Monday, March 30, 2015

World Cup 2015 - A Memorable Journey, A Sad End

A day after the Valentine’s Day, sometime around noon, Mohammad Shami’s bouncer to Younis Khan looked menacing. Younis Khan tried fending it awkwardly. But the ball was too good for him.
Younis Khan  - caught Dhoni bowled Mohammed Shami  6 
India’s world cup had started.
I woke up at 6:30 AM today and switch on the TV only to realize that it was over. A four month long tour with last one and half month as world cup was over. Now no more cricket in the early morning. For a cricket fan, nothing can be more refreshing than getting a dose of channel nine’s broadcast early in the morning. That’s why I have always loved Australian tours. They don’t make you wait for what you want most – watching cricket. All you need to do is get up and it would be on TV – lush green outfields, wonderful camera work, voice of Mark Nicholas and quite often a contest between bat & ball.
And then, cricket in Australia is never boring. Grounds are big. Pitches have bounce. Commentators are good although they are fast becoming DJs.
There is always some amount of chirping going on. You can always feel the unease. You can always feel the thrill. You are almost always on the edge.
I will always remember 1983 for its memoirs. That’s how most of us know about that world cup. Reading about Kapil’s 175. Yashpal’s 89. Kapil & Sandeep Patil running back to pavilion after winning the Semi Final. Sandhu’s in swinger. Viv’s assault. Kapil’s catch. Holding’s LBW. Kapil lifting the cup.
For 28 years, we were served with these scenes so many times that it had become boring. Absolutely boring.
1987 was about Sidhu’s sixes, Kapil’s sweep and Australia’s resurgence under the reign of Bob Simpson & Allen Border.
1992 could have been the best world cup – channel 9, colored clothing, best format, Jonty Rhodes. Alas, we were too incompetent. It was the worst world cup I had seen. Or so I thought.
Playing at home, we were favorites in 1996. Lot of hype was built around our preparations. Well, that all fall flat when we missed a simple run out in our opening match against Kenya. In the first match itself we were exposed. Everyone knew we had only one weapon – Sachin Tendulkar. He slipped in Semi Final. Rest as they say, is history. Whatever followed that night is forgettable. But we still remember Kambli’s tears. Yes we do.
While team was strong on paper in 1999, I never got the feel if we had a Team. It was a bunch of individuals showing their skills on the ground. Result was expected.
We had a really strong team in 2003. Batting line up boasted of people who are counted as one of the greatest of the game. Bowling was no less. We fielded well. The team was strong. Unfortunately, we met a team in the final which was one of the greatest in the history of the game.
2007 never happened.
I will always thank the victory of 2011 for relieving me of watching highlights of/reading about 1983. We were good. Even if the format was more challenging, we would’ve won. Playing at home was our advantage. If I will remember 1983 for previous generation’s world cup, 2011 gave me my world cup. Oh that six by MSD – the ending was perfect from a man who so boringly talks about the process.
Not many had given a chance to Team India before 2015 started. We crashed out in Semi Final. Barring Times Now, I am not sure if many would be complaining about the end result. Oh yes, we didn’t win the cup but end result as top four isn’t bad either.
To me, beauty of 2015 was not the end result. Such was the format that reaching QF was never a doubt for a team which was ranked in top three before the tournament started. Team would’ve needed to play horribly bad to not make it to last eight and I knew my team’s name wasn’t England. After that, trophy was just three lucky nights away. We got lucky on our first such night. Alas, that’s where it all ended.
To me, I will always remember 2015 not for the end result but for the journey. The bowling which looked laughable took 70 wickets in 7 matches. Shami almost always provided early wickets. Umesh Yadav was our X factor. Mohit provided control in middle overs. Ashwin became an off spinner.
Fielding was the best I have ever seen. With an off side packed with Raina, Dhawan, Rohit, Jadeja, Virat, Rahane often meant that grounded shots were going to fetch nothing. MSD was diving to take catches meant that slip catchers could cover more area than they normally did. Ashwin could be hidden in the field. Well, this all was expected. Unexpected was Mohit Sharma becoming a run out expert. Unexpected was Umesh Yadav running out David Millar. Unexpected was India’s fast bowlers diving for catches. It all happened. The intensity in the field was heartening to see. We wanted to win. Yes we did.  
Batting was good. Dhawan scored a 100. Kohli scored a 100. Raina scored a 100. MSD got back his finishing touches. Rahane showed he can attack. Oh yes, even Rohit scored a 100.  
MSD’s captaincy was brilliant. He kept the slips, regular and not just his favorite leg-slip, on even during the middle overs. Seeing Umesh Yadav’s penchant to bowl leg stump line, he gave him a field packed on that side of the ground. Use of short stuff was perfect. Ashwin was used as a wicket-taking option. There was plan for most batsmen – bowl short to Amla, bowl short to Younis Khan, keep cramping Gayle, suffocate Ireland with spin, let ABdV take a chance against Mohit Sharma’a arm.  
MSD was aggressive. His captaincy was unorthodox. Sometimes it was so unorthodox that it became inexplicable. Try giving me a reason for keeping that man right behind himself? Unless he was hinting BCCI that it’s time we start preparing a backup keeper, I don’t find any other reason for that field placement.
We were always expected to win against Pak and we won. We weren’t expected to win against SA and we thrashed them. Rest were no match for us.
And then, it all fell apart. It all fell apart an opposition which exposed our weakness which wasn’t exposed till now. We played with six batsmen who couldn’t bowl. We played with five bowlers who couldn’t bat. We didn’t have batsmen who could scare the opposition. We didn’t have bowlers who could take wickets at will. Team relied on clinical performances. Team played like a precision of a surgeon – finding the weakness, injecting the anesthesia, using the scalpel and operating the patient. But then, sometimes you need a butcher to counter a monster – someone who doesn’t have a weak spot, someone who doesn’t let you inject the anesthesia, someone who breathes fire. That’s when it all fell apart. We failed to act as butchers.
In 2011, we had X factor of Sehwag as batsman who often set the tone at the start. Remember his cameos? We had X factor of Yuvraj as all-rounder who won matches both with bat and ball. You cannot forget him, can you? We had X factor of Zaheer as a bowler and he provided wickets every time he was called upon to bowl. Alas, all three had fallen apart well by the time we reached 2015. Dhawan was no Sehwag. But Sehwag in 2015 wouldn’t have been better than Dhawan. Jadeja of 2015 wasn’t even a shadow of Yuvraj of 2011. But Yuvraj after 2011 did worse than Jadeja in the same period. Zaheer in 2011 had 11 years of international experience. Shami came after 2011.
We had the best possible eleven. Problem was, that best possible eleven wasn’t good enough against Australia.
That’s where it all fell apart. In the semifinal.
We couldn’t find an answer to Steve Smith all summer. We didn’t in the semifinal either.
We couldn’t stop tail-enders from playing cameos.
We didn’t know how to bat if we lost wickets early against a quality bowling attack.
We didn’t know how to not lose wickets in a heap against a quality attack.
In short, we couldn’t find out a way to beat Australia. That’s where it all fell apart.
Now the morning schedule will have to be changed a bit. I can sleep late. No more Star Cricket early in the morning. A bit of news and then I can go back to watching music channels. People at home will be relaxed. My ferocity to own the TV remote would drop down drastically. The terrorizing aggressive dare-you-touch-the-remote cricket fan will give way to a docile okay-you-watch-I-will-go-take-a-nap common man. There will be withdrawal symptoms but they can be cured with the dose of IPL – something much less in intensity of international cricket but good enough to ensure my blood doesn’t run out of its regular dose of cricket. There will be another time for the world cup. And that another time will keep me occupied in the evenings – England it will be.
There will be new players in every team. Lot of new captains. Lot of new strategies. A new kind of cricket.
Oh yes, there may not be someone named MSD.
Throw from mid-wicket was perfect. Maxwell had one stump to aim at and aim he did. MSD was run out. That was surprising. Well, it was more surprising to see MSD not even trying to make his ground. Maybe he had given up. Maybe he knew India’s campaign had ended. Maybe he knew it was way beyond his reach by then.
Well, I didn’t. I still had hopes till he was batting.
But with his wicket, world cup 2015 ended for me as well.
MS Dhoni - run out (Maxwell)               65 
Final on 29th was just a formality and for academic interest.
(Image courtesy Mid-day)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dear Sydney!!!

Dear Sydney,
Let me start with a song.
 The winner takes it all
 The loser standing small
 Beside the victory
 That's her destiny
Oh the song from ABBA. Nothing captures the brutal reality of life in a more apt way. And in a cruel way. Nothing captures the truth better.
Sydney Cricket Ground. And truth is what we shall all face tomorrow. In SCG. Sydney Cricket Ground. That circular part of your body located at Moore Park Road.
SCG has always been one of my favorite grounds. No, no. I had never personally visited the ground till 2014. But I always liked it. The sound of it. Not sure when did it start.
Maybe it was in 1992 series when the only test we competed was played in Sydney. I had read before that match that it turns there hence should suit India in case they play a spinner. We played four pacers. On final day, Manoj Prabhakar was doing something he did as his last appearance for India – he bowled off spin. Tendulkar took a wicket. Ravi Shastri took four. Australia drew the test. They won other four.
Maybe it was VVS’ 167 which won my heart. On that forgettable tour of 1999-200, VVS’ 167 was the only positive one could take out.
After that, VVS changed as a batsman.
He played in Eden. Year was 2001. After 2001, everything changed in cricket for us.
God showed the world something it had never seen in 2004 on SCG. He showed us how to make a double hundred. A double hundred without playing a single cover drive. Not a single cover drive. None. Zilch. Nada.
Even a loss in Sydney 2008 turned things for us. We spanked Australian ego of considering Indians a pushover on fast bouncy pitches. Perth was victory. Sydney was inspiration.
Oh yes, we won first final of CB series in Sydney. Sachin got a 100. More than that, he was still there when MSD scored the winning runs. MSD must have been disappointed. Winning stroke was a four. Not a six.
Dear Sydney. You have always provided me reasons to like you. They all are in SCG – that circular part of your body on Moore Park Road.
Then there is that most beautiful view of sun setting behind the pavilion. That’s one of the best views for a cricket fan. My only regret during my visit to SCG in 2014 was that I couldn’t see the sun setting behind the pavilion. I couldn’t have seen it that day. Not only because there aren’t any visits for tourists in the evening but also the clouds. But come 2015 and I would like to see something. I would like to see Sydney do what it has always done. I would like SCG to give me one more reason to like it.
Just think of it. We landed in Australia with one of the weakest teams ever. Earlier teams have always had better bowlers – a Kapil, a Kumble, a Harbhajan, a Zaheer.
Who did we have this time? I don’t even remember.
Yet we competed and competed well. We did lot better than 1999. If we had bit more luck, we might have done as well as 2004 or surely better than 2008. I am not even naming 1992 or 2012. For me, those series didn’t happen. No, they didn’t.
Even though we lost the test series by a margin of 2-0, there was lot less shame in it than earlier losses. We made people appreciate our performance. Friends in Australia tell me that people loved the way we played. It was all in papers. Last month when I was in a pub in Melbourne, I bumped into a stranger. The moment I told me where I was from, he was going all gaga about how good Kohli is. He asked me if I was there for the world cup. I replied with a sad face that I would be going back next week. He asked me who I think would win the world cup. There was just one answer he could have got for me. “Mate, Kohli is your man if you are going to do it” was his parting reply.
Okay, we were nonexistent in the ODI tri series. I wish the tri series itself was nonexistent.
Come the world cup. 2015. The #WontGiveItBack propaganda. The Mauka Mauka hype. The everything.
Lot of people had given up hope. Lot of them were wondering if it would be like 2007. I was wondering if there was a world cup in 2007.
But I knew, like last time, it wouldn’t take lot to change perceptions. Such is the format that 3 lucky nights can turn you from a hopeless side to a world champion. In my mind, there was never any doubt of not making it past the league round. Challenges were always going to appear after that. But yes, our performance in league stages was going to tell a lot of things. It was going to build, well, momentum.
It started. And as it did, we were there.
We were there doing everything we could and we should.
We were there winning.
Pakistan was never going to have any chance against us. Never.
I had no doubt that we would lose to South Africa. After all, they had all the artillery – the best fast bowler in the world, and opened who scores 100 faster than Virat, Faf, a 360 degree batsman, Philander, Morkel, fielding and above all, aura. I forgot they lacked one quality. One quality they’ve always lacked. One quality which always makes them lose when they mustn’t. Calmness.
After victory over South Africa, we weren’t going to lose. Bangladesh in Quarter Final was just a mere formality.
And we have done well. This team is weaker than the one we had in 2003. There is no God, God of off side, the name who named God of off side as God of off side in the batting line up. Our bowlers were laughable till this tournament started.
This team is weaker than 2011. We played at home in 2011. And we had Yuvraj. Oh yes, the unplayable Zaheer. And yes, the God.
This team was weak to start with. Openers weren’t settled. Middle order was too reliant on one man. Best finisher hadn’t finished a game in 2 years. Spinners were competing with the medium pacers for pace. Medium pacers didn’t have pace. This team was weak.
But as an eternal optimist, I had hope.
Just before the world cup started, I had written a piece in hope. Hope that more sounded like a wish. The wish has come true till now. All wishes have come true till now. And unlike most wish lists we have, this wish list isn’t endless. This will end. This will end soon.
Dear Sydney, it will end in two steps.
First of that step would be tomorrow.
To all the matches we have lost to Australia this summer, to all the sadness of losing, to all the sledges, to all the rubbing in the salt, to all the everything else, I sincerely request you to be nice on one last occasion. I request you to be nice to us tomorrow. I know you have a friend called truth who is always desperate to bite. Please ask him to spare the color blue.
Dear Sydney, give me more reason to like you. Let that reason emanate from that circular part of your body located at Moore Park Road. Let than reason emanate from SCG.
As the lyrics of that song say
The Gods may throw a dice
 Their minds as cold as ice
 And someone way down here
 Loses someone dear
Please make sure that loser isn’t me. Please.
A Fan.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Reviewing MSG: The Messenger

They don’t make them like that anymore. The movies. The likes of movies they made in late 80s and early 90s – things were quite black & white. There were heroes to bash up villains and romance heroines. There were heroines to romance with heroes and bath under waterfalls. There were hero’s sisters for reasons well known. There were comedians. There were villains.
These days, there is no clarity. Everyone is a bit of everything. Unless off course you are Abhishek Bacchan. In that case, you are Amitabh Bacchan’s son. Irrespective of anything.
Hence whenever such a movie which is a reminiscence of movies in that era is about to be released, expectations go up. My expectations.
Because at this age which is called midlife, I am sick of all those grey colored movies where there is no clear cut hero or a villain, where Vidya Balan is said to be hero of her movies and Tiger Shroff plays hero/heroine opposite/ alongside Kriti Sanon.    
I am sick of grey color. The “you may be making half of the money your friends are making but look at the brighter side, you do not have much to do at work as well” or “I know your grey hair make you look older than what you are but at least you still have some left on your head” or “You cannot get everything in life, be happy what you have” phenomena.
I would rather have black & white of youth. I would rather have a hero who is all good and a villain who is all bad. Grey is sickeningly real. Movies should be all about a fantasy world.
Hence when I first watched promos of MSG: The Messenger, I was filled with hope. Finally I was going to get a chance to watch a movie which had the potential to join the ranks of GundaJeene Nahi DoongaDesh DrohiJaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani  and a few more. Promos looked delicious.
Finally, after some protests, the movie was released. Not everyone in this cruel world understands true art. The protesters must have been such people.
MSG is a story of a man crusading against the evils of this world – drugs being the foremost of them. MSG is the story of a man who is torch bearer of humanity. MSG is the story of a man who, in spite of all his powers, remains humble to the ground. What bigger proof that the fact that he adds insaan to his name, just to make people realize that he isn't (no, I am not going to say bear) God but human like all of us.  
MSG, the movie, is an experience itself.
First, a glimpse of how the movie unfolds.
Movie begins with a song introducing star cast. As soon as it ends, there is another song with protagonist Pitaji /GuruJi played by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan, at the center of it.
We are informed that our great nation had fallen prey to the evils of drugs. Generations were lost.  Pitaji /GuruJi arrived. His preaching resulted in people giving up on drugs, totally.
My expectations are raised a few notches up.
People are shown pulling a huge chariot tied with the ropes. They cannot pull it – such is the weight and size of it.
Pitaji/Guruji is busy doing Yoga somewhere in Himalayas. He watches his pupils failing in pulling the chariots from there. He jumps from there – jumps from snowy mountains to dusty grounds, pulls the chariot all along, starts the Rathyatra and breaks into another song. I am sure LK Advani would love the movie. The movie, with 3 songs in first 10 minutes, seems to be unfolding as if it should be called “MSG: The Messenger The Musical”.
Pitaji/Guruji. He dresses in sleeveless cloths which look like made off camping tents and roams around in cars which look like convertible Nano. He smilingly acts the messiah.
Till now it has been all white.
Enter the black.
Villain in Sydney hires a profession killer to eradicate Pitaji /GuruJi. For some reasons, as the villain and the professional shooter are about to shake hands, their hands are thrown in different directions as if they were same poles of two different magnets.
A local leader is another villain. The professional killer begins his journey.
And he keeps failing.
If tries to take a sniper shot, he fails. Pitaji /GuruJi spots him in the dark shades of two blind gentlemen who had come to Pitaji /GuruJi to get their blindness treated, snatches rifle of his bodyguard standing next to him, takes aim at the finger of sniper’s shooting finger while looking at those dark shades, shoots, smiles and goes on doing his business of being called Pitaji by hot chicks and calling them beta.    
If the killer tries doing a gas attack on him in a huge gathering, Pitaji /GuruJi asks his followers to say their prayers loud enough to take the poisonous gas away.
Villain realizes why he could not shake hands with the killer - it was a signal that he would not be able to kill Pitaji /GuruJi. 
Villain sends a female suicide bomber to kill Pitaji /GuruJi. Pitaji /GuruJi is always surrounded by three super hot chicks who are no less than a bomb themselves. 
Who would be the suicide bomber? Would she be able to kill him? No. I am not going to kill the suspense. Watch it yourself to find out. 
The cat & mouse just goes on.
Finally ends.
Villain dies. Good prevails. So does Pitaji /GuruJi.
Did the movie meet my expectations? I dare say no. MSG: The Messenger has its moments but it falls short of the standards set by the movies in this genre.
Within ten minutes of the movie it proves that Issac Newton & his laws were the biggest myths of physics forced upon the entire world - all three of them. There is nothing called action-reaction. There is nothing called inertia. Gravity, whoever discovered it, doesn't exist. At least for Pitaji /GuruJi. But majority of good about the movie ends just about there.
Within half an hour of the movie you start wondering if this is a movie or a VLCC ad - Pitaji /GuruJi surely looks like someone looking to lose some weight and someone who hasn't lost an iota of hair, from every part of the body visible on screen.
Songs are good. The rap song, Daru Ko Goli Maro is really catchy. So is Love Charger.
Pitaji /GuruJi has done a good job. He has danced well – not better but almost as well as Sunny Deol.
But what the movie lacks most is something, maybe the only thing in lot of cases, you remember movies for – dialogues. There is not one single punchline dialogue in the movie, leave aside a memorable bunch.
Gunda had its bulla moments.
Desh Drohi had KRK delivering unforgettable collection of words like “Jitni nafrat tumhare dil mein hamare liye hai utna hi pyaar tumhare liye hamare dil mein hai”.
Jaani Dushman had this -
Heroine: Tum log kisi ki izzat nahin kartain?
The baddie: Aree agar sabki izzat karangey to lootaingey Kiski …..ha ha ha
All MSG: The Messenger has is Pitaji /GuruJi dancing, singing, smiling along with his dark long hair – head, beard, mustache, cheeks, armpit, biceps, thighs.
MSG: The Messenger lacks badly in this department, the dialogues. 
Each of such movie predicts a bit about future which is about to unfold.
Gunda was about a coolie who is often found at airports. It was symbolic of India’s middle class dreaming big. That happened in next decade. Prosperity trickled down through modernization to rising disposable income of middle class. Soon, low cost airlines were new AC three tier in trains. Railway platforms were taken over by airports.
Desh Drohi was a symbol of middle class man’s anger against religion/region based politics in the country. AAP happened.
Jaani Dushman dignified the tech boom which was about to happen in coming years. Don’t take their copying of scenes of Terminator series in wrong way. See it as inspiration of boom in mobile industry.
Where does this fit in all this?
I know someone who has a beard being given God’s status by a lot. But I wouldn't go down that lane.
Mitron, I don’t want to politicize the issue. 

PS: NOM. It's just a movie review. Pun etc is intended. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

India V South Africa - Mauka, the preview

There are few things in life whose importance is made to realize by telling you repeatedly that they exists. Ah, wives do that beautifully. Don’t they? You know what I mean.
But in these two holy months of February 2015 and March 2015 – when the greatest sporting carnival of cricketing world takes place, I wouldn't be talking anything else on Fultoo Bakar than cricket.
While I clearly remember how many matches we had won against Pakistan in world cups, their scores, their locations, their MOMs and almost everything about those matches, unless a friend reminded me I hadn’t noticed we have never beaten SA in a world cup.
But then, when have we beaten SA. Not very often.
Even when we won our first series against them by a victory margin of 2-1, it could well have been 2-1 in their favor had one of their fielders not missed hitting the stumps direct. But for Sachin Tendulkar’s master class undoing the threat of Alan Donald’s merciless super fast bowling, we had no chance of winning the first match in Calcutta. Oh yes, it was Calcutta back then. While we won next match convincingly, we lost the last match in Delhi’s Nehru stadium comprehensively.
1992 world cup match against SA was a mere formality for us – we were already out of the tournament. SA needed to win to go past first stage. It was a crucial match for them. They easily chased down 180 in this rain curtailed 30 over match. They weren't familiar to THE term back then. It was later years when they learned and taught the world about this word – choking.
We did win a few ODIs here and there against them. But the biggest victory came against them in a match where SA showed glimpses of future. Chasing 195 against India, they succumbed to Tendulkar’s innocuous looking bowling in last over when they needed 6 to win and could score just 3 – hero cup.
Come 1999 world cup and the defeated us in a league match. But they choked perfectly later in the tournament.
Their supremacy over us continued.
Come T20 world cup in 2007 and they showed what they were really capable of. We needed to win against them to qualify for next round. They needed to lose respectably to move ahead. We did it. They did it too. Choked their way out of the tournament.
They defeated us in 2011 world cup in a league match. They choked later.
2015 has arrived. We are in same group. This would be our 4th attempt to win against them in a world cup game. If past trends are anything to go by, SA would be happier to lose to us. Victory against India in a league game has ended up in a perfect choke later in the tournament. Not playing India in before knock out stages hasn’t yielded a different result either. So for SA, losing to India on coming Sunday maybe their best shot.
What about us? Can we win? I tried thinking from different angles and couldn't find a single one from which we can sneak out a victory. Maybe our best chance would be to not get their openers out. Because even a thought of ABDV and Millar batting against our bowling gives jitters. Or if we can somehow make them believe that this is a knock out match and if they lose, they shall be send to India and made to watch 4 back to back shows of MSG: The Messenger dubbed in Zulu. Pressure of avoiding watching the movie would do the trick. 
Otherwise, I don’t think we even stand a chance.
More than that, after the victory against mediocre Pakistanis, it wouldn't be a bad idea to face a crushing defeat bringing our feet down to the ground. 
News is that Dale Steyn is down with flu. That should make abundance of talent we have quite happy. Maybe Steyn can be sledged like this
Rohit  - You aren't playing? What happened? Scared of me?
Steyn – Scared of you? Really? I have flu, mate. Do you understand what it means? Do you understand English?
Rohit – Flu? Come to India and I will show you.
Although South African bowling is not close to their best without Steyn, I am afraid his absence isn’t going to make much of a difference. Not unless if we can somehow convince him to put on the mask of Umesh Yadav and bowl for us. But then, someone else will start bowling like Umesh.

Umesh, the Ajit Agarkar of this generation, is irreplaceable and incorrigible.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Kab fodenge yaar!!!

4th march 1992, 9th march 1996, 8th June 1999, 1st March 2003,  30th March 2011. Next date added to the list would be 15th February 2015,  when India faces Pakistan in a world cup game (ODI world cup). Maybe for the first time, Pakistan would be a little more hopeful facing India as there are no Gods in Team India. But then, the newbie trying to be next God may turn out to be a devastating demon. Hope he does. 

Anyways, just hope that this next date of 15th February 2015 continues its tradition - India beating Pakistan in world cups. 

Here is how I remember the earlier encounters.

1992, the frog jump – For the first time, India plays Pakistan in a world cup. Governments mull over security arrangements. The tension between two countries remains where it has always been. Experts say its India’s batting versus Pakistan’s bowling - India has a very strong batting line up on paper whereas Pakistan has a strong bowling lineup on the ground. Supports say – even if you don’t win a single match after this, DO NOT LOSE THIS ONE. Sponsors enjoy their financial orgasm.

India drops Shastri because he was batting slowly. But Srikanth doesn’t let us feel Shastri’s absence. He scores 5 of 39 and as Moin Khan takes his catch, Imran Khan gives Moin a glare as if he is asking – “Why Moin Why? When will you learn reading between the lines?”

Sachin takes India to 216 but is it enough? Pakistan’s chase starts. Haq is given LBW even before Kapil turns towards the umpire in his appeal. Shastri says in the dressing room “He is a dead duck.” Another wicket falls. Sohail and Miandad start rebuilding. Suddenly Miandad starts jumping. He does it thrice. Everyone is in a state of shock. Pakistan’s sports minister rues – “He is in a wrong profession. We have just missed a gold medal in high jump.” Richie Benaud says on air “Javed, Javed” as if he is getting embarrassed by the act of an old friend of his. I don’t know about their friendship but Javed surely looks too old to do something like that – forget the immaturity of the act, he looks too old for even jumping like that.

India wins. Almost all of us say “This was our world cup. We have won it. To hell with the world cup, we don’t care if we don’t win anything else in the tournament.” Indian team obliges and doesn’t win anything else in the tournament barring their match against Zimbabwe. Pakistan wins the cup that matters.

After the match, Harsha Bhogle tells one of the major magazines in an interview “There was a Banner about Khalistan. People did ask me about it. I avoided the question as it could have started a controversial debate.” India-Pakistan has never been just a cricket match. It will never be.

Image of the match – The Miandad Jump

1996, the mistake of Trojans – Once again, it looks like Sachin versus the rest of the world. So Pakistan also shifts its entire focus on Sachin. They lose focus on Siddhu. He scores 93. These days whenever I think of filing a PIL against him for tormenting his countrymen by his commentary, it’s that innings of 93 which stops me. Pakistan has so much focus on Sachin that don’t even know Jadeja is also playing. Jadeja makes them payback, heavily.

Their chase begins, emphatically. Score of 84/0 in 10 overs in 1996 is like watching a colored, HD 3D Blue Ray DVD in 1930. Anwar gets out but Sohail keeps hammering. He bludgeons India’s off spinner Venkatesh Prasad to cover boundary. Then he does a Troy act. He sledges Prasad.

In the movie Troy, Trojans flatten Greeks. Greeks accept the defeat and start preparing for a sail back home. Trojans discuss to launch a surprise attack on the Greeks, who were already dusted, to kill their morale for the future. Hector opposes. He argues – “They are going back home. They are divided over the purpose of coming here. If you attack them now, you will not only unite them but also hand over a very important weapon – reason to stand up and fight back.” Trojans don’t listen and attack. Rest is history. Hurt your enemy but don’t give him a reason to fight back. If his reason to fight back is bigger than your reason to fight him, you will lose.

Till now, Sohail was feasting on Prasad’s slow pace. But his words irk Prasad and give him a reason to bowl faster. He does, may be for first time in his life. Prasad is India’s Achilles. Rest is history.

Miandad gets run out. Tony Greg says on air, “Probably this is the last time we have seen this cricketer on a cricket field.” For once, prophecy about the retirement of a Pakistani player comes true. 
India wins. But they lose in the Semi Final.

1999, the practice match – At the toss, Pakistani captain says “I think this will be a good practice match for us.” One of the commentators says on air “He has committed a huge mistake. Not by thinking that it will be a good practice match for them but by thinking itself. Some jobs should be left to sane minds”

Sachin plays well. Dravid and Azhar score half centuries. India scores 227 – again a less than safe score.

The chase begins. India keeps on chipping away with wickets. They bowl really well. They field really well. They don’t give away an inch. Mohanty tries to bowl an in swinger. He bowls a wide. He tries again. He bowls a wide again. Gavaskar says on air “Why is he trying to bowl in-swingers? It is fine for a change but all he has managed to bowl are wide balls.”Incidentally those two wide-balls remain the only extras given by Indian bowlers in the entire match. How is that for discipline? At 76 for 5, match looks to be over for Pakistan. In comes Moin Khan and looks to be winning it for Pakistan. Prasad bowls a short ball to him. He is caught at fine leg by Sachin. Sachin’s way to celebrate tells us – it was a ploy suggested by the great man himself. Wasim Akram is the last man out – caught by Kumble at mid-wicket. Before players walk or in fact run out of the ground, it is full with spectators. They lift their Achilles - Prasad, and carry him out of the ground. Does Prasad looks overwhelmed by this gesture? No. he doesn’t. He tries to look overwhelmed but in reality, Prasad looks scared. Only politicians can look overwhelmed when they are surrounded by a mob supporting them.

Image of the match – nothing in particular. The events out of cricket were more disturbing. We were fighting in Kargil.

2003, the upper cut – You might have seen Basic Instinct many a times. But all you may remember is “was it nice “or “fuck of the century.” Mr. Devegowda might have given many a speeches in his life but all we remember, is him sleeping in the parliament. There have been numerous scams in India but its Bofors scam which will never be forgotten. Sometimes, a small event becomes the image for lifetime. Sometime a small event in a match becomes the match itself. For this match, it was THAT over or the upper cut.

India is chasing 274. Akhtar is running at 200KPH to bowl to Sachin. “I will blow him to pieces” he must be thinking. He is wrong. Not in “what he is thinking” but “why is he thinking at all.” The upper cut over third man, the straight drive passed mid-on and the flick of the wrists. If you are a cricket crazy person, you can actually fantasize these strokes to do “you know what.” Rajjaq drops him at mid off. Akram says “#@$$, jaanta hai tune kiska catch chhoda hai?” Crowd is shouting at the top of its voice. Suddenly, it becomes silent – just for a few seconds. May be it was a collective break to rest their throats. Afridi appeals for a LBW against Kaif. Umpire says not out. Afridi says “Teri maa ki Ch****”. In a freak coincidence, Afridi says this exactly when the crowd was silent. Entire crowd gets to hear what Afridi thinks about the umpire’s mother. His words echo like an aakashwani.

India is cruising. It is all going fine till Sachin faces his biggest tormentor – the injury. Physiotherapist treats him. The match resumes after the break. First ball after the break and he is gone – caught at point while fending a bouncer by Akhtar. Pakistan’s wicketkeeper hurls some expletives at him. Sachin doesn’t respond back. He never does. I feel like breaking Pakistan’s keeper’s head. But that will result in me breaking my TV. My roommates stop me saying we will have a better answer for their keeper. Dravid and Yuvraj give that better answer to him. We win.

Image of the match – the cupper cut

2007, the invisibility – India crashes out of the world cup before being eligible to play Pakistan. Pakistan refuses to move ahead in the tournament because the motivation to play, beating India, is no more. The world cup ends before it reaches the business end. Sponsors cry gallons of tears. Bob Woolmer passes away. Everyone loses.

Image of the match – I wish there was one.

2011, the inevitability - Okay. I am talking in hindsight. But 2011 victory over Pakistan looked inevitable. It was the semifinal of the tournament - this doubled the pleasure of beating them. Match started on familiar note - Sehwag's blitzkrieg. Match ended on a familiar note - India's win. In between these two events, we witnessed Sachin living a cat's life, divine intervention changing angle of ball for DRS, a well begun chase by Pak, Misbah's test batting, an excellent, yes an unbelievably excellent, bowling performance by India. But what impressed me most was the intensity with which team played. Such was the level of commitment that even Ashish Nehra dived to take a catch - an attempt which made him miss the final. 

I hope we keep doing what we have been doing in world cups. I also hope we don't give it back.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The journey begins!!!

We are almost there – just a day away from the Valentine’s Day. It is the day when brigade of modernization gets immersed into color pink whereas custodians of Indian culture want to paint everything saffron. One can expect the same on this V day.
Just that, this V day will be different. A lot different. On this V day, a challenge will begin which lot of us haven’t faced in more than 3 decades – challenge to defend the world cup. It will be quite a challenge because unlike last time, we are in alien conditions and with a team which has out of form batsmen, absent bowlers and oodles of chaos. To add to the complexities and difficulties, almost all the teams are looking better than us.
Maybe this is the reason for mood yet not been set up. Maybe this is the reason this world cup is looking so low key that inaugural function just slipped below my own eyes. Or maybe it was absenteeism of Bollywood which made it a low key affair for TV broadcasters in India. Imagine Arjun Kapoor and Sonakshi Sinha dancing to the tunes of Main to sooperman in front of Morgan, Clarke and the rest.
Or maybe it is the wish of seeing Team Indian winning world cup coming true last time itself hasn’t left much to be desired this time. I don’t know what the reason is. But this world cup does seem to be the quietest to begin with.
But then, there is no point getting in to the tournament unless you are all up for it. This is the time to set up the mood, get all the adrenal and emotion packaged into a bundle of energy and enjoy the roller coaster ride.
Oh my dear fellow Indians, don’t lose heart.
Don’t let the naysayers, the fair weather fans, rule the ride for you. Let them tell how pathetic our team is. Don’t they tell you the same thing every time? Don’t they always tell you that our team is highly overrated?
Okay. Our openers haven’t been firing as openers for ages. Rohit is good only against weak oppositions or in meaningless matches. But one mustn’t forget – nobody, I repeat nobody, is above the law. Law of averages I mean. Have faith that Rohit will fall prey to law of averages and reverse the trend of being average against excellent oppositions and being excellent against average.
Dhawan will turn up his that side which played in Champions Trophy 2013. Rahane will be our Mr dependable. Virat will play like Virat used to when dark arts of Sharma Empire hadn’t lured him into mediocrity.
People still feel MSD is a fantastic finisher. Alas, MSD hasn’t been in form for 2 years now. But then, he wasn’t in form going into WC11, he wasn’t in form till the final of WC11. But when the moment arrived, he did what MSD does best – winning with a towering hit.
Trust me Raina will start believing blue is yellow. Rayudu will live up to the brand of Hyderabadi Biryani.
People say our bowling isn’t good. We have been good in defending totals in the range of 260-280. Anything out of this range is a problem – be it 200 or 350. I hope our batsmen are mindful of this fact. Bowlers will do the rest. Because they will be at their best.
If there is one player who must click to his true potential for India to have any chances of defending the cup, it has to be SIR. It was SIR’s magic which won us our last ICC trophy. It will have to be his magic again.
Don’t worry folks. We shall do well. We shall rock.
History is with us.
Last time a Modi Juggernaut was brought to a halt, India won the world cup preceding the next IPL. This time, next IPL is in April. World cup ends on 29th march. Ladies & gentlemen, get ready with your #ThankYouAAP hashtags.
While going to office every day in Mumbai local, I used to cross Wankhede from a touching distance. I have done the same for MCG this time.
Last time, everyone did it for Sachin. This time, team has a bigger motivation. They would want to do it for Binny.
Compared to every other team, we have most number of players who have experience of winning the world cup. Others lack this bit. Australians have forgotten how to win the world cup. NZ don’t have a habit of reaching beyond QFs. South Africans choke. Sri Lankans are expert in being first runners up. England don’t look interested in ODIs. Pakistanis are already suffering from hallucinations. West Indies implode. Rest are minnows.
If any team can win it, it is none other than us.
So ladies & gentlemen, get ready, get in the mood, fasten your seatbelts, get ready to fly and cry on 29th of March. Because we are going to win it again.
The journey to win the cup begins tomorrow.