Posts Tagged ‘Indian cricket’

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?


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.

The problem with Pakistan is that it is so deep in the hole it has dug itself into that it has neither the will nor the inclination to pull itself out. You would expect any country to at least, make the right noises about acting against the players who have been named by The News of the World in the spot fixing scandal. But Pakistan has instead closed ranks and started to blame India and the rest of the world for it – and in the process, has slid deeper into the muck.

Right from the match at Sharjah in the 1991, it was evident that match-fixing wasn’t something that was going to go away in a hurry. Pakistan played India in that match and won in near darkness. The Indian team management asked Manoj Prabhakar and Sanjay Manjrekar to continue playing after the umpires offered light. Pakistan won the match in the last over and qualified for the finals of the trophy. Rumours were rife that large amounts of money had exchanged hands and Pakistan was allowed to win. Ever since that day, the spectre of match-fixing has haunted the cricket world. After the BCCI got into the act and decided to ban some of the players who were allegedly involved in the fixing, Indian cricketers (not necessarily Indian cricket) have been relatively ‘clean’. The spotlight has now moved completely to Pakistan.

But after all that has happened in the past week, one would expect the Pakistan Government and the Pakistan Cricket Board to do a clean-up act. But what they do from the first day is to say it’s an international conspiracy mounted by India! So the alleged photographer-cum-bookie is Indian, but the other bookies are Pakistanis aren’t they? Look at the ‘bright’ side, at least, there’s at least one thing we can work on together!

The Pakistanis should stop blaming the world for their problems and look within. The thing is that right from the top to the bottom the entire edifice is decayed and crumbling. When there is a President who is a certified crook and is derisively still known as ‘Mr Ten Per Cent’, where the entire democratic set-up is destroyed by greedy politicians with active connivance of the Army, one can hardly expect a concerted campaign against corruption.

The funny thing is when the story broke the officials looked to be doing something, even if they blamed India! A few days later, the government stepped in and everything changed. When ICC Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat says it is the biggest scandal cricket has faced in recent times and Pakistan just clams up, it does make one wonder, whether the Pakistanis are really interested in getting to the bottom of things. It gives the impression that the entire Pakistani cricket establishment is in it neck deep and is hell-bent on engaging in a massive cover-up to save its butt. It does not bode well for the game in general.

I find it hard to believe that cricket boards everywhere, with the benefit of technology and their personal contacts in the media, do not know what their players are up to. And if the Pakistanis won’t do anything about it, it’s time the ICC cleaned up the augean stables. I guess it’s all a question of the will and the way. Right now the Pakistani establishment shows very little interest in either.