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

Cricket Can Be Like That

Long ago, I was working on a difficult project. The analysis had been difficult, the recommendations not too obvious, the storyline not so coherent. One of those engagements where V75 of the deck looks completely different from V01, and quite different from the final version of what is shared with the client. Intense debates happen. All the time.

At about 4 in the morning, we finalized the presentation. After 2 hours of going through pennies and dimes and the lines and the fonts and the colors and the boxes and the flows and words and the sentences, we sent it to the client. We were all sure about the great job we had done. We had couple of hours left to lighten up and get refreshed. We had a plan. And we felt good about it.

First 20 minutes were by the book. It was a good feeling. Then we hit the third insight on the sixth slide, which made us refer to slide 192 of the appendix section. That number was wrong! Shoulders dropped. We all lost a bit of our altitude and attitude. From that point onwards, for the next 1 hour 40 minutes, things were on the tenterhooks. We could not be sure any more. And the client was not sure. They double checked everything. They had a feedback about almost everything. We felt bad. We were not ready to concede our mistake so easily. They were not ready to acknowledge the work that had gone in. Everyone was unhappy. And we get into that mode of well, give us another chance and we will set it right. But some problems are just difficult. Sometimes.

Critics often remind me of clients. They are the gatekeepers of the collective insights, through their (right or wrong) opinions. A mistake, that nudge or that poking of that ball that you should have left, the ambitious loft, the failure to get your act together in the face of crisis, are dissected in every possible way. And if nothing else, the leader. Uneasy is the head that wears the crown.

What did I do when it was all over – I was terribly upset. I got all defensive initially. Angry in a bit. And finally… I don’t remember :-).  I would have liked to remind myself – Shit Happens!

Do they even want to play?

Several years back, when I played competitive sports for the last time, I was still in school. I did not play a lot, but like every cricket playing kid in the country who focused on studies, I truly believed (at that time) that I sacrificed a fledgling cricketing career at that time.
Nevertheless, I was playing the school league cricket tournament back then. When I started representing the school, I was only a fringe player, waiting for someone to get injured or unavailable so that I could get a chance to play. Practice seemed a drab affair and the matches were the real deal. And occasionally I got my chance to play. It were those chances that I wanted to make my own. I knew that I would not be the strike bowler. And for most part, when I was playing the first match ever, people expected me to not bleed runs, rather than take wickets. However, on my part, if I wanted to play the next game sooner, I needed to be better than that. I needed to take wickets and not bleed runs. I was eager. I was tense. I had planned things in my head many a times and things were supposed to work perfectly. And I had no idea who I was bowling to. But as long as I bowl the perfect delivery I would get the wickets. I had a plan.
Except, the plan did not work. The plan was dependent on my ability to bowl a particular line and length with the appropriate amount of turn and flight and drift, and my expectation of what the batsman would do. First over, the plan did not work. For more than one reason. And that’s when I had my first realization. The need to adapt. The second realization came in a little later. You need to setup wickets at times. Its about playing it in the batsman’s head as much as its about planning it in your head. And more importantly, its quite possible that the dude on the other end is going through similar emotions. So, you will get hit. A swallow maketh not a summer. Neither a boundary destroys your career. However, with every run scored off me, I wanted to fight harder. I would sometimes flip into the run saving mode. At other times, I would want to get that batsman out the very next delivery. And I made mistakes. And of the many that I made, there was one that I did not make – I did not stop trying. I did well occasionally, and not so well on other occasions. But I was satisfied. Objectively speaking, I’d not have made a good cricketer, but I was not an unsuccessful one while I played (with all the boxes ticked while I was still playing).
Why am I writing all this today? Because when I watched the bits and pieces of the previous test match at Sidney and the one before that, it seemed like we had a perfect side capable of winning the test matches, but we were not trying. Not hard enough. And I know that’s not a good place to be, if you really want to win. It seemed like I was watching a team going through the motions. I remember a funny window. Gautam Gambhir in the second innings seemed positive, and got a few nice drives and strokes in. And then Dravid was clean bowled. We had a drought after that. For 50 odd deliveries, not a single run was scored. I can believe that the bowling was good (even though the pitch was flat and had nothing to offer to the bowlers). What I cannot believe is that if you want to rotate strike every now and then, you are not able to. Not the kind of batsmen who were on the crease at that point. We sent out a message. That we could be dominated. And we were dominated. Again.
Are we a bad side? I don’t believe it. Is Dhoni a bad captain? I really don’t believe that either. Let the analysis paralysis happen. I actually believe that he is a great leader, and there is more to come from him. Did we play bad cricket? Yes. Individual or collective? Collective.
My saddest observation right from the England series is that our team does not want to be on the field. The matches we won in India were also not because our team suddenly wanted to be there. It was because the other side was playing bad cricket. And with the crowd rallying, sometimes the theatrics kick in when they are playing at home. But, as a team, most of them would rather be at a beach drinking cocktails than be sweating it out. That’s a dangerous mindset. Oversimplifying it, it’s the same feeling that I’d have about going to office every now and then. But oversimplifying it again, I know that once I am on the job, I better be on the job and not elsewhere.
I really don’t see the team coming out of this rut for the next two tests. It will continue in the one-dayers as well. Once we are back home, we will win some. And we will lose some. But this team needs a psychological conditioning more than the athleticism that Harsha Bhogle is recommending. Or maybe, a break. Sometimes, you’ve got to let Lee Germon be the captain.

Tomorrow, we will win

My heart skips a beat, as I think about the match tomorrow. In anticipation, trepidation, excitement and fear.

In 1983, when India won the worldcup, I was 3 years old, my brother was 7, and we were a joint-ish family living in a small town of Uttar Pradesh. I think it was around the middle of the world cup that our family bought a TV, a black and white Uptron TV, that used to come with wooden slider doors to keep the TV safe while you weren’t watching it. It was on that TV that my mamaji, my cousin, my dad and everyone else saw India lift the cup, and it was then that my brother became a cricket fanatic. I think my love for cricket has something to do with that world cup, because I do remember watching every match of the World Championship Series in Australia after that, and Ravi Shastri winning that Audi as the man of the series.

In 1996, I was a India fanatic when it came to cricket. A fan, who believed that irrespective of the quality of opposition, India is entitled to win every match. Just to get disappointed every now and then, but holding on to the belief. Tendulkar had come of age. I had belief. And there was a small matter of faith in match winners like Ajay Jadeja and Anil Kumble.

In 1996, we played Pakistan in Bangalore, and in that era, my brother was a gully cricket mate of a certain Mahindra Singh Dhoni, and I was Mahi’s school cricket mate. I had played cricket at the school and district level. I had played alongside this someone who I thought could make it big, but never would. It was too difficult to break the shackles of corruption in Bihar, inside sports as well. Nepotism was a fact, and the opportunities were fewer. My brother had stopped representing any team, and started trying to build a career based on academic education, and I had chosen to get ready for the mass orgy known as IIT Joint Entrance Examination. I had, for what it was worth, hung my boots. But I was a fan nevertheless. The evenings in a small town like Ranchi, and in a township like Mecon are all about celebrating the victory of the match gone by, or the drowning of the loss. We played tennis ball cricket. We felt happy that India had defeated Pakistan. Few days later, we met Sri Lanka, a team we had lost to in the league stage (and we called it a fluke), and a team that we lost to yet again (bad pitch, right), despite that oh so hopeful brilliance of getting Jayasurya and Kaluwitharana out early. The memory of Vinod Kambli in tears still swells me up. Even though I know for sure that we could not have won the match from there.

15 years later, I am still a fan. I am not fanatic anymore. MSD is inside the television, and I am on the armchair. Given the company I keep, and the analysis that everyone does, and the views and opinions that are bombarded at me from all corners, I have, I believe, become pragmatic. When India plays Australia, I weigh options, and think of getting Ponting out cheaply because he is not just a sheet anchor, he is also a destroyer, and an aggressive leader. I evaluate the weaknesses of Indian bowling. Back then, watching a cricket match was about shouting childish abuses, stupid chants of abracadabra – arvinda desilva swaha, and wishing that every delivery get a wicket, or every shot from Tendulkar’s willow be a boundary. Today, it’s about appreciating that brilliant spell from Wahab Riaz or Brett Lee, even as they come close to demolishing the Indian dream of winning this world cup. If I don’t do that, people will think that I am a biased Indian who is not enjoying the game in totality, and missing out on much the game has to offer. Well – intellectualism comes at a price. It often takes your passion away. One upon a time, I too wanted to wear the blue. And those who wear it, and have walked inside a stadium full of people cheering you to win (Mahi wears it. I envy him. And I love him for that), I can only dream of the high they feel. At that one moment, its not rational. And I create that moment. I am no Navjot Singh Sidhu sitting in an air-conditioned studio analyzing the game. I am ‘The Indian Fan’. And to me, the only thing that eventually makes or breaks my days, is whether India won or not.

And so, this world cup, for the quarter final and the semi final, against two brilliantly tough opponents, I let my heart be where it belongs. I watched and predicted like an Indian fan. Before the match started, my heart and mind knew only one thing. That we will win. I chanted. And I cursed. I did not get up from seat with the fear of jinxing things. Things might have looked like going this way or the other as the match progressed, but I knew only one thing. That we will win. As Ponting accumulated a masterclass century, and people started talking about the pressure, I still said only one thing. That we will win. As Wahab Riaz ripped Indian top order, and analysts and pundits said that we are some 30 runs short, I still said only one thing. That we will win. I added, purely from my heart, that the margin will be 30 runs at least. And my heart was right. We did win. By 29 runs.

Now, we are back to an opponent who’s given us one of the worst scars of cricket, with the exception of Miandad’s Six in Sharjah. Incidentally, after India lost the sharjah, I tore off all the Chetan Sharma posters at home, that used to come with Cricket Samrat. When India lost that 1987 match against Australia, I did feel betrayed by Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri and co. In 1996, I felt sorry for Sachin, and I hated the entire team for what they brought the match to (apparently). Was there any logic in those emotions? I doubt.

I don’t want to be pragmatic and think about the strengths and weaknesses of my team. No. I am back to where my heart belongs. I know that we are going to win. And damn it, I will raise the stakes this time. If India bats first, we will win by at least 35 runs, and if India chases, we are winning by at least 5 wickets. And till these predictions are violated, you can try and use any mathematics, logic, divine analysis to suggest that something otherwise would happen. I would just stick my tongue out at you.. make a :P, and then go “brrrrrrrrrr”. I will be there. Watching every ball of the match. And believing in only one thing. That we will win.

You still want to say something? Brrrrrrr…. We Will Win

India-Pak Semi: The Pinnacle of Advertising in India

Today should be noted in the books of history. It doesn’t happen too often. And it’s unlikely to happen again in the next 8 years. As India play Pakistan in the semifinal of Cricket World Cup, the world of adveritsing would have changed, and the price barriers would have set a new benchmark for how expensive an ad slot can be. It will be interesting if any weed smoking son of the gun can calculate the real ROI of an ad slot today.
Here’s the opportunity (the ‘for dummies” version) –

  • Everyone’s watching – It’s that one topic. If you are marginally aware of cricket, you’d be watching it. If you’re not, then you’d be forced to, because the others won’t let you put anything else on the tube.
  • The same thing – The match is being telecast on three channels I guess- DD, Star Cricket, Star Sports. Each of them have their reach and captive audience. English speaking audience would prefer Star Cricket, given the commentator panel. DD would be the default for the parts of the country where people don’t still have cable tv/ set top boxes.
  • And they are confident India would win – the confidence of the nation, because despite the relative strengths or weaknesses, Pakistan has never defeated India in a world cup match. Oz and SL have. And that’s why the emotions are a lot more subdued. Lots of critics would weigh the balance of the two sides. And lots of people on the street would feel that we are going to the final. Its as much a celebration as it is an encounter
  • Yet they expect it and want it to be competitive – It has usually been like that. And more so in our head than in reality. A 50 run partnership in another match can be seen as normal, but would be seen as a high pressure situation for the bowling side today. So, people are going to take it to the wire, irrespective of the end score.
  • Without any lapse of attention – Its an 8 hour+ marathon. That tension would means a higher adrenalin rush, and greater attention to the most minute details of your ad. People will be all eyes and ears. They will watch just that one channel, and will keep looking for it. Because they don’t want to miss that moment when something happens – that wicket, that boundary, that divine shot, or that cut, or that miss.
  • And will be discussing it – everyone’s a critic today. Everyone has an opinion. And today, it’s out in the open. To the extent, that they would discuss the ads that feature the cricketers to assess how weird/funny/ridiculous it might be. In some cases, those ad taglines would be used in the context of the match. Imagine Shoaib bowling a bouncer to Sachin and thousands of people quipping – aisi delivery khelne ke liye protection chahiye.
  • In their rooms – Quite like the superbowl, there is a frenzy in metros and villages alike. Inverters/ Batteries/ Generators have been arranged for and charged to ensure that a power failure does not stop them from watching the match. Watch-dos have been organized by people inviting friends/ family/ colleagues. Offices have arranged for projects and audio systems for large hall screenings. And people will be reaching early to get their prized seats early.
  • Or, on the internet – If OZ match was an indication – half the internet generation of India would be tweeting/facebooking about the match, with their emotions out in the open. There will less analysis, and more expression of the moment. Y
  • And will remember – Yes. We may not remember what the boss said this morning. But we are pretty good at remembering that six Sachin Tendulkar hit of Kasprowicz in that Desert Storm innings, or the exact shape of the Venkatesh Prasad delivery that took care of Aamir Sohail. And Sehwag ki Maa stays as one of the most epic ads (in terms of recall) ever. I won’t be surprised if Yuvraj’s Revital and bhaag daud se bhari zindagi might be the next one.
  • If they like or dislike something – the opinions and expressions are not always about things people dislike. It covers the likes, the neutrals, the sharpness or the dimwittedness of the moment, analysis of players, analysis of commentators, ads, presentation ceremony and everything else.
  • And while doing all this, they are consuming! Let’s not forget that these viewers will also be guzzling down large quantities of drinks (Alocholic and non-alocholic) with chips, popcorns, dine-in orders, kebabs, pakodas and what nots. Unless the delivery guy of the neighborhood shop refuses to go for delivery today, or the ever so accommodating mothers and wives decide to join the cricket party.

What you are assured of is an assured and a HUGE number of viewers who’d not flip the channel even as you beam them with the most inane and absurd ads, and there are quite a few of them. What you gonna do that’s gonna leave a name for you? In advertising, there cannot be bad recall, as long as there is recall.
And yes, its also a day where the nation’s collective productivity loss would have most likely offset any commercial return possible. Even the Prime Minister is not working. Yet, wouldn’t the ultimate master of ceremonies say – “People of India, and People of the World, ARE YOU HAVING FUN?”

Shaz, Waz & Bhaz? Dunce Premier League

Harbhajan Singh has made some shocking revelations in his yet to be published autobiography, portions of which were leaked online, reportedly by himself. He has apparently been inspired by Rakhi Sawant who believes that Jejus favors those who claim their rights, lefts and centers, at the drop of a hat. Unconfirmed sources reveal that the Turbanator, whose last successful outing was a dance competition where having gone for a back breaking dance performance along with partner Mona of “Bhajji jaisa koi nahi”, lost interest in any kind of outings shortly after the show.

He developed a keen interest in innings though, a phenomenon which is hardly driven by the feedback he received for his dance performance after winning the show. The judges, the good looking duo of Waseem Akram (known for his in-swinging Yorkers) and Sushmita Sen (who has been a bollywood industry insider for a while), caught his fancy, though it was unclear till now who had a longer lasting impact on Bhajji. During the feedback, Bhajji apparently heardthe judges say that “broke dunce” was something actors like Hrithik excelled at, and could be a great asset for a Bollywood career, if he ever decided to pursue one. Drawing inspirations from the successful Bollywood careers of previous actors like Mazhar Khan, whose blockbuster role “naam abdul hai mera sab ki khabar rakhta hoon”, and Mohsin Khan (whose unforgettable performance in Saathi, featuring songs like “chahe meri jaan tu le le”, are stuff legends are made of), Bhajji decided to immediately check the dictionary meaning of broke dunce.

Having concluded that Waseem bhai was instead making a point about what he thought of Bhajji (dunce) and his financial status (broke, the reason he apparently decided to become a swinger rather than a spinster), a devastated bhajji took the vow that he will beat Waseem bhai at his own game – toe crushing yore curse. Though he never looked up the meaning of toe, industry insiders claim that they fully understand the part of Waseem bhai’s anatomy he was going to crush/curse. Too tired to be a Moin Khan shouting “shabaas waseem bhai, shabaas”, Bhajji took to black magic, especially visible in his black turbanating performances in international cricket being supremely superior to all other spinsters being tried by the Indian team. He finally earned his rightful place down the order and in the middle overs.

I'm a black magic woman!

Black Mamba!

Bhajji trying doosra

Bhajji has also seen black a few times, the signs of which could be seen in his symbolic conversations with Symonds in a match during the friendly Australia series.

Sign is king!

Lately, unconfirmed reports from media suggested that Bhajji having read the confederacy of dunces (he reveals in the leaked prints that he never actually read the book, he just heard that it’s an award winning book which talks about the force that intellectuall duncity can be), and getting spurred by the successful run of 3dunces, led by the karismatic/kareenatic Aamir, remarked that being a dunce is not a bad deal, as long as you are not broke. Since then, he has decided to consume a lot of MSD for keeping him high up the preferential ladder compared to noobs like Mishraji (the mixed one) and Ojhaji (mera black magic tumhare ojha-tantrik jhaad phoonk se better hai). Some crack indeed. These addictions have also revealed why Waseem bhai’s comments hurt Bhajji so much.

After Shaz, why not Bhaz, is a question, he reportedly asks in his book. “Bhazzi & Wazzi on the beach” could have become the greatest love story since “Ajab Prem Ki Ghajab Kahani”! I think that Wazn’t meant to be!

Asia Cup Final – one beats eleven

Lethal weapon, I must say

It was quite something to watch him demolish the Indian top order. And barring a couple of bad shots (like Raina’s), the credit goes totally to the man of the moment. Did people notice his front wrist action and the way he was turning the ball both ways with an almost similar action? Not even the usual agonizing ways of doosra! But for the fact that the spin-inexperienced Indian side were getting thulped, I loved this young lad’s bowling.

And to classify my last statement, yes- that’s what I think. MSD, Yuvi, Rohit, Raina and Gambhir are all good and nice. But not the best when it comes to playing quality spin bowlers. Indian batsmen of yesteryears, known to belittle the spinners across the globe, where art thou???

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