Wednesday 26 November 2008

7 ways to avoid a 7-0 whitewash!

1. Mortgage the WAG brigade to Allen Stanford;
2. Pray that during one of those Great Indian Huddles, earth splits and gobbles up the gang;
3. Hope ISRO packs off Yuvraj in Chandrayaan II, its first manned mission in moon;
4. Deals delight Lalit Modi. So hatch a deal with BCCI’s Mint in Suit and make India do mirror-batting in the next three matches;
5. Pull out of the tour, in an IMMEDIATE protest to the Indian government’s 1989 decision to confer the Nehru award on Robert Mugabe;
6. Fly home by the first flight available and call up BCCI to let them know that the travel agent bungled everything and packed them in the wrong plane;

...and if all these sound far-fetched...

7. Win at least one match, you morons.

Sunday 23 November 2008

Mind the thorns Mahi!

He could grow a flower on stone, make a stuffed cuckoo sing and evoke rain at Thar. The sea would split to pave his way, the wind would change course to propel his sail and the world would conspire to fulfil his wishes.

First time since his coronation, a thorn in his bed of roses pricked him and Dhoni still can't believe it!

Welcome Mahi, to a world of leak and lies, suspicion and subterfuge, clique and cartels, malice and malevolence.

Dhoni didn't like it but this was surely not the first occasion when confidential selection debate made its way to the pages of a daily. Unfortunately, this won't be the last either. For his own benefit, Dhoni should learn his lesson from the stumble to avoid an almighty fall.

BCCI head honchos, teammates, selectors, media, fans -- it requires a tremendous balancing act. Man management has to be spot on. Board mandarins with kingsize vanity and non-existent love for the game have to be kept in good humour. Selectors would go into a huddle with an agenda on mind and an axe to grind but Dhoni has to grin and bear it.

And then you have Team India, an assortment of fragile egos of different size, from the miniscule to the monstrous.

Dhoni clearly revels in company of fellow back street boys. But such prejudice has to wed pragmatism to avoid a strife. Presence of former captains bogs him down but Mahi would do well remember that Tendulkar is 'The Untouchable' and Dravid, though no more a Holy Cow, is better left alone.

Among the next generation teammates, Sehwag is a force of nature, not to be messed with and Yuvraj, a weapon of both mass and self destruction, needs utmost care all the time. To ensure the bowling unit keeps firing, Dhoni will have to pamper Zaheer and protect Ishant. Harbhajan is a proven match-winner but he needs to be constantly reminded that. At the same time, the Amit Mishras should not feel unwanted.

There is something reassuring in Dhoni's brand of captaincy that promises the marriage would last. But as Mahi himself would admit, the honeymoon just got over.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Ind vs Eng ODI Live Update from Kanpur

0827: Welcome to WNWSACWR (What Neo Won't Show and Cricinfo Won't Report). Waking up groggy at ungodly hours and making your way through a maze of security is never easy. Some people still retain their zeal-- like Ravi Shastri out there, trying to flirt with the Neo babe, the neonate in cricket broadcasting.

0837: The guy (I mean Guy the Gorrilla) who wanted to sent his mom-in-law to Pakistan is out there. Sir Ian Terence Botham, OBE, just had a brief discussion with Kevin Peter Pietersen, MBE, in the middle. Beefy looks in good shape but you can't say the same about England. I reckon KP was trying to woo him out of retirement. Considering the shellacking Broad & Co received in Indore and Rajkot, it can't get worse.

0844: Talking about in-laws, a certain Sunny Gavaskar was denied entry in the team hotel last night. Sunny's wife hails from Kanpur and he is certainly not the first son-in-law to get such cold treatment from his sasural. Also saw Sunny Sir admiring a new hat but there was time when he was wearing quite a few of them.

0900: Laxmanshivaramkrishnan, Gavaskar and David Lloyd stand together facing the camera. Looks like a fairness cream commercial that improves your complexion in three stages.

0909: Shastri and Rajiv Shukla bridge the gap between their statures and engage in a neck-spraining discussion. One has grown vertically and the other just expanded horizontally. I guess Shukla was seeking an explanation from Shastri on Raj Thackeray's drive against the north Indians.

0915: Surrounded by Shastri, Gavaskar, Botham, Shiva and a few of his former peers, Krish Srikkanth takes a nostalgic tour down memory lane and enthusiastically shadow-practises shots before proceeding to study the pitch, something he was never accused of doing in his playing days.

0929: Men in Blue around me. Actually UPCA had freshly painted the chairs in the press box and the Sun reporter just discovered to his horror that the paint has tainted his cream colour troussers. A colleague of him takes a snap of the tainted bottom and I expect colourful copies in the British press tomorrow. Meanwhile, it leads to a strange spectacle in the press box where guys ask each other to have a look at their bums. They may be fierce professional rivals but you have to appreciate their 'Dostana'.

1141: In the press box, Angus Fraser isn't amused with the paint on his troussers, shaking head in disgust and mumbling the unprintables. He wears specs and the glasses are really thick and powerful. If he wants, he can take one off here and burn a hole in Russell Tiffen's troussers out there in the middle.

1211: Flintoff fell to Yusuf Pathan and another Great Indian Huddle. I was always intrigued what they discuss in the huddle? Should be their unparliamentary emotions which they otherwise can't express in front of the umpires or near the stump microphones.

1239: Bopara back, Samit Patel and Owais Shah waging grim battle and Monty Panesar is being missed. Can we have a true blue English team, please?

1529: India trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Complacency? Boredom? spiked drink? voodoo? Curse of Punter?

Friday 14 November 2008

Thanks for the Dadagiri

If Indian cricket is Bollywood, Sachin Tendulkar is its Amitabh Bachchan, who refuses to age or wane and M S Dhoni, its SRK – the urbane, glib-talking heartthrob.

I bet he’s not going to like this but Sourav Ganguly has been its Mithun Chakraborty.

Daily chores over, rickshaw-pullers, labourers, coolies and small shopkeepers throng dingy theatres in nondescript towns where Mithun badmouths baddies before battering them thrice a day. Script, storyline, cinematography, music – everything else is secondary. Week after week, they cheer every blow Mithun lands on the villain and whistle every time he shakes a leg with a buxom beauty.

Ganguly has been as much a hero of the hoi polloi, the messiah of the mass, who could identify with his brand of leadership. Indeed, few knew better how to involve, incite and ignite public minds.

And the touch of Bollywood is too unmistakable in his comeback as well. Pushed to the brink of the precipice by a gora villain, the post-interval session sees the hero clawing his way up to punish the baddie and settle score.

In many ways, Ganguly reflected the ambition and aspiration of a nation which, bankrolled by a burgeoning economy, dreamt of entering the big league, demanding equal respect.

Fans shared his wholesome hatred for prevailing norms, which suggested cricket is played between two sides but won only by Australia. And when he took his shirt off in Lord’s hallowed balcony and hurled a mouthful back to Flintoff, it was virtually a collective catharsis for a nation which had stopped turning the other cheek.

Indeed, if Dhoni & Co are speaking an aggressive language on the field, it was Ganguly who had laid down its grammar.

And as the man walked into sunset with a trail of eulogies and effigies, bouquets and brickbats behind him, few acknowledged his contribution.

It’s not the 18000-plus runs he scored, mostly through the off-side of which he was the God. Neither is the fact that he taught how to win Tests abroad. Nor is it about instilling aggression in teammates.

Most importantly, Ganguly restored faith in public mind and upheld its integrity, thus helping cricket survive a potential disaster, a splitting of the game and its followers.

Ganguly inherited the team at a time when Indian cricket was struggling to shed the match-fixing slur. Every dropped catch set the tongue wagging, every dismissal was dissected in hushed tones and every outcome was seen through a veil of suspicion. It was clearly cricket’s darkest hour.

To his credit, Ganguly established the integrity of the game and a secular India embraced cricket as its religion.

In between his fairytale Test debut and Bradmanesque exit, Ganguly was never the best batsman around, neither statistically nor aesthetically. And still Ganguly on song ranked among the most beautiful scenes in cricket.

Few incurred so much hatred, and fewer got the love that came his way. Much more than just a cricketer, Ganguly was a character, whose exit leaves the game poorer.

Tendulkar’s greatness doesn’t trigger debate, Dravid’s persona doesn’t strain friendship and Kumble is a genuine sweetheart.

In contrast, 16 years of ceaseless scrutiny has yielded precious little and jury is still out on whether Ganguly is the saint or the Satan.

Monday 3 November 2008

Take a bow, Jumbo

Jokes, like jokers, have a limited entertainment value, beyond which they don't amuse, only annoy. Having wagged indefatigably for 18 long years, finally no impish tongue would ask in jest whether Anil Kumble is the fastest slow bowler or the slowest fast bowler.

The subsequent avalanche of applauds was inevitable, perhaps equally so was overlooking the message sent out by the man who just walked into sunset. Predictably, we read only the words, not the deeds.

Those who care to see beyond the numbers, each of his 619 Test wickets tells a tale -- of the triumph of the trier. It says you don't need to be born special, you can work your way and become special. It says success is not an exclusive domain of the wunderkinds and toil is as important as talent.

Indeed, he didn't have the prodigious turn of a Shane Warne, probably because he was not the man for exaggeration. With his brand of leg spin, he would rather probe than poach. And yet, he was successful!

Certain success stories make their way into syllabus. Kumble's should be one, for it spreads hopes and talks about life. It says how an ordinary man can go out and make his own destiny, rather then just playing the part destiny had scripted for him.

Unlike a Warne or a Tendulkar or a Muralitharan, he was no quirk of nature, endowed generously and destined for immortality. Kumble learned and earned it. He was out and out a proud, self-made man.

His achievement transcends the limited boundary ropes of the game and spills into life, for it advocates the triumph of simple and yet so necessary values like commitment, integrity, discipline and dignity.

And it also says nice guys do finish first.

In the heart of heart, I know Kumble was surely not the best. Warne probably has a more logical, statistical and aesthetical claim as well to that. But Jumbo, when I have a kid and he or she grows up, I would love to see him/her persevere through pain, just like you did with a bandaged jaw in Antigua and a stitched finger at Kotla.

Warnie, I'm still in awe of your wile and guile and would have your poster in the study room of my kids. But sorry mate, they would rather have Jumbo as their role model.