Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lords!!!

Okay, Okay we lost it. We are the worst team in the world. Our bowling is toothless. Our batting is spineless. Our captain is useless. All our cricketers should be robbed of their personal wealth and thrown in the Indian Ocean. I completely agree with you folks. They did win the world cup but that was 75 years ago, wasn’t it? I would have loved to write about a win or draw. Alas, this useless team didn’t give me a chance – like always. Losing is the name of the game for us. So I request all of you - kindly grant me permission to write about yesterday’s loss. Not that your permission matters but still. Here is how Last innings at lords went for me.

India is chasing 458. No Sehwag, hence we are looking to bat out 120+ overs – 27 overs in the last session of Day 4. If it was the team of 90s, match going to Day 5 would have been a bonus. But this team is different. We have lasted 180 overs against a less potent attack. We lasted 82 overs against a really threatening attack. So I have high hopes but do we have 11 batsmen to defend the match?

In Gambhir’s absence, Dravid and Sadagopan Munukd open the innings. Oh I got the name mixed up – it IS Abhinav Mukund, it WAS Sadagopan Ramesh. But it’s natural to get mixed up in this case, isn’t it? To strengthen my confusion, Mukund gets out in the same way which Ramesh had mastered in his days – dragging a ball directed towards gully to his stumps.

It’s 20/1 when I am forced to give up by the younger generation at home. I sleep or rather try to.

I see a dream that we are 5 down for 60 by the end of Day 4.

I pray to Lord Shiva, please open your third eye, and let this planet turn into the ashes. Lord Shiva smiles and tells me “Rise and shine, son.”

I respond and switch the TV on while expecting a heart attack. “Wow 80/1. Just 98 overs more to go”

The match starts at 3:30PM. I have a meeting at 2:30 PM. It lasts for 2.5 hours. Agenda for the meeting - that is what we look for during the entire period.

A friend texts, “4 overs, 7 runs, 0 wickets”. I take a sigh of relief.

Another friend texts, “Wall fall”. My heart sinks. If there is one man who can eat more time at the crease than the Indian judiciary does in its own field, it was him.

“Gambhir. He was the man in Napier. He was the man in Cape Town. Him it will be today” I reply.

Meeting gets over. I come down rushing to watch it live. Laxman has just smelt the crisis. He is batting normally. In his case, being normal is being brilliant.

Laxman pulls; broadcast shows its monsoon tantrums, England celebrate. Laxman is gone.

Damn. 3 down. I come back to my desk.

A friend tells me on chat, “Gambhir gone. 4 down”

MPwala guy comes to me and says “Dude, hope you know that Sachin cannot bat”

“But he is already batting, isn’t it?” I wonder which Sachin he was referring to.

“Oh is it. Then he cannot bat for more than an hour”

“Chill, he will bat us to safety today”

“No. You are not getting it. He was out of the ground for almost entire day yesterday. Hence he cannot bat for more than an hour. It is a rule. You better check it”

“So what will happen if he doesn’t get out in an hour?”I keep wondering.

“He will have to go back in any case. It is a rule. Check it” he orders. I ignore.

“I had told you we would lose before tea on Day 5. We will. It takes guts to make such a bold prediction my dear brother”

'Wish you had some common sense too along with your guts' I think.

I heart is sinking. I spell the charm “Expecto Petronum” Charm works. Sachin walked into bat at 109/4 at old Trafford in 1990. He and Manoj Prabhakar saved the test. We still have modern Manoj Prabhakar in Praveen Kumar waiting in the pavilion. I sent this comment to cricinfo. They publish it.

'That was 5th comment for this match that got published. Not bad. Will Bhajji’s wicket tally in this series beat my score? I mean my score only in the first test, entire series will be too much for him' I think.

It’s Lunch. I leave for home.

“Too difficult now” a friend calls.

“Why Sachin gone?” I enquire.

“No. They dropped him. He gets out soon after getting a life. It’s against his principles” he responds and hangs up the phone.

He sends a text within a minute, “Gone. 5 down”

It’s tea time.

Dhoni and Raina are battling it out. England needs 5 wickets. They have 44 overs to bowl in the last session.

'“44 overs in the last session? Are you kidding me? Indians don’t bowl 44 overs in a day.' I think.

I start counting - 44 more, 43, 42. Hope is building.

Tremlett bowls it well outside off stump and short. Dhoni still manages to nick it. He is gone.

Tracer Bullet murmurs, “It was touch and go.” He thinks nobody has heard it. I did. For once I agree with him. Dhoni somehow managed to touch it and Rauf ordered him to go.

Harbhajan comes in, heartbroken. His captain has made a mockery of him. He must realize that his captain has made a mockery of even test cricket. Harbhajan is yet to make it large to become bigger than test cricket. But he looks in a hurry to go back to the pavilion and sulk. He succeeds.

Praveen Kumar comes. 'May be Raina is Sachin and PK is Prabhakar, for future generation' I think. PK outthinks me.

I put my analyst hat on. India needed to bat out 4 sessions. They lost one wicket in first session, 3 in second, and 1 in third. Going by the past trends, India should lose exactly 3 wickets in the final session. They have already lost 3. No more wickets now. We draw.

Raina tries to prove me wrong. Billy helps him. I don’t lose hope. But Raina succeeds. My hope is wronged.

It is down to the last pair. I see my pessimistic friends getting ready for their “I told you” assault on me.

MPwala guy tells me on FB,”I told you we would fold up by the Tea on Day 5. And we are going to do exactly the same. Guts my friend, guts”

'But we are in the final session, Tea is already over. Oh, maybe he was referring to his own tea. I am thinking.

Last time we saved the Lord’s test by 1 wicket. “Maybe we’ll do it again” I just refuse to lose hope. As it turns out, I was hoping against the hope. We lose.

MPwala guy can have his tea now. He has waited for a long time. Rest of you can assault me with your “I told you so” crap.

But it is hurting. After all, unlike the past, losses have become relatively rarer.

I refuse to discuss cricket with anyone.

Indiana Jones and the last crusade look to be more soothing. Indi finally gets to lay his hands on the Holy Grail which gives a new life to his father.

Hope we get our Holy Grail before 29th of July. I am very hopeful that we will get it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

ICC World Cup 2011 Diaries!!!

I am not a great supporter of e-commerce, apart from travel related business. I rarely buy any stuff online. There have been reasons behind it. Last year I placed an order for Rahul Dravid’s biography “Nice man who finished first” online and never received it. By the way, I am still waiting for my refund as well. Few months back I ordered Shane Warne’s autobiography. To my surprise, I received it within a week. But the book turned out to be nothing but a photo album printed on glossy paper. Buying something online has two major risks. First, I face the risk of product being not delivered or delivered in bad shape and losing money. Second, I can never be sure of the quality of the product. If go to a shop and buy it, more often than not I can mitigate these two risks.


However, when I saw ICC World Cup 2011 Diaries (DVD) being available at flipkart, I couldn’t resist the temptation to buy it. It would be perfect for my collection. Remember, anything for the world cup had been my motto. Hence I placed the order. The DVD was delivered very next day and I was mighty impressed with the website. I just tore off the covering of the DVD and put it into my DVD player. I was too excited to re-live those memories. Those two months were one of the best of my life.

But what followed next was two hours of extreme disappointment.

To me, Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest men who ever walked on this planet. As a kid, I read a lot about him. I was sure that Richard Attenborough wouldn’t have told me anything new about Mahatma Gandhi. He didn’t. Yet, Gandhi remains one of my favorite movies. No matter how many times I have seen the movie, I can watch it again. When I visualize Mahatma Gandhi, my mind cannot see beyond Ben Kingsley.

No matter how often you have heard a particular story, a good story teller will always engross you in his narration. It’s an art, the story telling.

Ashes 2005 was one of the best contests I have seen. I keenly followed this series, almost ball by ball. Each day, once the play got over, I used to search for the articles written about the day’s play. I also wrote a lot about it. It was Ashes 2005 because of which Fultoo Bakar got a mention in one of BBC’s articles.

But when I got to lay my hands on Ashes 2005 diaries, I was pretty much indifferent – I didn’t know what to expect from it. But to my pleasant surprise, what it contained was a beautifully made documentary about that series which generated similar adrenal rush like those matches had generated. Mark Nicholas, the narrator, starts it with the term Ashes Fever. The documentary moves on, match by match. They picked up some 10 people from different walks of life – actor, journalist, cricketer, ex cricketer etc, and let them talk about how they felt about it. I felt as if I was one of them. I could assimilate with each of them. Whoever made this documentary had done an amazing job.

Fire in Babylon is not the right parameter to crib about WC2011 diaries. Fire in Babylon was a class apart. If West Indies at its peak and their pace attack during those days could be explained in one word, it has to be fear. Fire in Babylon sets this tone right at the start. Seeing Robin Smith trying to save his head being banged by the red cherry weighing 5.5 ounces, you can sense the fear and starts shivering. When the expert cricketers talk, you can see the passion in their eyes. The one who stands out is Sir Viv Richards – his expressive face and the manner in which he talks shows that he could well have been an excellent actor. Maybe it was the Nina effect that has worked on him.

DVD of WC2011 diaries is light years away from such standards. A narrator remains one of the most important actors in a documentary. He sets up the tone. He tells you what you are going to see. He tells you what you are seeing. He tells you what you just saw. If you know the story, he lures you in listening to it again. If you do not know the story, he entices you to listen to it. In short, he drives the show.

BR Chopra’s Mahabharata didn’t tell anything new to us in 80s. Yet it is still stamped in our memories because it was so well made or maybe it was one of rare sources of entertainment in those days or maybe both. But if I ask you to name one dialogue from Mahabharata which you remember, in all likelihood it will be Main Samay Hoon. Harish Bhimani did a wonderful job as a narrator.

Compared to that, the narrator is almost missing from WC2011 diaries. I said almost, because he makes a rare presence during the first half to tell you - India played England in Bangalore and the match was tied.

Oh ICC, I hope you know that this product isn’t meant for mere cricket fans. Fans may not buy it. Devotees of the game will. And they are not interested in what happened. It’s the manner in which you tell them what happened, is important to them. They are interested in the foreplay that leads to an orgasm. An orgasm without foreplay is not a good idea.

Even if the USP of the product was to show unseen footages, it doesn’t mean showing Yuvraj Singh’s interview in his bedroom – Yuvraj himself looked so bored, how you can expect the interview to sound interesting.

Even if the USP of the product was to show how the spectators felt during the world cup, it doesn’t mean showing few kids shouting Bangladesh-Bangladesh and playing cricket in the streets of Dhaka.

One needs to build up a story, generate a flow, and allocate sufficient & deserved time for all the important events in it.

For example, a world cup semi final is an important event. This time Sri Lanka played New Zealand in one of the semi finals.

New Zealand’s life had been quite topsy-turvy for last few months. They had lost miserably to Bangaldesh by 4-0, were given no chance by most of the experts, and yet made it to the world cup semi final. New Zealand had beaten South Africa in the quarter final using their real strength – team work. They were not a side of stars. They were 11 men clubbed into one. Their slow bowlers had proved quite useful in the tournament whereas batsmen had either been too hot or too cold. But one place where they did not fail was fielding. They had fielded well and bloody well.

On the other hand, Sri Lanka was looking to play their second consecutive world cup final. Their in-form top order, suffocating slow bowlers and brilliant fielding had ensured them a birth in the semi final. But Sri Lanka also had an unmatched, unconquered, and almost unplayable weapon in their artillery. Lasith Mallinga.

In contrast to this, what we get to hear is classic music. What we get to see in form of build up for the match is – a butcher cutting meat in his shop, fish hanging in his shop, more fish hanging, and finally some crabs. May be the sea food signified Sri Lanka but there was another team participating. Were the sheep’s accidently edited?

In the India-Pakistan match, Sachin and Virat were batting reasonably well. Virat’s wicket was a small but important turning point as things changed after that. His wicket silenced everyone in my office. I am sure the reaction wouldn’t have been any different anywhere in the country. That reaction could have reflected and said a lot. It captured a lot.

What we get to see in the WC2011 diaries as soon as Virat get out is – a kid is taking bath in a pound, washer men washing clothes in dhobi ghaat with match-commentary running in the background.

I did not realize when did the narrator, who anyhow sounded constipated, stop talking. But he didn’t talk during the time when final is shown in the DVD. Final lasts 32 minutes and looks like highlights of the match prepared by Door Darshan.

The DVD ends with some “exclusive” clippings of the Indian dressing room, which we had already seen in numerous still photographs, and people celebrating at the streets which I saw myself. Thank God it ended.

To cut the long story short, I was a complete waste of my hard earned Rs. 509/-.

So dear ICC, kindly let me know the next time you are going to produce any documentary. I will take a break from my antipiracy stand and I will download it free of cost. I endure unbearable mental and emotional torture for every penny I earn. I am not going spend any of it to buy your torture.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

ZNMD – Movie Review!!!

(Warning: Spoilers Ahead!!!) ZNMD is a classic, an epic, a true master piece of art. It’s a tale of friendship and love. It’s a tale of human emotions - the joy, the tears, superhuman bravery, and natural fears. It’s an extremely well written, superbly directed showcase of movie making. I am sure ZNMD is going to go down as one of the best movies ever.

The story starts with three different people struggling from different issues, how they meet and become friends, their love lives, and how it all pans out beautifully in the end.

Foreign Actor (FA) is dark, definitely not tall, and not so handsome young man in his 40s who is sick of his family. His parents, both noted movie personalities in India, want him to follow their path. FA realizes that it’s not his cup of tea and fears ending up like his dear friend Lover Boy pretty soon. His father, being a writer, is master of using his pen. His mother, being a politician, has mastered using sword. FA knows that in the debate of pen being mightier than the sword or vice versa, the party that is always going to lose, is him. So he runs away from his house to find his own life.

Heated Ration (HR) is a definitely not dark, tall, and handsome young man in late 30s. Every male in HR’s family became bald as soon as he touched 15. HR is well past his 30s and yet had not turned bald. This was generating animosity amongst his family members for him. In addition to this, HR’s dad wants HR to grow up and out of the safety of family business. “Stop sucking your thumb HR. Grow up.” HR cannot help it if God has blessed him with an extra thumb. HR runs away in order to save his life.

Abhor Duel (AD) is a dark, tall and definitely not handsome young man from wrestlers’ family. His uncle and elder cousin brother are real wrestlers whereas younger cousin brother pretends to be a wrestler. But the biggest wrestler in the family is his cousin sister. They run a wrestling club known as Apne. AD’s uncle wants him to be part of this club but AD belongs to a different league. He hates fighting with other men. He wants to love them – so what if this love needs to be made. He wants to fly like a free bird.

All of them read an ad in the news paper – Zintha (Z) wants to hire new cheerleaders for her T20 team for the next season. Z was one of the sexiest bollywood extra in her days. She bought a team in world’s leading T20 league but her team fell flat in last year. “Team looked too sad. They need to be more cheerful. Your hugs are not working anymore.” was the reason given for team's failure. Hence Z wanted to hire fresh, energetic, enigmatic cheerleaders for her team. The trials for cheerleaders were to happen in Jalandhar – a town where people don’t do anything other than making IT large. May be that’s why Z chose this town.

FA, HR an AD land up in Jalandhar. They meet in the hotel lobby where everyone is staying and instantly discover a liking for each other. Soon, they become friends. Combined together, they pass and fail the criteria of perfect man in totality– tall dark and handsome. FA & AD are dark, AD & HR are tall, and HR is handsome. FA is not tall, HR is not dark, and AD is not handsome. They complete the entire spectrum ranging between good-looking men to ugly men. All they need to find out now is 3 female partners who will complete their group – each group has to have 3 male and 3 female cheerleaders. They need to be ready before they get their chance to present themselves before Z. Every group gets just one chance because right at the start of the competition, the message has been conveyed clearly – Zintha na milegi dobara (ZNMD).

Post intermission, the story at the other end of sexual divide begins.

Kal-Ki Kocchin (KK1) is an NRI trying to make her mark in Indian film industry. Her struggle becomes a horror show as soon as her boy friend’s brother develops a strange disease. As soon as he sees KK1, he starts shouting Daab-Ang, Daab-Ang (press body part, press body part) while lifting his shirt in a strange manner. KK1, taking it as a lewd pass, gets harassed and runs away.

Khararnaak Khauf (KK2) is scared of her ex boyfriend who has a history of beating up his girl friends after breakup. KK2 has just broken up with this boyfriend of her.

KK1 and KK2 also see Z’s ad and reach Jalandhar. They meet up FA, HR, and AD and the love story begins. Or rather, love stories begin.

KK1 falls in love with FA who loves KK2. Being not so tall himself, FA has a liking for tall women. But KK2 has just had a bad experience while being in a relationship with a short man. So her preference is tall men now. She loves AD but AD loves HR. Having grown up in a family which is world famous for its manhood, AD has developed a natural liking towards masculinity. After all, it’s all about loving your family. But HR loves KK1 because of her short height.

“Whatever we don’t have, we seek it in our friends. This remains one the biggest driver for friendship.” The message is conveyed clearly at the start of the movie.

They call themselves Pentagon.

You might have seen numerous love triangles but director of ZNMD has taken the loves stories to a new dimension – she has worked on a pentagon which has its one side shifted diagonally. It’s a wonderful capture of human emotions. Many a times you might feel like shedding your tears and wiping your nose. Like when FA comes to AD to share his emotions about KK2 and AD proposes to FA. Or when KK1 tells KK2 about her failing love life, realizes their conflict of interest, starts fighting with KK2, and realizes that they are friends from their last birth. They kiss and make up.

While they all are lost in their love pentagon, day of final trial comes sooner than expected. With just one day to go for the final trial, all 5 of them are missing the most basic need – 6th member of their team. What do they do now? A team of five will not qualify. Even if they hire some random female, it is not likely that she will gel well with them. Chances are high that they will fail in this competition because the biggest binder – love, would be missing for the 6th member. Second chance is just not allowed. After all Zintha na milegi dobara.

Director fails to answer the question – what if the 3rd female falls in love with someone in the group. May be she didn’t want to create a hexagon; hence the question is left unanswered.

To make it large, one can wait for the next life. Love and friendship is all that matters. But with only 5 members, they just cannot take part in the competition. Now all of them would have to go back to their respective lives. They have become so used to of each other that saying goodbye will sound more difficult than saying “Why are you so silent today” to Siddhu.

Emotions just put the 70mm screen on fire. Tears flood it. Everyone loves someone. If anyone says a yes, it will surely break a heart. If one heart breaks, all will follow the suit. Saying no will definitely cause havoc. Hence they all decide to say yes to everyone. They all make love, collectively, together, in their hotel room. The scene has been shot beautifully.

Z, who is on a secret vigil to check out on the participants, happens to have a peak-a-boo in pentagon’s room. She has just come out of a breakup and is weak at heart. Seing the ocean of love in which Pentagon is swimming, her heart starts jumping. She is into tears. The thought that pentagon will need to be broken, just because of some stupid rule, shatters her. She offers to be the 6th member of their group so that they are not disqualified.

The trial begins. Pentagon wins. They all are buoyed. But the decision of the judges, which is deemed unfair, is challenged by the other teams. The matter goes to Supreme Court. Supreme Court comes out with its verdict. Pentagon will need to perform in front of the court. Court will compare their live performance with the video footage of other groups’ performance. There is one condition – they need to find out a 6th member for the performance in front of the court. When the group asks the court if they can take Z as their 6th member, the court refuses saying Zintha na milegi dobara.

Movie ends but not the tears. They will be shed either till the eternity or if Zintha meets dobara. Maybe we will have to wait for the sequel.

Monday, July 18, 2011

England!!!

The much talked about series kick starts this week. India, the number one ranked and world champions, take on England, the self proclaimed world champions but only in their own backyard. This series is given the status of THE SERIES to be followed. Well, it has to be because 2 of the best 3 teams will be competing in this series. Last time 2 of the best 3 teams competed just before the world cup in South Africa, it was THE SERIES to be followed. I know my generation will have an ear to ear smile as soon as it realizes that the common connect between these two series is India.

For me, England has always been a place where sun is always hidden behind the clouds. Wonder how they came up with the phrase of “Sun never sets in British empire” because it is hardly seen in their own country. The grounds are lush green. The ball always swings, so much so that even a Mark Ealham or a Ronnie Irani is qualified to play as a medium pacer. People, clad in business suits and hats come to watch cricket. They do not even shout on the events we Indians go mad – a wicket or a six, they just clap thrice. It is a place where it’s so easy for viewers to run to the ground that players often run for their lives as soon as the match is over.

It goes without saying that with a virgin passport, all the above-mentioned images were built in my ageing mind with the help of hours of television viewing.

England is also a place where we always lose the first test, put up some fight in the second and perform better than the home team in the final test. Later, the reason given for this gradual improvement after a steep fall is slow acclimatization in English conditions. 2007 was definitely an exception.

I remember that 1990 series started for me with a huge disappointment. DD refused to telecast the series citing financial reasons. It didn’t even show the highlights. Yes, our generation has seen such days.

The series started with Azhar winning the toss and putting England into bat, England losing 1 or 2 wickets quickly, Kiran More dropping Gooch on 36 and making amends soon –  by then Gooch had added only 297 more runs to his score. Chasing 653, India needed 454 to avoid follow-on. I came rushing back from school hoping India would have avoided the follow-on. I remember commentators were talking about some strange event where all they were shouting was “It’s a Six.” Only after few minutes I understood what had happened. India needed 24 to avoid follow on with Kapi and last man Hirwani at the crease. Kapil gave no respect to Hirwani’s batting skills. He scored the remaining of 24 runs to save the follow - by hitting 4 consecutive sixes. Hirwani respected Kapils’s disrespect in his batting and got out next ball. India lost the test. Scoring rate in the test was well over 3 – it’s like scoring 200 in a T20 these days. Several reasons were pointed out for this loss – poor bowling, Azhar’s 87 ball 100, bad fielding, dropped catches, and the biggest one – putting England in after winning the toss.

Azhar said in his defense, “We did get a few wickets cheaply, didn’t we?”

I heard "I am batting well in the nets"
Second test was known for India’s escape from Alcatraz. India saved the test at Old Trafford from a position of no hope. Sachin scored his much awaited first test hundred. I remember, after the lord’s test, reading an article in Cricket Samrat which said that Sachin was still in this side because of backing of a very strong Mumbai lobby – Sunil Gavaskar was quoted saying “He sounds like Garry Sobers. See, even his voice resembles a great cricketer.” The article was titled “Tarah tarah ka jaadu” (magic of different kinds). As the years passed by, Sachin did turn out to be a magician.

India made England follow-on in the second test but it was a draw and we lost 1-0. When I asked my dad “We made them follow-on but they couldn’t. We did better than them, isn’t it?” he responded with a smile “It’s the score line of 1-0 that counts son, nothing else.”

Only saving grace was that we won the ODI series quite comprehensively. But the image of the series will always be Kapil’s 4 sixes.

We toured England again in 1996. This time we heard of a new channel – ESPN. Cable operators refused to pay extra to ESPN. We were devoid of seeing this series too. Anyhow, the story of the series wasn’t very different. We lost the first test and drew the rest two. But real story was away from the cricket ground.

Chetan Sharma, India’s only bearded cricketer till then was main reason for India’s success in England in 1986. In 1990, none of the players had beard and India lost. Hence we all were hoping Sidhu’s beard to repeat the magic of 1986. But Sidhu had a fight with Azhar and he came back without even playing. We had a backup in Vikram Rathod's beard. But he preferred to follow the law of averages – for Chetan Sharma’s heroics in 1986, Rathod opted for mediocrity. Well, it all evens out in long term doesn’t it?

But India got two new heroes in Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. India’s pace attack also gave us hope for future.

1996 was worse than 1990. We couldn’t even win the ODI series. Being a forgetteble series, I cannot recall any image from this series.

Come 2002 and things were entirely different. Under Ganguly, the team was looking different – more confident and for the first time, with a “We haven’t lost it till we have actually lost it” attitude.

But it all started on a familiar note. In spite of an awe inspiring, unbelievable, jaw dropping century from Ajit Agarkar in second innings, we lost the first test. We somehow managed to draw the second test thanks to a very defiant batting display from Indian middle order.

When Sourav Ganguly opted to bat on greenish track at Headingley, that too under overcast conditions, almost everyone said that he was doing a mirror image of what Azhar did in 1990 at Lords. As it turned out, not for the first time, Ganguly proved his critics wrong. It wasn’t the last time either. Coming from a state which had been ruled by the left wing for ages, Ganguly had a habit of proving his critics wrong no matter how right they were. Not often you see a batting side refusing to take the “bad light “even though the batsmen were facing fast bowlers. Light didn’t matter to Sachin and Ganguly on that evening. If someone needed bad light as an excuse to run out of the ground, it was England. We won the test and went into the final test with score line tied at 1-1.

Score line remained at 1-1 but we won the ODI trophy in a trendsetting style. But image of the series remains to ba THAT evening when they refuse to take the "bad-light".

Tour of 2007 was considered to be the last one for almost all the Indian biggies – Sachin, Dravid, Kumble, Laxman and Ganguly. If England would have loved to see the back of one player most desperately, I am sure it was Ganguly. Replace Enlgand with any other team in this sentence and I guess it will still be true.

Thanks to rain, Dhoni’s most ugly but extremely effective innings and a bad umpiring decision in the penultimate over of the match, India managed to save the first test. It was such a strange feeling. Second test had started and we were not playing the catch up game – it was still 0-0. Zaheer Khan bowled extremely well. So did Kumble and the rest. England was out cheaply in the first innings. India batted superbly – not a single batsman scored a century yet we managed a huge lead. In England’s second innings, when Vaughn was threatening to take England to a position of safety, Zaheer Khan somehow managed to hit the stumps. England collapsed. We won.

I don’t know after how many years; they went into the decider with a lead of 1-0. India scored real big in first innings but the only century, only century from an Indian batsman in the entire series, came from Anil Kumble. India was in a winning position but as Mr. Tracer Bullet would say “Did not put its foot on the accelerator.” Captain Rahul Dravid was blamed for defensive captaincy. Well that’s what the captains are there for – taking blames. India won the series 1-0.

Just after the final test, Sachin was asked if this was his last tour to England. Drenched in champagne, he looked so embarrassed as if he was caught nose-digging on camera. He just smiled, giggled, shrugged his shoulders, and said politely “I don’t know what to say.”

Just hope nobody asks him that question this time. You do not ask “When will you die.” God asks you, “When shall I come and pick you up”

We lost the ODI series. Nasser Hussain said on air during the ODI series “Even if India manages to win, this team looks totally hopeless. I see England’s future far better than this India.”

Well, one cannot blame Nasser. Batting was Nasser’s strength, not predicting future.

3 of India’s big 5 are still as good as they were 4 years back. Sachin, Laxman and Dravid will be England’s biggest worry. India may miss Sehwag but in Abhinav Mukund, England will surely not miss Sadagopan Ramesh. India’s weakest in the middle order, Suresh Raina, has just put up the strongest performance in the only tour match before the first test.

Zaheer Khan has become more prudent as a bowler, Sreesanth still doesn’t believe in prudence and Harbhajan is fighting to make it large. Thankfully Ishant is back, Munaf is still Munaf and PK will be giving selection headache to the team management.

Lords may result in a draw if the forecast is to be believed. If we somehow manage to avoid losing in the first test, England may well have to console themselves with the fact that they have won 3 out of last four Ashes’.

Let the show begin.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It’s been 9 years since then!!!

Amithabh Bacchan was just another actor in bollywood before he did Zanjeer. Rest is history. Indira Gandhi’s political career was in doldrums in the last leg of 70s. She heard of some disaster striking Bihar. She reached there before government did. When she met with people in that place, she got the confidence she had lost. She came back to power in the very next elections. India Gandhi considered her visit to this place as a turning point of her political career. As soon as MS Dhoni hit THAT six in the WC11 finals, my mind went back 9 years to this match – which was probably the first instance for me when we won an important match from a position of no hope. This was the first time when we saw that gen-next could win it even when we looked to have run out of steam – especially after Sachin’s departure. This is how I remember that match.

I was staying with 4 of my friends – all males. We didn’t have a TV at our place so we went to our friend’s place to watch the match.

Just before the match, one of the English commentators’ asked Michael Slater about who he thought was going to win. Slater replied “India” almost embarrassingly as if he was saying – “Mate, I am an Australian. How can I say that England would win?”

The match started. English were batting first. Nick Knight got out cheaply. “Great start” we thought. But what followed was a torture. Trescothick, India’s regular tormentor was at his usual best. But real torture came from Nasser Hussain. Every time he faced a ball, he looked like missing it and getting out. But his bat kept finding the edges. Every time he managed to put bat to the ball, he looked like getting out caught. Ball kept falling in empty spaces. He scored one of the most scratchy and ugly centuries. When he signaled at the number 3 written at the back of his t-shirt after completing his century, it said all about the man – he was an annoyingly gritty customer. England scored big.

“326 to chase” said a friend.

“Remember 316?” I replied.

“326, England and not Pakistan, Lords and not Dhaka” he replied back.

“I know what you mean to say. Let’s hope for the best.”

“Leave it dude. Why don’t you go study for your MBA entrance exams? We are just not going to win this one”

“I will go but before that let me see a few overs. Even if Sachin scores a few, I will be happy” I replied.

Indian innings started and boy, what a start it was. 100 were up in no time. Dada was at his aggressive best. One of his square cuts landed on Hussain’s thumb and rocketed for four.

“There you go. That is fracture number 345 for Hussain’s thumb” was comment of a friend.

Ganguly’s 35 balls 50 made even Sehwag look like a pedestrian. Sehwag tried to compete. In an attempt to do so, he ran over Ronnie Irani - by hitting 4 boundaries in an over. If flick to square leg was all wrists, his lofted shot over mid wicket was all power and paddle sweep was really cheeky. But the best shot came when he shaped to play another paddle sweep, saw Irani bowling it well outside off stump and guided it through the third man.

We got a dream start. Every dream ends as soon as you get up. And wake up we did. Ganguly was bowled by Tudor in an attempt to hit him over mid wicket. We missed a few heartbeats. Sehwag was bowled by Giles when he tried to be too cheeky. Heartbeats became a rarity. Dinesh Mongia’s wicket didn’t concern us much because for us, the bigger concern was his presence in the squad. I was very sure that Rahul Dravid, the master in English conditions, and Sachin, the master in every condition, would put up a match winning fight. I was wrong. Rahul Dravid was nailed by a very innocuous looking Ronnie Irani and Sachin fell extremely predictably – to a left arm spinner and falling cheaply in a final. Our heart had stopped beating completely. 147/5 chasing 326 is a position when tracer bullet says “India is down and out for the count”

My friend told me “It’s over dude. Now go study.”

I came back to my flat. Congruence of body and mind is an art which, if mastered, can do wonders for a person. I am yet to learn it. My eyes were on the books but ears were dying to hear a noise – a noise that signifies that a boundary had been hit or an appeal had been turned down or we were getting closer to the victory. But there was none. Maybe not many were watching the match or maybe we were yet far away from the victory – 147/5 was really a bridge too far or maybe we had already lost.

There was a small shop in front of our building which had a small TV set. I decided to go down and see the score there.

Kaif and Yuvraj had taken the score to 200.

“126 more. Only if we had restricted them to lesser than 300 but alas” I thought and came back.

I went down again.

Kaif pulled Tudor to midwicket.

“12 runs in an over, wow.” I thought.

“Are we onto something in here? Call your friends who have deserted their TV sets. Tell them that we may well see something very special today” shouted Harsha Bhogle on TV.

My friend didn’t call me. How could they? I didn’t have a cell phone in those days.

I decided to stick on. Kaif and Yuvraj kept scoring singles. They kept hitting boundaries. Runs kept flowing. This was the best exhibition of running between the wickets I have seen from India.

“Is it happening?” I thought only to see Yuvraj getting out tamely. “Damn, I am better off upstairs” I went back.

Every passing second was like a year. Several years passed by.

I came back again.

“What? 14 in 3 overs? Kaif is still there” I thought “We are winning. Yes we are winning”

Harbhajan decided to be a hero and he flopped. Kumble tried playing square cut between the keeper and the first slip but he missed the ball by 6 inches. Steve Buckner took his shot as an insult to cricket and ruled him out. Two wickets in an over meant we had again fallen behind the 8th ball.

“Is there another twist in the tale?” shouted tracer bullet on air.

I decided to stick around this time. 6 were needed of 7 balls. Kaif’s edged flew to the third-man boundary. Target was down to 2 of 6 balls. But Kaif had lost the strike.

First ball of the last over was down the leg side. Zaheer signaled wide to Buckner. Buckner smiled back as if he was saying “Let me do my job son. Did I shadow-play a pull shot to you?”

There was almost a run out on the next ball which again turned out to be a dot ball. 2 were needed of 4.

It was 597th ball in that match in Lords on 13th of July 2002 when an overthrow changed the world. We had won. Yes we had won. I was jumping along with the shopkeeper. After all we had won.

But what followed next was an image that would remain with us for the rest of our lives.

I had heard a lot about Lords during my childhood. It was known as the Mecca of cricket. You were considered as useless batsman unless you had scored a 100 in lords. For most part of the last century, women were not allowed to enter the long room or MCC balcony in Lords. There was a dress code if you wanted to enter the ground or perhaps few sections of the ground. Any chanting or shouting by the crowd was treated as an act of barbarism – only three claps were allowed. It all sounded like a fort of whites – something sounded similar to what British Raj might have been. Sunil Gavaskar was insulted and denied entry in 1990 at the Lord’s gates. In short, Lords had given the image of a rude, arrogant, old man who always looked down at others in an insulting manner.


On the other hand, Flintoff had run around naked in Wankhede when England leveled an ODI series just a few months back. That act of his looked like a huge insult to us – we can pee in your drawing room but you just cannot cross our doorsteps.

I saw Ganguly waving his shirt off, displaying his torso to the world and shouting some words which must have been expletives. He was topless, in lords, in its balcony. He was letting THEM know about his love for the ladies in their houses.
“To hell with your pride and orthodoxy and history and all that bullshit, I am peeing on it” he looked like saying “If you had the audacity to do it on our ground, I am doing it here in your balcony. So @##$#$”

I had an ear to ear smile on my face. His act had shown that Lords is nothing but yet another ground where 22 people compete to win and 2 people officiate in black & white. His act had avenged Gavaskar’s insult. His act had erased the horrendous memories of Flintoff’s torso. He had turned it around. His team had turned it around. And a new era had begun exactly 9 years back on this very day.

Till now we were a generation used to of mediocrity, had cried so often seeing many victories been converted into painful losses (some paid for, rest not), and respected strange traditions which were forced upon us from colonial ages e.g. celebrating our victories in the most modest manners. On this day, we turned into a generation which had tasted excellence, won a match when silencing Sidhu would have looked easier, and celebrated like a crazy kid who knows no traditions. It happened on this very day. So gentlemen, take some time out of your schedule today, go to your balcony, take off your t-shirt, and wave it as if a crowd of thousands is dying to see your tummy.  Feel your 9 years younger self today. Cricket is not a game for ladies – hope you get my point.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Azhar!!!

“Dude, tell me something. Have you forgiven Azhar?” I asked this question to some of my cricket-addict friends.

The answers were mixed reactions like “Yes, long back,” “No. I will never forgive him. He broke my trust”, “Forgive? I was never angry with him,” “He was victimized by the system. Real culprits are still looming large.” As far as my answer goes, I have forgiven him long back.

For me, first remembrance of Azhar is from WC1987 in the match against Australia. For scoring 54 runs and taking three wickets, he was declared MOM. But what struck most to me was the way he was playing with the ball while discussing field placement with the captain – making it bounce again and again on the back of his palm.

During India’s tour to Pakistan in 1989, when I seriously started following the game, Azhar’s career was in doldrums. Faisalabad test was supposed to be his last chance. Azhar scored a century on this lifeline. He saved his career by turning it around when his opponent was serving on the match point.

I was impressed by his batting. “How can someone do it? Picking the ball from outside off stump and glancing it to fine leg? “I asked my father.

“Wrists” he responded.

Rajsingh Dungurpur’s famous “Miyan, kaptaan banoge?” resulted in Azhar being appointed as captain for the next series.

It was England, 1990 when I became his fan. Listening to commentary on radio, I was impressed with the ease at which he was batting in conditions supposed to be extremely difficult for the visitors. His 87 ball century in Lords was stated as one of the reasons because India lost the test – “He should have eaten up more time” was the argument given. He scored another century in the test series where he almost scored 100 runs in a session.

I became a big fan not just because of his batting but also fielding which made everything look so simple. To add to that, I had to bring the balance of power at home between fan-base of Sachin and Azhar.

Azhar’s batting was all wrists and timing. The flicks, the square cuts, the paddle sweeps, the on drives, the off drives, they all looked class apart. Very often, bowlers and the pitch didn’t matter to him. He could look like a lamb in front of a tiger while facing a pace attack, he could also tear apart the same attack with phenomenal ease.

People said he wasn’t good enough to score runs on fast bouncy pitches in Australia. He almost won a test match there on his own. People said he just cannot play the pace battery of South Africa. The protease may never forget THAT partnership of 220+ runs.

In one sentence, he was great. He was gifted. He was a hero.

But then, he would also get out in the softest fashion; often get out in a manner so soft that it would look like a meek surrender. After all, he was human.

To add to this class, there was an element of fielding. He was brilliant, simply brilliant. Every time modern day fielder’s make an ordinary catch look spectacular, I think of Azhar’s catches in slip which looked as if he was just catching a fly sitting on his nose. Modern day fielders think that the entire planet will move seeing their catch; Azhar just moved and caught it. He had amazing reflexes.

In a team which was never known for its fielding, Azhar was so good that he could have competed with anyone in the world.

But then, he would drop the simplest of catches. After all, he was human.

Azhar was never consistently brilliant when it came to run making. He would go terribly out of form, would be on the verge of being dropped and given lifeline of one match. But he was brilliantly consistent in utilizing that one match life line to revive his career. He did it in Faisalabad. He did it in Eden gardens. When everyone was ruing the fact that a captain cannot be dropped during a world cup, he revived himself in Brisbane. He was like a phoenix, always coming back to life from the ashes. Azhar even did so in his last test. But this is one life line which was termed invalid because just after the match, the cricketing world was hit by a monstrous tornado known as match fixing.

I do not know if he was involved. I don’t want to know it either.

Many a times Azhar got out in the most irresponsible manner at the most crucial juncture. Many a times he got run out when he ran from batting crease to mid off to complete a circle. “Perhaps nobody has told him that straight line is the shortest distance” was often said when he did so. Every time this happened, people said that he had been paid to do so. They said the same about anyone who committed such mistake.

Manoj Prabhakar had created a furor in 1997 but the issue was dying a slow death. But with confession of Hansie Cronje, entire world was shaken. Lot of heads got rolled.

Azhar, Jadeja, Mongia and even Nikhil Chopra’s name came up along with the others.

While public opinion remains hostile against each of them, not everyone hears “Here is he, the man who sold us to bookies” kind of comments. Tell me honestly – how many times you shout “fixer” when you see Ajay Jadeja giving expert comments on TimesNow or see Nikhil Chopra doing mimicry on star cricket? But every time Azhar is shown on TV, I hear people shouting “Fixer, Fixer.”

People seem to have forgiven or at least forgotten others but the same cannot be said about Azhar. Some say that his religion has got to do with it. I do not buy this argument. If there is one place in this country where an individual’s religion just doesn’t come to the mind is a cricket field. Did you not clap for Zaheer Khan when he was bowling those maidens in WC2011 final?

Yet Azhar is being looked as the biggest culprit, the only culprit. Even if he was a culprit, I am sure he wasn’t the biggest on, the only one. He was not the culprit.

Even if he was a culprit, he is done with his sentence. He never played in 100th test even though he scored a century in his 99th. Agreed that he was nearing the end of his career but he could still have played for a few more years. He lost on those years. And even after more than a decade to fixing fiasco, he continues to be known as the “fixer.”

One of the reasons to it that among all those who came under the scanner, Azhar was the biggest star. He was a hero. For lot of us, he was our first batting hero before Sachin replaced him. We all just loved his cricket. If Sanjay Banger’s or Akash Chopra’s name come up in some scam, I may not think about it for more than a day. But what if Sachin’s name comes up? I will erase the word cricket from my dictionary. Higher you rise, harder you fall in case you do fall. Azhar did fall. Cheating someone you don’t know may be a crime. Cheating some who trusts you is a sin.

Azhar was one of those brilliant absent minded students who would score 100 out of 100 in a written exam but falter when asked “Where do you see yourself in five years for now?”

When his form was questioned, he said “I am playing well in the nets” and we laughed. When he dropped Saeed Anwar in Eden-1998 (Anwar went on to score a match winning 188), Azhar said “I went for someone else’s catch” and he was ridiculed. He was a great cricketer but a bad orator unlike someone like tracer bullet who was ordinary cricketer but his oratory skills have earned him a great career in commentary. Azhar was never an image builder during his days or after that. He was just Azhar.

After years of appearances on TV, we have all almost forgotten that even Ajay Jadeja’s name had come up in that list. Too much of supply makes us forget that the same product was marred with below-quality allegations in the past.

But Azhar has never done that. Occasionally he has come on TV or sometimes in newspapers. Such rare appearances only refresh our memories of match fixing. They don’t make us forget that. They only remind that there is a cricketer who was alleged with match fixing charges.

Match fixing charges, to hell with them. No one knows how deeper they run. No one knows who all were involved or is still involved. May be he did fix matches, maybe he did not. We will never know the truth. But whatever he did, enough punishment has been meted with. It time to move on. After all, lot of us have moved on in the cases of other wrongdoers, haven’t we?