Bangalore can wait. India can’t.

The 2019 cricket World Cup is just over 45 days away and it requires Virat Kohli to be at his best mentally and physically.

Virat Kohli should consider resigning from the captaincy of the Royal Challengers Bangalore. He should also consider taking a break from cricket for a while and return to the World Cup in a better state of mind. This isn’t to take moral responsibility for the team’s abysmal showing in this year’s IPL so far but it’s because team India needs him more than his franchise. The IPL comes along every year. The World Cup comes along once in 4 years.

Of course, there is a lot at stake in the IPL and Kohli, even though the franchise he captains is in doldrums, can’t just step down without some sort of an outcry.

It might seem like a life time away but a younger Kohli has seen worse in the same franchise.

The Royal Challengers Bangalore has had a chequered run at the IPL. Their beginning was anything but auspicious and their first season an abject disaster. In the first ever match of the IPL in 2008, Brendon McCullum, donning the Kolkata Knight Riders uniform, tore the Bangalore attack to shreds and the  Kolkata Knight Riders amassed 222 runs. Bangalore crumbled for 82, losing the match by a massive 140 runs. The team, which was fondly dubbed as a ‘test team’ as it featured a surfeit of test players like Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble  got a sense of what it was like to be owned by a business conglomerate who wanted to win at any cost. The flamboyant Vijay Mallya, who is today a fugitive from justice and fighting extradition in UK, sacked Charu Sharma who was the team CEO halfway through the tournament, threatened to sack Venkatesh Prasad who was the bowling coach and fumed about how Rahul Dravid didn’t allow him to pick the squad of his choice. All of this played out in the public eye.

According to rumors, executives from Vijay Mallya’s company sat in on team meetings and gave their two cents worth of advice. By the end of the season, the great Rahul Dravid was removed as captain and Kevin Pietersen was roped in. That move didn’t help and the team’s performances didn’t see an improvement. It was after Anil Kumble took over the captaincy halfway through the 2009 edition that the team went on winning run, reaching the finals, only to lose to the Deccan Chargers (today known as Sunrisers Hyderabad).

Mallya’s ill-fated moves weren’t just limited to his disastrous airline. In 2014, RCB bought Yuvraj Singh for a whopping 14 crores and employees of his airline staged protests as they hadn’t received a salary in months.

They again reached the finals in 2016 and lost to the Sunrisers in the final.

It’s the 12th year of the IPL and by the looks of it, Bangalore has to wait for the next season to raise its hopes again. After last year’s lackadaisical show, the team made a change to its support staff by removing head coach Daniel Vettori and bringing in Gary Kirsten. Ashish Nehra seems to have retained his job because of the Delhi connection, the same way Rahul Dravid stepped in to stop then bowling coach of the franchise Venkatesh Prasad from being sacked by an irate and loony Vijay Mallya. Kohli, who has been accused of being stubborn and having his way, as it was in the case of the Anil Kumble fiasco, will have a lot to answer for. He must thank his stars that he is not going through what Rahul Dravid did in the first season when dirty laundry was aired in public and legends were treated with impunity. He is probably one of the most powerful men in Indian cricket but franchise cricket plays by a different set of rules. For someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, whose face is a barometer of his emotions, a losing streak isn’t the ideal scenario.

MS Dhoni, on the other hand, is the face of calm. Even when the team was getting routed and whitewashed in England and Australia and his name cropped up in the IPL spot fixing scandal, he didn’t give excuses or leak stuff to the media. He was accused of being indifferent. On the other hand, Kohli is accused of never being able to contain his emotions.

Virat Kohli isn’t one to step back from a fight. Some of his most audacious and breat- taking innings have come when the team’s back is against the wall. In the same vein, he probably regards giving up captaincy as a cop out, like admitting failure. Again, he doesn’t have to go too far back in time to see that captaincy is a double-edged sword.

Sachin Tendulkar’s stints at captaincy were not very memorable.

Rahul Dravid was beaten and bruised by the shocking first round exit in the 2007 World Cup and after leading India to a victory in a test series in England after 21 years, returned and abruptly resigned from captaincy.

No one said they were quitters. Captaincy is just not everyone’s cup of tea.

The IPL has always had an uneasy relationship with international cricket. Players have been accused of putting club over country, been picked on IPL form only to flounder in international cricket and stretched themselves too thin because their franchises demanded that they play even when they were not fully fit.

Great players don’t necessarily become great captains and great captains aren’t always the best players in the team.

Virat Kohli, even though he fell a few notches down in my books after he displaced my childhood hero Anil Kumble from his position, is no doubt one the greatest players to have ever played the game.

Bangalore can wait another season. It has already gone 12 years without an IPL title. Cleveland went 53 years without winning a single sports title and it took Le Bron James to lift the curse. Bangalore isn’t that unlucky. Bangalore FC is among the best football teams in the country and won the most recent ISL.

Having the IPL just before the World Cup lends itself to the high probability of players injuring themselves. But no one thinks about what a poor showing in the tournament does to a player’s state of mind before he enters the World Cup.

Whether Virat Kohli can sustain his intensity as player and captain without burning out is left to be seen. Whatever he does, he must be rest assured that he is one of the greatest players to play the game and given his extraordinary fitness, he has a few more good years to further fortify his legend.

No doubt questions will again be asked at the end of this IPL season about the franchise. It’s inevitable. Why haven’t RCB failed to win the IPL even once and what is the reason for their poor showing is a Chinese puzzle that can’t be solved easily. This time, Kohli himself may find it hard to escape scrutiny.

But for now, Kohli should consider giving up captaincy, taking a few matches off and getting ready for the World Cup.

India needs him. Bangalore can wait.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s long road is more honorable than Hardik Pandya’s highway to hell

When Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul are in the news for their outrageous comments on a third rate TV chat show, it shows us why cricket needs more people like Cheteswar Pujara who take the long road to success, one that is less glamorous but definitely more rewarding.

Picture courtesy – Bored Cricket Crazy Indians

‘Put on your red shoes and dance the blues’ – David Bowie

It was a pity that the celebrations after a historic series win in Australia took place after a day on which there was no play. It was gloomy and it drizzled endlessly. Historic victories need to end on a fitting note, one befitting the magnitude of the win. A perfect end would have been a Jasprit Bumrah yorker sending the stumps cartwheeling. Or Cheteshwar Pujara holding on to a skier securely. Then, all 11 players gravitate towards the middle of the pitch like bees towards a hive and a minor scuffle ensues on who gets to keep a stump for posterity. These are the scenes historic victories are made of. Not drizzle and gloomy skies.

It isn’t as if we know much about Cheteshwar Pujara but if there was one thing we learned, it is that he can’t dance. Facing 1258 deliveries, the most by an Indian batsman in an Australian series, surpassing the person whose shoes he had been ordained to fill – the great Rahul Dravid, seems to be easier than doing an impromptu jig for the cameras.

There are a few things as beautiful as waking up in the morning and
listening to MS Subbulakshmi’s Suprabatham. The closest competition to that is a test match and the sound of the ball hitting the willow. And at the end of the India-Australia test series, a very unlikely hero emerged.

Cheteshwar Pujara has a moniker to himself – Che Pujara. It’s a very unlikely prefix for someone you wouldn’t think of a firebrand rebel.

Che Guvera, whose face adorns many t-shirts sold in black markets and whose exploits those who wear those t-shirts surely don’t know of, can’t be further from Che Pujara. Pujara is an understated batsman who can bat without a pause button and goes about his duties without much fuss. His ramrod focus enables him to bat endlessly, like some Trollopian length Stephen King novels.

In an age of instant gratification where teams are willing to take a punt on uncapped players and turn them into overnight millionaires after an IPL auction, Pujara isn’t deemed fit for the IPL. He isn’t even in the scheme of things when the ODI series of a tour comes around. When Rahul Dravid retired, writer Mukesh Kesavan said he feared that test cricket was dead. Who could possibly fill ‘The Wall’s’ shoes when it came to test cricket?

Thankfully, Cheteshwar Pujara was waiting in the wings.

When great players retire, there is a rush to identify their successors. It is nothing short of a miracle that in Virat Kohli, India were actually able to find someone who could step in gargantuan shoes of Sachin Tendulkar. Why, on current form, he may even surpass the master one day. Pujara was always ear marked to be Dravid’s successor. Rahul Dravid, after being dropped from the ODI side early in his career was able to through sheer will and tenacity modify his game to the shorter format and be an integral part of the limited overs side for a decade. On that front, Pujara hasn’t been that fortunate. While those in the Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly and Tendulkar era grew up aspiring for greatness in test cricket, Pujara is playing in an era where an IPL contract is one’s ticket to glory.

In the age of Swiggy, Cheteshwar Pujara is like your grandmother’s cooking.

Dhoni was never himself when he played test cricket. What retiring from the format gave him was a lot of time. It’s the same with Pujara. When a test series is over, he falls out of the radar. Instead of turning up on crass TV shows, doing television commercials and trying very hard to stay in the public eye, he turns up for his state side Saurashtra and plays county cricket. How does Pujara spend his free time? By playing more cricket.

He is currently in the A grade in the BCCI’s contract list and after his exploits in the Australia series, they are talks of upgrading him to the A+ Grade, the highest possible, one where he will be bracketed with Virat Kohli and earn 7 crores.

In 2019, any test specialist will be accused of being born in the wrong era. But a lot of what Pujara does doesn’t answer to any rule book. He’s not a rebel, but rather, he’s wired differently. Instead of wearing flashy clothes and dressing up like someone in a 50 cent video, he has a cricket school that coaches children free of cost. Dropped time and again by the Shastri-Kohli combine, ostensibly for not being in the aggressive mold that they seem to champion, a cursory glance at Pujara reveals that he doesn’t fit into most molds.

Pujara, who has had to face the ignominy of being dropped from the side for scoring too slowly.

Pujara, who sits and watches as obscure players make millions in a single season of the IPL.

Pujara, whose face doesn’t adorn countless billboards endorsing everything from chips to alcohol.

Pujara, who faces 1258 balls in a single series but isn’t deemed fit for the IPL.

At the other end of the spectrum is Hardik Pandya. While much has been said about his insensitive comments on a deplorable TV chat show, he should realize that he is treading dangerous waters. If he wants to crystal gaze into what his future may look like if he continues on his path, he needn’t look too far for there is a striking cautionary tale from Mumbai itself. Vinod Kambli, once a rising star of Indian cricket, crashed and burned when he couldn’t handle the blindly excesses of fame. The money and fame that Hardik Pandya commands is way more than Kambli did during his time. Both have a penchant for the fast life and appearing on crappy TV shows.

After the 2013 spot-fixing fiasco, the BCCI made a half-hearted attempt at cleansing the game by banning after-parties. But the mentoring and sensitization of young players has been overdue. For every Cheteshwar Pujara who wears fame lightly on his shoulders, there is a Hardik Pandya whose flashy clothing, lifestyle and insensitive comments are a reflection of how much they have been blinded by the arc lights and fame.

In 2003-2004, India came close to winning a series in Australia. It was Rahul Dravid who almost single-handedly won the match for India in Adelaide and if Sourav Ganguly had enforced a follow-on earlier in the last match at Sydney, who knows, we needn’t have waited another 14 years. He would have been pleased that the person picked out to be his successor completed what he couldn’t in 2003-04.

As of writing this, Rahul Dravid is celebrating his 46th birthday. It was he who fast-tracked Pandya’s entry to the side based on his U-19 performances. And it was Pujara who was always touted to succeed him. 

Today, he will be proud of only one of them. 

It’s now time for the ODI’s. Then the IPL. And then the World Cup. We’ll be seeing a lot  more of Pandya and Pujara will be relegated to a distant memory, only to resurface when the next test series comes along.

Somewhere around 2012, Virat Kohli turned his fitness and career around. Not know to shy away from partying, many thought he too would be lost to the maze that is instant fame. It can be debated whether his on-field aggression and behavior is role model worthy but one thing is for sure – for Virat Kohli, the game comes first. He is one of the fittest, hungriest and most consistent in international cricket. 

Retired NBA superstar Charles Barkley is one hell of a colourful character. He has had numerous run-ins with the law for gambling, getting into altercations and drunk driving. He featured in a popular Nike ad in the 90s where he claimed he wasn’t a role model and didn’t intend to be one. 

He’s right. No sportsperson is paid to be a role model. They are paid to play. 

No doubt Hardik Pandya is a great talent, someone who has drawn comparisons with the great Kapil Dev for his all-round abilities. If he seeks to have a reasonably successful career without self-destructing, he can take a page out of Pujara’s book.

Cheteshwar Pujara may never earn the money, the fame or the adulation that a Hardik Pandya will receive and he sure as hell won’t appear on Koffee with Karan. But his achievements will be tempered with grace and dignity. The reason why we recall Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble so fondly isn’t just for the awards and the achievements, but for the way they conducted themselves and played the game.

In their own way, they left the game better than they found it. They didn’t do it because anyone prodded them or paid them to do it.

Cheteshwar Puajara understands this.

Hardik Pandya, for all of his fast-scoring and fast-living ways, has a lot of catching up to do in this area.

You see a tree, I see a wicket

Not everyone who plays street cricket goes on to play for the country and become wildly rich and famous. But anyone who is a somebody has once upon a time played street cricket.

Trees give us shade and oxygen and are a balm to concrete jungle weary eyes. There is nothing like the threat of trees being chopped and making way for a flyover that gets citizens riled up and on to the streets to protest, raising slogans.

There was a tree from my childhood. If I remember right, it wasn’t all that big. The trunk was small, just enough to double-up as cricket stumps. It was situated a few yards away from where the road turned. Located on a busy road, it cast a forlorn look on the road below.

In India, the world isn’t your oyster, it’s a cricket pitch. All you need is space, a bat, a ball and oodles of imagination.

Someone took a stone and carved a line on to the bark. The line functioned as the bails. It was crooked and sloped downwards. This minor error formed the basis of most of the ensuing arguments that were about whether the ball hit the bails or hit above.

There was another tree located diagonally. That served as the other wicket and doubled up as the bowler’s crease.

The boundaries were drawn out of thin air and if one hit a delivery into any of the houses nearby, they were declared out.

The tree came to life when holidays came into play and we were freed from the chains that school bound us in. It was a sign of freedom. Without the tree, we would have to search for something that doubled up as a wicket.

The enemies of street cricket are vehicles and houses, in that order. If you were in the middle of a delivery and a vehicle was passing by, play stopped until the vehicle moved out of sight. In street cricket, you always have to be prepared to run, make that flee. Flee from angry people who, if given a chance, will put up a wanted notice with your face on it.

There are two very distinct sounds of glass breaking from my childhood that I recall very vividly. One is of a stone being thrown on our window during riots and the other is of glass breaking when a cricket ball hits it. Both are dreadful in their own way.

One rubber ball cost 20 rupees, a princely sum for us. Endless hours were spent under the hot sun, trying our best not to break a window or hit a ball inside a home. Both meant that an indefinite halt of play and censure until we could afford another ball or until tempers cooled down. Neither came with any time-frame, which meant doing our best to preserve what we had.

Not everyone who plays street cricket goes on to play for the country and become wildly rich and famous. But anyone who is a somebody has once upon a time played street cricket.

When you see a tree, you may see shade, greenery, a source of oxygen.

I see a wicket.

Give me a bat and ball. Let’s play.


Mohammad Azharuddin hasn’t left the building


A few people were outraged when tainted former captain Mohammad Azharuddin was invited to ring the bell at Eden Gardens during the India-West Indies match. Just as Azharuddin has always remained an enigma, his legacy too will be a complicated one.

If you grew up in the 90s, there aren’t probably too many happy cricket memories that you can recall. Most of the ones you have will probably feature Sachin Tendulkar trying to pull off a heist while you sat, hands clasped in prayer.

What else do you remember?

Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad bowling tirelessly on flat pitches at home. Sourav Ganguly coming in as the third seamer. Anil Kumble and co. who ruled the roost on tailor made pitches at home. The 1996 World-Cup semi-finals meltdown that made you sob uncontrollably. Desert storm.

Who else do you recall?

Wait, how can you forget Mohammad Azharuddin? Captain of few words but with an upturned collar to boot. Silken wrist play and fielding abilities that were light years ahead of most. The bitter team mate who supposedly thwarted Sachin Tendulkar’s attempts at a half-decent captaincy by constantly undermining him. The near legend who sold his soul, his achievements and immortality for greed and lust and crash-landed from grace, leaving a gaping black hole in Indian cricket.

If one were to sum up Mohammad Azharuddin’s in a sentence, it will simply be this – a fairy tale beginning with a tragic ending. He made his debut when most of us were probably taking our first steps and began his career with by striking three centuries in the first three test matches that he played, a record that has stood the test of time. Made captain in the early 90s, Azharuddin heralded a period of dominance at home where tracks were laid out for spinners. Remember the merry trio of Rajesh Chauhan, Venkatapathy Raju and Anil Kumble?

Understanding where Indian cricket was in the 90s is hard for most of us. Buoyed by the improbable 1983 victory in the World Cup finals, the Indian team lacked confidence and were still finding their feet. To see how far Indian cricket has come in terms of clout from those days of obeisance to now, here’s a small comparison – when India toured South Africa in 1992 after they were re-integrated into the cricketing fold after the apartheid years, Kepler Wessels apparently whacked Kapil Dev with his bat while taking a run. Reluctant to make a big deal out of it, Kapil kept quiet and the matter was given a quiet burial. Contrast that to the BCCI’s stance in 2007-08 during the monkeygate scandal, when it threw all its weight behind a temperamental Harbhajan Singh who was accused of using a racial slur against Andrew Symonds. If reports are to be believed, a plane was waiting at Adeleide to fly the team back at a moment’s notice if the Australian board didn’t drop their charges against Harbhajan. The bullied had become the bullies.

In the 90s, the team relied on sheer talent and the genius of a few players to eke out victories. There were no international coaches, no multiple coaches and the players weren’t offered contracts by the board. And there was no IPL. The practice methods were outdated and winning away from home wasn’t even a pipe dream.

I sometimes wonder how Azharuddin’s life and career would have played out had social media been around. This is a gist of what he did – at the height of his fame, he left his demure wife and two children for a B-Grade starlet. In that era, when someone like a Vinod Kambli fell out of favour with the cricket board because of his flamboyant lifestyle, Azhar’s escapades were sacrilege 101. According to Rakesh Maria, the then police chief of Mumbai, Azharuddin had a ‘criminal bent of mind.’ The most damning evidence against him are his own words, when he confessed to the CBI that he had helped fixed matches.

For a shamed sportsman, redemption seems always at large. Hansie Cronje, the other big name whose involvement in the scandal set off an earthquake in cricketing circles, was in some ways fortunate. He crashed and burned in a plane crash in 2002, taking his secrets to the grave and didn’t have to struggle to carve out his post match-fixing accused life. People forget that after the scandal, Azhar fell off the radar, his presence not welcome in any cricketing circles. In 2009, he rose like a phoenix, stood for elections on a Congress ticket and won, becoming a member of parliament. Only politics can rehabilitate the tainted.

A few years back, a crying Vinod Kambli made startling claims about the infamous world cup semi-finals of 1996 being fixed. If only Vinod Kambli had an ounce of credibility, people may have sat up and listened. Even then, no high profile member of that line-up – Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble or Javagal Srinath came to his defence or supported him in any form. No one wanted to be seen taking sides with a cheat. When he rang the bell before the start of the India-West Indies match, Gautam Gambhir immediately sent out a tweet expressing his disappointment. Sanjay Manjrekar, Azhar’s one time team mate turned commentator, sent out a tweet with a link to the CBI enquiry of the fixing scandal which states almost unequivocally that Mohammad Azharuddin had confessed to his sins to the CBI.

While Azharuddin served as a Member of Parliament, his rehabilitation and entry back into Indian cricket has been a mixed bag. For a long time, he was seen as a tragic figure who had scripted a sad ending to what could have been a legendary career. It was as if cricket was trying to erase him from its books and close a chapter that it didn’t want re-opened and every time he showed up somewhere, it was like opening a pandora’s box all over again. In 2012, his life ban was finally lifted but even that was bittersweet. He was 49, his glory days a distant memory, his cricketing legacy turned to dust. During the 2017 Champions Trophy finals that featured India and Pakistan, Azharuddin wasn’t given a ticket to watch the finals as the ICC  deemed him as tainted. A former captain who had captained in 3 World Cups was still considered a fugitive at large in some circles.

A couple of years back, he attempted to repair his tarnished image with a biopic Azhar. In India, one of the best ways to resurrect and reinvent oneself is the biopic. Here, all mistakes are deemed to be misunderstandings and who we thought was the villain is actually the hero in disguise.

To me, Mohammad Azharuddin is and will always be a mountain of contradictions, a puzzle that can never be solved. He started his career with 3 centuries, scored a century in his last test match and was left stranded at 99 tests. Immortality, so near, yet so far. His successor, Sourav Ganguly, is heralded as someone who helped Indian cricket forget about the match-fixing era with his inspiring leadership. It was the same Sourav Ganguly headed CAB that invited Mohammad Azharuddin back to ring the ceremonial bell. His redemption, much like his life, is a jigsaw puzzle for which people are constantly trying to find the pieces.

Whenever I think of Mohammad Azharuddin, there is only one question that comes to mind. Why? He had all the money in the world but still lusted for more. He had all the fame and adulation that anyone could ask for, yet he went around seeking attention from dubious people. He could have an aspirational story but instead became a cautionary one.

My most abiding memory of him is his fielding and sublime use of his wrists. If he had simply focused on those, he would have had the whole world at his feet.



Dhoni, and the surreal class of 2007


Mahendra Singh Dhoni heralded the T20 revolution in India by leading the team to its maiden T20 World Cup win. Now, we may  no longer see him in the format he made his own. 
As a sportsperson grows older, they all fight to stay relevant. When form dips, it is tougher to find one’s feet again and you’re always looking back to see who is catching up with you. When a series goes awry, you wonder if you will don the team jersey again.
Time, which was once your ally, is now a thief.
Dhoni can’t be old. It’s impossible. Yesterday we saw him pulverize attacks and finish matches with a flourish. Well, it feels like yesterday. No one wants to see their heroes to grow old. When their time comes, they should go out in a blaze of glory, before they begin to fumble against lesser mortals.
It’s been a little over 11 years since MS Dhoni led India to its maiden T20 world cup victory.  That tournament was a revelation, an education and a celebration, all in one. No one knew the format. No one thought it would explode and turn cricket over its head. No one knew that one day there would be T20 leagues and players would choose club over country. No one knew that so much money was lying dormant and when it came out, it was like some oil well had been discovered.
Dhoni led a team of young tyros that didn’t feature any big names.`Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and
Anil Kumble, all politely excused themselves from the tournament. Even they couldn’t see the future of the game and the leap it would make.
How many moments in your life can you describe as surreal? Getting drunk doesn’t count as one. We struggle to find surreal in life, that’s why we attempt to manufacture it.
But that’s the only word I can use to describe that inaugural T20 World Cup – surreal.
The first match against India and Pakistan ends in a bowl out, a practice that has since been stopped and replaced with the super over. The format didn’t know how else to complete a match that was tied.
Against South Africa, an excellent bowling effort led by RP Singh, Sreesanth and Pathan meant that the home side was knocked out of the tournament. A younger Dinesh Karthik flies in the air to pull off a stunning catch to dismiss Graeme Smith. Shaun Pollock is bowled by a stunner by RP Singh. South Africa are reduced to rubble and to add salt to their wounds, they miscalculate the runs they need to get to the next round.
Against England, there will always be one abiding memory – that of Yuvraj Singh taking Stuart Broad to the cleaners with his six sixes that immortalised him. In T20 cricket, we learned that everything was speeded up – even becoming legendary.  After Andrew Flintoff made the effort to walk up to him before the start of the over and give him an earful, Yuvraj looked like he wanted to get into a fist fight. Umpire Billy Doctrove made an attempt to dissuade him. All the while, captain Dhoni watched, possibly with a smile on his face.
But the match wasn’t one sided. England lost by 18 runs but gave India a run for their money.
The format ran on adrenaline. How it is possible to give adrenaline an adrenaline boost? Well, that’s exactly what Yuvraj Singh did with that one over. Cheerleaders. Commentators jumping up from their seats because they too were journeying with the rest of us.
Everything seemed, well, so surreal.
Against Australia, India again post a commanding total, riding on Yuvraj’s Jesus walking on water form and valuable contributions by Robin Uthappa and Dhoni. Australia don’t cower down. In fact, Andrew Symmonds and Matthew Hayden look they are going to run away with the match until Sreesanth strikes to get Hayden out. Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh get into the act, removing Michael Clarke and Andrew Symmonds.
India book a place with Pakistan in the final.
Can things get even more surreal?
The final dawns upon us. Gambhir plays a valuable knock, Yuvraj runs out of his superhuman prowess and no one knows whether 157 will be enough. Pakistan go on a blitzkreig and it looks like a lopsided finish. But this is Pakistan, not the most clinical nor blessed with too much common sense. This is India Pakistan, nothing goes according to script (unless you consider the shady matches played in the late 90s at Sharjah)
Pakistan are 77/6. It should be over. People realise that someone called Misbah ul Haq exists. Misbah, who at the age of 33, is coming out of retirement. Misbah, who smashes a wayward Harbhajan for a couple of sixes and is actually turning the tide. 
It all boils down to the last over. 13 runs. Joginder Sharma has the ball in his hand. 
Wide. Then a six. Effectively 7 runs of one delivery. Which meant they only needed 6 runs off 4 deliveries. Misbah can’t risk rotating strike. He then plays a shot that will forever haunt him and one which Indian fans will be forever in his debt. He scoops the ball and out of nowhere, Sreesanth runs towards it and latches on to the catch. 
Geoff Lawson, the then Pakistan coach can’t believe what has happened. 
The BCCI, which saw the tournament as some short-lived experiment hadn’t even bothered to hire a full time coach. Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh toured with the team as bowling as fielding coaches.
This is what surreal looks like – a side goes into a tournament without its most recognised players. The side is led by a newly appointed captain. There is no full time coach. And they’re playing a format they aren’t even acquainted with. 
Then they win the tournament.
Dhoni has led the side in 5 more T20 World Cups since. In 2014, the side lost to a determined Sri Lanka in the final. In 2016, they were expected to win it at home and were swept off by the West Indies who were an unstoppable juggernaut
Now, by the looks of it, Dhoni won’t feature in any more T20 matches for India. The next T20 World Cup is in 2020 and his successors are being readied. When he retired from tests at the end of 2014, he did so without much of a fuss. It seemed like he wanted to rid himself of that unwanted weight, in a format that seemed to restrict him. But when it came to limited overs cricket, he seems to feel he has something more to offer. 
Nostalgia is a lovely emotion but not a very useful one. It doesn’t alter a balance sheet or statistics or numbers. Players are always trying to regain form but as they grow older, they are always trying to do more than that – regain their youth. And Dhoni, like million other athletes before him is coming to that realization. In this year’s IPL, where he was reunited with his beloved Chennai Super Kings after a two year hiatus, we saw glimpses of the Dhoni of old. While his IPL career is by no means over, his career as an international T20 player might as well be. 
Dhoni, who shepherded a team through a new format, turned a game on its head and won countless hearts is now being asked to walk away from what he helped build.
One of my most abiding memories from the T20 World Cup final in 2007 comes after the victory. 
As Dhoni is walking towards the dressing room, a kid stops him. He calmly removes his shirt, gives it to kid, helps him wear it and walks away. 
It all seemed, well, so surreal. 


AB de Villiers – the superhero that cricket needed, but didn’t necessarily deserve

ab stunning catch

After another dismal outing at this year’s IPL, the fans of Royal Challengers Bangalore were disappointed that they wouldn’t see AB de Villiers in action anymore for this year’s edition.

Little did they know that a bigger disappointment lay in store.

AB de Villiers announced that he was retiring from all forms of cricket via a video that he posted on his social media platforms. Very little has gone right for Bangalore this season. They dropped a misfiring Chris Gayle who used the rejection to spur him on in his new team, the Kings XI Punjab. KL Rahul was inexplicably not retained in favour of Sarfaraz Khan, who did little to repay the team management’s faith in him. Though the Kings XI didn’t make it to the playoffs, KL Rahul is one of the top scorers of the tournament. Though RCB added Brendon McCullum to their arsenal this season, he was nowhere near the player who struck 158 off 73 deliveries in the first ever IPL match ever played. Bangalore was at the receiving end then.

What didn’t start too well didn’t end too well.

And now, Ab de Villiers too won’t be a part of the Royal Challengers line up come the next edition of the IPL. The team, which till last season boasted of one of the most fearsome batting line-ups in IPL history has a lot of rebuilding to do.

When Sachin Tendulkar was going through a very lean patch, he got booed off at the Wankhede Stadim, the place he called his second home. Javed Miandad played his last ever international match against Indian in the famous 1996 World Cup quarterfinal that Pakistan lost after Aamir Sohail’s wicket put brakes on their hurried chase. But what happens when Ab de Villiers came to bat in Bangalore during South Africa’s tour of India? The crowd chants his name.

When some players come to the crease, there is a rush of blood to the head. Anything is possible.


Will AB de Villiers run to the offside just before the bowler is about to release the ball and transport the ball over the fine leg boundary?

Will AB de Villiers go on bended knee and loft it over the keeper? If he misses, it will ram his neck or worse, his face.

Will AB de Villiers almost topple over in his quest to deposit a yorker that is sliding down the offside over the square leg boundary for an audacious six.

Will AB de Villiers come down the pitch and deposit the rising ball to the midwicket boundary?

Will AB de Villiers conjure a catch out of thin air and land within what looks like centimetres from the boundary line?

Will AB de Villiers turn left handed and smash a six over third man?

Will AB de Villiers score the world’s fastest double century, triple century, today?

Indian cricket fans got to see de Villers mostly in the Royal Challengers Bangalore jersey. Though his heroics couldn’t propel them to an IPL title, he found a second home for himself. Fans may have hoped to see him stay on till the 2019 World Cup and help South Africa break their never ending 7 year curse that has been thrust upon them when it comes to World Cups and international tournaments. But not everyone’s desire for glory can be stretched to near infinity like Sachin Tendulkar’s, who faced disappointment 4 times before finding glory in his fifth and final World Cup. Fans will recall the epic 2015 World Cup semi-final between New Zealand and South Africa that was won by New Zealand, courtesy a Grant Elliot six in the last over. One of the most enduring images of that match is of de Villiers hunched down on the pitch with Grant Elliot and Daniel Vettori sharing a hug in the background.  Most of the South African side were in tears after the match and it would be safe to say that most cricket lovers shared their sorrow.amazing fielding

The great Imran Khan retired in 1987 and was requested by President General Zia-Ul-Haq to return. He ended his career by leading Pakistan to their only World Cup victory to date in 1992.

After losing more tournament finals than he could take, Lionel Messi shook the sports world by announcing his retirement from international football in 2016. Thankfully, he went back on his decision and will again look to work his magic in the upcoming FIFA World Cup.

Frustrated by injuries and lack of motivation, Javagal Srinath announced his retirement in 2002 before being coaxed out of it by Sourav Ganguly. He returned to lead the bowling unit in the 2003 World Cup, taking no less than 16 wickets himself before the side ran into Australia in the finals.

Will de Villiers do a comeback act in the coming months?

As Stepehen King writes in The Shawshank Redemption, Hope Springs Eternal. 


AB de Villiers could defy gravity, logic and geometry even. He could twist and twirl and play shots that boggled the mind. Just weeks before his retirement, he pulled off one of the most audacious of catches in IPL history. Unlike his good friend Virat Kohli, whose excellence is tempered with large quantities of swagger and emotion, de Villiers went about reinventing batting without any aid of boorishness or truant machoism.

Cricket isn’t football. It’s a small game that is still decades away from becoming a world sport. Next year’s edition of the World Cup will feature only 10 teams, down from 4 compared to the last edition. This year’s FIFA World Cup will feature 32 teams. This means for the game of cricket to make more money and be profitable, the top teams will have to play each other constantly.

Virat Kohli’s quest to get a measure of the English conditions prior to the much awaited tour of England has already run into rough weather. Incessant playing has meant he has been carrying injuries that he needs to recover from, making his conquest of English conditions even more difficult. The in-demand modern cricketer has to straddle 3 formats, playing for his country and playing for leagues around the world to secure his future financially. Burn out, mental and physical, is a price they have to pay for this year round roller coaster ride that they are put through.

De Villiers could have been lost to golf, rugby or football, other games that he excelled in. That he chose cricket was a small miracle in its own right. But an International Cricket Council that has always danced to the tune of the BCCI, its biggest revenue generator, shows no signs of addressing this thorny issue. Work-life balance isn’t the prerogative of only the lab rat in a maze corporate executive.

Richard Bach, for all purposes, is a corny author. One of his most famous books is Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a story about a seagull who wanted to fly high above from the rest of the flock who were content to eat and merely exist. His quest to test barriers takes him on a journey that sees him break limitations and pre-conceived notions of what a seagull could accomplish. It is strewn with quotes such as:

“He was not bone and feather but a perfect idea of freedom and flight, limited by nothing at all”

“Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding. Find out what you already know and you will see the way to fly”

It has become a cult book and a self-help classic over the years.

In a strange way, Ab de Villiers is a lot like Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

The term used to describe him is 360 player. That is as dreary a management term as there can be.

360 presentation.

360 feedback.

Have you ever sat through any of them and come out feeling like a million bucks?

Why would use the same term to describe a player so magical?

In Michael Jordan’s hall of fame induction, Magic Johnson said of him – ‘he made you wish that for just one day, you could fly in the air.’

When you saw AB de Villiers in his element, he made you believe that you could walk on water. That you could fly. That all the limitations that you had were just illusions.

While excellence and greatness are measured in terms of infinity, things like time, motivation and desire are measured in finite terms.

Like earth seems a lot smaller when you look at it from above, cricket seems a lot smaller without AB de Villiers in it.








Too much winning can kill you

The unenviable situation that Australia find themselves in isn’t that three of their players have been suspended; it is that people were waiting for them to fail. That’s what happens when disrespect and entitlement become a paradigm – people begrudge your success and victories and when the fall comes, the pile-up of anger and discontent is massive.


The Australians leaving Capetown was eerily reminiscent of Ben Johnson leaving Seoul after he was stripped of his medal. There weren’t as many cameras and the frenzy over doping in an Olympics cannot be compared to ball-tampering in a test match but the cameras and press were all over coach Darren Lehmann, vice-captain David Warner and captain Steven Smith.


One day Steve Smith was one of the world’s most celebrated captains and batsman.

Next day he was a national villain, with people calling for his ban from the sport itself.

He even stepped down from the role of captain of the Rajasthan Royals, who were making a come back into the team after 2 years, being banished from the league after their owner was found guilty of betting against his own team, a crime far worse than ball tampering. The face of their team couldn’t be a cheat.

Steve Smith now finds himself in a place where no sportsperson dares to tread – cheating the sport itself.


When we grew up, Australia were the benchmark. They were merciless and went about their game with a regimented approach that consisted of flat lining opponents, leaving them gasping for air. The rendered the 2003, 2007 and 2015 World Cup finals virtual no contests. A victory against them was worth its weight in gold. They set the standards in fielding, bowling and batting and had in Adam Gilchrist the most destructive wicket-keeper batsman of all time. Pakistan had the world’s most feared bowlers but their team’s performance, much like their team personnel, was a Russian roulette. Captains and coaches changed by the hour and the team was playing against itself most of the time. South Africa somehow always managed to lose the plot when they came to the finish line. Sri Lanka lacked consistency and West Indies were already in decline. Australia, they were complete. They had players Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, the Waugh brothers, Adam Gilchrist, Damien Fleming and Brett Lee.

In test cricket, they were unbeatable for the longest time. They have hounded England into oblivion more often than they can count in the Ashes and though their record has been patchy overseas, no team in the modern era can boast of winning consistently outside home.

But why is Australia suddenly incurring so much wrath for ball tampering, a crime that even the most decent of all men, Rahul Dravid, had been fined for in 2004?

Why are parallels being drawn between fixing and tampering, which truth be told, are are two ends of the totem pole when it comes to cheating? Players have tampered with the ball to get more swing for ages. It isn’t legal but it hasn’t drawn this much attention and calls for axing and life bans.

The truth is this – as much as we look down upon losing, winning too much, and more importantly, how you win, counts for a lot.

Australia have never given an inch in battle. But in sport, there are bad losers as well as bad winners.

A bad loser is the Detroit Pistons walking off the court with defeat inevitable in the 1991 NBA finals in closing moments of play without even shaking hands with the Chicago Bulls. It is one of the most unsportsmanlike moments in the history of basketball. The Detroit Pistons were given the moniker ‘the bad boys’ for their rough and tumble style of play that didn’t endear them to many people barring their fans. In the clip, sports writer Mitch Albom says ‘those who looked at the Pistons as villains, saw it as a correct end for a villain. The villain goes down. We never liked them and when they don’t win, look how they behave.’

Lance Armstrong will go down in history as one the biggest cheats in sport ever. But here are a few facts that not everyone may know;

a) His team mates who confessed to doping were given two year bans and could cycle again. Armstrong was given a life ban.

b) The UCI, the governing body for cycling, declared all results of the Tour de France null and void from 1999-2005, the years in which Armstrong won the title. Essentially, it admitted that doping was so rampant that it would be impossible to figure out who the clean riders were.

So why was Armstrong handed the severest punishment of all and sent into cycling purgatory?

That’s because he was an asshole who had managed to piss everyone off and rile people up so much that when the fall came, people couldn’t wait to crush him into oblivion.

armstrong kimmage

He sued journalists, bullied friends who spoke the truth about him, and lied to people about his doping for years. He used his battle against cancer and his cancer foundation as defense every time accusations were thrown at him. But before his story turned from non-fiction to fiction, he was one of the most popular athletes in the world. He was and still is and inspiration to cancer patients and he won the Tour de France a record six times. The problem was he had very few supporters and when it was revealed that he coerced and bullied his own team mates into doping and threatened them with dire consequences if they spoke up, the public’s anger knew no bounds.

When Maria Sharapova was suspended of doping, she got very little support from the tennis community. Reports suggested that she was haughty and had very few friends on the circuit.

Australia weren’t just sore losers. They were also bad winners.

In the 2015 world Cup final, they were taking on New Zealand, one of the most lovable teams in cricket who stood for everything that’s right in the game and were the epitome of spirit of the game. The Aussies mocked the New Zealand batsman when they were dismissed and generally behaved like boors, against a team that was playing in the right spirit.

Like how children of high ranking officials behave, Australia have always thought that the term spirit of the game didn’t apply to them. They have crossed the line far too many times and like entitled kids, don’t know how to react when people give it back.

That’s why in 2001, Michael Slater had the gall to walk up to Rahul Dravid and berate him for staying his ground, when replays clearly showed that the ball had pitched before he caught it.

That’s why Glenn McGrath had the audacity to ask Ramnaresh Sarwan what Brian Lara’s c**k tasted like and when he didn’t like the reply he got, almost threatened to rip Sarwan’s fucking throat out. Of course McGrath’s wife was suffering from cancer and Sarwan didn’t know it. Nonetheless, it was Glenn McGrath who instigated it.

That’s why Darren Lehmann got away with a warning when he shouted ‘black c**k’ in the direction of the Sri Lankan dressing room in 2003 and the Australians didn’t think twice before bawling their eyes out when Harbhajan Singh called Andrew Symmonds a monkey in 2008.

That’s why in the ill-tempered match in 2007 at Sydney was such a watershed moment, one where Michael Clarke claimed a catch when replays showed that the ball had pitched. How did the umpire make his decision? He took Ricky Ponting’s word. And in the press conference, Ponting got livid, questioning a journalist who accused him of cheating.

Here’s the secret to winning, something that most people, teams and organisations don’t get – you can win even when you lose. And it is seldom measured on a scoreboard.

In the animated movie Cars, Lightning McQueen, after a series of misadventures, learns what winning really means. It’s an animated movie but its lessons apply to all of us.

The unenviable situation that Australia find themselves in isn’t that three of their players have been suspended; it is that people were waiting for them to fail. That’s what happens when disrespect and entitlement become a paradigm – people begrudge your success and victories and when the fall comes, the pile-up of anger and discontent is massive.

Roger Federer is perhaps one of the most intensely competitive tennis players but that hasn’t dimmed his popularity. His gargantuan fame hasn’t gotten to his head. He is a Goliath that people still root for.

When Sachin Tendulkar walked onto the field in the ill-fated 2011-2012 series (India lost 4-0), the crowds gave him standing ovations wherever he went. That’s winning.

When Rahul Dravid was out of form and thinking of throwing in the towel, it was Ricky Ponting who encouraged him to continue, assuring him that his patchy form was only temporary. That’s winning.

You don’t just love sportspersons’ when they win. You love them for who they are and how they win. In a results driven, win at all costs atmosphere, scant regard is paid to these invisible aspects.

After all the shouting, the punishment has been passed. Steve Smith and David Warner have been banned for a year, Cameron Bancroft for 9 months. A year is an eternity in sports and there has been a lot of discussion on the quantum of punishments and why ball-tampering was suddenly the worst thing that happened to cricket. Well, it was a planned move, something stupid in the age of a million cameras. They then brushed aside rumors of tampering. Of course, multiple wrongs don’t make a right. When Steve Smith turned to the dressing room during the India series, it was termed a ‘brain fade’ and quickly put to rest. Now all misdemeanors are coming out, like some Pandora’s box being opened.

Steve Smith, along with Virat Kohli, is one of the finest batsmen in the modern era. David Warner, no stranger to fights and needless exchanges, is like some criminal who finally got caught red handed. A few days earlier, he was in the news for punching Quentin de Kock when the sides were walking back to the dressing room. Cameron Bancroft is like the deer in the headlights, at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The world is waiting to see if Australia use this as a catalyst for change. Actually, the sense of entitlement is prevalent in a lot of cricketers in the T-20/IPL era, where money is put over legacies and impact. I hope Steve Smith uses his second act to carve out a truly rich legacy. A player of his caliber deserves it.

Too much of a good thing can turn against you. In one of my favourite Queen songs, Freddy Mercury sings

‘Oh, how would it be if you were standing in my shoes
Can’t you see that it’s impossible to choose
No there’s no making sense of it
Every way I go I’m bound to lose’
Winning is important. It gets you the trophies, fame and the money.

But knowing how to win is worth its true weight in gold.

Catching up with the Shadow



Very rarely is a coach more celebrated than the players and in this case, even paid more than them for winning. But for the large part, Rahul Dravid played in the shadows. That’s why we still feel we owe him something. 

In 2013, Prithvi Shaw first hit the headlines when he made the highest score by an individual in the Harris shield, scoring 541 runs. His record was overtaken by Pranav Dhanawade 3 years later. The Harris Shield has given the world a glimpse into the making of future champions. It was here that the world first sat up and took notice of Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli when they ran amok and built what was then a record – a gargantuan 664 run partnership.

When Kambli and Tendulkar were playing, there was no social media to instantly relay their exploits to the world. By the time it was Prithvi Shaw’s turn, his exploits were relayed to the world in an instant. But when his hour of crowning glory came to pass, the winning captain at an U-19 World Cup, a  moment that only a privileged few are fortunate enough to live through, he had competition – his coach.

Social media erupted in its effusive praise for Rahul Dravid, the coach of the U-19 team who, for all of his towering achievements, never won a World Cup in his playing days. The BCCI, which usually lavishes its players with jaw dropping rewards whenever they win a trophy that matters, surprised everyone by rewarding the coach the highest sum of money – 50 lakhs, while the players were awarded 30 lakhs each. But no one demurred.

I know it’s Rahul Dravid, but I have bone of contention here. Of course, they were playing to stature – when India won the T20 World Cup in 2007, the coaching staff comprised of Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh, both former players both not as celebrated and they didn’t get more money than the players. No coach in recent memory, including Gary Kirsten who coached India to a World Cup win, was rewarded more than the players for shepherding them to victory.

Maybe I expected Dravid to make a magnanimous statement, something on the lines of – ‘no I can’t accept it, it’s all because of the hard work of the boys that we won, I was just a catalyst. I request the BCCI to revoke this reward that they have awarded me and distribute in among the players.’ This is someone who refused an honorary degree because he felt he didn’t earn it. Of course, expecting him to apologize for something that isn’t even something of his doing is ludicrous and uncalled for. Unfailingly, as always, he credited the support staff for their support their work in the background. This is Rahul Dravid we’re talking about. Not some self-obsessed millennial. But to even think of it as a possibility tells me that I probably hold him to a higher standard than almost anyone.

The BCCI’s obsession with stardom is a double-edged sword. They didn’t battle an eyelid when it came to showing Greg Chappell the door after he publicly clashed with senior players and had a first round exit at the World Cup to show for it. When it came to the Kohli-Kumble showdown, they just let it simmer until they took sides with the larger- -than-life captain. Even then, voices of protest howled at a captain being given undue powers to choose a coach. As Dravid himself recently said, the players are always greater than the coach and even his time at the helm will one day come to an end.

Victory in the U-19 doesn’t guarantee future success. Mohammad Kaif captained the U-19 side in 2000 but his career never took off like Yuvraj Singh’s. Unmukt Chand captained the U-19 side to a victory in 2012 but his career hasn’t taken off like Virat Kohli’s. Whether Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Manjot Kalra and the rest will go onto use this as a stepping stone is yet to be seen. Their magnificent run in the World Cup, one in which they didn’t lose a single match and dominated it single-handedly was a sight to behold. As much as we celebrate our stars, cricket is also littered with many tales of might have beens. After the victory, coach Dravid said that he wishes the boys go on to win even bigger titles. It would seem futile to expect that all the 11 players who starred in this win will go on to make it to the senior team and make it larger than life in their careers.

But why is it that we are all okay with the coach being paid more than the players?

Because, deep down, we feel it’s impossible to repay any sort of debt that we feel we owe Rahul Dravid in full. If there ever was anyone who deserved a World Cup to his name, it was him. And we always feel we owe him some more acknowledgement, praise and gratitude.

He played three world cups in his career and came close to winning it only once.  In the 1999 edition, one in which the side, apart from a victory against Pakistan, gave us little to cheer about, he was the highest scorer of the tournament with 461 runs to his name. In the 2003 edition, he donned the wicket-keeper’s gloves so that the side could accommodate an extra bastman. The side went on a dream run until the final, which ended in a nightmare against a marauding Australian side.

2007 could have been his crowning moment of glory. Instead the defining moment of his captaincy was of him standing in the dressing room, wiping off a tear as India crashed to a scarcely believable first round exit. There is a scene in the movie Dhoni where he asks for the axe to come down on a few senior players who he felt were slow on the field. It’s no secret that Dravid was one of them. The flexibility afforded to Sachin Tendulkar to extend his career, pick and choose which tournaments to play in and also decide on his retirement, wasn’t extended to anyone else.

For most of his career, Dravid played in the shadows. He was always under the shadow of the towering figure of Sachin Tendulkar and once quipped that people were happy to see his wicket fall as that meant the arrival of the master. He began his career a good six years after Sachin and yet managed to end his career as the second highest scorer in tests. His magnificent 148 in Kolkata, when he wasn’t in the best of form, was overshadowed by a historic 281 by VVS Laxman in the same match. His captaincy was shadowed by the megalomaniacal Greg Chappell and Dravid was blamed for not having the conviction to stand up to him. In the penultimate series of his career, he scored 3 brilliant centuries but it was overshadowed by a 4-0 thrashing that the side suffered.

While he did have his moments in the sun, they always seemed, well, muted.

It always felt that we never truly celebrated him in his playing days. Like we took him for granted. He was the Wall, he would always show up, play a stellar role and let others walk away with the credit.

Then he retired and we all cried for the praise we never lavished on him.

That doesn’t excuse the board exercising double standards when it comes to rewarding people. Of course, he didn’t clamor for it. It was the board, as usual, over reaching when it wasn’t required.

For once in his celebrated career, Rahul Dravid inadvertently did something that went contrary to everything he has done thus far in his career.

He cast a shadow on others.




All those who wander are not lost


When touring overseas, the Indians always seem to get lost in a maze. The victory at the Wanderers was a welcome exception after a long drought of wins away from home.

After the second test match at the Centurion which India lost by 135 runs, Virat Kohli was breathing fire. In the post-match press conference, he got himself into a wrangle over the term ‘best XI’. Should Rahane have been picked instead of Rohit Sharma? Why did they lose on a pitch which was very sub-continental in nature? In the heated exchange that ensued, no logical answer seemed forthcoming. What made that day even more bittersweet was that he was anointed ODI player of the year that same evening. By then, all the good feelings from his star-studded wedding to Anushka Sharma at the eve of the series had evaporated. All the talk of ‘intent’ and a ‘legacy defining series’ had been quickly shelved and in its place was a lot of ire and defensiveness.

If home felt far away, even the victories at home over the past season were just a distant memory.

Here’s what has happened from time immemorial – Indian batsman fill their coffers with runs at home, only to have their technique and averages demonetized on foreign shores. They came to South Africa and didn’t bother playing a preparatory match. Their preparation consisted of an inconsequential series against a below par Sri Lanka. When history repeated itself, everyone went up in arms.

Indians have always been bad tourists. On and off the field.

We are accused of being rude, untidy, bargaining at 5 star hotels and talking too loudly. We stand out and create a nuisance, almost like it is some sort of a default setting.

Before India became the financial hub of World Cricket, it was a place where a few dared to tread. The weather was prohibitive, the hygiene suspect and the food, undecipherable. When Australia toured India in 2001, Shane Warne carried with him an entourage of baked beans to see him through the final frontier.

Back in the 90s, before online streaming and live commentary, alarms would be set to rise at ungodly hours to watch India do battle in foreign shores. The disappointments of those times are still fresh. Not raw, but fresh.

You woke up in the morning and India were all out for 66 against the merciless pace of Allan Donald.

You woke up in the morning to see Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid fighting a lone battle, warding off Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee.

You woke up to see VVS Laxman come into his own, scoring a fluent 167 when the rest of the side capitulated around him.

You woke up to see Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad toiling, their shoulders spent, looking for the non-existent third bowler. Sourav Ganguly steps in to try his hand at pace bowling and the results are there for all to see.

Capitulate. Abject surrender. Whitewash. That’s how it all ended. But we never gave up hope, an entire generation trudging to work and college and school bleary eyed, disappointed, yet hopeful that one day their heroes would turn in all around.

Kolkata 2001 will always be the watershed moment in Indian cricket, the moment when David beat Goliath. Though it was played at home, the series assumed epochal proportions due to the near invincibility of the Australians. Hadn’t VVS Laxman played that Haley’s comet like innings, no one knows the course Indian cricket would have taken. What would the future edifices on?

The decade would give fans what they had woken up to see, but had never came to pass thus far.

It all came it bits and pieces, like water seeping through a crack.

In 2002, the side beat England at Headingley. Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid and Sanjay Bangar contributed with the bat, and Kumble and Harbhajan completed the formalities with the ball. It was Ganguly’s first victory away from home. The test series ended in a draw. Prior to that tour, India had toured England in 1996. On their return, Mohammad Azharuddin was sacked as captain for their abysmal show.

How the times had changed.

As 2003 wound down, Steve Waugh announced that the series against India would be his last. During the first test at Brisbane, Sourav Ganguly dug into his reserves and struck a gritty 144. At Adelaide, history was made Rahul Dravid carried his bat in both the innings, scoring a masterful 233 in the first and a celebratory 72 in the second.

We got what we had woken up to at last – victory in Australia, against Australia.

Steve Waugh, a man whom Dravid modeled himself after, personally picked the ball after it had crossed the boundary and handed it over to Rahul Dravid, the man who would later write the foreword for his autobiography. Though India would go onto lose the next test and then wait too long to enforce a declaration before putting Australia into bat in the 4th and final test, Waugh’s final international appearance, a tour that was written off as a predictable 4-0 whitewash, ended in 1-1 draw.

The bad travelers cloak was beginning to slip away.


India toured Pakistan in 1989, the series that introduced the world to a curly haired tyro called Sachin Tendulkar. When India toured Pakistan next, it was 2004. Since 1989, India had gone from a closed economy and embraced liberalisation, televisions had gone from 2 channels to infinity and its cricket board had gone from peasant to king. Many termed the series as an election ploy and then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee personally met the players before they departed. Rahul Bhattacharya’s Pundits from Pakistan is one my favourite sports books ever and it brings back some wonderful memories about that tour.

Virender Sehwag brought up his triple century with a six.

Sachin Tendulkar was left stranded on 194 and made a big deal out of it.

Rahul Dravid chalked up one of his many career defining knocks at Rawalpindi.

India won the series 2-1, beating the fearsome Pakistanis in their own backyard.

Imran Khan reportedly stormed into the office of the president of the Pakistan Cricket Board and gave him a piece of his mind on the ‘humiliating’ loss. On their return, the team couldn’t get out of the airport as it was teeming with crowds. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s gamble of the conducting the series had paid off. His government, the Bharatiya Janata Party coined the now immortalised slogan ‘India Shining’, a call to the upward trajectory that they felt the country was on. So confident were they of winning that they went in for an early election, thinking they were riding on a wave of optimism. Much to everyone’s shock, they lost.

But at least the Indian cricket team, now slowly leaving its mark even on foreign shores, was shining.


Unlike the 100 pipers commercials, Greg Chappell won’t be remembered for good in the hearts of Indian fans but in his tenure, the side won a series in West Indies after 35 years, again owing to another grittier than gritty knock from Rahul Dravid. A few months later, Sreesanth, in one of his rare moments of lucidity, cast a spell on the great Jacques Kallis, his spell considered on of the best by an Indian bowler overseas. No less than a legend like Allan Donald was in awe of his ability to swing the ball. The side went on to lose the next two matches, throwing away a great start to the series.

india eng 2007

In his last series as captain, Rahul Dravid finished off with a flourish, something that was rarely afforded to him in his celebrated career. Zaheer Khan, back after fitness worries and being blindsided by Chappell, took 18 wickets and staked his claim to being the ringleader of the pace attack. The side went up 1-0 and in the third test, they sat on a lead, playing tamely for a draw. Even if losing was a mathematical improbability, it wasn’t an option. After that historic test series victory, Rahul Dravid would abruptly quit captaincy, bruised by its demands, exhausted by its lead weight.

india in perth

In late 2007, India toured Australia and gave the cricketing world a new scandal to chew on – Monkeygate. The Sydney match was a disgrace no doubt but what followed was even more disgraceful – the high handedness of the Indian cricket board, a flight waiting to fly the players back to India if the ICC didn’t withdraw the ban on Harbhajan Singh for an alleged racial slur. What followed at Perth was magnificent, the balm the team needed. Playing on one of the most feared and hostile pitches, Tendulkar, Dravid, Pathan, Laxman and Sehwag, all played their part in a historic win. The series was lost, but pride was restored.

india south africa 2010

In 2010, India toured South Africa and VVS Laxman played what would be one of his last defining knocks in test cricket, giving India a victory. In the third test, Sachin Tendulkar also played one of the last of his defining knocks in test cricket, staving off a marauding Dale Steyn in his prime.

The end of an era came swiftly.

From June 2011 to January 2012, India lost 8 test matches on the trot, signalling the end of the Golden Era. Dravid and Laxman would retire in 2012 and Sachin Tendulkar in 2013.

Free from the shackles of the past, a younger Indian side toured England in 2014 in a bid to make some amends for the 4-0 drubbing they received a few years back. And they almost succeeded. They created history at Lord’s, Ishant Sharma coming up with a spell for the ages. After that, it went downhill, faster than even an avalanche. The side capitulated in the next 3 matches, each loss worse than the previous one and Virat Kohli’s off stump weakness was exposed to the whole world.

2014 ended with MS Dhoni abruptly resigning test captaincy, the accumulation of overseas losses probably too much of a cross to bear. In the first test of that series, Virat Kohli nearly pulled off an impossible heist. Requiring 363 to win, the side pushed for a victory and nearly got there. After years of resorting to defensive tactics and sitting on massive leads, it was a sight for sore eyes. Of course, the twist in the tale was waiting round the corner with a collapse that led to 8 wickets falling for 73 runs. I personally rate that as one of Kohli’s best knocks ever, even though there was no victory rainbow at the end of the effort.

The overseas test series victory against Sri Lanka in 2017 , though welcome, doesn’t compare to a win against Australia or South Africa. Sri Lanka are a side in search of new talent and stability, a far cry from the crouching tigers that they once were. Every time the board needs to squeeze in a series, the have Sri Lanka on speed dial. The preparation for the South Africa tour was a dead rubber series against a depleted Sri Lanka. It’s like looking for facebook likes to boost your self-esteem. Winning against a side down on its morale isn’t adequate preparation.

That’s why, when the side won the test at the Wanderers, that too with 5 pacers steaming in on a pitch on which play was thought to be impossible on day 3 when Dean Elgar received a blow on his forehead, it showed tremendous character. The sides could have called it quits, shook hands and walked away. The series wasn’t in the balance, the criticism over the India team selection was unabating.

The blueprint for the survival of test cricket has many loopholes. The advent of T20 cricket has ensured more results, but they are also one-sided. India clean-swept New Zealand and England at home. Australia put up a commendable fight while the Ashes, one of test’s greatest rivalries ended in a 4-0 annihilation for England. Getting a result is one thing, the result being a foregone conclusion is another.

Everyone likes a good scrap, a fight to the finish, a match hanging in the balance over night, waking up to possibility, not resignation, and a scoreboard that doesn’t tell the entire story. After the match at the Wanderers, the press conference didn’t feature landmines for Kohli to walk through.

Anger had given way to possibility, retribution and a smile.

Kohli and his team will embark on tours of England and Australia later in the year. There will be the legacy defining jingoism that will be thrown in every time they set foot overseas, there will be recriminations and calls for people’s heads when the script doesn’t go according to plan. It is said that a player, captain or side can truly call themselves great only when they begin to win overseas. But no side has been doing that consistently in international cricket for a while now. If that is the benchmark, it may as well be a flawed one in the modern era.

We all root for a side.

But deep down, we all root for a contest; between bat and ball, between tactics, between captains, between sworn enemies.

If all of your favourite test wins were to pass you by in a flash, what would you remember?

I’m not sure. But I’ll bet it will be the matches where both sides put up one hell of a fight.

And in the end, isn’t that what we seek?

So when you wake up at some ungodly hour to root for your team doing battle in a land far, far away, it will all be worth it.

Building a wall like Rahul Dravid


For all that he accomplished, there are three pivotal moments from Rahul Dravid’s career when everything was falling apart around him.

In the 2007 World Cup, the side careened to an ignominious first round exit under his captaincy. As the end neared, the cameras panned to the dressing room where it looked as if he was wiping away a tear and Anil Kumble, standing behind him, put a hand on his shoulder to console him.

Two months later, after securing a historic test series victory against England on their home turf, he abruptly quit captaincy. Much later, he revealed that he had run out of steam and began to dread the job and that caused him to walk away.

When India toured Australia in 2011-2012, he entered the series on the back of a fantastic tour of England where he scored three centuries, opened the batting and was surprisingly roped in for the ODI series. He didn’t demur, but at the same time, he announced his retirement from the shorter format after that surprise recall.

The tour of Australia would be his last, and it was also one of his most forgettable. He was bowled six out of the eight times he batted and the side was whitewashed 4-0.

On his return, he announced his retirement from international cricket.

In 2013, under his captaincy, the Rajasthan Royals were caught in the unsavoury sport fixing scandal that rocked the IPL. One of the players, the temperamental and ungrateful Sreesanth, who flourished under Dravid’s captaincy in the national side, repaid him by getting arrested for his involvement. And that was his final IPL, one in which his side reached the finals but lost to the Mumbai Indians.

So let’s just summarize:

A player who at different points in his career kept wickets, opened the batting, all for the team’s cause, had to endure the humiliation of a first round exit at cricket’s biggest event.

A player who was the backbone of the side for over a decade and played a role in many historic victories overseas, especially in tests, ended his test career by getting bowled six times in eight innings and a 4-0 drubbing.

A player who backed someone in spite of all his stupidity, was back stabbed by that very person.

He didn’t win cricket’s most coveted prize, didn’t finish his career with a guard of honour or a fairy tale ending, and was thrown into a situation where he had to lift a team out of despair, for no fault of his.

Yet, he only grows in stature as time passes for he is measured with a different yardstick.

We sometimes put a premium on the big ticket moments in life, thinking we will be measured by them, or that one big failure will spell catastrophe.

If the U-19 team that he is coaching learns just one thing from him, let it be this – that you won’t be defined by your failures, but by your reaction to them.

Happy Birthday, Rahul Dravid, the person who took all the bricks thrown at him and built a wall.