Thursday, 26 March 2015

MORE PRIDE LESS BLAME, INDIAN CRICKET FANS!

The last time that India lost a World Cup match to Australia, back in the finals in 2003, I was a school kid who was so heartbroken, I vowed to hate Man of the Match Ricky Ponting forever. I cursed our captain Sourav Ganguly for fielding first, strike bowler Zaheer Khan for leaking runs and all the extras, Sachin Tendulkar for top-edging to McGrath on 4, and everyone in the team for letting us down. But 12 years later, when India lost yet another World Cup match to Australia, this time in a semifinal, I am mature enough to understand that these cricketers tried their best and did not lose on purpose.



Yes, the boys could have played better. That Shikhar Dhawan shot could have been avoided, bowling could have been tighter at death, and Virat Kolhi could have played himself in before going for the big hits. But we cannot blindly blame the team for losing a match, implying that they did hard enough, not after being away from home for 4 months in preparation. And we most definitely can’t blame Anushka Sharma for ‘distracting’ her better half just by being in the stadium. That’s both sexist and insulting to Kohli, who has consistently been India’s top performer for years. Yet, numerous fans through the digital platform belittled the team and their relations, forgetting all the good work done in the past. To make matters worse, reputed media outlets labeled the defeat as a ‘shame’ and questioned player commitment. Such reactions betray that these supposed followers of the game do not know how sport works.  Usually, one side wins, while the other loses but everyone tries equally hard. People who say that they watch sport should understand this better than anyone else. In fact, they should be a sport about it.



Let’s accept that Steve Smith played a great innings and deserved his century, let’s give them the credit due because Australia is the better bowling unit and let’s face it that the better team won. But at the same time, let’s not forget that India made it to the semifinals when few gave us a chance, after losing every game in Australia for the last three months. Nobody, not even the most ardent supporter, believed that we could beat South Africa, let alone bowl them out for less than 200! Let’s celebrate the fact that in seven matches before this our young, inexperienced bowling unit took all the 70 wickets. Lets remember the centuries of Suresh Raina, despite his weakness against the short ball, or that of Virat Kohli that helped us maintain our perfect score against Pakistan, or those of Dhawan and Rohit Sharma pulling us out of tough situations. Most importantly, let’s acknowledge the contribution of captain MS Dhoni. The guy who carried us home last World Cup and was leading from the front till the penultimate moment in this one. He did not see his newborn daughter for over a month, choosing to stay in Australia with the team to prepare for the World Cup. But we saw the emotion on his face after the match, and we should know how much it mattered.



 In 2003, I felt let down by the team, but in 2015 I feel is pride for the efforts of our team. Because in the last decade I’ve grown up enough to understand that in sport, the team that performs better on that day wins. I sincerely wish that ‘fans’ who make whatsapp jokes and ‘media’ that says Shamed in Sydney also grow up and understand this.  


The Defending Champions may have not have lived up to their tagline of We Won’t Give it Back, but we certainly didn’t give it away easy. 


Monday, 23 March 2015

DEFINITIVE RANKING OF THE WORLD CUP MAUKA ADS

It all began with the a TV ad by host broadcasters Star Sports that was meant to kick-off India’s campaign at the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup against arch-rivals Pakistan, who have never defeated India in the tournament’s history. But what started as one-off add, became a full-blown campaign with Star Sports releasing a different ad before every India match, complete with the signature qawaalli tune of ‘mauka mauka.’ Most of these ads garnered thousands of hits and popularity all over the internet, especially in the social media discourse. But not all the Mauka ads have been as funny as the first. So here’s presenting a definitive ranking of all the Mauka ads released by Star Sports so far. (23rd March)

1.       India vs Pakistan
They say the first is always the best for a reason. This ad shows a grumpy Pakistan fan get old waiting over the two decades for Pakistan to beat India in a World Cup match so he can burst his aging box of crackers. A novel way to depict a running joke in India-Pakistan rivalry, this TVC caught the fancy of entire India.

2.       India vs South Africa
The second ad followed the same theme as the first, but in reverse. India had never beaten South Africa in a World Cup match and a couple of South African fans point out the same, giving Indian fans a box of crackers in jest. A continuation as good as the first, the turning of tables was a great way to get the attention of fans.



3.       India vs Ireland
This ad created quite a stir thanks to a teaser released showing the Pakistan fan in an India jersey along with a box of firecrackers. This and the fact that it was shot inside Star Sports studio featuring commentators Harsha Bhogle and Aakash Chopra made it a welcome surprise. The catch here was that if Pakistan were to qualify, they needed India to beat Ireland, hence the grumpy fan was supporting his rivals. The surprise elements in this Mauka ad, made the series impactful again, after few lukewarm ones.



4.       India vs Bangladesh
With the caption India vs the World, this TVC was a complete departure from tradition. It showed a Bollywood-esque song and dance sequence in a qawaalli face-off between the original grumpy Pakistan fan, who is joined by fans of other participating teams, and a group of Indian fans. This ad worked because the usual Indian vs other fans and the Pakistan fan’s jersey change was getting monotonous.



5.       Pakistan vs Ireland
This ad was different again, in the sense that it focused on a Pakistan match, instead of India. It showed commentators in the Star Sports studio discussing Pakistan’s chances of reaching the quarterfinals only if they defeated Ireland and Pakistan’s mascot fan listening in on this conversation. It worked because of its change in approach, talking about Pakistan’s match more than the fan’s jersey changes.



6.       India vs UAE
The Pakistan fan, annoyed at the South African fan after their team’s loss to India, throws their jersey away, only to be visited by a UAE fan who gifts him the UAE team jersey. This third ad of the series was unimaginative compared to the first two, with the return of the titular character as the only saving grace.



7.       Pakistan qualifying
This was a short TVC and only showed the Pakistan fan changing back into his Pakistan jersey, after briefly donning the Indian one, as mentioned above. This focused on the Pakistan’s chances (mauka) again.



8.       India vs West Indies
This ad was easily the worst of the lot. The Pakistan fan, after chaging colours from South Africa to UAE, all in the hopes of an Indian defeat, is visited by a courier person who delivers the West Indies jersey to him, as it’s the next team India was to play. He also delivers a packet of colous as the match was to be held on Holi. The courier man, advertised the online shopping brand YepMe.com and this showed Star Sports’ clear intention to milk the Mauka ads for all they were worth.





This is the ranking of all the Mauka ads so far. This list will be updated if and when more Mauka ads are released. 

Thursday, 19 March 2015

PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORIES: SANGAKKARA’S ODI CAREER

Kumar Sangakkara played his last ODI match on 18th March, 2015. It was one of the most abysmal ends to what is one of the greatest careers. Sangakkara was out for 45 off 96 balls, the second-last man to fall in Sri Lanka’s paltry score of 133 against South Africa in the first quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup. The moment of Sanga walking away was picturesque, but far from picture perfect. It was raining, he had performed poorly and there minuscule chances of victory. One of the greatest exponents of the limited overs game, one who scripted records till the match before that, was leaving the field disheartened. As emotional as the moment was, there is one thing that I’m certain of, this image is not how his monumental ODI career should be remembered.  



Sangakkara will be remembered as the second most successful batsman in ODI history, with 14234 runs, second only to Sachin Tendulkar, studded with 25 centuries,  and the numerous records that he has created and broken in the 50-over game, becoming one of the greatest ODI careers in the last decade.



He should also be remembered as the most successful wicketkeeper, with over 500 dismissals (402 catches, 99 stumpings), beating the record of Adam Gilchrist, who is acknowledged as the best wicketkeeper-bat in cricket.



Wickets was not the only thing Sanga kept, he kept up the mood of the match from behind the stumps. We may complain all we like about his incessant appealing, but there is no denying that he was entertaining on the stump mic. Besides his Niyammai encouraging the bowlers, his sledging and mind games were amusing. From quoting Oscar Wilde’s quips to Kallis to the now iconic video of him sledging Shaun Pollock in a 2003 World Cup match, he managed to make most people smile with his antics.



 Sanga should also be remembered as an astute captain on field and an inspirational leader off it. His captaincy figures of 1765 runs in 45 matches do not do justice to the impact he had. Despite his resignation following the defeat to India in the 2011 World Cup finals, he remains one of Sri Lanka’s most loved captains. In his final match as captain, he proved what it is to be a true sportsman in his post-match speech and conduct. No wonder, Sri Lanka received a hero’s welcome in Colombo despite defeat.



A national icon for his country, Sangakkara has always spoken about the problems plaguing Sri Lanka, going out on a limb against corrupt administrations. He led the team during the months where they were not paid by their Board and brought out the internal politics in public to ensure better functioning. His MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture in 2011 on ‘The story of Sri Lankan cricket’ is considered one of the most important speeches in cricketing history.



His on and off field achievements, lead to numerous awards, prominent among which is 2012 ICC Awards where he won three awards, including the prestigious Cricketer of the Year and Test Cricketer of the Year as well as the People's Choice prize, for the second consecutive time.



In limited overs cricket, his biggest achievement would be the 2014 Twenty20 World Cup, his only major World Championship trophy. For a player whose team had made it to the finals of the last four World championship trophies but always ended runners up, contributing to win a major title victory was a great achievement. His 52 off 35 in the finals, his last T20 match, earned him the Man of the Match and a fitting farewell in at least one format of the game.



Now for some of my personal favorite Sangakkara memories.

My earliest memory of Sangakkara is from his days as the long-haired, rockstar type days in the early 2000s. He made his ODI debut in 2000 vs Pakistan at Galle as a 23-year old, scoring 35 before he was run-out. In his debut series, a tri-series involving South Africa as well, which Sri Lanka won, he made 199 runs at an average of 66, and was the 4th highest run-getter. From then on, there was no stopping him from making his mark in the 50-over game.



My favorite Sangakkara ODI innings is one that came in a loss. His highest score of 169 is vs. South Africa and he has scored some brilliant tons against other teams as well. But the innings I enjoyed watching the most, came in 2006 against India in Jaipur, where opening the innings, he scored an unbeaten 138 of 147 deliveries. What entertaining stroke play it was, with 13 boundaries and 2 sixes! Unfortunately for him, his Indian wicket-keeping counterpart Mahendra Singh Dhoni scored 183 in the chase of 299 and India won that game by 6 wickets.



Another innings, again an unfortunate one, is the one he played against Australia in the 2007 World Cup finals in West Indies. Sri Lanka lost that game by Duckworth-Lewis method but Sanga scored a valiant 54 off 52 amidst constant rain. This image says it all about the conditions that day.



The above innings, was stitched along with his best mate and strongest partner, Mahela Jayawardene. Throughout their 15-year long careers, they have remained the mainstay in Sri Lankan batting, forming one of the best left-right combinations we have seen in recent cricket history. Known as Sangawardene, their partnership statistics of 5992 runs at an average of almost 42 over 151 innings tells the story of both their best partners in cricket. Best friends till the end, they both played their last T20 and ODI game together.



While Jaywardene was the classic wrist-flicker, Sangakkara was the stylish puncher. His trademark cover-drive, immortalized in so many photographs, is one of the most beautiful sights in cricket for me. Watching Sanga go down on his knees, put his weight behind the ball and slice the ball through covers, if seen in slow-motion, can be cricket’s version of porn!



This ‘pornography’ was in full force during his last ever ODI assignment, the 2015 World Cup. The number of records he made in his 7 matches of the tournament, were enough for everyone to question his decision to retire when in such sublime form. His captain Angelo Mathews even went on to say, “I have gone on my knees to beg him out of retirement, but at the end of the day, it is his decision.” He amassed 541 runs in 7 matches at an average of 108.20. He scored an unbeaten 105 against Bangladesh, 117 not out against England, 104 against Australia and 124 vs. Scotland to become the first batsman to record four consecutive hundreds in ODIs. Ironically, his only failure came in the game that needed him the most, and became his last.



But, in his own words, “Now that I am 37, the joints are creaking. I consider myself lucky. Sometimes, things just fall in place. Everything clicks. No matter how hard you try to find that one thing, it becomes difficult.” This was before that disastrous quarterfinals, but he was just as eloquent after it. “Disappointments are a part of our career, and you just take it on the chin and move on. Retiring from cricket is not about form. I feel that the time is now and it’s right, I’ve tried to give everything I have when I’ve played the game, the game goes on. You can’t hold onto it and people shouldn’t be too sentimental. I think a lot better players and greater players have gone, and the game has gone on and there are new players who take the mantle, and in my case it won’t be any different."



On that note, all I can say is Farewell Sanga, I for one will miss you. 


Monday, 2 March 2015

5 FUNNIEST STUMP MIC QUIPS OF THE 2000s

The stump microphone has been a great boon to cricket – helping umpires hear a knick, providing commentators with things to talk about, documenting evidence in case of conflict. At the same time it has also been a constant source of entertainment for the more discerning cricket viewer (or listener), thanks to the endless babble of wicketkeepers. You haven’t experienced a cricket match completely if you haven’t had your ears accosted by Nayan Mongia’s ‘Aai ga’, Kamran Akmal’s incessant ‘Shabaash, shabaash bhai’ and Kumar Sangakkara’s ‘Niyamaai’. From bowling tips to funny quips, from sledging batsmen to encouraging bowlers, the stump mic has given us memorable one-liners, hilarious sledges and some of the funniest moments on the cricket field. Presenting the five funniest stump mic quips, in no particular order, captured in the 2000s.

         1.      Dhoni reminding Sreesanth about the absence of his girlfriend

Let’s start with India’s Captain Cool, who seems to handle his fielders’ lack of concentration is his typical cool manner. In a Test match against New Zealand, S. Sreesanth appeared to be sloppy in his fielding position, which was promptly noticed by the skipper and his non-existent girlfriend had to bear the brunt of it. MS Dhoni was heard saying "Oye Sree udhar girlfriend nahi hai, idhar aa ja thoda (Hey Sree, your girlfriend isn't there. Move ahead.) Looks like Dhoni sure knows how to keep up the mood of both his team and fans!



         2.       Sangakkara attempting to motivate Pollock

The Australian art of sledging seems to have inspired Sri Lankan wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara to a great extent. In his own words, ‘Sledging, as pioneered by the Australians, is a measured comment designed to get a reaction out of a player. Not to abuse someone or use obscene language.’ Here we see him ‘encouraging’ Shaun Pollock during a 2003 World Cup match, by reminding him of the expectations of the home crowd, with his tongue firmly in cheek, eliciting a smile from the staid Pollock as well. Who would have thought that sledging can be both subtle and sophisticated!



         3.       Flintoff riling Tino Best to give up his wicket

England all rounder Andrew Flintoff is known for a number of things – his Ashes achievements, his alcohol exploits and his habit of constantly talking up to opposition players. Many will remember him as being the source of Yuvraj Singh’s six sixes at the 2007 ICC World Twenty20 Championship, as it was Freddie’s banter that drove Yuvi to pummel the hapless Stuart Broad over. But his exchange with the West Indies’s Tino Best during a Test match had the opposite effect. He kept yelling ‘Watch the windows, Tino,’ pushing the tailender to charge forward against Ashley Giles, getting stumped in the process. Freddie was so delighted by this effort that he couldn’t stop giggling for the next few minutes!



           4.       Kaif spouting statistics at Mohammad Yousuf

     An India-Pakistan match can never be complete without some hearty banter exchanged between the two teams, be it Javed Miandad-Chetan Sharma, Sachin Tendulkar-Abdul Qadir or Gautam Gambhir-Shahid Afridi. This particular incident is funny not because of the sledging, but because of the deadpan-commentator manner in which India’s Mohammad Kaif delivers it. Pakistan’s star batsman Mohammad Yousuf was having a patchy day on crease when Kaif, in the slips, starts discussing Yousof’s match stats in an emphatic fashion. ‘87 ball khel lee, ek bhi chauka nahin maara,’ (he has played 87 deliveries but hasn’t scored a single boundary) he says, gesticulating around, while Yousuf smiles benignly. 



            5.       Dhoni informing Jadeja about the role of fielders

We started with MS Dhoni, so let us end with him. The Indian captain has uttered several gems behind the stumps that can perk up even a boring match, memorable being this advice about teamwork – ‘Vijay apna hi fielder hai use catch lene ke liye hi aage rakha hai, off mein bowl fenk.’ (Vijay is in our team; he is placed in that position to take a catch, keep bowling on the off-stump) and referring to England’s Ian Bell as ‘ghanti’ with calls of ‘Ghanti bajaao iski’ (Ring this bell) and ‘Ghanti ko leke jayenge’ (Let’s take Bell’s wicket). My personal favorite however is Mahi informing Ravindra Jadeja about the role of fielders, in a Test match vs New Zealand. ‘Ye ghoomega toh Pujara ko isiliye idhar rakha hai, voh udhar taali bajaane ke liye nahi hai’ (If the ball turns, I've kept Pujara in the slips for catching only; he's not standing there just to clap). Yes, that’s how ‘cool’ the captain can get when the job isn’t done well!




Monday, 23 February 2015

WHY WAS FEDERER MADE TO APOLOGIZE TO PAKISTAN FANS?

Did you know that in the India vs Pakistan match on 15th February in Australia, India beat their arch-rivals for the 6th consecutive time in World Cup history?
Did you know that during the match tennis ace and India’s most beloved non-Indian sportsperson Roger Federer posted his photo holding an Indian jersey?
Did you know that Federer has been made to apologize for posting that absolutely harmless photograph?
Yes, as ridiculous as it sounds, Federer, the most successful tennis player, a UN charity ambassador and the second most trustworthy person in the world according to one study, apologized!
And we thought that we had no freedom of expression in our country!



Here’s what happened – the above photograph seemed to have hurt the sensibilities of Federer’s Pakistani fans and a Cambridge student, writing for Express Tribune, an English newspaper in Pakistan, claimed he had deleted all his Federer photos and taken a brief opinion poll in which ten out of 12 Pakistanis apparently felt hurt or betrayed. Here’s the original article – http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/26237/dear-federer-why-would-you-choose-to-bleedblue/

Now Federer is the brand ambassador for Nike, the same kit sponsor as the Indian team, and is known to follow cricket to a certain degree, owing to his part South African parentage. Currently in UAE for the Dubai Open, where he is the Defending Champion, this is what he said in connection with the photo in question, “It was more of a Nike thing to be quite honest. It was a Nike campaign they had because I met some of the Indian players and I had just spent some time in India so they presented the shirt to me. I support South Africa, and everybody knows that. The idea wasn't to spark any fire and I'm sorry if it did that.” He further added that cricket following depended on where he was. "When I'm in America definitely not. When I'm in Europe definitely not. But then when I'm in Australia and here (in the UAE) a little bit sometimes. So it really depends where I am in the world which sport I follow."

That’s that then, a sportsperson did what his sponsor asked him to do and when faced with backlash, dutifully apologized. But that’s not it! This issue might either die down in the excitement of the World Cup or another Dubai Open trophy, or become excellent news fodder and be constantly referred to in the subsequent press conferences of both Federer and Team India. While I respect every writer's freedom of speech and fan's freedom of expression, there are a number of things that annoy me about this supposed ‘controversy'. So here’s me using my freedom of expression to say why this is an unjustified overreaction.  Firstly, the language, which is infantile and accusatory, as suggested by the few excerpts below.

  • "But sadly it’s time to say farewell. And yes, this has to do with the picture you posted holding the Indian team shirt, and the hashtag #BleedBlue, overtly signifying loyalty to India.”So? Would you stop supporting a sportsman who has been such an inspiration to you (as suggested by the article) just because he supports a rival team in another sport? Whatever your reasons, cricket is only a sport, you know, not war.
  • “I’m upset that you chose to support India over Pakistan, publicly. This made it seem like your Pakistani fans are expendable (…) This public display of support for India represents a ruthless valuation of your Pakistani fans, based on their economic and brand impact.” He NEVER insinuated that, it was your interpretation of the photograph.
  • “After you posted the picture, I did an informal poll of the dozen biggest Pakistani Roger fans I know. (…) But 10 of the 12 felt seriously hurt or betrayed. Six of those 10 said you had acted “like a sell-out” and have stopped supporting you altogether.”
    Sell-out? Imagine calling a sportsperson of his stature a sell out? That’s rich coming from cricket fans of a country that have so many cricketers actually involved in being a ‘sell-out’
  • “I deleted over a hundred Roger posts from my Facebook wall as well as the photo collection I had painstakingly put together. I also donated my RF cap and my collection of books about you.”
    That says more about you than about him, actually.

Secondly, it seems that he is more offended by the hashtag Bleed Blue than by the image. I hope he realizes that it is the tagline of a marketing campaign and does not really reflect the colour of his actual blood. Technically, Federer is allowed to bleed whatever he wants or not at all, as long as he is doing his duty as a player, ambassador and family man. Plus, it’s a free world and he can support whichever country, in war as much as in sport. It is not like he wore the flag, cheered wildly for India, and desecrated the Pakistan colours. Just because the opinion of your idol doesn't match yours, doesn't make him any less of an icon or invite such scathing criticism on his integrity. Like, I love Iker Casillas but if he wants Pakistan to beat India in match and says so publicly, I won’t be cut up over it! Because I understand that it is a sport, even when played between two countries with bloody history. 

Thirdly, when you are a fan of sport, you are supposed to have some spirit of sportsmanship. This writer seems to lack that even though he has attempted to write a balanced piece giving his thoughts on why he thinks Federer did it. And any fan without sporting spirit shouldn't ideally question that of others, least of all a sporting legend. It just shows that you as a fan, and maybe as sporting nation, are not objective enough. What if Pakistan had won that match? Would you still have outraged over the innocuous image? Or laughed at Nike’s presumptuousness?

I’ll conclude by apologizing to Roger Federer, because shouldn't be the one to apologize. As an Indian, I was proud to see you with our jersey, as a  sports fan, I was happy to see you involved in other sports and as a cricket fan I am sorry that other cricket ‘fans’ treated you such. You are a great player and deserve the respect of every fan, irrespective of who you choose to support in other sports. All the best for your Dubai Open campaign and you can be assured of a billion Indian wishes. As always, Allez Roger, je t’aime!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

WHEN I MET KUMAR SANGAKKARA…

WHEN I MET KUMAR SANGAKKARA…



My favorite cricketer turns another year older today, and I am writing this not just as a birthday wish but as a fan tribute – What happened when his biggest fan (In India) met Kumar Sangakkara! 
NOTE: It’s a straight from the heart fan piece, very fangirly in nature!
I have been attending every international and IPL match he has played in Mumbai for some years now (with the exception of the World Cup finals) and have been trying to get an audience with him. However that never bore fruit till 21st September, 2013. It wasn’t a chance meeting, I won a contest! There was a #MeetSangakkaratSmaaash contest conducted by Smaaash, Mumbai and one of my friends, who goes by the Twitter handle @Arey_Yaar brought it to my notice. I immediately jumped at the chance and started writing…

Following is my written entry to the contest on “Why I should get an opportunity to meet Kumar Sangakkara?”

“ICC Cricketer of the Year, ICC People's choice Player of the year, youngest MCC Spirit of cricket lecturer, one of 2012’s Wisden Cricketer of the Year, former Sri Lankan captain and currently the fourth best Test batsman – Kumar Chokshanada Sangakkara.
I consider myself to be one of Kumar Sangakkara's biggest fans and over the years have watched Sri lanka & Sunrisers Hyderabad matches just to see him bat & even supported him over my home team. There is something special about watching a southpaw bat & Sanga has always been one of the most elegantly entertaining batsman, especially when plays his trademark cover drive. And I am not saying it from a prejudiced fan's perspective, his statistics speak for themselves. Sangakkara has scored over 22,000 runs with the distinction of having the highest batting average at the Number 3 position after the legendary Sir Don Bradman.
His gift of gab has always been as popular as the video of him sledging Shaun Pollock at the World Cup match in 2003 as well as his gracious talk after losing the World Cup in 2011. But what I appreciate the most is the conviction in his words that reflects his passion for his craft and the love for his motherland as seen in the MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture 2011. His goal has always been to protect cricket, which in his civil war-affected country, occupies a place of pride as a “panacea that heals all wounds” in his own words. He has been courageous to bring to light all the overt operations which threatened to tarnish the game he holds beloved and has taken a stand against the forces of power back home. It takes great courage to go against the organization that employs you to bring out the truth.
Personally for me he is among the greatest to have played the game, not just for his on field laurels but also for his off field achievements. He is my greatest sporting role model & I look up to him for his passion, dedication & sheer personality. My love for Sanga has always been a defining part of my identity, finding a way in my Xaviers Graduation Yearbook as well, where I was described as Mrs. Kumar Sangakkara, an epithet the entire Twitterverse already knows me by. From my family & friends to my professors and colleagues, all know me as the girl who loves Sanga more than any Sri Lankan. I have written numerous blogs about him & have been to every game he has played in Mumbai. However I have never got the opportunity to meet him upfront and interact with him, an unrequited dream which I now have the hope of fulfilling thanks to this wonderful contest by Smaaash. I sincerely request you to please give me this chance to meet my cricketing idol and make my biggest dream come true! Thanks!”

Needless to say that mine was the first name on the list of winners!!

On the day, I was waiting with my sister when I first saw him up close, and cheesy as it sounds, I did stop breathing for a moment so he literally took my breath away! And then it was my turn to go interact with him. The first thing I said was ‘Aywobuwan’ (hello in Sinhalese, thanks to my favorite Sri lankan girl @Yoshitha_k ) which got an appreciative ‘Nice!’ from him. He then asked if I was from Mumbai and what did I do? Small talk and an autograph later, I asked him something I’ve always wanted to know - does he really read Oscar Wilde & quote his Irish wit to people (a sly reference to his exchange with Kallis) To which he replied, “Yes of course, I do enjoy reading Oscar Wilde” Unfortunately by then it was time for the next person to meet him so I had to say goodbye. But not before he said it was a pleasure to meet me!

Although it was just a few minutes of interaction, it was a huge deal! All my adult life as a cricket fan I have spoken of little else other than meeting Kumar Sangakkara - my most favorite cricketer, my idol & my unabashed cricketing crush! Everyone has admired, idolized & been obsessed with a celebrity at some point, but when you are among the chosen few who get to not only meet but also interact with your idol & crush, it reminds you of how blessed & lucky you are! Thanks to everyone who believed that I deserved to & would meet Sanga. When I look back, I realize I have been extremely fortunate to meet both my cricketing loves (Binga & Sanga). 21st September, 2013 – indeed a day to remember…. Till I meet Sangakkara again!

Monday, 22 July 2013

THE YEAR THAT WAS: Where do we go from here, Federer?

THE YEAR THAT WAS: Where do we go from here, Federer?



The journey from July 2012 to July 2013, more specifically from Wimbledon 2012 to Wimbledon 2013, has been an especially unusual, unimaginable and an insane one to say the least, for Roger Federer. In one sentence, it has been a journey from Ecstasy to Agony. A year back, he was on top of the world with a record-equalling seventh Wimbledon Trophy, the record-breaking ATP World No. 1 Ranking and a shot at the record-shattering 300 weeks as No. 1. A year later, it would only be fair to say that the situation is down in the dumps, with an unprecedented second-round defeat, slipping down to World No. 5 for the first time in eons and an unceremonious end to a 10-year Grand Slam streak. Topsy-turvy is an understatement for the year that was.

The questions begs itself; how on God’s good, green, grassed earth did we get here? How did All England Tennis Championship’s greatest protégé, Centre Court’s precious ward, SW 19 grass court’s invincible warrior clad in pristine white reach a situation like this? Wimbledon is his first Grand Slam title, a Trophy he has lifted seven times, five of those back-to-back, and a tournament where he has failed to make the finals only twice before. Since his first taste of success in 2003, Federer’s relationship with the grass courts at SW 19 has been nothing short of a love affair with exactly Three plot twists – 2008, 2010 (Both Nadal) and 2011 (Djokovic). 2012 was a fairytale, where Federer recaptured all his lost and former glory vanquishing all his foes with a performance worthy of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club’ crown prince. Then what happened in 2013? How did the Defending Champion lose and (adding insult to injury) in the second round to a relatively unknown player? And how did he not recover from it but fell further backward losing to a qualifier, Federico Delbonis in the semis of his next outing, Hamburg?

In hindsight, the beginning of the end probably began on the same day he won his seventh Wimbledon crown. Ever since that fateful day, Federer has never been the same again. He won merely two trophies after that, only one of which has come in six months of 2013.

Following is Federer’s Player Activity since Wimbledon 2012 –

2012          
Tournament Surface Round  Result Opponent Score
London Olympics Grass Finals Lost Andy Murray 2-6, 1-6, 4-6
Cincinnati Hard Finals Won Novak Djokovic  6-0, 7-6(7)
US Open Hard Quarterfinals Lost Tomas Berdych  6-7(1), 4-6, 6-3, 3-6
Shanghai Hard Semifinals Lost Andy Murray 4-6, 4-6
Basel Hard Finals Lost Juan Martin Del Potro  6-7(6), 5-7
ATP Finals Hard Finals Lost Novak Djokovic  6-7(6), 5-7
2013          
Tournament Surface Round  Result Opponent Score
Australian Open Hard Semifinals Lost Andy Murray 4-6, 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-6(2), 2-6
Rotterdam Hard Quarterfinals Lost Julien Benneteau 3-6, 5-7
Dubai Hard Semifinals Lost Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-7(8), 4-6
Indian Wells Hard Quarterfinals Lost Rafael Nadal 4-6, 2-6
Madrid Clay Third Round Lost Kei Nishikori 4-6, 6-1, 2-6
Rome Clay Finals Lost Rafael Nadal 1-6, 3-6
French Open Clay Quarterfinals Lost Jo-Wilfred Tsonga 5-7, 3-6, 3-6
Halle Grass Finals Won Mikhail Youzhny 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4
Wimbledon Grass Second Round Lost Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/5), 7-5, 7-6 (7/5)
Hamburg Clay Semifinals Lost Federico Delbonis 6-7(7), 6-7(4)


The same question again? How did we come here in just under a year? From the soaring heights of a Grand Slam victory to a depths of defeat in an ATP 500 event? The only possible explanation I see, and I say this with a heart as heavy as Thor’s hammer, is that that maybe, finally, we have come to a point where he simply isn’t the best tennis player on the tour at present.  Greatest of all Times? Yes, surely. Greatest in 2013? Not quite.

The biggest reason for this is the most natural of all – age. Federer is days away from 32 years of age. (August 8th is his birthday) Rafael Nadal is 27, Novak Djokovic is 26 as is Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych and Richard Gasquet are both 27, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Stanislas Wawrinka are both 28 and Juan Martin Del Potro is only 24. Of the current Top 10, David Ferrer is the only player above 30 years of age. (Of these, only Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Del Potro have won a Grand Slam)

The sport of tennis has evolved tremendously in the past few years, it is not just textbook technique & grace that can get you through, speed, power & stamina are more crucial than ever now. The recent Wimbledon finals bearing testimony to the fact, where two pairs of 26-year old legs were tired by the time the marathon 4+ hours finals were done. It is akin to the backhand shot – the classic one-handed backhand becomes a rarity as the more potent two-handed backhand gains importance. Similarly gone are the times where Federer’s adroitness was the deciding factor in matches, it is agility & athleticism that is foremost to the craft today, something that a 31-year old would difficult to adapt to at this stage of his career.

 That being said, it would be most unwise to write Federer off. This is the man who turned the tide in tennis in the 2000s by the sheer force of the number of his achievements, taking over every milestone there was, to be considered greater than McEnroe, Sampras, Laver, Emerson, Agassi. This is the man who has spend 300 weeks as the World No. 1 with 17 Grand Slams and 77 ATP Titles, an Olympic Gold & Silver, but most importantly an unmatched passion & precision for tennis.


So where do we go from here? While Roger Federer goes to play the Crédit Agricole Suisse Open, Gstaad, we Federer fans have already skipped ahead to the US Open. In the hope & faith that we will be redeemed in the finals Grand Slam of the year. Personally, I’d be gladly vindicated if Roger Federer bounces back from the terrible year that was to win another title (Note, I didn’t say, even though I wish, a Slam)  even if it is for one last time, and prove to the world, once again, that he is indeed the GOAT. I do not have enough optimism to sustain my fangirlism, but I have hope. Hope that Roger Federer will once again redefine renaissance and his resurgence will inspire the Federer family once again. We cannot know what the future holds, except the fact that Roger Federer is NOT planning to hang up his boots just as yet. As long as he plays, I will watch him & witness the poetic beauty of tennis, irrespective of victory or defeat. . It is hard being a Federer fan in 2013, but then, nothing easy is worth it!