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.

Monday, 3 December 2012

THANKS FOR THE ENTERTAINMENT, PUNTER


THANKS FOR THE ENTERTAINMENT, PUNTER

The Scoreboard says it right- Thanks Ricky!


After all the accolades and tributes that have flown in before, during and since the Perth Test when he ended a phenomenal cricket career, I have a confession to make.

I have never liked Ricky Ponting.

As a kid who watched the 2003 World Cup Finals with excessive optimism and prayers, it is hard to like him. His 140 not out, which demolished India’s hopes of winning the Trophy, was probably one of the best ODI innings played by an Australian; but I still disliked him. The 2004 Border-Gavaskar Trophy did not endear him any further as his gem of an innings in Melbourne took the game away. I was wickedly delighted when Ponting became the first captain since Allan Border to lose the Ashes in 2005. But then came 2007 and he also became the first captain in 86 years to clean sweep the Ashes, beating England 5-0 at home, in addition to being the Man of the Series. My dislike deepened. In 2006 he led Australia to a Champions Trophy victory (and pushed Sharad Pawar off the podium) I disliked him to the core. His attitude as Australian captain in the controversial 2008 India vs Australia Test series was enough for any Indian to start hating him. The subsequent Ashes defeats and unsuccessful tours to New Zealand and India, A World Cup defeat (where he did his best albeit) and it looked like the Ponting era was gone. He gave up captaincy and instead of going down, came up even more. He became the first cricketer to be part of 100 Test match wins at Galle & tormented India with a century at Sydney and a double at Adelaide. How could any Indian cricket fan like him!

However, the more my dislike grew, the more I felt another emotion toward Mr. Ricky Thomas Ponting – an emotion like 'grudging admiration'. The sheer power and proficiency of his game forcibly turned me from a grudge-keeper to a grudging admirer. But Ponting is known to have that effect on people. How can a cricket fan not like a batsman who can turn any delivery into a boundary with that trademark pull and hook? How can you not like watching him piling on the runs with his laidback smile? How can you not like his astute brains as skipper, be it field placements or sledging the opposition? The words obnoxious, stubborn, disagreeable, ruthless are all compliments to the man. And after playing 375 ODI matches and scoring 13,704 runs at average of 42.03 with 30 centuries and 82 half-centuries and after playing in five World Cups, winning three of those back-to-back and two of those as captain; And after 167 Tests scoring 13366 runs at an average of 52.21 with 41 centuries and 62 half-centuries and after winning Ashes 5-0, holding on to the ICC Test Mace for the longest time and having his name on pretty much every trophy there is, Ponting can afford to be obnoxious, stubborn, disagreeable, ruthless and anything else he wishes to be.

And therein lies the greatness of Ponting. His arrogance is a crown he wears on a high head, he is proud of his stubbornness because that has what has got him his plus 25,000 runs and every possible Trophy there is to be won as captain. He no longer is a part of the international cricket anymore, but such is his legacy that no other mortal could ever come close. Captain of the most successful, the most dominant side in world cricket for a decade with every possible series, tournament and trophy in his name, as a batsman, second only to Sachin Tendulkar in numbers and as a leader second to none in his ruthless, aggressive, effective style. Ponting doesn't ask to be loved, or even liked, he merely demands grudging admiration. As he walks in to the sunset, all I can say is - Thanks for the entertainment, Punter!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

IT'S ALWAYS THRILLING IN MUMBAI!




Choice of game
There is no reason not to go for an India vs England Test, even more so when the match is at Wankhede, a ground where India vs England has an unforgettable history. Who can forget the match back in 2006 where Shaun Udal became unlikely hero and India folded for 100 all-out. And this match has been just as topsy-turvy as the one 6 years back where

Key Performer
KP (Kevin Pietersen) has always been the KP (Key Performer) for England and this was no different as he played one of the best innings by an Englishman on Indian soil. His fluent 186 off 233 with 20 fours and 4 sixes, two of which were absolute crackers, was the highlight of the day. It did not matter if you were English or Indian, all spectators alike applauded the sheer magnificence of his bat whenever he scored a boundary. His century celebrations were trademark KP & there were very few people in the stands who did not join in the cheer. Interesting observation – far more people stood up for Pietersen than for other centurion Alastair Cook!

One thing you’d have changed about the day
Instead of changing one thing about today’s play, I’d change eight! The seven Indian wickets that fell like dominoes and the absolute insipid bowling earlier in the day.  As an irrational, emotional India fan, it was heart-breaking to watch the team crumble like this in home conditions. And as each of the 7 wickets fell in just about 30 overs, the last shreds of optimism evaporated. As an objective cricket watcher, it was exhilarating to see 15 wickets fall one after the other in one day.

The interplay you enjoyed the most
One hit the other all over the park for seemingly easy runs, the other got him out in an anti-climax dismissal after a brilliant innings. For obvious reasons, the contest I enjoyed the most was Kevin Pietersen vs Pragyan Ojha. KP’s susceptibility against left-arm spinners has given rise to much talk but he made little of it as he hoisted Ojha for 3 sixes and the same got better off him when , on the verge of a double hundred, he offered a thin edge into Dhoni’s gloves to end a splendid innings. I’d say that in this interplay, both Ojha and Petersen returned with equal honors.

Wow moment
The WOW Moment for me, strangely, wasn’t on the ground as such, but in the stands. The sheer energy and enthusiasm of the crowds is infectious – The cheering, the chanting, the chatting. The insane celebrations when an English wicket fell, the rhythmic clapping when the bowlers ran in to bowl, the wild slogan shouting when an Indian batsmen took guard, the roaring applause even for  singles, the standing ovation when Sachin Tendulkar entered the ground – this was the wow factor for me.

Player Watch
Alastair Cook. From starting the day with a solid century to ending the day on field, shining the ball & pepping his team up, captain Cook could do no wrong today. It was a treat to watch him bat as he brought up his second century of this series and lead from the front. His fielding was spirited and some sharp saves just served to increase the intensity of the other fielders. He must have gone off field a happy man with India on the mat.

Shot of the day                     
The Sachin Tendulkar Straight Drive. He scored only 8 runs off 2 boundaries but with his exquisite timing and clean hitting, his first four off Panesar is my shot of the day. Pietersen and Cook scored in hordes but the typical shot down the ground by the Master stands out above everything else.

Crowd meter
There is no describing the Wankhede crowd in a few lines, that will take a book! The upper tier of the North and SRT Stands, where I was seated, was probably the most vibrant stands with the constant cheering. Even the English supporters joined in the celebrations and overall it was a cordial atmosphere with a healthy dose of bantering between the Indians and English. One of the English supports sitting with us went on to say that it was the best place to watch cricket in India! 
              
Overall
It was disappointing, it was heart-breaking, it was frustrating as an Indian fan, but overall it was a brilliant day of Test cricket. It started with centuries by Cook and Pietersen, it went on to become a wicket-taking competition with 8 English and 7 Indian batsmen getting dismissed. So we got to see the best of both batting and bowling.  Mumbai has always given us some of the most interesting Test matches in the recent years and I am hoping that one too, miraculously, becomes a close contest.

Marks out of 10
9. The one mark lost is due to the uninspiring performance from the Indian team. Gautam Gambhir has played a crucial knock so far, but otherwise it has been a collectively disappointing outing. But full marks to the atmosphere created by the fans despite the disappointment.

Monday, 19 November 2012

ENGLAND NEED TOO MANY COOKS…


ENGLAND NEED TOO MANY COOKS…




This was the first Test of his first series as official captain. It could not have come at a more inopportune time. The team has lost its No. 1 Ranking, worse, they have lost their captain, the guy who got them to the top. Their most prolific batsman has been ‘re-integrated’ in the team and the dressing room atmosphere is less than cordial. They have come to India, a place with almost hostile conditions, for a series that is hyped up to be an almost Imperialist revenge like plot. In the midst of this, he is just a left-handed opening batsman who has to play for the first time without his trusted new-ball partner in less than favorable conditions, while forging a new partnership with a debutant, while keeping up with a headstrong Coach, while leading a stumbling team in a crucially difficult series.

All this sounds like a perfect recipe for disaster. But not if you are Alastair Cook.

England lost the first at Ahmadabad by 9 wickets, a result much better that expected. And all thanks to that rookie captain playing for the first time without the guidance of mentor Andrew Strauss. But Cook has no reason to be disheartened by his team’s loss. Because there was a huge win in there for him. Scoring a fighting century, a 374-ball 176 no less while your team is following on after getting out for 191 in the first innings, is the mark of not only a good batsman, but of a great cricketer. That right there is the biggest positive England can take from the loss.

T o be perfectly honest, England does not look half as the team that tormented India last summer, whitewashed them 4-0 and took over the Test mace. Over the last 12 months, a lot has changed for the England Test team, even though most of their frontline players remain the same. Although it is agreed that the situation is different as this series is being played in the sub-continent and not on the bouncy green tops back home. But then they played South Africa in the very same conditions and lost 2-0 in what was one of the most intense Test battles of 2012. England played West Indies at home before that and did just fine with a 2-0 victory. Of course I consider their 1-1 draw in Sri lanka as a plus in England’s favor because winning a Test match there takes great effort, for batsmen who are susceptible to spin on rank turners. (It must be said that major credit here goes to a certain Mr. Pietersen whose splendid century lit up the series & possibly saved it) But the pivotal point where England started losing the plot came as early as January, a time when they were still No. 1. England’s UAE tour, the Test bit of it, was disaster to say the least. Pakistan won the 3 match series 3-0, completely humiliating the visitors.

Cut to November, and after one Test down in the series, the challenges still remain the same for the Barmy Army. Kevin Pietresen can proclaimhis loathing for losses all he wants, truth is that they have a lot of ground to cover before the next Test in Mumbai starts. It is not about the English batsmen’s affinity (or rather the lack of it) for spin, it is not about the mental games of playing no spinners in the tour games, it is not about India preparing bone-dry, spinning pitches. If Cook and Matt Prior could have batted it out following on, there is no reason why the others couldn’t.  As the captain said post match, English batsmen failed because they did not trust their own methods. If England has to turn a new leaf, then it is the batting that will have to come out strongly, start using their feet, try not to come ahead and sweep every ball that spins. And they have an excellent example of the same in the form of Captain Cook.

He did not get the Man of the Match award, there was a Double Centurion from the opposite side who deserved it. But what he did get was respect, a lot of it. Alastair Cook’s gritty century won him a number of admirers, most of them Indian, and rightly so. He has set the tone for the series, one which if the rest of the team follows, it will be the perfectly intense competitionwe have been waiting for. It is always said that too many cooks spoil the broth, but in this case, I think England needs too many Cooks!

Monday, 29 October 2012

WELCOME TO BHARAT, BARMY ARMY


WELCOME TO BHARAT, BARMY ARMY
'Why India-England matters

England captain Alastair Cook with Coach Andy Flower.


The Three Lions have landed in Mumbai. Almost 14 months after inflicting an almost physically painful defeat on India. And as an ardent fan of the longest version of the game, I am so excited for this Test series to begin, it is bordering on obscene.

A lot of water (and tears) has passed under the bridge since that fateful summer when England not only whitewashed India 4-0, but also snatched away the No. 1 Ranking (Of course karma set the record straight here later!) India has changed no wait it has transformed. Two of our best batsmen have left, the third is on the threshold, the No. 1 spinner is no longer a certainty and a youngster has taken over the role. The opening batsmen’s capabilities are being questioned and the opening bowlers are lack lethality. The batting order isn’t set, the captain is in misery, the fielding looks mediocre. England too has had their own share of the roller-coaster. Talismanic captain Andrew Strauss has left, leaving the reins of a volatile team to Alastair Cook. KPgate has created an unreasonable stir fanned by Coach Flower. And they are no longer the best Test team in the world (according to rankings) BUT, this is irrespective, irrelevant, immaterial. All that matters is that there is an India vs England 4-Test series happening soon!

I do not want to see this as a revenge series or a chance to get payback England. I do not want to see this as Sachin Tendulkar’s last series (possibly). I do want to see this as a baptism by fire for Captain Cook. I do not want to see this as Pietersen’s re-integration series. I want to see this, only and only as a comprehensive Test series between two capable, former World No. 1 Test sides. I want to see this as an endorsement for what good Test cricket should be. I want to see this as a turning point for the Indian cricket team. So it doesn’t matter if it isn't a 4-0 whitewash (although this score line will make a billion people ecstatic), it doesn’t matter if England combat spin with their bat and go on to score big or India crumble to Swann and Panesar, it doesn't even matter if it is a drawn series. As long as cricket fans world over get to watch a thoroughly entertaining and enlightening Test series. Indian cricket needs a pivotal Test series against a good team, and I hope this series can fill this void.

Personally as well this series is important to me. I hope to start blogging regularly again throughout this series (of course I also hope to meet Kevin Pietersen or interview Alastair Cook or alter the backward, stereotyped mind of Steve Finn, but that’s another story) But most important I hope to go to the Wankhede Cricket Stadium and watch five days of pure, unadulterated Test cricket with the North Stand Gang. And a Kohli/KP century, Zaheer Khan fifer or Viru-Gauti shutting the critics mouths would be an added bonus!

But the biggest hope I have from this series is to see some semblance of positivity to return to most Indian cricket fans. The negative attitude (on twitter and otherwise) that I have seen towards the team & most players is disheartening. It is justified in some measure, there have been performances that no one can be proud of and there has been a phase even the staunchest fan would be tempted to give up. But true Indian cricket fans are those who got up on the morning of the Adelaide 2012 Test believing we could turn a 7-0 deficit and win this one. And I am one of them. So here is hoping that when England and India take the field at Ahmadabad, we see five such days of cricket that the faith in the Indian team and belief in good Test cricket returns. Welcome to Bharat, Barmy Army!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

LIFE AFTER DRAVID AND LAXMAN?


LIFE AFTER DRAVID AND LAXMAN?



While other people are waiting for the Indian Test summer to begin, I am dreading it. I am honestly dreading the moment when the Indian cricket team will walk into Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium at Hyderabad, dressed in pristine whites. I am dreading the moment when MS Dhoni and Ross Taylor will head for toss. I am dreading the moment when Dhoni will announce India’s playing XI. But most of all I am dreading the moment when India will come in to bat and the first (and then third) wicket will fall. When Rahul Dravid will not come in to bat.

For as long as I have watched cricket, I have never seen an Indian Test team without Rahul Dravid. And though this betrays my age and ignores the minimal matches he missed due to injury, it is true. I have never been upset at the fall of India’s first wicket, ever, even when Viru-Gauti were on song. Because my favourite batsman walked in at No. 3. And tomorrow if India bat first and Chris Martin or Neil Wagner clean up Virender Sehwag or Gautam Gambhir, and some Indian batsman walks into the middle, I for one will watch with wistful eyes. To make matter worse, when the third wicket will fall, VVS Laxman will not walk in. And what happens when India is fielding? Who will stand in the slip cordon? Who will be standing behind Dhoni, alongside Tendulkar? The emo Indian cricket tragic in me weeps, how will I ever watch India play Test cricket again?!?!

Will we ever be able to replace the indispensable duo of RSD-VVS? It has been almost four years since Sourav Ganguly retired and we still haven’t managed to have a settled No. 6 batsman. Will we find a batsman with the potential to take up the crucial No. 3 spot, let alone No. 5? The answer is no. I don not think India will ever manage to find two batsmen with the calibre of Dravid and Laxman to play Test cricket at the same time. But I wholeheartedly believe that India will find two batsmen good enough to take up the No. 3 and 5 slot, in Indian conditions, and deliver a worthy performance. Being an Indian cricket fan, I am an eternal optimist. And I believe that there will be life after Dravid and Laxman. Not a successful one maybe, but a satisfactory one.

So when the Indian team is announced at the toss tomorrow, I am going to try my best to not feel let down. Because if the two guys who will replace the two greatest Indian batsmen of our era, are considered good enough by Dravid and Laxman, then they are good enough for me. So tomorrow whoever walks in at No. 3 and No. 5 will have my full support. Be it Subramaniam Badrinath, Chesteshwar Pujara, Suresh Raina or Virat Kohli, I sincerely hope that 10-15 years down the line, some other fangirl will write similar tributes for them. As for now, I will watch the Test match tomorrow, filled with dread, and hope. Hope that there will be life after Dravid and Laxman for India

Monday, 20 August 2012

FAREWELL TO MY VERY, VERY SPECIAL HERO


FAREWELL TO MY VERY, VERY SPECIAL HERO
That's it folks. Farewell VVS Laxman



March, 2001 was a pivotal time for Indian Cricket. It wasn’t exactly ashes, but it was among the embers and we needed someone to come and savage it. On the back of a match-fixing scandal, change is captaincy, young, unbred players and uncertainty, Indian cricket needed a hero. And that hero came in the unexpected form of Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman.

I am one of the lucky few who started watching cricket at the start of 2000, and I believe that the new phase of Indian cricket started around the same time. I am also among the few who fell hopelessly in love with Indian Cricket team after the epic Kolkata Test in 2001. By this virtue, I am an eternal admirer of VVS Laxman. His Very, Very Special innings if 281 after following on in Australia’s historic defeat at the Eden Gardens, sealed his name in the Indian Test team, history books, cricket legends and our hearts. Ever since that day, Laxman has been my hero. Ganguly is Dada, Dravid is my idol, Tendulkar is India’s best batsman, but Laxman is the hero. Sometimes unsung, sometimes fallen, but always a hero.

Over the last few days, a lot has been said about his batting, his match-winning innings, his affinity for Australian bowlers, his contribution to the Indian Test team and I don’t think there is anything new I can add to his tribute. His batting was so exquisitely technical that even the coaching manuals would have to take notes. A slight flick of his wrists could fetch a four, in areas where you thought were impossible. His wrists were out-worldly  in the words of a friend, if put on auction, VVS Laxman’s wrists would fetch more than his bat! His presence on the crease was reassurance, India was in with a chance till he was there, even with 9 wickets down as he showed us in Mohali in 2010 against Australia.

Of course Laxman vs the Aussies is a different story altogether. There was a perceptible change in him, and in the Australians, whenever he came in to bat. And it comes as no surprise that almost all of his iconic knocks have come against the former World No. 1 side. It is said that is there was one Indian batsman they feared, it was him. Not Tendulkar, not Dravid, but Laxman, and rightly so, he could literally decimate them at will! The irony of life is that it was his failure against the very same team that has led to his retirement and me writing this. His last series came against his favourite opposition, in his favourite country but unfortunately with unfavourable results. I don’t want to delve into his retirement and the reasons for it, but only about the man and the void he has left behind.

But what I really loved about him was his attitude towards the game. VVS Laxman loves cricket, he absolutely loved his cricket. He played the game as a form of worship. His batting was veneration on the pitch he considered hallowed. And this is what I will miss the most – watching Laxman offer his devotions with the bat. He was not a great runner between the wickets, but his boundaries made up for that. He was an ok fielder, but his sharp slip catches made up for the runs leaked. His numbers don’t do him justice – 8781 runs in 134 Tests with an average of 45 doesn’t look spectacular. But his mere presence in the team made up for that. With VVS Laxman gone, world cricket has lost a true devotee, Indian cricket has lost its soldier and I have personally lost my hero. There is so much more I want to say, but cant. I am just glad, elated that I was there at Wankhede in November 2011 to watch Very, Very Special Laxman play his last Test match on Indian soil. At least I’ll die with the satisfaction of seeing him play live. Hopefully one day I will get to meet him, meet my hero.

I’ll conclude with borrowed words, lifted straight from my favourite writer Jarrod Kimber (hope he doesn’t mind too much) – “It’s not often you get a professional sportsman who plays just because he loves the game, without trying to prove anything to anyone, but just because of the thrill he gets out of playing a good shot. Players who make it look as easy as VVS do are often said to not care as much as others. When someone like him moves on, even if it was time for him to go, cricket loses something.  It loses a star, a poet and a cricketer. Cricket will move on without him, but it will miss him.  Very very will never quite do him justice.”

Saturday, 14 July 2012

BRETT LEE BIDS ADIEU


BRETT LEE BIDS ADIEU

Brett Lee looks out at the SCG after announcing his retirement from international cricket.


When Brett Lee limped off the field during his third over in fourth ODI vs England at Durham, most people expected it to be just another injury in the fast bowler’s 13-year long career. As one of the fastest bowlers in world cricket, Lee has been no stranger to injuries, five ankle operations, elbow surgery, back stress fractures, side strains, muscle strains and broken bones. He has always come back strongly every time he has been laid low. But this time, it was not so. The calf muscle he pulled up during his run up turned out to be the last injury his body could take, and those 2.2 overs he bowled turned out to be to be the last he bowled in international cricket. He returned home to Sydney this week and on Friday the 13th of July, he announced his retirement from international cricket.

Though not entirely unexpected, I can’t pretend the news did not sadden me. There is always a void left in a cricket follower’s world when the curtains fall on a great career, especially when he is one of your favorites. There is a certain sense of despair just at the thought that you won’t get to see him don his national colors and play on field again. I have already endured one such heartbreak in March when Rahul Dravid called it quits. And when I heard of Brett Lee’s retirement early morning on Friday, it was the same feeling all over again.

Brett Lee has been one of my favorite cricketers from a long time. He was the first foreign player I liked and non least because of his off field persona. In fact it would be fair to say that Lee has the distinction of being the most loved foreign cricketers in India - maybe for his looks, music, Bollywood appearances or brand endorsements. But the main reason I liked Brett Lee was his art – fast bowling. As a young kid beginning to follow cricket, it was some sight to see a blond, strapping guy running in hard and bowling down the ball at the speed of a rocket! The sheer adrenaline rush I got, just by watching him bowl, was something. I have never had the chance to watch Dennis Lillee, Curtly Ambrose bowl live, so watching him was the first time I experienced express pace bowling. Admittedly there was Shoaib Akhtar, but then again he lacked the charm (and the looks) that Binga was blessed with! And as I grew up and became a teen, I have to admit that o began liking him for an altogether new reason. And Brett Lee had the honour of being my first major cricket crush! (Tongue-firmly-in-cheek) The following is an excerpt from something I wrote years back when asked to write about her dream (don’t  judge me, I was only a kid when I wrote this!)– “. She worshiped, respected, loved, admired a lot of cricketers, but she was crazy about only one – blonde Australian fast bowler who hurled in his deliveries at 150k, drew blood or a wicket and then celebrated by doing a wild windmill-airplane or cycle-pump dance.”

It didn’t matter that he was Australian and that more times than none, he performed well against India and was destructor-in-chief when we lost. He was such a visually pleasing bowler that I remember watching Australia’s matches only to watch him bowl. There is one match in particular that I would like to mention – Australia vs Sri Lanka at the 2003 World Cup. For those who recollect that one, Brett lee fired in a delivery at around 160k and decimated Marvan Attapattu’s stumps. That looked crazy, and the celebration was even more insane. That was the kind of bowler he was – dangerously fast and accurate, when on song, the opposition batsmen had to be terrified.

For a fast bowler, especially someone who looks to run hard and bowl every delivery at the highest possible speed, it is phenomenal to have had a 13-year long career. He made his Test debut vs India in 1999 in the Boxing Day Test (scalping a fifer and running through the Indian batting order) and his ODI debut soon after. Most are of the opinion that he was a much better bowler in ODIs than in Tests, but to have more than 300 Test wickets in an era when the Australian Test team had the best quality of players is to say something, right? To make a mark as an Aussie bowler alongside the likes of Glenn Mcgrath, Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz is no mean feat. And for a guy who grew up on a farm in Wollongong, had to drive for miles early morning to reach practice and battle excruciatingly painful injuries at the start of his career, it is remarkable what he has achieved. A World Cup victory in which he was instrumental, Ashes, Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Allan Border Medal, a hat-trick in ODIs and T20Is (the first man to do so) – he has had a gloriously successful career. Probably the only complain is that he has 380 ODI wickets, one short of claiming the record for Australia’s highest wicket-taker. But this too shows the kind of man he is, leaving even though there is a limestone approaching. As an express quickie, one thing that struck me about him was his affability. He would sledge and intimidate off the batsmen when he was bowling, typical Aussie thing to do, but otherwise, he would be always smiling and exchanging banter with his team mates and sometimes the opposition. Brett has probably drawn more blood from batsman than any other bowler, but I doubt a single player would call him a mean guy, such was his personality on field.

I am one the lucky ones who has had the opportunity to interact with Brett on a regular basis over the last year. And all I can say is that the praise that flown in for him, from past and present cricketers, is all justified. He is a genuine likeable person and his dedication to the game is immense. I have seen him play through pain, with broken bones and on pain-killers. I can’t imagine how tough it must be for a 35-year old to still bowl at 150k despite all the obstacles, but he has still done it and given his 100% every single time. Resilience is the one quality I would associate the most with him, coming back strongly after every injury, without dropping his pace or intensity. . His sheer passion and knowledge of cricket reflects in the way he talks and I have learned a lot about cricket just by talking to him. Now that I have met and interacted with him, my impression of him as kid has been reinforced even further. Brett Lee is an asset to the game and we will surely miss watching him bowl in international cricket.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

OPEN LETTER TO LEANDER PAES & MAHESH BHUPATHI


OPEN LETTER TO LEANDER PAES & MAHESH BHUPATHI


Dear Lee-Hesh,

As a young Indian, my first understanding of tennis came in 1999, thanks to the both of you. You’ll taught me what tennis is and today it is my second favorite sport in the world. I was so proud to read all the glorious exploits of ‘Indian Express’ in the newspapers. I used to collect paper clippings of your victories. All the Grand Slams, all the ATP events, all the Davis Cups. Needless to say, you’ll were my idols and I loved watching you’ll play together.



Then the split happened. I was really upset initially but with time and victories with other I accepted that Lee-Hesh will not play together again, unless it’s for the India.  Of course no one really knows the exact reason of the fall-out, and it really doesn’t matter because you’ll came back together later; and always played for India. You would always come together as one to play under the national flag. At the Asian games, at the Commonwealth games, in the Davis Cup; everybody kind of expected you to play together, as we saw in 2008 before the Beijing Games.

Now its 2012. Years have passed and a lot of water has flown under the bridge. Rohan Bopanna, Somdev Devarman, Karan Rastogi, Prakash Amritraj… a number of Indian players have come, some have gone and you’ll have tried with various partners with moderate success. But everybody knows that the success that Lee-Hesh had cannot be replicated with a Mirny, a Zimonic, a Knowles, a Stepanek, a Dlouhy. That is because you are the best Men’s Double pair for India, ever. And that is why we expected you to play together at the 2012 London Olympics as well. Till the issue snowballed last week. And I say snowballed, because it may have been blown out of proportion by the media. This is the Olympics! Possibly the last Olympics that both of you’ll will play. And yet you’ll don’t want to play with each other. Aren’t you the same guys who had tears in their eyes when the national anthem was played after a particularly hard-fought victory? The same players who wrapped the Indian tricolor around their shoulder during the victory laps? You cannot fake those emotions, just look at the photographs. I do not doubt your patriotism or loyalty for a moment, I just wish to remind you about it.


I am trying to understand the issue, or at least I’d like to think I am. I’ve read all the emails to and fro the AITA, the press release from Bhupahi-Bopanna and numerous semi-factual news reports. But I still don’t completely get the reason for this almost-childish-bordering-on-egoistic behavior from India’s two greatest sportsmen. I don’t know who is right or wrong, all I know is one of you have to be the bigger person here. All I know is there cannot be ego when you are representing your country. And I also know I am being too idealistic here, but I always am when it comes to Indian sport.

Leander Paes after winning the bronze medal
at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
I am no authority in playing tennis, representing India or the functioning of sports administrations. But I can safely call myself an emotional Indian fan. And as someone who has grown up watching you play together, I know that you are India’s best chance of an Olympic medal. We all know what happened at the 2008 Beijing Olympic, how we almost got a medal, how we narrowly lost to eventual winners Federer-Wawrinka. I have very little doubt that we can reach there this time. Forget the Bryan brothers, the Woodies picked you to be the best! So just for this one Olympics keep everything aside and play - for India, for a medal, for us fans. Nothing beats winning an Olympic medal and no sacrifice is too big to achieve that, least of all sacrificing your ego. Just rewind back to 1996 and have a look at Leander’s emotions, it says it all.

All I want is to see the Indian Express in action one last time. Medal or no medal, this is our best chance. Please put everything aside and play as one. Leander, be the bigger person and take the first step. Mahesh, be a better person and let bygones be bygones. As fans, we don’t care who is right or who is wrong. In fact after some time, we may not even remember the issue. All we will remember is seeing you two play your own brand of tennis together. And since India has two slots, Bopanna will get his chance to play with another partner. So please, just this once, play as one.


Yours sincerely,
An Indian fan.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

IT’S HARD BEING A FEDERER FAN AT THE FRENCH OPEN


IT’S HARD BEING A FEDERER FAN AT THE FRENCH OPEN

Photo: Roger Federer

Copyright : Corinne Dubreuil


When I wrote the first part of this piece, I had a fair inclination that I will be writing this in the near future, after the quarter/semi final of the French Open 2012 to be more precise. Because I knew that Federer will not (and should not) advance to the finals at Roland Garros.

Part of me wanted Roger Federer to lose the French Open semifinals to Novak Djokovic. Not a treacherous, disloyal part, but instead the faithful, emotional part. For one main reason – I cannot see him lose another Grand Slam Final to Rafael Nadal.

This is the French Open, a Grand Slam owned by Nadal. Admittedly I am not a big fan of the Spaniard, but that doesn’t mean I hate him or ignore his achievements or potential. I have always maintained that in another era, he would have been the greatest and my favorite. In fact I would advise other Federer fans the same as well, there is no point in hating Nadal. I accept that he is the King of Clay, the best tennis player on clay since Bjorn Borg. And his six French Open titles stand testimony to the fact.  Clay is probably the toughest surface to play tennis on and to excel on it requires a different kind of stamina and agility along with quick reflexes and speed. Something that Rafa possesses which makes him look so effortless on a clay court. In fact, even exceedingly good clay court players pale in comparison to him. A phenomenon that we Federer fans are well acquainted with.

It is not Fed is not a good player on clay, it is just that when he plays against Nadal, he looks the second best. Case in point being the Madrid Open 2012, it was played on clay and Federer emerged Champion contrary to expectations. It seems that Federer becomes the best player on clay once the sword called Nadal is removed from over his head. That is what happened in 2009 when he won his maiden (and only) French Open. He dismissed Robin Soderling without breaking a sweat and completed his career Slam. But in a sport like tennis, there is no silver and it doesn’t matter how many finals he has reached at Roland Garros, nobody remembers the runner-up. And every final that Federer loses to Nadal, is like a thorn in the side of every Federer fan. That is precisely why I wanted him to lose to Djokovic. Despite knowing that last year in the semifinals of the French Open, he played the best match of the year, defeating Djoker and ending his unbeaten run.  That match wiped out the doubt I had in my mind that Federer is past his prime. He still has it in him, but he also has a mental block along with it.

So as the French Open Men’s Final begins today, I support no one. Djokovic will either finish his career Slam or Nadal will go past Bjorn Borg. Either ways, I will watch it for some exceptional tennis from two of the most ingenious players tennis has seen. May the better man win! As for us, it will always be hard being a Federer fan at the French Open.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

LET’S NOT UNSING VISHY ANAND


LET’S NOT UNSING VISHY ANAND




Sport is mostly associated physical activity, agility, strength, fitness, and perspiration. Maybe that is why most people do not follow chess as a ‘sport’. But that does not make World Chess Champion Vishwanathan Anand any less of a sportsman. In fact, I will go on to say that Vishy Anand is India’s greatest sportsperson.

Chess is an individual sport, which not many people understand, let alone follow. Watching a chess match live can be a not-so-entertaining experience unless you have above average IQ levels. And that is why it isn’t endorsed as well as the other sports, especially in India. Of course Vishy changed this, he made sure that everybody in India knew who he was and which sport he played. It would be fair to say that he put India on the world map as far as chess is concerned. A sport dominated by Russians, Anand carved his own niche and became one of the greatest Chess players of all time. Yet you won’t see Anand posters on the road or any temples built to worship him. His face doesn’t adorn any hoarding, or sells any popular products. No celebrity ever gushes about him or how handsome he is, no child says he wants to become like V Anand after he grows up and very few people idolize him. My only question is why. And the only answer I get is media.

When Anand was en route to becoming World Champion, again, at Moscow, the IPL was on in full swing in India and that was the main focus of the media. Some publications carried the headline but the articles were brief and left a lot to be desired. I understand that in order to make more money, things like IPL are given more importance in media, but with such a major achievements by an Indian, surely we could have a lot more coverage on Anand. How else will the masses be aware of such happenings if the media does not give it the place it deserves?

Recently there has been lot of talks about sport being included as a category for India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna and of course the name that has started this is Sachin Tendulkar. But personally I think that is any Indian sportsman has to be given the Bharat Ratna, it has to be Vishwanathan Anand. Anand is the first recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 99, in 2007 he was the first sportsperson to be awarded the PadmaVibhushan. And it is only fair that he receives the Bharat Ratna soon. I say this going out on a limb but with full conviction. And why not, considering his sheer amount of achievements. Anand was India’s first Grandmaster back in 1988. He has won the World Chess Championships five times, in 2000, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012 and has been the undisputed World Number 1 since 2007. In a sport as competitive and intensive as chess, such dominating is incredible, more so for an Indian.

To be completely honest, I do not understand chess as much I would like to. I play chess but my biggest achievement has been beating by 8-year old nephew once, after losing to him countless times. And I can’t write about chess as I can about other sports. But I wrote this piece for only one reason – to highlight how Vishy Anand has always been the unsung hero, as compared to a Sachin Tendulkar or a MS Dhoni, or sometimes even a Leander Paes. I hope to join sports media one day and I would be very disappointed if I have SRK & KKR on the front page when Anand should be there. I have only on e request of all the sports writers, even those who write in 140 characters on twitter, let us not unsing Vishy Anand. he is India’s greatest sports player.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

IT IS HARD BEING A FEDERER FAN IN 2012


IT IS HARD BEING A FEDERER FAN IN 2012




I have been a Federer fan ever since I started watching tennis. Hard not be since the year was and Roger Federer was the flavor of the season. But over the years that I have watched, followed and started writing about tennis, I simply fell in love with him. For me he became the greatest sportsperson in the world. Maybe it was the way he played the game - with sheer beauty and grace, like poetry in motion; maybe it was his emotional outburst on court - tears & fist pumps that betrayed the burning with which he played; maybe it was his off-field demeanor – calm, polite, convincingly honest. I can’t exactly point out the moment when RF became my idol and ideal sportsperson, but in the past 9 years, I have been a Fedex loyalist.

 Cut to 2012, Federer is no longer the World No 1, the star, the one to watch out for and serious aspersions are cast on his GOAT status. Most people remember that he hasn’t won a Grand Slam in two years (his last title was the 2010 Australian Open) but very few remember that he has the record of 16 Grand Slams. Most people remember that he lost the French Open finals to arch-nemesis Nadal, but no one seems to remember that he played the best match of 2011 when he beat Djokovic at the semis and ended his winning streak. Most people remember that he bowed out of the US Open after a tough fight, but most forget that he won the ATP World Tour Masters where only the Best 8 played. Most people have given up on him, very few people believe he can ever win a major again and most think his era is over. It is a common practice in sport, forgetting or ignoring the achievements but never forgetting the failures.

The last two years have been hard on both Federer and his fans. Some say it started in 2008, I don’t quite agree. Federer won only one Grand Slam that year, the US Open and lost both French Open and Wimbledon to Nadal. He couldn’t capture an Olympics medal in singles despite being the favorite, but won the Gold with Wawrinka. But 2009 was resurgence, he completed his career Slam finally winning the French Open and after an epic Wimbledon Final against Andy Roddick, he was back in the game. In 2010, he won the Australian Open and but had a dismal year in the next three Slams. For the first time since 2004, Federer was knocked out in the quarter-finals of any Grand Slam at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon. 2011 was decidedly the lowest point of his career, he turned 30 and age just seemed to catch up with him. He lost at Wimbledon and US Open being 2 sets up and did not win a single Grand Slam for the first time since 2002. For a moment even I doubted his ability and thought maybe he was past his prime. But the last three months of 2012 put my doubts to rest, momentarily. This is what I wrote in my year-end review – “Roger Federer had one of the worst years of his career. For the first time in eight years he failed to win a single Grand Slam, his ranking plummeted to No 4 and his age reached the dreaded 30. Yet the fact that he is featured on this list is a tribute to his resilience and his sheer willpower. In the last three months of 2011 he showed exactly why he is called the Greatest Tennis player when he overcame physical and mental barriers to win three back-to-back Masters Titles including the prestigious season-ending ATP World Tour Finals. He looked fit, he looked hungry and he looked rearing to go. Surely 2012 augurs well for Federer fans.

But most unfortunately, it was not so. 2012 started as 2011, if not worse. Federer lost to Nadal yet again in the Australian Open semis. He slipped to Number 3 on the rankings and if I’m not mistaken at one point, Andy Murray was close to overtaking him. He was cleanswept in the Davis Cup losing to John Isner. But then came three titles at Rotterdam, Dubai and Indian Wells and brought some hope with them. Federer actually defeated Nadal at the semis at the BNP Paribas Open semis and beat Isner to win the title. The high was short-lived as he went down to Roddick of all people at Miami. But then came Madrid and brought more hope. On the blue-clay surface Federer captured the title and became the World Number 2 while the ‘King of Clay’ and ‘World Number 1’ were busy complaining about the conditions. Of course then came the loss to Djokovic at Rome, but it hasn’t dimmed the Madrid cloud as much. After all Federer is ahead of Nadal in the ATP rankings, even if briefly and that takes some to time to get over.

So why am I writing this? Maybe to understand that being a Federer fan is as topsy-turvy as supporting the Indian cricket team or maybe like supporting Arsenal in football.  It has never been easy and it never will. But in 2012 it will be even harder, tougher than ever before. French Open, Wimbledon, London Olympics coming up and 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 come as no surprise, not to me. It is hard being a Federer fan in 2012, but what in life has ever been easy?

Saturday, 5 May 2012

FIVE REASONS WHY I WATCH THE IPL


FIVE REASONS WHY I WATCH THE IPL



The Indian Premier League (IPL) is called a lot of things. Circus, carnival, Bollywood movie, soap opera, and sometimes a culprit for all untoward happenings. But under all the hype, hoopla, frenzy, glamour and packaging, IPL is about cricket. Although not exclusively, but it’s still cricket being played and it is still the game most of us love, even though it’s played in colors we don’t like and in ways we don’t appreciate. But IPL, in an odd, random way, is just like itself; you don’t really have what you want or expected, but you learn to live it by ignoring the unpleasant and focusing on the bright side. Gyan apart, we are a month into the fifth edition here is why I  watch the IPL;  despite the annoying trumpet sounds, brand-spewing commentators and the absolutely abominable Extraaa Innings show!

  1. BECAUSE QUALITY MATTERS
    They may be here for only for the money, but top international players, well most of them, come to India every year and very enthusiastically take part in the IPL. And they bring in the quality. For instance, Kevin Pietersen came in late and left early, but his short-term stint with new franchise Delhi Daredevils was breathtaking to say the least. And the explosive century he smashed against the Deccan Chargers is going to be listed as one of the highlights of this year’s tournament. Watching international cricketers playing alongside Indian domestic cricketers is a sight in itself. Who would have thought that we would see Lasith Malinga sharing the new ball attack with Munaf Patel or Brett Lee bowling in tandem with Lakshmipathy Balaji, Michael Clarke setting the field with Ganguly or Virat Kohli and Daniel Vettori discussing bower options together. Even watching players like Morne Morkel, Faf du Plessis, Owais Shah, Cameron White, not normally considered in the A-listers, put their best foot forward is worth watching.  The presence of international cricketers lends a sort of credibility and, more importantly increases the quality of the IPL.

  2. RISE OF GEN X
    How many of us had heard of Shahbaz Nadeem before he rattled Mumbai Indians’ esteemed batting order? Or Pawan Negi or Parvinder Awana or Ashish Reddy or Paul Valthaty before IPL? Not many I am sure. And even if we had, we would have considered them as just another Ranji player. But IPL gives these young and upcoming cricketers recognition, the kind that domestic cricket doesn’t. Not to mention, the big bucks they bring home. Contrary to what most people think, not all Indian cricketers are royalty or loaded, and the fame, money and publicity IPL  provides to these cricketers matters to them.  Guys like Ajinkya Rahane, Manoj Tiwary, Robin Uthappa, Irfan Pathtn and the likes have played international cricket before, but IPL is still the platform for them. It may not be the ideal platform for national selection, but since our selectors consider it to be, strong IPL performances can take players a long way, case in point being Ravi Ashwin. And it is so not only for Indians, if you remember Shaun Marsh in IPL I took everyone by storm winning the Orange cap and a berth in the Australian team.

  3. THE LAST HURRAH
    By his own admission, this is the last time we are going to see Rahul Dravid play competitive cricket. It’s been years since we watched Adam Gilchrist play international cricket, but every IPL we can at least have a glimpse of the world’s greatest wicketkeeper-batsman. Watching Sourav Ganguly captain a side again is a longed-for sight, which we lucky to see this year.  Muttiah Muralidaran’s trademark spin and smile are only seen in T20 leagues. It’s gratifying to know that retirement doesn’t necessarily mean the end of one’s career, we can always watch them in the IPL! I know a Gilchrist fans who religiously watched every Kings XI Punjab game just to watch him bat. Hundreds of Gagulians (as the cult calls themselves) have become Pune Warriors supports for their hero. I know a Dravid fan who actually traveled to Jaipur to watch him bat. And I completely understand this, I will never have enough of watching Dravid bat or Ganguly lead. If for nothing else, then IPL is worth watching to see the past greats in action.

  4. THE THRILLS AND KICKS
    Dale Steyn’s breath-taking spell against the Mumbai Indians, Virender Sehwag blazing his way to five consecutive half-centuries, Sunil Narine’s spinners that have left established batsmen astounded, Pune defending 129 and beating Mumbai Indians on their home ground, then Mumbai defending 120 and repaying the favor, all the last ball finishes, all the stingy 19th overs, all the gravity-defying catches and dives and run outs. IPL is not mere entertainment, it is entertaining cricket! There is no other way of describing the kind of cricket played by guys like Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the likes. With no international cricket happening currently, a cricket-lover can get his kicks from watching the IPL.

  5. THE FAMILY THAT WATCHES CRICKET TOGETHER…
    Nobody in family watches a lot of cricket and even though the television is on whenever there is a match, the longer formats of the game are hardly followed by the folks at home.  But that changes during the IPL. Maybe because they are shorter matches telecasted during prime time or maybe because it so well packaged and advertised, most of my family watch and follow the IPL. In fact my entire clan even got together to go to Wankhede to watch an IPL match, the first in a stadium or many of them. Funny thing is, there are times when I don’t want to watch a particular game, but my nephew makes me put on Sony Max, something that is unprecedented! This is probably the strangest reasons to watch the IPL, but spending time watching and discussing cricket with family is a good enough incentive for me.
I have absolutely no loyalties in the IPL, I don’t support any team or rather franchisee. As long as the players I like are doing well I don’t care who wins. But I will continue following the IPL, to watch my favorite players, to watch closely-fought matches and most of all, to watch some quality cricket.

Monday, 30 April 2012

WANKHEDE. IT’S ALIVE!

WANKHEDE. IT’S ALIVE!

Fan following report – Mumbai Indians vs. Deccan Chargers, 29th April, Mumbai.
First published on ESPN Cricinfo - 
http://www.espncricinfo.com/page2/content/current/story/563233.html



Choice of game
Contrary to what popularity belief, IPL is also cricket. And when any kind of cricket happens at the Wankhede, a cricket-loving Mumbaikar can’t help but go! There is an intrinsic need to see live cricket and experience the stadium atmosphere. So I, along with, my extended clan set off to watch Mumbai Indians take on the Deccan Chargers.

Team supported
As our jerseys, armbands, caps, banners, bandanas and flags suggested, we were out there to support the home team. In fact I don’t think anyone at the Wankhede was wearing deep blue for any other team but Mumbai Indians.  And although I was supporting Harbhajan’s men, I admit, one of the main reasons I picked this match was to watch Deccan captain Kumar Sangakkara (which didn’t happen of course) and see Dale Steyn bowl live!

Key performer
The key performers for the winning team were their bowlers, bundling out the opposition for a measly 100 runs in 18.4 overs. Lasith Malinga showed that his injury was left behind with a lethal spell and four wickets and even skipper Bhajji came to the party with two. But as the Man of the match Award suggested, Dale Steyn was the best performer of the day. Just watching him bowl at that speed is sheer adrenaline rush! With figures of 4-0-10-2 in a run chase of 101 against a prolific team, Steyn made sure that nobody who saw it would forget his performance, even I he ended up on the losing side.

Face-off you relished
Lasith Malinga vs. Batsmen and Dale Steyn vs. Batsmen! With the two most lethal T20 bowlers out in the middle, there were always going to be fireworks. And they didn’t disappoint. Watching Sachin Tendulkar square up to Steyn, Cameron White get beaten my Slinga’s pace and Levi’s stumps taking a flying leap on the first ball were all exciting!

One thing you’d have changed about the match
Some people at the Wankhede have all the maturity of a child Sreesanth and Shahid Afridi would produce! I say this from all past experiences at the ground and I maintain that when it comes to sensibility, there is something seriously lacking. There were the usual scuffles and arguments – “Please sit, I can see/ you are blocking my view of the camera. So? Does your Pop own the stadium?”  But there were some loud (not to mention unnecessary) fights as well, which ruined the atmosphere. Especially in the second innings where the music shuts off thanks to the 10-pm deadline. And in stadiums where people do not know the difference between ‘noise’ and ‘din’, those trumpets and whistles should be banned!

Crowd meter
The Wankhede crowd meter is always high to the pint of busting and this was no different. The buzz around the stadium is something additive and every time I step in I feel that Wankhede is a living entity! The incessant chanting to their God, Sachin Tendulkar, is something you have to see to believe. And the hoarse cries of ‘Malingaaaa, Malingaaaa’ for each of the 22 deliveries he bowled, are enough to pep up all the other bowlers. (I suspect Mali isn’t loved and cheered for so much even in Sri Lanka!) And the shout-outs for captain ‘Bhajjiiii’ were so enthusiastic, there is no way he could have continued his dry run. The Mexican Waves, albeit not as eager, was good to watch. But the silence when Steyn was doing his thing was bit of a letdown. As the only Mumbai Indian cheering inanely at Levi’s wicket I’d say, let’s appreciate good cricket and forget sides for a moment.

Entertainment
For some strange reason, dancing to Bollywood songs on a far-off stage was considered entertainment. But the choice of songs wasn’t bad, from English chart-busters to Hindi item numbers to popular Marathi numbers, the music was a medley aimed at catering to the entire crowd. Though nobody would complain if they played that trademark trumpet-horn sound a little less often.

Anything else you care to mention
I call this article ‘The Cult of the Mumbai Indian’ for a reason. I was asked who a Mumbai Indian is and the best I can put it is ‘The hordes of people transcending age, class and community, who descend at the Wankhede all dressed in blue and covered in merchandise every IPL with a loud noise and even louder behavior. And I say this with affection. I have seen people who claimed who go all out crazy at the stadium, elderly ladies in all traditional finery jumping and screaming player names, kids naming international and domestic players after spotting them from a distance, decked-up-for-the-runway girls armed with their mobile-camera clicking everything in sight and entire families coming out together and letting their hair down. But I find this very appealing because it shows me the reach cricket has and the way it can bring people together. Underneath all the clatter and chaos, lies the love for cricket that every Indian is born with.

Marks out of 10
8. A point cut for the rowdy spectators and another for the slow and almost boring batting. But the 8 points for the insane atmosphere, the shrieking crowds made of all age groups and the adrenaline rush of watching a cricket match at the Wankhede!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON THE CHINESE GP


RANDOM THOUGHTS ON THE CHINESE GP


The third race of the 2012 Formula 1 season, the Chinese Grand Prix, is done and the results have surprised most, me being one. Personally I did not consider the Mercedes AMG car was winning material, and even if I was told that the car could take the podium, I would have imagined 7-time World Champion Michael Schumacher would be the driver leading it. But today it was another German for whom the Champagne flowed – Nico Rosberg. Son of former Champion Keke Rosberg, he became the seventh German driver to win a F1 race, winning it by a comfortable margin of 20.6 seconds. He was followed by McLarens’ Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.

To be honest, I have mixed feeling about the results of the Chinese GP. Though I am happy for Rosberg and really glad that the Mercedes AMG car has shown potential, I am a tad bit disappointed with Michael Schumacher’s race. When he qualified at the Number 3 position, I expected a podium finish at least. But that expectation was shattered on Lap 13 when a tyre problem forced Schumi to retire. I am not sure what exactly happened but from what I saw, he lost a wheel-nut because the front-tyre changer was unable to secure the wheel-nut before the system gave the go signal. According to www.f1pulse.com, this is what happened - “Schumacher pits for prime tyres. He comes out right behind Button. On replay, we see Rosberg lock up his front-right tyre and run wide, as his soft tyres begin to give up grip now. Race over for Schumacher as he pulls his Mercedes to the side of the track. On radio, he said he was 'losing a wheel.'


The contrasting emotions at Mercedes Camp aside, it was indeed a good race to watch, especially when you are forced to come to office on a Sunday. Mark Webber’s wheelie, Rosberg’s pit-stop strategy, Button’s remarkable comeback after losing almost 10 seconds in a faulty pit-stop were all enjoyable to watch. Of course I was hoping for a better performance form Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel and felt bad for Sergio Perez, from Number 1 to Number 11. But overall it was a fun thing to do on a Sunday afternoon in office…

Thursday, 12 April 2012

AALA RE, IPL AALA.


AALA RE, IPL AALA.


The Indian Premier League (IPL) is called a lot of things. From a circus to carnival, a Bollywood movie, an entertainment package and sometimes even a culprit for all untoward happenings. But under all the hype, hoopla, frenzy, glamour and packaging, the IPL is about cricket. Although not exclusively, but it’s still cricket being played and it is still the game most of us love, even though it’s played in colors we don’t like and in ways we don’t appreciate. But IPL, in an odd, random way, is just like itself; you don’t really have what you want or expected, but you learn to live it by ignoring the unpleasant and focusing on the bright side. Gyan apart, the fifth edition of the IPL began last week and it is time we prepared ourselves for almost two months of the trumpet sound, Citi Moments of Success, DLF Maximums and Karbonn Kamaal Katches!

A Mumbaikar at heart and a proud Indian (clich├ęd I know), I am supporting the Mumbai Indians and throughout these two months, you can read all about the MI Paltan and their Duniya Hila Denge actions right here!In 2008, Mumbai barely made it, in 2009 they just about scampered though, but in 2010 fortunes changed and they ended up runners up and in 2011 they won the bronze in IPL but struck gold in the Champions League T20. Now it’s 2012 and time for a fresh start under new captain Harbhajan Singh. We already three matches into the season and MI have won two and lost one, but it’s still inconclusive evidence when it comes to predicting what’s in store for them.

In the inaugural match against Chennai Super Kings at Chepuak, Mumbai did well to defeat the defending champions comprehensively. New recruits Richard Levi and Pragyan Ojha proved their worth and trusted men Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga and James Franklin showed yet again why they are considered more Mumbai Indian than their own nationalities!
Unfortunately in the second match vs. Pune Warriors India at their home ground Wankhede, MI fell short by 29 runs chasing only 129 runs. Credit to Ashok Dinda and Steven Smith, but the way Mumbai lost, I thought it had a teeny bit of complacency somewhere. There was more of the same in the third match but a brilliant innings from Rohit Sharma saved the day and earned Mumbai some vital points.Of course I can be wrong and it certainly is too early to tell.

Coming to the team, at first glance the thought that comes to my mind is there is no reason why they can’t make it to semis and further. The squad is strong, well balanced and has a good quota of proven match winners. It does look like there is a glut of foreign players and with only four spots available, MI has a problem of plenty which is always a good problem to have.Unlike back in the day, the team is more than just the name of Sachin Tendulkar and has a strong batting order around him. Levi and his fellow Protean opener Herschelle Gibbs, Aiden Blizzard and Davy Jacobs are all good opener options. Among the home grown players, Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik are certainties and form the core of the middle-order. Suryakumar Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have a lot of untapped potential and batting with international players will only help.The all-rounder department is loaded, with the superman Pollard, Harbhajan (yes, in T20, we can consider him as one), Franlkin. Clint Mckay, Thisara Perera and Robin Peterson add more strength to the order. The bowling unit is spearheaded by the indomitable Malinga and the ever-improving Munaf Patel, well supported by Dhawal Kulkarni and Abu Nechim and is made stronger by the addition of R P Singh, Pragyan Ojha and Mitchell Johnson.
In conclusion, MI Paltan is a team with great potential and could go all the way if they manage to play consistent cricket. The men are there, the means are there and the motivation is surely there (as skipper Bhajji says that he wants to win it for Sachin) What remains to be seen is that can Mumbai Indians replicate their CLT20 success in the IPLT20 where they will face tougher competition and stiffer opposition. For now, all I am going to say is, Duniya Hila Denge Indians!