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. 

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