Cricket Times They Are A-Changin’

Cricket, the game of glorious uncertainties. World Cup, the biggest stage the game has to offer. And how the stage has changed!

kapil1983In 1983, Kapil Dev played one of the most breath-taking innings (apparently) to help steer India out of tight corner. At 18/5, Kapil and Kirmani carefully constructed a partnership to take India to a winning total. Against the perpetual minnows – Zimbabwe. Kapil, that day, scored 175 not out. Out of a total of 166. Kirmani scored 22. Unfortunately for the world, there are no tapes or archives of that day because of a BBC strike. No one was recording it on a TiVo or HD+ or their high def cell phones. India went on to win the World Cup in 1983.

dyanora-tv-oldFor 28 years, Indian cricket fan reminisced about the 1983 Prudential Cup win, the catch that Kapil took to dismiss Viv Richards, the greatest ODI cricketer of all times, the 175 not out, the military medium of Madan Lal, Mohinder Amarnath, Roger Binny, and the guile of Bedi, that spell of Sandhu, and many such things. In 1983, many Indian families bought the black and white TV sets from companies like Salora, Uptron, Beltron. Many of those companies do not compete in the television market, or any market for that matter, any more. Some of those TV sets came with wooden cabinets that people would close to protect them from dust and unwanted access. The channels had to be changed by twisting a hard knob that made the sound of cricket ball hitting the bat (almost). And the memories are distinctly black and white – a beaming Kapil Dev wearing an Indian Cricket Team jacket/ sports-coat (logo on the breast pocket) holding that cup at the Lords’ balcony – etched on an Indian cricket lovers’ mind for almost three decades.

Back then, they sold post-cards. In the absence of desktop wallpapers or Facebook walls, people collected bingo cards and post-cards of players. K Srikanth hitting a lofted square cut, Sunny Gavaskar smiling in a close up, Ravi Shastri in that blue and yellow jersey with a white helmet at the Benson & Hedges series down under, Kapil Dev’s signature bowling pose. There was Big Fun, a chewing gum company, which must have made a fortune by somehow convincing a generation of cricket watchers to collect bingo cards of cricket and football players.

In the coming three decades, we tried hard to repeat that feat. In 1987, the first world cup outside England, in India, we lost the semi-finals of Reliance World Cup. Shortly thereafter, we pinned our hopes on a short fellow named Tendulkar. 1992 wasn’t ours (we won 2 of 8 matches). 1996 took us to the semi-finals again, where a Sri Lankan demon (the first one after Ravana) took us apart.  Tendulkar fought back valiantly, but once he left the golden rectangle (like Jataayu), even the pitch turned on us. In 1999 (horrible super six performance), 2003 (a Bazooka Ponting vs Zaheer Satkela in Final), 2007 (knocked out in round robin with one win against Bermuda!), we hit a here and there, a reasonable high and an embarrassing low.

During this time, the whites were replaced by colourful dresses and multiple brand endorsements. And the black and whites were replaced by color TVs. The CTVs were replaced by a myriad of varieties – Plasma, LCD, LTV, Flat screen, curved LED, 3D, Smart TV. Internet streaming is the new thing. The broadcasting evolved. From 1-3-5 cameras per match, suddenly, there are more than 20-30 cameras per game. There are cranes and javelins and quadcopters. There are moving boundary cameras. There is stump-vision. Oh, how I loved the Sky-network’s boundary camera vision which moved from right to left as the bowlers ran in to bowl!

By 2015, the few commentators that used to be have given way to an army of commentators. Sometimes, the line up of commentators is like a team that could take on any of the current world-cup contenders with aplomb, despite their age. The time spent on technicalities by ex-greats have made a successful commentator out of Ravi Shastri (for the sheer variety he introduces in the commentary box with phrases like ‘tracer bullets’) and Harsha Bhogle (the common man’s commentator).

From two umpires, we moved to three. From three, we have moved to 3+ technology. We have seen Hawk-eye, spin vision, snicko meters, hot-spots, stump mics that record sound, and multiple cameras whose job is to just watch your bat and the crease. We have learnt all about “it’s the on field umpire’s call”. We have learnt about marginal errors. And we have noted with great relief that Steve Bucknor’s faulty version could be replaced by an android. Finally!

The equipments evolved too. From the culture of heavy bats for heavy ground strokes, we moved to long handles, light bats, custom bats, curved edges, heavy bottoms. Somewhere, we learnt about Tennis elbow too. Leather balls became white. No longer a shining red cherry, yeah? And now, one ball has given way to two. To be used from different ends of the stadium. The softer kookaburras to the harder SGs, the realization that SG was Sanspareills Greenlands, and not Sunil Gavaskar, also became all pervasive. Thigh pads and helmets became lighter and sturdier. The LED lights of stumps and bales – who’d have thought! Reviewing umpire decisions rather than getting fined for showing dissent is almost as strong a deviation from the gentlemen’s game as an Indian bowler clocking speeds of 145+ consistently. Umesh Yadav – you have my vote for now!

The discussions evolved. From quoting shots and moments, the cricket debaters have started quoting statistics – averages, home and away records, fastest 100s, strike rates, no of dots in a double century, game impact index. The visualizations now show multi-coloured lines to show the singles and the boundaries and the wickets. There is an accurate capturing of short and good length deliveries. There are dossiers that players carry on their iPad. About their competition. Joel Garner probably believed in small things. Like bowling at fiery pace and making the bowl land in the right areas. And playing mind games. Most teams in the last world cup were probably spending 6 hours discussing how to get Sachin Tendulkar or Virendar Sehwag out by reviewing various batting tapes.

And then 2011 happened. Yuvraj happened. Sachin happened. Mahendra Singh Dhoni happened. The bowlers tendulkar2011showed up. The fielders did. And Wankhede erupted. And a new memory got etched in the new generation’s sub-conscious – that glorious six to win the world cup, Mahindra Singh Dhoni holding the pose after hitting that six and then completing a gladiatorial 360-degree swing of the bat, a team carrying Sachin Tendulkar around the ground, and sending the cup to the background. The color across the stadium – Blue. And yes, the tricolor. And Sunil Gavaskar making the remark – “when I die, the last thing I want to see is the six that Dhoni hit in the 2011 world cup final”. Now when I think of winning the world cup, my memories are not Black and White. They are, 32-bit-high-definition-high-resolution-high blah blah, full of colors. Oh, how the game has changed!

 

There is a small thing that hasn’t changed. Commentary on radio used to be a visual narration filled with excitement. It could not depend on visual aids or the colors. It has stayed Black and White.

“Amarnath is bowling from the pavilion end to right arm batsman Ian Botham.

Bowl thoda andar ki taraf aayee aur ballebaaz ne kalai ko ghumate hue square leg ki taraf bhej diya hai. Umpire chusti se hatTe hue. Bahut hi aakarshak stroke tha Narottam (Puri), aur bahut hi khoobsurti se is se pehle ki fielder Bishan Bedi gend tak pahunche, Botham ne ek run poora kar liya hai. Bahut hi sadhaa hua shot tha aur aise shots se hi aapko pata chalta hai ki Botham jitney ache gendbaaj hain, utne hi ache ballebaaj bhi.”

 

“Agli gend karne ko gendbaaz mohammad shami pavilion end se hawa ke virudh daudte hue, aur off stump se thoda bahar tappa kha ke, halke se bahar ki taraf gayee aur ye jordaar appeal. Aur ye umpire in Ian Bell ko out karaar diya. Mahindra Singh Dhoni ka ye is match mein teesra catch, aur Shami ka pehla wicket.

Absolutely Shekhar. This was a beautiful outswinger. You could say that it did not swing much. It just held its line and from the wide angle of the crease from where Shami bowled it, that was good enough to flummox a well set batsman like Ian Bell. Kudos to Shami for having persisted with that line and invite Ian Bell to play that shot. Bell played inside the line and was beaten all hands up. With that we will take a short advertisement break and we will back shortly to celebrate this wicket.”

Oh! Sorry. There’s one thing that has really changed about radio commentary – There are no boundaries hit on air anymore. They are “shandaar BSNL chauka. Connecting India.”

 

 

 

 <This post is my entry for the Blogmint – Harsha – Blogger Dream Team Contest>

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To call it “Playing It My Way” is UNFAIR

Disclaimer: Irrespective of the rest of this post, let me be clear on thing – I am still not open to a debate on Sachin vis-a-vis the other cricketing geniuses. For me, Sachin is “the one”. It is a choice bordering on irrationality, but we are all allowed our vices, right?

His book, though, is another matter.

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Playing It My Way is Sachin Tendulkar’s autobiography, written with a little bit of help from Boria Mazumdar.

Blurb from Flipkart (I pre-ordered the book): In this long awaited autobiography, readers will be able to see glimpses into the life of this living legend; and of the man behind the sport, the husband, the father and an extraordinary human being– quiet, calm and with a rare humility. This is the story of Sachin Tendulkar, the most celebrated cricketer of all time in his own words.

So, how does it fare? In one word, the book can be described as – UNFAIR. To the fans of the man, to all those who follow cricket, to all those who read autobiographies, and to all those who pay to buy books, and maybe even to those who downloaded copies from torrent sites as well.

The book was launched with a lot of hoo-ha and fanfare. I think the fanfare was better than the book itself. It was like the Yashraj films’ trailer thing. The gag that’re in the trailer are all that are there.  The launch had a session where VVS, Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly and Sachin shared the stage. And Harsha moderated. That was king. More interesting stories came out of the closet that day than an entire hardcover book.

To be fair (to the extent possible), when you’ve lived a life that’s scrutinized at every possible turn, there is precious little left to reveal. Yet, the man has been an immensely private person. And he finally writes a book titled – Paying It My Way. What’s the least you would expect-  honesty? An explanation of the many unexplained things? Things you’d expect were brushed under the carpet while saying – we had a tough day in the field…

By all possible benchmarks of a biography – the book is BAD! And that’s an understatement. Its boring, it lacks any new insight into a person who’s the biggest sporting legend/ brand that this country has seen, and rather than being an autobiography OR a biography, it’s a collection of post-match interviews. “The boys played well”, “The ball was doing a bit”, “My goal was to stay on the crease as long as I could”, “The team supported me”, “the management has been supporting the team”, kinds. It adds nothing to your understanding of what made the man the legend.

If I think about his career, as someone who has no desire to get into the stats surrounding his career, I would still want a such titled book to  get into a few spheres–

  • The kind of monstrous desire to play cricket and be successful in it that made him play two matches a day with hours of practice around it
  • His relationship with Marc Mascarenhas, his brother, his family, etc. – the people he thanked so well in the speech that made a nation cry
  • The momentousness of the first match. The match that actually stood out in his lifetime. Was there one? Ever? Anything?
  • The mental and physical preparation that went into some of the big matches, like world cup final or Sharjah.
  • The Chennai test, and some such disappointments
  • His captaincy years
  • A little more about the monkeygate incident.

 

I can go on and on and on. But the book has nothing to offer.

And that’s a huge disservice to the people who’ve been waiting for the book. What was the point of the autobiography anyway? I might as well have clicked a few hyperlinks on Cricinfo. The book is an opportunity wasted.  And that’s why I think the book is unfair. Grossly unfair.

There are times I am glad that there aren’t too many times Sachin has given hour long interviews. His aura would have diminished. For now, let me go and watch some of his innings on youtube.

Thank You Sachin

Its been a while since I wrote something on this blog. But then, some things need to be written. And that’s that. I am here. To say one more time. #ThankYouSachin.

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In a way, you can call him my first ever crush. That sounds inappropriate coming from a guy, but its true. You stay up all night to be with him. You would probably be ready to give up your precious bicycle to shake hands with him. And not wash your hands for days after that. You wait eagerly to watch them in action. Say something. Something. Anything. Their arrival (on the pitch) is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Their departure, the worst point of your day. They become the reason why you stick on to a match. The only time I managed to get an autograph was when he came to Ranchi to play in a double-wicket tournament (do double wicket tournaments still happen these days?).

I have a distinct memory that defines my relationship with Sachin. But the memory that I am talking about is a couple of years before Sachin debuted. It was the India-Australia league stage match of ’87 world cup. India lost to Australia. Steve Waugh had done what he always did. Came to bowl the death overs to sound the death bells of the opposition. Somewhere you liked Steve Waugh. Somewhere you hated him. At that time, I was 7 years old. Our room (me, bhaiya and didi) had posters of Srikanth, Gavaskar Kapil and co. We lost by 1 run. After a pretty awesome start led by Gavaskar, Srikanth and Sidhu. We had a usual middle order collapse. Our number 10 batsman in that match was Manoj Prabhakar, who eventually opened the batting for India at a later stage! We still lost. I pulled down the posters of Shastri et al. Tore them down.

Being someone who started watching most of his cricket around that time frame, I always thought that we had a spineless and a 50% team. 50% of the team was there on merit, while the rest where there because we did not have anyone better. The older players had started fading, and newer ones were few. The flashy shastri of Benson & Hedges had given way to a walk-stop-walk-stop Shastri by then. Colonel was slowing down. Gavaskar, Srikanth and co were exhausted. And we celebrated mediocrity. And victories over Pakistan, as and when they happened.

And then came Sachin. In 1989. The exhibition match. The four sixes of Abdul Qadir in the same over. I felt good. Then NewZealand. 82 of 49. Somewhere, Perth had happened. And I was growing a spine. For the next decade, he became the reason I watched matches. I switched off television after he got out. I hated people like Jonty Rhodes or Adam Bacher. I hated people like Harris even more, bloody part-timers who got him every once in a while. I rejoiced Olonga badgering, even though I knew that the previous one was a one-off fluke. I created revenge stories in my head. And the ultimate high of that hit-over-the-midwicket off Shane Warne. Or, that straight six of Kasprowicz in Sharjah. And that straight drive. And that paddle. And that drive. And then the nudge. That flick off the hips. That manoeuvre. That lofted shot over the wicket keeper. That hunger for that single. That back. That tennis elbow. That heavy willow. That stance. That looking towards the sky. That late cut. That playful leg break. And the number of times I played those shadow shots in the house. In the neighbourhood. Tried to. Still try to.

Our hopes created many Robins for this Batman. And we blamed everyone else for the times when India failed while he fought on. Gradually, we started blaming him. We blame the Gods, don’t we. For the pain and suffering in this world. So, we blamed him. But did not feel good about it.

We wanted him to retire earlier, because we didn’t want him to die a mortal. The sudarshan wielding Krishna who was shot by a mortal’s arrow. Sa-deha Swargyatra.

And now he does. It doesn’t matter what he did in the last year or two. Because we are ungrateful like that. Because we forget that the Indian Cricket team of today is, in fact, his legacy. And of a few others who get forgotten when a moment like this comes (Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman, Kumble…). There may be more who may end up scoring more, better, faster, more consistently, more frequently. The game will change and the players will too. Yet, there will be none who can be Him. And there will be none who will impact a sports in a nation like he did. So, lets celebrate the One. The Only One. #ThankYouSachin.

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Kohli summed it up for me when India won the world cup last year – “He has carried India for 20 years, so now it is time we should carry him.”

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Image courtesy: Dailymail.co.uk, Firstpost, NDTV

Sachin

The Tallest Cricket We Will Ever See

The Tallest Cricket We Will Ever See

I am affected by his retirement from ODIs. It’s time. It’s his decision. But it didn’t happen right. And we know it. And maybe at the end of SAF tour, he will announce his test retirement. The signs are there. The statement was on phone, brief, and a formality for a decision made differently, in some other place.

I am a Tendulkar fan. I won’t use the word “was”. I am. And I will be. Let me try and explain why.

Today, Indian team is going through a slump. Right? Several test defeats home and away, spineless performances, unimaginative captaincy, etc. etc. are being discussed. And somewhere, Sachin’s run with the team is being questioned. And people are talking about their growing disinterest and apathy towards the game.

If you were born in the 1975-1985 period (you just missed being a part of India’s WC 84 victory, but you’ve heard about it), you may remember. We had a horror of a team in late 80s and 90s. Full of legends dragging themselves, and a support battery that boasted of one hit wonders. Batsmen that were crafty or interesting or talented, but not match winners. Spinners that never could replicate the famed Bedi-Prasanna-Chandra era. Fielders that could make me feel like I am super-fit. At my present day fitness levels. And attitudes that reeked of – thank you, take it or leave it.

And then we heard conversations. About this talent. And then we saw it happen. Against Abdul Qadir. And then New Zealand. And then Australia. And then. And then. And we finally had something to attach our hopes and aspirations to. And he played. Like a tidal wave, he offered us adventure, excitement and peace. We rose with him. And we fell down with him. We reveled in the desert storm inning that did not win the match but took us to the final. And we made statements like – “if only he were around for 2 more overs”. Or – “Ab kya faayda. Band kar do ab TV”. And we cursed anyone who came up some convoluted statistical analysis to prove that you aren’t what you are made out to be. One of the things that all religious people tell you is that it’s about believing. And hence, the #SachinIsGod hashtags/memes never seemed too overboard.

Fast forward to 2011-2012– he fails. Critics who couldn’t last ten overs on the field debate how long he should stay on the field. I don’t care. Though I am all worried too. And I hope that there will be a swan song, but I am afraid that there won’t be one. For this is not a bollywood movie where someone just listens to a patriotic song or a mother’s cry and gets up to beat the bad guys.

Now, is there someone who’s been able to keep me interested? Someone to explain – why it doesn’t matter if I don’t follow every delivery of the game?. Online, offline? Why I won’t go out of my way to buy “Cricket Samrat”, “Sportstar” and go through the scoresheet of every match? And those cutout posters on the walls of your room? Yes, Kohli will earn his chips. And maybe a Rahane will happen. But right now, all hell breaks loose, and everyone’s fixated on this one guy. And you still want to debate that he is not the one you want to see as your best bet. Be my guest. I have nothing more to tell you.

Tendlya – Do what you’ve always done. Put on your headphones. And listen to Kishore Kumar or Pink Floyd. For the chatter ain’t worth it.

Sachin’s Retirement?

My response to GreatBong’s post on Sachin’s retirement and the comparison with Gandhiji.

Somewhere, most people are finding it fashionable to ask for Sachin’s retirement – legacy, quitting at the top of your game, etc. Well, sadly, most of us won’t even know what the top of our own respective game is. Maybe, that’s why, every text book on success asks you to keep challenging yourself for a higher goal. A goal higher than the one you’ve just achieved or you think you can achieve.

First up, I don’t want to pay heed to the comparison. It’s grossly unfair to compare the two. What Gandhi baba was affecting was the future of an entire nation and maybe his outliving his utility could be, well, a debate worthy point. What Sachin is affecting, and apparently adversely, is what a vocal part of the media is parading as ‘his legacy’. Well, first up, his legacy is his choice. Maybe he does not want the legacy that you think he should leave behind. Maybe its right now a joke, but probably true, that he wants to continue to be fit and performing enough to take the cricketing field alongside his son. Maybe after scoring 100 centuries etc, he still cares about that one more century, one more knock, one more extended stay at the crease facing the best of the bowlers. Remember what Punter said about old fashioned cricket meaning that he goes out and stays at the wicket for as long as someone else cannot get him out. More than he cares about his legacy. Maybe his love for the craft his bigger than his love for what you think of him. Just maybe. Remember Pancham? The great artist. The great musician. The one who’s revered. Remember his swan song – 1942 A Love Story. Remember how he got his “3rd and last” film fare after his death. And remember his failures in the last phase of his career. No? Should he have stopped playing music? Composing? To protect his legacy. And not given us Ijaazat? Or 1942? I believe that the world of Hindi music is richer by the coming together of those three geniuses for Ijaazat.

Pro-sport is an individual choice. Competing at the highest level requires many sacrificies that the average reader of any blog is not even capable of. Sachin’s actions may hurt your sentiments by having (apparently) caused a cricketing loss, but beyond that, there is nothing. To enter the game was his choice, to have treated his body with care (or not) in a way that he has outlasted his peer group (and you don’t see him walking out of the field or not fielding at the boundaries or not taking those cheeky singles yet), his love/economics embedded in the game – EVERYTHING is his decision. And hence the legacy that unfortunately exists in your head or mine is our respective problem. When he started, he started playing the name. What he is leaving behind is a legacy alright. BUT a legacy is not just the last chapter of a career that spanned more than two decades. His legacy is that a generation of cricket fans have survived, have not given up, and continue to debate Indian cricket. His legacy is a team that teams around the world don’t write off anymore. His legacy is the joy of watching great cricketing shots every time you pick a Sachin video. And the collective disappointment when he is dismissed. His legacy is the ability to convert the theoretical basics of cricket into geniusly creative implementation that you and I can debate for hours. And like a  corporate review system, if we’re constrained by the last patch to decide what the true legacy of this performer is going to be, that AGAIN is our respective problem.

The unfortunate truth somewhere here is that our selection committee has forgotten what they need to do when players are going through a bad patch. However, that’s true of us a nation. Gandhi parivaar should not be touched because they have a legacy. Everything Ambanis touch is corrupt because there’s is a legacy too. Don’t question your parents, because they are, after all, your parents. Asking Dravid, Ganguly or anyone else who was big enough a name to rest has always been a problem. Except Laxman! 🙂 A related unfortunate truth is that a player should give way to someone who can do the job better than him/her. In this case, we have had a serious dearth of options. If we had options, we would not have discovered the true genius of Laxman, btw. I could agree that Rahane and Mukund and co deserve extended blooding, but that could well be at the cost of a Dhoni, right? Is he performing with the bat? He does not even have a legacy. And worse still, he does not have a technique.

Whether or not there is a set of 11 players beyond this current lot that needs to be looked at is a question that should be asked, in all fairness. But, the debate cannot be about Sachin. Let the debate be about Indian Cricket. Let the debate be about what’s working and what’s not. What can be improved and what cannot be. Who needs to go out and who needs to come in. And if the answer is Sachin, the people in charge need to have the balls to say it.

And yes. If, in there, somewhere, Sachin is still your best bet to go out, take on a quality opposition and make a game of it, then let him play with the peace of mind that he deserves.

Culture of Whites

As a young kid, impressionable, ambitious, and a little crazy as I might have been back then, there was a little thing that was sacrosanct. That someone who was really serious about his Cricket, wore the “whites”. The other colors were for fun. Like the Benson & Hedges tournament down under. The cherry was supposed to be red. For it to be menacing and serious. You get the point.

So, when I went for my first cricket camp, since I could not really have a separate set of appropriate whites for playing cricket only, it boiled down to my white school shirt, and that white school trouser that you were supposed to wear on a specific weekday, for example, a saturday. I had white canvas shoes as well. But this time, thankfully, big brother came to my rescue. He had played school league already, and much as it would have affected the monthly budgets, my parents had bought him a pair of cricketing shoes with spikes and everything. He had outgrown them, and they were available for me. A little worn out, but a matter of pride, because not everyone had them. And you had to go to “Main Road” to buy them in Ranchi.

But, in short, the whites were sacred. Once you donned the whites, you played seriously. The stakes became higher. The intensity, that much stronger.

And the players wore those white V-neck sweaters in winters. The ones which had a combination color rim around the neck. The colors representing your country colors. Indians had blue. Aussies had yellow and baggy green. Me and my brother had pleaded with mom to get her to knit one of those sweaters for us. And she did. And we wore them, and felt let like the real deal. Nothing could go wrong after that. Yet it did. You did gt thwacked around the park. Or bowled out for a duck. But that could happen to Kapil. OR Kris Srikant as well. It’s just that you felt that you were giving your 100%.

And you imitated. That wonderful Kapil pose. Or the long Kumble run up. Or, that menacing Akram yorker. Or, even Gladstone Small. Or, that Shashtri defend and take a few false steps trick. Or that Kris Srikanth twitch, walk to the leg umpire, stretch your feet apart much more than any other batsman would, and try to take on the Akrams and the Ambroses of the world.

And much as the game was called a gentlemen’s game, complain like rowdies whenever you felt that a decision was unfair against India. Be ridiculous about supporting Sunny’s walking out. Be kiddishly gleefuk about that akram yorker that brought some ofthe finest to the ground. And discuss the match for several hours after it ended. That hit and that miss. Quite different from the post-match package by Sony Entertainment.

And just as the day would be coming to an end, with a little bit of light still left before sunset, run to the ground to get a five over game in. You and your band of fellow gentlemen. Whites or no-whites.

Such was the culture of whites. As I remember it.

A Very Very Special Friend

Have you ever had a friend that you depend on without really being overtly worried about where they are at this very moment? The kinds you don’t bother to call for days and weeks and months, but you know they are there. The conversation with them starts seamlessly every time. Irrespective of the break. Maybe not so often, but they are the ones that you call when you really need to talk.

Today, I can feel a void. One such friend has decided to call it quits. Not be there. A very very special friend.

A little too much is said about Tendulkar (who kept me interested in cricket in an era where there was hardly anything going for indian cricket fan and all the “talent” was in Australia, Pakistan or West Indies), Ganguly (who brought the spunk in the team with shirtless heroics), Dravid (the wall that stood tall), Dhoni (the deliverer of the world cup), etc. But not so much about Kumble.. and this very very special guy from Hyderabad, Vangipuruppu Venkata Sai Laxman.

As a young cricket fan, I watched every match, every series, every tournament. Always hoping, never believing. Always knowing that it’s possible, always scared that it won’t happen. And then, “it” happened. On the third and the fourth and the fifth day of a test match in Eden Gardens. And whether I accept it or not, that was the day I stopped being scared. He became the friend that I did not talk about too often, but always knew that I could depend on him. He might have failed me a couple of times, but that’s ok. I never burdened him with the weight of my expectations, and he never acted like he didn’t care.

Dravid once wrote – “Nothing calms you like Laxman”. So true for the fans too. And while saying that, I am not discounting what a Sehwag or a Tendulkar or a Dravid had done already or were doing. But, here is a cricketer who did not have the odds going in his favor, who was the favorite scapegoat on the sacrificial altar, and who had been left out more often than he was called in. For a batsman of his caliber to not have played the world cup despite a 16 year long career, would be considered blasphemous in many countries, and I struggle to find an example so intimidating for the opposition, yet so indifferently treated by his own countrymen. And in the middle of all this, that sense of calm is enviable. I remember that 5 second jumper from Michael Jordan in 1998 against Utah Jazz. The remarkable thing was the sense of calm as he went up, and time stood still for a moment, as he downed the jumped. If I had to take a bet on someone who could do something similar for Indian cricket team, it would have to be VVS. And nothing brings it to the fore as acutely as the test match against west indies.

As Mukul Kesavan points out in his article in Telegraph today, someday, the statisticians will discount the value of VVS by looking at his sub-50 averages that “will strike the future fan as pedestrian”. But while the phone minutes run higher for your most recent girlfriend, the value of that single call made to that dear friend in that moment of need cannot be quantified. And you, VVS, have been one of the dearest friends of Indian Cricket.

 

(Image Courtesy: HindustanTimes)

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