Once Brothers

fab_five_india_cricket_760x400.jpg

 

‘How can I ever bring myself to fight against Bhishma and Drona, who are worthy of reverence? How can I, Krishna? Surely it would be better to spend my life begging than to kill these great and worthy souls!’

Arjuna to Lord Krishna in the Bhagvad Gita

In the epic the Mahabharata, Arjuna is forced to go to war against his own family and gets wise counsel from Lord Krishna to do his duty. It is sad that Indian cricket seems to be embroiled in a Mahabharata of its own. There is dissent in the board about how they are now being forced to take a smaller share of the cricket pie. There is dissent against the ICC and Shashank Manohar, who is accused of not standing up for Indian cricket. A few weeks back, there were talks of India not participating in the Champions Trophy as sign of proetest against the ICC. Those fears were quickly assuaged as it would have looked immature and silly if cricket’s biggest money spinner didn’t participate in ICC’s second biggest event after the 50 over and T20 World Cups.

And then, a week or so ago, a new and unexpected firestorm has been raging and if all the half baked information and reports could form liquid rock, a volcano is bound to erupt. After the victorious Australia series, Indian cricket went from its longest home test season to the razzmatazz of the IPL. There were no murmurs of dissent, an unhappy dressing room, or a rift between the coach and the team.

Indian cricket is seemingly at war with Indian cricket.

The first wave hit when the BCCI announced that it is inviting applications for a coach.

Wait, don’t we already have a coach who has had a very successful first year even though it was a home season?

Wasn’t an extension a given?

Why advertise the search for a coach a week before the team is playing the Champion’s Trophy?

What the hell exactly happened?

There is at least one positive – if a point of no-return has been reached between Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble, at least the wheels didn’t fall off when the team was in the middle of a high profile series and didn’t lead to a series defeat. Barring an unexpected result and tawdry performance in Pune against Australia and couple of minor scares against England, the Indian team has had a dream run. It appeared to be the perfect setting to take things to the next level with a season of high profile international series in the offing. Though a series win against Sri Lanka in 2016 came after a long drought, the new look Indian team are yet to win convincingly in Australia or England. A victory at Lord’s in 2014 was followed by a meltdown of epic proportions where the side crashed and burned in matches that were lucky to last 3 days.

The rift has gained significance because after a long time, the players are odds with one of their own. When Greg Chappell and the team had travelled to the World Cup in 2007, the wheels had well and truly gone off. Had India not had such a disastrous showing, it’s anyone’s guess what might have transpired. If Chappell was well and truly the devil that he was made out to be, he may not have kept his job but he may not have exited the country in so much ignominy. All blame was cast on the coach then, that he created a dressing room where no one was secure and this led to a team that was low on motivation. The World Cup fiasco was the point of no return.

Luckily, and if reports are to be believed that the rift between Kumble and Kohli has a nadir, it didn’t result in a series loss where all dirty linen was aired in public.

Few remember Kapil Dev’s stint as coach in the late 90s mostly because Indian cricket and professionalism kept an arm’s length from each other those days. When the match fixing scandal hit, he was forced to resign and his tenure is barely a blimp in the short history of the long list of Indian coaches. But with Anil Kumble, things are very different.

For someone who once refused to share space in a newsroom with a former cricketer tainted by match-fixing, that he was going to have a no-nonsense approach was a given. Someone who bowls with a broken jaw isn’t the one to nurse bruised egos. With Virat Kohli’s own work ethic being beyond reproach, it didn’t seem to be a perfect mismatch like the way it is being reported now.

Should players choose their coaches?

Should employees choose their bosses? What an ideal world that would be. Or would it?

At the risk of  flogging a dead horse, let’s recap Greg Chappell’s appointment as the Indian coach back in 2005 amid much fanfare. It was none other than his soon to be arch nemesis, Sourav Ganguly, who pushed from Chappell’s appointment. The honeymoon, if there ever was one, spiralled and snowballed into a controversy when Ganguly was made to step down as captain. Even though India won a test series in
West Indies after 35 years under Rahul Dravid’s captaincy, Chappell’s legacy will always be tied down to the tumultuous meltdown off the team in the 2007 World Cup. Accusations were bandied and Sachin Tendulkar himself spoke to the media on how he was personally hurt by the accusations of the coach on the perceived lack of commitment of some senior players.

After his fall from grace and exile from the corridors of Indian cricket, a behind the scenes Gary Kirsten worked quietly behind the scenes and his run ended with the greatest prize of all – the World Cup victory in 2011 after a 27 year drought. No one knew when Duncan Fletcher came or left and Ravi Shastri met with some success as Team Director.

There are a few uncomfortable questions here – if Virat Kohli is making such a hue and cry about not wanting Anil Kumble and supposedly prefers Ravi Shastri, why didn’t he get what he wanted last year instead of letting a year go by and then playing truant?

If a legend like Anil Kumble is treated so shabbily, why will any of the former greats try their hand at coaching?

Last year, when the board asked people to apply for the coaching position, there were 57 applicants. This year, there are 9. Looks like no one is willing to be a moth that is burned by the flame. And the 9 that have applied aren’t even enviable. If reports are to be believed, Virender Sehwag is one of the applicants. In his playing days, his cavalier approach once led to John Wright catching him by his collar and admonishing him. His playing career was surely compromised as he didn’t really put a premium on his fitness. At his peak, his was breath-taking, audacious and could change the fate of the game in matter of minutes. But can he be the coach of a national team?

In all of this, Ramachandra Guha’s resignation letter has created a storm in a teacup about the helplessness of the COA and the vested interests in Indian cricket that keep it from moving forward and making whole scale changes. He may have seemed a misfit in the ethic less world of cricket administration but the fact that he has nothing to lose must make us take some of what he is saying seriously.

Does a team need to be happy and cheerful to win?

It’s a question that has plagued many people who study motivation and though many have claimed to have found answers, reality poses a very different scenario.

If the Indian team was so unhappy, could they have had the season that they had?

 

The role of a coach at the highest level is very different from the role of a coach at the lower levels. If the only job of a coach is to create a happy dressing room, it is very difficult to measure success. If a team doesn’t perform, the coach is the first to get the boot. And going by what we have heard, the Indian team was a bunch of not so happy campers who had an outstanding home season, in spite of a ‘headmasterly’ coach.

Some thing just doesn’t add up, or we need to admit that there can never be one criteria for judging success. And that happiness and satisfaction don’t necessarily lead to victory, nor does dissatisfaction and unhappiness necessarily lead to catastrophe.

Can a bunch of unhappy people cobble together and still create something? Sure, it happens in workplaces all the time.

In 1998, the Chicago Bulls won the last of their six NBA titles. After that, one of the greatest sporting legacies broke up as there were conflicts between the coach Phil Jackson, the team and the manger Jerry Krause. Even in his hall of fame speech made a little over 10 years after he wore a Bulls jersey, Jordan spared no barbs when it came to Jerry Krause. All of which go to show that everything wasn’t hunky dory behind the scenes.

Whatever the reality, this fracas has surely altered a few things that will haunt Indian cricket in years to come.

Former cricketers of stature will surely hesitate to come forward and take up the coaching mantle. Rahul Dravid’s name has been doing the rounds as national coach for years but after seeing the treatment meted out to Kumble, he would like to keep more than an arm’s length from the job. Virat Kohli maybe a great player but the truth is there are no ‘no men’ around him. With the COA turning the Supreme Court at every step and the old guard still trying to restore old order, his say in things seem to be overwhelming. But everything that goes up must come down. He can do well if just saw how the generation that preceded him conducted themselves.

After his retirement, Anil Kumble was the president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association for 3 years before deciding not to run again. He has been very involved with Indian cricket but this will surely shake him up and make him rethink of his role and contribution to the national team.

If Indian cricket just wants Yes Men, then that’s what they will get. Sunil Gavaskar, however great he is, is an unapologetic yes man. So is Ravi Shastri, which is why the board seems to be reluctant to look beyond him. Which is why he was sure he would be appointed coach before Kumble threw a googly and pulled the carpet under him. The trio of VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly would have surely not foreseen such a twist in the plot when they appointed one of their comrades and one of the country’s most tireless warriors on the field as coach.

Anil Kumble’s engineering past was evident in his cricket. He always seemed methodical and after his playing days, didn’t seem uncomfortable with power point and making presentations. A few weeks back, he had championed an increase in the fees for players by making a presentation to the COA.

It’s a tragedy that a man of method is caught up in all this madness.

Whether Indian cricket is on the cusp of another golden age is yet to be seen. But after the match fixing imbroglio, it was a bunch of well-intentioned gentlemen who came together and made of fall in love with cricket again. Srinath, Dravid, Kumble, Tendular, Laxman, Ganguly and later Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag, all made us hold our heads up high again. No doubt, there was some emotion involved when they appointed Anil Kumble as coach. They were all a band of brothers who traveled the world and changed the face of Indian cricket.

Now, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly have to take a call on the future of one of their own.

For all the battles that they have fought together, like Arjuna in the Mahabharata, this is one battle that they wish they would never have had to fight.

 

 

Advertisements

Tendulkar, and life after the moon landing

Vivo IPL 2017 M28 - MI v RPS

A few weeks before he turned ex-president, Barack Obama sat down with television host Bill Maher for an interview. The first question posed to him was how he would spend the rest of his life, knowing that he would never have a job as exhilarating as the one he was leaving behind. 3 months into his post-presidency, Barack Obama made his first official public appearance yesterday, when he addressed students at the University of Chicago. Like most others who have traversed the road reserved for a chosen few , he is still trying to find an answer that some seem to have found, and which seems to have eluded many – where do you go after you go to the moon?

When astronauts who went to the moon returned to earth and normalcy, a few of them battled depression. For once you’ve gone to the moon, what else is there to aspire for? For the rest of us, our bucket lists are dotted with exotic locales, but the moon? If returning from a vacation is reason enough to go into a funk, imagine what it is like to return from the moon and go back to work.

Sachin Tendulkar’s moon landing lasted for 24 years. Through near career-ending injuries, self-doubt, heart-wrenching defeats, failed stints at captaincy, for 24 years, all the world was a stage for Tendulkar. No cricketer will ever be able to command the blind adulation that he has.

So how has life been for Tendulkar after his moon landing in November 2013?

Well, he turned 44 yesterday and he celebrated it at the Wankhede stadium with fans cheering him on. His team didn’t give him a victory as a birthday present, losing narrowly by 3 runs to the Rising Pune Super giants, who are staging a resurgence of sorts. He has been here and there, still trying to find an identity for himself, one that doesn’t involve him holding a bat and playing God so that an entire country can sleep better.

He has adopted a villages in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra and according to reports, has helped change the lives of residents.

Of course, there have been missteps. Like this terrible effort at being a singer and ostensibly trying to reach out to a younger audience.

There have been murmurs of dissent over his no-shows at Parliament but at the same time, he has used most of the funds allocated to him as a part of MPLAD funds.

Even in retirement, he hasn’t spoken against the functioning of the BCCI, the Supreme Court’s intervention in how cricket is run in the country, the unceremonious manner in which the board was dismantled and the shamelessness of his one time boss N Srinivasan, who after being banned by the BCCI still sees himself as the President of the ICC. Actually, no ex-cricketer of stature has spoken about how cricket is being run in the country. At the same time, he has come out in support of other athletes like boxer Sarita Devi who was suspended by the boxing association for not accepting a medal. He has made it clear that politics is not his forte and has stayed away from administrative roles, lest his near-perfect image gets sullied. While Kapil Dev burnt his hands with a coaching stint, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri have played it safe by toeing the BCCI’s line. Now, we can add VVS Laxman to the list. Rahul Dravid, whose diction and clarity of thought are tailor-made for a never-ending commentary stint has chosen to mold the future by actually nurturing the next generation through coaching and mentorship roles in various capacities. Anil Kumble is currently the head coach of the Indian team and Sourav Ganguly has set his sights high in cricket administration.

Actually, where do you go after you go to the moon, after you’ve played God and then come back to earth?

Diego Maradona nearly snorted and drank himself to death before he was saved by gastric bypass surgery. His personal life is in constant upheaval mode as this recent piece articulates.

Pete Sampras retreated into private life to regain his sense of normalcy.

Back home, Tendulkar has molded himself to the demands of the social media generation where every mundane event is broadcast to the world. A largely private person who lived his life with the cameras thrust at him at every step of the journey, is now letting his followers into his world via facebook and instagram. The current crop of cricket stars sport tattoos and weird hair cuts, date film stars and live for the moment. They prefer to burn out rather than to fade away and whether we will see careers that stretch beyond a decade is yet to be seen.

The biggest problem faced by sportspersons who retire as icons is how to protect their hard earned legacy. Politicians have no sense of shame and can make comebacks scandal after scandal but a sportsperson’s equity lies in the feats they perform and the memories they leave behind. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to witness your sporting heroes grow old, sport a paunch, grey at the sides and appear in commercials selling retirement plans? Creating a career worth idolising without losing one’s way is only half the battle. Securing with it with a dignified retirement is another. After living a tunnel vision life where sporting excellence is the sole pursuit, normal life possesses a smidgen of that heady rush.

To a generation of die-hard fans, Tendulkar isn’t 44, he is forever 14 with a flock of curly hair and an impish grin, the boy who became a man who became a legend who became a God, all under the harsh glare of the unforgiving spotlight. When he began his career, we had one channel and homes had one television, mostly black and white sets that were the only source of  news and entertainment. When his career ended amidst an outpouring of tributes and tears, the television was competing with social media and live streaming of matches on mobiles.

His image maybe a little too squeaky clean for our liking, his transgressions, however minor, unable to hold their own in the face of blind faith and worship. His utterances are mostly politically correct and his every move revolves around preserving an image that we have of him – that of a middle glass boy who is grounded and hasn’t lost his head or himself to fame.

If there is only wish, it is this – that we are slowly given a glimpse of not just Tendulkar the legend but also Tendulkar the man. He will never be able to lead a normal life in the country of his birth but maybe the second half of his life will have him still bringing a smile to people’s faces, sans cricket. Maybe he will let his guard down a bit, speak up more and not resort to singing songs to reach out to his fans.

For someone who was always asked for the moon when he had a bat in his hand, life after the moon landing has just begun.

 

The Easter another God arose

kohli

 

 

It was Easter, the day Catholics the world over celebrated their messiah who came back to life after being crucified on the cross.

March 27th was Easter Sunday and Virat Kohli, who has been crucified for his brashness, cockiness, his actress ex-girlfriend among many other things, rose again. It wasn’t the first time that he had risen to the occasion, nor the first time he had taken his team across the finish line with a calm head. It’s funny how Indian cricket’s angry young man is counted upon to steer the team to victory with a calm head. The innings he played on Sunday for some reason elicited more than the usual responses. From Brian Lara, Kumar Sangakkara and Sachin Tendulkar, three of the finest proponents of the modern game, praise was effusive and unrestrained.

How did Virat Kohli go from being a talented brash young kid who spat and cussed like a sailor and seemed to count on rage as his only fuel to being anointed the next messiah of Indian cricket?

A few days ago, after he again took India to a victory against Pakistan, he bowed down to one of his heroes and the country’s most celebrated icons in the stands, Sachin Tendulkar. It was Tendulkar about whom he said “he has carried a nation on his shoulders, now it’s time we carry him on ours” after the team won the 2011 World Cup after 28 years. Now, he is finally being deemed worthy of being his successor.

Kohli’s Easter Sunday knock reminded me of two hot summer days in April 18 years ago when a young Sachin Tendulkar, already an icon, added another chapter to his already growing legend. Over two incredible nights, a curly haired Tendulkar sent the Australian attack on a leather hunt that is recounted even to this day. It was one man against the mighty Aussies whose bowling line-up included the likes of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Michael Kasprowicz and Tom Moody. Those two innings were dubbed Desert Storm as they were played in Sharjah and one of the matches was even interrupted by a dust storm.

Nearly 18 years later, it was more or less the same thing. Hot summer night. A full house. And one man who stood between Australia and a place in the semi-finals.

The wicket in Mohali wasn’t a belter and the ground isn’t the smallest. Bumrah’s first over yielded four boundaries. Poof. One of Dhoni’s most bankable bowlers was already nursing his wounds. Ashwin’s first over yielded 22 runs, two sixes and wide that resulted in a boundary. The Aussies had thundered their way to 53/0 in four overs.

Australia looked like they were poised to breach the 200 mark. Ashish Nehra accounted for Khawaja, only to bring in the destructive David Warner. After a horrendous first over, Ashwin bowled a delivery that turned away and Warner totally missed as he came down the track. Some semblance of sanity was restored to the innings. Australia’s gallop was reduced to a jog.

Yuvraj Singh is never far from the news. If he doesn’t make it, someone else will make it for him. His father, Yograj Singh, known to draw attention to himself by making outlandish statements had warned MS Dhoni about not giving his son enough opportunities with the ball and shuffling him down the order. Maybe MS Dhoni heard him, maybe he didn’t. Whatever maybe the case, Yuvraj Singh got his first over in the World Cup. In the very first ball of the over, he bowled one that bounced a bit and had Steven Smith try to play at it. Dhoni caught it and was up in a flash. Steven Smith was ruled out. In a living room somewhere, Yuvraj Singh’s father was having the last laugh.

Aaron Finch had settled down and looked to play a big one when he mistimed a shot and Shikhar Dhawan at midwicket made no mistake. 200 looked more unlikely by the minute.

The destructive Glen Maxwell went for some 20 balls without a boundary. That was until he smashed Jadeja for a boundary and a six off consecutive deliveries in the 16th over. In the very next over, he misread a slower delivery by Bumrah and saw his bails clipped. It was left to Shane Watson and James Faulkner to give Australia a total worthy of defending. The penultimate over by Bumrah gave 9 runs, courtesy a boundary from the first ball. The Aussies were 145 in the 19th over. A good last over would have made the total seem gettable.

Hardik Pandya accounted for Faulkner with the first ball of the over. That was the only high point in that over. Watson got a thick edge and the ball flew past Dhoni for four. He ran a single off the next delivery to bring Neville on strike. He struck the first delivery he faced for four over short fine leg. The over had already yielded nine runs for the Aussies. The final delivery of the innings was pulverized for a six. The over had produced 15 runs and the Australian innings came to a halt at 160.

India’s openers have flattered to deceive the entire tournament and chasing 161 in a quarter-final meant someone had to play an innings less ordinary if India were to have any chance of overhauling the total. Much to the chagrin of the crowd, the openers flattered to deceive yet again. Shikhar Dhawan struck a boundary in the second ball off the innings. The first over yielded seven runs. Rohit Sharma took a few deliveries to get off the mark. In the third over, Dhawan smashed a six over deep square leg and got the crowd back on its feet. He would perish in the next over attempting to hook a short pitched delivery and finding Khawaja at short fine leg. Virat Kohli came to join Rohit Sharma at the crease.

Kohli began his innings by striking two boundaries off Josh Hazlewood. In current form, Virat Kohli looks like he is batting in a realm of his own, just like Tendulkar did in the 90s. Increasingly, the chances of victory revolve around how well he plays, just like with Tendulkar in the 90s. In the limited over formats, no other player can stake a claim to Kohli’s level of consistency. MS Dhoni’s days as a finisher par excellence are dwindling while Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina don’t have consistency as their middle name. Kohli is the glue that holds the openers and the middle order together and more often than not, the glue that holds the innings together itself.

In the sixth over, Rohit Sharma came down the track, mistimed his shot and missed the ball completely. Shane Watson let out a war cry. The openers tryst with consistency was yet to come to pass.

Suresh Raina’s short stay at the crease yielded a boundary but little else in terms of contribution. Watson bowled a short one, the delivery Raina is yet to master and it got his glove on the way to the keeper. India were three down for 45 and staring down the barrel.

In came Yuvraj Singh, playing in front of his home crowd. In what is most likely his final T20 World Cup, the undisputed star of India’s first ever T20 World Cup triumph is now some distance away from his former self. In fleeting moments, he travels back in time and pulls out vintage shots and his fielding quality hasn’t dipped a bit. This is a Yuvraj Singh looking to taste glory one last time before the last rays of sunlight fade away into dusk.

Yuvraj edged a delivery that went for a boundary. He then set off for a single in the next ball and began hobbling. On a day when India needed every ounce of ammunition they could muster, their T20 warhorse was limping from one end to the other. The passage of play was surreal. At one end was Kohli who is sculpting his body, mind and soul to scale new heights and at the other end was Yuvraj who was wincing in pain after every move. Two’s became singles and Kohli, not known to hide his emotions, didn’t let his frustration at the situation get to him.

At the end of 11 overs, India still required 93 off 54 with one man on the field wounded. Kohli upped the ante with a massive six off Maxwell. India would need many more such missiles from Kohli. Yuvraj Singh struck a clean six off Zampa and it looked like the only scoring option for him as the running in between the wickets was drying up. It isn’t often that you wish for someone on your side to get out. But sadly, that was what many people were feeling when Yuvraj Singh was on strike. In another lifetime, Yuvraj Singh could plunder attacks at will with a class only a few could match. That seems like light years ago. Yuvraj Singh’s painful stay at the crease came to an end when he was caught off a superb effort by Shane Watson. It looked to be Shane Watson’s night. MS Dhoni walked into a situation he had been in many times. Kohli finally found a pair of able legs that could keep up with him.

The ensuing passage of play wasn’t  just a test of ability, it was a test of fitness levels. On Easter Sunday, Dhoni and Kohli ran like hares (pun intended). In current form, Kohli is in the same league as Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers. But Gayle and de Villiers brutalize attacks and pummel the bowling. During the IPL, the home crowd for the Royal Challengers Bangalore cheer for Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers more than they do for Kohli. Like a surgeon who dissects his patient meticulously, Kohli is meticulous in his dissection of bowlers. Dhoni was content to watch from the other end as his successor took the Aussie attack to the sword.

After the 16th over, India required 39 off 18 deliveries. In that single over, Kohli struck two boundaries, one of them a beautiful square drive and a six over long-off. The over yielded 19 runs. 20 required off 12.

As Jasprit Bumrah showed in the match against Bangladesh, penultimate overs are the ones that stand between victory and defeat. Anything can happen in the final over. There are too many nerves and the margin for error is minimal. The penultimate over offers the chance to pull back a situation from the brink. In the second ball of the over, Kohli opened the face of his bat to strike a boundary through point. The shot was almost zen like, almost as if he was one with his bat. Kohli struck three more boundaries in that over, each shot stamping his authority even more and hammering another nail in the coffin of the Aussies.

James Faulkner was given the duty to complete the formalities and Dhoni struck a boundary over long on. It first looked like a six, an eerie replay of how he finished off the World Cup final in 2011.

In 1998, a 25 year old Tendulkar laid siege to the hearts of Indians when he single-handedly took on the Australians. Steve Waugh would go on to say that they lost to one man, not to India. Steven Smith said more or less the same thing on Kohli’s herculean effort. Statistically, Virat Kohli is catching up with Sachin Tendulkar. While Tendulkar danced to a tune of his own, Kohli is standing on the shoulders of giants and looks to outdo them.

For an entire generation that grew up with Tendulkar and equated meaning in their lives to his exploits on the field and mourned when he bid adieu to the game, never thought that his equal existed. Now they are being forced to reconsider.

18 years back, I was a 13 year old jumping in the living room watching Tendulkar decimate the Australians in his version of Desert Storm. On Easter Sunday, I sat rooted to my seat, scarcely able to believe what was unfolding in front of me. The excitement was the same that I felt all those years ago. Whether Kohli will scale the heights that Tendulkar scaled in his storied career and will he be as revered and put up on a pedestal like some God is yet to be seen. They are poles apart in terms of personalities; one was a child prodigy an entire generation grew up with and someone middle class India could identify with; no tattoos, no cussing, no attitude, no dalliances with actresses.  The other is the face of an India that isn’t afraid to quit their jobs and stick it up to their bosses.

When Sachin Tendulkar retired, it was thought the likes of him would never grace cricket again. And whether you believe in the resurrection or not, if you watched Virat Kohli single handedly going up against the Australians and emerging the victor, it was like the resurrection of another innings played by another God.

It looks like the land of a million Gods has found place for another one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The god who made atheists believe

Image

What makes a god? Or better still, what is god to a non-believer? A history lesson? Fanaticism? Desperation? Hope? Or is god best relegated to the believers? Then where does it leave those who close their eyes and fold their hands, a force of habit from a time when they believed? Does it still make them non-believers?

The journey to atheism is a long and arduous one. Faith is tried, tested, challenged and finally, is irreversibly broken.

The journey to belief is the polar opposite. It occurs in a flash, with a sleight of hand, a word, a vision, or in a momentary lapse of reason.

Maybe that’s why I recall precisely when I became a believer – 27th March, 1994.

Opening the batting was supposed to be measured and erudite, not a crash course in reckless abandonment. All of 9 years, I sat in a drawing room and watched a man, all of  5 feet 6 inches, plunder 82 runs off a measly 49 balls and lay siege to the self-worth of an entire nation. Though it was still early days of the liberalized economy, India was held to ransom every time a cherubic lad with a plop of curly hair strode on to the pitch. A land with more gods than it can count, found in its heart space for another god.

Did a young Sachin Tendulkar, like young Nachiketa in the Katha Upanishad, seek immortality before he set foot on a cricket field? After his final innings, should a chariot descend from the heavens and escort him, will we look at each other and say ‘I told you so’? He, whose walk to the crease is reminiscent of Moses parting the red sea, the crowd on both sides in the stands inching closer to him but parting the moment he walks past. He, who converts stadiums into coliseums, the crowd’s deafening roars steadily increasing as if some invisible force was turning the volume knob up as their favorite gladiator readies for battle. He, who like Jesus, is expected to turn water to wine and deliver us to the promised land every time he takes strike. He, who like Hanuman, performed feats that mocked the left brain and carried on his shoulders a burden that only got heavier with time. Won’t he be a strong contender to play the protagonist in Rudyard Kipling’s masterpiece ‘IF’? http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_if.htm

Is god a crutch you can’t get rid of even if you tried? The only thing that keeps you alive in the winters that never end and the invisible force that hoists you up in the morning when you’ve thrown in the towel. Does belief have a number, a statistical measure, or is just a habit?

His journey transcends generations, centuries and world orders. Who never walks alone for we all walk with him, the treasurer of our dreams and hopes. Who causes shops to shut, roads to clear, marriages to be postponed and unlocks a wellspring of childlike joy in the billionaire and daily wage earner alike. Who causes the elderly to reclaim their youth, even if just for a little while and causes children to abhor homework more than they already do. Because in a land where celluloid stars have temples accorded to them and political discourse is blotted by the stains of bigotry, where does one seek salvation?

Do you remember watching wide eyed as he struck like lightning at Wellington in 1994? Did you share his tears of abject dismay in 1999 when we lost to Pakistan and 13 runs was all that separated euphoria from despair? Weren’t you prancing in the living room like a keyed up toy on red bull on those two crazy nights in Sharjah that were most definitely not of this world? Did you wish your home had a trampoline so that you could just go on jumping in exultation? Didn’t your face resemble Shane Warne’s after he was smashed for a six over his head? Were you too ashamed to let anyone see you cry after he scored a century against Kenya in the ‘99 world cup – days after he cremated his father? Did you give Shoaib Akhtar the finger with both your hands when he was greeted by a six at the Centurion in the 2003 world cup? And just when you were recovering from that greeting, he gently nudged the next ball to the onside for a four and saved his best for last – a straight drive. The straight drive, the shot he made his own and every time he plays it, you wish the ball never stopped in its trajectory toward the boundary and went on forever and ever, amen.

Did you switch off the tv when he charged Mcgrath and was caught in the very first over of the 2003 world cup final? Did his 241 in Sydney, where he willed himself not to play a single drive on the offside, earn your admiration or your exasperation? Did you pretend to hoist him after he scored the first double century in ODIs? Did you make his tears your own, not just his tears of joy, but also those of despair and sadness? Did you ever wonder how much electricity was saved every time he got out?

Even Gods have their demons. While they slay them, they also have to battle their own. Because without demons, there will be no need for gods.

Did you prod him to speak up in Indian cricket’s darkest hour when it was discovered that there were Judases in the team who sold their souls for a few bars of gold? What of the ball tampering incident that he never came clean about? Is silence always golden, even for the the prodigal son? No, he wasn’t perfect. Far from it. In Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath he found a cast of warriors and gentleman. No longer was he the sole custodian of greatness. But he was the crutch everyone leaned on, a habit we couldn’t wean ourselves from.

If you were handed a magic wand, would you rewrite the last two years of his career. And change the script so that the last you saw him in colours was in the world cup final and not of him tottering to his 100th ton against Bangladesh? And in your revised version, would he have secured his ton of tons at Lord’s, or at the MCG?

Is god allowed to fail? If your prayers aren’t answered, would you still be steadfast in your faith?

How many 40 year old disillusioned potbellied men wished they were in his shoes – untold riches, immortality and retirement? It’s like the lottery that every 40 year old wishes for but doesn’t receive. Now that his duty and dharma have been fulfilled, will he, like Yudhishthira in the Mahabharata, find peace in an afterlife, away from his 22 yard temple? For all the times we crucified him, will we be able to forgive ourselves for we didn’t know what we were doing?  If indeed reincarnation is for real, will he come back in the same form to grace this earth again? Should he take a cue from Lord Rama and go on a self imposed exile to relearn what a normal life is, however impossible that maybe?

In the twilight of his career, how did he do battle with his own cricketing mortality ? For someone who could count atheists, agnostics and skeptics as a part of his flock, did he seek counsel from those closest to him or did he wake up one day and decide he didn’t want to play god anymore? Have we, a nation starved of heroes, made peace for life without Tendulkar? Has he made peace with himself?

For all that is being made of his farewell series and all the swords that are being drawn on the lavishness and overblown celebrations, we must remember that it was us who put him on a pedestal.

All he wanted to do was play cricket.

And it was in those fleeting hours, minutes and seconds that we were all ordained as believers. 

The man who lived a billion dreams

Image

Robert Johnson immortalized crossroads. He apparently sold his soul to the devil and was rewarded with a prowess that would make him immortal. It’s a good deal for even if you are cursed to spend eternity in hell, the company will be one for keeps. Sachin Tendulkar didn’t have to trade his soul with the devil to attain immortality, he earned it on his own terms through countless hours of practice. But the landscape of a common man’s crossroads differ vastly from and those of an icon’s. While all of their achievements and adulation seek to inject into them a feeling of invincibility, retirement injects into them a dreaded feeling of mortality.  

Retirement is never easy, even for those who have clocked in and clocked out for years on end just for the sake of a paycheck at the end of the month. Even the clock, which one seemed to move at the speed of a snail, loses all relevance. But a chosen few beat the fate of a normal existence, choosing instead to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Icons aren’t normal people, which is why they consistently seek to push the inevitability of normal farther and farther away. 

No longer will the morning alarm usher in a training session. The camaraderie of the team bus and the dressing room will become memories in an instant. A normal day will not include walking onto a field to thunderous applause or casting a spell on countless faces. How is even possible to replace the magic with the humdrum? The ordinariness of normal has to finally be dealt with. The tickets and hotel rooms aren’t booked, the plumbing at home needs repair and the kids need help them with homework. You keep reaching out for your phone, thinking its ringing. As Rahul Dravid put it in his retirement speech ‘I lived in a cocoon, so to speak. I lived in a surreal world, away from reality in some ways.’

The sheer magnitude of Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement, which isn’t too far away, is perhaps not being realized as yet. It’s like parents who know that their daughter has leave home one day but fall to pieces when the moment finally occurs. Life isn’t designed to prepare us for farewells.

Careers such as Sachin Tendulkar’s come once in a lifetime and the least we can do is bask in its twilight. And see him draw a thunderous applause when he walks onto the field, with the mind and enthusiasm of a cherubic 16 year old in a 40 year old body.

For it is on his wings that we flew, it is his name that we prayed, it is through his dream that we lived so many of our own.

Happy 40th, master.