Monday, July 22, 2013

The Present!!!

While I love watching cricket, watching pre/post-match analysis carries equal importance. Most often, I either am bored after watching the match or have to surrender to demands of higher powers at home hence I give more importance to pre-match shows than the post-match shows. Actually, I hardly get to watch post-match shows.
I believe that it is the pre-match show, which builds to momentum, brings you in the mood and pumps the adrenal before watching the match. Hence, I give more importance than to pre-match shows than the post-match shows, which are more of a postmortem made to look pearls of wisdom with the help of most intelligent entity on this planet – hindsight. Anyways, foreplay is important before the real thing, post processing is only for special occasions.
This is one of the reasons I love watching matches broadcasted from England or Australia – Sky or Channel 9 are the top two broadcasters. Their pre-match shows always have experts on panel talking about views that are not stale, stories that are mostly new and technology that is always innovative.
Therefore, I started watching the pre-match show on this Saturday before the second day’s play started in Lords. It was fun listening to a discussion between Shane Warne, David Gower and Andrew Strauss – just before the start of the day’s play. It was experience of 362 tests and 94 Ashes tests talking about possibilities during the day’s play.
Out of 38 Ashes tests played by David Gower, he was part of the winning sides on 14 times and losing sides 13 times. He belonged to a generation for which Ashes was an evenly matched contest.
Andrew Strauss’ career contained dominance of England in Ashes – with his Ashes debut series, a turnaround started in 2005. His team won ashes in 2005, 2009 and 20011 whereas he was part of a side that was annihilated by Australia only once. It was at opposite end of Gower – almost.
In between these two extremes, Shane Warne played cricket. During his tenure, Australia lost just once in 2005 but came back to take a revenge in 2007 with a 5-0 whitewash. Somewhere in the commentator’s box, Nasser Hussain must have been sitting with a smile on his face. He could never win an Ashes and the win/loss ratio in Ashes for the teams he played was a pathetic 0.36.
Gower was asking Strauss and Warne about the possibilities they could foresee during day’s play – how hard England needed to work to lose the test and how next to impossible it was for Australia to make a comeback. Both Strauss and Warne had been part of a losing side in Ashes just once. While Strauss had witnessed a turnaround, the situation was almost completely unfamiliar for Warne – he was the one who terrorized English batsmen Ashes after Ashes and made them believe that chances of an English victory were as bad as chances of finding life on moon.
Gower was asking Warne the kind of questions, like how to find light in the pitch dark surrounding Australia’s hopes in the series, he was asked during each Ashes after his retirement – Shane Warne’s performance had played a big role in shaping those question.
And that day, the Saturday I am referring to, Warne was there, answering what else Asthon Agar should do to turn the ball if he was bowling on a dustbowl.
Times had changed. Times have changed. They always do.
For all the glorious past Shane Warne has had, he cannot run away from the fact that Australian cricket seems to have fallen in an abysmal pit and hoping against hope looks like their only option. Like always, times will change for sure. But for now, it looks like the man who was the main pillar behind so many Ashes victories for Australians will spend rest of his life behind the microphone explaining why his team is not able to win. This grim situation is his present and he cannot run away from it.
On the other hand, Nasser Hussain will always remain a player who could never be a part of a winning Ashes team. While he can take a dig at Warne for current state of affairs, the pain of all those humiliations at the hands of Warne’s side will always remain with him. An unfulfilled wish even in the wake of ongoing brilliance is his present and he cannot run away from it.
While Warne can tell it all to Nasser about what it meant to win Ashes, he can also take some tips from Nasser about how a typical English supporter coped with the gaucherie during his days. Nasser can tell all about how it feels to pat the back of those who are currently playing and winning, he can ask Warne about how it felt to beat his own chest after winning.
For these two men, fate has swapped positions. For these two men, emotions have reversed. For these two men, times have changed.
Time - the ever-changing phenomena. Time - that unmentionable word which, does not have loyalty to anyone. Time – the only invincible. When time is on your side, you want it to stick with you like a loving partner. When time is against you, only weapon you have against it is hope.
The time which has gone by - the Past, does not really matter one single bit. The time that is yet to arrive – the future is the most uncertain entity. What really matters is the time that is with you – the present.
No matter how many runs a SRT has scored, how many races a Usain Bolt has won, how many aces Federer has hit – what matters is the current ball SRT is playing, the current meter Bolt is racing past by and the how well Federer is placing the current hit. Oh yes, there is hard work in the background, the experience in the mind and lot of other things, but unless execution is not good enough in the present, nothing is going to matter.
It is all about the current ball – putting it in the right place. A glorious past will not be the savior in case execution is not right in the present. A rosy future will never arise if there is failure in the present. The key lies in utilizing the past to execute perfectly in present and not living in the past. The key is to plan intelligently for future, executing the plans in present, not moving too far ahead of you and wandering around in future.
In short, the key is to live in the present. Everything else is secondary. A master sportsperson would have mastered this art. Maybe that is what Tendulkar means by when he utters the words – the zone. When he is in the zone, he is completely in the present. Maybe that is why a Sehwag is still valued so much – staying in present. When is staying in the present, even the best of bowlers can become history.
Not surprisingly, staying is present remains the key to happiness in life. A memorable past makes you nothing but nostalgic. A promising future makes you nothing but man of dreams, daydreams.
It is the present, the moment, which is passing by, really matters, and nothing else does. It is when you do not see anything but the ball you are supposed to hit. It is when you do not look at the distance ran on a treadmill but simply keep on running. It is when you are not engrosses in your office while listening to your favorite songs. It is when you are reading a book and only pictures capturing entire space in your mind are the of characters in the book. It is when while holding hand you are not planning your next move. To reiterate - it is when you do not think about anything but moment that is passing by.
The happiest man on earth will do all of that – he will live on the present. It is not so easy hence true happiness remains to be a rare commodity. Normally you would see it in the kids because they are not burdened by the baggage of past and are oblivious of the word called future. They are the happiest lot on this planet.
Maybe that is what the way out for Warne and Nasser is. Maybe that is what the way out for other supporters. Maybe that is what the way ahead for all of us. To stay in present. 

But then, who am advise that anyone. I would rather exercise what I tried to preach, stay in present and end this piece as it has reached the logical end.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Ashes!!!



Picture of Mark Taylor walking back after scoring heavily, one more batsman with him but I don’t remember who, lot of good words written below about Australian batting – a picture about 1989 Ashes in Cricket Samrat is what I can recall as my first memory of Ashes.
After that, I found Ashes nothing but a bilateral test series where two teams participated so that Australia could win. Only solace England could find was that no matter what Australia did, they had to be content with the replica of the trophy. Original was kept somewhere in a museum in England and every time Australia demanded it to be transferred to Australia, since Australia winning had become a rule, it was turned down in the name of preserving a century old tradition. Only if England had cared a bit more about their present, better future would have come sooner than it actually did.
“Ashes” was nothing but a boring test series. A decade and half passed by.
Then it arrived – Ashes 2005.
For the first time, I was going to follow an Ashes test series closely. My career had just started and I didn’t have much of work at the start of it – actually, I have rarely had any. Cricinfo had become part of my life which meant access to enjoyable articles, records to analyze and the rest. In addition to this, I had picked up this hobby of writing. Life was good.
I was hoping for a good series.
England looked to have discovered imported a new batting talent in Kevin Pietersen. English media was claiming that KP was so talented that he would force Warne and McGrath into retirements. They had said something similar about Greame Hick, claimed Creig White and Mark Elham were Botham reborn and Phil Tufnell could turn the ball so much that it could endanger non-striker’s wicket is what I thought.
Australia on the other hand, relied on same old boring stuff – Hayden and Langer at the top, Ponting and Martin in the middle order, wonder-kid Clarke somewhere in between, Gilchrist who was rarely needed to bat, followed by bowlers. McGrath and Warne put together – they could suffocate their own batting lineup, forget about the rest of the world.
I still hoped for a better series.
First test, Lords, Australia batting first – 190 is all they could muster. “Good job. Now England doesn’t have to worry about saving the follow on” is what I told my friend. When McGrath reduced England to 21 for 5, I was telling my friend “I told you so”
Then it started - the KP show. For ages, I had seen England batsmen batting in awe of Australia – barring few good innings here and there, they had always looked scared. KP looked totally different. He displayed one quality which was hardly seen in English batsmen – fearlessness. Maybe it was because he didn’t have any baggage of past, maybe because he wasn’t English.
But he was class, a class apart.
Normal services resumed soon and Australia won the test easily. KP was the only standout performer for England. Australia leading the series by 1-0 - even a newborn would have predicted it and got it right.
The world moved to Edgbaston.
It was one ball which changed the fate of the series. It wasn’t a ball bowled in the match. It was the ball on which McGrath slipped just before the second test started. Maybe English batsmen were waiting for his absence. Maybe this was the stroke of luck that England needed. Maybe even God was bored of Ashes and decided to give it a tweak.
Whatever it was, it changed everything. Suddenly same English batting lineup started looking different – even the tale. Even the bowlers picked up. So when Australia needed almost a hundred to at the end of third day with two wickets in hand, it all looked over for Australia. Just before play on day four started, I moved out to watch Salman Khan’s epic – Lucky, No time for love. I wanted to watch the match but my flatmate pleaded me to accompany him for the movie. I obliged. I care for friends and the friendship – especially if they promise to pay my bill in a pub.
In case you haven’t seen the movie, you must make amends. You will get to know the cost one has to pay for friendship. The cost I paid – I missed out on two hours of nerve wrecking, enthralling and most entertaining test cricket so that I could watch Salman Khan taking Sneha Ullal out of a war-zone to safety.
“What say now?” is what a friend sent to me via SMS. “What the F” I thought while checking the score. I almost fell from my seat. Australia needed 12 to win with one wicket in hand. In the end, England won it by two runs. Think about it, just two runs when they had over a hundred to play with. “Champion teams don’t give up so easily” is what everyone said. It was all going to change, very soon.
McGrath came back in third test, went wicket-less and was hit for a six by Geraint Jones. After fluctuating fortunes, the match moved to last day. Australia needed to score 399 to win. Ponting played captain’s knock but it couldn’t win the game. His dismissal almost resulted in Australia losing the match. In the end, last pair batted for 24 balls and saved the match.
Like an event before the second test had turned out to be more important than the match itself – McGrath’s injury, an event after the match turned out to be of equal importance.
As soon as the match ended, everyone could see Australians celebrating in the balcony as if they had won the world cup. Think of it – Australians celebrating a draw.
Maybe this time it will be different is what I thought and I wasn’t the only one.
McGrath was ruled out of the fourth test. English batsmen made the most of it. England needed a small total to go 2-1 up in the series and it all looked in the kitty. However, Shane Warne showed his class and almost made it 1-1. Alas, Australian batsmen had scored too little for him to defend.
Who would have though that after four tests, England would be looking for a draw – not put rest to continuous four losses but to lift the trophy? However, England did manage a draw - mainly due to KP’s fantastic century in the second innings.
The tide had turned. England had won.
Like it always happens, plenty of reasons were given for England’s success – will to succeed, captaincy, amazing bowling unit in which even Ashley Giles showed some potency, determined batting, Flintoff, KP, comfort breaks taken by the bowlers and the substitutes abilty to hit the wickets.
Lot of moments from that series will always remain fresh in the memories of those who followed it – McGrath’s bowling in Lords, KP’s counterattack in Lords, news that McGrath would be missing in second test, Flintoff’s spell, KP’s batting, Ponting’s bleeding face, Ponting’s unrelenting bat, Ponting abusing Fletcher after he got run out, Warne’s magic and the list goes on.
However, England’s euphoria was short-lived and they lost the next Ashes badly by 5-0 in 2007. Since then, it has been all England. I have not followed Ashes as closely as I did in 2005 and cannot really comment if quality of it in 2007, 2009 or 2011 was anywhere close to Ashes 2005. But I doubt those three would have come anywhere close to the quality of 2005. In fact I doubt any series, provided it was long enough and seen with a pair of eyes which didn’t have any bias, would be better than Ashes 2005. This was the only series, not involving India, which I followed so closely. I wrote a lot about it too.
Sometime later, I think in 2006, I came across a video named Ashes fever. It was about Ashes 2005. If ever there was an example of how to make a documentary about a tournament, this video would be one of the best examples. Narrated by Mark Nicholas, containing interviews of different people from different walks of life – cricketers, journalists, actors, unknowns, Australians, English, the video beautifully captured the essence of Ashes 2005. It is a must watch.
Few years later, in 2008 I think, I came to know that I had got a mention on BBC website because of what I had written about Ashes 2005. That was the highest point of my writing career, if it can be called so. Well, it also remains to be only point worth mentioning.
Anyways, once again it is here – the Ashes. So sit back, relax and enjoy every moment of test cricket and hope to see some quality in it. Because if BCCI comes to know that you are not enjoying Ashes, it may decide to organize one more India-Sri Lanka ODI series. Don’t tell me then that I didn’t warn you. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Pact!!!


Part two of "Her, Him and the Valentine's Day!!!" -

“I am so sorry. It will not take more than five minutes” is what he heard. Earlier in the day he had heard “I need to go to that spa and should be done by 5. You can pick me up from there”.
He had come to meet his ex. They were meeting after six years. In the beginning of this six-year period, they were in regular touch but it thinned out as the time passed by. Last few years were just a-mail-once-in-a-month kind. So when she, the ex, sent a message about her coming to his city, he was looking forward to meet her.
While he had been married for five years and had a kid as a result of hard work post marriage, she had given preference to professional life over personal and was yet to tie the knot.
So there he was, to meet the woman he once dated six years back. Considering he was married, meeting an ex could have been risky. Yet he took the risk for the reasons not known to even him. It was one of those instinctive decisions which aren’t taken after detailed analysis of pros and cons.
So he reached the venue and entered the spa, for the first time in his life. He could spot her inside the main room getting her hair treated. While he was allowed to go inside the room, he preferred to be seated in the waiting area. The waiting area had nice couches and he threw himself on one of them. He rested there waiting.
His ex was going by WST – women’s standard time. The so-called five minutes were beginning to turn in to an eternity.
He was just waiting. Since he had nothing to do, he started enquiring the ambience. The ambience was nice. Spa owners had put up wallpaper that was pleasing to the eyes, the light was dim enough to create soothing environment, there were some artistic pieces giving the room a near perfect look and the furniture was excellent. It was almost perfect, almost. 
He did not find it perfect because there was something that he found was not perfect. He kept looking at the entire area repeatedly. Finally, it struck him. It was the entrance.
There was just one entrance to the spa – the lift. The lift directly opened in the waiting area. Therefore, if someone had to enter the spa, it had to be from the lift. The moment that someone came out of the lift, the first thing he was going to notice was the waiting area. There was nothing else in there that someone coming out would have noticed there. The second thing to notice would have been the workroom of the sap – where people were taking beauty treatment.
A specific thought made him jump – what if someone familiar entered. What worsened his jump was the thought – what if she, the wife, came out of the lift. Where would he hide in that case? What would he say? What would be his excuse as an answer to the question – “What are you doing here, in this spa?”
What could he have said in reply?
“I just came here to see the wallpapers” for someone who did not even know the existence of wallpapers until last night when he had a tiff, with the wife, about putting decorating their future house?
“Just like that” in a spa?
“I’ve come to get some pedicure” for someone who believe that men visiting the beauty parlors had special preferences?
What could he have said in that spa? He could not think of any other reason to be there than truth. However, truth, if told, would have been fatal. He was stuck.
Then started a period of tension, nervousness and fear caused because of an event, which might become a reality – what if some familiar face emerged out of the lift. What would he say?
What if his wife, emerged out of the lift? Where would he hide?
Since he could not think of an excuse to be there in spa, only thing that was coming to his mind was to say – see, I am not the one you are thinking. I am his doppelganger.
Every time the lift opened, his heart stopped beating. It started beating only after seeing the face of the entrant was of a stranger. With each passing second, it was becoming unbearable. The seconds turned into minutes. The minutes were about to turn into an hour.
They say that if you keep on fearing for something, your fear might just come true.
It did.
The lift door opened and out came his wife’s friend, the best one.
He had never liked her – be it for her manly looks, squeaky voice, and a mouth that was nothing short of being a loudspeaker because of a stomach that just could not digest anything. While his wife and she shared a very cordial relationship, he and the friend just could not stand each other. Even his wife’s friend’s husband found her difficult to tolerate. She was intolerable.
He and wife’s friend shared a relationship that was full of animosity. If anything, he would have preferred his wife catching him red handed in place of her friend. Former would have resulted in murder at point-blank. Latter meant inhumane torture until death. 
She was standing at the door of the lift and staring at him, simply staring, with an emotionless face.
No matter how much he would have wanted to avoid her, he ended up looking in to her eyes.
His heart sank. His body froze. His mind went blank.
However, he could not have remained that way. He had to do something else the consequences would have been severe. He had to think of damage control, he just had to.
What struck him most was wife’s friend’s body language. He found it strange.
His presence in that spa was definitely fishy – even the dumbest mind would have figured it out in a second. Yet she simply stood there without uttering a single word.
Even if he had tried to avoid her, she would have shouted the loudest greetings ever to ensure his efforts ended in vain. Yet she stood there in silence.
These pieces did not make any sense.
Why?
Soon, the why part was answered. A handsome hunk appeared from behind her – looking at her and then him. The hunk looked as embarrassed as he had looked while entering the spa.
Eyes of both the men met. They started a conversation.
What? Dude? You falling for her? Why the hell, his eyes said.
The past dude, the past. We all make mistakes, hunk’s eyes replied.
Nevertheless, why carrying on? Why not letting the mistakes of past die in the past.
I think you know the answer. That is why you are here, hunk’s eyes replied.
Oh yeah, I know. We all hope to dig out the residual benefits, which you could not utilize in the past or you want to relive them.
Happy utilizing and reliving, said hunk’s eyes.
Wish you the same, said he and looked at wife’s friend.
I will not talk if you do not, her eyes were almost pleading.
I will not. Can you control your loudspeaker like mouth? His eyes asked.
I can. I will, her eyes responded.
Deal?
Deal.
A secret pact was arrived made. He moved out of the spa with the ex. His wife’s friend moved inside with his.
One pair of nostrils was breathing a sigh of relief. Another pair had started to feel nervous. 

PS: Work of fiction!!!