This is My Generation. The End, almost.

Leander Paes, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly are all a few months to 1 year older than me. Bhaichung Bhutia is 2 years younger. These five people have been my contemporaries literally. And their life over the last 25 odd years has, in many ways, mirrored my own. The contexts are different but the questions are the same. The similar conflicts of choice, responsibilities, ambition and aspirations. The shared pain of graduating from random teenage dabbling to becoming a contender and then becoming class, the pressure of maintaining that class and trying to evolve oneself and maintain relevance and motivation as the environment changes and age and cynicism kicks in. I have followed the careers of these five people not just because they play a sport that one has an interest in but also because they faced and struggled with and overcame the same life questions as I did, at the same time as me.

The retirement of Sachin Tendulkar from active sport (he still has to play a couple of tests) makes it 80% down for my generation. That Leander is still around winning Grand Slams is something that, in a way, does not surprise one at all, given how one has seen him over the years. Of course, he does not wince when Patrick McEnroe calls him a senior citizen. He wears that tag quite openly and is still a medal contender at the Olympics, even with a rookie who did not even have a pair of shoes.

Given these almost parallel lives that one has lived with, it would be too shallow and meaningless to call myself a fan of any of these players. To me, each one represents a model of, a way of life in a way, of what an Indian can do. We all have our talents and abilities and our respective areas of interests, aspirations and passions. These five people demonstrate a very human and ergo realistic way of bringing all of those things to life in spectacular fashion, not just for a short burst of 15 minutes but for an entire lifetime of a generation, a quarter of a century. And more. These five people are not supermen who come from a different planet and have different non-human qualities. They come from the same social milieu (barring Bhaichung Bhutia whose background is far different from the urban middle class environs of the other four) as me (heck, Sachin flunked HSc, something that I was in danger off till I managed to get some tuitions classes) and I can see and empathise with their failings as many of those failings are issues that me and most people of our times face and have faced.

Bhaichung has moved off the football field for India but continues to score goals through his wards from his football schools and the United Sikkim club he founded to give opportunities to fellow Sikkimese people like him. He is the biggest voice India have in football and given his age, his role as a coach and manager is going to be huge.

Sourav and Rahul have moved on, immediately, to some commentary duties but there would be, no doubt, some more productive activities that they are likely to turn towards in due course.

Which brings us to Sachin. What is he going to do? This is a question that he has been asking himself for the last 5 years. It is a genuine fear. Sachin took to top level competitive cricket since his age crossed double figures. Since then, he has done nothing else. Like a software programmer who spends 30 years in the trade and knows only coding (and over the years has become brilliant at it). Take away the coding job of the software programmer, what is he to do? He has not bothered to engage with anything else. He has no other skills or affinities or preferences. Without the coding problems, he has no meaning in his life. Like actors who find it difficult to adjust to life when they retire, a Norma Desmondesque schizophrenia grips such people.

Sachin knows everything there is know about playing cricket. But that’s it. From the repeated use of the phrase (and variations of it) “It’s hard to imagine a life without playing cricket because it’s all I’ve ever done since I was 11,” it is very clear, this is a very big fear in his life. (A fear all of us have).

I, for one, never understand this whole farce of asking people to retire. It is the selectors’ job to pick and drop players. A player has the full right and freedom to play till whatever age he or she wants. This is true for all professions. A journalist can continue to write even if he or she has turned senile and is in advanced stage of dementia. It is for the editor to decide whether the copy is legible and publishable. Sachin was perfectly right in continuing to play and believe that he was helping Team India.

In the last test series against Australia, while most people, the regular hecklers who measure human achievement in quantitative terms QSQT (quarter se quarter taka company is as good as the earnings announced last quarter), claim he did not score a single century, I believe he played an innings that made the series a one sided one for India. In fact, one does not have to take the full innings. Just 3 shots. 1st test match, 12/2 in the first innings, replying to the Australian score of 380, given the performance against England in the previous series, it could very well have become 20/5. James Pattinson was easily the best bowler for the Australians in the entire series. In his 2 overs and 2 deliveries, he produced a burst of speed (150kph yorker to knock out Murali Vijay, 147kph shortish ball that Sehwag couldn’t control, it rolled on to the stumps) that saw the two openers walk back. In came Tendulkar in the middle of the 3rd over from Pattinson and he smashed 3 fours in 4 deliveries, all of which were above 144kph. This had shades of the Dale Steyn – Tendulkar tussle in the South African series in the previous season. The best bowler of the team being played out by Tendulkar. Leaving the rest of the batsmen to play the lesser bowlers. Almost the same happened here. Pattinson was out of the attack and the rest of the Indian team were happy to play a docile Australian bowling attack.  The phrase “India won the test quite easily in the end” is a bit misleading. Without that show of intent in the 6th over of the innings, things could have been vastly different.

The idea of Tendulkar, for me, stays in those moments. There are countless of them and this patch of 4 deliveries was one of them. I don’t really care about his not scoring centuries. (In fact, centuries are a bit like the photographs that people take once they reach the top of Mount Everest. Only the last step, probably the easiest, is seen. Not the climb itself.) He doesn’t have to. There are 10 other people in the team who are equally obliged to play for Team India. They can score those centuries.

The model of Tendulkar has always been to enter the worst challenges possible and try to win over it. And to do so, one has to be simply world class. Nothing less will do. Sometimes you succeed, sometime you don’t. Sometimes it is brave, sometimes it is foolish. But it is an idea worth appreciating. It’s an idea worth adopting.

Tale of Two Teams – India and South Africa

At the end of the Super 8s, two teams are confronted with “hard questions”.

For South Africa, just 1 ICC Champions Trophy in 1998 from an overall attendance at 14 ICC tournaments, it has become a national trait. Barring their first world cup in 1992 when they got chucked out of the semi final due to a dubious rain rule, their subsequent exits have always been completely against the run of play, to use a common cliche.

Take the 1996 World Cup. Five wins in five matches to top their group. In the quarterfinals, they play West Indies who lost to Kenya in their group games, forfeited two points for not playing their game against Sri Lanka in Colombo and to most observers were mostly write offs. On March 11, 1996, the favourites South Africa led by Hansie Cronje faced Richie Richardson’s West Indies in Karachi. They thought it was a simple thing. Three things happened to them

1. Brian Lara, who till then had an average tournament, pulled out a stunner scoring 111 off 94 balls and helped WI set a target of 265. (WI 264/8 in 50 overs). I remember snatches of that game and Lara showed why he would become one of the best batsmen in contemporary cricket.

2. RSA started badly losing Gary Kirsten for 21 but then Hudson, Cullinan and Cronje played peacefull and RSA were comfortable at 180 / 3.

3. Roger Harper and Jimmy Adams took 5 wickets (7 overall) to bring RSA from 180 / 3 to 228 / 7 leaving Pat Symcox, Craig Matthews and Paul Adams to score the balance in the end overs. They did not.

The best team were out. RSA had no answer. They played WI the way they played UAE and Netherlands and other teams in their group. There was a sense of being shell shocked with the Lara century and then as wickets fell to offies and chinamen, they simply gave up.

This T20 World Cup, RSA came in with some of the best T20 players of world (Incidentally, they have maximum players in the IPL after India and almost all of them are part of their world cup squad). Ostensibly, the best team. And they are out.

The introspection into what may well become a national trait has begun:

“We again could not cope with the pressure,” Van Zyl told http://www.sport24.com. “The question has to be asked why we could not manage it and why it happens repeatedly. Is it our approach to batting? Is it our general approach? Or are we maybe too tentative? Those are the questions you need to ask yourself.

Coming to India, will save my breadth and instead borrow words from Prem.

That is the statistic that caught the eye — but what remains in the mind the afternoon after the defeat is a series of impressions. Of an ‘attack’ without a strike bowler [Harbhajan Singh, who had to play that role in a side where Zaheer Khan was way under par, ended the tournament without a single wicket to his name. He is bowling “beautifully”, commentators repeatedly told us — but whatever the artistic merits of his bowling, the central fact is that he could never strike]. Of a team that seemed to have been picked from a home for the walking wounded — a clearly unfit Gambhir, a Zaheer Khan who seems to be suffering from some mysterious injury that comes and goes, a Praveen Kumar who had to leave the tournament halfway through, to join the long list of Indian ‘pace bowlers’ in various stages of injury and rehabilitation, a Yuvraj Singh whose tournament and indeed recent form was best encapsulated by that moment, in the early part of the Lankan innings, when he let a ball pass through his palms, and between his legs… Add to that the ‘form’ of that fearsome finisher, Yusuf Pathan; the presence in the side of Ravindra Jadeja, whose preparation for this tournament consisted of practicing in the backyard with his brother; the lack of clarity about Rohit Sharma’s presence in, and utility to, the side… India has stumbled badly before — actually, thrice in world level competitions in the past 12 months alone — but rarely has the team under MS Dhoni looked quite so shambolic.

The contrast between the grit and resolution of V Anand, defending world champion, and the spiritless sojourn of MSD’s team, former world champions, is simply bizarre, if not hilarious.

Do cricketers make good administrators?

Dada says:

Do you think cricketers make better administrators?

Not necessarily. As an administrator, you need to have the ability to sell as well—it’s not just about playing good cricket.

Do you think cricketers make better administrators?

Not necessarily. As an administrator, you need to have the ability to sell as well—it’s not just about playing good cricket.

On the subject of new ball bowlers for India

As usual Harsha Bhogle writes well:

Two of our best, Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth, can’t get a decent game with their franchises; Ashish Nehra is injured; Praveen Kumar, like a thermostat, keeps going off and on; RP Singh can’t pull his weight for the Chargers; Sudeep Tyagi and Manpreet Gony and Lakshmipathy Balaji flit in and out of their team; Dhawal Kulkarni can’t get a game; Abhimanyu Mithun is rarely in the scheme of things for the Royal Challengers; Irfan Pathan is looking underdone in spite of being kept on the flame for so long; and we go “wow” over one or two performances from Umesh Yadav.

And this is just T20. There are couple of other cricket formats like ODIs (where we are ranked no 3) and tests (where we are ranked no 1). Not a very pleasant assessment, one has to say.

Cricket, IPL, etc

Does this fit your own description?

1. You watch IPL on TV with the sound on mute
2. You wonder why some random Carbon Kamal guy gets so much airtime
3. You wince every time a tracer bullet goes out
4. You wonder why Ajit Agarkar still gets a bowl
5. And you feel MRF has been cheated. Or they are conning us. Instead of a blimp, the ad agency supplied them with an inflated balloon

If it does, two good web destinations for the cricket lover:

Prem Panicker throws Yorkers everyday at 3.30 pm at his new home. Just sign in with your name and you could be chatting up with like minded cricket aficianados like Harsha Bhogle, Aakash Chopra, Thejaswi Udupendra, Ramesh Srivats and occasionally yours truly (and a billion other Indian cricket lovers)

For a more serious coverage of the game, you need to read Anand Ramachandran’s The Heavy Ball in Cricinfo. Anand Ramachandran who goes by the twitter alter ego of @bigfatphoenix has done a Ph.D on cricket strategy (under the guidance of the great Kartik Bose) and can tell you in a flash how Shane Warne has managed to get Munaf Patel to dive and actually field a ball (Of course, most people believe Munaf simply stepped on his shoelaces). Some of his analyses are extremely erudite, if I may use the word.

And to top it all, don’t forget to read Bobbili Vijay Kumar, National Sports Editor of the Times of India, every Sunday. He gives Rapidex English Speaking Course a complex.

Circus Begins

So it’s that time of the year again when commentators cease to be cricket pundits and instead become advertising voice over artists; batsmen become butchers while bowlers simply relish the large sums of money that they are receiving for getting butchered.

Sourav’s Knight Riders and Adam’s Chargers kick off the show tomorrow at Nerul. I must say that both captains seem to be underplaying the whole thing.

Adam says:

“Everyone team is affected by the international schedule. It is not a surprise. We are only one of the teams who are not full-strength as yet. But it is about the Indian contingent and how they perform that can often determine the results.”

Dada says:

“It’s a new set up at KKR. We have done the best in everything we can, hopefully we will deliver. I am not too keen to talk about the past. We have a good atmosphere.”

But the events leading up to this IPL, like last year, have been quite dramatic

  • The Pakistani players ignored in the auction
  • Ravindra Jadeja not getting a contract
  • Kieron Pollard, based on his performance in the Champions League and Australian T20 championships, becomes the most expensive player
  • News media boycott
  • Deccan Chargers denied their home turf i.e. Hyderabad
  • The bids for the two new franchises postponed
  • etc

The saving grace seems to be that it is happening in India.

But for all that we say, it’s going to another month of heavy blogging, tweeting, facebooking, etc about the games. I suggest a few themes on which to keep an eye on

Player v Team owner brand index

Count how many commercials / endorsements feature players and how many feature the glamourous team owners?

Hugs and Kisses

At the end of the game, watch which players get hugs, kisses or just hand shakes from Priety Zinta / Nita Ambani / Shilpa Shetty / Shahrukh Khan / who else?

Cliche 101

Ravi Shastri, LS, Arun Lal, Danny Morrison, Ranjit Fernando, et al. Enough to publish a compendium of cliches. Don’t forget the newspaper men and the numerous bloggers.  Special claps to those who find those beauties like “The phoenix rises like the light at the end of the tunnel” and “the uncrowned grandfather of IPL“.

Dot Balls

It may be a good idea to track dot balls.

Imagine pub conversations “Did you see Dravid leave that ball out side the off stump? What technique! The bowler had no clue.” “Yup, simply awesome”.

Obviously better conversation than this one “You know, Pollard’s 9th six was 45 degrees south of his 6th six but they hit the same signboard at the same time as LS cried ABC Maximum” “Yes, but when JPD hit his 1st six 25 degrees wide of Nita Ambani, LS was busy describing the movement of her significant physical anatomy and he forgot his lines.”

Kartik Bose

Finally, don’t forget Kartik Bose.

Palwankar Baloo

Ramachandra Guha’s A Corner of A Foreign Field started of as a biography of Palwankar Baloo (and his brothers). Guha calls him the first great Indian cricketer. The story of the Palwankar brothers and Baloo in particular reads like an epic – the stigma of an untouchable caste, the reluctance of the Brahmin Hindu teams to select him, the separation in the tents, the denial of captaincy (when he very clearly deserved it) and the redemption on the field.

His bowling stats seem to speak for themselves: 179 wickets in 33 matches, that’s almost 6 wickets per match -. 17 times 5 wickets in an innings.

In a tour of England in 1911, Baloo in 14 matches against first side county teams took a total of 114 wickets. Since then only Vinoo Mankad has taken more than 100 wickets in an English summer.

Guha is definitely a fine writer mirroring the cricket on the field with the socio-cultural metamorphosis outside the field. He compares the case of Baloo with that of D’Oliveira, that of West Indies who had white captains till Sir Frank Worrell came along and in particular  South Africa-Indian golfer Sewsunkar Sewgolan who after winning the Natal Open in the 60’s had to wait outside the clubhouse in the rain for the orderly to bring his medal and prizes.

Unfortunately, there is not much else available about the Palwankars though Guha does list out a number of notes and citations from various newspapers of those times including Tilak’s Mahratta. In particular, there is Vithal (Baloo’s younger brother and the first Dalit to captain the Hindus) who has written his autobiography Maze Krida-Jivan (My Sporting Life). But it is out of print. Only about 1000 copies were printed when it was published in 1948. One of those copies is with Guha. I wonder if he can share it.

Income Tax Department on BCCI

The Income Tax department has decided to gun for the BCCI and has claimed over Rs. 100 crores in unpaid taxes and penalties. More importantly, based on this news report, this line is interesting:

“The element of benevolence and promotion of the sport (cricket) was not found after the scrutiny of tax related returns,” sources said. The BCCI’s reply to the order is still awaited.

The tax department is unhappy about BCCI not disclosing information on activities like establishing coaching centres, conducting Twenty20 tournaments and other commercial ventures.

Tweet Post

Through fellow tweeters, found out about loudtwitter and the service it offers. So trying it out.

  • 13:35 And so RSA falter in the first match itself. Barring Dale Steyn, everyone seemed to have just got out of bed for the match. Not so SLA #
  • 14:00 RT: @i_become: On the i-blog:- Company Visibility: BASF “We are manufacturers for manufacturers” bit.ly/lUxxJ #
  • 14:34 You can get your passport in 3 days flat – that’s the promise. India Passports to Go Digital Next Year – BusinessWeek bit.ly/jJ42c #
  • 19:29 Massacre at Wanderers. Afridi’s out to finish the slaughter. This is the end of the West Indies as we knew them. Let’s call them Zimbabwe #
  • 19:35 Darren Sammy is one player I recognise from before. Though the way he is playing now, seems a different player. What use experience? #
  • 19:38 Just some fun, anyone tried Boxer beer? Had in Pilani once. RT @prempanicker: Okay… time to go find the beer with my name on it. *poof #
  • 19:41 Pak taking it easy now. It’s more the ineptitude and low morale of the WI bats that is making it a Himalayan effort to play 50 overs. #
  • 19:49 Finally, a quality over all round – two peaches of seam bowling from Rana, one blast through covers by Sammy. It’s lifting up. #
  • 20:01 Batting powerplay with WI 88/8. Wonder what Nikita and Tino are planning to do about it. Nikita BTW is a guy. Least they should just hv fun #
  • 20:03 First powerplay over 12 runs – Nikita hits 3 boundaries. WI touch 100 which is an achievment. From 47/7 to 100/8 – added 53 in 12 overs #
  • 20:07 Shaun Pollock in commentary. This should be a pleasure. Especially with the boring Manjrekar with him. Pollock & Warne together will be fun #
  • 20:21 Innings of great pride by Nikita Miller. Fighting it out ol’ fashioned hard way. 33 in 5 batting powerplay overs. Apparent chance for WI #
  • 20:31 Half century by Nikita Miller. Celebrates with an Usain Bolt like arrow pose. Has certainly revived the Caribbean boys. #
  • 20:48 First over of the chase – one clean shot for four, three mistimed shots. WI need to be more penetrative. Like what Tonge just did to Nazir. #
  • 20:53 Excellent over from Tonge. After the first ball wicket, had Malik in much bother. Wicket maiden. Sammy has to respond #
  • 21:04 Dylan for Peace Prz RT @amitvarma: Ladbrokes odds for the lit Nobel – Alice Munro & Bob Dylan are equal at 26 to 1. WTF? bit.ly/z53HZ #
  • 21:10 ICL-return Tino Best bowled at 144kph. Tonge gets Akmal forward. These guys making Pak work it out hard. Revising my rating of the WI team. #
  • 22:03 With $1.2 b, India one of the biggest investors in Afghan reconstruction. Strategic value underplayed but quite apparent bit.ly/oIdMB #
  • 22:22 Now WI are up against class – Shoaib Malik and Md Yousuf. Guess its the end of the road for them in this match. #
  • 22:36 RT: @i_become: LinkedIn Answers: Submitting the perfect CV / Resume from the i-blog. bit.ly/ZhXRh #
  • 22:59 Introducing the i-blog from The i-become Initiative wp.me/phdLM-8v #
  • 23:18 had switched off the match. Now cricinfo tells me Pak 76/5. Windies putting Pak on the mat. Well done #

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Ravi Shastri’s Commentary Class – Live Blog

If Navjot Singh Sidhu had his book of proverbs and sayings, Ravi Shastri has his book of cliches. As I sit through Ravi Shastri commentating, let me list out some of his choicest ones. (The Ref is to help you learn how to use these cliches)

  1. “knocking him around for singles” – Ref: “Wonder how they plan to tackle Harbhajan Singh?”
  2. “it’s the doosra that’s done the trick” – Ref: Harbhajan just got Freddie caught and bowled
  3. “New player at the crease… will take his time to get his eye in” – Ref: Dhoni coming in for Freddie
  4. “It’s funny how in 20-20 cricket, one over can change the game” – Ref: end of the over
    1. Alternative “One over can make a difference” – Ref: General analysis
  5. “Good atmosphere as the crowd builds up” – Ref: Camera shows Shilpa Shetty and one more chick having a smile
  6. “This is excellent bowling” – Ref: Harbhajan bowling
  7. “It’s into the stands in a flash” – Ref: Haydos hitting Harbhajan for a six
  8. “It’s not easy to ball ball-after-ball” – Ref: Harbhajan bowling a full toss which goes for a six
  9. “Used the pace of the bowler” – Ref: Haydos sweeps Jayasuriya for a four
  10. “This match in the balance now” – Ref: Haydos dismissed by a brilliant Zak catch
  11. “He goes for the big one” – Ref: General
  12. “Terrific crowd, great atmosphere” – Ref: General
  13. “I sense something’s gonna give” – Ref: General, in between deliveries, waiting for something to happen
  14. “He’s got a good arm” – Ref: fielding in the deep and throw back to the keeper
  15. “Another big over” – Ref: note cliche no. 4

And now from the presentation ceremony after the first game

  1. “Tough luck and better luck next time” – Ref: Interview with MSD, losing captain of CSK

Then we move to the next game – RCB v RR

  1. “good opportunity to come back into the thick of things” – Ref: Robin Uthappa and his being out of the reckoning for some time
  2. “he’ll learn so much batting with Kevin Pietersen” – Ref: Uthappa again when he was briefly batting with KP
  3. “makes good use of his height” – Ref: On KP playing his shots on the front foot
  4. “he will look to bowl wicket to wicket” – Ref: On Munaf Patel
  5. “Lands the ball on the seam more often than not” – Ref: On Dimitri’s bowling
  6. “getting the odd one to nip back” – Ref: On Tyron Henderson
  7. “Once Dravid got some bat on it, it raced along to the boundary” – Ref: Dravid flicking Kamran Khan for a four
  8. “Mixing it up nicely”

He also made on howler. As Dimitri Mascarenhas was bowling his 4th over, Ravi contemplated “I wouldn’t be surprised if Warne gets him to bowl his entire quota in one go”. Mark Nicholas politely said, “Indeed you are right, he is in fact bowling his fourth over”

Royals innings chasing 134 v RCB

  1. “Interesting to see”
  2. “Playing the natural game”
  3. “Likes dealing in boundaries” – Ref: What kind of player Yusuf Pathan is
  4. “Living dangerously the two batsmen” – Ref: Yusuf lofted to long-on and ball went one bounce to Steyn
  5. “Jesse Ryder is over the moon” – Ref: Ryder knocks Henderson’s stumps
  6. “Dravid safe as a house” “Made it look easy” – Ref: Highlights showing Dravid taking Smith’s catch
  7. “Under lights the ball will move around, zip around” – Ref: general comment on Day and Night matches
  8. “A period of 5-6 overs without losing a wicket” – Ref: general (mind you 5-6 overs is 1/4th the innings)
  9. “This is turning out to be a good over” – Re3f: end of 11th over when 13 runs were scored

Note: This is a blog post in progress – so more cliches shall be added during the course of the tournament.

Update: 24th April 2009, 11:48 PM (IST)

Okay, since the first day of matches last week, Ravi Shastri has been on air on every other match and the list of his stock phrases have been updated. Here’s a new list (from KKR v RR match yesterday)

  1. Experience will be invaluable – Ref: Younglings Anureet Singh bowling for KKR; later repeated when Kamran Khan was bowling
  2. Good toss to lose – Ref:  Shane Warne losing the toss and fielding
  3. If its greasy, it won’t help the bowlers – Ref: The ball and the dampness on the grass due to the rain
  4. He knew exactly where the boundary line is – Ref: Ishant Sharma taking the catch at third man
  5. He finishes it off with a good yorker – Ref: Anureet Singh finishing his over
  6. I get the feeling this match going all the way down to the wire  – Ref: When KKR are batting, a few wickets have fallen, the strategic time-outs have just been done.
    1. Note: Later he applies this cliche to describe the entire tournament
  7. As a captain you believe you can control the game now – Ref: Shane Warne waving his arms and positioning his fielders
  8. He’s got two overs up his sleeve – Ref: Shane Warne on whom he will bowl
  9. He’ll wait and watch – Ref: Shane Warne on what he will do as a captain
  10. You didn’t know till the last week – Ref: Check no. 6, he is now talking of how competitive the tournament is
  11. Bowling change that does the trick (Munaf Patel, Kamran Khan) – Ref: Two wickets for the two bowlers who have just come in to bowl
  12. Can’t ask for anything better (Munaf’s delivery that got Brad Hodge)
  13. Next two three overs are so important – Ref: We are in the 16th over

Still four weeks to go, so I’ll just split this into a part 2 and make a new blog post