Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wooo-hooooo ! What a ride! Let’s do it again!

Before the start of the Adelaide test match,  Virat Kohli went on record that he will be ‘aggressive’ in his outlook.

The first manifestation of that stated approach appeared to be in the selection of Karn Sharma in the playing eleven.  The thinking clearly seemed to be that even if Sharma may prove expensive and give away runs, he being a leg-spinner, would also put in more spinning revolutions on the ball, thereby giving  a much better chance at taking wickets - as compared to the overlooked Ashwin or Jadeja.


India are a wonderfully aggressive team when it comes to the short form of the game. In particular, the batting unit, high on the adrenaline shots of the IPL, express themselves with unfettered abandon.   Fascinatingly, they respect the opposition enough to consciously inculcate a healthy disrespect for them.   The game-plans then invariably include attempts to put the opposition off their game.  

That thinking then, is inherently sound. At the highest level of the game, when the opposition has worked out a carefully-thought-through game plan to make you redundant, one simply has to disrupt that game-plan, in order to survive. Continued push-backs are mandated, even to simply stay in the same spot so to speak, leave alone progress. Attack therefore, is the best form of defence – and dare one say, is the only form of defence at most times.

Cut to the longer form of the game.

Survival. Wearing down. Resilience.  Patience. ‘Gutsing’ out.

These are words we commonly hear in the context of test matches. 

Aggression however, is not a word one normally associates with India and test matches. It seems that India at the outset, generally set out to not lose a test match. Only later, does it appear that the possibly of victory crosses their minds. This seems all the more so in test matches played outside the subcontinent.  The reasons are not very hard to fathom:  India have historically been poor travellers, with a test match series victory outside India being a rare and precious result, and defeats being more the norm.   

The fear of losses then, generally overpowers the desire for victory.  Safety first, has generally seemed to be the mantra of the India test team.

It is in that context then, the approach adopted by the India test team led by a stand-in captain, has made an interesting departure.  At no point arguably – either on the ground or in the statements to the press - did the team give evidence to suggest that they were playing for a draw.  It is of course a different matter that there also lies a valid argument that at some point yesterday, the team probably ought to have nuanced their approach and ‘pulled the shutters down’ and looked to save the day.  As the saying goes, ‘Sar salaamat, toh pagadi hazaar – if the head is safe, one can try on a thousand pagadis or headgear – there are yet three more matches in the series.

But that said, for now, the all-or-nothing approach adopted by the team led by the stand-in skipper, is quite fascinating.

The approach if continued – and it’s a big if - will no doubt plunge the followers of the team into the desperately deep and dark abyss of despair from time to time, for inevitably there will be games like yesterday, where defeat will result from possible winning positions.

But that said, make no mistake: the approach will also bring along with it, the exhilarating possibility of achieving breathtaking victories: the possibility of success when all seems lost; results miraculous and awe-inspiring.

Without doubt, it is too early to say; but if the team adopts this ‘take-no-prisoners’ policy as an article of faith, we all would do well to strap on our seat belts, and brace ourselves for a rollicking and roller-coaster ride.

I love rides.  How about you?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Not an 'achha din'

A journalist is heckled for expressing a view found unpalatable by some.  Push comes to shove, literally, in an undignified manner.

Not much value can be found in a ‘he-said-she-said-he-did-she-did’ exercise.

So then, let’s look at the larger picture.  

For a moment, let’s completely accept that Rajdeep is a ‘khan-gressi stooge’, and was ‘insulting the country’ outside India. Let’s take it that he has always ‘insulted’ the prime minister, and had an ax to grind. On top of that, let us put the icing on the cake: he is ‘paid media’.  All accepted, and then some, for a minute. Sure.

Having said that, do we allow us to forget that all said and done, he does his ‘stuff’ with his words? Do we also allow ourselves to forget that unlike a few other anchors on television, he almost invariably, gives the other person a chance to speak through, and importantly, a chance to disagree with him?  Do we forget that in a free world, it is the survival of the fittest tv channels, and we are all blessed with remote controls in search of an alternative truth?

Is Rajdeep really then, the point?

The important thing is what gives the chest-thumping self-righteous warriors of ‘achhe din’ the right to heckle him, abuse him? What gives someone even the right to say ‘he had it coming’?

How did educated and reasonable people end up becoming so blind to the fundamental building block of a democracy: that as they are entitled to their views, so are others to theirs? Even contrarian and ‘khan-gressi’ and ‘sickular’ views, if that may be?

Our prime minister seems to be doing a good job in his new role, and if he ends up achieving a quarter of what he seems to plan, this country will be better off. Of that, there can be not much doubt.  But that said, is Mr. Modi, God incarnate, and totally beyond criticism? Come to think of it, is God Himself beyond criticism?

In fact, one of the erm..criticism that I have of Mr. Modi is that he himself has spawned this entire horde of chest-thumping, intolerant class of ‘bhakts’ by numerous small, but insidious thoughts.  Do we remember the amazing ‘Congress mukt bharat’ slogan?  The one which equated a opponent political party, to an evil and a disease? No Sir, none of the measured:  ‘Vote against congress/ bring me to power’; but a ruthless ‘eliminate the congress disease from this country’. Is it any wonder then with that 'tone from the top', the bhakts also speak the same language? That the bhakts are totally convinced convinced that any contrary view is a symptom of the ‘disease’ diagnosed by their leader, and utterances of blasphemy?

Yes, we all expect great things from the prime minister, and it is possible, probable even, that he may end up significantly impacting the country positively. There is an undoubted sense of optimism around that ‘achhe din’ will come.   It is entirely true that most of this country looks forward in hope.

But that said, if we give up logical argument and measured thought in seeking to express our disagreements, and seek to stifle or threaten the contrary voice, how boring will that be? 

How sad will that be, for this great democracy?  What can be remotely ‘accha’ about it when one is mortally scared to even entertain a differing viewpoint?

The Prime Minister reportedly reached out to Rajdeep through an intermediary, expressing regret. I hope he recognizes the importance of his personally coming out and taking a clear stand for tolerance. I hope he asks his worshiping band of strident bhakts to indulge in some yoga : breathe out the negativity, breathe in peace and positivism. Say Om.  Say ‘I disagree’, when feeling like disagreeing; and nothing more. 

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

Friday, January 24, 2014

In support of air-conditioned chambers.

Opportunities to change the world we live in come across only a few. And that too, not everyday. 

During a cold Delhi December, a young upstart political party was the chosen one. 

That Delhi handed the reins of power to the Aam Aadmi Party, was as much a matter of pride and satisfaction in the process of democracy in India, as it was a scathing indictment of the established political players. Let us not make any mistake about the message here. If an MNC organisation having long established career executives angling for the top job, anoints as its CEO a raw inexperienced rookie fresh out of college, what message that for the well-entrenched?

Heartwarming indeed then, was also the accompanying thought that things could actually change. Change for the better. That people could see behind the cynical machinations of the career politicians, and the people breathtakingly, had the courage (or desperation?) - to go out on a limb and trust a new kid on the block to do right by them.  'Hold on for a moment', we seemed to tell the die-hard cynic in most of us - 'all may not be lost as yet'.

Hope germinated. Fragile, but hope unmistakably.

When the AAP was shoe-horned into the ruler's chair by the career politicians, the thoughts and calculations seemed straight out of a comic book illustration 'balloon' - visible for all to see ! The newbie's thoughts -  'Oops ! Did I actually make it to the chair? Err... What next?'. On the other hand, the career politicians rubbing their hands with breathtakingly Machiavellian cunning 'Let's give this upstart a rope long enough, and sooner than later, he will hang. Teach 'im to play with us big boys !'.

For the AAP, it was never going to be easy, for one does not build any organisation overnight. Be it a successful business, or a political party, organisations are built with time, energy and effort. The Congress has been in existence for a century; the BJP, decades. For all their faults in delivering, these organisations are smooth well-oiled political machines, with established processes in place. The spokespersons know their lines and roles, the high-commands and vice-presidents and such others know how each action of theirs is perceived by the public at large, there are funding sources lined up, hierarchies and ladders lined, each of the MPS and MLAs speak in 'one voice' carrying the official line, etc.  All well organised and smooth.

Been there, done that. Since time immemorial.

The AAP then, was never expected to be a smooth, calculating political machine, with all drivers in the party driving in the same direction, at the same speed. Fully expected was that some drivers wanted to go slowly, some faster. Some on the highway of economic liberalization, and some choosing the by-lanes of protectionism. Some drivers were expected to be polite and thoughtful, and some abusive, spitting paan and venom. All this, because the newly minted motley crew of MLAs were driving on the roads of power, without even holding so much as a learner's license ever !

But all these were sins to be expected, and with a bit of indulgence, eminently forgivable. 

However, what was and is expected, at least by the trusting Delhi citizens if not the hopeful masses in the country, is a good solid honest effort. A roll-up-the-sleeves-and-get-sweaty-and-dirty effort. What was expected that once the keys to the vehicle of governance were given, at least all the drivers would stay put in the car and try to give a honest-to-God account of themselves !

Governance is of course many things : At times, it could indeed mean spot checks. At others, it could also include seeking views at 'darbars'. And at yet other times, it could even possibly extend to  'protests and dharnas'; for who is to grudge somebody a new way of doing things? But at at the heart of it all, governance means one indisputable thing : To Govern. And govern The Whole. 

This does mean an attempt to set policies and things right for the masses of people, the entire state for which one is responsible. It means simplifying processes at large. It means bringing in laws impacting the whole state in one go. It means reforming at a systemic level, and not at the level of the individual. Taking an example, for sure sending a few cops on leave may give the police force a message that they need to do right by the people. But how effective the message? For how many policemen? For how long does the message sustain? 

If there are no fundamental and systematic changes for the police force at large  - better salaries, better equipment, removal / reduction of political interference, instilling pride in their work etc. how does sending a couple of odd cops on leave really matter? 

Fundamental change is not easy. It necessarily means long hard hours, difficult discussions over budgets and conflict of interests, reconciling expectations at a centre and state level, changing laws, working to get a consensus or trying to achieve a majority vote etc. All difficult and for sure, unglamorous work, as compared to sitting on protests, but if we all are honest with ourselves, it is the only real way to bring about lasting change.

Of course, in this instance, the police force may not be under the domain of the state government, but the larger point is this : The AAP can only bring about fundamental changes and leave a lasting impact on the lives of citizens by doing what they ironically, claim to detest : sitting in air-conditioned chambers !

Who says there is nothing to learn from the Congress and BJP? 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Blind man's buff

Let me bring it on straight up.

Indian cricket in my view, does not know what it is missing out on when it continues to ignore Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma in the India Test Team.

There. I said it.

If I need to be reached for any feedback on that statement, I am all ready, deep under my cot curled in a fetal pose, protecting my head and family jewels!

But seriously, I kid you not.

Cricket, from a batting perspective, is theoretically standard across all formats of the game - Tests, T20s, One day Internationals; after all, in all three, a batsmen has a bat in his hand, and is expected to clobber a round leathery object hurled at him. What difference then, eh? 

But is it that simple? Really?

What then explains some people playing one format of the game better than others? Cricketing history is littered with innumerable examples where players have been pegged at being better at one format than others. Among them, Michael Beven could be the more starker of examples, having played a mere 18 test matches, vis-a-vis a vastly disproportionate 232 One day matches !

Certain parameters, far too many to be discussed in detail in one page, go towards creating this differential ability. Briefly then, for one, physical ability. Speed between wickets, strength to slog good balls and deposit it in the stands, tend to favor a batsman's case for selection in the shorter formats. For another, one's outlook in life - the 'need for speed' or glamour, vis-a-vis, the pride of a professional : ability to play the 'ultimate game' can play a part. If choices need to be made by the player between one format or the other, that most important parameter of all, money, is no trifling consideration.

Another important distinction which makes some players fitter for one format over others, I suspect, is the mind. Courage and mental fortitude - the guts and gumption to face the barrage of short pitched deliveries which come at you in test matches, the ability to concentrate for seemingly interminable hours, the ability to see the big picture ( for eg. 'allow one hour' to the opposition and encash the rest), the burning desire to be simply, the best in your profession, the ability to keep on learning and improving, especially after the opposition's Kasparov beating computers have sorted you inside-out, including your inner wear preferences possibly, the ability to take a few insults (and dare I say, give back as good?) and indulge in the mind-games and mental disintegration, and such Sun-Tzu worthy terms.

Put it simply, when it comes to test matches (and conversely and equally, for the limited over formats) some people have it, and some don't.  To be perfectly fair and charitable in this free-market and IPL-ised economy, some people want to (and choose), and some people don't. Fair enough, for as they say, judge me not until you have walked in my shoes.  

Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, and VVS Laxman. Three fascinating players. Three elegant players. Three players with ability to play the horizontal bat shots, so important for test matches. Three players with seemingly enough time with them after the bowler has bowled a ball, to pause, contemplate life in flashback, extrapolate its futuristic possibilities, make plans for a pleasant evening, and then almost as an afterthought, decide that it will also be a nice thing to do if they get on to the front foot and wrist the ball pitched outside off, goodbye past square leg. These are supremely talented cricketers, make no mistake.

Let us not now then, at least for now, get into trifling little issues about how many chances these gentlemen have already enjoyed, and such minutiae.

I reproduce below, the batting records of these gentlemen, as of date.

Batting averages

Domestic Cricket
International Cricket

3 / 5 day cricket
5 day cricket

As is evident, the domestic records of these gentlemen indicate batting averages of between 22 to 36 for limited overs cricket. 

22 to 36. For limited overs cricket, if you allow me to repeat. 

The domestic records for these very gentlemen, for the larger format of the game? 52 to 62. Fifty two to sixty two runs per innings batted.

Admittedly, the longer format of the game allows more time to bat, and hence, the possibility for better averages. But any one-day player (especially in domestic matches) averaging from 22 to 36, would by most standards, fall in the category of underperformers. Correspondingly, anyone in the longer format (notwithstanding the deader than dodo Indian pitches) averaging close to 60, could with some merit view himself as a good player, at the very least, in certain conditions.

So what is the message for us here, especially the 22 to 36 range? Could it err, be that these gentlemen have been in the past, very poor players in that particular format, and do not deserve selection at the national level in those formats?

Laxman, bless the selectors souls', was finally recognized for his brilliance in a particular sphere and his limitations in the others (even if such recognition came after 86 ODIs), and consistently chosen for the test side, and test side alone.

Why then do we bracket Rahane and Sharma differently, constantly select them into the T20 and One day teams basis their excellent long-format records, and then duly proceed to fry and crucify them for their indifferent performances; in areas which are not their core competency?  If numbers don't lie, and over a long term, they seldom do, these numbers seem to be screaming out at the top of their lungs, 'Hey, I told you that I don't play ODIs and T20s really good; But tell you what, I play one mean game in the longer format. Friend, I am a Test match special'! 

Why then are we doing ourselves a grave disservice by selecting them for - in my view - blink-and-miss and giggle-and-hit T20s and ODIs?  

It is nobody's case that these gentlemen just have to pad up, and will promptly hit double hundreds in test matches. 

But by ignoring the facts, and not giving them a fair run in tests, why are we choosing to be blind?

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?