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.