Tuesday, October 16, 2012

first among unequals

Wake up at 4 am. Crack a dozen eggs, pinch your nose, and glug them raw. Knock off six hundred push-ups.  Play ‘getting stronger’ from Rocky, on your iPod, and blister off a fifteen mile run. A quick calorie measured breakfast, hop over to the ground where a Ranji match is happening, knock off a double hundred in the sapping humidity, fighting cramps and dehydration, and put your team in a match winning situation. Come home. Hit the bed at eight thirty.

Repeat again the next day. And again. And Again.

Will doing that get me into the India test Team? That’s what Ajinkya Rahane (and one or two other test match hopefuls) must probably be asking himself, being ‘benched’ on the fringes of the team.

That wait just seems to have gotten longer.

How else can you explain this: One double hundred in a domestic match and Yuvraj is right up there, among the ‘hot favorites’ to make the Test Team? At least, that’s what the papers would have us believe.

One wonders, scratching one’s head, what is one missing here?

An average of around 35, after 37 test matches, from a batsman who made his debut for the country 12 years ago, and will have walked this planet 31 years in a few days; to put things in a different light: 37 test matches of opportunities is surely not a trifling? At least a few players would be satisfied ending their careers with that note!  And at 31 years, fair money to say that Yuvraj does not have more than 4 to 5 years of batting left in him.

Cut to the chase, the past has not shown with any degree of consistency, that Yuvraj feels at home in the test arena (like he does in the one-dayers and the T20s, where he is to the manner born!).  Casting a gentle eye towards the future, the end of his career seems to be looming closer on the horizon, than his sunrise debut seemingly eons ago, and so you don’t need a Goldman-Sachs-investment-banker type to help you decide selecting Yuvraj for the test team is also not the greatest ‘investment’ for the future.

Is it then all about the love of the fighter, and a triumphant one at that? A person who has literally contemplated the possibility of death and is now back to making opposition bowlers look forward to that possibility? Is it all about the prodigal son?

We all love fairy tales, and stories of happy comebacks, especially in sport, for nothing can be as uplifting as a story of an underdog fighting all odds, and ultimately, raising his arms in a triumphant roar.  Having said that, at our own peril, we ignore rational thought,cold thinking, and hard decision making.

The selectors especially (and this new committee in particular), cannot afford to wear their hearts on their sleeves.  If an unpopular decision is the order of the day, it must be taken. Without any fear or favor, or seeking approval of the vast and emotional majority.  

And if that unpopular decision means that Yuvraj Singh needs to play only T20s and One-dayers for India, so be it. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Goodbye Sachin

Missing the woods for the trees.

That’s the recurring thought when I read any discussion which has both the words in them, Sachin and Retirement; and those discussions seem as common nowadays as discussions on governmental scams !

But of course, Sachin’s retirement is an entirely valid discussion, and indeed, I believe was an important discussion which should have been initiated three years ago.

Having said that, what context and scope the discussion then?

The unfortunate tragedy is we Indians tend to make mountains out of molehills, and that too, at the drop of a hat! A batsman is Mr. India one day, saving the country from destruction, and the evil, scheming Dr. Dang the very next!

The R-word discussion is entirely called for, but not because of three silly little dismissals. Far from it in fact.

A brilliant batsman, who has been performing magnificently, and even in the twilight of his career, has generally been delivering better than most of his team-mates, suddenly does not get old on one fine blue -skied morning, developing Alzheimer’s during his morning walk, and forget how to get his foot to the pitch of the ball !

Maybe he is getting slow, sure, but make no mistake, SRT will come out of this ‘slump’ and ‘ail’ as the eyeball seeking tabloids put it. Rest assured, a few more centuries will be peeled out, for a lifetime of greatness doesn’t vanish into nothingness overnight.

There is surely a case for Sachin to be part of the India Test Team.  

As some observers have rightly pointed out, with Dravid and Laxman leaving a gaping hole in the middle order in terms or experience, no dispassionate commentator will ignore the merits for having the ageing legend in a difficult overseas test tour to South Africa. All said and done, a middle order worth a combined experience of around 20 tests or such, is hardly comforting for such life and death tours.  And make no mistake there, life and death it is. For if one gets down to the crux of the matter, to really prove your worth as a cricketer and cricket team beyond all dispute, one needs to be worth one’s salts in the Test Arena. Come on really now, as enjoyable as they are, leave the T-20s and one-dayers’ to pre-school toddlers with pretty pink ribbons in their hair!! :)

Why then the validity of the retirement discussion?  

Let’s ask ourselves, why are only two words being discussed in conjunction? Sachin and Retirement? Why don’t more observers, and with more fervor, link three words – Sachin + Retirement + One-dayers?

For sure, the weight of the ‘experience’ argument in favor of Sachin goes out of the proverbial window when it comes to the One dayers. All said and done, a few months ago, Gambhir or Sehwag, with a combined experience of a few hundred one dayers between then, sat out to accommodate Sachin in the team. So there, experience.  Add to the mixture, the sight of exciting young blood with serious potential warming the benches and playing tic-tac-toe, and one wonders what's going on? What in the world are the selectors thinking? Really !? Players like Rahane, Sharma, Rayudu dreaming to be ‘Tendulkars’ ever since they were in diapers, and as mature men, seeing their dreams coming to a screeching halt at the ‘STOP’ sign stubbornly held up by the very same Tendulkar?  It sometimes causes amazement to me that Tendulkar isn’t cringing at what he is effectively doing.

Sorry, Sachin, you have been a magnificent sportsman without doubt, but your services are no longer needed in one day international cricket matches representing Team India. With immediate effect.

Which selector has the.. err... family jewels, to stare the truth in the face, and more importantly read out the truth to Sachin’s face? To have a honest discussion with the man about the birds and the bees, and the realities of the world as they exist?

Said someone, ‘the old skin has to be shed before the new one can come’. Tragically cruel perhaps, but as they say, change is the only universal constant.

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, can you hear the bells tolling?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

be the change

Can you today, in one day influence the world around you? Can you change your country, your city?

Leave it be, your profession at least? 

Javed Miandad, he of our growing up times, with one low, self-confident swing of the bat in the late eighties, did, and that too, in much less than a day. In one inspired moment of ‘can do’, he seemed to have inflicted a deep and mortal wound into the psyche of the Indian cricket team. The team thereafter just could not beat Pakistan it seemed. At least, not in Sharjah. Whatever score they put up, it appeared would be hunted down by the Pakistani batsmen. And between the Indian batsmen and any small target, seemed to arise a fearsome Aaqib Javed out of nowhere, conjuring up magical hat-tricks at will; and fantastically, only against the Indians it appeared. The air of defeat seemed to cloying and suffocating, and perennially hanging around, and the self belief that a bunch of fabulous cricketers had, seemed to be locked away safely back home in India.

It was in the mind. Most of it at least, if not all.

Be careful what you think, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful what you say, for your words become your actions.
Be careful what you do, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful what becomes habitual, for your habits become your destiny.

Google surprisingly, did not definitively attribute the above to someone. Maybe I didn’t search hard enough, but beyond doubt, the insight could not come, but from a wise one.

How many milliseconds separated Usha and an Olympic medal in 1984? How many individual Olympic medals did India win in all of the twentieth century? How many overseas test victories notched up by the India cricket team before the Y2K bug?

Said the famous tagline for a shoe brand, you don’t win silver; you lose gold.

Sport at the rarified levels of the elite and professionals, is all about striving for that little extra. That, millisecond which separates a medal winner from, literally, an also ran. Those little bits of fish fin simulating swimsuits; those carved out squash balls inside gloves; those reduced grams in a tennis racquet. Those invisible back-room boys analyzing patterns, and rhythms and swings and such other minutiae, hoping to give their boys, that bit of advantage.

That said, separating the winners from the also-rans is also another little thing. Self belief. That little thing which makes a sportsperson believe in himself or herself, when all seems hopeless and lost, and ignominy is a ton of bricks just around the corner.  That imperceptible little thing which digs deep, hard and strong, through the bloody eyed pain. That thing which deep within, says quietly first and then with a roar : This day is yours. No one can take it away from you. Your destiny is yours. Just. Once.  More. Now GET UP AND GET OUT THERE ! AND SEIZE THIS DAYYYY AND MAKE IT YOURS!

281, Kolkata. In hindsight, I believe it was not about a solitary and fabled victory at all. Far from it.

In hindsight, that knock defined a decade of cricket in India. Indeed, probably of sport in India itself?

How many overseas test victories did India win from 2001 to 2010? England, South Africa, Australia, the object of cricketing wet dreams? How many Olympic medals did India win in just 2008 and 2012? Six medals in 2012 alone ! Who would have ever thought? How little, or how much that knock of Laxman's had to do with it, who knows?

For sure it would be foolish and naive to believe that this is all the fruit of that One Day, the Fabled one; and all the doing of that one man. Beyond doubt, hundreds, even thousands perhaps have sweated collective blood, sweat and tears, so to speak, to have these results achieved. But did not the effort of Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman on That Day not have anything to do with it at all? Nothing?

Did one gentle and seemingly soft human being, in the course of a day, not teach us as a sporting country, to wipe away the blood from our nose, sweat from our brow, and then say ‘Okay buster, now bring it on then; let’s see what you got’.

Did he not make us Believe?

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Drop Laxman. Drop Dravid (and cross my heart, drop He-Who-Can-Do-No-Wrong?).

As is typically with Indian cricket at these times, not surprising, the mantra seems to be ‘out with the old, and in with the new’.

How silly are calls to drop players who have not delivered for a couple of series? Or even lesser number of games? How easy do we forget for eg. that Dravid was the leading run scorer, in the test match format of cricket, in 2011? A year which finished all of fifteen days ago.

But that said, let’s make no mistake.

Say goodbyes here, we must. Not for silly matters like performance or lack of it over a few games. But in the larger interests of Indian cricket. Here’s my argument around eighteen months ago, for the holy trinity to be put out to pasture.


Having said that, not only is there a time to go, but surely, there is a way to go too.

Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman have been such fantastic servants of Indian Cricket, who would blame them at all of exceeding themselves if they expect some dignity in the way they exit the grand stage. Indeed, these gentlemen have done enough and more to be accorded the privilege to choose the time of their exit.

To respect your elderly and ageing generals is an important part of sport, indeed, life itself. For respect is life. If one is no longer needed, does not one expect a basic courtesy of being told so with politeness and dignity?

A bit of foresight by our selectors, and Laxman could well have had a farewell series over the past eighteen months or so. How about a calypso goodbye for the ultimate Magician, in Jamaica?

What nostalgia if Dravid would have with a heavy heart, bid adieu to his love affair with England and Lords, at Lords? The Mecca as it were?

And as for The God, what could have been better than Perth in 2012? The place where The Legend took a bouncy birth as a teen prodigy in 1991? Where it all began?

What ammunition for the television channels, those sellers of dreams; for what could be a bigger buildup to a series than : India vs Australia. December 2011. Sachin Tendulkar’s final test series. (None of that childish Agneepath business, as it were).

And if the man had ticked off the silly little affair of the hundredth ton by the side, the marketing men probably would have been in apoplexies of collective nirvana.

Beautiful swansongs were so waiting to be written. Treacle thick nostalgia awaiting to be laid out by the dollops. Honeyed words waiting to be typed out for posterity in the newspapers. Bitter-sweet good-byes waiting to be said with lumps in throats. Shoulders of the young limbering up, waiting for the privilege to carry the greats around laps of honours around the stadium. To hear a spectator say 'Thank you, for everything. You enriched my life beyond measure.'

Final wistful and teary eyes of the player, trying to capture in the mind’s eye for posterity, the ground and emptying stands. The thuds of the cricket kits being closed with a finality. For The final time. A million myriad emotions swirling in the fading darkeness -sadness with leaving the only life one had ever known, and yet, satisfaction at a life well lived.

Those, are goodbyes.