OmnipRAVIsent

I don’t know Ravi Shastri the cricketer as much as Ravi Shastri the everythinginindiancrickettoday, For most periods, the all knowing BCCI loyal commentator. He is now the Director of Cricket for the Indian cricket team in England for the ODI leg, to cover the dismal display in the Tests. But that is not all, he is much more than that.

 

Ravi Shastri has been promoted to head the All India Football Association, and the previous head will be reporting to Ravi Shastri. This move is to make sure that India make it to the next Nehru Cup finals and win it.

 

Ravi Shastri will replace Nasser Hussain as the English expert for the next Pataudi series, so there is no anti-BCCI sentiments in the BCCI commentary box. Mr. Shastri has always promoted peaceful processes in cricket.

 

Even the ECB like Ravi Shastri. He has been selected into the English ODI squad to play against India. A source talking on behalf of the England’s chairman of selectors told us that England preferred this Ravi to the one the internet is harping about for being ditched. “We always liked Ravi. There is always that buzz around him.”

 

Ravi Shastri will be sent by the United Nations to bestow peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. In the speech given while taking up the task, Mr. Shastri mentioned that an extra long presentation ceremony with dignitaries and honorary members from both nations at the dais will create harmony between the two nations. Also, to show that all nations are equal, a man-of-the-match will be selected from both sides and will be given an IPL contract too.

 

If you are wondering about it, yes, Ravi Shastri also owns an IPL side. The Mumbai Indians, of course. “It gives me great opportunity to give something back to the city that made me who I am. I always got the feeling, Mumbai Indians was the right was to show it.”

 

Ravi Shastri has also signed up for the next Batman sequel. “Dark Knight : Rises Up In the Air”. He will be driving an Audi through the streets of Gotham and saving the city from the darkest third umpires and match referees. He is not the man that Gotham deserves, or needs, but gets. Just like that other situation that got Ravi Shastri.

 

Also, Ravi Shastri will head the special task force to form the right Test squad for Australia. He has laid his plan clear – “We win the toss and put some runs on the board and get the wickets. It is as simple as that.” He will be scouting for talent at the Champions League T20 tournament. “If the batsmen have the ability to stay for 4 overs, we got a team that can bat for 44 overs- that is luxury compared to how they fared in England. And the more the bowlers adapt to bowling hit-me balls, the faster we can eliminate the requirement of slips in totality.”

 

Ravi Shastri will also start a fund raiser to promote the sport in the suburbs of Indian metros, because the game really needs all it can to stay popular there. “The kids have resorted to football and weightlifting and boxing after the recent football World Cup and CWG and the movie on Mary Kom. It is our duty to bring the game back by investing some funds to this much needed locality.” You can buy your own “I <3 BCCI” tees from their website and donate to the noble cause.

 

To know more about Mr. Shastri’s roles watch him talk about it himself as he hosts the show Kaun Banega Crorepati?.

 

243094-ravi-shastri

                   Yo Yo Ravi Shaz3

 

-Bagrat

Sachin Tendulkar and the Bharat Ratna Arguments

This article first appeared in the DNA Digital on 18 November 2013 

Last Saturday, November 16, on the day that Sachin Tendulkar retired from international cricket, the Government of India announced that he (along with Professor CNR Rao) would receive the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour bestowed on an Indian citizen.

Before 16 December 2012, the award was for “exceptional service towards advancement of Art, Literature and Science, and in recognition of public service of the highest order”. On that day, it was changed so that it could be awarded “in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour”.

It was no longer restricted to exceptional individuals in art, literature, science and public service. The field was broadened to include “any field of human endeavour”. It was also ‘watered down’ to include performance as well as service. Cynics argued then, with some justification, that that the policy was altered to accommodate (arguably) India’s greatest cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar. Under the previous statement of the policy, he could not be awarded the Bharat Ratna.

In my view this alteration was partially right. There is no reason why the award could not be for “exceptional service towards advancement of Art, Literature, Sport and Science, and in recognition of public service of the highest order”. I did not like the addition of ‘performance’ to the criterion. Aakar Patel — and many others — did not agree with the rewording. Patel wrote in the Live Mint on 27th January 2012, that the award is poorer for the re-wording: “Deploying the forward slash communicates something pedestrian, not heroic.”

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The debate on the rewording of the policy has been reignited, as expected, after the announcement that Tendulkar would receive the Bharat Ratna. The timing of the announcement by the Government was cheekily uncanny. Just hours earlier, Tendulkar had made a heartrending speech at the Wankhede stadium on the conclusion of his last and 200th Test match. Perhaps for the first time in his playing career, this intensely private man allowed fans into a space that he and his family had guarded extremely ferociously for over 24 years. Through the medium of TV, radio and the Internet, he entered our homes and talked about his views and thoughts and shared a few anecdotes. He inspired, touched and provoked many that saw or heard what was arguably the most beautiful retirement speech. Across India and in many other countries, grown men and women wept as we heard Tendulkar speak from his heart, of the many people and organisations he owed a depth of gratitude to. Many more wept as we watched him walk up to the pitch, bend down, touch it and then touch his heart. He had paid his last respects to the arena that he gave so much to, gained so much from. We cried as he shed a tear. On social media, many adults wrote to say that with his retirement, their childhood had ended, for much of this childhood was seen through Tendulkar’s exploits on the cricket field.

On the day Tendulkar made that speech, even the most hostile cynic did not have a voice that was loud enough to protest the decision to award him the Bharat Ratna.

By the next morning, though, the naysayers began their rhetoric: ‘Kapil Dev deserved it more’, ‘Dhyan Chand should have received it too'; ‘Vishwanathan Anand should have got it too’, ‘Why give it to a professional sportsman, especially one that has earned so much money from the game’, ‘Public servants like E. Sreedharan deserve it more’. ‘M. S. Swaminathan should have got it first’, they said.

And then, Patel’s article started making the rounds again.

Patel says that the new wording waters down the stringency and rigour of the Bharat Ratna award. He argues, “The critical words “towards advancement of” have been dropped. Salman Khan performs exceptionally in his field. Does that qualify him to be Bharat Ratna? According to the new rules, it does.”

And Patel is right.

But does that mean that Tendulkar should not receive the award even if we retain the original “towards the advancement of” clause? No. There has been no player who has had the combination of “elegance, balance, poise, grace, technique, focus, determination, power, dominance, imperiousness, confidence, occasional arrogance, consistency, longevity, awareness and performance at the highest level in every theater he has visited and played in.” There is no doubt in my mind that Tendulkar has served the Indian team in a manner whereby he has worked towards the advancement of the game at the highest order.

Patel disagrees. He writes: “In any case, the Bharat Ratna isn’t a glorified man of the series award. When we give someone the Bharat Ratna, we honour ourselves. We hold up the person as an ideal of true greatness. As a model Indian, Tendulkar may not be the person to hold up in front of your children. He resembles a middle-class opportunist who will take advantage where he can find it.”

I’ve often felt upon reading Patel that he lives in a different India from the one I live in. Patel does cite three well-worn cases in his substantiation of the opportunism he sees in Tendulkar: the Ferrari tax-exemption case, the addition of a gym to his house and the reporting of a car accident in 1999.

Patel’s presentation of the Ferrari tax-exemption case ignores the fact that Tendulkar is well within his rights to seek a tax exemption on his Ferrari. Moreover, once he received the gift (with or without the exemption), the car is his. He can do with it as he pleases unless there is a clause in the gifting that prohibits a future sale.

As a tax payer and a citizen of the land, he has a right to seek permission to build a gym in his house, even after his plans have been already submitted. It is up to the government of the day to receive the case, examine it and provide such permission if it thinks that that is the right thing to do. Perhaps Tendulkar did employ a lobby group to influence the government’s ruling. Such tactics are perfectly legitimate in any functioning and vibrant civil polity.

Tendulkar’s sensitivity over the car accident in 1999 is also perfectly understandable, especially given the loud, sensationalist, high-pitched and TRP-hungry media, in which Patel plays a significant part.

In a 24-year-long sporting career, Tendulkar has played with almost no blemish against his name. He has always been a servant and a student of the game. He hasn’t been fined for either dissent or abuse even once in his immensely long playing career. His longevity and contributions to the game are unparalleled. He has been, at times, compared to the great Don Bradman; probably the greatest cricketer ever. Even if we ignore that as unnecessary hyperbole, Tendulkar has been mentioned in the same breath as Bradman, Gary Sobers, Vivian Richards and Shane Warne — some of the greatest players to have played the game. He himself has always talked about being a mere custodian of the game and has always talked about the game being much bigger than him. Unlike Viv Richards or Shane Warne or Gary Sobers, who had their occasional transgressions and peccadilloes, Tendulkar has played longer and emerged with an untarnished reputation. His career has been about integrity, pride and absolute fidelity to the fundamental tenets of the game.

If Tendulkar cannot be the person to hold up in front of children as a model citizen, I am not sure we have any in India from any walk of life: sport, art, science, politics.

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In a country that is utterly bereft of role models and heroes, Tendulkar has crafted a career without a single blotch and stood as a beacon of hope and a giver of pleasure.

The award to Tendulkar has also rekindled the sport versus art debate.

Like art, sport also seeks permanence. Most sportspeople and artists are engaged in the pursuit of excellence; in something that is more than the ordinary and banal. Although some sportspeople, and perhaps artists, are motivated by the bright lights, possible financial rewards, popularity and glamour — especially at the more popular end of their endeavour — most of them, at least in their formative years, are fuelled by a burning personal desire to drive themselves towards excelling in the domain in which they are rewarded with exceptional talent. And in that sense, they are self-focused because they seek to explore the unknown — either within themselves or as part of a larger creative endeavour.

Ed Smith, in a lovely articlein which he cites the magical beauty of Sachin Tendulkar’s wristy flick to midwicket, tries to answer if sports is indeed an art. He concludes that sport is more than a mere craft. Sport can be experienced at many different levels. Just like the arts.

Yes, sport may not enable us to find cure for diabetes. Unlike literature, sport may not enable us to understand the impact of a series of Russian famines. Unlike a painting, sport may not enable us to transcend the ordinary and peek into the realm that we cannot understand. Unlike a musical composition, sport may not provide us with the ability to see how frequencies may be interwoven together in complex arrangements. But sport, like art, science and literature is enduring. Exemplary sportsmen make contributions on a different canvas and seek the same permanence that artists seek. We live in a world where excellence demands sharp focus. As a result there is less of a chance of finding a Greek javelin thrower, with javelin in one hand and a paint brush in the other. Sport uplifts the soul as much as art can. Just talk to people who like to watch the Tour de France or long distance running or endurance sports like the triathlon. The narrative there is about straining, stretching and extending the limits of human endeavour so that we may understand more about ourselves, our fears, and the limits of our abilities.

Let us return to Patel and this simplistic argument he offers: “Kumar Gandharva took apart the gharana system, transformed the culture of Hindustani music and was also given the Padma Vibhushan. Tendulkar hit cricket balls. Many cricket balls, and very far. But Bharat Ratna?”

Allow me to alter the sentence: “Tendulkar lit the hearts of a million people through making many runs continuously in the most trying circumstances. A whole generation of Indian cricketers and Indian sportspeople wanted to play with pride, poise, productivity and promise like Tendulkar, who was a beacon of integrity and hope when India suffered agonizingly through the match-fixing crisis that paralyzed the sport in the late 1990s. Kumar Gandharva just sang notes. Many notes, and beautifully, But Bharat Ratna?”

For the record, I adore Kumar Gandharva’s music and his contributions. I developed the above parallel argument just to demonstrate how facile Patel’s argument is.

There can be no doubting Tendulkar’s contributions. The impact of his work is harder to measure, but there are statements of impact that can be made. Most kids would say that they want to bat like Tendulkar. Everywhere I have watched the game, he has been a draw card. People come to watch him play. He has been cheered on most international arenas he has played in. Audiences at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Lords’ and Antigua anticipate his arrival at the crease and cheer him as much as the crowds at the Wankhede, the Eden Gardens or Chepauk do. Just as many aspiring musicians wanted to sing like Bhimsen Joshi or M. S. Subbulakshmi, almost every cricketer of the next generation wanted to play the game like Tendulkar — not only in India, but around the world. Yes, Tendulkar never found a cure for AIDS nor did he advocate world peace, but neither did Bismillah Khan.

There is no doubt that Tendulkar is a popular choice. But he is, in my view, a clear example of how not everything that is popular is necessarily of lesser value. His contributions transcend the many divides and boundaries we have in our complex and layered society: rich/poor, urban/rural, haves/havenots, high-caste/low-caste, popular/esoteric, aristocrats/plebiscites. And his contributions to his field have an unmatched endurance.

In the past, the Bharat Ratna award has been handed out to recipients as though they were recognition for favours (not contributions) rendered. For example, 23 of our 41 Bharat Ratna awardees are politicians. It is easy to see why the prestige and uniqueness of the award itself has been sullied.

By giving Sachin Tendulkar the Bharat Ratna, my view is that the award has, once again, gained credibility.

– Mohan (@mohank)

God and the Argumentative Indian

This article first appeared in DNA on 11 Oct 2013 in two parts: Part-1 and Part-2

I once had the opportunity to travel from Mumbai to Singapore with Raj Singh Dungarpur. He was on his way to New Zealand as a representative of the BCCI at an ICC meeting. During our conversation, I asked him what his best decision was. Almost before I could finish my question he said, “Selecting Sachin Tendulkar to play for India,” and added with a twinkle in his eye, “although if you had seen him play as often I had, it wasn’t really a risky decision. It was bold, but not risky. And mark my words, any investment in Tendulkar will always pay off.”

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Raj Singh Dungarpur, Akash Lal, Ramesh Saxena, Gundappa Viswanath and Naren Tamhane selected a young, bright-eyed, squeaky-voiced, curly-haired teenager to represent India in Pakistan. A young and determined 16-year old Sachin Tendulkar played against a tough Pakistan team on 15 November 1989; a Pakistan team that had three genuine pace bowlers (in Wasim Akram, Wakar Younis and Imran Khan) and a world-class leg-spinner (in Abdul Qadir).

Almost twenty four years after that bold decision, Tendulkar will retire from International cricket after having played 200 Test matches.

And in these 24 years, almost as often as we have heard the chant “Saaaaaachin Saaaaaachin” we have also had Tendulkar embody the very essence of the argumentative Indian. Rahul Bhattacharya captures this beautifully in his piece “Man-child superstar” in which he writes:

“If the strokes are flowing, spectators feel something beyond pleasure. They feel something like gratitude. The silence that greets his dismissal is about the loudest sound in sport. With Tendulkar the discussion is not how he got out, but why. Susceptible to left-arm spin? To the inswinger? To the big occasion? The issue is not about whether it was good or not, but where does it rank? A Tendulkar innings is never over when it is over. It is simply a basis for negotiation. He might be behind headphones or helmet, but outside people are talking, shouting, fighting, conceding, bargaining, waiting. He is a national habit.”

*****

Tendulkar never promised us that he would lead India to victory in every match he played. Yet, we wanted him to. No. We expected him to. No. We made him mortal if he did not. We expected more from Tendulkar than we did, from even our politicians.

Tendulkar never promised that, at 40, he would produce the fluent strokes he played when he was 28. Yet, we always expected ‘the Tendulkar of old’ or ‘the Tendulkar of 1998′. We could, of course, purchase a DVD of the famous ‘Desert Storm’ series and see that Tendulkar of old. But that wasn’t enough. It was as though even time stood still when we evaluated Tendulkar. We could not accept an ageing Tendulkar and watch the Tendulkar of now. For the argumentative Indian, if Tendulkar did not reproduce his shots from 1998, he did not deserve to be in the team in 2013.

Tendulkar himself never promised us that all his centuries would be made in ‘winning causes’. Yet we expected his centuries to always result in India wins (or else those centuries wouldn’t count, or we labeled him a selfish cricketer).

Tendulkar himself never claimed he was God. But, we made him God and then the rest of us brought him down. Bit by bit.

In the end analysis though, in a country that is somewhat bereft of (sporting) heroes, Tendulkar, the hero, has outlasted the argumentative Indian, crafted a career without a single blemish and stood as a beacon of hope and a giver of pleasure.

Perhaps that is the mark of (his) greatness in the Indian context. Greatness in sport in India is perhaps not defined by the heady confluence of elegance, balance, poise, grace, technique, focus, determination, power, dominance, imperiousness, confidence, occasional arrogance, consistency, longevity, awareness and intent. He has been all of that over a long career. He has had all of those qualities over an extensive and distinguished career. Perhaps greatness in the Indian sporting context has to be marked by violent disagreements on the very essence of that greatness; what exactly that greatness is about. His greatness should have been automatically assured. Yet in India, Tendulkar has always polarized opinion. And that, perhaps, ought to be the accepted definition of greatness in a country that needs heroes but is equally eager to tear them down and ‘cut them down to size’ every now and then.

*****

Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement from all forms of cricket on Thursday, 10-10-2013. The fact that he had always worn the Number 10 India jersey may have had something to do with the timing of his retirement on this day. Or maybe it was the TEN that prefixed his surname which, in turn, may have earned him the number 10 jersey early on in his career.

The one other date that may have worked better for him — from the point of view of the numbers — would have been 10-10-10. If he had retired on 10 October 2010, he may have retired some five years too early. Indeed, on that very day, he was 44 not out at Bangalore against the visiting Australians. He went on to make a beautifully crafted 214 in that match. If he had retired on 10-10-10, we would have also missed his majestic 146 that he made at Cape Town on 4 January 2011. That Cape Town knock was his last Test century although, after that, he did come close to the 3-figure mark on a few occasions: a 91 (against England at the Oval in 2011) a 94 (against West Indies in Mumbai in 2011), a beautifully crafted 73 (against Australia at the MCG in 2011) a 76 (against England at the Eden Gardens in 2012) and an 81 (against Australia at Chennai in 2013).

So, on 10-10-2013, he has, in my view, retired two years too early. I say that although I am confident that my view is going to be questioned quite soundly and ridiculed significantly.

But that is what you get when you have an opinion on Tendulkar. There is no middle ground. You are either pro- or anti-Tendulkar. He polarizes opinions like no other champion players does (particularly in India).

As Siddhartha Vaidyanathan says in a post on Tendulkar, “What pains me is how a large part of discourse on the Internet is so limited to black and white. You are apparently either for Sachin or against him. If you question his place in the side, you are a moron who has no right to express an opinion or an ignorant bum who has never held a bat in his life or someone with a vested interest.”

*****

For all talk that he didn’t care about numbers and statistics, numbers did seem to matter to the man; or at least to the people around him who had a stake in him — and many did. So the choice of 10-10-2013 to announce his retirement was possibly deliberately crafted and carefully constructed like the 241* he made in Sydney in January 2004.

Numbers may not have mattered to the man, but they did to the industry around the man. And there is an industry around the man; an industry that seems filled with brand merchants, product architects, advertising honchos and people who launch things.

Perhaps I ought to have said ‘there was an industry around him’.

I would, if I can bring myself to talk about God in the past tense.

I cannot. At least, not yet.

Numbers did seem to matter. He worked hard to get to that 200th Test. Whether he did so because he wanted to, himself, or because of the people who had invested in him who had a vested interest in prolonging his career, we will never know. But it had been an open secret for far too long that he would play on until his 200th Test and that that 200th Test would be played in India. Indeed, it was the worst kept secret in the Indian cricket landscape; an environment that seems to have a steady growth — and not a decline — in innuendo and secret handshakes and less and less of assured planning and fact.

That his retirement in a home series was engineered so blatantly by his cricket Board just makes the cricket world sit up again and wonder at the beast at the ICC table that we Indian fans have created; the ogre that we continually endure and support.

*****

So how did you feel when you heard of the news of Tendulkar’s retirement?

Me? Although I sensed, since the start of this year that Tendulkar would retire after his 200th Test and even though I was prepared for the announcement, I felt a numbness when I heard the news. I cannot imagine an India Test team without Tendulkar. I cannot quite bring myself to accept that someone else will now walk in at the fall of the second wicket.

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There was always a calm sense of assurance that Sachin Tendulkar would walk to the middle at the fall of the second wicket; that he would walk down the pavilion steps (or ramp), look skyward, squeeze his eyes, walk purposefully to the wicket, take guard and perform his pre-stance box adjustment routine.

That was assurance. It gave me comfort.

And I cannot yet bring myself to accept that the now famous and always assuring pre-stance box-adjustment routine will now be replaced by the vigorous bat twirl and ‘inside of the helmet visor wipe’ routine that belongs to Virat Kohli.

That acceptance may happen too, only because it must.

Tendulkar had given me — and many others like me — much joy in the 1990s when India got routinely thrashed all around the world. He gave me cause to celebrate because of the way he played the game. His cricket was simple, uncomplicated and beautiful. His cricket was untainted and joyous. His cricket was pure.

I had watched with admiration and pride as he grew in stature: he was first a kid playing in the midst of grown-ups, then a boy, then a lad, then a man and then, a God in his country and then, a statesman in world cricket. He did not want to be a God, mind you. We made him God. And the same people who made him God cruelly called him Endulkar in 1996 2006 when he was going through a rough patch, as all human beings must (and do).

But that was us fans. This God did have clay feet. Sometimes.

In the end, however, there was only one constant. He had always played the beautiful game with the same wide-eyed enthusiasm. He only wanted to play. He knew no other life.

*****

I had watched him score 119* in Manchester. Yes, that innings that really announced his arrival on the world stage. I was in England in those days. A few months later, I moved to Australia and there, I watched every ball he faced when he made 148 in Sydney in January 1992 in the company of Ravi Shastri. But more importantly, a month later, I watched in awe, with pride and a growing sense of admiration as he braved the pace of Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, Paul Rieffel, Mike Whitney and Tom Moody when he made 114 in Perth. I had watched the young boy grow up to be a man and then, a legend. All in the space of 18 months. During that defining Perth innings, a boy wonder had become a man. That is, to date, the best innings I have watched Tendulkar play.

Or is it?

Was it that 241* in Sydney in 2004? Or the 111 in Johannesburg in November 1992? Or the 177 in Nottingham in 1996? Or the 169 in Cape Town in 1997? Or the 155* against Australia in Chennai in 1998? Or the 155 in Bloemfontein in 2001? Or the 193 in Leeds in 2002? Or the 194* in Multan in 2004? Or the 154* in Sydney in that Test in 2008?

There are too many wonderful knocks to list. But talk about the best Tendulkar innings always polarizes opinions, like talk about the man himself. And that is what you get by having an opinion on Tendulkar. There is no unique answer. Was that 241* his best or was it that 194*?

Perhaps that is the point about greatness. We can’t quit agree on what constitutes greatness, although there can’t be much doubt on greatness itself.

*****

And then there were the endless debates on whether Tendulkar played for himself or for his team. Siddhartha Vaidyanathan wrote on “Tendulkar and the ‘clutch’ question”  in which he quotes his friend Jay, who said: “Most fans agree on what is a big game and what is not. There comes a time during these big games when most fans smell the moment, the moment when the game is balancing on the finest of threads. I have seen Tendulkar occasionally sense the moment and pounce on it, imposing his greatness on the occasion. But I feel I’ve seen him not seize these moments more often.”

Perhaps these arguments would never have happened if Tendulkar had finished the game off and won that Chennai Test against Pakistan in 1999. What that ignores is that there were a whole bunch of players who could have stayed with and helped a bruised Tendulkar win that game for India.

Perhaps these arguments won’t have happened if Tendulkar hadn’t skied that McGrath bouncer in the 2003 World Cup final. What that ignores is that it was perhaps because of Tendulkar that India even reached the 2003 World Cup final.

Perhaps…

But that is also an integral part of Tendulkar’s greatness in a country that is only now getting used to thinking about greatness in cricket. Fans have to either criticize his 136 in Chennai against Pakistan for what he did not do, or celebrate it, for what he did.

*****

Many will say that Tendulkar had extended his stay; that he ought to have retired from all forms of the game on 2 April 2011. But he continued playing all three forms of the game after that day. It was not his responsibility to select himself in the team. To play was his choice; one we must always respect. He had earned it. But did we respect him? No. Arguments raged notwithstanding the fact that, of the four member middle-order who have retired in the last four years, India has only found stable and able replacements for Rahul Dravid (Cheteshwar Pujara) and VVS Laxman (Virat Kohli). Four years after his retirement, India still does not have a steady replacement for Sourav Ganguly after trying out Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, S. Badrinath, Ajinkya Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja. All of these have only had mixed success.

Yet, we were keen to disrobe God although it was clearly the duty of the national selectors to have a chat to the man and talk to him about retirement — that is, if they wanted to replace him.

Did he overstay his welcome? No. As I indicated earlier, in my view, he still had a year or two of Test cricket left in him. The team has already seen the departure of Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble and perhaps Sehwag and Zaheer Khan. These days, a team that loses all of its stalwarts in one fell swoop is called Australia which thought — somewhat arrogantly — that there is an endlessly rich talent pipeline that affords selectors the luxury of a brutal revolving door.

National sporting teams need to carefully nurture talent and this needs the hands of an artist and not the axe of a wood-chopper.

Of course, Tendulkar’s place in the Indian team has never really been questioned (even in 1996) except, perhaps marginally, in the last one year or so of his career. Tendulkar still seemed to love the game and every time he took the field, seemed to play the game with the same zest that I saw in Manchester some 22 years ago. And he can still hold that 2-down spot.

In his retirement announcement, Tendulkar says, “It’s hard for me to imagine a life without playing cricket because it’s all I have ever done since I was 11 years old.”

His job was to play. He knew nothing else.

*****

So, the debates will continue to rage. And I had one within 5 minutes of his retirement announcement. I thought that his best shot was the straight drive to a fast bowler. A colleague said it was the upper cut over the slips, back arched, eyes focused on ball, neck slightly inclined. Yet another said that it was the back foot drive through the covers. Another said it had to be the casual flick through deep square leg.

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We could not arrive at a meaningful conclusion. Perhaps one is not necessary.

We moved instead, to a discussion on his best innings ever. 241*, 194*, 111, 177, 155*… An hour later, with no conclusion in sight, we moved on to his best ODI innings ever. And so the night meandered on.

When an international sportsperson plays for as long as Sachin Tendulkar has, it is hard — nay, almost impossible — to pick out one specific shot, one specific innings, one specific moment. All of them were perhaps equally brilliant. All of them were crafted carefully. But more importantly, all of them were played by a young, enthusiastic, curly haired lad who loved the game, loved playing for India and wanted nothing more than to give pleasure to the people who watched him play.

Today, a day after the announcement, the numbness is gone. The sadness is gone. I only feel pleasure. Pleasure that I watched it all — from 1989 to 2013. Pleasure that I argued about him. For him. Pleasure that he enhanced the appreciation I have for the game. Pleasure that he was there as a beacon of hope  in 2000, a time when the match-fixing saga raged; a time when I thought I would abandon my support for the game I loved so much because I had learned that some of the men who played the game had played it to line their own pockets.

But then God was there. He did not know how to cheat or how to throw games. He could not be procured. And in the end, his love of the game is really the measure of his greatness. He played for the team always. He played for the fans who loved the game always. Throughout his life, he lived cocooned in the warm comfort of his home or on the cricket field. He knew of no other life other than cricket.

Meanwhile, the arguments will continue unabated…

– Mohan Krishnamoorthy (@mohank)

The author is an unabashed fan of cricket, tweets at @mohank and blogs at http://www.i3j3cricket.com and mohankaus.blogspot.com


I don’t want 2-Test series.

The best duels in Test cricket history are ones that have taken hours and hours to describe, volumes of books written on, years of legend built on memories emerging from multiple corners of views of the same event. The talks of the series attract conversations, hair raising stories and excerpts and anecdotes creep in. A bowler’s glare, a batsman’s bat-twirl, a fielder’s expectant move, a battle-within-the-battle, all find a place in what later become “the turning point of the series”. The battle becomes spicier after the turning point. The underdogs are biting into the big dogs, reducing them to carcass by the end of the tour. Legends are made when the unexpected happens.

But, it takes time to build expectations. A team arrives in a new land, takes time to settle – the food, the climate, the atmosphere, the environment, the crowd, the cricket. The story is sketched in the first few days of the tour. There are attempts to alter it in the next few. The climax is anyone’s guess. The constant attempts to out-do the expectations makes the series/tour more memorable.

All that is history.

Today, the teams travel out of their suitcases. Players are involved in Test matches within a week of arrival, play two Tests and fly away. There is no context. There is no rivalry built during the series. There is no story to be written. It is just academic. Such series are more for the media and scoreboards than for the fan of the game, the teams.

A fan might want to watch one Test, just for the sake of watching one. He/she does not want to follow the team around the tour. There is no tour diary to fill. It is just a visit report, not a tour diary.

Why 2 Tests? Why not just forget the Test series and save us the trouble of trying to follow this. “Follow” might not even be the right word. It is just two scorecards that I have to read, that is the series. I don’t have to read between the lines. Saeed Ajmal got 10 wickets? Big deal. He is going to fly out of the country in 5 days and he will start with a clean slate. Virat Kohli scored a century this series? Hmmph, nobody knows if he can repeat that next month in South Africa. Form? What is form in a 2-game series? Harbhajan under-performed? Sure, bad series, he will be fine next tour. How do you know?

The 2nd Test is when the stories and expectations were to be framed, but now, 2nd Test is when you get your report card. It is like deciding the winner of a Test match at Tea on day-2 of the Test. You neither know if a batsman has been good, or bad. For all you know, a “good series” for a player might have meant one fluke 150* and a 70 or just a 6-wicket haul. Zimbabwe beat Pakistan and leveled series 1-1. Which team was better? How do you know? There wasn’t even a 3rd Test. There was no substance to the series – just win this game and get the hell out of here. And Zimbabwe are going to hang on to this win for another few years, for all you know.

Frankly, a series without substance, story, thrill, fan-fare, excitement and length amounts to nothing. You can squeeze in a bunch of those series and dress it like it matters, wrap and bow-tie it as a present to someone, but the truth will lie bare inside it – it still is meaningless. It’s just not cricket.

-Bagrat

Dear Cricketers, Talk More. Please.

Wright Thompson (ESPN) was describing an incident from his trip to India a few years ago. He mentioned watching the Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni being crowded by people…fans…in the airport, inside the airplane, at shops, wherever he goes. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is an icon in the cricketing world, and a brand in India.

That is true for many Indian cricketers. They are revered across the length and breadth of the country. Every second brand has a cricketer as an ambassador, or in its advertisement. There are cricketers showing up on your newspaper, the television, the internet. Even in your dreams.

But, look at their social lives – they can hardly come out in the public without drawing excessive attention. Sure, they can have people to help them get groceries from the stores. But, do they get to go to the park and have a  peaceful couple of minutes without 200 people breathing down their neck for an autograph, for a pep talk, for a photograph?

Forget the people, can they just escape from the media breathing down their neck?

Fans

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain of the Indian team was sitting a press conference before leaving for the Champions Trophy in England. Indian cricket was reeling under the IPL spot fixing allegations. There were 100 unanswered questions floating around. Nobody had an answer. There they had the captain of Indian cricket team, captain of the Chennai Super Kings, employee/stakeholder of India Cements – M.S. Dhoni – sitting in front of the microphone facing the media. The media asked a question based on the spot fixing issue, and they were hushed up by the media manager. All journalists were asked not to ask questions related to the fixing issue.

101 unanswered questions.

India went on to win the Champions Trophy in ways on Dhoni can explain. Maybe. M. S. Dhoni was asked in the Caribbean tour by Mr. Subash Jayaraman about his methods that amazingly tilted the table in India’s favour in the finals. But Dhoni, in his own way, replied – “If I tell you how I think, there will be no secrets. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself.”

India is a country with more than a billion people, and I assume atleast 6 out of 10 Indians like the game of cricket. We Indian fans idolize cricketers, we mimic their batting and bowling styles. We call each other Sachin or Dhoni to feel good. We always dream of meeting them, spending a few minutes with them, talk to them, know them better. That is exactly what boils over as the emotions of fans who jump over the railings and past bouncers to get close to their idols. 

We want to know more about them all. We are fans, we deserve to know what they like, what they don’t. We can’t figure it out for ourselves all the way. Our love for the game doesn’t end at stumps. It goes beyond it, which is what fandom is about.

I noticed that many cricketers joined Twitter, which is a really wonderful engaging social media. Twitter is where millions of fans can follow you and it gives them the freedom to connect to their idols, something that seems impossible outside the internet. Maybe not. Even here, the players don’t respond to any of the fan cries. Some of them are too self obsessed, showing off their universities, promotions, horses etc. Some of them log on to send occasional festival wishes. Or “Yes. We won.” kind of tweets. I know who won. I was checking the scores on cricinfo.

This is totally different from how basketball players in the NBA use the twitter media, or for that matter – any media – to interact with media houses and fans alike.

Just assume there was a parallel universe in which the cricketers were not chained slaves of their cricket board(s) and were allowed to give candid interviews to journalists, spoke openly on the burning issues of the day, cleared the air about speculations etc. Fans already have the answers to most of their questions. They are still fans. They are better, informed fans. Next time, maybe they won’t ask Ravindra Singh Jadeja eat at a Hyderabadi restaurant if he likes Awadhi cuisine more. Or, maybe they will not send Sachin a video of a monkey playing “Happy Birthday To You” on his birthday, if Sachin is allergic to monkey videos.

In this parallel world, the cricketers might be able to move around freely. More freely, in comparison. They don’t have to worry about the media – they have been answered. Yes, there will be fans coming to meet the players. They will meet them, maybe shake hands, take a photo, wish them luck and move on; knowing the fact that he will be there again 3 days later to buy the same vegetables and sit on the same chair in the park while whistling the same tune from that movie in 1990s.

Getting back to reality, all that is not possible. I wasn’t even allowed to speak to a Ranji cricketer after a domestic game. Fans were chased away from watching the players practice after game (this happens in international games too). I couldn’t even have a “hi – hello” conversation with Nayan Mongia who was playing with his kid in the nets. Does the fan really matter in this game? At all?

The sad fan

(images courtesy HindustanTimes.com and SouthAsiaBiz.com respectively)

(Article based on a conversation with Mr. Rajat)

- Bagrat

IPL-6 was Fun

Multiple sources inform me that the IPL season is now over. I wasn’t sure until I saw Indian cricketers play Pakistan last night under the watchful eyes of His Majesty His Highness His Holyness Sir Lord Lalit Modi.

Jokes aside, I loved this IPL season even though I didn’t get to watch much of it. Rather, I didn’t want to watch any of it. And I am trying to erase all evidences of exclaiming “Fixed” or “I jinxed it” whenever something fishy seemed to have happened on during the IPL. You know, I don’t want to go to Tihar for 6 days and then left out and wait for judgment on it till 2017.

Oh, I said ‘jokes aside’? I lied. IPL is a joke. You must be plugging your ears and screaming *la la la la la la la* if you think otherwise. Even Lalit Modi thinks it is a joke. And he is the original puppeteer of the Indian Cric…I mean…Premier League.

I love how the insiders of the IPL work. They want in when there is something in for them. Like, Rajiv Shukla came in when they (I believe “they” means BCCI) ousted Lalit Modi. In an age where we debate the importance of DRS in a cricket game, I am not even sure Rajiv Shukla can tell a right handed batsman from a left handed one. If you need a non-cricketing fellow at the top of IPL to make ridiculous statements, why not appoint someone like Shreya Ghoshal? At least those ridiculous statements will sound sweet. Anyway, let us assume Rajiv Shukla, or his son, or his son-in-law has (vested) interests in the game. Because Rajiv doesn’t. I mean, who goes on to say that he is happy for India’s loss in England because now cricket can grow in England, who have been losing in cricket and football for the past decade?

IPL had a spot fixing scandal this year. I think this will bring an end to the IPL………………………………………….rulebook of allowing towels to the game. IPL players can’t even spot-fix properly. One of the involved players forgot to signal the over the deal was made for. So, IPL is imperfect even in the imperfect scenario.

*la la la la la la la*

IPL team owners have been involved in betting. How the CSK owner enthusiast lost more than Rs 1 crore by betting on his own team is beyond me. I think he should be punished by the long arms of bookies first, and then by the law. The RR owner also placed bets which his wife denies, he accepts, his wife blames somebody else for misusing their contact, he accepts, his wife cries foul, he accepts….maybe a few days later, his wife will also accept. Not all actors get their dialogues right in the first take.

As soon as the first breakthrough was made in the spot-fixing case, everybody from everywhere fired bullets – “XYZ should resign.” Most of the substitutions for “XYZ” were BCCI Chief, India Cements (owner of CSK) big man, the non-T20 goer, non IPL follower, Mr. N. Srinivasan. IPL big fellows are really interesting. They get selected, or elected, or sit on occupied seats themselves so that they do nothing much during the office hours and later when they are supposed to do something in a situation of crisis, they bark at others to resign, while still not doing anything about it.

I think the floor is weak and all the chairs at the IPL office are broken. Nobody wants to stand up to the situation. Nobody wants to put himself above everyone else and say “We have a situation here. Let’s solve it before it becomes a problem.” Their attitude is more like, “Dude, the coffee machine is not working again? You $%!^*$^%$!*^. Resign right away.” And then after the old fellow steps down aside, a new fellow takes up the post with no responsibility of what has happened and no ownership of the events that has dented the credibility (whaaa?) of the league. I still don’t know why Rajiv Shukla resigned. I mean, I still don’t know why he was made the IPL Commissioner in the first pace. I need at least one answer. I can conjure a blogpost for the other answer.

You know the league is absolutely funny when you are laughed at by the man who was ousted from the same league for corruption, who banned other leagues so his can be the sole runner, who hid himself in the UK where he got into more trouble by pulling another cricketer to fight in a court on match fixing charges and then lost the case and then got sued by the cricketer, which of course he claims he can’t pay because he  got bankrupt, which he tweets from his PC from a home in London where he is staying on an expired Visa while being the President and Director of a business group. Mr Lalit Modi is awesome in some ways.

I know. The IPL is saved. Jagmohan Dalmia will save it.

Phew.

-Bagrat

IPL Extraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

This is not a post about:

a)   IPL is not cricket

b)   IPL is cricket

c)   IPL has issues such as conflict of interest, spot fixing, sexism etc.

These are some random musings.

I am a sucker for cricket and I’d like to know if there is any other forum to watch Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid play other than the IPL. And I play the fantasy league. In fact, that is the second most significant reason I follow the IPL. Also as mentioned by @gradwolf on Twitter, these are the only folks who seem to be watching the IPL.

I watch the pregame show on mute (only until they display the playing XIs so I could adjust my fantasy league team) for the fear of Sidhu taking Rahul or Sachin’s name and the foul stench of his breath and sense of humor that would  emanate from the television set and cause nausea and increase in my blood pressure. I wish there were an option to visually mute Samir Kochhar whose skin tone displays a range that covers the entire Loreal skin tone chart, thanks to some heavy make-up. Also, the oil content on his skin could vary from bone dry like Bombay High to unexplored wells in Saudi Arabia. If it’s not make-up then I’d like to nominate him for the most curious biological specimen in terms of control over melanin and sebaceous gland activities.

Coming back to muting Kochhar, I think the mirror image of an L-shaped ad might do the trick since Samir invariably sits on the (TV screen) right hand side of the panel menagerie, feeding morsels of gossip and stoking emotions so the panelists species present in the studio could spit out some words at a frenetic pace and even clap their hands and sing and dance every now and then I don’t understand why one needs to resort to waterboarding as a means of torture when one could show the tape of this show to achieve far more effective results. They have even hired the services of Isa Guha since England is not represented well in the IPL, apart from Owais Shah (who?). Also, screw you, Eoin Morgan is Irish. Besides, Kevin Pietersen (even though not playing) is a South African. So. This move makes IPL a truly global phenomenon, representing all the “significant” cricket playing countries.

And if you thought IPL is appealing only to Homo sapiens, you’re dead wrong. They have specifically hired Danny Morrison to squeal at frequencies above 20,000 Hz in order to communicate with the animal and possibly the avian kingdom. Because I sure as hell can’t understand a damn thing he’s saying and I can guarantee that he sure as hell isn’t speaking below 20Hz where his consternations might escape my attention.

Also, one of these days, I need to ask the Lars Ulrich of the show how demeaning it is to wield his skilled hands upon the denouement of a cerebral gem from Sherry paaji. Every single time. Without fail. And how does he maintain that icy expression on his face? Does he have genuine fiduciary concerns as a result of which he had to sign up for this? What’s really going through his mind? Would rather flip those sticks in air and punch them straight into his ears to save himself the agony of listening to the audio and philosophical cacophony or hit his head hard enough against the drumhead membrane (are they made of cowskin? Alligator skin? Who cares.) to pierce it and seek refuge within its serene interiors. The odor and suffocation in that milieu would still be better than what he’s experiencing outside.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this post. I guess I could have called it “A rant against IPL Extraaa innings and the ill effects of Ekta Kapoor’s F-U to English spelling” but I figured IPL and Ekta Kapoor in the title would repel all but one person on this planet from reading this post. That person would be me since I have the misfortune of proof reading it before hitting the send button.