A post late by 3 months.

To begin with a cliche,I’d say a lot of water has flown under the proverbial bridge since the last time I blogged. In fact why is it that I feel so every time I post a blog? So much that it is a bit like making a come back every single time. But this post is not about why I cannot write more often.This is a post that should have come around 2-3 months back. Only that the thoughts got lost in a flash flood of sorts.Which kind of brought down the bridge.Bad one. I digress.

Coming back to the water and the bridge,yes, a certain world cup was won to satiate almost a billion crazy maniacs of the game and the team. This was something that could have provoked a post from me, being no less a fanatic myself. What instead happened was I read so much stuff from so many people, that everything that could have been said about ‘the’ match was done to death by every blogger worth his or her salt. That said, it was nevertheless a unique occasion. Here I was alone in my apartment (I live with two others, one chose to go to his brother’s place and the other chose to go apartment hunting on that day-the latter mostly out of a fear of jinxing our team just by watching them play!), shouting and screaming and cursing and clenching fists and gnawing throughout the course of the match, finally culminating in that magnificent six over the long on boundary,accompanied by that slick twirl of the bat by MSD. And then I erupted in joy. A feeling that had never been felt in reality before; a feeling that had only been dreamed of, a feeling  we all had only wondered about. Here it was. What followed was high decibel screaming and a subsequent  mental delirium of sorts  which was to last for a few more days until it all gradually sunk in. When the dust seemed to settle a bit on the state of my mind,when it looked like I could sit down and gather myself and word my thoughts, it felt like a frustrating drought of a verbal nature.Words vanished like clouds on a drought-affected land,mind resembling a parched landscape. I had read so much from so many sources, it seemed like I had nothing different to offer in the form of one more blog post… after all  it would have been just another drop in an ocean.

Most part of last year, I spent aspiring for a couple of things to be precise(among many other less-interesting ones, of course). One was a purely professional one- that of traveling to the US for a long term assignment and the other was about India winning the cup.Once the visa was obtained,I was reasonably certain that an on site opportunity would materialize sooner than later, but the second one was prone to becoming a pipe-dream, especially since I had seen 5 previous world cup dreams crashing like a lead-balloon.

Never did I know that I would live to experience both-simultaneouosly(not to say I had any imminent threat to life!).Although I’d’ve preferred the company of a few friends during that moment of triumph,celebrating it in solitude was interesting in its own way. For I didn’t really feel like I was alone. There were those scores of people I was following on Twitter. The entire world cup was watched in the crazy company of some very funny and equally mad tweeters. Every single incident evoked a whole gamut of emotions on the timeline and it was one heck of a substitute for the lifeless,cliche-ridden and banal commentary that was on offer. Testmatch Sofa was also frequented upon,by muting the commentary from the live stream.Tuning into this website offered a very irreverent,funny and sarcastic point of view on the proceedings.It was like watching a dubbed movie or something.OK,not quite the analogy I was looking for but you get the drift,don’t you?

The journey from the knock-outs, goes without saying, was one roller coaster ride. The quarter final against the Aussies started off as a sleepless night-before,progressing as a nervous,gingerly first innings as Ricky Ponting guided them to a tricky total. It was then time to go to office, and the next couple of hours were destined to be totally unproductive from a work-perspective. It was an exercise in venting out all possible emotions even while trying your best not to let them out in a way which would make the clients aware of such feelings. This was the most tense I would feel in the entire world cup. The last over was watched streaming on one of my desi co-worker’s mobile with utter disregard to the download limits his data plan imposed.Nobody cared as long as we were winning.

Pakistan was an entirely different proposition. The hype back home was understandably maddening and over-the-top and I was kind of insulated from all that frenzy the media created in a way. That I didn’t have any TV here helped. However, an Indo-Pak encounter in a world cup is nothing like anything.(no, this sentence wasn’t sponsored by micromax or karbonn or whichever brand uses that as a tagline). The fever gets to you. What I experienced on that day was something I will cherish for a long time to come. We were a pretty formidable number of desis at the client’s place. A couple of influential Indians working with the client had enough authority to book a meeting room and screen the match live for our sake. Heck, they even sponsored snacks, drinks and a post-victory pizza for lunch!We did try our bit to help the Americans understand what all that fuss was about too. Work and deadlines and time- everything came to a standstill. Only those hysterical bunch of Indians packed inside a room seemed to be moving about crazily. The clients,had resigned to fate that no work would be done that day,irrespective of whether we were going to lose or win.It was very nice of them indeed.

To abruptly end with another cliche,the final of course,as they say, was history. I still cannot muster the words to describe that match.

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Indian Cricket: The decade that was…

From being labeled ‘lions at home and lambs abroad’ to being crowned numero uno in tests, team India has taken a billion people along on an exhilarating  journey that has witnessed a lot of highs and a few lows. What follows is, in my opinion,a summary of moments that hold special significance in the team’s story during the last decade in chronological order.
  •  Champions Trophy 2000,Nairobi:Where it all began
The foundations of an aggressive and resurgent team India were laid right here, when India defeated Australia in a nail biting encounter, against all odds. Two guys- both southpaws-one with the bat and other with the ball-made their mark. Yuvraj Singh with a blistering 84 followed up Sachin’s aggressive cameo (one of the rare occasions where the little master actually swore at McGrath)  and Zaheer Khan’s bowling at the death which included that classic yorker to Steve Waugh turned out to be the defining performances of this match. The match might have faded into the horizon of public memory now, but this was the beginning…
  • Eden Gardens,2001: VVS Laxman,Rahul Dravid. Period.
Need we say more? In one of the greatest tests of all time,David had felled Goliath. And what a match it was. The Aussies had India by the scruff of their necks, and by the end of the 2nd day it appeared as though the final frontier would be conquered with ease. But standing there were two mild mannered gentlemen who turned  warriors and carried out one of the most impossible come-from-behind acts. And the rest,as they say, is history. To this day, teams around the world think twice before imposing a follow on. All thanks to this classic.
  • The  Lords’ balcony and Sourav Ganguly: The Natwest final ’02
“Bowled himmm!!! this was on the cards…”  screamed a despondent Harsha Bhogle from the commentary box as Ashley Giles castled Sachin Tendulkar with India tottering at a precarious 146/5 or something, chasing a then-monumental score of 326. Who knew that two youngsters, in their early 20’s would snatch victory from the jaws of defeat from there. Yuvraj Singh and Mohd Kaif’s inspirational partnership blended   frenzied running between the wickets and counter attacking stroke play and in the process scripted one of India’s most celebrated wins.The twosome did a Houdini act, right in front of an exasperated Nasser Hussain and team. And who can forget  that once-in-a-lifetime reaction from Sourav Ganguly which is now part of cricketing folklore.
  • World Cup 2003:The Australian jinx
If I’ve got my memory right, we lost only two matches in that whole tournament and both were against the eventual champions, Australia. Between these two matches however, Sourav Ganguly and his team played some really inspired cricket in the face of fans turning fanatics and going on the rampage back home after that humiliating first round loss to Australia. It took a certain Sachin Tendulkar to appeal for calm and support. The whole team rallied around each other and played like deserving champs, only to be humbled by the brats from down under.
  •  “Do you realize whose catch you’ve dropped?”
The tension was palpable and the hype leading up to this match had attained  fever pitch. The match lived up to all that hype and how. Sachin Tendulkar’s upper cut six over third man off Shoaib Akhtar in the innings of a lifetime elevated this contest to a different level altogether. Up against a stiff target set by Pakistan with their impressive line up of fast bowlers (Wasim Akram,Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar) the Indians rose to the challenge and maintained their world cup record against Pakistan unblemished. Not to forget that  assuring partnership from Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh which saw India home.
p.s. The quote at the beginning is what Wasim Akram said to Abdur Razzak after the latter dropped Sachin early on in his innings. This was said in Urdu of course.
  • India v Australia, 2003-04: Exorcising the overseas ghost
Steve Waugh almost ended up with a loss in his farewell series, thanks to  some really compelling cricket from the Indians. It all started with that brilliant 144 by Ganguly  at Brisbane on a seaming wicket. It all culminated in Adelaide with India’s first victory, the chief architects being Rahul Dravid,Ajit Agarkar(with the ball in case you are shocked!) and VVS. Though we lost at Melbourne, the final one in Sydney saw Australia just scraping through. The series was fought against all odds and considering that we were whitewashed 3-0 in our previous outing (’99), this one is right up there among the best.
  •  T20 World cup, 2007: A Mallu in every corner of the world, including one at short fine leg at the Wanderers
Misbah-ul-haq,more than anyone else will agree to this Indian adage about folks from Kerala.As Sreesanth tantalizingly held on to that scoop from the Pakistani  off Joginder Sharma, a nation erupted in joy. In what would later turn out to be the precursor for the IPL and the T20 revolution, this inaugural world cup gave us some eminently memorable moments-none more than Yuvraj’s six sixes in that ‘Broad’ over and that heart-stopping  bowl out against Pakistan in one of the earlier matches. For me, the more significant consequence of this victory was the emergence of MS Dhoni as a fearless and attitude oozing leader of men who would , eventually help India scale the test summit.
  • India v Australia, 2007-08: When Ricky Ponting ate humble pie
By this time, the India-Australia rivalry was (and still is) being spoken of in the same breath as that of the Ashes. This particular tour vindicated that hype. From  the infamous monkeygate  incident in the Sydney test to the redemption in Perth, the team gave back as good as they got. Anil Kumble’s leadership during those times is nothing less than the stuff of legends.Ricky Ponting and his men might have won the test series, but not any admirers. Anil Kumble stood vindicated with his “there-was-only-one-team-playing-in-the spirit-of-the-game” quote. We had lost but we won. As a sort of poetic justice that was to follow, the team under MS Dhoni thrashed the home team in the tri-series finals. This too, was after some of the seniors were axed from the ODI side and the seniors v juniors debate started raging. Not to forget, the little master’s brilliant innings in the two finals. 🙂
  • The fab 5
This is not about just one particular moment or series, but the relentless pursuit of 5 gentlemen known as Sachin Tendulkar,Rahul Dravid,Sourav Ganguly,VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble. The golden generation of Indian cricketers whose efforts in the last ten years or so have led us to the peak today.With their combined exploits, they helped build the team brick by brick, inspired youngsters,guided them and have been the source of joy for a billion fans. We have already seen the last of a couple of them,and the rest will soon hang up their boots sooner than later.
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There have been many other moments too, which deserved a mention, but for the sake of keeping this short (I know it is already long) I’m not discussing them here. Some of those include the India-Pakistan matches at home and away, the famous triumph over Australia at home (which was Sourav’s and Kumble’s last series) , the recently concluded series against Sri Lanka and so on. The peak on which our team stands right now is actually the result of the journey the men in blue undertook ten years back and in due course they scripted many a memorable tale, some of which are highlighted above. Hope the next decade will continue to be as exciting, if not more, for we stand to witness the farewell of Sachin,Rahul and VVS in a few years time.

Crystal gazing on T20

Even as Lalit Modi and his cohorts continue to brag about the apparent revolution that they have brought about in cricket with the IPL and the Champions league T20,it remains to be seen whether this so called watershed actually benefits the game or kills it. If one were to go by Modi’s vision, he sees cricket entering the domain of soccer- where the club/franchise based games will emerge and push international cricket to the background. While the effects of T20 have been more than obvious now on the 50 over version with people calling for curtains on the latter ,international cricket still remains the bread and butter of the game. We still haven’t reached a stage similar to soccer ,where the various premier leagues and the UEFA champions league take centerstage.Lalit Modi’s intentions ,apparently are to popularize the game. But amid all the din and dazzle of  T20,lurks the danger of a premature extinction of the game atleast outside the sub continent.
So we potentially have two situations that could arise out of the Lalit Modi ‘revolution’. Both ways, club cricket will come to the fore and relegate international cricket to the back burner. ODIs will be part of cricketing folklore, or at best played once in 4 years in the form of world cups. The first situation would be that of the gentleman’s game treading the football-path. What that would mean is cricket being embraced in new places like Russia,China, south-east asia,africa and possibly the Americas.The Indian Premier League would then be bracketed with the great soccer leagues of the world like the EPL, the Primera Liga et al  and the CL T20 would emerge as the cricketing equivalent of its counterpart from the beautiful game.Lalit Modi’s name would go down in history as someone who opened up this game to the whole world. Sounds quixotic isn’t it? And Lalit Modi is the Don Quixote here if he thinks this can be possible, not me for writing such nonsense on this blog. 😉
The other more possible, probable or rather inevitable scenario would be the baseballification of cricket.We all know how popular baseball is outside the US, isn’t it? Cricket will most probably meet this fate,with India becoming its only home. Cricketers will turn freelance, left,right and center. Andrew Flintoff and Symmo would be the icons of their ilk. The IPL will then expand to occupy the whole calender year. And we will have teams like the Hubli hurricanes taking on the Guntur guzzlers. Or picture a Jallandar juggernauts locking horns with the Banarasi babus(no offense intended) :D. Outside the sub continent,the game would be long gone. This, unfortunately seems to be more realistic. The recently concluded Champions trophy in South Africa alludes at this, more than anything else.
I might sound like a doomsayer, but it hurts to see the game getting increasingly adulterated, for the kind of cricket that I ve come to enjoy over the years is of the type where there is a level playing field for batsmen and bowlers. Of a game where batsmen were made to earn every single run. Of a game which has seen some of its greatest thrills in the longer versions. T20 cannot provide us those moments. Even if it does, they will not linger on for too many days, unlike that of a beaming Kapil Dev holding aloft the cup on the Lord’s balcony or that of Sourav Ganguly taking off his shirt signaling a scintillating win, from the same balcony. Or for that matter Dhoni’s men winning the tri series down under.

A trend-setter walks into the sunset….

As the 4th test between India and Australia enters the 5th day, one of the game’s all time greats has decided its time for him to hang up his boots. Adam Gilchrist walked into the Adelaide Oval to a round of applause that is reserved only for the best of the best.When even your rivals on field join the ceremony of ovation, you know that the person at the receiving end is a legend.Gilly is not just any other cricketer to have donned the wicket keeping gloves.He has been a trend setter as far as defining the role of a keeper is concerned.Not only that, he redefined the meaning of an all rounder-hitherto,all rounders were men who could both bat and bowl, but now it also includes the rare tribe of men who are equally adept ,whether they are in front of the stumps,or behind.As someone who started his international career pretty late(guess he was in his late twenties then), he has an astonishing record,both as a keeper and as a batsman.Very few men have charted the territory that Gilly has,for it is not everyday that you see someone with 414 victims and 5,500 plus runs at an average of around 48 per innings in test cricket.That he scaled these heights in just 10 years,and 96 tests,makes it all the more impressive. His batting was one of those sights to behold, be it test cricket or the 50 over version.A dasher to the core, people would pay to watch him play.

His oneday record is even more staggering.As an opener, he forged great partnerships with the likes of Mark Waugh and Matthew Hayden to become one of the most feared batsmen the game has ever known. Aggression was his middle name,and this is the only way he played.Never could you see him pushing or prodding around,trying to be defensive.
What makes him even more likeable is the spirit with which he played the game.The Australians are not really known for their on field behavior, but Adam Gilchrist stands out as a glaring exception in a bunch of ill mannered brats.Always the one to let his bat do the talking, very seldom would one notice him indulging in the kind of gamesmanship that the Aussies prefer to call ‘mental disintegration’.Perhaps the sydney test against India was the only grey spot in an otherwise spotless career. But then to err is human. Gilly can be forgiven for that.
Bowlers and captains around the world will perhaps breathe easily when they play Australia, for they dont have to deal with this decimator.But then you wont get to see those exhilarating innings any more.Cricket stands poorer today. More than anyone else, it is the Aussie side that will miss him. Thank you, Adam Gilchrist,for all you have given us.