July 16, 2018

I thought Mbape’s breathtaking runs or Belgium’s midfield magic would be my abiding memories of this world cup.

But no, wait.
(Cliche alert.)
The best was reserved for the last.

Grim Putin
under an umbrella;
two visiting presidents,
all smiles and hugs,
getting drenched.

Does it even surprise us?





Sehwag – Stuff dreams are made of

March 28, 2008

It would be the dream of every boy who has played cricket with a tennis ball, to reach a century with a six or at least a four. Ask Sachin Tendulkar’s son.

Sehwag almost did that thrice in a day. Boundaries and sixers flowed from his bat in his 90s, 190s and 290s. He has got out in Australia trying to hit a six in his 190s. But nothing deters him. This guy knows how to dream and moreover is capable of living out his dreams.

The only paradox about Sehwag is that he is a test specialist who has a 20-20 strike rate but cannot perform in the shorter version. Probably because, you need time to dream and plan.

Do Whites hate money when its colour is brown?

March 4, 2008

First came the Indian software and BPO industry. People in the west started getting worried about the work and money that was flowing into India. But more than these industries, the Whites are getting nervous about a challenge from an unexpected quarter – Cricket. Browsing through many articles by English and Australian writers, it is obvious that they are worried that the colour of money is turning brown.  A cursory glance will throw out headings like ‘Silly Money’, ‘I dont need IPL money’, which miserably fail to mask the contempt for the money earned by Indian cricketers.

There was a time when Indian cricketers yearned for county contracts. Now the English board and the Australian board are struggling to keep their players from moving to Indian shores due to the lure of money.

I hate the BCCI for its complete incompetence in managing the sport in the country. But they must be appreciated for unlocking the financial value of the game in India and storming the White bastion like nobody else before. They can even be forgiven for acting no different from Whites, when it comes to misuing the power bestowed upon them by money. Let India make the most of it, as long as it lasts and make it last as long as it can. White capitalists can continue to whine like Indian socialists on why so few are earning so much.

IPL is not the end. And this phenomenon is not going to be restricted to cricket. The colour of money is changing.

The race row – both sides of the coin stink

February 6, 2008

The Harbhajan-Symonds race row has turned out to be more than just about cricket. It has thrown open a huge Pandora’s box and can now be regarded as an excellent case study on a plethora of issues – culture, diplomacy, management, racism, power and capitalism.

First, let me wash off the Indian linen, so that my arguments, at no point, are not construed as biased. The entire string of the actual incidents can only be viewed through a stream of probabilities due to the lack of legally acceptable evidence.

Did Harbhajan call Symonds, a monkey? Probably yes. I think he must have; I dont think Aussies will stoop so low to frame a false case (outside the cricket field).

Do Indians use the word monkey as a racist term? No. Except for a few educated Indians, well versed with Western culture, monkey is not known to be a derogatory term in the western racist sense. Anybody, who ‘looks’ or behaves like a monkey is called a monkey. Sometimes, children and husbands are affectionately or irritantly called as monkeys. Indians will object to someone being called, say, a Pariah (remember the plight of Subramanium Swamy)  but not to monkey. Some sections of people, though not all, will take strong offense to someone being called a bastard or even a fucker (this is the first time ever I am using these words publicly in speech or writing). During school days, a gang of about 20 students, marched to the house of a friend who called another friend a bastard in Tamil (not many of us even knew the full meaning of the Tamil word then). We were all intent on complaining to his mother, who happenned to be a teacher in our primary school long back and finally gave up as the guy broke into tears and appologised profusely. The whole incident took on an ultra-sentimental angle, as the victim of the word, had lost his father at an early age.

There was another incident during college, when I was subjected to the first rites of ragging, a guy repeatedly called me fucker in Tamil (again, I was not too sure what the Tamil word meant at that time, but I knew it was something ‘vulgar’) and I was almost moved to tears. I never spoke to that guy again. Later on, after getting polished through the grind of B-school, I have grown totally immune to any kind of profanity as long as it is not directed at me.

But, again, not all Indians take offense to the same set of words. There are huge cultural discrepancies and North-South divide even within India. Hindi boasts of a wholesome vocabulary of vulgar words than a South Indian language like Tamil. Mother and sister commonly feature in profanities in North, while they are largely non-existent in South. 

So, it all boils down to saying that words do not have same connotations in all cultures, even within a country. Therefore, when Symonds was called a monkey for the first time in India, I dont believe that there were racist intentions. It was more of a harmless jabber.  But, when Symonds was called a monkey the second time in Mumbai, I think the crowd knew of the racist undertone. Symmonds made a mountain of the monkey the first time and the monkey stuck onto his back afterwards.

By denying the racist undertone in the Mumbai incident, we were setting the stage for the repeat of the incident. Which is what has happenned in Sydney, thanks to Harbhajan and not without help from Symonds himself. Having muttered the word under provocation and aware of the consequences, Harbhajan had to go into a denial mode. As long as he, himself, was denying it, the Indian team had to back him up.

Aussies could have resolved it diplomatically by bringing it up with Kumble behind closed doors and then Harbhajan may have even admitted and apologised. The Aussies chose to complain publicly. Not a crime, they definitely had the right to do it, but not a smart move either. It has set in motion a very complex game.

I am afraid that Indian crowds will latch on to this and keep doing the monkey chants everytime Symonds is in action. Such is the nature of crowd mentality. It is very unlikely that monkey will immediately become  a racist term and be used against all black players. It would just become a special word reserved for Symmonds. Over a period of time, it might evolve to be racially used against a broader set of people.

Are Indians racist? Not in a Western sense, but in many other ways, yes. We are a deeply casteist society. Caste, I believe, is a localised surrogate for race. There are deep biases ingrained in the Indian society on basis of caste. We have not got enough opportunities to become a ‘racist’ society but when we do get the opportunity we might become one because of the inherent Indian bias and reverence for fair skin.

Did BCCI do the right thing in supporting Harbhajan? Yes, they were right in supporting him, in the lack of any serious evidence against him but they were horribly wrong in the way they supported him. They had no business in taking up an aggressive posture, which was almost tantamount to blackmailing, before the judgement was spelled out. This was a clear sign of a ‘new’ rich man throwing his weight around unduly. The entire thought process behind this act that money gives them power and this power could be exercised for any cause is disgusting.

Are Aussies (and many English) justified in cribbing about the power wielded by BCCI? No. It was not long back when English and Aussies were ruling the game, they still do in many ways than is obvious. Now they are not ready to let go of the position of power to a strong challenger.

Are Aussies or Whites, in general, upholders of the fight against racism? Oh, yes, as much as Bush is the messiah against terrorism. If we think, racism is exorcised by not calling a Black as a Negro or as a monkey, we can’t be farther away from the truth. If we call all American blacks as African-Americans should we not call all whites as European-Americans? How many white countries have had a black head of state? US is close but still not there and Obama is not fully black anyway.  Can the Aussies nominate Symmonds as their captain-in-waiting, instead of Clarke? Is throwing eggs at Murali, any less a crime than monkey-chants?

Only one thing is certain. It is time that we acknowledged that humans are deeply divided across various parameters and strong biases exist all across – religion, race, colour, caste, wealth, education, gender, language and many more. It is time that we make sincere efforts to bridge these divides rather than resorting to lip service.

It is an ultimate indictment of western and human hypocrisy that one can be punished for calling someone a monkey but not for abusing his mother. Did your mother congratulate you on saving the nation’s honour, Mr. Singh?

The push from the peak – Why drop Ganguly?

January 22, 2008

“Why should we select players who have got just one or two years left to play. We want to build a India cricket team for the future,”  says Vengasarkar.

I can’t help asking back, why drop a player when he still has one or two years left to play. Is one year so cheap a commodity that you can throw it to the dustbin? Future has to be built with the ruins of the past, not by ruining the past.

Ganguly is now at the peak of his powers, effort and determination. The descent from the peak has to be a slow and deliberate process or a calculated flight with a smooth landing; it cannot be so abrubt a fall. Here is a man who,through his majestic comeback, has given a new definition for determination and through this steely captaincy earlier, had shaped the character of this team. And our selectors treat him like an undeserving  beggar who has intruded onto the stage uninvited.

I am not even talking about Dravid yet. There is a gross misjudgement regarding Dravid. He plays slowly in a test because it is required to be done so. He has a different approach to the shorter version in the recent past, which the selectors and critics are overlooking. (To deviate a little, on the contrary, I think Sehwag is a pure test player, who, because of his dashing game, is expected to repeat his success in one-dayers, which he has repeatedly failed to do. He would be better off playing only test matches.). However, more than Dravid (or Laxman who was never in the picture anyway), Ganguly’s ommision is completely unwarranted, given his record and potential in one-dayers.

If age is the only criteria for selection, the selectors should rather be watching reality shows on TV than wasting time at international and first class matches (if at all they do) to assess the performance of players in challenging match conditions.

Oh Federer!

January 21, 2008

Even as India was on its march to an improbable victory over an invincible Australian cricket team at Perth, there was another man in Australia who was demonstrating what invincibility is all about.

We had seen Laxman, the previous day, giving rest to his artistic wrists and slugging it out with hard work and patience to place India in a position of strength. Now, it was the turn of the other sports-artist, Federer, to do some hard work. And how he did it!

Nirmal Shekar, writing in The Hindu, summed it up beautifully : “It was one of those days — a day when you suddenly found yourself having to throw away the much-used Roger Federer lexicon, so handy when it comes to authoring one Festschrift (German term for celebration writing) after another, and, instead, employ words unheard of vis-À-vis Federer’s performances — words such as strife and struggle and fallibility and weakness.”

Federer never looked like winning. His game was awfully off the mark. Except a strong serve, everything else had strangely deserted him. Anybody watching Federer for the first time would have refused to believe he is a great player. But he won, against an opponent who was refusing to lose. People always doubted if Federer has the mental resilence required for a great champion. They should watch this match. They will realise that he never could demonstrate his resilence before as he never allowed his resilence to be tested.

The only reason, I believe, why Federer won today was because he simply could not come to terms with the fact that he was losing, so early in a major. And then, the fact changed.

When asked in the post match interview, he admitted that the probability of defeat crossed his mind sometimes. I doubt it. I think he was just being polite and diplomatic before a large crowd. If ever he thought he could lose, he would have lost. He knew, all along, he can’t lose. He just had to play differently and ‘demonstrate his resilence’.

Undersung, if not unsung, heroes of tennis

January 17, 2008

Sania has made it again to the third round in a Grand Slam. Chances are quite high that she will fall to Venus. But it is a credit to Sania that we are talking about ‘chances’ instead of a firm certainty. She truely belongs to the Top 30 now. This, to my mind (I am no less a fan of cricket than tennis), is a bigger achievement than most of what Indian cricket team has done or not been able to do. For the simple reason that the stage is huge, competition is tougher and Indian women were nowhere in the picture till Sania came along. There was only a Nirupama Vaidyanathan before Sania who even hardcore tennis enthusiasts might only just about remember. Today people from more countries know Sania than Sachin. Ofcourse, it is a different fact that the Sachin is a household name in cricketing nations, which still Sania is not, even in India.

Krishnans and Amritrajs have all been lonely unsung warriors on the tennis circuit who have waged many a valient battle against some of the biggest stars. Mahesh Bhupati has been on top of the world in doubles. But the two persons who really deserve more than a passing mention in the history of Indian sports are Sania and Leander.

Sania for being the first Indian woman to break into the top, the importance of which will dawn a few years later when more women come through. Sania is a tennis equivalent of a Kapil Dev or Vishwanathan Anand, who paved the way for other Indians to enter hitherto uncharttered territories.

Leander for being Leander, a man who has given more than his best everytime he adorned the India colours.  From the first time, well past midnight India time during a chilly winter in France, when as an young lad he made many hearts skip many beats and tricolour flutter, playing 100 notches above his usual level, to the time when as old warhorse he was fighting cramps and a Pakistani player through five sets,  Leander continues to be a real patriotic superhero, consistently. If determination can overcome physical abilities, possibilities and barriers, it is always on display when Leander plays in Davis Cup or Olympics.

Saint Ponting and Sinner Singh

January 6, 2008

History takes strange turns. After having a racist stranglehold over the brown, black and yellow worlds for centuries, the white man is turning around and blaming the brown man of racism.

Aussies, the masters of sledging, are not able to tolerate it when it comes from the opponents. How dare, they speak back, stand up and strike back, when all they are supposed to do is sulk and surrender. It is not acceptable. Therefore, my brown friends, I accuse you of racism.

Racism, after all, lies in words and not in deeds. If, the umpires repeatedly trust the white man’s word against the brown man, there can be no racial intentions there. We have seen enough deceitful appeals from Ponting and co today, which have been held by the esteemed umpires at Sydney.

But a provoked Harbhajan may have said monkey and he must be a racist. Rest assured, the Indian crowds, like small children aching to do the forbidden act, will catch on to monkey chants everytime Symonds steps on to an Indian ground. The entire country is going to be branded racist, no doubt.

Saint Sissy Ponting will meanwhile take advantage of all this racist slur to snatch one more victory.

God wags the tail

January 4, 2008

Sachin Tendulkar discovered and revealed another dimension of his game today. The ability to extract the last ounce of effort from the Indian tail. More than his personal achievements, this is impressive. Ishant Sharma has reportedly doubled his tally of runs in first class cricket in this innings.

Critics, as usual, claim that Sachin was selfish.  But they refuse to look at it from a different viewpoint.

Traditionally the specialist batsman is expected to farm the strike and leave minimum strike to the tailenders. In this approach, the specialist batsman has to forego many easy runs and can run only when it suits him. He has to take undue risk in tring to reach the boundary inspite of a defensive field setting. More often than not, the specialist batsman gets out even before the tailenders. Otherwise, the tailender,who even after spending a lot of time in the middle, still has not grown in confidence and will fall to one of the few balls he is invariably forced to face.

Contrast this with what Sachin did today. He simply discounted the fact that he was playing with tailenders with limited-to-zero batting ability and was playing the ball on merit as per the field setting. In the process, singles kept flowing and bad balls went screaming to the boundary. And more importantly, the supposedly incompetent tailenders grew in confidence and started playing beyond their imagined ability. This in hindsight, is a tremendous psychological ploy. A novice with the bat, feels pumped because the best batsman in the world is trusting his ability and he wants pay him back in earnest for his faith. The opposition is demoralised because Sachin is not playing cautiously or atrociously as they expected and the others are managing to outsmart them.

This is probably a lesson Sachin learnt from the Aussies, who rarely protect their tailenders, and has given it back to them in a much more potent manner.

This is another step in pursuit of perfection for Sachin.

When perfection is in motion…

January 4, 2008

A genius is a glorious concoction of perfection and imperfection – the imperfections, most often, the outcome of striving for perfection. It is not often, when common man gets a glimpse of a genius and it is even less frequently that common man recognizes a genius when he sees one. The genius in a painter or a poet or a writer goes unappreciated by the masses. Unfortunately for the great artist,in the eyes of the world, the proclamation of his genius happens only when the audience understands the art. It requires half-a-genius to even comprehend the work of a genius.

Sports is an exception and occasionally cinema. The closest a common man comes to understanding a genius is when he watches a Federer in action or a Sachin in motion.

Federer is a symphony on court, poetry in motion. You give a set of words to a great writer, someone like Naipaul, and he knows how best to phrase them. You throw a ball at Federer and he knows how best to place it. It is sheer exhilaration that one feels, when Federer is at his best. The best part is that he never needs to be at his best to better his closest rival. One common argument that is thrown against acknowledging the greatness of Federer is that he never had great rivals. The fact could well be that Federer never gave that opportunity to anyone, of becoming a great rival. He just steamrolled over every opponent, never permitting anyone to grow in confidence and pose a challenge to his supremacy. Except Nadal, at French Open. Had Nadal or Safin and Roddick for that matter, been playing in any other era they would not have been ordinary mortals.

My firm belief is that the day Federer decides to win the French Open, he will win. How often have we seen him drift into a period of nothingness, then suddenly decide it is time to go home and majestically wrap up the match in no time? How often have we seen Federer serve more aces than his reputedly-big-serving opponents? When Federer steps onto the court, he fights against himself. The day he decides to lose, others can win. Otherwise, ‘don’t even try, pal!’ (Federer might have been joking – but was he? Every opponent knows he meant it and sadly for them, he was stating the truth). Federer’s genius is defined by one word – invincible.

Sachin’s genius is composed of a different concoction. His flaws and vulnerabilities are there for everyone to see and exploit, whenever he permits them to. His flaws have been analysed by so many experts so many times that if you add them all and if an ounce of truth is there in them, Sachin would have been relegated to the archives of cricket statisticians’ laptops. There are very few people who have kept a billion hearts throbbing and fluttering for seventeen years. When Sachin first walked into the international arena, every heart was secretly praying for the kid to succeed. If you had thought that it was because he was a kid – pause, the hearts are still praying. Sachin doesn’t need any prayers though. There is something right about every stroke he plays and he plays every stroke. The balance, the timing, the grace all make time stand still. Even when he ducks awkwardly under a searing bouncer, his determination is stamped over it.

Sometimes Sachin is an intelligent bowler’s easy prey. If he had fallen to a particular ball playing a particular shot, he is most likely to play the same shot off the same ball and sometimes fall again. The intelligent bowler doesn’t realize that Sachin will keep playing the same shot not because he can’t play it differently but because he wants to play the same shot that failed him and succeed. He will keep failing till he succeeds. Once Sachin masters his failing, the intelligent bowler will have to start raking up his brains again to spot another flaw, not knowing that Sachin will probably be more eager than him to know the next flaw – so that he can fix it. Haven’t we seen him paddle-sweeping straight to the fielder repeatedly till he gets the stroke right and beats the fielder by an inch – looking past the spectator’s frustration (oh! why cant he try some other shot), it is the same obsessive urge for perfection on display.

Sachin has many detractors. But will any of them dare not to watch him when he is in action. He may not match a Lara or Steve Waugh in snatching victory from jaws of defeat. But when Sachin plays, winning or losing become secondary in its truest sense. There is nothing to exceed the sheer joy of watching the sheer genius in action. There is nothing to match the sight of imperfections being ironed out right in front of your eyes and perfection emerge ultimately, every time.

Luckily for bowlers like Warne or Murali, unlike Federer’s rivals, they could build their fames by bowling at others.