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!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

IPL & THE IMAGE OF WOMEN REPORTERS IN SPORT


IPL & THE IMAGE OF WOMEN REPORTERS IN SPORT


Indian Premier League 2013 is here! The sixth edition of the unprecedentedly popular Indian domestic T20 league is being watched and followed by millions. For the next 2 months, our TV screens, desktops, timelines etc. will be flooded with information about the IPL. In short, love it or hate it, you can’t ignore it. And if there is IPL, there will be Extraaa Innings on Sony Max and if there is Extraaa Innings on Sony Max, there will be pretty looking females in the studio or stadium, dressed to the nines, armed with microphones, asking random, often clueless, questions to cricketers with no apparent purpose or meaning.

 A lot has been said, written, posted, tweeted about the two female reporters on Extraaa Innings this IPL - Karishma Kotak a contestant on the sad-excuse-for-reality-television-show Bigg Boss 6 and former Miss India International Rochelle Maria Rao, winner-of-a-beauty-pageant-known-for-its- imprudence. It is important to note here that I have nothing against these ladies. In fact I am slightly envious of the fact that they get the opportunity to roam around stadiums, talking to cricketers. My problem is with the ideology behind the recruitment of these ladies and what they stand for – that female sport reporters do not/ are not supposed to understand sport, they are merely supposed to be beautiful showpieces to decorate the screen for the watching audience.

This concept is nothing new or not restricted to the male psyche, it appears to be a universally established fact that physically attractive ladies with little or no knowledge about the game can be and make acceptable sport presenters and that is what annoys me the most. It is not a mindset, it has become an unsaid canon, and I have personally experienced such incidents in my short stint in this field.  In my final year of journalism studies I was asked by one of my professors, a senior reporter with a leading news channel, which beat I was interested in. I said sport and the immediate response was ‘Oh you’ll do well in the sports beat, you biggest advantage is that you are a woman’.  Recently I did an interview with Rohit Sharma and was delighted when he spoke pleasantly, politely and in depth. I was later told that this was due to the fact that I’m a woman and that he tends to be curt with male reporters. I have worked with Ravi Shastri for some time and he was always more courteous and compliant with me than with my male colleague.

What these incidents highlight is that yes, being a lady does have its perks in the field of sports reporting, and honestly, I am quite flattered to be treated like one in whatever interactions I have had with cricketers so far. But there is a huge, wide, deep difference in being a lady sports reporter and being a beautiful-but-brainless lady sports reporter. If Sony Max and Extraaa Innings want glamorously dressed women in their show to attract eyeballs, they can easily get intelligent and good-looking female presenters, such as former cricketers like Isa Guha, Anjum Chopra, Melanie Jones and Lisa Sthalekar. If that is too much, then established sports reporters from news channels or even normal ladies who understand cricket (go on Twitter, you will find many!) would do. But no, they insist on having ‘models’ with no knowledge to present cricket. In the words of Neeraj Vyas, business head, Max, “The focus is on fun and entertainment and not on serious cricket. The girls are not chosen for their knowledge of cricket. Give them some time, they will get better. The girls have to change every year to get in younger and fresher faces” As a female who follows cricket, as a female sports writer, heck even as a female, this comment is absolutely insulting!! If the girls are “not chosen for their knowledge of cricket” then on what basis are they chosen? On how presentable they look against the green backdrop of a stadium or on how well they can hold a mic or how tight can their dress get without splitting?

Let’s have a look at some of the inanely absurd things Miss Kotak and Miss Rao have uttered {complied on the basis of the tweets I've received, I don’t watch much of Extraa Innings I admit} on camera while talking to cricketers (Again I repeat, I have nothing against the ladies in question, it’s not their fault that they do not know the difference between spinner and seamer)

  1. Daniel Vettori was asked how important it is to vary pace being a 'quick bowler' Something similar happened last year when Dale Steyn was asked how difficult it is to spin the ball in Indian conditions. [SERIOUSLY?!?! Max should at least teach them what is to ‘spin’ and ‘seam’ before giving them the mic!]
  2. Dwayne Smith was asked if he’s done a lot of shopping [In the middle of a game?? ]
  3. Karun Chandhok was asked about the noise levels at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. Here is his tweet - @karunchandhok Interviewer at #IPL match to me yesterday “Have you ever heard sound like this at a sporting event ?”….Clearly never been to a car race!
  4.  Andrew McDonald was asked who was taller, Gayle or him
  5. Alan Donald, sitting in the Pune Warriors India dug-out in their blue colors, was referred as the Sunrisers Hyderabad coach. [Poor Waqar Younis, always denied credit]
  6. I’ve lost the number of times KKR has been called KRK by them [a certain Deshdrohi will be pleased to be called upon by such pretty ladies]
These are just a few incidents in the first 10 days of the tournament. Imagine the list I’ll be able to compile by the end of May! (By when both the ladies in question would have got the desired offers from Bollywood and advertisers)

My point here is simple – I am a lady who not only follows cricket, but aims to work in the field of sports journalism. And instances such as these IPL hosts are detrimental to my prospects. Mr. Vyas clearly mentioned that they need glam models with no knowledge of cricket for the entertainment factor. But in the process he is negatively affecting the image of women sports presenters. In this era of gender equality, where women are probably doing better than men in many sectors, IPL is, as my friend at Alternative Cricket puts it, setting feminism back to a prehistoric age. They could have used Indian female cricketers and subtly promoted them and their game. There is no dearth of cricket playing or following women in India and many of them are pretty as well. If the aim is to have beautiful, eye-pleasing women, then it can be achieved without stereotyping sports loving women and insulting the intelligence of the wider cricket-watching population.

P.S. This article is inspired by Anjali Doshi @anjaliadoshi on Wisden India, but not a replication. Thanks to Anjali for a great idea!

P.P.S I would appreciate your feedback - thoughts, comments, suggestions, even accusations, on this piece in order to get a broader, interactive idea on the topic. Do share your views in the comments section. Thanks!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

YOU MADE ME A FAN, RAFA


YOU MADE ME A FAN, RAFA




Anybody who knows me, even remotely, follows me on Twitter or reads my blog will know this – I am a FEDERER FANGIRL. Roger Federer is the ultimate sportsperson for me, to the point of irrational insanity. So obviously I tend to not like the guys who defeat him often... That is till this Sunday. Till last week, I could never be accused of being a fan of Rafael Nadal. I’m not even sure if I liked him very much. Respected, yes but never admired. But Sunday changed that once and for all. After watching him life the BNP Paribas Open Trophy at Indian Wells after all that has happened in the last seven months, there is only one thing I can say – You made me a fan, Rafa.

Let’s back up a bit and run through what exactly happened to Nadal in the last few months. He won his obligatory French Open title in June and moved on to Wimbledon where in the second round, he was faced with a shock exit after losing to 100th ranked Czech Lukas Rosol in what was probably one of the biggest upset in Grand Slam history. Post that Nadal promptly withdrew from the London Olympics with a recurring knee injury, a forced hiatus that continued till the end of the year missing the US Open and the ATP World Tour Finals. His year-end ranking plummeted to No. 4 and talks were rife that Nadal will never be able to be tennis player that he was. That should have been the beginning of the end and that’s what everybody thought, maybe even Uncle Toni, but not Rafa.

2013 came and things just got worse with him pulling out of the Australian Open with a stomach infection and dropping out of the top 4. He finally made his much awaited comeback to tennis in February at the Chile Open on his favoured surface, clay. Unfortunately for him, once again he was stunned, this time by World No. 73 Horacio Zeballos who went on to win the tournament. Undeterred, Nadal continued his South American sojourn, his first time since 2005, to claim the clay court titles in Brazil and Mexico. But the real test to reiterate his comeback would be playing on hard courts against top ranked players, a test he passed in flying colours. Back on American hard courts after a year, Nadal started at Indian Wells seeded at No. 5 and was faced with huge obstacles in the form of Roger Federer (a match I would like to never, ever talk about)  Tomas Berdych (who I’m glad was beaten bad) and Juan Martin del Potro (who took care of Djokovic and Murray)

There is only one word I can use to describe Rafael Nadal’s campaign at Indian Wells – Unbelievable. This man, who is perennially in excruciating pain thanks to a knee defect since childhood, who was out with injury for 7 months, lost major matches to virtually unknown players and has a nemesis in hard court tournaments, defied all the odds, defeated the top players who beat other top players and went on to life the BNP Paribas Open Trophy, his 600thmatch win and a record 22nd career ATP Tour Masters 1000 title. As I said, UNBELIEVABLE.

Now a lot of tennis analysts and experts believe that the BNP Paribas Open is the fifth Major, after the four Grand Slams. If there is any truth in that, then Rafael Nadal may might as have won his 12th Grand Slam title already, on a surface he is least fond of. That in itself is a big feat, for a guy who was supposed to have seen the writing on the wall back in July.  Honestly, I am really happy & proud that Rafael Nadal won the Indian Wells title. In sport, superhuman effort when down and out is what counts and makes a difference! Before his comeback & knee injury, I couldn't be accused of liking him. But after seeing him struggle & bounce back in the last on year, it is safe to say, that I have been forced to convert and become a grudging admirer a fan!

Here are some Nadal quotes which I found to reflect the kind of person he really is and endeared me even more to me, thereby converting  me –

  1. "Seriously, it's impossible to have better comeback, no?"
  2. "That's makes emotional week for me, very important victory for me, winning against the best players of the world on a surface that is good for them."
  3. “When you have one comeback like I’m having, you remember all the low things, lower moments that you had during this seven months, doubts and all these things. So beating three Top 10 players and winning a title like this is just something unbelievable for me. Very, very happy and very emotional.”




P.S. THIS piece is no way means my love for Roger Federer has diminished an iota. He is the greatest player of all times and the sportsperson I love the most, but not at the cost of Nadal. Just saying :) 

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

MS DHONI: CHANGE THE GAME


MS DHONI: CHANGE THE GAME

The abominable Pepsi ad poster I was talking about


MS Dhoni is a lot of things. He is a two-time World Cup winning captain, he is India’s most successful captain-batsman, he is the captain with the most terrible overseas Test record, he is the man who changed the face of Indian cricket. But amidst it all, he is the most influential Indian cricketer of modern times. Influential, not just as the captain of the Indian team, but also as one of India’s foremost batsman. One strong performance from his bat can change the game (No reference to the abominable Pepsi campaign by the same name)

We have seen this game-changing batting ability from him in spades whenever he has played limited overs cricket, in blue or yellow or in any other color; but it has been rarely seen in the Test whites. Of the 74 Tests he has played in his 7 and ¼ years career, he has scored 4107 runs at an average of almost 40 with a strike rate of almost 60 batting from No. 3 to No. 8 with 6 centuries and 28 half-centuries, receiving the Man of the Match award only twice. (Incidentally both against Australia) While these numbers are not disgraceful for a wicketkeeper-batsman coming at No. 7 in a team that boasts (or boasted) of extraordinary batting stalwarts, they are a bit anti-climatic for a player like Dhoni. He has never been able to stamp his authority on the 5-day game as he has in the shorter formats of the game. His overseas record is flaky and has never scored a century outside the sub-continent and of his 6 centuries, none has come in losses. In most cases, an average Indian fan does not even expect much when Dhoni comes in to bat in a Test, and in recent times he had become more of a tail-ender than R Ashwin. Why am I spouting statistics and highlighting Dhoni’s Test defects you ask? Because this just goes on to show how crucial, how utterly important Dhoni’s double ton against Australia in the Chennai Test was.

MS Dhoni scored 224 runs from 265 balls with 24 fours and 6 sixes at a strike rate of 84 vs Australia in the first Test at Chennai.

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni scored 224 runs from 265 balls with 24 fours and 6 sixes at a strike rate of 84. Statistically, this was his best Test innings, beating his previous best of 144 vs West Indies at the Eden Gardens in 2011. But qualitatively and influentially, this was his THE BEST Test innings. There are a many reasons for this – it was against Australia, it came on the back of dreadful Test series loss against England, it gave India a sizeable lead and it was at an amazing strike rate and it was the final clincher for India’s victory. He became only the second Indian batsman (after Sehwag of course) to score 200 runs in one day, 100 of which came in a single session! (Here let’s observe a moment of silence for Nathan Lyon) I have followed MS Dhoni’s career from the start and I have never seen him bat like this is a Test match. I was half expecting him to strip of his Test whites and reveal his yellow jersey underneath! Maybe because he was the playing at his favourite ground or maybe he got inspired by his ‘Oh Yes Abhi’ ad, Dhoni’s 224 against Australia at Chennai ‘changed the game’

On a serious note, Dhoni has set the tone for the rest of the series. A one-match lead counts for not much in a Test series unless you can carry forward the momentum, as we saw against England. Dhoni and his troops have their task cut out at Hyderabad, bat big, spin them out and take an unassailable 2-0 lead. Expecting the Border-Gavaskar Trophy to be a one-sided series is too much and Australia will be raring to go and get even. But Dhoni’s knock has given India the much needed momentum early in the series. Over to Hyderabad! 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

FLASHBACK: BORDER-GAVASKAR TROPHY


FLASHBACK: BORDER-GAVASKAR TROPHY




Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Perhaps no other trophy or tournament has shaped the way of Indian cricket as it is today than this singular series played against a singular opponent. The 10 India vs Australia Test series so far since the initiation of this Trophy have provided us with something more than just cricket - it has given us hope, elation, anger, depression, and above all memories that have been unendingly etched in our heads and history.

It is not a historic battle like the Ashes. It is not a neighbourly fight like the India-Pakistan or Australia- New Zealand series. It is not a clash for supremacy like India-England. But the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is no less a clash of the titans. The India-Australia rivalry occupies a special place in cricket. Ever since India halted Australia cavalry charge in 2001, India has become Australia’s biggest nemesis and India was the Final Frontier the Baggy Greens were desperate to capture. Of course they managed to finally win a Test series on Indian soil in 2004 under Adam Gilchrist. Australians may have the Ashes as the most testing Test series but as an Indian, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy has always been the pinnacle of Test achievement.

Ever since the Border-Gavaskar Trophy came into existence in 1996, India and Australia have played each other ten times, in India and thrice in Australia. Of these, India has won five series and Australia have won three.  Of course all these wins have come on Indian soil, the three times that India played in Australia, they were whitewashed, drew and lost.

With the first India vs Australia Test starting in Chennai, let’s have a Border-Gavaskar Trophy Flashback.

1996 – The debut of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was also the debut of Sachin Tendulkar as captain with a one-off Test played at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi from the 10th to 13th October with India cruising to victory in 4 days. Brad Hogg and David Johnson (Remember him? Anyone?) made their debut but the show stealer was, wait-for-it, Nayan Mongia! Australia, having elected to bat, were bundled out for 182 with a Kumble 4-fer with contributions from Sunil Joshi and Aashish Kapoor. Opener Mongia then scored a century which was the highest score of the match. India had to chase a meagre 56 and Tendulkar had the precious trophy.

1998 – The next time Australia toured India was in 1998 and vouched for a thrilling 3-Test series that India won 2-1. This series will probably be best remember for the epic duel between Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne – among the best batsmen and bowlers of that time. It was after this series that Warne famously claimed that SRT starred in his nightmares. Australia suffered heavy losses in the first 2 Tests at Chennai and Kolkata, sealing the fate of the series, but fought back admirably in the third to restore some pride. Yet the Final Frontier remained unconquered for Waugh & boys while his Indian counterpart Mohd. Azharuddin enjoyed a fruitful series.  Sachin Tendulkar was named Player of the Series with for 446 runs in 3 matches and drew his strongest comparisons with Sir Don Bradman.

1999-2000 – This was the first year that the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was held on Australian soil and the result, as many expected, was a 3-0 whitewash. The only silver lining for India was then Captain Sachin Tendulkar being named Player of the Series. In hindsight, another, although hitherto unknown, silver lining was the initiation of the man who would go on to torment Aussies for more than a decade. VV Laxman scored a sublime century at the SCG opening the batting and thereby started his love affair with Australia and the Sydney Cricket Ground. But nothing could prevent massive losses for India, with Australia playing like Champions. Debutante Brett lee tore through Indian order on Boxing Day at MCG, Glen McGrath troubled with his razor sharp line and length and finished with 18 wickets, Ricky Ponting began his own affair with Indian bowlers with an average of 125. On the back of the fixing scandal, entering the new millennium with new player things could not have been worse for Indian cricket.

2001 – The Border-Gavaskar Trophy was back on Indian soil and Australia faced a new look Indian side. Under new captain Sourav Ganguly, in the absence of spearhead Anil Kumble and with a host of new faces, India looked the weaker side against a team on the brink of a World Record consecutive Test victories. Australia won the first Test at Mumbai by a comfortable margin of 10 wickets and were on a 16 match undefeated streak when the 2001 Kolkata Test began. Australia won the toss and elected to bat putting on 445 runs on board and then bundled out India for 171, enforcing follow on.  (Here I have to take a moment and thank Steve Waugh, sincerely Tugga you saved our country, thank you!) And the rest is history, and a pile of numbers – VVS Laxman - 281, Rahul Dravid - 180, Harbhajan Singh - 13, Indian victory - 171, the tears of joy priceless! India won the third Test at Chennai by 2 wickets thanks to a brilliant century by Tendulkar and an insane 15 wickets by Harbhajan, also the Player of the Series. India won the series 2-1 and Indian cricket was reborn.

2003-2004 – This time a new look Team India went to Australia under talismanic skipper Sourav Ganguly and Coach John Wright. Everybody believed that it was the best chance India had to defeat the Aussies at home. India came close with some fantastic cricket in the first Test at Brisbane studded with a Ganguly century and a Zaheer Khan fifer (Which was his last game, as his mistress, injury, visited him) but that Test ended in a draw. India then went on to register a historic 4-wicket win in the second Test at Adelaide with Rahul Dravid’s 233 (mingled with a million tears) and a six-wicket haul by Ajit Agarkar. But Australia won the next Test at Melbourne with comprehensive 9-wickets making the last Test at Sydney the decider. Unfortunately for India, Aussies fought out a draw in Skipper Waugh’s last Test despite a wonderful batting performance by India (and a Laxman century, obviously!) posting a target of over 700. Rahul Dravid was adjudged the Man of the Series for his fabulous batting performance. The series saw some of India’s best performances as a team in Test cricket ever and it was indeed disappointing to see it end in a draw.

2004 – This is the series, dubbed the Final Frontier series, which I am most likely to forget. (In fact I’m pretty sure, I had managed to repress it in some deep, dark corner of my brain before I started writing this!) Australia came under stand-in captain Adam Gilchrist for a 4 Test series which was also Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath's last tour of India. The first Test at Bangalore saw debutant Michael Clarke start his life-long -tormenting-India campaign with a splendid century which gave the visitors a comprehensive win. The second Test at Chennai was a rain affected draw and all eyes shifted to the next at Nagpur which proved to be the undoing of India. A ‘alleged’ green-top-resultant-injury for skipper Ganguly meant Dravid was the unfortunate one to have captained the historic match when Australia finally conquered their Final Frontier after 35 years winning a Test series in India. A stunning performance by Damien Martyn and India’s collapse against pacers on a bouncy top meant that there was only pride to play for in Mumbai. Ponting returned and Indian ‘authorities’ retaliated by preparing a crumbling turner which ended a low-scoring match in 3 days. (Which I am, incidentally, still mad about as I had passes for only day 4 & 5!!) The proof of the pitch is that even Michael Clarke extracted 6 Indian wickets! Damien Martyn was named Player of the Series, and an unrelated Fun fact – Gautam Gambhir made his debut here!

2007-2008 – A lot of water (and tears) had passes under the proverbial bridge when India went Down Under with a new captain at the helm, the indomitable Anil Kumble, for a series that is sadly remembered more for controversy than cricket. India lost that series 2-1 with Brett Lee being awarded the Man of the Series for his 24 wickets. Australia won the first Test at Melbourne comfortably by 337 runs with India getting bowled out under 200 twice. The second Test at Sydney also went to Australia by 122 runs who took an unassailable lead. However this Test was marred by the ugly Monkeygate Scandal and even worse, the horrendous umpiring errors. As Kumble promised, India managed to wipe out the negativity and win the third Test at Perth by 72 runs, a truly terrific performance at the bouncy WACA.  The fourth Test at Adelaide petered down to a draw. Australia may have regained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, but this series lost them a lot of respect.

2008 – The 2008 India vs Australia series will be remembered for a lot of things aside from the 4 Tests. Two Indian legends played their last Test in this series (almost 5 years have passed and we still haven’t found their ideal replacements, FYI) The first Test at Bangalore, where Zaheer Kahn grabbed both a fifer and a fifty, was drawn. India claimed a comprehensive victory in the next Test at Mohali with a power-packed performance by MD Dhoni in both innings. It was a record-breaking  match for Sachin Tendulkar who became the highest run scorer in Test match history surpassing record of 11,957 runs marks and on the way becoming the first man to score 12000 runs in Test cricket history as well as for Sourav Ganguly who crossed 7000 runs in Test cricket on the way to scoring his last century in Test cricket. The third Test at Delhi was an emotional one as captain Anil Kumble announced his retirement after suffering from a finger injury. Despite double tons from Laxman and Gambhir, the match ended in a draw. The fourth Test at Nagpur was Sourav Ganguly’s swan song (apt huh, considering what happened there 4 years back) and India gave him a fitting farewell with a 172 run victory reclaiming Dada’s most beloved piece of silverware - the Border-Gavaskar Trophy! Ishant Sharma was named Man of the Series (Yes an Indian seamer in sub-continent conditions!)

2010 – Back again in India, this 2 Test series was special for one reason – India actually whitewashed Australia in a Test series! The first Test was at Mohali, one that would go down in the history books as being the most topsy-turvy India vs Australia Test ever! Here is how it went – Aus make 428 in first innings, India reply with 405, bowlers restrict Australia to 192 in second innings, India need 216 to win and Day 4 ends on 55/4, Aussies strike early & hard on day 5, Tendulkar, Zaheer & Dhoni gone leaving a back spasm-ed, in-pain VVS Laxman with the tail. Australia sniffed victory when India needed 92 runs to win with just 2 wickets remaining at Lunch, but cometh the Aussies, cometh the Laxman! With runner Raina, tail-ender Ishant and under Laxman’s guidance, India inched closer to the target when tragedy struck in form of Ishant’s wicket at 190. Ojha was the last man in and more drama ensued with an umpiring gaffe, overthrows and scampering runs. In the end, India won by 1 wicket, Laxman top scored with a precious 73 and Zaheer Khan received the Man of the match. In words borrowed from Ravi Shastri, all 3 visits were possible till the last ball was bowled, it did go down to the wire! India won the second Test a Bangalore with 7 wickets, completed the whitewash and retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Tendulkar was named Player of the Series and another Fun fact, Cheteshwar Pujara made his debut in the Bangalore Test, with his half-century helping in victory.

2011-2012 – The less I think about this the better. Before the start of the last the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia, I wrote ‘Why this is India’s bets chance towin a Test in Australia’ and I don’t think I have ever been so wrong in my entire life! India were whiplashed and whitewashed 4-0, the worst overseas Test series ever without a single silver lining (Unless you count Zaheer Khan playing an entire Test series without getting injured as one)!  Oh wait, I forgot Virat Kohli’s century at Adelaide, but it was a placebo. The very trophy that made Indian cricket, destroyed it. The Border-Gavaskar Trophy gave birth to the new, fearless Indian team 10 years ago and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy killed it. Innings defeat, not crossing even 300 runs, lone Indian ton, not being able to bowl out Australia even once... the agony piled on from Melbourne, Sydney, Perth to Adelaide.  New captain and Player of the Series Michael Clarke ripped apart a hapless India and after a disastrous performance, Dravid and Laxman retired. Indian cricket will never be the same again.

These were the 10 Border-Gavaskar Trophy series held so far. With the 11th coming up, here is hoping that this new look India does what they did back in 2001, a new icon is born and Indian fans get back their hope faith.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

2012 ENDED THE WORLD (AS I KNOW IT)


2012 ENDED THE WORLD (AS I KNOW IT)



The world did not end in 2012, the Mayans were proved wrong. But 2012 was the end of the world as I know it.  Cricket is my passion, the most defining part of my identity and I have watched cricket for quite some years now, and never have I felt so cheated, so disheartened and so upset at the end of a calendar year as I have felt in 2012. All this for one reason, the big R word – RETIREMENT.

2012 has ended the careers of more cricketers I like than the entire last decade!
Rahul Dravid. Brett Lee. VVS Laxman. Mark Boucher. Andrew Strauss. Ricky Ponting. Sachin Tendulkar. Mike Hussey.
Cricket will never again be the same of me!

Picture this - when Australia come to their long won Final Frontier, India, in 203 for the away stage of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy (something they so convincingly hold) and when the first wicket falls for either team, Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting WON’T walk in. There will be no VVS Laxman to guide the tail and team home when we falter. Oh and no Mr. Cricket taking on Indian spinners like he eats them for breakfast.
As for all the ODIs against Pakistan and England and Sri Lanka (this comes by default) there will be another opener walking out with Virender Sehwag, no biggie, it happens all the time. But also there will be no wait for the 50th century, no asking ‘Sachin out hua kya, kitna banaya?’ not even ‘India doesn’t win when he scores a century’ because ODI cricket has lost its best exponent. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that SRT will no longer walk out in the Indian Blues ever again.

I have never seen Sachin Tendulkar bat in an ODI match live, even though I’ve seen him bat so many times. Come to think of it, I will never get to see Brett Lee bowl full throttle again, unless I go see him in KKR’s Purple. Neither have I seen the greatest Test wicket-keeper batsmen, mark Boucher, as his career was cut short by a series, when he was hot on the eye in a practice game in England and lost full visibility. And my favorite, most respected, Ashes-winning captain Andrew Strauss, no way to watch him play, again!
All this makes me realize how much cricket lost this year has. And it’s hard to say goodbye. To think that we might not be able to watch the Rahul Dravid cover drive, the Ricky Ponting Pull and Hook, the Sachin Tendulkar Straight Drive, the Brett Lee Yorker, in 2013 is enough to get me lamenting that 2012 is indeed the end of an era, an era of cricket legends, especially in Indian cricket.

As an Indian fan, I started the year on a hope and prayer that the New Year’s Test at Sydney brings back some semblance of teeth to Indian test cricket. As an Indian fan, I end the year on a hope and prayer for the same. As a cricket fan, I end the year with the lament that 2012 has left cricket poorer.