Saturday, 16 November 2013

Sachiiiin Sachin...

What happens when the men you idolise go away? What happens when the people who were the centre of your discussions stop being that? What happens when heroes say good bye? What happens when the man who started playing for India before you were even born retires? We're about to find that out, aren't we?

I must have been 5 years old when I first remember watching cricket. Of course it was the  1998 desert storm. Two hundreds in a span of 3-4 days and a trophy for the country. That week etched him in my heart forever. Since then I've been hooked onto him and cricket. He is a hero, a role model, an example in how to lead a life.

His dedication, devotion and passion for the game of cricket is something worthy of implementing in our lives. In his speech he said that even yesterday, he discussed his dismissal with his brother. It shows what amazing focus and devotion he has for the game of cricket.

Every time we were to bat, I couldn't wait for Sachin to come out. And when he did come out, I would get nervous. Guess this is true to many of us.

There have been many cases of, 'great player but not a good guy at all.' But this is not the case with Sachin. Or even Dravid, Ganguly, Kumble or VVS. They have been perfect role models for children who have grown up to watching Indian cricket in the late 90s and the 2000s. And unlike many other countries' players, you see them and you understand that they are friends and not merely team mates. They have immense respect and adulation for each other. 

They not only were great cricketers but were the perfect role models. "Bada hoke Sachin banega?" and we used to blush because being Sachin would make us so so happy! Never did Sachin endorse tobacco or alcoholic brands. You hear the likes of Rahul and Ganguly speak on air and you understand how classy they are.

Sachin's rise is the same as that of India's rise in the 90s. Sachin's story is that of a simple middle class boy going on to achieve great things. His story is that of hard work, devotion, passion and how dedication and love for anything that you love can take you places. 

He was the hope in an otherwise hopeless team. "Switching off the tv after Sachin got out" sounds cliche but it was true for quite a few years. 
The best example is of the 96 world cup semi final. We were 98 for 2 when Sachin got out and he had made 65 out of those 98 runs. Our next 6 wickets fell for 22 runs and then we all know what happened. Had Sachin been allowed to play versus SL rather than India, he'd have won it for us. 

Harsha Bhogle on television did say today that if you were asked to describe Sachin in one word it would not be 'legend' or 'genius' or 'master' but it would be 'humble'. I absolutely agree with him. 

Sachin never came off as brash, egoistic or arrogant. And that is one of the big reasons why we love him so much. 
He never showed the middle finger to the crowd nor did he go ahead and pick fights with the spectators. He always let the bat do the talking. And I'm worried that the current team has no such players. Maybe Dhoni and Pujara are cut from the same cloth as the Dravids and the Tendulkars but don't see anyone apart from those two. And Dhoni is 32.
Sachin wrote personalised letters to his neighbours when construction at his home caused some disturbances. He always came off as someone who regarded the game above all. He never lost his temper on the ground nor did he find himself in major controversies. He was the man everyone wanted to emulate. 
Nothing captures his humility as the fact that he went back and touched the pitch that made him the man that he is, that gave him the money and the fame that he got.
If most of us had even a fraction of the fame that he got, we'd be in some dreamland, floating among the clouds.
Sachin thanking the pitch on which he scored the runs that gave him the love, fame, success and money

Indian cricket is entering an era where not one of our first XI have played more than 100 tests. It is going to be one huge task for the next lot of players to match up to the standards set by the Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman. 
Virat is really good but not someone would want to consider a role model as. Rohit has been good this year but was really bad before that. Raina cannot play the short ball. 
A new chapter is beginnings in Indian cricket and we are lucky to have a captain like Dhoni who will guide this set of enthusiastic and, at times, over enthusiastic players. He also is very humble and tries to stay away from the limelight as much as possible and his feet are firmly on the ground. He is the apt person to lead this set of very talented cricketers.

Thank you Sachin for all the memories, the 175, 134, 143, 200, 98, 136, 186, 241 and everything else! Thank you for that straight drive off Lee, the upper cuts, the six over third man, those glorious drives in the 'V', the massacre on Warne, those flicks off your hips, those partnerships with Ganguly and then with Sehwag, that 100 out of 196 versus Zimbabwe, those cute little paddle sweeps, those two late cuts off Waugh...

It is yet to sink in that there will never ever be a Sachin special again. I think it will hit me hard when we next play a test and people won't stand up and give a standing ovation to the batsman coming in.

Somewhere in between today and the first test in South Africa, my childhood will end. A part of my childhood that I was hanging on to will fall away. Never will I ever feel nervous at the sight of a batsman facing a bowler. Somewhere in between today and 18th December, I will grow up.

PS : Wankhede, you were amazing over these 2 and a half days! Brilliant.
PPS : Just I post this, it is confirmed that he will be conferred with the Bharat Ratna.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

"Your job now is to stand by your new manager"

It was never going to be easy. Change never is. Especially if things haven't changed for 26 years.

It is actually funny to see me react to our woeful performances. I remember when we were drubbed 6-1, I got angry and didn't watch the last 5 minutes. But, when City were tearing our defence apart again, I let out a chuckle. This was coming. But this is an important learning curve for the manager and also the fans. While the manager learns the tricks and trade of a new high profile job, fans must understand that domination is not permanent. Even the great Barcelona team has not been able to live up to the standards they set under Guardiola.

The next few months will bring out a new Manchester United that most of us have not seen; especially the likes of me who have started following football only after 2000. It is going to be one topsy-turvy ride. But it is going to be fun. Heartbreaks will get more common but maybe a good Cup run could calm us down. The standards have been set high. Expecting Moyes to replicate it at the very first attempt is very stupid. It will take time but as we saw with Alex Ferguson, give him time and voila!

Of course, there are things that could have been done much better. The transfer saga of Fabregas, Fellaini, Baines could have been dealt with much better. Again, United not only replaced the manager this summer but also all the back room staff and the CEO.

Moyes, from these first few games (and also SAF from last season) seems reluctant to let go the 4-4-1-1 formation which is unsuitable for Kagawa who is quite an impressive player when playing in the number 10 role rather than on the left wing. To extract the best of Kagawa, Moyes needs to play him in the number 10 position. When he plays on the left, he tends to come inside which in turn leaves the left back literally 1 on 2 and poses a great threat of conceding goals.

Key players who formed the core of the United team for the last 3-4 years are ageing. Carrick is 32 and I cannot imagine what will happen to us if he gets injured. Anderson, Young, Buttner are clearly not United quality. Rio has been poor. Nani, erratic as always. Should we let them go? We do have a good amount of youngsters waiting to make it to the next level but Moyes must ensure that he doesn't let a Pogbaesque incident happen again.

For the fans, they're expecting the same things that SAF delivered. Moyes perhaps also will. Only thing is he needs time. With so much media and social media surrounding teams, people are talking about these 6-8 games as if it has been 3-4 years! Relax youguiz, it has only been a month and a half. What's also good about this is that it brings all the 'plastic' fans to the surface. Good riddance.

But for now, keep calm and follow what Sir Alex said, "your job now is to stand by your new manager"

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The First Time

The best thing about sports is that it happens live. Unscripted drama. The thrill, the elation of the unknown. Watching Jonty Rhodes jump up like a fish coming out of water and grab on to the ball gives you the immense pleasure that our mind craves for. Watching it live satisfies this the most. Sure watching it over and over again (like I've watched the World Cup final a numerous times) is also fun. The first time though, that time when your mind didn't know what was going to happen next, when your face was more tensed than a student giving his engineering entrance exam is just so exhilarating! 

And once again I've written something completely different than what I intended to start this post with. Anyway...

I've never been a watcher of tv shows. Whatever little bit I watched was always on television. I had Friends copied on my computer long long ago but manipulating my daily schedule around all the sport that I watch was in itself a big task, let alone watching tv shows. 5 months after actually starting to watch it, I've completed it today. I've had to restart watching it 3-4 times in the beginning because I wasn't regular and kept forgetting what happened previously. Not that it mattered much. 
But even in a comedy show in which you can watch any random episode, our brain wants for some continuity in the story. We want to establish a link with what we've watched before. There've been days when I've watched 4-5 episodes (very very high by my standards) and then there've been stretches of 4 days when I've watched none. 

 What I intended to hit upon in the first para is that watching anything(in this case, a tv show) for the first time is like watching sport. There is an element of unknown, something that'll suddenly surprise you(someone like Janice) Some inappropriate joke that Chandler cracks or another portrait of how dumb soap opera stars are or how crazy Phoebe...anything. And that first time it happens, it is the best. If someone observed you while watching a particular episode of the show for the first, second and the third time, I'm pretty sure you'd have laughed the most the first time.

 The first time is always special. Your first crush, your first kiss, your first cricket match in a stadium, your first night out with friends, your first ride on your motorcycle, your first concert, your first night alone at home will always be etched in your memory. Hell, most of my blogs are about first time experiences!

As for Friends, well that's the only comedy show apart from TBBT I've watched and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I also realised how stupid TBBT is. There are no twists like The Red Wedding or Snape killing Dumbledore for there to be any spoilers as such but still I watched every episode with no idea what was coming next, being thrilled and roaring with laughter every time! 

Joey, Chandler, Monica, Rachel, Ross and Phoebe; just like Hermoine, Harry, Ron, Snape; just like Scout, Jem and Dill; just like Yossarian; just like The Red Wedding will forever be special and etched into my heart!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The IBL Experience.

So now I've watched football, cricket, hockey and badminton in a stadium. Quite an achievement, I must say!
 My friends think that I'm crazy to go and watch anything and everything (maybe I am) so I am generally unaccompanied for these things except for some occasions where I am able to persuade my friends. Sadly, this was not one of those occasions.
  The Indian Badminton League styled upon the ridiculously successful IPL was in Pune for the last couple of days. Tickets were being sold online but I thought that I'd directly go early to the stadium get tickets on the spot.
  Rushing back from college, I reached at 3 15pm for a 4pm match and thought I'd easily get tickets. As it turned out, tickets were sold out! Can you believe that? BADMINTON STADIUM SOLD OUT!
Sure Saina was playing and so was Lee Chong Wei but I didn't expect it to be a sell out. Disappointed, I bought the tickets for today's less illustrious match. But hey, it was Pune Pistons playing!

   I've frequented that stadium so often that I left only 40 minutes before the scheduled start of play. After getting into the main building, I climbed up a floor to enter the spectators arena. This was originally constructed for the Commonwealth Youth Games whose organisation was spearheaded by Suresh Kalmadi. It is one world class facility and I wonder why the BAI doesn't ask the BWF for a World Tournament to be played here. I am pretty sure many people will come to watch. Afterall, Pune was the city this sport was invented in! Actually, for some time, badminton was also known as Poona as it was very popular in this city!

  Observations :
1) People were more interested to be on TV than to watch the game.
2) People thought Banga Beats was a Bengal based team.
3) One simply does not go to a game where people are not making lewd comments about women.
4) People didn't know who Kashyap Parupalli was.
5) Ayaz Memon.
6) Mayanti Langer.
7) People couldn't get a good chant/cheer going.
8) There was a group of Gujjus. About 10-12 of them. They had bought food there too. And lots and lots and lots of it.
9) Bangalore Beats had around 100 people in their Banga shirts who were more vociferous than Pune crowd. Too bad their team sucks.
10) DJ played songs in breaks or in between matches which was very irritating!
11) Food was overpriced but at least we were allowed to take out own inside.
12) Coming to think of it, there was no security checking. We just walked through a metal detector and that was it!
13) The players sitting on the sidelines is a very nice idea.
14) Even though there was no rhythmic chants or cheering, people were still very excited about good points being won. And the players liked that. Schenck especially loved it.

Credit to the Pune Pistons team. They played really well. Especially Saurabh Verma who came from a game down against Kashyap to win! It was a fun experience. Would have been much much much better had my friends come with me. I tried to start chants from time to time but, like your vehicle which has not been used for a couple of weeks, the chants just wouldn't start and get going.

What IBL can do better?

1) I think the format of the matches needs to change. They should keep it a proper badminton match. 3 games. 21 points each and they should absolutely scrap the 'first to 21 no matter what' rule! This format is just plain absurd.
2) Most of the arenas have at least 3 courts. They should play 2 games simultaneously. They anyway have 2 channels to show both the matches. This will also help eliminate dead rubber situations. Like today, for instance when Pune won the first 3 matches, there was no meaning playing the next 2 matches.
3) Get Chinese stars in!

Even though a stadium has been a sell out, there have been controversies about players being undervalued at auctions. It remains to be seen whether the full stadiums actually translate into actual money being pumped into the system. It would also be interesting to see whether people actually come back next year for this time around they came because it was something new and not exactly for the spectacle of a top badminton match.

All in all, it was fun but could have been better. Would I go again? I sure would but if only the tickets were cheaper.

PS : Juliane Schenk, would you consider playing for India after seeing the support that we've given you?

Monday, 22 July 2013


Something weird happened with me today. I am guessing it would have already happened to so many of you reading this. Anyway, here goes.
I was returning home from college on this crowded bus heading towards Shivaji Nagar. Luckily, I found an empty seat in the last row, second seat from the window, next to an middle aged woman. I handed the conductor a 100 Rupee note and got back 75 for two tickets for me and my friend to Shivaji Nagar. I guess this was the time when the woman sitting beside me had a peep into my wallet and saw that I had a hundred Rupee note and some other 10 Rupee notes. 

She : My purse fell down at the previous stop. Could you give me Rs. 20.

I was dumbstruck. Rs 20 is not a large amount but still I let my instinct take over and my instinct said that I must not part with my money. It was then that I observed her. She had a wound, which had almost healed fully on her lips, perhaps from a bad fall or given to her by an abusive husband. When she spoke, she had a very childish voice. One of cluelessness and bewilderment. The tone was one that was filled with doubts, queries.

Anyway, I told her that I will not give her any money. I assured her that travelling ticketless in such a crowded bus meant that she'd not get caught and that she shouldn't worry. She looked disappointed and never uttered another word before getting down without any problems at A.B.C, travelling almost 10 km. for free.
 Interestingly, she only asked me for money, no one else. There were so many of them standing as well as sitting but she asked none of them. 

There have been many times when I've been on a bus which has many small kids going to or coming back from municipal schools clearly those unfortunate souls who couldn't afford the luxury of shoes or of school vans. Heck, their schools don't even have vans. But I always used to wonder if any one of these kids didn't have money, I'd gladly help them out.

It wasn't a kid today. I am now left with two wrestling thoughts - did I just miss out on an opportunity to help someone in dire need. Or have I done the right thing by not falling to a false story?

The fact that she didn't ask anyone else makes me think that I did the right thing. But for almost the entire journey, I was in a dilemma. 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Restore My Faith, Someone.

Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof. - Khalil Gibran

How will cricket come back from such a scandal waits to be seen. Cricket has lesser faithfuls  than casual watchers. Even if faithfuls are convinced that what they are seeing is not scripted, which itself will require a herculean task from the administrators, it is the causal watchers like my mother that need to be convinced that what they are watching is actually real. 

These casual watchers don't have tabs of CI open when they are away from the tv; at work nor do they listen to podcasts or read blogs. If these people lose their faith, the game will have very few takers. Some might argue that it doesn't matter who has faith and who doesn't but in my opinion it does. When my mother comes out and says, "What are you watching? Haven't you seen how pathetic these players are? Everything is fixed. Change the channel" cricket has lost a watcher. And there are many such moms saying the same thing. This same lady treated me to a Baskin Robins because South Africa managed 438 that day. Anyway, my basic point is that we fans need to be assured that what we are watching is not fake. As Gaurav Kalra suggested, a small 2 minute video from all captains assuring us that will go a long way. As to what the BCCI can do is...well a lot. They have started with accrediting agents. They still haven't banned the players which is just stupid. What they could have done is told the broadcasters that they should discuss this saga on air. Rather than dishing out cliches, these respected commentators and ex-cricketers cum IPL governing council members could've have assured us that the filth will be thrown out. Why are they so scared to discuss such issues on air. It is as if discussing anything bad about the IPL is un-holy and cannot be done. 
After the 2000 match fixing scandal, it took an epic match involving a mammoth partnership and a victory from the jaw of defeat; a follow on turned into a win to restore the faith. People had two new heroes. Apart from Sachin Tendulkar. Saurav Ganguly took this team to new heights which were never thought to be achievable. Whether the calm, cool headed, ideal leader Dhoni can do the same remains to be seen. What is fore sure though is we won't have a Dravid-Laxman moment unless India are 100-4 trailing by 340 runs in Durban in Jaunary and then still go on to win the test...though I highly doubt that. 
Actually as Kalra mentioned in his column, the IPL could have even been stopped till the impending investigations are over. Who knows whether RP Singh really didn't intend to bowl that no-ball? As much as Srini declines, the IPL's image has indeed taken a hitting. Brand IPL has had at least 3 and perhaps many many more overs that were fixed and were not fair. That is the bottom line. 
My point is that a simple reassurance, not from N Srinivasan but from our heroes, the captains saying that, "Look. Even I am disgusted by whatever has happened. But I can assure you that every game that has involved my team has been fair and I can assure you that your time spent in front of the tv has not gone waste in watching some scripted farce" 
I cannot believe that stalwarts like Sachin, Dravid, Gilly etc. can actually continue playing in such an environment where their credibility is being questioned. But then when you're paid so much, you I guess gotta comply with that the board, owners want. 

PS: Hey Ankeet, Ajit, Sreesanth - how old are you again? How much money were you legitimately earning again from not only playing but from all the endorsements? Is that not enough? You people disgust me.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Challenge Slayer

Within five months of my birth, Manchester United were on their way their first domestic league title in more than two decades. And it was under the managership of Alex Ferguson who then was 52. Had he been in any government job, you'd believe he might be leading a wonderful pre-retirement life where he went to work and came back home for some lovely dinner made by his wife while being visited on and off by his sons or grandchildren.
But no. He was incharge of Manchester United. 1993 was also the year when football and its economics changed in England. The Premier League was formed and Manchester United were its first winners. It marked the beginning of an era; an era of constant dominance for Manchester United. Man Utd, after 1993 have won the Premier League 13 times out of 20. Mind blowing. How can such an old man do this with such regularity? One of a kind.
In the numerous articles I've read ever since Fergie announced he was retiring, one article caught my attention to an observation made by the writer. (sadly, I cannot remember who or which one) It says that when you see him talk, just observe the number of times he uses the word challenge. And then I managed to watch his last pre match presser and he used the word. When asked what next for him now that he is retiring, he bluntly replied with a smile about his itinerary for the next 3 months. "Last match. Holiday. Derbies. Hip Operation. Recovery. And the season starts with my new role as director." Challenge? Challenge accepted! This is what he is all about. Accepting challenges. In another interview he gave to BBC last year, he again uses the word challenge. That his identity. Challenge slayer. Give him something difficult to overcome and he'll relish the preparation, the tension, the press conferences, the match, the challenge.

He saw every loss as a challenge to build something new. He came to Old Trafford and saw the players indulging a bit too much. Challenge accepted. Nobody was spared. If you were wrong and you didn't take your chance, you're off. The values of discipline were instilled. Challenge overcome.He saw that the youth system was rotting, so prepared a detailed plan as to how he was to build a new youth squad. 

It still took him six years to win a domestic title. And lady luck favoured him. Football and especially English football started reaching all corners of the world on t.v. And obviously, people started supporting the club that most often won. And it was Manchester United. And all this bought huge loads of money. From Gary Neville starting to play for Manchester United for 27 pounds a week to Rooney whining despite earning close to 300,000 pounds a week, football has come a long way. So has Sir Alex Ferguson. But he still kept winning. Success is something. But staying at the top, as Manchester City have understood this year is another matter. And this man ensured that Manchester United stayed at the top for the best part of 2 decades. 

The man woke up at around 5 in the morning and was in office before 7. Commitment. Try doing that at 20 for two days. His desire to chop and change his squad to ensure success is what made him so successful. He set high standards and was ruthless when these were not met by people representing Manchester United. His ability to drop someone like van Nisterooy for a Cup Final or to have a bust up with Roy Keane and still come out on top and then win without them is what has made him the greatest manager ever. He believed in youth and his philosophy of attacking football is relished world-wide. There's a famous anecdote where the youth team involving Gary Neville were winning comfortably at half time. He as usual had come to watch the match. Even in winning he had some issues to sort. And so he made his way to the dressing room during half time to give the kids a talk. That shows his obsession with success and his desire to correct even small small things even during victory defines 
 Very very rarely would you see a Manchester United team revert to a 4-5-1 from a more attacking formation when they are winning 1-0 at around the 80th minute. He'd rather get the second goal and finish the game off. 
He always had certain players to drive the team around. A leader who set high standards. Cantona, Keane, Rooney. And without Ferguson in the manager's seat and also perhaps without Rooney, it will be interesting to see what motivates Manchester United, especially in times of difficulty. 
The famous comebacks, the Fergie time goals are not just luck but the ability of a 50 something, later 60 something and most recently 70 something man to motivate his army to never give up and keep probing, keep applying pressure for soon there will be cracks in the defense and then grab that opportunity to score. He means so much not only to Manchester United and its fans but to the whole of football. There won't be anyone like him. One of a kind. The last one of a kind. 
He saw off the challenges of Arsene Wenger's team of 98, Arsenal's Invincibles, Jose Mourinho and most recently, Roberto Mancini. He has outlived them all; slayed these challenges like a true warrior.