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.

Bolt Away

9.58

That’s the new world record over 100 metres. By a gentleman by name of Usain Bolt.

There is a biomechanical harmony in the way Bolt runs – there does not seem to be a single iota of tension or stress on any of his muscles or body. He seems to be simply flowing like water over a natural course. In comparision, one can see the other runs stretching away with the pain of the effort writ large on their faces.

From 2.89 in the first 20 metres to 9.58 in 100 metres, the acceleration is at another level. To give another perspective, Bolt was 0.03 seconds ahead of Gay at the 20 metre mark. At the finish, he is 0.17 ahead.

The timeline of 100 metre world records (from The Guardian) says that in the last 15 months, Bolt has shaved 0.14 seconds (from 9.72 to 9.58). From 9.86 to 9.72, it took seventeen years.

There’s more to come. He is talking of 9.4.

And he hasn’t ruled out running at the Delhi Commonwealth Games next year.

Ganguly quits all forms of cricket

Ganguly played one final time for Bengal in the Ranji Trophy helping them get promoted into the Elite Division. Vijay Lokapally of The Hindu does an interview with Ganguly. The usual stuff about how he changed captaincy, cricket, backing players, etc.

Lokapally writes that while the Ranji match was on at Karnail Singh Stadium in Delhi, Ganguly was more interested in what was happening in Mohali.

When Rahul Dravid reached his fifty, Ganguly was relieved; and mighty delighted when Dravid scaled the century mark. A captain was reliving his past, only this time he was not around to pat his “dear friend” in the dressing room.

As the article continues, various questions on many things from the past.

On Virender Sehwag,

I backed Viru for that South Africa tour (2001). There were important people who actually said Sehwag had no clue about fast bowling. They (fast bowlers) would clean him up. The selectors said Viru should be sent to Hong Kong Sixes. Look where Sehwag is today.

On captains having a say in team selection,

It was said he had a clout that no India captain ever had. “That’s a fallacy,” he asserts. “Complete fallacy. I stood firm with certain players because I was the one to see them the closest — at nets, ground, dressing room, hotel room. I did put my foot down. Like taking Anil (Kumble) to Australia (2003-04) when the selectors preferred a left-arm spinner (Murali Kartik). A captain may not have a vote in selection but he certainly should have a say.”

On India’s increased success, especially overseas –

“Well, we won when I wasn’t the captain. The difference was we started winning overseas more consistently and that was because of the quality of players we had. We had players like Sachin (Tendulkar), Dravid, Kumble, Sehwag, Laxman, myself playing at their peak. We were almost the same age and keen to change the impression that India was soft when playing overseas. We played with aggression and it came with the foreign coach (John Wright). He played a big role, a very big role.”

On captaining India and Dhoni,

I had decided early not to worry about what people say. I had to do what I thought and not what others thought. To be a good captain in India, you have to be thick-skinned. That is why (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni is a good captain.”

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Thank you, Anilbhai

He does not know what ‘give up’ means” – Rahul Dravid

On his “turning the ball skills”, he once said to Prem Panicker, “The difference between the middle of the bat and the edge is one inch.” Only an engineer, and a good one at that, would know the significance of one inch.

But the great injustice to this gentleman is summed up by the Great Bong

It is said that people recognize the worth of their teeth after they are gone.

Maybe we as a nation will do the same with respect to Kumble.

Over the 18 years, I have many memories, I will mention one

Antigua, May 2002 – Those were the days when I would be attached to the TV start to finish, even if it was a boring test match draw. Tea time on Day 3 of the 4th test in the series. India time, it was way past the Cinderella Hour. One was groggy with sleep while trying to find some hint of excitement in a dead match. I don’t remember the cricket commentary, so I am using Cricinfo’s archived ball-by-ball to recreate the moment.

 

There is some bad news for the Indians, Anil Kumble’s West Indies tour is over. The X-rays have confirmed the fracture to his lower jaw, he will need a surgery to fix it, this is going to keep him out of cricket for a while.

End of over 45 (2 runs) West Indies 123/2 (trail by 390 runs)
J Srinath 15-4-35-0 (2nb) – Pavilion End
BC Lara 1* (4b) RR Sarwan 21* (64b 2×4)

This is amazing – Anil Kumble braving a fractured jaw has come out to bowl. Straight away – Kumble to bowl.

45.1 Kumble to Lara, no run, pushes it through, beats the bat first up – outside the off.
45.2 Kumble to Lara, no run, gives the ball a little more air, defended.
45.3 Kumble to Lara, one run, driven down the ground to deep mid-off. Kumble has his jaw all strapped up – doesn’t look good.
45.4 Kumble to Sarwan, no run, forward in defence.
45.5 Kumble to Sarwan, no run, quicker through the air, forward in defence.
45.6 Kumble to Sarwan, FOUR, long hop, outside the off, Sarwan shows no mercy, powerful square cut for four.

 

Here is a man who is to fly home and go on the surgeon’s table to fix the broken jaw. Is he really being brave?

51.3 Kumble to Lara, OUT: Kumble strikes! Lara shuffles across, rapped on the pads, loud shout for lbw, Shepherd nods and then puts up his finger!

61.5 Kumble to Hooper, no run, straighter delivery pitched in line with the stumps, Hooper moves forward to play, the ball hits the pads in line with the off stump, huge appeal for LBW turned down!

63.4 Kumble to Hooper, (noball) no run, great delivery, on the middle, Hooper leans forward to defend, the ball hits the golves and goes straight into the hands of Das at forward short leg

The final over of the day.
71.1 Kumble to Sarwan, no run, outside the off, defended.
71.2 Kumble to Sarwan, no run, forward in defence.
71.3 Kumble to Sarwan, no run, bowling around the stumps, well tossed up, defended.
71.4 Kumble to Sarwan, no run, slow turn from outside the leg, played down easily.
71.5 Kumble to Sarwan, no run, angling in from outside the leg, defended.
71.6 Kumble to Sarwan, no run, well tossed up, played back down the track.

Kumble’s figures read: 14-5-29-1

Harsha Bhogle was the TV commentator and the only thing I still remember is him talking about how bizarre it was and that it was simply difficult to commentate because everyone’s throat simply choked up.

Moving On

The present team really came into place in 2000-01 after the match fixing scandal ripped apart the Indian cricket establishment. Since then, we have won test matches in all the test playing countries, except New Zealand. We have won series in England, West Indies and Pakistan, we have leveled series in England and Australia. There are frontiers yet to be won – winning a series in Australia, in Sri Lanka, in South Africa. 

From the way it is going, these frontiers will have to be breached by the next generation under Dhoni. Maybe Sachin will be there, but looks like he will be a lonely man. And I hope the young guns like Rohit Sharma and S Badrinath grow up to their potential and help him out. If not, we will be going back to the ’90s when the Indian cricket team seemed to revolve around Sachin. 

So thank you Anil Bhai. Thank you Dada (see my earlier post).

Dada to drive home

After 16 years of fighting everyone – from Australians to Indian cricket pundits, Dada has finally decided to drive away from the test cricket pitch. It is a sad day indeed and would be obviously sadder when the actual day finally lands – possibly the fifth day of the Nagpur test in November.

His esteemed rival, Steve Waugh brought the entire SCG crowd to tears overshadowing what had been an engrossing series in 2003-4. What would be the farewell for Dada? Usha Uthup singing an elegy? Sachin saying a few words? Harbhajan Singh doing a bhangra? Flintoff taking his shirt out and swirling it around? We have to simply wait and see?

India’s loss is Shahrukh’s gain – he now gets Dada to completely focus on the Kolkata Knight Riders and justifying his multi-crore salary.

For me, Dada can be remembered for five things (both positive and negative)

Note: This is a random order

1. Dropping out of the Nagpur test match in 2004 – on getting a green top, Ganguly claimed back injury and dropped out, apparently peeved with the nature of the pitch and the lack of response from the groundsmen. As a captain (and given his immense stature), this was not done.

2. Fostering a new generation – Taking over the captaincy from Sachin Tendulkar in 2000, his tenure began with the match fixing bomb – senior players banned, many Ranji Trophy regulars under doubt, general credibility of Indian cricket shattered. Investing in new, untested players and backing them to the hilt required a boldness and belief of a different order – Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag gave him and India great ROI (and continue to do so). Like all investors, there were some which did not sustain – Mohammad Kaif, Parthiv Patel, Dinesh Mongia, S Ramesh, Shiv Sunder Das to name a few. 

3. His off side play – Enough has been said about his off side. One still remembers the look on Jacques Kallis’ face (South Africa series 2001-2 in South Africa – the Mark Denness series) as he peppered a 7-2 off side field with square cuts and square drives

4. Intentionality –  There are many things he does / did / does not / did not that will anger or annoy the cricket coach, purists and the pundits – be it his work rate, fitness regimen, attitude, etc. However, whenever he pulled himself and focused on something, it just magically would work for him – the century at Lord’s (after being written off by Sunil Gavaskar as a quota selection and not fit to be in the team; he got in at the expense of Sanjay Manjrekar or Vinod Kambli if I remember right, a Mumbai player anyway); the 144 in Brisbane (2003-4); the 87* against Kings XI Punjab; the comeback into team after the Greg Chappell enforced vacation in 2005-2006; 

5. Straight lofted six off Muralitharan – He may been dismissed by Murali many times but when he hits Murali for six, it is a sight to behold – Jumping down the pitch and timing to perfection. Even in the recent lousy series against Sri Lanka, one got to see one such six. A pity, he could not do more of them.

Anyway, as far as Indian cricket is concerned, it’s one down, five to go. Any guesses when is Tendulkar’s turn?

Nadal wins

This is what Nadal wrote on his blog the day before the final

Hi everyone,

This is my last blog post from Wimbledon. I have to be realistic and I don’t think I will be able to do it tomorrow. On Monday I am flying early in the morning to Stuttgart and tomorrow win or lose it will be impossible to do it. If I win (please, please) I will be going to the winners party/dinner that the club organizes and logically I won’t have time. If I lose then I will be packing everything (got a lot of luggage, as always) and I will be together with my family. In any case I have an early flight on Monday morning.

You can read the full post on his Wimbledon blog

Vijay Armritraj whose knowledge of the game is quite immense made a point of how, for Federer, Nadal, an enigma on clay had become a complete puzzle on grass. Noting the three consecutive finals – French and Wimbledon in the last three years – on all the French Open finals, it has been a one-sided game. In Wimbledon, the first year, 2006, Nadal was beaten in three sets. Next year, he took it to five sets. This year, he was two sets up before Federer’s revival. But unlike last year, Nadal held on to win. The “closure” is what Nadal has gained. Federer is yet to even open the door on clay.

Next year, it could well be Nadal v Djoikovic. Hopefully, Federer will be there.

Sam Bahadur

Our good friend Gulshan Singh’s birthday, June 27, became a big day in Indian history with the passing of Sam Bahadur. The page on Sam Manekshaw on Wikipedia while quite detailed does not write anything on his association with the Gurkhas.

The Bharat Rakshak website has more details

Lt. Gen (Retd) Depinder Singh, his former military assistant, writes this story in his memoirs

He was officiating as Army Chief in 1967 when the Chinese had their first clash with the Indian Army since 1962. This occurred at the 14,000 foot high pass, Natu La, in Sikkim where the Chinese learnt to their cost that the Indian Army of 1967 was a different kettle of fish from that of 1962. He was summoned to a meeting of the Cabinet where, as he recalled later, everyone present at the meeting was vying with the others to present to the Prime Minister his grasp of the situation and offering one suggestion after another as to what should be done. After hearing most of the speakers, the Prime Minister enquired whether the officiating army chief, until then a silent spectator, had something to say. “I am afraid they are enacting Hamlet without the Prince,” he said. “I will now tell you exactly what has happened, and how I intend to deal with the situation.” He then proceeded to do so.

Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw MC

Apr 3, 1914 – June 27, 2008

Albert Hofmann, Father of LSD, dies at 102

A beautiful and objective obituary in the Economist

“Desire to laugh” – that’s what Hofmann managed to scrawl on his lab notebook even as he collapsed from his first self-injected dose of LSD.

He saw it as “the antidote to the ennui caused by consumerism, industrialisation and the vanishing of the divine from human life.

Of course, Timothy Leary changed all that, much to Hofmann’s despair.

His advice to would-be trippers, therefore, was simple. “Go to the meadow, go to the garden, go to the woods. Open your eyes!”

Luciano Pavarotti 1935 – 2007

Only two tenors left in the world

“Pavarotti is the biggest superstar of all” said critics

Presenting lyrics of Miss Sarajevo
Is there a time for keeping a distance
A time to turn your eyes away
Is there a time for keeping your head down
For getting on with your day

Is there a time for kohl and lipstick
A time for cutting hair
Is there a time for high street shopping
To find the right dress to wear

Here she comes
Heads turn around
Here she comes
To take her crown

Is there a time to walk for cover
A time for kiss and tell
Is there a time for different colors
Different names you find it hard to spell

Is there a time for first communion
A time for east 17
Is there a time to turn the mecca
Is there a time to be a beauty queen

Here she comes
Beauty plays the crown
Here she comes
Surreal in her crown

[Pavarotti]
Dici che il fiume
trova la via al mare
E come il fiume
giungerai a me
Oltre i confini
e le terre assetate
Dici che come fiume
come fiume
L’amore giunger
L’amore
E non so pi pregare
E nell’amore non so pi sperare
E quell’amore non so pi aspettare

[English translation:]

You say that the river
finds the way to the sea
And as the river
you’ll come to me
Beyond the borders
and the thirsty lands
You say that as river
As river
Love will come
Love
And I cannot pray anymore
And I cannot hope in love anymore
And I cannot wait for love anymore

[Bono]
Is there a time for tying ribbons
A time for Christmas trees
Is there a time for laying tables
When the night is set to freeze

View the video of U2 performing with Pavaotti at the Pavarotti & Friends concert at Modena http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX6c5als1lk

Source:
The Australian, News from Australia’s National Newspaper