Archive for the ‘cricket’ Category

It took 16 long years and a retirement announcement for Rahul Dravid to finally upstage Sachin Tendulkar.

And now as one cricketing great steps into the sunset, the spotlight has turned on the two veterans – Tendulkar and VVS Laxman – who were till recently the Big Three of Indian cricket.

To be honest, technically Rahul Dravid was better than anyone else in the team. Dravid, at the risk of blaspheming, I would say he was even better than Tendulkar in that department. Any school boy who wanted to learn how to be technically correct, only had to watch Dravid. It’s his misfortune that he played in an era where every other player, in India or elsewhere, was dwarfed by the Little Master. Whether it was Dravid, Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, Inzaman-ul-Haq…just about anyone else, they were always considered second best in comparison to Sachin.

Just like during the era of Sunil Gavaskar there was Gundappa Vishwanath, who many considered more talented than the original Little Master, but who (many including Gavaskar felt) never really realised his true potential. Even though Vishwanath began his career a season before Gavaskar, it was the latter who dwarfed him since then after his stupendous debut against the West Indies. And while Vishwanth produced classic knocks around the world’s cricket grounds against all forms of opposition, it was invariably Gavaskar who walked away with the accolades, and one who the team depended on when the chips were down.

The case of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar runs along similar lines. When Sachin bats every Indian’s heart in his mouth, because one never knows when the guy is going to do something silly. With Dravid around one was pretty sure that he would steady the innings and rarely make a false stroke. If he did, it would be met with incredulous silence. If Dravid was at the other end, it was a comforting factor. But at the end of the day it was Tendulkar who stole a march! Until today!

Speaking to a veteran Indian Test cricketer today about Dravid’s announcement, the talk veered around to the retirement of Tendulkar and the veteran shook his head sadly. He said Dravid was an educated, erudite man of many talents and could do a lot more beyond cricket. Tendulkar on the other hand didn’t know anything else except playing cricket. Probably that’s what was making the little man not contemplate retirement, felt this veteran.

It’s what he said next that made my ears perk up. It was sad to see Sachin getting hit on the head and elsewhere by the opposition bowlers so often, he said. Also, he was caught wrong-footed quite often. This showed that Sachin’s reflexes had slowed down a lot and, maybe, his eyesight wasn’t the same as before, he opined.

This gentleman who has followed Tendulkar’s game closely since the latter’s school days, opined that it was time Sachin also called it a day. “What does he have to prove anymore? Will it matter if he doesn’t get that 100th century? Will it make him any less a player he already is? He is beginning to lose the respect of a lot of senior cricketers by hanging on to his place.”

Now with the decision to retire at a rather emotional announcement in Bangalore, Rahul Dravid’s stature as a player and a gentleman has gone up quite a few notches. Who’s next?


My son and a few others think my comments against Sachin Tendulkar are ill-timed and smack of ignorance. Every time I say Sachin should now thinking of retiring, at least from Tests there is a storm of protest from home and from some of my students. He seems to have become the latest ‘holy cow’ and no one can speak a word against him. It’s like he should be allowed to play on undisturbed as long as he wants, even if the other ten are sacked and even if the team slips from one defeat to another! It’s almost as if cricket is not a team game but something invented for one man! I do wish our cricket fans would grow up.

Heck, I admire Tendulkar just as much as the next cricket fanatic and unlike a lot of youngsters who have only seen him play in the last decade or so, I’ve been following his game since he was 14, when he made his debut in school cricket and I avidly followed the natural progression of his game when he stood up to Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Abdul Qadir in his first series against Pakistan in 1989.

As I watched the cherubic faced kid taking guard my heart was in my mouth and my fingers were crossed. He had to succeed, I kept saying to myself, because, even then I believed, as a 16-year-old he was God’s gift to Indian cricket. Never has a player been born with such class, charisma, talent, at least not in my lifetime. Yes, there was Sunil Gavaskar, who I sometimes considered a notch above Tendulkar, if only for his phenomenal concentration. Maybe I am biased because Sunny Gavaskar’s exploits were a part of my life, as I grew up, and Sachin came along when I was already four years into my profession.

And, like every any other Indian, I too celebrated every time Sachin scored a century. That’s all I ever wanted him to do, because for me, that’s what he was best at. I watched him roll off ton after ton from his ‘Big Bertha’(Clive Lloyd had given his bat that name and people believed Sachin’s bat was as heavy, if not heavier than Lloyd’s).

In 1994, I got up at 4 am to watch him open the innings for the first time in a one-day match at Auckland, and play an innings what I and a million others, who were lucky enough to watch, believe was one of the finest one-day innings ever played. Tendulkar scored 82 off 49 balls with 15 fours and 2 sixes. Commentators said it was a chilly, blustery morning, with the wind swirling around and the ball swinging dangerously, but this kid played an innings that quite simply took everyone’s breath away.

Those who partnered him that day at Auckland – Jadeja, Kambli, Azharuddin and Manjrekar – were mere spectators as the fireworks from his bat sent a message to bowlers around the world. Here was a batsman, after Bradman, Sobers and Richards they had to fear and respect. I remember reading about some of the Australian players who were watching the match from home who said they had NEVER seen an innings like that played in a one-day match. It was acknowledgment from the best of one already a genius at 21.

I also remember his innings of 119* in England in 1990, a few years earlier as he took India to an honourable draw at Leeds. “Schoolboy defies England” screamed the British newspapers. It was pure magic, and the snooty British press that normally drips acid against anything that isn’t as English as them, waxed eloquent about the 17-year-old schoolboy. He was everybody’s darling.

I also watched him on television scoring back-to-back hundreds against Australia in Sharjah in 1998, that experts believed were two of the greatest one-day knocks played. There too a sandstorm threatened to blow the match away and the Australian bowlers were looking to do the same to the Indian batsmen – until they ran into Tendulkar. Suddenly the Aussies had lost their swagger. For India it was a do-or-die effort and a millions hearts must have stopped beating that day when Sachin took guard. He bludgeoned his way to 143 and 124 in successive matches and won the Cup for India. The Australians were left shell-shocked. They acknowledged that they had been beaten by a champion batsman and not by a team. And there were so many such innings like that, each a masterpiece in its own way, which only Tendulkar could play.

Cut to the present. I see him struggling to get his hundredth hundred, struggling against newcomers, struggling to make scores that he would have virtually made in his sleep. Those bowlers who would have been in awe of him, had they bowled against him a decade ago, were actually talking about getting him out now and quite openly saying they could.

So now when I say he should leave now, and I hear, “Why should he quit, when he’s scoring?” I want to tell these people that this is not the Tendulkar I want to remember. I don’t know what you think but watching the great man in the last year has, except for the occasional flourish, been a painful experience. I watch him struggling to get his feet moving or out of the way against bowlers who actually believe they can get him out. They seem to have figured out his weaknesses and are quick to exploit them. It’s ok to score double centuries at home on wickets which are made to order, but it’s another story on wickets abroad.

I want to remember Sachin as the greatest batsman alive. Sure, he can still get his 70s and 80s. If he can still do that it is proof of his greatness, that he is still a cut above the rest. But is that how we want to remember him? Just another batsman who is happy pulling his weight and adding to his tally of runs?

Maybe you do, but I don’t.

Vinod Kambli has always been the kind of person who seeks attention and thrives on it – on the cricket field and off it. And the latest incident where he has claimed that the 1996 World Cup semi final against Sri Lanka was fixed is another example of that. Before that was his outburst on TV that Sachin could have helped him get his place back in the team, but never did.

Sometime in 1988, a journalist friend called me to ask if I would be interested in carrying a feature in the Maharashtra Herald, on the other and lesser known half of the Tendulkar-Kambli combination. Vinod Kambli was then a 17 year-old-year living in a one-room tenement in Kanjurmarg, in the suburbs of Mumbai, unlike his more famous and younger-by-a-year friend who lived in Bandra.

He and Sachin had just set up a world record score of 664 in schools cricket, and while everyone was raving about the talent of the cherubic Tendulkar, who was already been spoken of as a player to watch, not too many people were talking about Kambli.

So when this journalist friend spoke to me, I was not too convinced. But he used all his powers of persuasion to convince me of Kambli’s talent and the fact that the ‘biased’ Mumbai sports media couldn’t see beyond Shivaji Park and Dadar Gymkhana!

So we carried a full-page feature on Kambli and it made fascinating reading. Here was this boy from the lower strata of society, who knew that everyone was talking about Tendulkar, said he didn’t mind because Sachin was his best friend. The young Vinod would travel by local train to Shardashram School where both the boys would go through cricketing lessons under the watchful eyes of their coach Ramakant Achrekar.

He was sure that one day soon his time would come, that people would take his name in the same breath as they did Tendulkar. And they did, in 1993, four years after his friend Sachin made that spectacular debut against Pakistan. In his first seven Tests, Kambli scored two double-centuries and two single ones. Not even his best friend could have boasted of such a sensational start.

He then made that very telling comment, “Sachin used the elevator and I used the staircase.”

Nothing could have been better for Indian cricket at that point. I genuinely liked the kid and thought he deserved his success. From January 1993 to November 1995, Kambli had played 17 Tests and scored 1084 runs at an average of 54.20. He had scored 2477 in 104 one-dayers. Pretty impressive record, but then somewhere along the way, I believe his success went to his head. Unfortunately, his career never took off because he was, like many others before him, suspect against the rising ball.

There were also various instances of indiscipline and a tumultuous personal life, which probably also contributed to his slump. His behaviour on and off the field was in marked contrast to that of his friend Sachin, who was never involved in any unsavoury incidents – personal or professional. Even the fact that Sachin ended up marrying someone seven years older was overlooked by the media. And since Kambli was supposed to be his best friend it was natural for the media to compare the two. In this comparison, it was Kambli who invariably ended up with the bad reviews.

I remember speaking to some senior sports journalists, much more knowledgeable and experienced about the game than I was, and their opinion was that Kambli just wasn’t as good as Tendulkar and had been outmaneuvered by the opposition bowlers, because of his weaknesses outside the offstump. They also felt he had messed up his career by his antics off the field.

Around the time when he was out of the Indian team, I remember writing a piece for the newspaper, where I praised his batting in some first class match. Kambli’s first wife called me to complain about the piece. She said I had no idea what he was up against and instead of supporting him I was running him down! I didn’t have the patience to clarify and didn’t see the need to apologise.

A few years later, I was at a medical shop in Pune, near my home, when I saw Vinod in shorts and a tee-shirt buying a crate of beer. I remember thinking, as he struggled with a paunch to load the beer into the car, that this is what happens to players who get dropped. I then heard that he had got into a brawl at some disco in Pune, because some people tried to make a pass at his wife.

A few days later, the advertising manager David Sawant came to my cabin to tell me excitedly that Vinod Kambli was coming to our office to book a full-page advertisement on Valentine’s Day for his wife. Frankly, I had no interest in Kambli’s antics and couldn’t understand why he needed to announce his arrival. My caustic comment was, “Does he think he’s Sachin Tendulkar?”

For Vinod Kambli, I guess that’s what it has really been all about since he was 17.

Childhood memories are the ones that remain for ever. I was in the Eighth Standard, when India won their first-ever series against the West Indies and England in 1971, under Ajit Wadekar.

Holidaying in Ootacamund (now Udhagamandalam), at the Blue Mountain’s School, where my mother used to teach, I was told by her, one afternoon, that Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore were paying a visit to the school, because they were friends of the owners.

The two stars were shooting for Daag in Ooty and had consented to visit the school to interact with the children. The children, which included me, were agog at the news. I mean, who could imagine that they would be meeting the stars of Aradhana in the flesh? And Rajesh Khanna was then a rage.

By the time it was evening, the students were impatiently waiting for their favourite stars, and as the cars drew up to the school porch, the excitement knew no bounds! And then everyone got the shock of their lives. The more ‘senior’ of the boys, including me, let out a whoop of delight, because guess who got out of the car – little Gundappa Vishwanath and a rather dapper Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, accompanied by C.D. Gopinath, then the Chairman of the selection commitee.

Pataudi was extremely apologetic to the little ones for Sharmila and Rajesh’s absence (“they were very tired after a long day’s shoot”), but then went ahead and spoke to the students for over an hour on Indian cricket. Among the students, who listened to the two cricket legends were the son and nephew of former Indian Test opener Madhav Apte and the nephew of C.D. Gopinath – all three real chips of the old block.

I remember asking Vishy the journalist’s standard stupid question – ‘Did you ever think you’ll score a century after getting a duck in your first Test?’ But thankfully I left out the classic question: How did you feel after scoring the century? I guess, I was just destined to join the profession I am in!!

Pataudi was his usual suave self and I remember he referred to the Indian cricketer’s attitude of staying put in the team till he got the boot! Some things haven’t really changed much, have they?
He himself retired after the West Indies series of 1974-75, which India lost 3-2, after being 0-2 down.

I also remember watching Pataudi, leading the Rest of India against Ajit Wadekar’s Indian team that had returned from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1972 or 1973, at the Nehru Stadium in Pune. He spanked (and there is no other word to describe that inning) Wadekar’s India XI bowlers. Young Anshuman Gaekwad watched from the other end stuck on 44, as a rampaging Tiger blasted his way to 144, if I remember right, with 7 sixes, most of them off Paddy Shivalkar – and all into the crowd.

I also watched him race from long off to long on, pick up the ball on the run and throw it in, flat and hard, to shatter the stumps from the boundary ropes. I guess, that’s what made him (as a newspaper referred to him today as) India’s favourite Tiger. They don’t make ’em like him anymore. Goodbye Tiger!

And I thought Shahid Afridi, was a sensible young man, who had mellowed in the past two years! On June 25, 2009, I had posted something on Afridi and his big mouth, where I had said that he was going around making silly statements like India were scared of playing against Pakistan, instead of trying to mend fences with them. I had also said that he should keep his feet out of the one place where they invariably find themselves – his mouth!

But then after his rather sporting speech at the post-match presentation ceremony at Mohali, I was impressed with his demeanour. I thought he had matured as a skipper, and that Pakistan cricket had finally found Imran’s successor – a serious, yet modern and forward thinking skipper. But judging by his latest ‘boo boo’ nothing’s changed. I can accept his comment that as a Pakistani he feels that his people are more large-hearted than the Indians. We can’t expect everyone to like us. We don’t think much of the Pakistanis, do we? But to say THEY’VE tried to make peace with US for the past 60-odd years and WE’VE always rejected THEIR overtures, is laughable. And then to say that the Indian media was negative is even more laughable. Has he forgotten that it was the Indian media which blasted his minister for the ‘keep away from match-fixing’ comment?

The problem that the Pakistanis have is age-old. It stems from the ‘weight’ of the rather large chip that they’ve been carrying on their shoulders for the past 63 years. I guess Afridi is no different. And I’m not talking politics here. They are simply unable to accept that they have lost to India in every single World Cup they’ve played against us and quite a few other matches in between. It’s not that they are a bad team or inferior to the Indians. They’ve always had better fast bowlers, if not batsmen, so why, when they meet India, do they come a cropper? That and the fact that Indian cricket has everything they don’t – better managed infrastructure, better paid players at all levels, and after the Azharuddin episode, no incidents of match-fixing – is what really pisses them off.

And, so, even as Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani expressed the hope that Indo-Pak cricket matches could be resumed, along came Mr Shahid ‘Big Mouth’ Afridi shooting from the lip. After what he has said about the people of India and against Gautam Gambhir dedicating the win to the victims of 26/11, does he really expect the Indian Government or the BCCI to be in any sort of hurry to resume ties? What did Gambhir say that was offensive? Didn’t Tendulkar dedicate one if his centuries to the Mumbai after the terror attack?

I remember reading in Sunil Gavaskar’s book Sunny Days that in 1971 when war broke out in the subcontinent between the two neighbours, he and Bishen Singh Bedi were playing for the World XI in Australia. They would have dinner every evening with two other players – Mustaqh Mohammed and Intikhab Alam – both Pakistanis and there was no rancour or animosity – in fact they were the best of friends and still are. Afridi should accept that he cannot change history. But it’s really in his hands to change the future. But that won’t happen if he, like some of his predecessors, walks around with that chip on his shoulder.

Green, it would seem for the Pakistanis, is also the colour of envy.

Here’s a confession. Till yesterday’s final, I had not watched a single match of the ICC World Cup which India played. But more of that later…

Last night as I watched the kids in my building running up and down the parking area screaming “India India” after Dhoni smacked the six, I could afford to look on indulgently. After all, I had been there, done that. I had witnessed it before. I couldn’t help think back to that magical day in June of 1983 when India achieved the impossible. Was that a more defining moment than this one? I was 25 then and crazy about the game as my son is today. No one gave India a hope in hell to even reach the semi-finals, leave alone the final. I remember reading that the arrogant England players and their media were delighted and derisive about meeting India in the semi-finals, because they couldn’t have asked for an easier opponent en route to the final at Lords.

When Yashpal Sharma whipped Bob Willis of his legs to midwicket for a six, everyone sitting in the control room of Hotel Blue Diamond, where I worked in those days, erupted. We knew it then that we were going to thrash the Poms. We could see the faces of the England players. They were shell-shocked and had already lost the match. You don’t pick Bob Willis then England’s best fast bowler and cart him over the fence like he was bowling with a tennis ball!

Then in the final as the West Indies were sailing to a win with the arrogant Viv Richards treating the Indian bowlers like they were schoolboys, we all prayed. All ‘we’ needed was his wicket and as Richards lifted a Madan Lal delivery to the leg side, I think most of us packed to the nines in that small room at the hotel died a thousand deaths as we watched Kapil Dev running to get under the ball. Would he drop it? Would he? He didn’t.

As Mohinder Amarnath claimed the last wicket I don’t think there was a dry eye amongst us. We wept. For a lot of us, it was a moment we never imagined would happen. Just like today’s generation, we had been waiting for this moment since we were kids. Imagine a rag-a-tag bunch of no-hopers under a 23-year-old captaining his country at cricket’s most prestigious tournament for the first time, walking away with the title. I remember wishing, like I did yesterday, that I could have been in Mumbai, because that is where the celebrations would be at its best. It was after all the home of Indian cricket. I remember reading that the foghorns on ships anchored along the coast near the Gateway of India went on blaring through the night, flares lit up the night sky and people danced on the streets.

I might have lost my job that night, because I should have been on duty at the Reception of the hotel, but was instead watching the match. But no one noticed and no one cared. The hotel lobby was packed with guests who came down from their rooms asking us to open the Bar, because they wanted a drink to celebrate. You can have been a waiter or a guest, but it didn’t matter, because people hugged each other in the lobby. I remember thinking, as tears rolled down, that this was the most incredible moment of my life.

But all through this World Cup whenever India played my son told me to stay away from the living room. He believed that every time I walked in an Indian wicket fell, so I was banished into the bedroom and told to watch the match on my laptop! He claimed India won because I stayed out of the living room and he didn’t move from his perch on the sofa! But yesterday, as India lost Sehwag and Tendulkar, my son was despondent, and went to sleep. I came back, sat in the living room and watched the entire match. Fifteen runs away from a win, I woke him up. He was stunned when he heard me tell him excitedly that India was about to win the Cup. I also told him that I had been sitting in his chair and India was about to win!

Of course, I didn’t tell him that I was jumping up and down like a schoolboy, cheering and shouting every time Gambhir and Dhoni sent the ball to the boundary. “Two fours….two fours, is all we need to take the pressure off,” I remember thinking aloud. Going a run a ball wasn’t exactly comforting as we inched closer. The run-to-ball ratio had to change quickly now and then Dhoni took on Malinga. As he hit two fours I was applauding and clapping in delight. And then in the next over as he banished the ball into the stands, I leapt from the chair, dancing, screaming – just like those kids down below. It was 1983 again.

I am an Indian cricket fan too, like the rest of the one billion plus Indians in this country and the numerous others around the world. There was a time when I used to keep a ball-by-ball account of every match India played anywhere in the world; copiously reading up on cricket statistics; pouring over reports on the game from all over the world. As a kid I did not know my multiplication tables from my division, but could tell you Sunil Gavaskar’s batting average to the last decimal! I still lose my cool when I see an Indian wicket fall to a poor shot or a catch being dropped, or even cheer when the opposition drops a catch!

Right now I too have butterflies in my stomach thinking about what could happen tomorrow. Why? Because beating the Pakistanis is what every Indian desperately wants. But, I still treat cricket as a sport to be enjoyed and every match as just as a another match, and not WAR, unlike some of my countrymen, who believe that beating the Pakistanis is like shoving a bayonet into the enemy’s chest.

Some of the vicious comments I’ve been reading in the media and on social networking sites make me wonder whether we are a rational thinking people from a country steeped in the ‘Hindu culture’ or a bunch of psychopaths. Heck, I would be over the moon if India won the match against Pakistan and then the ICC World Cup. Please note I said ‘IF’ and not ‘WHEN’ because in a game with such high stakes and pressure, five overs or a couple of wickets either way, could decide the result.

After Brett Lee got hit on the eye I read some comment on Facebook that said “serves him right”. Serves him right, for what? Playing his heart out for his country? Give the man some credit. He has taken over 800 international wickets, which is a damn sight more than any of the Indian bowlers playing for their team. Our cricket fans should appreciate his bowling instead of denigrating it and should urge our bunch of second-rate (YES SECOND-RATE) medium pacers (with the exception of Zaheer Khan) to learn the art of pace bowling from the great Australian.

Criticising a player for his poor performance is one thing but to ridicule his efforts shows us up for unsportsmanlike behaviour. We (and I don’t mean the cricketers, but a section of the media and a large number of Indian cricket fans) are quick to call the Australians ‘cry babies’. But let’s not forget that until very recently it was the Indians who were always the cry babies. Instead of appreciating the way the Australians played their game and learning from them, we cried about being bullied out. Funnily, isn’t that what Sourav Ganguly did? He played the game the Aussie way and won; and he publicly acknowledged that Steve Waugh was his hero.

As a nation of sports enthusiasts we are poor losers and history is witness to that. Way back in 1974, after Ajit Wadekar’s boys had been thrashed by England 3-0 in a Test series, their homes were stoned and a stone replica of a cricket bat, with the signatures of the team captained by Wadekar that defeated the West Indies and England in 1971, was defaced. This is just one example. Indian skipper Dhoni has also commented that he has stopped caring about the reactions of the Indian cricket fans because by now they have even killed him in their minds, every time his team plays badly! It’s a sad reflection on us as a sports-loving people.

That is why I am APPALLED by the entire jingoistic and intolerant reaction of our cricket fans to our team and any opposition, especially the Pakistanis. A day before the big match, we sound like the same hysterical, frenzied mobs that would take out a knife and stab someone at the slightest provocation. I am surprised that some political party hasn’t yet taken out a procession.

Tomorrow, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for Team India. And I sincerely hope, for the sake of the billions who’ve been thumping their chest and dreaming of annihilation, that they don’t get the unexpected.