Once Brothers

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‘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.

 

 

Bangalore’s season of thunder without the rain

 

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Yesterday, May 14th, Bangalore played their last match of IPL 2017 and eked out a consolation win against the Delhi Daredevils who lived up to their name and dared more than was required and lost. There is something to be said for how the journey ends. Not that all that came before is redundant but we all like to hold onto how it ended, however messy and torturous the middle seemed.

Yesterday, May 14th, it rained in parts of Bangalore. But what preceded the rains was thunder that was loud and unruly. The rains that followed didn’t live up to the thunder that preceded it.

The Royal Challengers Bangalore has in its ranks a few force that can wreck havoc on their day. But this has been a season in which the team has been going from disaster site to the next.

Take for example Sunday, May 7th. The side took on the Kolkata Knight Riders in their last home match of a forgettable season and put on 158 against the backdrop of memes of the team exalting after crossing 49 and father-mother jokes about getting beaten. After Umesh Yadav’s last over went for 21, the skies opened up for a short while and the pitch which has played slow this year and made batsman work for their runs, all seemed to connive to give the Royal Challengers a consolation win in front of their ever-hopeful fans.

But on that day, they ran into Sunil Narine.

For the longest time, Bangalore had a draconian deadline where everything was supposed to shut down by 11.30 pm. That is now 1 am and even though the match began at 4 pm, Sunil Narine seemed to be in an awful and tearing hurry to finish the match. He was in such a hurry that he pulverized the attack and smashed the fastest 50 in the IPL ever. His 15 ball 50 was the beginning of a very hasty end for Bangalore whose campaign only seemed to go from bad to worse to ‘wtf just happened’? His whiplash decimated any hopes the team had of their last home game ending in a modest blaze of glory.

These are snippets of RCB’s report card from this season:

Bowled out for a record 49 against the Kolkata Knight Riders chasing a paltry 131.

Ended their chase at 96/9 chasing 157 against the Rising Pune Supergiants.

Were done at dusted for 119 chasing an underwhelming 138 against the Kings X1 Punjab.

While the 49 all out was as low as they could go, there were no soaring highs to balance out the scale that had tilted hopelessly towards the despair side.

If 2016 was a season where RCB gave its fans a lot to cheer before falling short at the finish line, 2017 has been a woeful symphony of sorts. The side is yet to win an IPL trophy and it has had to meander through some strange happenings over the years.

The birth of Royal Challengers Bangalore was a bit like the big bang. Not the formation of the team but the first ever match the side played during the IPL. Rahul Dravid, in all his wisdom, made a few tactical errors in team selection by choosing players who were more adept at the longer version of the game. With names like Sunil Joshi, Wasim Jaffer and the great Rahul Dravid himself, the side sought to make sense of a format and a league that no one had a clue about. The first match ever in IPL’s history was between Bangalore and Kolkata and while it was as good a start that the newly birthed tournament required, it was an unmitigated disaster for the team. Brendon McCullum went ballistic and smashed 158 and the team amassed a massive 222. In reply, Bangalore were rounded up for 82.

Then it got worse.

The side had Martin Crowe as a Chief Creative Officer, Charu Sharma as CEO and Venkatesh Prasad as bowling coach. As the side hurtled from one defeat to the other, Mallya lost his cool and sacked Charu Sharma. It was rumored that Venkatesh Prasad was to get the boot but he made amends by apologising for the team’s performance. The late Martin Crowe left after the first season (fled was more like it). Mallya’s penchant for showmanship also led to buying players like Kevin Pietersen for 1.5 million dollars and he repaid the faith by returning to England on national duty. The captaincy again fell into the hands of warhorse Anil Kumble who engineered a turnaround and led the team to the finals in 2009 where they lost to Deccan Chargers (now SunRisers Hyderabad). In 2015, they bought Yuvraj Singh for a whopping 14 crores while Mallya claimed he didn’t have money to pay salaries of employees of his defunct airline.

Not all business owners make the best team owners as Harsh Goenka has proved this season. In a disastrous combination of stupidity, immaturity and tactlessness, he tweeted about how replacing Dhoni as captain was one of the best decisions made by the franchise. The hiding he received on twitter was perhaps not enough and when the former captain himself put up a couple of stellar performances that had Goenka attempt to retract his statements and come out with his dignity reasonably intact. The Pune team will cease to exist after the IPL and people are still hoping that Dhoni will end his IPL career with the refurbished and hopefully cleaner Chennai Super Kings. Dhoni will retire a legend and Goenka’s presence on the planet will register in the minds of people only when he tweets something buffoonery.

Dhoni 1, Goneka -10.

On the topic of business owners, Bangalore’s, sadly is the worst. When Vijay Mallya bought the team in 2008, he was still the King of Good times who loved to throw a party at the drop of a hat. Now he is a fugitive from justice, hiding in England, evading the law. The person who couldn’t seem to get enough attention or eyeballs is now hiding from all cameras and tweeting cryptic messages about his life as a free bird.

As Bangalore’s challenge has come to an end, the next year will hold numerous possibilities. Have we seen the last of the Gayle, De Viliers and Kohli trio? Will Chris Gayle regale us again in Bangalore colours? After a tumultuous season such as this and the 10 year contract of teams being able to retain 4 players coming to an end after this season, we may witness a new look Bangalore team come 2018.

At the beginning of the IPL, there was a lot of excitement in the country when news of Mallya’s arrest percolated over the media waves. It then emerged that he had gotten bail a few minutes later. If only his team could find their way out of jail so easily.

It’s that time of the year when Bangalore is waiting for rain. Half the roads in the city are being dug up and the rains will send everything into a tailspin. But still, it is waiting for rain. Every summer, you think it cannot get worse and then it does. For all these years, we have been staving off getting air conditioning at home, all with the hope that it will get better the next year. But it doesn’t.

In the mean time, there has been a lot of thunder.

On their day, the Royal Challengers batting line-up can bring thunder, lightning and Gayle forces to the fore and wipe aside all opposition. But that was not to be this season.

A few days ago, my wife sent me a message that said it was thundering all afternoon but there was no rain.

She inadvertently surmised the Royal Challengers run in 2017.

 

March, and the meaning of life

 

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Many moons ago, I was born in the month of March.

Many moons later, I met my wife, who too was born in the month of March.

In a March somewhere in between, I was held hostage in an exam hall, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid batted through oppressive Kolkata heat, a stellar bowling line-up that featured the likes of Jason Gillespie, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, to script a Houdini act and give India its best test victory ever.

Somewhere along the way, I grew up, fell out of faith with God and religion and put a ridiculous amount of hope in cricket and sport, looking to find meaning that had somehow eluded me.

I would like to think that Kolkata 2001 was when I realised that cricket could fill some of that void. Cricket had the answers that academics, god and religion didn’t.

But there is one god that I pray to – the rain god. For one, I can see, touch and feel the rain. If there is a more wondrous natural coolant ever invented, I would like to know what it is. It threatened to rain on Sunday. Then it finally rained on Monday. It threatened to rain on Tuesday. But it didn’t just stop at a drizzle. It poured. The decibel levels of the thunder were higher than those of a Metallica concert.

Maybe even the clouds were relieved and cried tears of joy, so much so that I had to stop and take shelter on the way home.

On Sunday, the real threat was Australia threatening to rain down on India’s parade. It was the home side that was looking for shelter from the Australian assault. The day loomed over us like some sort of an apocalypse. It could have been the day when the unfathomable became a thing of reality. Australia are supposed to be the visiting side. They are supposed to get crushed 4-0, the Indian spinners running through their line-up, making them look like school boys. Our batting line-up is supposed to crush their very souls. Virat Kohli is supposed to continue his magnificent form and score another double century with his eyes closed.

In Pune, India were out-spun and out-batted in their own backyard on a made-to-measure turning track. In a reversal of roles, India got a taste of their own medicine and it left a very bitter taste in the mouth. It was like America helping form the Al-Qaeda only to have it come back to bite them. Remember 2001, when the first match ended in three days in Mumbai? The only difference between then and now is that Australia were expected to rail-road India. Back then, they marched to India on a record 16 match winning streak in a bid to conquer the final frontier. In 2017, India was expected to trample upon Australia mercilessly the way they trampled over England and New Zealand.

189 all out on day 1 of the Bangalore test. 84 more runs than they could manage in the first test at Pune. Australia were smelling blood and pinching themselves. A series win in India against a rampaging Indian side?

There are few sounds on a cricket ground that are near mellifluous.

The sound a straight drive makes. It is just ‘thock’, nothing more. It’s the sound of near perfection.

The sound of the ball hitting the stumps when a player from the opposition is bowled.

The sound of the crowd exploding in unison when victory has been sprung upon them.

David Warner found his off-stump in a disheveled condition when Ashwin bowled one that turned in and Warner tried to chase it and missed it. Such a beautiful sound. The first session of the match was test cricket at its best with India finally showing ‘intent’. Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav bowled with precision and aggression, not giving the Aussies any easy runs.

Yet, 189 isn’t a score to play with. All these years, the scourge of India is finding pace bowlers who could come and complement the heroics of the batsmen. Javagal Srinath tried and nearly lost his shoulders. Zaheer Khan’s fitness was always suspect and it was spin that was deemed to be the answer to all our questions.

Anil Kumble, then Harbhajan Singh and now, R Ashwin.

But if spin is the answer, Pune was the unanswered question.

While the rest of the world was sitting back in their chairs on Sunday and God himself was supposedly resting, 13 players were battling it out at the M Chinnaswamy stadium. Cubbon Park, one of Bangalore’s largest parks is just a stone’s throw away from the stadium and home to many rare species of birds, but the loudest chirps were heard from players on the cricket field.

Chirp Chirp Chirp Chirp. Wicket! Ravindra Jadeja, the man with probably the most memes to his name, came to the party. Ashwin, in a very ungainly manner, held onto a catch offered by Hanscomb. Jadeja then found himself in the middle of a hat-trick, accounting for Wade and Lyon in the same over.

As Sunday wore down and everyone was already in a funk about getting back to their wage slave selves, Australia had a 48 run lead. In life, as in sport, it is always tough to arrest a losing streak. In the two disastrous tours of England and Australia in 2011-12 when India were handed consecutive 0-4 series defeats, it felt as if the slide began in the mind. The moment they lost two test matches in a row, the remainder of the series just felt like a Monday to Friday going through the motions kind of work week. If India didn’t come back in Bangalore, there would be no real motivation to dig deep into their reserves and script a comeback.

Day 3. Monday. The day we all seemingly wake up with a hangover even if we have not drunk the night before. What will become of our lives without live commentary? What other reason to wake up on a Monday other than a test match in whose hands lie the destiny of a series? Only live sport can add meaning to a Monday. Or a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Mitchell Starc, expected to sting with his lethal pace had also added the sting to the tail at Pune. A lead of over a 100 would mean game and series Australia. The unraveling of all the good work that Australia had put in began on Monday morning. 4 wickets fell for a mere 36 runs and the lead came to a halt at 87. On twitter, Harsha Bhogle tweeted that India needed at least a 300 run lead to ensure victory.

Abhinav Mukund and KL Rahul began sedately but Mukund’s tepid run of form continued. Rahul, whose near century in the first innings was the only spice in an otherwise bland score card again came to the rescue.

For the longest time, the BCCI used all of its might to fight the DRS saying that it wasn’t reliable. After old guard moved on and the board itself went topsy turvy, the DRS found a tiny opening and made itself comfortable. Before this series, Virat Kohli was walking on water. In Pune, he was slipping on ice. In the first innings in Bangalore, he was adjudged LBW to a Nathan Lyon delivery for 12 and asked for a review. But the result was obvious. He was desperate to score runs and Australia were even more desperate for his wicket. In the second innings, he was again adjudged lbw to Hazelwood and was supremely confident that he had nicked the ball. The third umpire, it seemed, thought he was controlling the button to a nuclear bomb instead of a decision in a test match. Again, Kohli lost to DRS. 300 lead someone was saying?

If Warner was Ashwin’s bunny, Pujara looked like he was trying to learn a new language called learning to play spin. He edged one to Smith and was dropped. He was on 4. KL Rahul faced 16 consecutive deliveries in order to give Pujara a breather and get his confidence back. After Kohli’s dismissal, Ravindra Jadeja of all people was sent in, for no discernible reason. Remember when Javagal Srinath or Irfan Pathan would be sent in as night watchmen as a bid to protect the batsmen and delay an inevitable breach? Sending in a nightwatchman or its equivalent is like not picking the phone when the moneylender calls. They will eventually find you and make you pay. He lasted a grand total of 15 deliveries before being castled by Hazelwood.

Ajinkya Rahane and Chateshwar Pujara didn’t do a Dravid and Laxman but they came within the same vicinity.

Day 4. On a day when India were expected to solidify their position, their wheels came undone like some defective toy. If Australia’s good work had been undone on the morning of Day 4, India came undone on 4th morning. Karun Nair, triple centurion and local boy saw his leg stump beheaded and doing cartwheels. Rahane, Nair, Pujara, Ashwin, Sharma and Yadav were all out in a space of 36 runs.

188 runs separated Australia and the Border Gavaskar trophy. The pitch wasn’t a minefield and when the Aussies began batting, it didn’t look a saunter to victory nor did it seem like they had a great wall that needed to be scaled.

188. 112 runs less than the desired 300. Almost two days to get there.

At what point did victory seem possible?

When David Warner’s wicket was again pocketed by Ashwin?

When Steven Smith was adjudged LBW, allegedly had a ‘brain fade’ and looked to the dressing room for an opinion before the umpires and a few Indian players pounced on him like vultures on their prey and he left before it could get uglier?

When Virat Kohli, like he always does, played symphony conductor to the crowd and orchestrated their cheers to drill nails into the Australian chase?

When R Ashwin realised that he was the No.1 spin bowler in the world and bowled like one?

When Wriddhiman Saha flew and took a blinder to send Matthew Wade back?

In the end, Nathan Lyon, who had bowled magnificently in the first innings gave an easy return catch to Ashwin and the comeback from 0-1 was complete.

Parallels were drawn to Kolkata 2001 and while it was a riveting match, there really can’t be a comparison. Back in 2001, no one expected India to win in Kolkata, Mumbai or in Chennai. In 2017, Pune was an electric shock and until day 4 in Bangalore, the match could have gone either way. It would take something very very special to come close to what a Very Very Special Laxman and Rahul Dravid accomplished.

Somethings do happen only once in a lifetime.

And some things come close to the original. The 75 run victory by India at Bangalore came close.

I could see Kolkata 2001 only in patches. I was writing the dreaded board exams, trying to make sense of life. The school canteen had a 14 inch tv, the only source of information. While Dravid and Laxman were playing their magnum opus, I was in the confines of an exam hall, the rustle of the fan and the papers my only companion. Highlights and articles can’t make up for the real thing.

Like that match and series sowed the seeds of the golden generation that would travel the world and bring glory by playing some of the finest cricket in the most dignified manner, I began to see cricket as a metaphor for life too.

Ecstasy, agony, relief, defiance, fortitude, artistry, hope, things that make a life, bind it and give it meaning. That’s what cricket is, too.

And in more ways than one for me, it all began in March.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Chennai loved Pakistan and other stories

india-pak-chennai

Like its films and politics, even matches played at the MA Chidambaram stadium in Chennai have never been short of drama.

It began in Chennai all those years ago.

To be more precise, it began on March 22, 2001. India had come from so far behind to pull the rug out from the mighty Australians and it was only fitting that the series decider would be a humdinger. A young tyro who went by the name Harbhajan Singh laid siege to a marauding Australian side looking to conquer the final frontier. But even the victory wasn’t bereft of drama, near-misses, absurdity and near calamity.

Actually, the MA Chidambaram Stadium is in some way an extension of the state of Tamil Nadu, its politics and its movies. There is never a paucity of drama.

But first, a little time travel.

Turn back time to January 1999. India vs Pakistan in the days when the sides still played tests against each other, Pakistan still toured India and the Kargil war was still a few months away. It was Sachin Tendulkar at his prime vs Waquar Younis, Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq in their prime. Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly had announced their arrivals and VVS Laxman was yet to hit his magical note.

In the second innings, India, chasing 271, were reduced to  near rubble at 82/5. Like most India-Pakistan encounters, the match had already see-sawed beyond normal pulse rates. Then came a familiar figure, all of 5’5” in height who began to put things back into order. For most of his career, an unfair criticism about Sachin Tendulkar was that he didn’t win enough matches for India, that he wasn’t a second innings kind of a guy, that he only cared about his own personal milestones. From 82/5, he soldiered on with Nayan Mongia for company as they began to slowly chip into the deficit. Tendulkar played brilliantly, all the while battling a severe back strain. With India 53 runs away from an amazing victory, Nayan Mongia played what was undoubtedly the most stupid shot of his career, one I hope still gives him nightmares, leaving Tendulkar and the tailenders to cross the finish line.

By now, Tendulkar had near run of out all strength and began going for shots with aplomb. In hindsight, if India had crashed and burned without going so close, it may have been better. Everyone loves a fight, a close fight, one that goes down to the wire, to the last ball of the last over. Everyone loves a fight as long as their team wins. If their team loses, the heart break can take years to get over. India were just 17 runs short and victory seemed imminent. Sunil Joshi, Venkatesh Prasad, Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath didn’t inspire confidence but they could surely help their team score 17 runs? Is that too much to ask?

Sachin Tendulkar obviously didn’t hold the tailenders batting capabilities in very high esteem and tried to finish it off on his own. After hitting two consecutive boundaries off Saqlain Mushtaq, he again attempted to hoik him out of the ground and get third time lucky. The shot was mistimed and Wasim Akram held on to the most important catch of the match. In an instant, giddy excitement turned into sheer panic. All wasn’t lost. 3 wickets and 17 runs. Who would you have picked?

The next few moments are something we all wished never happened. Pakistan turned into sniffer dogs and drew in closer. Anil Kumble was no match for Wasim Akram’s guile and swing and was caught like a deer in the headlights in front of the stumps. Sunil Joshi was castled by Saqlain, bringing Javagal Srinath to the crease. Srinath and Prasad got a dose of their own medicine and the Pakistani hounds got closer. Srinath was bowled by Saqlain Mushtaq and it was all over. 4 wickets for 4 runs. Sachin Tendulkar reportedly never forgave Nayan Mongia for the shot he played. During the prize distribution ceremony, a beaten and bruised Tendulkar was reportedly crying in the dressing room.

While many people may want to forget the match, no one will forget what happened thereafter.

A precursor to the match – it wasn’t even supposed to be played in Chennai. It was scheduled to be played at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi before Hindu activists with misplaced priorities dug up the pitch to protest the series. Delhi would later go onto host the second test, the one in which Anil Kumble recorded his perfect 10.

The Chennai crowd was at first stunned into silence. They had witnessed a meltdown of epic proportions and that too to the arch rivals. As the victorious Pakistani team began their victory lap, the crowd stood up and began clapping. It was at first, faint, then it gradually grew in volume. It didn’t bring the stadium down but it was warm and appreciative. By the time the Pakistanis were done, the whole stadium was on its feet, applauding a well-fought match.

I wonder if we will ever witness such a sight again. In a day and age where anything Pakistani is treated like a sin, it will remain one of the most heartwarming moments between the two sides.

India lost, but Chennai won.

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Coming back to 2001.

India had just won the test match of a lifetime at Kolkata and were chasing 155 for an improbable series win against Australia, who were still recovering from the smarting they received in the previous match, were looking to avenge the defeat and clinch the series.

But what is a match in Chennai if things go according to script?

Sachin, Ganguly and Dravid were dismissed without harming the scoreboard much. VVS Laxman continued his sublime form but left before India reached a point of safety. Before long, it was left to Harbhajan Singh and Sameer Dighe to pull India out of a rut and into the pages of history. Alongside VVS Laxman, Harbhajan Singh too announced his arrival in that series. His monumental 32 wickets made him the preferred spinner in the Sourav Ganguly era. It was only fitting that the winning shot came from his bat.

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Years later, Chennai again played host to a monumental encounter between India and England. It was monumental for two reasons – the result and the circumstances under which it was played. With the country still reeling from the 26/11 attacks, a cricket match was the last thing on people’s minds but it was cricket that provided the country some respite from the despair it was engulfed in. The touring English team came back after the BCCI assured them of utmost safety and helicopters were kept outside the stadium to evacuate players if anything unsavory transpired and snipers were positioned on all corners of the ground. Needing an improbable 387 for victory in the second innings, Virender Sehwag gave the team a super bike start and Sachin Tendulkar played another masterful knock to help India accomplish an improbable victory.

An enduring image from the match is that of a groundsman who somehow gathered up the courage to go up to Tendulkar and shake his hand. He must have spent the rest of the day walking on water.

Chennai is recovering from back to back calamities, one a natural one and the other an emotional one. The state lost its beloved a beloved leader, matriarch to many and a figure that transcended politics itself.  When the end came, the state didn’t explode in fury as many people expected it to.

A week later, Cyclone Vardah unleashed its wrath, taking with it trees, the power supply and normal life. The level of preparedness was a marked difference from last year when unprecedented rains caused the city to flood and threw life into disarray.

It’s December now and the numerous sabhas  in the city are playing host to the month long Marghazi masam. People do sabha hopping, going from one mellifluous Carnatic concert to the other and partaking in the sumptuous feasts that each sabha has to offer. It’s when Raga Hamsadhwani isn’t just accompanied by mridangams and kanjirams but also by more miligai, keerai puli kuzhambu, mango thokku and numerous other mouth watering delicacies. Add to that a test victory that capped of a series win against England to place India at the top of the ICC test rankings and the recipe is complete.

It began in Chennai in 2001 against the Australians. The series victory spawned off what many consider the golden era of Indian cricket. Under Sourav Ganguly and later Rahul Dravid, the team won series in Pakistan, West Indies and England, drew level with Australia in their back yard and won their first test in South Africa.

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England’s dramatic collapse in the fifth test brought back a lot of memories. Virat Kohli’s test captaincy has hit the right notes thus far but the true test will begin only when they tour abroad and win. That will be the ultimate litmus test of his captaincy and the team.

Is this the next golden generation of India cricket?

Like in 2001, we can only hope history repeats itself.

 

 

 

The Easter another God arose

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virat Kohli – From 0 to 6,000 at the speed of light

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Opening that bottle of fine Scotch to celebrate his achievement can wait for now. At the rate he’s going, it won’t be too long before he rakes up another record. What about a beer then? Make that a strong beer. A vodka perhaps? Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. Right now, it’s time to drink up – Virat Kohli has just become the fastest to reach 6,000 ODI runs. It has taken him 135 innings, 6 innings lesser than the great Vivian Richards himself.

At 26, Virat Kohli’s boots are already too big to fill. In the 7 years since he made his debut, he has already scored 21 centuries in ODIs. To set a context, Sachin Tendulkar scored 49 ODI centuries over 24 years. He’s no.4 in the test line-up. Till recently, no. 4 was Sachin Tendulkar’s position. In plain terms, he’s considered to be the heir to God himself.

But he’s no saint.

He isn’t particularly an enigma, but he is one hell of a character. His expressions read like a series of Whatsapp emoticons. This lad, he doesn’t just wear his heart on his sleeve, he wears his heart on his face as well. He dates a film star and she was held responsible for his tumultuous English Summer where he scored 134 in 10 innings and seemed to have forgotten where his off-stump was located. It wasn’t enough that he had to defend James Anderson, he also had to defend the presence of his near and dear ones who had come on tour with him. He went into the tour as one of the linchpins and when he emerged from it, lynch mobs were baying for his blood.

But he’s seen worse.

In 2006, when he was playing a Ranji tie against Karnataka, he got news that his father had passed away. He continued playing, scored a 90 in what were obviously overwhelmingly trying circumstances and went for the funeral only after he was dismissed. Dad didn’t see his son grow up and turn into one of the finest players of the modern era. Dad wasn’t there when the team won the world cup and his son won countless hearts when he said of Tendulkar “he’s carried the burden of the nation on his shoulders for 21 years, so it’s time we carried him on our shoulders.” Was that the moment when the young boy became a young man and finally came of age?

Every father will think twice before giving his daughter’s hand in marriage to him, but every other eligible girl wouldn’t mind eloping with him. He swears like a sailor and makes youthful indiscretion seem like a lost opportunity. After reaching his maiden test century in Adelaide 2 years ago, in a tour right out of hell where the feted Indian batting line-up crumbled to pieces like China glass that fell on concrete, he heralded that pivotal moment by brandishing his bat and spewing profanities at the Australia players. Watchers called it amateurish. Rahul Dravid recently said “he will mature with age and learn to calm down.”

Calm down and Virat Kohli in the same sentence ?

But it could have so easily gone awry.

After winning the U-19 World Cup in  2008, he looked like he would throw it all away – the poster boy for how not to let success get to your head. It helped that he played with the likes of Anil Kumble in his franchise, Royal Challengers Bangalore, and the likes of Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar in the national team – men of stature who stood over his shoulder and ensured that he didn’t take all of his prodigious talents and trade them for a few seconds of madness.

He isn’t the boy next door nor does he seek that tag. The India he grew up in is different from the one his predecessors grew up in. He won the first ever world cup he played. He is from what you can call ‘the IPL generation’. From the looks of it, he is the life of every party. He even got into an infamous tiff in an IPL game with his country mate Gautam Gambhir before they were literally pried away. When the team missed qualifying for the Super 8s in the 2012 t20 world cup, he had tears in his eyes.

In an age of artifice and avarice, he has understood what stands the test of time. While the jamboree of t20 cricket may lavish you with riches, fame and put your name under the arc lights, sometimes all in one night, test cricket is still the custodian of cricketing immortality. Ask Brian Lara, Steve Waugh, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. Ask them all the elixir to cricketing immortality and in all probability the answer will be “become a great test player.” Ask Yuvraj Singh, who has more accomplishments than he can count and is rated as one of the best players of the shorter formats if it hurts that he never became a test regular. Kohli has it in him. 3 of his 6 test centuries have come overseas. But he also realized the dedication it requires when over the course of an English Summer, he looked everything but confident and assured. Excellence is a double edged sword – when you slip and graze the pastures of mediocrity, you are reminded that with great power also comes great responsibility.

It doesn’t harm to learn the value of humility either. Indignation may make for  good TRPs, but not always good legacies. Humility is a bedrock of true greatness and without it, greatness loses its soul. Look at Mike Tyson, who carved his own sense of right and wrong in his head and lived life as though the world would forever be at his beck and call. When he burned through his 300 million dollar fortune, served jail time for rape and nearly died because of his alcoholism, everyone said “I told you so.” Kohli is no Tyson nor will he ever become one, but the lesson to be learned here is the art of keeping your feet on the ground while trying to kiss the sky at the same time. Arrogance doesn’t build bonds, it only creates a circle of hangers on who disappear when the going gets tough. Humility on the other hand, never goes out of style.

If the world were to crash and burn tomorrow, what would we be left with? I don’t know but if you saw him bat on February 28th 2012, you would have thought that the world was ending. Needing 321 in 40 overs to stand a chance of qualifying for the finals of the CB series, he pulverized 133 of 86 balls and steered India to an improbable win. It wasn’t just that the innings was a supremely special effort and seen in context of the series, one in which the Indian team put up absolutely no fight at all, it was a knock that rejuvenated an Indian side that had lost its bearings.

So how will the history books remember him? There’s still a long way to go to make that pronouncement. Will he make peace with his prodigious talents and calm down as Dravid has predicted, or will he end up like Michael Jordan, who  sportswriter Rick Reilly termed the “world’s first sore winner”  after he delivered his highly controversial Hall of Fame enshrinement speech?

Right now, the world is his for the taking. Just do the math – in tests, he has scored 1855 runs in 29 matches at an average of 39. In ODIs, he has scored 6208 runs in 146 matches at an average of 52.61. In T20s, he has scored 972 in 28 matches at an average of 46.28. In the IPL, he captains the Royal Challengers Bangalore team. He is tipped to take over from MS Dhoni whenever he seeks to reclaim his sanity and relinquish captaincy. He will get his first taste of test captaincy when he captains India in the first test at Brisbane owing to an injury that has side-tracked Dhoni. He has played alongside some of the greats of Indian cricket and is conscious of their legacy, but their shadows don’t loom over him. When he reached the 6,000 runs milestone, he didn’t look around for people to curse and spew profanities at. Instead, he sealed it with a kiss. Oh, the poetry of it all; rock star cricketer blows a kiss to his film star girlfriend when he breaks a record.

So coming back to where we started, which is the best drink to open to celebrate his recent feat? Not sure. But if he keeps going the way he is going, one thing is for sure – there’ll be a lot champagne bottles that will be popped open.

 

 

New kids on 22 yards

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If Rahul Dravid were to hold a corporate job, he would be the guy who muttered under his breath when the boss ticked him off and went back to perfect his presentation until his boss could find no fault. Virat Kohli will probably ask his boss to fuck off, turn entrepreneur and spend the rest of his life rubbing it in to his nemesis(es). For a country galloping down the world stage at break neck speed, the new look lineup reflects the restlessness urgency and live in the moment ethos, unlike the previous generation who were content to keep an arm’s distance between their laurels and flamboyance.

The winds of change are blowing across India’s unofficial national game, religion and pastime. Unlike its over-the-top cinema or votebank politics, cricket in India is a product of its era. Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja and Shikhar Dhawan bring to bear a new generation’s modus operandi – play hard, party hard, no apologies; thank you very much. In the 90s, a certain Vinod Kambli crashed onto the world stage and burned out before the turn of the decade. Before he bartered his supreme talents for his demons, he was considered an eyesore, too flashy for the image of Indian cricket. Which brings to bear an afterthought – would any of the current bunch have met the same fate had they been born in another generation? An incident from the past illustrates how different generations played the game. Javagal Srinath strikes Ricky Ponting on the helmet with an uncharacteristic bouncer. A vegetarian from the royal city of Mysore, Srinath was your atypical pace bowler, someone who apologized after hitting the batsman’s helmet instead of taking a leaf out of Glen Mcgrath’s school of sportsmanship and glaring. He was met by an angry rebuttal and asked to take his mark again. It’s a tough ask to expect anyone from the current side to be riled for offering an apology and stay subdued. 

The 199os saw the tables turn in cricket’s world order. Led by a wily Jagmohan Dalmiya, India transformed into a super power in cricket administration. ODI’s became the darling of the crowds and television ratings fell truly, madly and deeply in love with them. Sachin Tendulkar established himself as god and cricket transformed from a game to a religion. The 2000s saw Sourav Ganguly shake Indian cricket off its over modest approach but that generation steered clear of any garish displays of genius and victory. Ganguly’s shirtless exult in the Natwest trophy finals was one of the few aberrations in a side not given to exuberance.

New India isn’t synonymous with waiting, isn’t shy of flaunting the latest gadgets and isn’t unsure of its place in the world. The new look team is an extension of this, inadvertently giving a voice to a whole new generation. Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Rahul, Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Javagal Srinath weren’t products of the t20 school of thought. Their first love always remained test cricket and success in that format was the badge of honour they wore on their sleeves. The current generation entered the game in vastly different circumstances. They have tasted early success, found riches and  are not bound by the shackles of the past or the future. It isn’t as if respect, grit and fortitude have been forsaken in the journey to the top, just that the expressions of victory and talent are far more forthcoming.

The new look Indian team is standing on the shoulders of giants but is capable and confident of building edifices of its own. In that sense, it speaks the language of new India. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MS Dhoni’s Shawshank Redemption

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Like me, if you were caught between taking the mandatory Sunday afternoon nap and watching the test series, you will be forgiven. Indian cricket hasn’t given us much to cheer over the last two years. The 4-0 whitewashes in England and Australia, followed by a revenge series turned self-destructive series vs England at home had all but laid siege to the hopes and expectations. Whenever the Indian test fan has altered sleep patterns, kept live scores and live tv on during office hours, fingers precariously placed on the alt-tab buttons, the efforts have been met been met with unending disappointment.

We are still getting used to a batting line-up bereft of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman and have grudgingly accepted that this maybe the last time Sachin Tendulkar plays a home series. MS Dhoni’s one day prowess in unquestioned but his test credentials have always been like a student constantly looking for grace marks to make the passing grade. The man under whose stewardship the team rose to no.1 in the test rankings also oversaw the team plummeting from its once dizzying heights.

In the recent past, whenever you dozed off, stepped out for a coffee break, or were drawn into the demands of a day job that helped pay the bills, you returned to see another wicket fall, another collapse, another loss and another heartbreak. But this afternoon was different.

Each time you returned to the game, the left side of the scoreboard was steadily increasing while the right side remained unaffected. You watched Dhoni lift his bat after his century and then sat down for lunch with the family, the tv turned off. You returned to the match to see him near his 150. The weight of your eye lids too much to bear, you dozed off on the chair and woke up just in time to see him reach a double hundred. And like most fans, you rubbed your eyes and pinched yourself.  

It was an innings from the Dhoni school of thought – brutal, brisk and a knack for appearing at right place at the right time. Back in 2001, the Indian team, led by a maverick captain, sought to quell the march of the invincibles, and won.The similarities between the Kolkata 2001 and Chennai 2013 are uncanny. In both matches, a double century turned things around. Back then, Harbhajan took 13 wickets and now, Ashwin reaped a 10 wicket haul. Laxman scored 282, Dhoni 224, 57 runs lesser, but priceless nonetheless. The circumstances weren’t as demanding as Kolkata, but MS Dhoni’s place in the test arena has had more questions than answers.

Many believe Laxman’s 281 set the tone for Indian cricket’s ascension in the test arena. It came when the team was crawling out of the muck of the match fixing scandal and since 2011, Indian cricket has found itself in the muck in the test arena. Whether the Chennai victory will be the voice of a new generation of cricketer’s is anyone’s guess.

And much like Andy Dufresne did in the Shawshank Resdemption, we hope this is the moment when we’re crawling out of the s**t, and coming out better on the other side.