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All else…is irrelevant

October 30, 2013

There was this commercial that used to appear a few years ago. In a world of identical looking promos, this one struck a chord, I’ll explain after laying out the hindi storyboard with its attempted translation.

Scene opens with a crowd quietly standing in front of a huge television screen…

All kinds of people in the crowd, a few with the dabs of paint on their faces depicting the Indian tricolor. The camera pans across as they’re anxiously looking at the screen. A little girl, oblivious to the tension in the air, chomps away on a bar of chocolate. There’s a background score playing…slow, quiet, male voice…”humko ye kisne chua hai…” (Who is this who has touched us…)

A living room: overflowing with people staring at the television.

Background…”jadoo sa ye kya hua hai…” (What magic is this…)

A bus stop: a kid in a bottlegreen school uniform…bites into a bar of chocolate…then shadow-practices a straight drive…shakes his head in disgust…then does it again…better this time…then nods in self-approval.

Background…”khel ka rang…chaane laga hai…” (The game is everywhere…)

A couple in their living room: the guy is lost in concentration watching the screen..bar of chocolate in one hand…as his girlfriend slips the contents out of the wrapper and takes a bite.

Background…”dil ki dhadkan…badhaane laga hai…” (Setting the heart racing…)

A barber salon: tv in the corner showing the game…this guy in the chair with u guessed it…chocolate bar in hand watching intently. the barber, in true desi style..twists this dude’s head to one side…the guy keeps turning his head towards the television who the hell gets a haircut when ST is batting?!

Background…”andaaz badle hue hain…” (Changing everything…)

Local convenience store: typical middle-aged owner listening to radio. Kid asks for a chocolate when apparently a boundary is struck. The owner signals four…looks like he’s saying “Its free”…kid grins and leaves

Background…”chaaron taraf mastiyaan hain…” (Everywhere we see, its the joy of the game…)

More scenes in living rooms…people watching nervously…then exploding into celebration…hugs and high-fives all around.

Background…chorus..increasing in crescendo..”humko ye kisne chua haiiiiii” (Who is this who has touched us…)

Final scene…as everyone in the room celebrates…this guy is kneeling at the tv screen…as if to feed the batsman his chocolate bar please..no pun intended!

Finally…the well recognized glasses of milk pouring to give Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate. Background…”Cadbury’s Dairy Milk…mazaa aa gaya”

Damn right mazaa aa gaya (That was fun)! Now, the reason it struck a chord…this commercial was aired during the 2003 world cup…and I can almost smell the coffee we used to brew at 4am (central time) in the morning to watch india’s games. I was to leave on vacation to India the next day and India was chasing an improbable 275 against Pakistan to stay alive in the tournament.

After a quiet first over from Akram, Shoaib to bowl the second to Sachin…

Ball 1: short…wide…quick! ST stretches and goes at it with everything…ball takes the top edge…(they say its medically impossible…but am pretty sure my heart stopped at that instant)…but the ball soars over thirdman into the crowd…first ball and SIX!

Ball 2: straight…FAST!…defended

Ball 3: good length…outside off. ST punches of the backfoot..through the covers…four.

Ball 4: just outside off…left alone to the wicketkeeper

Ball 5: fast, overpitched and on the pads…dont bowl there!:)…clipped sublimely for four in front of square. (by this time the 7 of us in the room are bowing in reverence, arms outstretched, palms facing down…am not kidding!)

Ball 6: good length..straight. ST stands tall and plays defensively. Except that the ball races to the long on fence. Noone’s supposed to be able to do that!

(http://content-ind.cricinfo.com/ci/content/story/130122.html)

18 runs off the over. Sir Donald Bradman who?! 🙂 end of the over, the ad I just described in graphic detail appears…now you know

Congratulations Sachin Tendulkar, for taking over the mantle of highest run-scorer in test match cricket. The scale of achievement is not diminished just because it was only expected from a player who took the game to new heights. Who, for the first decade and a half of his career, shouldered the burden of carrying India’s hopes, alone and unflinching. Who never appeared bitter about the doubters who could never fathom what it was to walk out to bat with a nation holding its breath, to be expected to turn the most impossible situations around, to see opposing teams celebrate like the match was won, when his was the only wicket to have fallen. For maintaining dignity and showing class, whether it was after a century, or a zero. For being a true champion.

Can’t help but recall the last line of a print ad I’d seen in an Adidas store some 9 years ago…It went something like this (try as I might, can’t seem to find the complete text of that ad, this is a spurious reproduction)

“When Sachin bats…captains and bowlers think and rethink their plans…
When Sachin bats…school kids forget about their homework…
When Sachin bats…housewives forget about their monthly household budgets…
When Sachin bats…all of India forgets its worries…

When Sachin bats…all else…is irrelevant”

Amen to that!

Sachin Tendulkar – match-winner?

October 16, 2013

Sachin Tendulkar scored the final runs to achieve the target. He scored an unbeaten 103. He scored his 41st test century.

Sachin Tendulkar did NOT win India the test match in Chennai in December 2008.

Day 4, Evening Session: What if India’s most attacking batsman missed an attempted sweep to be hit in the front of middle and leg stump to then be given out LBW?

Day 5, Morning Session: What if India’s most dependable batsman (last 3 series not included) was caught behind off an outside edge early in the day?

Day 5, Morning Session: What if India’s most prolific run-scorer got an inside edge, that then deflected off the thigh pad, dropped to the ground, feebly bouncing to hit the base of leg stump, dislodging a solitary bail?

Day 5, Afternoon Session: What if the young but experienced Indian batsman looking to prove his test credentials saw one hit the edge of the rough, graze his glove and pop into silly point’s hands?

Day 5, Evening Session: What if…?

The first two happened, the last three did not. India won, chasing down the highest ever total to win in the fourth innings at home. Would India have won, had one or more of the last three happened?

The answer to that question holds the key to a debate that has raged for the most part of a decade and will likely continue for several to come. The one that goes “Sachin Tendulkar is not a match-winner”

 This post is not set to strike a blow for either side of the debate. It aims to invalidate it.

 Indian cricket fans are not strangers to capitulation. The Chennai test that ended yesterday is one of the very rare counterpoints to the list of abject surrenders that have happened over several decades of test cricket.

 All of them followed a pattern. Of the 6 or 7 batsmen comprising the lineup, 1 or maybe 2, would set about the task in earnest, blazing away at the target or inching towards it, depending on style of batsmanship. The rest would be picked apart, mesmerized by the situation or beaten early in their innings. The 2 batsmen who turn up for the contest would get an unplayable delivery courtesy a wearing pitch and the challenge would end, well short of making significant contributions. The ensuing post-mortem would then hold its biggest batting names responsible for the defeat, Tendulkar, invariably bearing the brunt, as “the most talented batsman in the world to not win games for his team“.

 Traditional Indian teams have been susceptible to one or two of several what-ifs. This one handled the four setbacks and kept batting in business-as-usual mode. Top teams find different ways of winning games. Match-winners, if defined as those that will win games while the other 9-10 on the roster do not turn up, do not exist. Such performances will always be aberrations. A search of cricket statistics to unearth lone 4th innings centuries (while other batsmen in the lineup score less than 50) to win will prove that point. Games are won by partnerships, and by more than one of those.

Yesterday’s win would rank in the top 3-4 Indian victories of all time. It took 4 batsmen making meaningful contributions to win the match. Sehwag (83), Gambhir (66), Yuvraj (85*) and Tendulkar (103*).

Sachin Tendulkar is not a better batsman today because India won the match. India won the match because their batting lineup showed backbone. And Sachin Tendulkar remains today, what he was the day before yesterday; arguably the best batsman the game of cricket has seen.

Would you like to be reborn an Indian?

September 14, 2013

Batsmen walk out into the middle alone. Not Tendulkar.  Every time Tendulkar walks to the crease, a whole nation, tatters and all, marches with him to the battle arena. A pauper people pleading for relief, remission from the lifelong anxiety of being Indian, by joining in spirit their visored saviour. Wednesday or Friday, Tendulkar lifts his gleaming bat, points it like a sword towards the TV cameras after his customary hundred, and a million hands go up in blessing; and in begging, pleading silently for redemption from the oppressive reality of their existence; seeking a moment’s liberation from their India-bondage through the exhilarating grace of one accidental bat. One billion hard-pressed Indians. Just one hero…

The poor Indian lifts his hands to Sachin Tendulkar in supplication: give us respite, a sense of liberation; lift us up from the dark pit of our lives to well-lit places of the imagination with your skill-wrought perfections. Give us an idea of what a light thing life ought to be. Take our blessings; but give is a break. Please win. Win for us losers.

-Excerpt from an article titled “Would you be like to be reborn an Indian?” – C.P.Surendran (The Sunday Times of India – 26th April 1998)

Future historians and those born after the mid-nineties will be flummoxed by the unhealthy deification of merely a sportsperson.

Some sense can be made from the points put forth in Ramachandra Guha’s ‘A corner of a foreign field‘, the above excerpt has been sourced from the same book.

“Sporting nationalism has always been most intense where there is a general feeling of insecurity and inferiority…the ruthless rout of the English in the 1898 Ashes campaign, has done, more to enhance the cause of Australian nationalism than could ever be achieved by miles of erudite essays and impassioned appeals.”

Whether true or false, imagine being anointed as the personification of pride for any set of people, let alone a country of 1 Billion. Blows your mind.

Don’t close the buffet yet!

July 31, 2013

If the cricket calendar was a restaurant menu for the Indian cricket fan then

  • bilateral and trilateral ODI series in India featuring any of the top few teams were the set meal “thali” at a well-recognized local restaurant. Predictable, economical and filling
  • home test series were the slightly questionable, food coloring laden fare you’d consume at weddings. Unpredictable and often boring, but sometimes delicious
  • away ODI series were streetfood from carts you’d find open at 3 am on a weeknight. Tantalising and lipsmacking, but sometimes liable to give you diarrhea
  • while away test series were that expensive entree with the exotic ingredient you ordered to come off as a sophisticate, at a fine dining restaurant . You think you’re ordering a freshwater fish with crisp flavors but it’s actually bulls testicles in a rich sauce. You try a forkful but push it away and spend the rest of the meal adding up the tab

ashes_urn

And then there was the Ashes. For an Indian cricket fan, the all-expense paid seafood buffet where you could either keep loading up on the lemon pepper butter prawns or just decide to go from the bread basket direct to the dessert bar and walk out satisfied. Hence the keyword, “all-expense paid”.

Having no horse in the race meant, rather than watch forlornly as batsman after batsman hurried back fast enough to catch the dressing room door they’d opened on their way out, before it shut. Or fervently hope for numbers 9, 10 and jack to bat for three and half days to save a test match after being asked to follow on, I could just sit back and enjoy some lusty hitting followed by the clumps of wickets in whatever order they came. At least when they were ripping up England, they couldn’t do so to your team.

I’ve watched many an enjoyable Ashes test match over the years and for me, there’s a certain charm they possess that a Australia-South Africa didn’t. Some of the best things about watching the Ashes over the years:

The atmosphere

Be it the GABBA in Brisbane or Trent Bridge, the anticipation on the morning of a first Ashes series test match is in a league of its own. Sky sports or Channel 9, debuting their shiny new graphics and the ex-cricketer-turned-commentator crowd all making their prophecies amounting to one thing “If England takes a quick 8 wickets, Australia might be in trouble. If Mcgrath bowls, England will be in trouble”. To be fair, the opening of a laundromat would feel like a special occasion if it had Richie Benaud describing it and Bill Lawry’s “It’s all happening here” is the stuff of legend and imitation.

 

The one-sidedness

Hard to believe now but pre-2005, Ashes were all still one-sided. There was a clinical precision to it, with the English captain (Atherton/ Vaughan/ Hussain), after some turgid resistance, being strangled and then nicking behind off Mcgrath, before said bowler sliced open the rest of the batting line up in a sublime spell. Once they pried the ball from Mcgrath’s hands, the quality dropped off all the way to the best wrist-spinner in a few generations. I’m surprised batsmen from those years haven’t petitioned the ICC to make the runs they did make count for double. Then Mcgrath trode on a cricket ball and Flintoff, Harmison, Jones spoiled the party

 

The dour rearguard / The lion-heart quick

After the initial burst of wickets and general mayhem, there would be the inevitable resistance that typically lasted just under a session. Many a riveting session was spent egging on the classy square drives from Graham Thorpe or plain bulldoggedness from Mark Ramprakash where he looked like getting out twice every over between sumptuous drives through the covers.  Of course, just when they would’ve claimed a session for England and tea approaching, a full-toss from Warne would get hit straight to mid-on followed by a run out

 

Not to forget, English new ball bowlers from the 90s and 2000’s should be eligible for PTSD compensation. Even when Gough, Caddick and co managed to snaffle a couple of early wickets, with a batting lineup that looked like a “hall of fame” inductee list, getting the Aussies 21/3 was montonously followed by them declaring at a 500+ score

Mark Waugh

Jarrod describes Mark Waugh as a defender on earth beheading alien invaders and doing it gracefully and the only way it could be said better is if we had a bowler unleash a 90mph delivery, Mark Waugh shift his weight to his back leg, tuck into a steak, wipe his mouth on a napkin and clip the ball to the square leg fence before the bowler had finished his delivery stride. To Cricket Australia’s credit, they seem to have bottled the essence of the likes of Mark Waugh and Damien Martyn and created the absolute antidote to the sublimely graceful batsman. Hence now we have messrs Katich, Rogers and Co. who would make the participants of a sack-race feel like graceful ballerinas in comparison

So it’ll take a bit of getting used to see Anderson line up the Australian batting and take potshots at them while Siddle, Pattinson and co huff and puff for sessions on end. It just feels a bit odd, like the ladles on the buffet are all left-handed or something, nothing we can’t get used to.

Dravid | Tendulkar | Laxman – The Last Stand

July 19, 2013

This wasn’t in the script. The series was supposed to be deadlocked at 1-1 with 1 to play or even 2-1 in India’s favor going into Adelaide. The top 6 were to have fired, with a couple of Sehwag cameos and big hundreds from the big 3. The Indian media was supposed to be working itself into a frenzy over a series win and potential retirement announcements. Instead, the media is working itself into a frenzy over “the obviously over-the-hill players blocking the path of the shining new stars of India’s test-batting”.

The likes of Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma should savor this. They will never again see such effusive and confident assertions of their potential.

In a way, it is comforting to see sport not being obsequious to the occasion. Gorging on an inexperienced bowling attack bowling ineptly  would hardly add to the legacy that is Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman. Instead, a feisty attack has bowled good lengths and the batsmen have paid the price for being lackadaisical in their footwork. They will know this better than any of the experts dissecting their videos.

  • For Dravid and Laxman, there might be the realization that the reflexes aren’t firing the way they used to, that judgment of length and line is taking that fraction of a second longer resulting in an inability to cover for movement after pitching
  • Maybe Tendulkar is letting it sink in that its getting harder to concentrate for long periods of time and the lazy false shot is increasing in frequency

That said, any writer is about as qualified to make these guesses as they are to pilot the space shuttle.

Adelaide will be the last test they’ll play in Australia. While a 4-0 result would be a likely and apt representation of the series, the flattest track in Australia should put thoughts of at least one final commanding innings in each of their minds. They need to think back to times when more than one top-class bowler has stood, hands on hips, a weary expression on his face as the ball has whizzed to the boundary. When their technique has looked impenetrable, their shot selection, immaculate.

There is this scene in the 1998 movie “Man in the iron mask” based on the three musketeers and their failed attempt at replacing the tyrannical Louis XIV with his twin brother. After their attempt fails, the 3 slightly “past-their-prime” warriors break into the castle to rescue the imprisoned brother. After some helter skelter running the three are cornered in a little cul-de-sac in the palace, with the royal guard covering them on all sides. After summarizing their situation as hopeless, D’artagnan says “If we must die, let it be like this…” as he holds his sword, tip on the floor in the center of the circle formed by his comrades. A brief pause ensues as his old friends realize what he means and place their own swords in the circle. A moment later they raise their swords, let out a blood-curdling war cry and charge the regiment arrayed against them. The captain of the regiment, a student of D’artagnan himself sees the charging musketeers, says quietly, almost to himself “What magnificent valor!“.

Adelaide 2012. Fluent stroke-filled 100s for Tendulkar and Laxman and a typically stodgy, “I’m not getting out come hell or high water” 100 from Dravid.

“What magnificent valor!”

They owe it, not to us, but to themselves. At least that’s what my script says.

Forget Ashes 2005

July 4, 2013

This is a guest post by Lee, from the land that gave us tea and crumpets 

Forget Ashes 2005 – this year is building up to something very special

After a whole summer of waiting and even having a moment where we feigned interest in tennis and Andy Murray’s latest quest to avoid crying tears of sorrow at Wimbledon, the 2013 Ashes is almost upon us.

Everyone seems to be gearing up for this wonderful event. Local parks up and down the country have witnessed entertaining cricket matches being played among mates, with Millet Sports stocking high-quality Newbery cricket bats so that it’s never too late to join in the fun. Even Sky Sports are transforming one of its permanent channels into Sky Sport Ashes – our TV planning for the next month or so is set then.

When it comes to the actual action on the field, we could be about to see one of the best Test series between England and Australia since the two countries decided to take cricket seriously.

 England backed by Aussie neighbours

The Three Lions have proved a force to be reckoned with on home turf over the past few months. We cheered with delight when Alastair Cook and company swept New Zealand aside in both Test matches of their home Test match series back in May.

Even when our joy of watching England strut their stuff was limited to One-Day Internationals at the ICC Champions Trophy, we still set the world on fire. Across England and Wales, we just kept on brushing aside the competition, whether it was a comprehensive 7 wicket victory over Sri Lanka or salivating about a 48-run win over the Aussies.

It was a shame that India sneaked the ICC Champions Trophy by a slender five runs, but it is fair to say that our rivals are already shaking in their boots as the Three Lions roar loud and proud.

In fact, New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum has been so impressed by Cook and his team that he has backed us to show his country’s neighbours a lesson in cricket in a couple of weeks time.

McCullum told Sky Sports: “I think England are going to be a tough team to beat. They seem to have got their swagger back against us in that final Test match. What we saw in that Test match is a team that when they are firing they are an incredibly tough team, not just to beat but to compete against.”

Australia finally showing signs of giving us a challenge

As much as we are dreaming of celebrating another England victory in the Ashes – we are thinking parties akin to what we saw at the end of the memorable 2005 Ashes – we are glad that Australia are finally beginning to show that they are up for a fight.

We didn’t want to kick our rivals while they were down, but our rivals for that sacred urn were in tatters just a few short weeks ago. Dumped out of the ICC Champions Trophy in the group stage and without winning a match was bad enough, but the fact that they haven’t been victorious in a Test match since January is just a tad embarrassing.

But then the tide seems to have suddenly turned. In a warm-up match against Somerset recently, Shane Watson hit 90 runs and captain Michael Clarke notched up another 45 in his comeback game.

Finally, the Three Lions might have a worthy opponent coming out to face them in Nottingham come July 10th – hey, victory will taste even better against an Australia team feeling confident rather than a bunch of Aussies licking their wounds.

Sachin Tendulkar – “The Best Ever?”

July 2, 2013

The Sachin Tendulkar ODI Debate – Download the free ebook!

 

This is (yet) another attempt to answer the oft-asked question “How GOOD is Sachin Tendulkar, really?” From trying to take an objective look at the question about what makes a good ODI batsman to determining the frame of reference to compare Tendulkar with his peers, this ebook tries to combine good ol’ common sense with basic career statistics to answer the question.

Comments are welcome!

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