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.

Friday, January 09, 2015

World Cup 2015- Team India!!!

Ah, the almighty time – it flies and flies fast. Feels like yesterday when entire nation was on the roads celebrating India’s world cup victory.
Fast forward 4 years. Here we are. Year 2015.
What has changed?
From a man who was ridiculed as leader who doesn't talk, we have moved to a leader who is known for his talks – politics or test cricket, you decide.
Sachin has retired.
Shahid Afridi is still playing.
Sharma, the Ishant one, is India’s most capped test player in the current lot.
I have one more son.
What has not changed?
Sachin is still the brand ambassador for this world cup.
Shahid Afridi has announced his retirement.
Sharma, the Rohit one, is still just a talented batsman - nothing more or less.
Irfan Pathan, India’s most needed cricketer, is still looking to get fit. Though he has played a few seasons of IPL in between.  
My salary is still the same. 
Oh well. Let’s leave it at that. Let’s look at what we should be looking at. Let’s look at the team.
Team India.
MS Dhoni – Forget batting, keeping, leading, press conferences, cracking poor jokes or any other skills MSD brings to the team, MSD’s biggest utility will be – in the event we do not defend the title, we can focus completely on him to blame for the debacle. Others will be spared. Not an unimportant role at all.
His keeping? Well it is on a decline. His batting? Last time he “finished” a match was in 2013. His captaincy? Wonder what Mike Brearly would've done with current bowling side? But then, people still tout him as the best we have. They aren't totally wrong.
Prediction for the world cup - Wish you luck captain. If we win, your luck will be pointed out. You know you are doomed otherwise.

Virat Kohli – He is the best. Period. Every time India has needed to win a match in half of allocated overs to keep up with their battered run rate, Virat has hammered opposition. Every time India has needed a batsman in a knockout match, Virat has hammered the opposition. In fact every time India has played an opposition, Virat has hammered the opposition. Well almost. Every time opposition didn't have a bowler named James Anderson, Virat has hammered the opposition.
Prediction for the world cup - India will rest all their hopes on Virat like they rested their hopes in 1992 world cup on – Sachin Tendulkar. Or 1996 world cup. Or 1999. Or 2003. 2007. 2011.

Rohit Sharma – For Rohit’s fans, he is that first love that you know you would never get, yet you cannot give up on it. And that first love, it keeps teasing you with regular – “Hi, how are you? Can you do me a favor” kind of tortures. For every innings in which he gifts his wicket to opposition, there is one THAT shot which you cannot forget. For every series that he fails, there is one THAT innings of 40s in which he looked all set to get Bradman turn in his grave. For every year that he fails, there is one double hundred in a match. In an ODI match.
Prediction for the world cup – he will play one unforgettable innings. Most likely it will come in a warm up match (like T20WC2009) or against minnows. Post that, he will play like Rohit we all know. Well, we all do.

Shikhar Dhawan – How times change. It was year 2013 when Shikhar Dhawan could do nothing wrong. Absolutely nothing wrong. People laughed at him when he was handed his test cap. He responded with one of the most memorable debut centuries by an Indian. People wondered if he would play in alien conditions. He rocked Champions Trophy 2013.
Then he mocked an injured Shane Watson. After that, he could hardly do a thing right. Hardly anything right. He gets out to bouncers. He gets out to full balls. He gets out to off spinners. He gets played on. He even gets out to Mitchel Marsh.
Another problem Dhawan faces is batting with Rohit who takes ages to get going at the start. People say that Rohit makes up for it later. In India, he does. Outside India, he doesn't. Dhawan suffers. So does the team.
Prediction for the world cup – I predict him to do better than expected. But that also depends on how much you are expecting from him. For me, I am not expecting much.

Ajinkya Rahane – Going into the world cup, Rahane is India’s second best batsman. Not in terms of his record but in terms of hope he provides. In longer format of the game, he is fast gaining reputation of VVS – always scoring when things aren’t going smoothly. In shorter format of the game, he is fast gaining reputation of Rohit Sharma – someone who has the ability but somehow it isn’t reflected in the records. But then, seeing the form in ongoing test series (although not correct parameter), I am confident that Rahane will be our second best bet in WC15. That’s quite scary considering our second best bet in batting in last world cup was Sehwag. And Yuvraj. And Gambhir. And Dhoni.
Prediction for the world cup – Rahane will do well. Really well. Assuming he crosses single digit (38% dismissals in single digits), 40s (10%), 60s (10%) and 90s.

Suresh Raina – Suresh Raina should’ve been an Australian. Because it’s yellow which gets the best out of him. He has been around for 8 years – quite a long period. Raina doesn't like short stuff anyways. Okay. PJ.
While not very long ago, whenever Raina was picked in the side, people cited his CSK connections as sole reason behind it. How times change. Off late there were demands of his inclusion in the test side and nobody complained when it happened. Never thought I would live to see such a day. But then, miracles do happen. In the world cup, he would be expected to get fast runs down the order, slow down the run rate in the middle overs and save every run which may or may not be possible.
Prediction for the world cup – One awesome half century or maybe century, few 30s and rest of the time getting caught on bouncers/sucker balls.

Ambati Rayudu – Rayudu was next big thing in 2004. Eleven years later, he is still fighting for his place in final eleven. India would hope that their backup keeper is never needed to don the gloves. Not sure if he will get to play in every game. While he may be seen as someone who provides stability in the batting lineup full of dashers, his fielding and bowling may lose out to Raina. Some may say its Raina’s yellow jersey. Whenever India decides to go with 5 bowlers, Rayudu will lose out. Rayudu will lose out in lot of other scenarios also.
Prediction for the world cup – In whichever game he plays, MSD will give him strike. Unless it is in MSD’s favorite match moments, the slog overs.

Sir Jadeja – The fact that selectors have risked selecting not fully fit Sir for world cup is proof enough for his value. Even with an injured shoulder, Sir can throw the ball faster than a tracer bullet. All I have got to say about him is – he is SIR. That’s it.
Prediction for the world cup – If India has to win the world cup, Sir will have to do well. Like Champions Trophy 2013. Otherwise, it will be like T20WC2009.

R Ashwin – In WC11, everyone complained of Harbhajan Singh blocking Ashwin’s, supposedly the best LOI spinner in the country, way. 4 years later people complain about state of spin bowling in India and say – “Look how bad we are.  Ashwin being India’s best spinner”. How times change. However, considering the strength of our tail which is as strong as West Indian tail, Ashwin is indispensable. Doesn’t matter the bowling. Doesn't matter the fielding.
Prediction for the world cup – He will make everyone say, “Maybe it’s time we should start seeing a Steve Smith in him”
Akshar Patel – Poor man’s Sir Jadeja.
Prediction for the world cup – Sir’s detractors will keep shouting that he is rich man’s Sir Jadeja.

Ishant Sharma – If you are too disappointed with his selection and hoping he wouldn't be fit enough to play the world cup, let me scare you a bit – so far, Ishant has been India’s best bowler on this tour. But then, ODI is a different ball game altogether. People like James Faulkner play in it.
Prediction for the world cup – Ishant has bowled rubbish in the past and helped India snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Ishant has bowled rubbish in the past and helped India snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Which Ishant will turn up on which day? That’s something even Ishant cannot predict.

Mohammad Shami – I am not sure where to begin about Shami. That’s because there isn't much to write. He has bowled well in patches. When he performs poorly in test cricket, people say he is an ODI bowler. When he bowls poorly in ODIs, people say ODIs are spoiling him. It’s a vicious cycle.
Off late he has started to assume role of Zaheer Khan. Not in bowling. In batting. He comes. He slogs. He gets out. That makes him realize he isn’t Zaheer but Shami. He bowls like Shami. It’s a vicious cycle. 
Prediction for the world cup – He is our best bet for death overs.  He would often bowl a few yorkers but mostly would go for a runs. Not necessarily in same order.

Umesh Yadav – Umesh is a large hearted bowler. After all it does take a big heart to leak more than 6 runs per over in test cricket. Off late, entire country has been demanding one thing – “We need bowlers with pace”. Umesh, along with Varun Aaron, seems to have taken up the job of making everyone realize the old Chinese saying – “Be careful what you wish for”
Prediction for the world cup – He would blow the opposition away in one match. That would be a practice match. You wouldn’t want to hear rest of the prediction. Trust me.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar – Before this tour began, we all knew Bk could bat well, BK could bowl well and BK could field well. Alas, on this tour we have all been asking one question – Can he play? There have been some suggestions on why BK wouldn’t be able to swing the ball in Australia because of Kookaburra ball. I never understood that. But if first innings of Sydney is considered, BK is looking more like Bharath Arun than BK himself. Let’s hope that he bowls as well as he has done in the past and ensures our tail isn’t as short as a Doberman’s tail.
Prediction for the world cup – At least one MOM performance by him, most likely in NZ.

Stuart Binny – His father selects people to play cricket, his wife present shows on cricket and Stuart plays cricket. For ages MSD has been wishing for a medium pacer all-rounder. Binny recently claimed that he has added some pace to his bowling and now bowls between 125-130 kph. Isn’t that’s the speed of MSD’s bowling as well?
Anyways, Binny is in the side. To bowl a bit. To bat a bit. To field a lot. And carry drinks sometimes. I hope he turns out to be Sunil Walson on 1983. I also hope 2015 turns out to be 1983.
Prediction for the world cup –No matter what he does, whatever he does, his first name Stuart will be taken over by Roger and his last name Binny will be taken over by Langer – in terms of coverage. 
Like it or not, this is the team we have.
What I predict for the world cup?
We win. Okay, that’s more of hope. But then, if I don’t think we are going to win the cup, why would I follow the tournament.
Or let us cut the philosophical crap and just say - We will win. 

Thursday, January 01, 2015

The Last Mughal!!!

I normally avoid having an argument. I can debate and discuss things but don’t like to argue. Having an argument is too much a nuisance for something I value most – my mental peace. That’s why I avoid talking politics with friends because more often than not, contrasting views end up heating up a discussion and you don’t really gain anything. I would rather have light discussions on topics ranging from movies to politics to married life to kids to anything under the sun. Serious discussions are meant for cricket but just discussions. No arguments.   
See. I am a peace loving guy.
Well, not really.
Over the years I have realized that if there is one topic that can easily get me into an argument, if there is one topic that can easily get me agitated, if there is one topic which can force me into the fiercest of arguments with the best of friends, it is Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It is as if he has hired me as his PR agent cum lawyer and it is my professional duty to save him in each & every debate/discussion/argument/verbal fight/whatever.
Last year I had a fierce argument with a dear friend of mine about MSD. Need I say which side I was on? The argument didn’t end too well. Our talking terms ended. Then and there.
And that’s when I am in my 30s. I haven’t done this even when I was fifteen.
You argue with me about MSD’s overseas losses and I shall bring out all the captaincy stats about Ganguly, Dravid, Kumble, Sachin. You argue with me about him being defensive and I will let you know how well batsmen and bowlers performed when others were doing well, he was doing well and how it changed when things started going haywire. You argue with me about his batting failures and I shall let you know how have other wicket keeper batsmen done, how Gilchrist isn’t a correct yardstick to compare as he was the Bradman of this art, how Mark Boucher with a test average of 30 something was highly over rated, how Sangakkara didn’t always keep wickets or lead his side. You argue with me about MSD and I fight till death to defend him – your death. I am invincible. 
No. He hasn’t hired me for any of this to do. He doesn’t even know if I exist. And no, there is no love angle if your tongue is getting stuck in your cheek.
I always used to wonder why people hated MSD so much. I tried my best to understand the reason but couldn’t find a common connect. I just couldn’t.
So I tried it other way round. I tried to find out why I was such a big fan of MSD. Why?
There are a few reasons I could figure out.
Cricket is in my blood – my dad had played it at club level and brushed shoulders with some of the famous names in UP cricket – Gopal Sharma, Rahul Sapru, Shashikant Khandekar.  You may not believe but I too was quite good in batting when I was a kid. Or I and people around me used to think so. At the age of 11 or 12, I got an offer to play for a local club. No big deal. It was just somebody asking me if I would want to register myself for the club he himself has got registered and hoping for a chance to play someday. That was the highest point of my cricketing career. Yes, you can break into your laughter now.
I asked my dad. He asked me back – up to you, you want to study or play cricket.
For a kid, it was quite a big question. Huge one. But the answer was simple – studies. It was a safer option but lot more secured than taking all or nothing route of making a career in sports.
And what career option that was? How many people had made it to Indian team from my part of the country - UP? Gopal Sharma was the only name I knew – played five tests between 1985 and 1990. Then there were stories of how good Rahul Sapru or Shashikant Khandekar were but never got a chance because, well because people from that part of the country never got a chance. To play for India, one had be from Mumbai or Bangalore or Chennai. India playing against Australia in 1992 had Tendulkar, Manjrekar, Ravi Shastri, Vengsarkar – all from Mumbai. Sunil Gavaskar played for Mumbai. So did Ajit Wadekar. Or Dilip Sardesai. Dravid came from Bangalore. So did Kumble. Azhar came from Hyderabad. So did VVS.
Do you read a Kanpur, or Munger or Farrukhabad or Jhansi or Gazhiyabad or Patna? No.
Once I did have a conversation with a friend about this big town, small town thing. He was born and brought up in Kolkata. He didn’t believe in the concept of coming from a small town being a short-coming. Not his fault – tough to understand a situation if you haven’t been in it. I explained to him how lot of my friends took 3-4 years after class XII to clear the exam of IIT-JEE. Reason was simple – for first couple of years, they didn’t know such thing existed. How can you crack an exam if you don’t even know it exists? Right now, all of them are doing wonderfully well in their respective lives.
In those days, when economic growth hadn’t really hit Indian shores leave aside the internal parts of the country, coming from a small-town could be a huge obstacle. It was.
MSD did overcome that. Had it not been for him, Ranchi would still have been a city somewhere in the eastern part of the country and not many would’ve been aware of its existence. To come from a small town, to make it so big in a field which was ruled by people coming from big cities, is no mean achievement. To come from a small town where sports facilities might have been non-existent, to make such a big name for himself is no easy feat. And to top it all, he didn’t move to a Mumbai team or a Karnataka team in search of greener pastures. He stuck to Ranchi. What stubbornness. What dedication. What belief in his dreams.
Belief in your dreams. The quality I always lacked. Wish I had an ounce of it.
Opening of economy in 90s happened. That was the time when Tendulkar’s career was scaling new heights and so was his popularity. He reminds us of that – the freedom with which he played, the guts and how entire world stood up to notice him. My knowledge economics or history is as good as my skills to fly a supersonic jet but I would like to believe it was 90s when the world started noticing existence of our economy.
MSD’s career is pretty much similar in that regard. With his arrival and announcement of it at big stage, we knew Ranchi existed. 2000s it was when economic growth started reaching tier two, tier three towns. Lot of new players have already come from these places. Lot more can come. They will. If they have any doubts about someone coming from a place which doesn’t have a cricket ground to play cricket, they can always look up to MSD.
To me, MSD was one of the two best things to have happened to Indian cricket in 2000s. Other one was Virender Sehwag.
And it’s not just defying all odds of tyranny of distance. It was also defying the orthodoxy.
One look at SRT at the age of 16 and people were saying – he is marked for greatness. One can find it difficult to take his eyes off if Dravid is batting. Same can be said about VVS. Audacity of Sehwag’s batting sometime made me believe if he was better than Sachin.
Look at MSD. He is so ugly. He must be the ugliest batsman to have played test cricket. Not a single shot looks pleasing. Not one of them. Any doubts if anyone who watched him bat, and everyone, didn’t tell him to opt for another profession? Or continue being a goalkeeper?
Yet, he did it.
 “Ok. So you also think I should not be playing cricket. Well, who doesn’t? Well, here is my cover drive. I am sure you couldn’t have seen the ball. It went in that direction. Now go fetch it” he would have told everyone while playing his cover drive, both feet in the air, one pointing towards mid-on, another towards point. 
It is relatively easier to overcome failures if you have people encouraging you. I wonder how many people MSD had for encouraging him. If I would’ve seen him, I wouldn’t have. First time I saw him bat, when he scored 148 against Pak in an ODI, I wondered why selectors pick such jokers to play for India.
I seriously believed that, “He won’t last ten matches”
I wonder if even his coaches would’ve been too hopeful of his future. He carried on. Again coming back to the same word, stubbornness. I-will-do-it-come-what-may attitude. His story is of amazing self-belief.
And then, there is the quality of detachment. Detaching himself for all the glitter. The pragmatism. The calmness. So much of calmness that at times it looked like disinterest. That pulling out of stumps after most matches, shaking hands, clichéd post match interviews and act of disappearance. No stupid words. If he doesn’t have words which aren’t stupid, he would prefer going for policy of no words. That quality of saying, “What’s the fuss about it” to almost everything.
Natwest Trophy final of 2002 has a historical importance. This was the first time we chased down an impossible looking target from impossible position. What do you remember about it? Ganguly waving his shirt from Lords’ balcony. Ganguly hurling expletives. Ganguly jumping on Kaif. Ganguly jumping on Yuvraj. Ganguly punching his fist in the air well after the match was won. It had a historical importance.
Well, it was just another triangular series as well. Isn’t it?
What do you remember about the WC2011 final? That final six. That twirl of the bat. Sachin running to the ground. Virat’s sensible words. Harbhajan crying. Yuvraj Crying. Zaheer saying he did it for Sachin. Suneil Shetty in the crowd. Aamir Khan and his Moustache. Team carrying Sachin to take a lap of the ground.
Hang on. Where is MSD in all this? Somewhere in the background, with the team. But in the background.
India landed in SL to play an ODI series. India SL – the most awaited contest of last decade. India was playing after a gap for 3-4 months. A reporter asked him, “What do you think about the long break you have had? How will it impact the side?”
Can you get more practical than that?
Read any Ravi Shastri interview. You will find one thing common. He would talk about his test hundreds scored against West Indies and Pakistan. He would name each and every bowler, their records, how fast they were, how many bruises he got, how many tooth were lost in that innings. He has all the rights to do that.
What MSD said about his innings of 148 against Shohaib Akhtar & Co, “I had two options. Block or play my shots. I went for later”
Want to compare this with Kohli’s recent interview? Okay. Let’s leave it at that.
What is the word I am looking for now? Modesty? Calmness? Pragmatism?  I don’t know. Like economics or history, I suck at semantics too. But I hope you get the drift.
What makes you a fan of someone? What makes you idolize someone?
You look for the qualities you think they have and so do you, the similarities of background, the situations you might have faced or the things like that. Then you look for the qualities your heroes have which you wish you had. Something like that.
Maybe that’s how people became my heroes. Like Sachin. Like Dravid. Like Dada. Like Kumble. Like VVS. Like Sehwag. Like MSD.
I came across first five in my teens. Oh the age of infatuation and love. And all that mushy-mushy pink. Everything just happens. You don’t really think what you are doing. I just fell in for first four.
Right now I am in my thirties – the age of realization of one’s limitations, age that makes you weigh your options, before making any investment you look for returns. You want guarantees. The age of going for all kinds of insurances – mediclaim, term insurance, endowment plans and all that.
Between the teens and thirties, there is a huge age group of 20s. When you aren’t as innocent as a kid but aren’t as emotionless and practical as a man in his 30s. That’s the age when you weigh your options before making a choice yet you aren’t heartlessly practical. That’s the age of making choices finding genesis in heart but being decided in mind. It’s a blend of both – mind and heart. It’s an age of getting married.  
It’s the 20s when I came across MSD and Sehwag. Sehwag, was God. Yes he was. MSD was more human.
Maybe that’s why I chose him as my hero.
Alas, Sehwag disappeared sometime back and I don’t see him coming back.
With MSD, my last sporting hero has retired. Okay he will continue playing in colored clothing but it’s the white which matters most, isn’t it? Alas, he is gone now. No more whites. No more tests. No more leg slips. No more pushing it to slips. No more not diving in front of slips. No more those ugly but gritty 50s when all has fallen apart. No more blink and you miss 100s at home. No more a lot of things. Most of them are hard to recall. But that’s what MSD was. No more fuss. None at all.
The empire of golden era of Indian cricket is history now. Maybe we shall have a better era. Yes we will. But that will be a different era. A different empire. The era I knew is gone.
MSD. The last Mughal. Has gone.