement from ODI cricket came last Sunday. It was not unexpected - it did not shock me, and I have had some time to reflect on it. So many memories keep flooding my mind every time I think about him. And the overwhelming feeling that I have for him is that of gratitude.
I tried thinking about a life before I knew about Sachin and I did not have any recollections. Perhaps some old photographs can bring back some memories, but there will be nothing substantial. In essence, Sachin has been a part of all of my conscious life. I grew up as a child watching him play, I went through my years as a teenager watching him play, I (mis)spent my youth watching him play and I was going through my young (well, not so young) adulthood watching him play.... What I am trying to say is that for me, Sachin playing for India, has been one of the  very few constants in this ever changing world that we live in.
Every cricketer good or bad, ordinary or great leaves a unique impression. I think about Warne and I think of a ball spinning hard, I think about Lara and I see that high backlift and a flashing blade, I think about Kumble and I see the ball bouncing up in his hands at the start of his run up... and those steely eyes, I think about Mark Waugh and I see that flick shot, I think about Dravid and I see a straight bat and also at times a ball being left alone, I think about Ponting and I see that pull shot, I think about Sehwag and I see a flashing cut...
When I think about Sachin, I do not have one dominant vision - I have a hundred things coming up. I see shots all round the wicket - the cover drive on the up, the straight drive, the flick shot where he turns his bottom hand over to the top in his follow through, the paddle sweep, the lofted shot over mid on, the cut over slips, the pull shot out of the ground....I see him raising a bat after yet another milestone, I see him having a long conference with the bowler at mid-on (not my favourite image of his captaincy days - but it keeps coming back to me - he was so involved), I see him bowling seam up and I see him bowling spin, I see him running hard for the second and I see him taking a catch in the deep......... and I think about the roar of a crowd in the background and I see myself smiling....
I did not so much see him bat in his various innings.... I lived it. He was out there playing, but back in front of the TV Set, I was living it. Each and every ball was not just played by him and watched by me, it was experienced, emoted, lived. There was a time when I was a kid, that the night before a match, I imagined seeing him bat and the night after the match, I slept happy or sad depending on how it went. He got me hooked, involved,obsessed. Yes, there were finer points to worry about - the strike rate, the average, how would India qualify for the next round or the final, what would be a good total on this track, is the asking rate going out of hand, the quest of that elusive world cup.... But the simple joy of watching a ball being delivered and played by Sachin expertly to the boundary, that moment where the ball hits the middle of his bat... it is things like that which drew me into cricket in the first place and for the most part - his cricket has remained a joy to watch. I was "invested" into Sachin long before I understood the meaning of the word invest. And the "returns" have been far better than this accountant has had from anything else...
As someone of the generation that grew up with Sachin, this part of my life will be most precious. He was both, my very own personal hero and also a national treasure that I shared with fellow fans. Yes, I understand that this is the beginning of the end. And for all the joy that he has given, I thought it was a good time to say - Thanks a ton !
Pic: Courtesy Cricinfo.

Monday, December 17, 2012

India v England - Answers to my questions

Before the India - England test series started, I had some questions which I posted here: http://abhility.blogspot.in/2012/11/questions-to-be-answered-india-v-england.html. With a disappointing result, a 1-2 loss at home to, what I must acknowledge, a very impressive English side, most of these questions have been answered and the results have been disappointing. Here is my take on these issues:
 1) Do Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have a future as test match openers? Sehwag: 253 runs at 36.14 with 1 100. Gambhir: 251 runs at 41.83 with 2 50s. Not exactly poor returns, especially in a side where several others have been struggling much more. And yet, both of them continued to struggle with some of the same issues - that have dogged them in the past two years or so.
Sehwag played only 1 innings of some substance, and mind you that innings went a long way in helping India win the first test, but his game does not give me the assurance that he will be scoring big runs with consistency in the near future. His game has lost a bit of its edge with time, and for a player so reliant on his hand-eye coordination, it is difficult to see him regaining his old form with the passage of time. Gambhir was even more infuriating for me - got some starts and just did not convert them. His technique also looked just as suspect as it has done in the recent past. Add his diabolical running between the wickets at times, and I am not convinced of his worth in our test team. What India needs is openers who can score big and take charge of a series - the stuff Viru and Gauti have done in the past, but look unlikely to replicate in their present form.
What will probably happen is that these two will continue to open in the next series India plays, given their decent return in this series, but I would prefer 1 new opener at least against Australia.
2) Will SRT regain his form ? Well, he didn't. Much to my disappointment and anguish. If there is a light at the end of the tunnel - that is his poor form, I am not able to see it at the moment.
3) Does India get a permanent fix for the number six slot ? Hell No ! Yuvraj was tried for 3 tests and he had just 1 50 in that. Ravindra Jadeja, on the back of his triple hundred scoring exploits in Ranji Trophy, got a game at Nagpur and scored just 12. He bowled much better than Yuvraj though (who hardly got much of a bowl) and he will be an interesting option going forward. Meanwhile Rohit Sharma has been scoring plenty domestically and it is increasingly difficult to ignore his claim to a test batting spot.
4) Can Ashwin and Ojha bowl out the English twice ? Well Yes, but they were able to do it only once, at Ahmedabad. For the rest of the series, they were handled well by the English batsmen and comprehensively out bowled by Swann and Panesar. Pragyan Ojha had a decent series, 20 wickets @ 30.65. Ashwin had a very poor one - 14 wickets @ 52.64. Ashwin's lack of consistency in terms of  maintaining a good line and length was particularly disappointing. His batting was a revelation though and India has to make a decison as to how to best use his talents and balance the team.
5) Will we have result pitches ? 3 results out of 4 are not bad. The 4th pitch - at Nagpur - however was a most curious wicket and while it can be argued that there should be no standardisation in terms of pitches, it is hard to see how this pitch could produce a result in most circumstances. The Kolkata pitch was surrounded with controversy, but I found little wrong with it. Ahmedabad was probably the best example of a good Indian batting pitch, but which had enough in it for the bowlers to force a result. Mumbai - had a classic turning track and produced some rivetting cricket as well. Personally I enjoy watching a match on a pitch like the Mumbai one the most, but what India needs is probably more of the Motera type for some time to come.
PS: I managed to attend one day of the series at a ground, Day 4 of the 3rd test at Eden. Yes, that ill fated day, where India crumbled from no wicket for 86 at lunch to 6 for 122 in just about an hour. And yet sitting in the crowd, there were so many things that I cherish about that day. I cherish the frank, serious discussions between complete strangers about technicalities of the game, the feeling of being part of a collective anxiety withing the crowd as Sehwag bats in his parallel universe in the middle, the light hearted banter between the sizeable English contingent and the locals...... But the best part of the day was seeing so many young children, brought to the ground by their parents, or just their fathers, and even just their mothers.... Of dads telling their sons - basic rules about the game, about field placements and strokes. I just wanted to say Thank You to every parent who takes their kid to watch a test match, it is the best time and place for a kid to fall in love with this game. I just hope that our Indian team improves soon because it is easier, not impossible, but easier, to stay in love with a winning team.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A bit of nostalgia

A bit of this, a bit of that and I ended up watching this youtube video. The Wills "World Series" Final at Eden  Gardens in 1994. 1994 - 17 years ago......
It was matches like these I guess that I saw as a child which kept getting me hooked for life to this game...
Notice some of the long lost faces that you will see in the video - Vijay Yadav, Anderson Cummins, Stuart Williams - a West Indies leg spinner called Rajindra Dhanaraj ! ...Look at Tendulkar attacking the new ball - this is fairly early in his career as an ODI opener....Observe how the one clip of Sidhu is him attacking a spinner and belting him for a six - just the image of Sidhu that you have in your mind....Azhar - fielding like a boss......... And Eden celebrating like only Eden could - thousands of "mashaals" - flames lit - lighting up the night sky - a fantastic sight as India would win in a blaze of glory. Times have changed, mistakes have been committed since- we are unlikely to see such scenes in a cricket match any time soon....
We demand much more from our cricket team these days and rightly so. But as a child, a home ODI series win with players in coloured clothing and floodlit matches on TV used to make me very happy and excited indeed. And when I saw it today, it made me smile. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Good Bye Punter

Ricky Ponting announced his retirement from test cricket today, on the eve of the 3rd and last test match at Perth, in Australia's home series vs South Africa. It brings to an end, a remarkable career of an incredible cricketer. It also ends a few other things.
To me, in my own mind's cricketing mythology, for a long time, he was the ultimate arch enemy, the number one adversary, the man I loved to hate. When India was playing against Australia, his was the wicket that I celebrated the most. He was the man I wanted us to beat. He was to me, what I am told, Javed Miandad was for a generation of Indian fans. While I can't be certain, quite possibly I am not alone in having these feelings. If I think about it, why is it that Bhajji getting him out repeatedly in 2001, or for that matter Ishant dismissing him at the WACA bring a smile to my face. It is because, it mattered. He was that type of a player.
I am not quite sure, when Ricky Ponting started to get under my skin. I was a big Aussie fan as a kid, with Steve Waugh, a particularly big hero for me growing up. Ricky Ponting came into the team and somewhat slipped under the radar. Here was a talented batsman with a high backlift and a sensational pull stroke, making plenty of runs, but when Australia played, I used to have other stars in my eyes - the Waugh twins, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath. Perhaps it was the little scuffle he had with young Bhajji in Sharjah, 1998. Perhaps it was the horrible series down under in 1999-2000, when Srinath hit Punter on the helmet with a bouncer only to get a mouthful, that really enraged me. Perhaps it was just his eager, enthusiastic, spitting on finger demeanor on the field which came across as abrasive to me.
I sure had a great time the next time India and Australia played test cricket, Ponting made all of 17 runs in 3 test matches in the most epic of contests. However, not too long after 23rd March, 2003 happened. If ever there was a game I wanted us to win, this was it and to be beaten, no ... ruthlessly demolished was the stuff of nightmares. He inflicted pain that day and it hurts even today when you remember it.
Ricky Ponting was like that as a batsman. He came at the bowler, he had a high backlift, a big stride towards the pitch of the ball, a lovely stroke of his blade and a flourishing follow through. He was probably the best puller of a cricket ball that I have seen in the last 20+ years of watching cricket. He came to dominate attacks, he led from the front, scored generally at a terrific pace and was a brilliant batsman to watch. He was absolutely dynamic at the crease. And when he played his cover drive on the up, you knew that this was going to be painful for the bowlers.
As the awesome Australian team evolved over the years, there test match one, two and three became Hayden, Langer and Ponting. I am fairly certain that since Haynes, Greenidge and Viv Richards, this was the most fearsome top 3 in test cricket. When it came to ODIs, Ponting walked in after Hayden and Gilchrist would typically have given rollicking starts. The Australian batting line up was fearsome in those days.
My love hate relationship with Ponting continued through the last decade with Monkeygate and that Sydney test match being particular low points. Looking back at the last decade though, the India - Australia rivalry in test cricket is what defined my best years as a cricket fan, it is what has given me some of my best memories as a cricket fan and Ponting will forever be in my memory as a central character in these contests. And the Ahmedabad Quarter Final last year, the biggest game since 2003 W Cup final, the most surreal cricketing experience of my life, where Ponting did score yet another fuck you 100, but ended with a win, probably brought closure to this equation.
Ricky Ponting scored, nay, plundered runs all over the world, in his own unique way. He never became my favourite player, probably because I am a bit of a sucker for the type that plays well when the chips are down and mounts a fightback. Ponting rarely let these sort of situations develop because he ended so many contests early, like a heavyweight who has a penchant for knocking out his opposition in the first round.

And so, it took a rather unusual situation: the 3rd test of the 2005 Ashes series, that changed the way how I looked at Punter. After a routine first test victory at Lords, Australia were shocked by England in the second test at Edgbaston with Freddie Flintoff's incredible performance. The world of cricket sat up and took notice as one could feel that this was going to be an Ashes series like none other, a series where the English had a chance, a series that would go down in history as a special one. When the third test at Old Trafford entered the fifth day, Australia needed 423 to win with nine wickets in hand; an England victory was the most likely result. The shift in balance of power in the Anglo-Australian cricketing universe was in process, but Ricky Ponting went on to play one of the best fifth day test 100s that I have ever seen to delay the transition. He scored a magnificent 156 runs and was dismissed with just four overs left in the match (which McGrath and Brett Lee somehow survived to draw the test). I saw the human side of a player, who I had previously looked at as the archrival, the ultimate enemy. Till then, I had only grudging respect for the bloke, that day it changed into something more affectionate.


Ricky Thomas Ponting: Champion batsman and best all round fielder ever - You will be missed. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

India's Record at Home Venues

India has a very impressive record at home in test cricket. This article on cribuzz tells us that we have lost only 5 test series at home since 1980.
Unlike Australia and to a lesser extent South Africa and England, India does not have a fixed annual test match calendar. Also, with more number of test venues, test matches are a lot more spread around across a number of centres. As a result, the combination of venues and dates tends to be more dynamic and I for one have found it more difficult to pigeon hole test venues in India into neat categories. I mean, when I think of Brisbane - I think of bounce, Perth - pace and bounce, Sydney - some spin, Adelaide - flat, Headingly - swing, Durban - pace and bounce and so on. But what about India - Kanpur and Delhi - low turners - yes, Mohali - Pace ?, Mumbai - red soil and bounce - but the categorizations are a lot more difficult to make.
With India on the verge of losing the 2nd test to England at Mumbai, I wanted to see, in which venues have we done well and in which ones have we not done. I looked at the home tests since 2000 till the Ahmedabad match and the results are interesting. India have clearly struggled at Mumbai and Bangalore, which is a little surprising - given that these venues bring in quite large crowds and the home team is never short of support even in test matches [India has started winning at Bangalore only after I started going for matches there :) ]. What is not surprising is that India has a near perfect record at the Kotla given the nature of the pitch which helps spinners. Kolkata , Mohali and Chennai are the other major venues where India have been undefeated since 2000, and long may this little stat continue.
Two test venues that I would like to see have more test cricket are Chennai and Delhi, they seem to be good for India and have produced some riveting matches in the past.

One of the good things that I learnt from this table is that most Indian venues have a more than 50% result % record, which means that we are producing result oriented pitches for the most part. This is a sharp contrast to the high percentage of draws that take place in domestic cricket and the quality of the pitches for test cricket must have something to do with it.
MS Dhoni's continuous calls for turning pitches and then getting turned over on a turning track tells us that we have not quite figured what kind of pitch suits us the best. But a look at our records at different venues might just tell us where to host matches before a big series. If I were a board official selecting matches before a big 4 match series - I would play them at Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi and Mohali. But hey, that's me just being a little greedy.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Just a couple of tweets from our friends !


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Questions to be answered: India v England

With a four test series against England starting this Thursday, I am looking forward to it, with a mix of nervousness, curiosity and .....just a little bit of hope. After the two 4-0 defeats at England and Australia, I have become a lot less bullish about the Indian test team and despite our victory against New Zealand at home a couple of months back, there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered at the start of the series. So here's my set of questions :
1) Do Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have a future as test match openers ?  Sehwag's last test century was against New Zealand at the Motera in Nov, 2010. Gambhir's last was in Jan 2010 against Bangladesh in Chittangong. It is a long time since these two have made test match 100s and there form has not really convinced anyone. While we are starting the series with these two, I am not sure whether we will end with them as openers. Sehwag might have a future as a middle order player. Gambhir needs an even bigger turnaround and for starters he could stop with his poke to third man. There are no clear cut, consensus candidates for replacement however and that is probably working in their favor.
2) Will SRT regain his form ? Tendulkar's form remains a major concern, and his Ranji Trophy 100 notwithstanding, he hasn't "looked good" at the crease in a long time in any form of cricket. India will desperately need runs from him against a good English attack.
3) Does India get a permanent fix for the number six slot ? With Dravid and Laxman retired, Pujara and Kohli have stepped up and taken their positions in the XI. Both came into the team with the vacant position left by Ganguly interestingly. The initial impressions that one gets from Pujara is that he has most of the attributes to succeed at this level, while Kohli is quite simply India's best batsman right now. He might just be among the best in the world, along with Hashim Amla. However, coming back to the point, no one really has made the number six slot his own, with Raina being the latest disappointment. Yuvraj's return from cancer and into the Indian team has an incredible story and it is Yuvi who starts the series at six. I am hoping that he succeeds and nails that slot down for the next couple of years or else the revolving doors shall continue. India does have a number of talented players in reserves with Rohit Sharma, Badrinath and Manoj Tiwary - all possible contenders, and I for one, would like this to be sorted out as soon as possible.
4) Can Ashwin and Ojha bowl out the English twice ? With India's limited pace bowling options, the onus once again in a home series will be on the spinners and it is the first time that both together will be facing a quality opposition at home. West Indies without Gayle and New Zealand were not really tough nuts to crack for these two, but England will be a lot more difficult. A home series brings its own pressures for India's spinners as they are "expected" to win games and with the likes of Cook, Trott, Bell and Pietersen in the opposition, this will be the first big test for India's new spin combination.
5) Will we have result pitches ? It is hard to say, how will the pitches play. M S Dhoni has often asked for turning tracks, but it has been a long time since we have seen vicious turners in test matches in India. Apart from Kolkata, which is generally quite placid, I have a feeling that Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Nagpur will have decent bounce, which is quite crucial for the spinners so that the edges do carry to the fielders. Will the wickets spin a lot ? On that I am less certain. It would be too much to expect results in all four matches, but at least two of them should produce results.
Chennai, 2008: An epic win
Here's hoping for a great series of test cricket and an Indian win. And if we can get a match half as good as Chennai, 2008, it would be brilliant.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How I wish I was awake last night

Midweek football at midnight is something that is generally beyond me. After spending nearly 10 hours of the day staring at excel sheets and emails, I find it almost impossible to stay awake for an Arsenal midweek game, be it the Champions League or the League Cup(now called The Capital One Cup), unless of course it is against a major opponent and the game promises a lot.
A Capital One Cup Round of 16 match against Reading FC is not really my idea of an enticing encounter and with the match starting at 1.15 am and after a long day in the office, I really had no energy left in me to watch. On some nights, while I don't sit in front of the telly, my anxiety results in my checking the score every 5 mins on my phone till we take a decent (what I think) lead or the match is over. Last night however, I was absolutely calm. I really wasn't thinking much about the match. I thought well, it's Reading, we will probably eke out a One Nil.
So when I woke up at around 6 and checked the score on my mobile - it said: Reading 5 - Arsenal 7. Wow, I thought the match went to a penalty shoot out and we managed to win. No, wait !! It says Reading 5 - Arsenal 7 (AET). AFTER EXTRA TIME. THERE WERE 12 DAMN GOALS IN 120 MINUTES. OH MY GOD !!
Later, as I checked the match reports, went through my Twitter Time Line and after seeing the highlights now, I just realized that this was a quite astonishing game of football, which ended with a tennis scoreline. How I wish, I was awake last night !
This probably reminds us again of two things: Any football game can produce something spectacular, you never know. And more importantly, it ain't over, till it is over.
Nevertheless, putting up the highlights here (till they take it down eventually). And hopefully a more permanent link here. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ram Se Bada Ram Ka Naam

Listen to this Song.



See, if you can replace Ram with SRT and if it still works for you. At least in some places :)

PS: Not meant to offend your religious sentiments either way :)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Quick thoughts on Day 4, Ind vs NZ @ Bangalore

Some quick thoughts on the Indian batsmen that I saw live at the Chinnaswamy today.

The Openers: Didn't get to see Sehwag, thanks to the brilliance of the police, the organizers and so on. Will not crib about that too much. Saw a little of Gauti. By the time I came in, he looked just as he has done in most of the last few matches. Tentative around the off stump. The poke to third man is a killer.

Cheteshwar Pujara or Che as some of us call him: Funnily enough, his batting does not remind me of any previous Indian batsman. He is extremely composed and organised at the crease. I think there are a couple of issues that I am sure he will be working on: The short ball and his judgement of whether to go for the pull/ hook or not. He actually plays the shot quite well at times and he can leave well too, just that he needs to get his shot selection right. Secondly, I think he played with rather hard hands against the spinner. Think he can get better there.
But overall, he is one of the most un-fussy, uncomplicated players that I have seen. His footwork is sure and deliberate most of the time. He takes a big stride forward, unlike a lot of Indian batsmen. I am not sure what exactly are the adjectives that best describe him, for now I will say that the best thing about him is he just bats like it is his job. A job which he does rather well.

SRT: I am not the one who will write a premature obituary of my hero. But I wonder, whether the eye is gone for good. Perhaps Father Time has caught up with him after all. Time and Tendulkar's bat will tell.

Virat Kohli: Was really impressed with his restraint. He is obviously in the form of his life, but he did not let his confidence get the better of him. For example - he never looked to play his flick shot to balls outside the offstump till almost the end. He is playing very straight indeed. His balance, the tiny shuffle and then precise the feet movement, the straight bat, the clean stroke-play, even the holding of the pose after a fine shot - you can see that here is a batsman in his absolute prime. Long may this continue. An absolute pleasure to watch.

Suresh Raina: So, so disappointed with his performance today. I make no bones of the fact that I am a big fan of the lad. I think he is an absolute superstar of the one day game. But at the moment, he does not seem to be a good bet for the test matches. Hard work ahead in the First class circuit.

MSD: The one word that kept coming to my mind throughout his innings - he "manages" the ball. He maybe totally out of position, his feet may be nowhere near the ball, but he just uses his hand-eye coordination and manages to keep out good balls. He played really well today, was busy from the start, rotated the strike. And with Bangalore being such a fast scoring ground, he got us home in a hurry. Well played.

About the Kiwi bowlers - was impressed with their line throughout the day. All the 3 quicks bowled really well. The weather might have helped them - it was cool, overcast and dark all day long. Luckily we got just enough cricket to get the result in today.

PS: There is still nothing quite like the ovation that SRT gets, when he comes in to bat. Still. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A question about emails

All of us cubicle dwellers get hundreds of emails, literally dozens by the hour. Some are FYA, some are FYI, some are professional, some are personal and so on. Then there are threads where you wonder why on earth am I marked in this chain at all. There are group mails and chain mails. There are those in DO NOT FORWARD mode. There are system generated mails and out of office mails. Some require immediate replies, while others require immediate deletion. The list goes on and on.
It is one of my many weaknesses that I struggle to cope up with email traffic and manage my inbox. The organization of my email inbox is as chaotic as a crossroad in Bangalore. But then I have seen others do it much better and so I realize that the problem is with me. So let's move on to the question I would like to pose which is:
Is it acceptable to shut down your email client (or say close your browser if your email is web based), such that you do not get constant notifications about incoming mails, when you want to really concentrate and do some important work at hand ?
I really don't know the answer for this. I find that I work much better when I have my Outlook window closed. Sometimes it has happened accidentally, and I have worked peacefully and productively for an hour or so, only to then get a call or shout out from someone that I have received an urgent mail which needs immediate attention.
I would love to know your views about this.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

An Open letter to the Gen-Next Indian Test Batsman

Note: I had written this quite some time back, but never published. Just doing it today with a minor edit or two. This is just for laughs - ok ?

Dear Gen-Next Indian Test Batsman,
I am a cricket fan for well over 20 years now. During this time, I have fallen in love with the game and like one ad once said - have spent considerable part of my childhood and youth - eating, sleeping and drinking cricket. And during this time I have supported the national team. In bad times and good.
More importantly, I was lucky enough to have the chance to idolize a bunch of cricketers who were 10-15 years older than me. I looked up to them, hero-worshiped them and over time they became an integral part of my life and my personality. They were not flawless individuals, each had their qualities and each had their flaws.
Now I have grown older. And all my heroes (other than THE ONE) are finished playing test cricket. And YOU are taking their places in the team. And I have grown older. I am older than YOU. So I will not be hero-worshiping the likes of you. I will always be comparing YOU with my heroes, who let's face it were some of the best batsmen the game of cricket has ever seen. And it will be tough for you to deal with the comparison. I will also compare your opponents with some of the opposition my heroes played against. And the comparison will generally be unfavorable towards you, considering the declining standards in world cricket today, especially when it comes to fast bowling.
What's more, I find that you earn a lot. And by that I mean a lot. Lot more than what my heroes and more importantly a lot more than ME. No doubt, I am jealous of you.
So, the bottom line is you have to keep improving your skills and make most of the few opportunities that you will get of playing in tough conditions like Australia, South Africa and England to create an impression.
What's more, I will have very little time to watch you. I am more likely to form an impression about you reading a Cricinfo match report than actually watch you play. And in the limited times that I watch you bat, especially on days that you will be facing the few good men remaining like Steyn and Anderson. you better be on your A-game on those days.
I also have one more important tool in my hand. I (and thousands more like me) have access to Social Networks. YOU will be scrutinized on BLOGS, made fun on Facebook on and cribbed about on Twitter.
Net-net, this will not be easy for you. So bring it on, punk !
Yours sincerely,
An Old Indian Cricket Fan.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Departed

Death comes in many different ways. Sometimes it is sudden. But at other times, it comes with a warning. The patient is diagnosed with a fatal disease and after that it is just suffering. Yes, you oscillate between hope and despair, but mostly despair. And then inevitably, it comes. The early warning sign at the time of the diagnosis of the disease does help in somewhat softening the blow, but it does not totally mitigate the pain, when you lose a loved one. It still is all very miserable.
The entire Robin van Persie transfer saga felt a little like this. Yes, we got the warning of the fatal disease, when he released this update for the fans. Like everybody, I too knew the game was up, that the bridge had been burnt beyond repair, but when the news of the transfer came last night, I still felt rather sick. It was no surprise - after all the disease was fatal but when he departed - I still felt like shit.
The post Invincibles era at Arsenal has seen a yearly exodus of stars. And I am rather used to this, but there was something about this player, this episode that irked, something that hit us where it hurt the most. Despite going through 7 trophy less seasons, Arsenal have still given the football fan in me enough joy and entertainment over the years. There have been some superb footballers who have worn the red and white and played with distinction. And I have loved them all. But then, before this - I had Tony Adams, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry as my footballing Gods, it would require really special players to enter this league of heroes. And I did find two players who became and I use the term carefully here - HEROES for me. Sporting heroes of course, but heroes nevertheless.
And so as the likes of Adebayor, Toure, Hleb, Clichy and later Nasri came and went through the revolving doors at London Colney, leaving our team a little weaker, a little poorer, I carried on with just a shrug.  I was however, heartbroken to see Cesc leave last year. Cesc Fabregas, who as I have found on reflection, happens to be the only sporting hero that I have had who is younger than me; a remarkable player, who played for us with such splendid craft, skill and courage from such a young age, but eventually left for his hometown club. It was tough to swallow, but carry on I did - because we still had Robin. Him, of the cultured left foot and the chocolate right one.
So when yesterday, 15th August, exactly 365 days after Cesc's departure, it was announced that van Persie was leaving for Manchester United - I guess the one place we did not want him to go, it brought to an end the Arsenal career of a quite wonderfully talented player, who fulfilled his promise only briefly. An Arsenal career blighted by injuries, but lit up with some spectacular form over the last 18 months - over just when he was in the process of building his legacy and all that...

Henri Ducard: ..... But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can't stop you, then you become something else entirely. 
Bruce Wayne: Which is? 
Henri Ducard: A legend, Mr. Wayne. 
Arsene Wenger may not have said this exactly to Robin van Persie, but in his vision, in his ideal world, he would have wanted RvP to devote his career to an ideal of a self sustaining, profit making, Fifa "Fair Playing", successful football club. Him and us fans, all wanted the Dutchman to become a genuine club legend; and with his sensational last season - he seemed well on his way. But as we found out, like Batman - Robin too did not share his mentor's vision.
There has been much talk of how his decision to walk out on the club and move on to greener, more successful pastures is a betrayal, but it all sounds a bit hypocritical to me. After all, who among us would give up a chance to work for an employer who doubled, nay - tripled my salary and gave me a chance for a more successful career - I certainly would jump at the bit. I understand that the regular cubicle dweller does not have fans all around the world - but that does not change the fundamentals - he is a professional who has sought to do what is best for him - whatever his motivations. I have to respect that.
The problem is, and the problem is entirely of our own creation, that we believed him to be something else. We believed, wrongly, that he too was fan first and then a player, that somehow he was different to the average mercenary footballer, that his actions and conduct, and our reciprocal love, was enough to make it a lifelong bond.
And so two things to end this stupid, pathetic little rant of mine. Number one: I thank RvP and Cesc ( I never could bring myself to write about him this last one year) for lighting up so many dull weekend evenings and sleepless midweek nights with their football. It often took one stroke of RvP's cultured left foot to turn a match from turgid to splendid, it only took one driving run and clinical finish from Cesc to turn a tense, nervy evening into a glorious one. So, the these two gentlemen, who have departed from our club - I thank you.

Number two: Also too have departed is the fanboy within me - that part of me that still believed in the concept of having sporting heroes and idols and all that rubbish. That part, which despite being well past his childhood and youth, kept desktop images of footballers; that part which believed that some players were a little different to others and could also be fans of the club; that part which believed that those that kiss the badge meant it......
What all this means is that I soldier on, sadder, but wiser - but just as a fan of the club and the club alone, and continue to enjoy the wonderful football served by Arsene Wenger's men. Bring on the new season now !

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Euro 2012: Knock Stages Recap and a Final Preview

After a quite thrilling group stage, the quarter finals and semi finals have been slightly less open. Here is a short recap.

Quarter Finals
Portugal vs Czech Republic: A game dominated by Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo – who had a number of close attempts before scoring with a late header for the 1 Nil win. Too bad, Tomas Rosicky could not be fit for this one and the Czech missed him
Germany vs Greece: Billed the battle of the Euro, Germany absolutely dominated the first half, but went in with just a 1 goal advantage at the break. A superb Greek counter-attack caught the Germans napping right after the break and the game was back to 1-1 against the run of play. However, the Germans blitzkrieg came next as they ran away 4-2 winners. The talking point from this match will be Joachim Low changing 3 of his front 4 players, despite winning all 3 group matches. Clearly not a believer in the adage of "never change a winning combination" or some such.
Spain vs France: The match promised a lot, but delivered very little as the French played with almost no enterprise. The Spanish rarely gave the ball away and a Xabi Alonso double secured them a rather comfortable 2-0 win.
Italy vs England: On paper this was the most even quarter final and I was not really sure as to who would make the play in this one. Both sides had chances early on, eventually the match settled into a pattern with Italy having the majority of the ball and some good opportunities. But England held on as we finally saw a goalless draw and a penalty shoot out. And then, with Italy 1-2 down, Andrea Pirlo did something that will stay with me for a very long time. It was beautiful. It was audacious. And it probably screwed up every English player's mind, as England got knocked out again  !
Pirlo: Beautiful Audacity
Semi Finals
Spain vs Portugal: Portugal produced one of the best displays against Spain by any team in the last 3 knock out tournaments, but Ronaldo could not quite deliver the knock out blow during the 120 minutes. Spain were slightly underwhelming by their usual standards and played well only in the latter stages of the match. We had yet another goalless 2 hours of football as Spain emerged winners in the 9th kick and Ronaldo never got a chance to hit the winning shot and was left with a What If look on his face. Kudos to Cesc for hitting yet another winning penalty in a big game.
Italy vs Germany: Germany, the best team in the tournament came up against their bogey team and could not quite overcome them. Despite claims to the contrary, Joachim Low again played tinker-man and his shuffling of the midfield, to counter the Italian midfield diamond did not quite work. Mario Balotelli had a barnstorming brilliant night as his brace was too much for the misfiring Germans, who had an off night. Strange as it seems, but the failures of this brilliant German team has made them more likeable, if we are to believe this article from who else, but Barney Ronay.
The Final:
And so, on to the final between Spain and Italy. The two teams have already met in the group stage when the played out a rather entertaining draw. The Spanish had started with Cesc playing the False 9, in what really is a 4-6-0. They have alternated this formation with 4-5-1 with Torres, or Negredo playing the striker. It is not quite clear whether it will be one or the other, but the rest of their side has been pretty much the same. Iniesta has been their star man and there are a couple of "Messi-like" (Orignial links here and here) pics of his which are floating around. The Escapologist, as Sid Lowe calls him this in this brilliant profile. He has been at the heart of so many Spanish victories that it is not funny - his stats are Messi-like. This is from the same article: Over the last three tournaments, he has been named man of the match against Russia, Chile, Paraguay, Holland in the World Cup final, Italy and Croatia. No Spain player has played more than him over the last three tournaments. He has played 17 times. Which means he has been man of the match in over a third of the games he has played. In this historic four-year cycle for Spain, he is the only player to win the award at least once at each of the three tournaments.
ESCAPOLOGY

Michael Cox had written this brilliant article when Spain and Italy met at the start of the tournament, about how this would be the first time that Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Pirlo would be on the same field together for the very first time. We might just have privilege of seeing them together for the last time as well tonight. While Pirlo and Xabi Alonso have had terrific tournaments, Xavi has been slightly subdued. 
I expect a technically superb, but tactically tight match tonight. Two iconic goalkeeper-captains, tight defences, pass masters in midfield. Italy have the sharper cutting edge up front with Balotelli and Cassano, while Spain have the conviction of just keeping the ball and pass their way to glory. It is a tough match to call but we may just see Cesc hit the winning penalty yet again !

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Ghost and The Butler

The Ghost:
How does he do it? He floats around the football field. He glides where others walk. He lurks just out of eyesight. He stalks his prey with the intimacy of a shadow. He feels the defenses’ edges and weak points with his unblinking gaze. He materializes when he so desires; never too soon, never too late. Defenders reach for his shirt but grasp at nothing. Studs tackle thin air. Some praise Ozil as a “thinking” player. However, Ozil is not playing chess: he’s playing hide and go seek. And he’s playing by his own rules of physics.
The Butler:
 His role with England is also deceptively vital. There is a filibustering quality to his guided hustle, granting a sense of control that is essential for a manager who appears to have decided that if this cautious England are to win games here they must above all avoid conceding the first goal. Milner is key to maintaining parity in those fraught opening minutes, which in three matches so far have been notable for the oddly captivating spectacle of his ever-scurrying legs.The role of the dependable serf, the royal butler, is a familiar one in the history of England managerdom. Alf Ramsey united his dressing room by defending Nobby Stiles after his dreadful tackle on the France midfielder Jacques Simon at the 1966 World Cup. Sven-Goran Eriksson had his Heskey-curious side, but perhaps Sven's Milner was instead Nick Barmby, another shrewd Mr Fix-it midfielder with an air of pachyderm obedience, and an emblem of the good times before the stasis of late-Sven midfield celebrity-gorge. Graham Taylor is remembered for his improbables, the revolving door of one-night stands and pressed men during a period when England's whole world seemed to turn a shade of Andy Sinton. This was Taylor's problem. He never found his Milner.Happily, Hodgson already has: Milner is his Milner.
The above two paragraphs are from two fascinating blog links (that I got through twitter) in the last couple of days. The first one about Mesut Ozil is by Futfanatico and the link is here. The next one about James Milner is by Barney Ronay and the link is here. You cannot get two more contrasting players. And for the time being, both seem to represent the contrasting nature of their national teams.
PS: These two pieces were so good that I wanted to bookmark them here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Thoughts on the Euro 2012 Group Stage

I have watched quite a lot of the 24 group stage matches. Watched the hightlights and goals of the rest. These are my quick, unstructured reactions about each of the 16 teams.

Group A
1) Czech Republic: Not quite sure what they do well. Quite compact in midfield. Not seen enough out of Rosicky - hope he gets fit and does well in the quarters and beyond. Petr Cech had a howler #Ripleys.
2) Greece: Think they are lucky to be through. Then again, damn resilient. Rather well organised and deceptively strong across the pitch. Solid.
3) Russia: So much talent. They were cruising through before they did a South Africa. Dzagoev is the most exciting Alan since Donald. Arshavin showed in glimpses, why we all love so much. Pity, they are not going to be going forward.
4) Poland: Lewandowski is some player. As is Kuba. And despite the howler Bhocheck is still my favourite player. Chin up - big fella.

Group B
1) Germany: No signs of Gotze yet ! Still probably the best team in the tournament so far. Incredible to see Podolski get a 100 caps before he joins us. Gomez is better than I thought. Schweinsteiger is superb. As is Hummels.
2) Portugal: Excellent individual defenders. If Ronaldo is on fire, they can beat anyone. Tough team.
3) Denmark: Two words for you : Nicklas Bendtner ! Pants up or down - he was awesome in more ways than you can imagine. Krohn Dehli is an interesting player. Rather good central defensive pair in Agger and Kjaer too. Was expecting a lot more from the kid Ericson.
4) The Netherlands: WTF ? If only they had Arteta....Shit happens and it did. Now come back Robin and sign the damn contract.
PS: Has there been a more selfish player than Robben ? Like ever ?

Group C
1) Spain: Tiki-taka. Pass-pass. Sigh. Torres is slowly getting back to form. Sigh. Cesc as a False 9. Interesting. Liked it when they played a sort of 4-6-0 in the first match. Will probably win the damn thing again.
2) Italy: 3-5-2 ! Interesting. De Rossi as a Centre back is interesting. Can just watch Pirlo for 90 minutes if it was possible. Legend. Buffon = Yet another Legend. Good to see Di Natalie get some time as well. So much liking for them from me (an Old Anti-Azurri) - something is not quite right.
3) Croatia: Got to know that there is another mad Mario around: Mandzukic. Quite handy. Modric - slightly disappointing. Good team, just fell short.
4) Republic of Ireland: Best fans ever ! No comments about the team.

Group D
1) England: Wow - Woy Hodgson and his banks of 4 have made this team a tough nut to crack. Slightly lucky but generally plucky. Gerrard excellent. Wellbeck will be some player one day. As will The Ox.
2) France: More pleasing to the eye than some of the last few Les Blues editions. Shit central defensive pairing though - can't believe they haven't played Kos till date. Interesting midfield. Benzema is a class forward despite not scoring goals.
3) Ukraine: Had their epic moments with the Sheva inspired victory. Not seen much - but I get it that they have some exciting youngsters coming through as well.
4) Sweden: Zlatan Ibrahimovic XI. Whatay goal against the French. Pity - got knocked out so soon. Seb Larsson can deliver a ball - man !

Favourite Goal: A tie between Ibra's volley against France and Pirlo's freekick against Croatia.
Moment to remember: The match getting suspended due to rain, thunder and lightning ! First time ever for me
Best thing: No goalless draws !
Apacalypse Now !
PS: For a more statistics based view, read this.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Of Anticipation and Memories

I am an excited football fan right now, as I await the start of the Euro 2012. Mahek Vyas, one of the great sports fans that I know on twitter - tweeted a while back expressing his surprise at people getting excited about a football match between Poland and Greece. And as always he is right, just that I am approaching it slightly differently.
Every two years, football fans come together to witness the World Cup and the Euros - the two big international tournaments. And on opening match day, I keep going back in time, nostalgic about past tournaments. It was 1990, when as a little kid - I started watching Argentina play Cameron, sometime in the middle of the night. I was in Kolkata then, at my maternal grandfather's place and looking back - that match is perhaps one of my most cherished memories of the little time that I spent with him. I remember going into the match knowing only 1 player - Maradona - all of Kolkata was talking just about him. I remember coming out of it - a fan of The Indomitable Lions.
I remember 2002 as Senegal stunned "my Les Blues" team sans Zidane. The likes of Papa Bouba Diouf and co suddenly became household names as I felt the bitter blow of a crushing defeat suffered by my beloved France - a blow they did not recover for quite some time.
2004 and it was Portugal time as I backed one of my favourite footballers - Luis Figo and his "golden generation" to finally set the record straight. But the tournament started (and ended) with a shock defeat for the hosts as plucky Greece went on to record a stunning victory under Otto Rehaggel.
A couple of years ago - as I was desperately looking to return to my house and following the match on twitter - as my timeline went Tshabalala as the World Cup arrived in Africa. It was an incredible moment.
And these are just some of the more striking opening match memories.As I look back, these football tournaments (or for that matter - the cricket world cups) provide interesting check posts of my own life. I look back with great fondness of matches watched with both my grandfathers and father; of watching them with my younger brother as he initiated his love with the game; of debates and discussions with my friends in school and college. I remember the madness surrounding Brazil and Argentina back in Kolkata, of the football fever in my company down in Mangalore as we organised events to celebrate the great occasion. And now with twitter and all that, sports viewing is a totally different experience. I had an absolutely great time following the football on the internet as the likes of Zonal Marking and Run of Play made football viewing an absolutely enriching experience. Add to that, the wonderful folks that one gets to know on twitter and it is terrific.
 I find the World Cup and the Euros as wonderful occasions for football watching. And while I am a regular club football watcher, there are the twin joys of watching your favorites in action in a different setting, while also getting to watch unknown names emerge as new stars.Watching international football is less stressful as well, as I do not necessarily lose sleep about defeats and all that :) I am not caught up in the tribalism of club rivalries and can relax and watch with no pressure ! So let the games begin, let the goals flow in - I am as excited as I was 22 years ago that midnight in Kolkata when I saw this!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Stranger than Fiction

Last night, while having dinner and switching through channels when Extraa Innings and all that was happening I watched Harold and Kumar escape from Guantanomo Bay for some time. I had seen the movie before, but it is hilarious and I always love watching it. Then I read this today and my mind immediately went back to the interrogation scene in the movie. Watch the scene and then the video below it where a CM accusses college going girls about being Maoists. The first one is intentionally funny, the second one is not. But both are about people in power, having absolutely lost it and accussing people of being their imaginary enemies. Or something like that.




PS: 20th May: Today's The Telegraph carries a superb response from the student accused by Mamata Banerjee to be a Maoist. Read it here.
I was  also looking forward to how Derek O Brien reacted and defended his leader. His first few tweets shown below hardly inspired confidence. There appears to be no suggestion of a mistake - let alone an admission.
.

Monday, April 30, 2012

FOUR

Much like Arshavin, it has been a time of under-achievement and disappointment.....But there have been some awesome moments too........But to cut through the grime, the bad and the ugly, for once, just for this day, a happy photo, for all the happy moments....

Friday, April 13, 2012

Two brilliant ads

A couple of absolutely brilliant ads that I have come across in the last month or two.

1) The Guardian - Three Little Pigs


And if you thought, the last one was good, just watch this !

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fast and Furious

I finally watched the much talked about documentary on West Indies cricket - Fire in Babylon today. It is an interesting look back at the West Indian domination of world cricket from the mid to late 70s onwards. It provides some sensational footage and quite a few interesting anecdotes from a time gone by. Having said that, it has to be mentioned that it is a rather biased account in several ways. Cricketing View has a fairly detailed critique of the documentary here, but just at the outset, the narrative that West Indies were just an entertaining bunch of losers before the Lloyd era didn't feel right. Nor did the lack of time given to the legends before the Lloyd era:  Gary Sobers, the 3 Ws, Hall and Griffith or even George Headley, barely got a mention.
However, the highlight of the documentary for me was the fast bowling on display. The incredible battery of pace bowlers, together with the lack of protective equipment for batsmen and for some time period, the lack of rules to govern the amount of bouncers to be bowled, made cricket back then, a very different game. The amount of physical courage involved to face that sort of bowling must have been immense, the fear felt by a batsman must have been primal, the feelings of all those involved must have been visceral....It is a facet of the game, which someone like me, who has been watching the game from the 90s onwards has never experienced. Yes, I have seen the last stages of Marshall, Hadlee and Imran, I have seen Wasim and Waqar in all their glory, Walsh and Ambrose in full cry, Mcgrath and Lee, Steyn, Shoaib and yes, Srinath and Zaheer too - produce great displays of fast bowling. But rarely, if ever, have I felt a concern for the batsmen's physical safety - injuries facing fast bowling have become lesser over the years - and thankfully so. For better or for worse, I have not witnessed anything like the era of Lilee and Thompson and the West Indian pace attack.
If nothing else, Fire in Babylon deserves a watch, for some great fast bowling footage. It is cricket from a different era, the likes of which, some of us have never seen before.
PS:  Talking of fast bowling,, a few weeks ago, Sehwagology had tweeted this youtube video - this is absolutely fascinating. Check out the actions of the fast men. There is nothing quite like Michael Holding delivering a cricket ball. This is one for the vault.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Not Faking News

Thought of putting together some random WTF news/ posts from the last fortnight or so.
1) The Rail Budget (Ok will stop here).
2) An MP's security guard pissing on a passenger. In a Train. The MP is from TMC. Whatay delightful.
3) Maoists releasing hostage to NDTV. Yes, NDTV, not the police. And not Arnab Goswami !! What were they thinking ?
4) Poonam Pandey nearly caused a communal riot in Kolkata. Thanks to the Telegraph.
5) Delhi High Court saying that sex is important in marriage. Please read for more details. This is about a week after the Chennai high court said this
6) Came across this link on FB/ Twitter, where you can try and block a seat next to a "lady" in bus journeys. 
7) Bangladesh Cricket Board, seeking to reverse result of Asia Cup Final. Very soon, we will have court room battles to decide close cricket matches. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Well left

Determined. Dedicated. Disciplined.
Dependable.Reliable. Trustworthy.
Tough. Gritty. Solid.
Patient. Perservering. Persistent.
Adaptable. Selfless. Team-player.
Cool. Calm. Composed.
Committed. Consistent. Classy.
Just a collection of adjectives. Words used in management literature. Aspirational qualities that you write as strengths in your CV. Qualities that you want to have within you. Qualities, you secretly hope you will have one day. What else ? Oh well, words very often used to describe Rahul Dravid. He had all these, and so much more.
It is a good guess to say that he has been a role model for many people in this country. It will be difficult for kids or indeed their parents, to find too many better ones.
So many images keep flooding my mind today. The dream debut. The first 100 at Jo'burg. The six of Donald. Hundreds in both innings at Hamilton. Bristol with Sachin. Taunton with Dada. Hyderabad with Sachin......Eden with Laxman. Headingly with Bangar. The keeper batsman and the fininsher in WC 2003. Adelaide. Rawalpindi. The two 100s vs Pak at Eden. Kingston. Perth........England 2011...
It was 2006 November or December. I was travelling to Chennai from Kolkata, but had a long stop-over at the old Bangalore airport. Almost 5-6 hours I think. Sitting around, I suddenly saw a familiar face among the passengers in the waiting area. He was extremely slim I remember. Sharing a quiet moment with his wife and little kid. Kissing them good bye before proceeding for security check on his way to an overseas tour. He appeared just like anyone else and not like the star he was. There was no ruckus, no fuss, no fanfare. No one ran to him for an autograph, because probably no one noticed - he carried no extra baggage of security or followers. He was quiet, unassuming, dignified. I was enchanted, spellbound, smitten. Rahul Dravid, the man, was always, a classy bugger.
It was 2010 and after Australia finished Day 1 of the 2nd test at the Chinnaswamy at 280 odd for 5. I hung around after play was over. Within a couple of minutes, a man came out, quickly organising a net at the far end. And started batting. He was out of form and he looked it. But you could see that he was trying hard. "Working on it" as some of us keep saying these days. He got out cheaply the next day. I am pretty sure, he would have gone back to practice again. And again.
He kept "working on his game" always. Ever improving, adapting, improvising. His game became better and better with each year. He invented and re-invented himself as an ODI player. From being the sheet anchor, to a utility player, to a finisher par excellence, he did it all. For a cricketer branded a test player, he one day went on to become the best One Day player in the world.
But  it was in Tests, where he was best. He was our finest number three. And yet, time and again, he went out to open in Tests when we ran out of openers, due to form or injury, when we ran out of options. He always took up the challenge, and often succeded.
Without Dravid, there would be no Eden, 2001. No Headingley, 2002.  No Adelaide, 2003. No Rawaldpindi, 2004.  No Eden, 2005. No Kingston, 2006. No Perth, 2007. Each of these test wins, these cherished, precious treasures of memories, has him very much in the middle. As a friend told me, he has given us so much happiness.....
He was at his best, when we were in some strife. He was at his best, when partnerships were to be built. His mastery of playing the second fiddle was second to known. He let our Gun players blaze away to glory, while he displayed guts. He was our umbrella for a rainy day, our shield, our vigilante, our silent protector, guardian, our Dark Knight.
He played more balls than anyone else in test cricket. And he "well left" balls better than anyone else. He had a magnificient defence. But his strokes had his own unique style, his very own, elan. The wristy flick of his early days, the on drive, the inside out over cover. The pull shot. The cover drive. The square cut. He had it all. My favourite Dravid shot is his glide to Third Man. Controlled. Measured. Precise. Efficient. Effective. He could have been a much more flair player, but he chose to be tight.
But most of all, he was an integral part of our most incredible generation of cricketers. SRT, Dada, VVS, Jumbo and Dravid. And part of so many, happy, memorable moments, which he helped create on the field. And led the way, as Indian cricket and its fans experienced unprecedented success. We have been so, so  fortunate to have them together. And the best part was - you didn't have to choose between them - you could idolise them all.
Rahul Dravid, the Cricketer has retired. It fills me with sadness. The Indian cricket fan probably feels a bit like W.H. Auden here:
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Thanks Rahul. For your runs and catches. And more importantly for being such a class act. We will miss your grace and dignity. And your judgement around the off-stump. "Well left".

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Of Turnarounds

turnaround [ˈtɜːnəˌraʊnd]
n
 a complete reversal of a situation or set of circumstances
(This is one of several definitions of course).
I am a supporter of Arsenal football club and the Indian Cricket team. What has happened - first on Sunday, as Arsenal beat Sp*rs 5-2, followed by today's incredible chase of India to score 321 in less than 37 overs against Sri Lanka, has been quite staggering.
Both these performances, on their own are tremendously impressive, but the background makes them quite unbelievable. For this to happen with both my sports teams is a very happy coincedence as well.
Arsenal, having probably their worst season in a long time; coming off back to back cup defeats - a quite clinical dismantling at the San Siro by Milan to lose 4-0 in the CL Round of 16 1st leg, followed by a rather dispirited effort at Sunderland to lose 2-0 and go out of the FA Cup. Facing their bitter local North London rivals, Tottenham, having probably their best season in 50 years, and ahead of the Gunners by 10 points - on course to avoid St. Totteringham's Day for the first time in 15 years ! Arsenal, in serious danger of losing their place in the Top 4 for the first time in Arsene Wenger's reign. Add up all this and you have a team in disarray playing their in form rivals and down 2-0 in the first half an hour at home. At that time, as a fan all you are doing is praying to avoid a humiliation. To then score 5 unanswered goals and play with a belief and style that has seemed long lost, is quite incredible. What was looking an ominous afternoon in a cauldron, in front of supporters, possibly on the brink of a mass mutiny, was converted by the end, into a carnival filled, with surprising joy and disbelief. It was a TURNAROUND of epic proportions.
India, on the last leg of a long, forgettable tour of Australia. Coming off two back to back defeats and virtually with no chance of making the finals; a team whose batting is in disarray and bowling is, rather inept. Facing a rejuvenated Sri Lanka side, who have among other things, just beaten Australia twice in a row, seemingly on top of their form. To then concede 320 runs and being asked to make an impropable chase of that in 40 overs was well, just not on. Or so we thought, before the team finished that off in just over 36 overs !!. It was a stunning TURNAROUND !
As a sports fan, you face defeat of may different types. This wonderful article mentions 13. Conversely, just occassionally, we get a chance to experience truly special, unforgettable victories as well. Over the last three days, I have just had two really special ones.
We all love stories of comebacks and turnarounds. In life, these things do take time. Coming back from a personal loss or a business failure or a serious illness, can take months, perhaps years. Sports, however, is life in fast forward. You can experience incredible lows, or as in these two cases, incredible highs, in a matter of hours, even minutes. It is moments like this, which justify my idea of never giving up ( or rather switching off) from a match which I have started watching (or as it happens more often these days - follow on the net). You just, never know. It is this, which makes it all worthwhile. And it can make you feel so good, like this.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

DON'T PANIC

Somewhere in the great publishing houses of Ursa Minor, a wholly remarkable book called The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is published. A book so remarkable that among other things, it is more controversial than the trilogy of philosophical blockbusters: Where God SRT Went Wrong,Some More of God's SRT's Greatest Mistakes and Who is this God SRT Person Anyway?
The back cover of this wholly remarkable book is presently undergoing a major change. The back cover which had the words DON'T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters is now getting a picture of the greatest practitioner of this advice, someone who apparently once stumbled upon the Answer to the Question of Life, the Universe and Everything , and who happens to be a member of the human race (a carbon-based life form descended from apes).
This is how the back cover looks now.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Geoffrey Boycott Alarm

How do you get up in the morning ? Chances are you use an alarm. What sort of an alarm ? An old school alarm clock ? Or a bollywood hit  belted out on your mobile phone ? Well, for a long time I had "Emotional Atyachar" from DevD as my alarm ring tone, because getting up for office is exactly that.
Anyway, back to the point. I love Audioboo. I am not sure why it is not yet popular among my friends or say, the twitter junta that I interact with. I do keep checking it out randomly, and last night I discovered this.
The Geoffrey Boycott Alarm. I am not sure whether it is an imitation or it is indeed Sir Geoffrey's voice. But by God, it is fun. And your grandmum will like it. Check it out.

Geoffrey Boycott Alarm (mp3)

Friday, February 3, 2012

WOW - RAH !!!

I LOVE Robert Pires. He was the type of player who made me and many Gooners around the world, dream. Yup, dreamy is the word, Arsenal fans use about him quite often, especially The Arseblogger.
I remember that one evening distinctly in 2003. It was Oshtomi and we were playing at Anfield. I clearly told my parents that Pandal Hopping would have to wait this evening for me, for my Gods were on the telly. And with the game at 1-1, this happened !!!

It is probably one of my most favourite goals ever. I don't know why, I remember it so distinctly, I remember going beserk at that time, wearing a certain yellow t-shirt at home. I still have that and whenever I wear it, my mind keeps going back to that Oshtomi evening. And this goal.
Bobby was awesome. The Arseblogger wrote the following in his good bye post for Bobby, many summers ago, which sums him up beautifully:

".. He was clever on the ball and creative, although his cruciate injury robbed him of his deceptive pace, he passed it beautifully but his goalscoring and finishing was just top class. Not only could he score brilliant curlers and individual goals he was a brilliant poacher as well. He was always waiting for a rebound or a fumble or hanging around the back post, just in case, and that just in case became ‘Thank you very much’ plenty of times.
He was just clinical. Left foot, right foot, from distance, free kicks, even the odd header. His first goal for the club was an absolute belter against Lazio. His last was a scrappy one against Wigan. But there were so many great ones inbetween. The curler at Liverpool in the unbeaten season, the 35 yard lob over the keeper against Southampton before he scuttled in the winner against them in the cup final, the famous lob over Schmeichel which made Andy Gray wee in his pants, the belter against Birmingham and all the goals against Sp*rs who must be happier than anyone to see him go. He never once finished on the losing side of a North London derby and scored 8 goals in 12 appearances. "
The world is a strange place. It is 2012 and Robert Pires, yes the same, dreamy, brilliant, awesome Robert Pires is going to turn up for HOWRAH in a newly formed professional football league in Poschim Bongo !!! When they say, truth is stranger than fiction, they mean things like this. It is unbelievable in so many levels, that it makes me just shake my head, but also smile. Just read this and smile if you are a football loving Bong:
"Hernan Crespo, the famed Argentine striker, fetched the highest price of Rs. 4.2 crore and was picked up by Barasat. Fabio Cannavaro, the World Cup-winning captain of Italy in 2006 — was bought by Siliguri for Rs. 4.15 crore. Robert Pires, the French midfielder, was picked up by Howrah for Rs. 4 crore, while English striker Robbie Fowler (2.65 crore) and Nigerian midfielder Jay-Jay Okocha (2.75 crore) went to Kolkata and Durgapur respectively."
Now repeat with me: Crespo will play for Barasat, Cannavaro for Siliguri, Pires for Howrah !!! This is the type of  stuff you don't even think or dare dreaming. I know that they are old now, possibly spent forces and all that, but still. Jeez.
They are calling it Football's Expendables and I am absolutely clueless as to what impact this will have, if any at all, on Indian football, as Pires joins the likes of Cannavaro and Crespo in the Maidans of Bengal.
I will probably watch on sometimes as a curious onlooker when the thing happens, but just for now, I will go back to what some of us do about Bobby. SWOON
Swoon

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Warne with a microphone

T20 cricket has its critics and issues. But it has some really cool things going on as well.
I have not followed the Big Bash League (BBL) - the franchisee based Australian domestic competition which in its first season. I watched it for half an hour today and I had a terrific experience.
Shane Warne was bowling with a microphone attached and he was taking the TV viewer literally through each and every ball that he was bowling. I knew that this was something that was happening in this tournament, when this Mccullum dismissal had happened a few weeks back.
Nothing of that sort happened today. While I was watching, he bowled 3 overs to a couple of old adversaries - Herschelle Gibbs and Paul Collingwood. And yet, as he took the viewer through each and every delivery of his, I got a glimpse, an insight, a little peak,  into the mind of probably the most fascinating character - the game has ever seen. I also got to see and listen, how he makes every delivery of his - an event in itself, each ball that he delivers -  has a life of its own; how he speaks on the field and tries to get into the mind of the batsman; how he attempts to bluff and double bluff the opposition. This was genius at work and as a viewer, you could not get any closer to see him work.
A T20 match perhaps doesn't allow Warne to have an elaborate setup and deception that perhaps a long test match spell would offer. And yet, post his retirement from international cricket, we have been privileged to see him in short cameos playing T20 cricket. He has been wonderful to watch while playing and captaining Rajasthan Royals and now with the microphone on while bowling for the Melbourne Stars.
I am not sure, we will be seeing test matches with players speaking while bowling or batting any time soon. Perhaps we should keep it that way - I don't know. But this format of cricket did provide me something different and special. And it was terrific fun.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Testing Times

I have a problem. I mean, I have many problems, but this is one of them. That I cannot give up on my old loves. Well of course, it is a problem in many different spheres of life. This cricket team of ours is just one such old love. The events of Friday the 13th, 2012 (take a look a the date - a combination of some seriously evil omens) have left me in grief and contemplating.
The Kubler Ross Theory states that there are 5 stages of grief. I think the combined test tours of England and Australia has been a journey in this for me as a fan.

Denial: It started with the first two tests in England. I lived in denial. I thought what was happening was an aberration. Some of our players were not fit. Some were coming off a long break and the general high of the World Cup win. Things were not as bad as they looked. I mean, how long could Barbie stay in form.We would come back.I now realise I was in denial.
Anger:  We flopped again in the next two tests. This was bad. I was angry at the players for not playing well. I was angry at the board for not giving us enough time to practice. I was angry at the umpires, the media. Just angry.
Bargaining: We had the West Indies home series next, but my eye was already on the next tour down under. I thought things would get better. England was an aberration, give this team some time and we would get the job done. We almost did that in Melbourne, but fell short. I bargained for some more time - give us a good pitch in Sydney and we would do it. Definitely.
Despair:  Then Sydney happened. Where we manojed, I mean managed to get ourselves out for less than 200 on a good batting pitch. Then let that bitch, I mean Pup, score a triple, effin hundred against us. And lost by an innings. It really was desperately poor stuff. Despair.
Acceptance: Day 1 Scorecard. India 161 All Out. Australia 149/0. Need I say more. It is over. This golden generation is history. I accept.
I am not really in a position to say what went wrong and why. You could say that this was over much earlier, but then I was a fool. I accept the fact today. I am skeptical of all those who are doing the post mortems. Some of the hysteria in the media is shameful and disgusting. Like one ex BBC sports editor calling Dhoni comes across like a State Bank of India clerk on an Indian television channel, a kind of double abuse, which is unfair to both MSD and an SBI clerk. It is perfectly honourable to be an SBI clerk and if Dhoni came across as one he would be doing fine. That gentleman would do well to remember his adopted country's world cup count, but then again being in the media, everything is fair game for him.
Some of the best writing has been from cricketingview such as this one. I do not believe that we lack fight or courage. Frankly, very few of us are in any position at all to judge the temperament of players. I would like to believe that our shortcomings are technical and not mental. Much of our batting problems are due to the problem of batsmen getting older and  the fractional slowing of reflexes. Time has taken a toll on this most incredible of line-ups. Our bowling issues on the other hand are more structural. Lack of depth, lack of experience and general inconsistency are some of the problems. It was never our strongest suit, it is not exactly in the most pink of health now.
Yes, mistakes have been made in transitioning, but I am honestly not sure if I would have done too differently myself as a selector. I know that we will eventually move on. And get back up in the test arena. Till then I just have to man up. And take it on the chin.
The journey of the Indian Test Team from the lows of 1999-2000 to 2011-12 has been fascinating. We started from a low point. We are back down under now. But it was a thrilling ride. Thanks for the memories. And get well soon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

There and back again !

First things first. A definition. GilbertoSilver tells us What is va va voom?
It’s many things. It’s a style, an attitude. It’s a grace, an impudence, a gallic flair. It’s instant control, a side-footed finish, and a shrug of celebration......
Last night I had a dream. Correction, I SAW a dream. I am certain millions of Arsenal fans across the world saw the same dream, at the same time. Live. About 60,000 in the stadium and the rest like me on their TV sets. Thierry Henry played for Arsenal Football Club and scored a goal. A winning goal !
Everybody loves old heroes to return. Now and then, you get to see famous stars come back and play - perhaps a benefit match, or a testimonial. Or even a veterans tournament. You check that out, you feel happy, you remember the good times.
You see that in films too, an old hero returns for a cameo appearance. You get a little nostalgic perhaps and giddy eyed for a moment. You feel good.
But, what if the return is for real ? If only for a short time, but for real. In the middle of a season, when you are struggling, you get the boost of your greatest ever striker turning up for a couple of months. You feel delighted. You wait with bated breath to see what magic awaits you. At the same time, it is at the back of your mind., that you should not expect miracles, this is not the same player anymore. He cannot be.
Except that when he got the chance last night - he just reminded you - how good he can still be.
Thierry Henry was a teenage hero of mine. I really have no words to describe him other than a hero. He was one of the most important reasons for me having a happy life back then. I used to worship him. When he took that sublime first touch, opened up his body and sidefooted the ball into the back of the net - inside out - in an oh so familiar fashion, time stopped. Bang in the middle of the night here in India. It felt like being transported back in time. Deja vu ! Va va voom !
I started with one great blogger. I will end with what another great one - Tim Stillman has to say here.
"..When you stick around it for enough years and you penetrate the hype of Sky`s 'Super, Mega, Ultra Sunday`, you see that every game is a potential classic. Every match a potential soap opera. And every game has a potential storyline that just lifts you up and takes you away. That gifts you the sort of moments that can make you smile at your desk, despite the chronic lack of sleep. It`s true you have to wade through some mediocre fare to get them, but when you do, it makes every second worth it. Life doesn`t give you many moments like that. But if you stick around long enough, football will give you plenty.
On the face of it and to the uninitiated, a 1-0 win 3rd Round Cup win over lower league opposition on a Monday evening has no right to produce such emotion. But it does. And there`s no explaining or rationalising it. You either get it or you don`t..."

By God, this was one such moment. Thank you Thierry Henry.

Welcome Home

 

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. Copy Pasting from this site is allowed only if you give credits. Ok ?