Posted in Cricket, Humor - General, Short Story

A different ball game all together…

It was a windy March morning. The colors in the air had just settled down. Not far off from Hyderabad City, (to be precise 13 Kms.), at a forted enclosure which sprawls over seventy acres, about three dozen strange people had assembled. Most of them were very much in their liveries and some, perhaps for the first time ever, given their awkward postures. At one corner of their point of assembly, if one would have to fathom a guess, as I am doing right now, some of them were in a state of contortion, in an attempt to stretch (‘try to’ would be more precise) their bodies, much to the disgust of the group of onlookers, which mostly included a few critters and crows. This was neither a political conglomeration nor any religious gathering.   Yes. The craziest ball was about to be played here at Gachibowli CMC cricket grounds.

The team captains, the managers, the umpires, the match referee, the mostly overrated press folks (including yours amicably) were all waiting for the chief guest. There were many heads looking at their and their neighbors’ watches rather impatiently.

The formalities waiting to happen in the next 30 minutes, i.e. till 09:40 hours, before the the first ball of the match was to be bowled went like this:  

  • Introduction of the team members to the chief guest the Chairman of CMCCOM Mr. K, by the respective team managers
  • Mr. K’s inaugural speech
  • Official commencement of the game by the chief guest and
  • “tossing the coin” in the presence of the umpires Messrs. V, Messrs. R, the third umpire Messers. M, and the match referee Mr. A.

Rajaram, who was leading his team SLAZENGERS was seen composed and cool, chatting with his team members, sitting on choir chairs, while his rival team FLABBERGASTERS’ skipper Chandrashekar was not to be left behind as far as the coolness and composure go. He was as much relaxed as his counterpart, but the difference being that he was sitting alone, away from his team members unlike his counterpart. The Slazengers (from hereon referred to as the Sleazy Asses), it seemed obvious, had done quite a lot of homework. After all, their think-tank includes not one but two brains. The incumbent manager Kameshwari, as well as the future taker of the job Bhuvaneshwari, had spent more than a week charting out strategies to tackle Chandroo & co. Despite her deceptive sluggish appearance, Kamesh was out wholesomely throwing out ideas from her early days’ experiences with Enid Blyton to her recent gambling experiences with Jeffrey Archer.  In fact, Guzpacho, being one privileged magazine in the circuit and I being the reporter of it, had an easy access to one of the practice sessions of the Sleazy Asses and the Flabs (The Flabbergasters).  By getting herself associated with the team so early in her career, Bhuvana has already started looking fit to take over the onus from Kamesh smoothly. You have to accept this truth that this lady has got a different approach totally, as compared to her predecessor. By repeatedly playing the opposite team’s match video clippings, she analyzes critical data.  I heard a sudden shriek, “I found it”.  She had just spotted an object and it was just the starting point for her to encapsulate things etc., so that coding can be done at a later stage. She carries a laptop computer with her always, anything and everything, she is only too quick to use it. The Woolmer way!

Quite contrasting was the other camp, where things were going on at a drudging pace. But the Flabs’ manager, Umitha was blasting out in her usual style. She was optimistic of doing things “Right” on that day but the only nagging worry to her was that she was not sure whether her members (including herself) would actually make it to the ground on match day.

The three commentators (English – Ambika, Telugu – Sarada and Hindi – Santhi), who were supposed to run the proceedings from the chief guest’s arrival, were yet to be spotted in the ground.  It was 09:15 AM (According to the last reports received they were having their breakfast).

The line-up for this exciting clash:

FLABBERGASTERS

Rajaram (C, WK)

Rama Gopal

Chalapathy

Andrews

Sudhakar

Gowd

Chikka

Naweed

Prasad

UmRao

Ramana

Sateesh (12th man)

SLAZENGERS

Chandrashekar (C)

Giridhar

Ramesh

Brijesh (WK)

Murthy

Ravikanth

Sai Gopal

Hareesh

Ranganathan

Lakshmi Narasimhan

Prakash

Sitaramasamy (12th man)

09:20 AM. The Sleazy Asses Dressing Room.

“Hey! the Chief Guest has come..Wake up Ramgo!”.

A biting of his ears and a gentle punch on his shoulders by Chalps got Ramgo out of his dream world nevertheless.

Mr.K was received by the 3 umpires, match referee and the managers. He quite uncharacteristically apologized for his late arrival and went straight to the Sleazy Asses.

Kamesh, “This is Raja, our captain as well as keeper..”.

“..Entra idhi? only 11 members are there ..!”, a surprised Sudhakar gaped and asked his neighbor.

Just when all the 11 available Sleazy Asses (from hereon referred to as Slazs) got introduced to Mr. K and just when the Slazs started showing some tense nerves on their faces, Gowd joined the team with an, “..Err..Excuse Me.  I am Gowd..”.

A sigh of relief in Kamesh’s face.

Then Umitha took over. “This is Chandroo…..”.

The skippers walked to the center of the pitch with the umpires Messrs. R and Messrs. M. The official inauguration was over.

“Are you sure that the commentators will make it? I have a doubt..”

“No..No..I saw them this morning..”

“Head wins…”.

Actually Head lost and so did Raja in his toss. Chandroo was too quick in making his decision as if he was waiting for it. “You bat!”.

So just like that, the warmth and cordiality of the initial pointless exercises & rituals of the morning had paved way for some fierce competitive loathing and dirty talking, as the fielders started taking their positions. The batsmen too soon had.

Brijesh behind the wickets, Ranga and Ravi the two slips, in that order, Ramesh at the bowler’s end with the glossy red cherry. UmRao was at the striker’s end and Prasad at the non-striker’s. Prasad, known for his Romesh Kaluwitharane kind of approach always prefers not to play the first ball.

“I am not trying to threaten you or something of that kind…But you people should maintain some decorum..You are just out of colleges and you should not behave like ‘gully’ cricketers…This is a different atmosphere…”, Messers. R’s discourse reached all the ears (both covered and uncovered) on the field.  It certainly was a word of warning from the umpire.

In came Ramesh.

What a deadly swinger!! The ball was back with Ramesh in no time, as he walked back to his run-up for the next delivery. The first ball had just missed the off-stump by a whisker.

UmRao walked towards Prasad. “What just happened?”, an element of doubt had shaded his face.

“Man..That’s exactly why I’ve been asking you to buy a new pair of specs.  Gosh! How are you going to play?”, Prasad was all concerned for his partner.

Prasad slapped on his head with his own hands. Ramesh ran towards the stumps five more times in that over. By the end of that over, UmRao got to know when the balls were delivered but not how they were, till after the fact and mostly through hearsay.

Hareesh shared the new ball from the other end. A wide spread out field. “Ennada, Oralavukku Nalla Potta Podhum Illa?”, Ranga chatting with Ravi , who was nodding his head more than what he usually does as if he had understood what Ranga had said. The dialogue continued. The nodding too. A catch at chest level between between the 2 slip fielders at a leisurely pace was left unattempted. First runs on the board.

4/0.

“Try not to speak. If you can’t try, then at least speak in a language that I can understand,” Ravi quipped as he was clearly annoyed at having missed a chance to send Prasad packing home.
“Maa ball vochindi..Meeku adichu endha…pochu…vandhu…theesko…grrr…”.

8/0.

Ranga was now moved to thirdman.

The first ball of over number 3 touched UmRao’s bat on its own, took its edge and flew towards the first slip, where it was picked up rather uncomfortably by Ravi.

In the Slazs Dressing Room. “Pad up, Andrews..”

“I don’t know how to play Hareesh. I haven’t practiced anything. I have not played against Ravi, Ramesh et al., you know..??”.

The manager is pretty authoritative in this dressing room.

 “Andy, Are you going in or shall I ask Sudhakar to pad up?”, Kamesh.

Andrews went in at one drop.

Score: 5 overs. 13/1. Prasad – 12*, Andy – 0*, Extras – 1.

Bowling change at the far end. Lakshmi in action. A slow ball. Prasad got it on his pads.

“HOWZATT???”
A crack or two were visible in the Stand B gallery walls, after that thunderous vociferous appeal by Lakshmi.
“This is too much..I am gone deaf..O.K. This is warning 1. O.K…Be careful O. K..Don’t appeal into my ears..O.K..”, umpire V.

The next ball was a replica of the previous delivery. So was Lakshmi’s appeal. The Commentators’ box had come thrashing down. It was probable that the commentators were yet to arrive because they had anticipated such a disaster. As soon as they arrived (a few minutes after the commentators box disaster), they were made to sit in the gallery among the crowd. Talking about the crowd, I must confess that the galleries were practically empty, but most of the seats were occupied, There were 15 seats in total. Getting into the stadium was not all that easy on that day due to the security checks, which were stronger than norm. Even if the Id-cards had not been pinned properly, the enthusiastic spectators were sent out. Saivasu who mysteriously absconded from the Flabs’ training camp, could not enter the stadium for this reason. Poor Vasu!

Score: 39/4                Ramgo – 1*, Chalps – 2*, Overs -12.

The ball was given to Ravi. A classical spinner he is, he was setting his field meticulously.

“Murthy, How much did Chalps score against Club Sahara in the 1995 final?”.

“C’mon Ravi! This is not the time to ask such questions…. I think 30.”,  Murthy replied politely.

Score: 49/4                 Ramgo – 1*, Chalps – 2*, Overs -16.

Murthy at long-on, was getting bored. He had plucked enough grasses and had torn enough papers that were found near the fence. The only thing he could still do was collect those plastic water bottles and throw them into a recycle container.

Drinks interval.

Sitaramsamy and Sateesh were seen coming with the drinks trolley, which actually resembled a discarded 486 machine on wheels. Sateesh had been left out of the team for some strange reasons. It seems he can bat or bowl or field like anyone else. He is so adept in imitating others’ styles that he does not have his own style of game. So under different circumstances, someone has to keep giving cues to him.

“Play this ball like Viv Richards”

“Bowl this ball like Kapil..”

“Field this ball like Hitesh..”, etc.

Now this becomes a bit of a nuisance, since he needs a perpetual cuist assigned to him and one who can be with him on the field. The CMCCOM rules don’t allow such cuists being on the field and there was his bad luck. The non-inclusion of Sirasa was to include Brijesh , who was was doing the keeper’s job because of the regular keeper Murthy’s inability to keep that day.

Score: 76/7                     Sudhakar – 1*, Gowd – 0*, Overs – 26.

The fielding team captain brought back Ramesh into the attack. And the ball was a full toss. Played all along the ground to short thirdman. Ranga physically forced himself towards the ball and of course all he wanted to do was to just stop it. He skidded and rolled over the ball. An utter chaos ensued.

“Where is the ball yaar?”.

“Are you OK Ranga?”.

Giridhar was as alert as ever. He spotted the ball immediately.  About 2 inches away from where Ranga’s nose was buried, there was this spot where Ranga’s outreaching right arm and his belly had intersected as Ranga skidded and rolled over. Giri was able to spot the ball right about there and the ball was about 80% submerged into the ground.

Now, Sudhakar and Gowd are two of the the best runners between wickets the game has ever seen. But the biggest drawback the batting team has when both of them are together in the middle is that, they both try to help each other, no matter what.

The ball was played hard by Gowd. Seeing Sudhakar coming out of his crease and seeing the ball being fielded clearly, Gowd in order to push Sudhakar back into his crease, started running towards the other side. Seeing Gowd coming out and noticing that the fielder having picked the ball up, Sudhakar started moving further towards Gowd’s crease, this time to push Gowd safe into his crease. In the end, both of them as one would expect, crammed into each other, in the process strained their legs and even got bruised.

Mrs. V and Mr. R, the two umpires, felt like they had all the problems in the cricketing world to be solved at that moment, because there was no way to judge one of them out. Both batsmen were reluctant to walk out. In the end, Chandroo had to make Gowd go out.

Enter Ghanshyam, the charismatic Physio around. He raced towards he pitch with his first-aid kit and started nursing Sudhakar in a flash.
“Arey yaar! Kya Kara Thu? Thu aisa math karana yaar..!”.

If you thought he was a physio just for his looks (read it as physical appearance), then you are wrong. He is the best person around in the field. Ask Sudhakar.

End of 40 overs.
Score – 136/9                    Naweed – 38*, Rajaram – 0*.

What the Flabs’ think-tank got to do now was to chalk out the batting order which was not done till then.

Meanwhile, in the commentary box..

“I have a question. How can the umpire rule a batsman out just because the rival captain asked to do so?”, Ambika was restless.
Santhi was busy tallying her accounts for the used Travelers’ checks and the unused ones. While Sarada’s immersion in her thoughts was so deep that she did not even listen to Ambika’s question.

Ramana’s white flannels had already become red. It was Ramana with the new ball. Ramgo at the first slip. Chandroo and Murthy are the openers.

In the Flabs’ dressing room.

“I’m going only 9 down..Right?”..

“Right” and so Prakash was back with his wolf (a video game) and was not to be seen till the bails were off later on that evening.

Over number one from Ramana had a lot of variations like pop-ups and pull-downs. He, being a very experienced bowler knows the kernel of the ball very well. He swings the ball both ways perfection that only those batsmen who can adjust to Ramana’s shell can play him with ease.

Disaster…!

An edge from Chandroo had gone over the 2nd slip. Ramgo, the little master was a bit too slow to dive to his right. Realizing that the ball was beyond his reach, he was cursing himself as the ball was the about to fall on the ground. He saw a hand moving across his face to grab the ball. Ramgo is yet to get back to normal.

Rajaram, the Walsh look-alike keeper, is rather uncharacteristic to fit into a wicket keeper’s job (based on his physical appearance). This has been the tabloid view. I am sure that all those who shared this view would regret having done so. Chandroo walked back to the pavilion. No one had padded up.

It was Giridhar who was supposed to bat at Number 3.

“C’mon Giri! Go!”.

“No. Let Ramesh come..!”.

“Don’t be stupid. Only one batsman has got out. So, as per rules, only one new batsman has to go in..”

“No. No. Let Ramesh come..”

No budging. A specially arranged messenger came running to the field.

Saig it was.

“Raja! I mean there is a problem…”.
“It’s impossible”.

So finally, Saig padded up and by the time he went in, the umpire had already ruled him out. Saig had taken 12 minutes to come in after the fall of the last wicket. That was the reason.

Yet another dramatic incident in the match. This is becoming sullen and somber. Zero balls faced and out (timed out they say). As one STPite would expect, Saig was as cool as ‘Tharbooz and he took that heavy beating rather coolly in his strides, full of smiles and he got back to his dressing room, plugged on his earphones and went to the dream world which was “seal”ed.

The Flabs manager had all sorts of hindrances on that day. Convincing Giridhar to go to bat without Ramesh, changing the batting order, searching for Prakash  (who incidentally had entered the 6th level of the 9th group in wolf..or the other way around, I never know. Pardon me wolf-buffs!), keeping Lakshmi’s decibel level down, (which rather drastically had reached a level at some point that Mr. A, the match referee had to warn Umitha that another incident of that nature would make the authorities debar the team from the tourney) and many more.

The cause of worries did not end there.

Overs – 26                                                                                                                                                            

Score 66/9                   Ramesh – 12*, Hareesh – 2*.

Lord Indira, who in this part of this world is often believed to be the man who turns the shower on from the skies, mistaken identity if you ask me,  is not a light-hearted fellow. On this occasion though, he was on the Flabs’ side. Showers, downpour and a streak of million watt flashings – All these staged a drama in the sky for 10 minutes. The ground, at the end of the rains, looked like a pool ideal for water buffalos to play water polo.

Rajaram was seen arguing with Messrs. R.

“You see the run rate, you take the wickets lost, you consider the number of injuries, anything…You consider anything at all – We win the match hands down…”

Messrs. R was non-committal as ever.

“You got to grant the match to us..”

“See, I have nothing to say in this matter. Things have gone past my hands. All the way up to the CMCCOM to decide the result of this match…”.

The chairman of CMCCOM, Mr.K came out with the announcement.

“Friends, we declare both Slazengers, and Flabbergasters as joint winners..!”.

There were not many to applaud the winners in that soggy field, where the prizes were getting distributed.

“I invite the winning teams’ captains to come over to the center to receive the checks…”.

The captains received the checks and turned back towards the dressing room (which surprisingly is one of CMC’s pantries, which had been converted temporarily). They saw a huge crowd making a rush towards the place. 

Perplexity in everyone’s eyes. “Why is there a mad rush to watch the final proceedings…”!

Even I wondered.

“It’s evening snacks time in the office”, someone whispered at the back of my ears.

I looked at my watch. It was 17:25 hours.

Though the match never was an exciting or an enthralling one on that day (To be reasonably honest, it never even resembled a cricket match except for the willows, the red leather and those six stumps), there never was a dull moment throughout the day’s proceedings. I had my time’s worth watching the hilarious show enacted by our own amateurs.  

“The Man of the Match is….”

Before I could make note of who the man was, the name got dissolved in the heavy hubbub generated by the clinging of tea cups, porcelain wares, spoons, snack munching mouths and many garrulous tongues.

A Neville Cardus or a Peter Roebock would have refused reporting this match even for a top rated sports journal. I did not.

My day it was. Wasn’t it?

**The above is a fictional story I wrote for a company newsletter. Originally published on March 8, 1996. Has been reproduced/retyped here, almost word by word, barring ‘Americanization’ of a few words**

 

Posted in Cricket

The agony of losing

As I type this post, Australia have yet to take on the mighty New Zealand (or the other way depending on your perspective) to see if they can lift the world cup for the nth time or if they should let the Kiwis hold the cup for the first time ever. But then, I am an Indian cricket fan. To me, the tournament practically ended today. I will still watch the final – Rooting for New Zealand, but I won’t have the emotional investment – the kind I had till now.

I feel totally drained off. Yes, I owe it to lack of sleep as I had to give up my entire night’s sleep to watch the match. But then this was the not first time I did it during this world cup. I had done it at least 12 other times (of which 7 times were for the 7 Indian matches). Yet, my exhaustion today is much more felt. Much more on the face. Much more effecting.

Ha, the agony of losing…

Just the other day, I was narrating this to my son, of all the trials and tribulations of my cricket watching habits (rituals to be precise) when I was a kid. All the way to high school. Superstitions notwithstanding, my family, somehow put up with my quirks and eccentricities (and even some occasionally piddly violent outbursts). It was mostly my mother and brother who dealt with my tantrums. May be because I was better behaved in other people’s presence – no violent outbursts, though the quirks and eccentricities were an integral part of the cricket fan in me. The loss of the cricket team I was rooting for was something I couldn’t handle in a sensible and a sporting way. On the contrary, I took losses of my own cricketing teams, for which I played, in a much more sporting manner. No tantrums at all. Losses were always disappointing but never distressing. But again, it was a different story when I was watching the Indian cricket team lose. There was normally a sense of mourning in the entire household for a few hours after the match was done, if it involved Indian cricket team’s loss. Very few words were exchanged and they were mostly functional. My mother and brother knew better not to bother me.

Over the years, I would like to believe I have changed. Less superstitious and less ritualistic about watching cricket matches for sure. And since I watch most of the matches alone these days, I have learnt to hold onto my emotions I guess. But the losses – oh well – They still bother me the same if not in worse ways.

Ha, the agony of losing…

Why is dealing with losses in sports such a process? I consider myself a sports fan as I enjoy a wide variety of sports. Cricket, Soccer, Football, Hockey, Basketball, Tennis, etc. And losses in some sports are really harsh to deal with. Even though I may sound biased, if we plot our mood swings against losses of our favorite teams/players in different sports, I am positive that losses in cricket will have the highest score. In other words, it is much more painful to deal with losses in cricket than in any other sport. Simply because of the duration of each match. For almost 9 hours a fan is forced to sit in anticipation of a desired result which he/she doesn’t get in the end. Now, compare that to any other sport and hopefully you will agree with me why losses in cricket need the most time to heal.

Ha, the agony of losing…

Why do sports losses bring out the worst in some of us? Some of us battle it internally – for 5 minutes, 10 minutes or a couple of days. But most of us do end up fighting that sinking feeling. That feeling of helplessness. That feeling of being lost in absolute darkness. And then there are those for whom the inner demon wants to analyze every single second of the game/match that ended, to look for reasons on the field or look for scapegoats and as obnoxious as it may sound, to even look for reasons / scapegoats outside the field. We are such sore losers walking around in sheep skin holding our inner wolves in search of victims. At least many of us are.

Is it also true that losses in cricket matches in India are pushed to an entirely new plane and are dissected, analyzed and pulverized upon for all the wrong reasons? It’s almost like sports take a new meaning when it comes to cricket. No wonder they call it a religion in India, because religions are after all the reason for most violence in the world. The Indian cricket fans are perhaps a prime example of my above theory that cricket losses have the worst bearing on fans. They fly and drive in thousands to watch a match, no matter what & where. And when the team wins, they celebrate them but when the team loses, they don’t quite spare anything – Right from the grass on the field, to the sledging that happened after over no. 12, to some cricketer’s lover being at the stadium to watch the match, to some cricketer’s 3 month old baby, to the team manager’s ex-wife –  Indian cricket fans don’t spare anyone or anything, when the Indian cricket team loses. They even get ready to ransack the captain’s house in his native town, just because…

Ha, the agony of losing…

And what burden it is to be an Indian Cricketer!!

Posted in Cricket

CWC2015

2015-ICC-Cricket-World-Cup-Wiki

 

I couldn’t guess all the 14 cricket board emblems – Got 12 right and I had my doubts on 2 – UAE and South Africa (yes, I shamefully admit that SA was one emblem I couldn’t get it. Did they change it recently??). Anyways, that’s not the point of this blogpost and I don’t know why I wanted to expose my ignorance.

As I force myself to get into the world cup mood and also force myself to get this blogpost out on the same topic before the world cup actually begins, like most Indian cricket fans, I struggle with a single source of sadness – “What will India do without Ishant Sharma?”, I have to highlight the fact this question alone has been the sole reason for keeping my mood dampened all these days and weeks.

But seriously, in the day of instant gratification & instant reactions through Twitter and other social media platforms, where even a T20 game could test one’s patience at times, who thought of this format for CWC2015? Two groups with 7 teams each? Seriously?

I don’t like to get into the whole predictions game,  but this format is clearly designed in such a way that even the riskiest of the gamblers don’t lose much during the initial phase of the tournament. Two groups to play in a round robin format with 7 teams each and 3 out of those 7 teams are the ones that have rarely made an impact on the international cricket scene.

Anyways, what was I saying? Right….India’s prospects at this world cup.  Hmmm.
Just hold on…
“Can you refill my glass with some more wine please?”

 

Posted in Books, Cricket

Two Books

Been a while since I wrote about books. As much as I hate to admit that the average quantity of books I read per month has come down, I also have not found the necessary enthusiasm to collect my thoughts together to write/blog about the books I read. See, books get into my system in a complex way. I rarely finish a book in one sitting – so this means, a book I start today continues to create, alter and erase impressions in my mind, over a period of time, thus forcing the whole thing to get stored in my mind, as a series of non-sequential images & intonations. In contrast, writing about movies is a bit easier for me, because the impression a movie makes on me is a bit more simple and straight forward and more importantly, they all get stored in one sitting, much in a sequential manner. The two books I want to write about in this post are:

The Match by Romesh Gunasekera

Chinaman – The Legend of Pradeep Matthew by Snehan Karunatilaka

Both have one common link – Cricket. The game of cricket. After Netherland (by James O’Neill), this was the first set of cricket related books I managed to read (There is a dearth of popular fiction/writing with cricket based stories or themes). And that is largely due to a very good friend of mine, who shared an article which specifically talked about these books. So Thanks to my dear friend Dave. You know who you are.

The Match

The Match
The Match

The Match and Chinaman are extremely different. In The Match, cricket just happens to be a backdrop of Sunny, the lead character, who moves from Sri Lanka to Manila to England. It’s very diasporic from that perspective and as the story leaps from one phase to another phase of Sunny’s life, it continues to connect the lead character Sunny to his place of residence with his home country Sri Lanka, through cricket. So, cricket acts as that binding cord that proves to be the vital factor, making Sunny realize who he really is, in the end. Not that Sunny manages to end up on a victorious note, but Gunasekera succeeds in making us connect with Sunny’s moment of self-realization and acceptance of what is more important for him, albeit a bit late in his life. Gunesekera’s focus in the story is on his main characters – Sunny, his family and more importantly Sunny’s parents and the tragic end to his mother’s life at a very young age, which fact Sunny couldn’t reconcile with his father till he (father) passes away. Gunesekera manages to weave everything else into the story, right from the Sri Lankan food & culture to the geopolitical issues of the land, including the ongoing Tamil-Sinhala ethnic war. But they don’t let the reader get distracted from the main focus of the author.

Chinaman

Chinaman
Chinaman

Chinaman on the other hand, is all about cricket. There is cricket in every page and in fact the story is as much about a mysterious cricketer called Pradeep Matthew, as it is about a cricketing author/journalist WG Karunasena. In between, much like Gunesekera, Karunatilaka also manages to interweave the issues of the land that are pertinent to the time the story is set in – LTTE and the Government atrocities included. Snehan doesn’t hesitate taking punches on his own people, the government, ex-ministers, ex-presidents, and more. He also presents his opposing views on LTTE and their ideologies, without disrespecting what the main cause they stand for is. Overall, the story continues to progress through different eras (decades) of the ethnic civil war in Sri Lanka. And then there is cricket!

Firstly, Snehan manages to create a completely fictitious cricketer called Pradeep Matthew, with extraordinary attention to details through his fictitious career spanning over a couple of decades, all by overlaying Pradeep’s story on top of real history of Sri Lankan cricket during the exact same period. Not an easy feat. Since my cricketing interests grew almost during the same period of time when most of the story passes through and since I distinctly remember when Sri Lanka played their first internationally recognized cricket matches (thanks to Rupavahini at home, which incidentally has been not so cleverly disguised as Rupavision in the book), it was almost like I was taken back to that period of my life, consistently with one nagging question. Who is Pradeep Matthew? The overlaying of fiction over history was so authentic that, at some point, I started believing that Pradeep Matthew was either a real person or the author was using a real cricketer with a different name in the story. After I finished reading the book, the first thing I did was to google for ‘Pradeep Matthew’.

Secondly, the game itself accounts for so much space in the book that if you are not a cricketer or don’t understand the sport well enough, you may be forced to reread some passages to get the nucleus of what Snehan is trying to convey. But, I loved it. Thirdly, Snehan deserves complete credit for the slew of impressive one-liners throughout the book. They recreated my childhood in a uniquely different, but same way. WG, Ari, Graham Snow, Garfield, etc. – they all meant some characters from my childhood in a distant way. Where Chinaman however differs from The Match, is exactly on these three points above and on the fact how cricket in Chinaman is not a thin cord that holds the vitality of the story, but it is the life of the story. Pradeep Matthew walks away from meeting with success he deserves because he couldn’t get it in his own terms, but ends up choosing his own destiny. Much like Sunny.

The book WG writes about Pradeep Matthew but couldn’t complete it and how eventually Garfield (WG’s son and named after the one and only Garfield) gets in touch with a self-exiled Pradeep himself in the end, made me as a reader, wish for WG to be alive to see his work published.

Two books. Two different stories. Yet they both resonated well with me at different levels. Chinaman is certainly my pick though, if you are a true lover of the sport, irrespective of your knowledge of the Sri Lankan cricket history.

Posted in Cricket

Coming together for one man…

This has been done before. Several times by several people in the last few weeks. I have no shame in admitting that I too want to have my share.  Why not? Why not express myself, as I soak through the emotions of having watched Sachin retire from competitive cricket just last night? I had a hunch that this was going to be the night (US Eastern Time Zone). So, I prepared myself for a late-nighter. I am glad I did. The win, the speech and the outpouring of emotions that followed, weren’t anything like I expected and the emotional high literally didn’t let me sleep up into the wee hours of my Saturday morning.

I woke up, still wanting more of those moments and decided to play his now famous farewell speech again. I wanted my son to see it. I gave a background on the mammoth significance of this event. My son’s reactions were nowhere close to mine, as one would expect, but I wanted him to observe. I wanted my son to witness the effect one man has had on an entire nation. I wanted him to get a taste of how much of an impact Sachin and his game has left on India and Indians. And I told my son how I associate myself with Sachin in a much personal way than most others of different generations, but probably like many others of my generation. I consider my generation to belong to the specially privileged group of people whose growth from adolescence to now has been in parallel with that of Sachin’s career. Those of us born in 1973. Yes, Sachin and I were born in the same year – 3 months apart. So, that’s how my personal Sachin story began..

Sachin
Sachin

In 1989, as Sachin made his debut, I have a distinct memory of watching a short lad walk into the middle, about whom I had read so much about prior to the series in Pakistan. He came across fearless, shy and very focused on a game in which he wanted to succeed. Looking back, the selectors of the Indian team at that time certainly deserve some praise. I am not sure how they saw what they saw and what gave them the guts to try out a 16 year old boy against a fierce Pakistani pace lineup.  But that was such a bold selection. My most vivid memory of that debut Pakistani series was of course the injury that Sachin had in the second test.
Here is a video:

I was in my Class XII. Was watching the match at home and I even remember the seating arrangement in my living room, for I am known for a certain superstition when it came to watching Indian batting. When Sachin continued on to bat after that almost career-ending injury, I formed an instant connection with a boy who was as old as I was. He remained unbeaten in that innings. I definitely could feel his determination, his courage and also could see his shyness. I would be lying if I said that I saw a spark in him that would lead him to break almost all world records in batting. Certainly, I didn’t quite think he would continue to play for 24 more years. Till yesterday. What a journey!

I don’t remember statistics well. I can’t pick my most favorite Sachin innings. The only thing I can remember and will always remember is the “feeling” every time when Sachin came to bat. A sense of jittery feeling that pulled me down every delivery. Every ball Sachin faced would put me through that stress. I was not alone. It did cause that level of anxiety for much of the Indian cricket fans – millions and millions of them.

For a nation that is obsessed with cricket, the arrival of Tendulkar to the cricketing scene, 6 years after winning the World Cup (6 years of very mediocre performance around the world) was special.

Sachin represented hope. 

He represented a sort of perfection.

He represented the aspirations of an average Indian to succeed and to be noticed amongst his peers, globally.

He represented an average middle class Indian’s urge and quest for self-confidence.

And simply put, he represented the average Indian’s passion and longing for success. For 24 long years.

And if his farewell speech didn’t give away too much, do read more and more stories about his early beginnings. When you do,  you can’t help but wonder how so many people believed in him and guided/supported him through his journey, long before he was selected to play for India.

This is a story of a community working together to protect and help groom a sporting savior.

This is a story of people coming together to protect one of their precious citizens and support him till he reached his goal.

This is a story of so many making sacrifices in their own careers and lives, in order to give everything to one man, who they believed could carry the burden of one nation’s cricketing hopes.

This is a story of so many men and women around the world, growing to like and respect someone merely for his game. For his mastery of the game and for his humility on & off the field.

This is a story of a whole nation coming together for one man. Yes, a story of  a whole nation coming together for one man. 

March on Sachin!!

The game may miss you but I will heave a sigh of relief today because I don’t have to watch another Indian cricket match with those jittery feelings anymore. I, along with many 1973 born, will also take comfort to the fact that your life is after all, going to look a lot more similar to our lives from now on.

Posted in Cricket, Pictures

Fanboy, Fanboy

I don’t know if what BCCI is doing will turn into a messy affair inviting bots and such. But I got my autographed photograph from Sachin, before it becomes a murky affair – thanks to the wonderful idea from someone at BCCI.

And yes, I will collect my thoughts for a separate post that the man himself deserves when he retires.

sachin_rt

Posted in Cricket

Dusting the rust off

Not long ago (ok 5 years ago), I wrote this.
Then 2 years later, I wrote this.

And here I am..

The blog title is indicative enough of what this post symbolizes. I haven’t been blogging much of late and the more I think about it, the more I feel it has got to do with a certain state of mental isolation. Blogging has become old fashioned. Or so I hear from certain enthusiastic bloggers of the past. At least the kind of personal blogging that this blog of mine is meant to be. Opinion Editors & other more commercially popular reviewers are continuing to blog because they are driven by a totally different kind of motivation. For simple bloggers like me, Twitter and Facebook seem to have given a space where (mostly Twitter) we get to express our feelings instantaneously on issues that perturb or affect us. It is almost as if you have an opportunity to let the steam blow off you already (using Twitter) and hence there is not much left in you when you have to sit & think about what to blog. Thus, blogging has really become a matter of principled approach to enhancing one’s writing or literary skills. In a different era (like 3 years ago), I would have absolutely not highlighted that aspect of being principled while blogging, to enhance one’s writing skills as some sort of an unattainable task, because that was one my goals – to have something published. Today, although that goal still sparks a dream every now and then & won’t go away that easily, on a confessional tone, I have to admit that the alternate world of creative & career possibilities have brought in some complacency.

So, what was I saying? Yeah, the blog title. Dusting the rust off..I am dusting the rust of my blog through this post, with very little promise that the shine is here to stay.

In so many ways, this blog title is also about the sport I love the most. I hope that the rust that has formed over the that sport is just a flawed red paint and can be cleaned. If it is indeed some rust, then like many naive admirers of the game, I will continue to see the shine through the rust, while hoping that the rust is dusted off soon.

Indian Cricket, in all its might and splendor may continue to march on, notwithstanding the many blows it is taking.

The kind of emotions that when an Azharuddin or Ajay Jadeja getting caught in bookie rackets brought, was nothing compared to what, I, as a true lover of Indian Cricket is going through right now. In fact, with the current uncovering of IPL spot fixing, et al., I don’t even want to read about whose name is going to be stained next by which city Police and what kind of competitive expose spree that the Mumbai & Delhi police have decided to jump into, because it feels like I am being hit under my belly after I am already down & have given up.

One thing is certain. There is hoards of money in the sport right now, especially in IPL and it is only natural that any hoarded money invites peril.

The saddest part of what is going on right now is not even how deep in the system the bookies have managed to reach and stain the sport with their excretory matter, but it is the glaring spectacle of how political this all ends up being at the end of the day.

While the hungry mafias, both inside and outside of BCCI relished every penny that got dumped at them through the arses of BCCI when the centers of BCCI power juggled between Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi, they don’t seem to have a ‘stomach’ for a Southern twist. Wonder why! Does the money ‘smell’ or ‘taste’ different now than before? Or are they worried that they are not getting dumped enough?

Like with every obstacle the sport has seen, this too shall pass from our memories.

Because I am certain that someone will apply a shiny coat of glitter soon, even if they can’t dust all the rust off.

Posted in Cricket

In Trivial Pursuit…

As I type this post, I am being told by several people who seem to care so much about this record that it has been 302 days since Sachin Tendulkar hit his last century in any form of cricket. I have to confess that this record that Sachin has been made to chase has been bothering me as well, even though at the outset I consider this as the most ridiculous statistical record in Cricket you can think of. So to me this is as irrelevant as trying to cross 10000 total miles (or some such number) by driving a car and a bike combined over a period of time. Yes, there is some sense of accomplishment. But trivial. Because driving a car and riding a bike mean totally different things.

Yet, here we are.

What I can’t figure out is why this man is chasing his 100th century in test matches? Why did he opt out of the ODI series against WI when he had all the ammunition he needed to score a 100 because he would have opened the batting? And his record in scoring centuries as an opener is spectacular.

Of course, I love his batting. Who doesn’t? But I am neither a fan of Sachin to the point that I appreciate everything he does on & off the field nor a critic that I do the exact opposite by calling him a selfish player (which seems to be the most common accusation). So I feel I have a fair view in presenting my armchair punditry.

The biggest ailment in Sachin Tendulkar’s batting since he scored his last century on March 12, 2011 vs South Africa (Nagpur)  is his mental state. Contrary to what all his admirers think that he is doing a really fantastic job of carrying the expectations of the entire nation on his shoulders without much of a mental strain, he actually has been carrying a big monkey around his shoulders for the last 300 odd days because is a human being. He is not “God” (of course – I mean God in a traditional sense..not in a Higgs Boson sense). Beyond this 100 100s monkey, every time he has gone out to play for India in a game, I am sure he goes through enormous amount of pressure & mental stress that none of us will ever know of. By dehumanizing him, the Tendulkar fans have only made it more difficult for him to be what he really is.

Notwithstanding the superlative form he has been in since his last hundred, especially if you look at the series of 60s, 70s and 80s he has made, I can’t help but conclude that this monkey that he has been made to carry is taking its toll. Even though he has come out positive in most of the above knocks when he started off the innings, he had invariably gone on the defensive mode once he crossed 60 runs or so. This is a problem. Sachin Tendulkar shouldn’t think he has to score a 100 which makes him cautious once he inches closer to the mark. It is all easier said than done. But then that is what armchair punditry is about right?

I hope he works on this aspect of his game. Of course he can never get rid off the monkey till he actually gets rid off it by scoring a 100. In the meantime, at least he should tell himself that the monkey is harmless and it doesn’t do much other than just sit on his shoulders. If he can somehow tell himself that, may be..may be..he will not go defensive after he crosses 60 runs.

Having said that, in all honesty, I don’t think he is going to score his 100th 100 in Australia in the test series. I will be glad if I am proven wrong. His best chances were against WI in India. Now he has got to wait for another home series and more importantly, he should be willing to play the 50 over format games to increase his chances.

As the little master continues his trivial pursuit, so do we..