General

2 Reasons Why You Should Read My BuzzFeed Post

I made my writing debut for BuzzFeed with All You Need To Know About Cricket In 10 Minutes. You should read it:

 

1. Because it is about Cricket

2. Isn’t that reason enough?

I got the idea mainly after struggling to explain the game to my girlfriend; added to the several ‘How do you explain cricket to Americans’ questions which popped up in the aftermath of the rain-affected games in the recently concluded Champions Trophy.  So, this was my attempt to explain the game to casual observers. Take a look!

 

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The Heart Of The Fix

So, there we go. With the arrest of three cricketers belonging to the Rajasthan Royals team in the IPL, for the crime of spot-fixing, widespread and long time speculations of corruption in the cash rich league have been confirmed. S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan – all bowlers – were allegedly promised money ranging from US$ 36,000 to 109, 000 for conceding a specific number of runs in a particular over in three separate games. These cricketers have been charged with fraud, cheating and criminal conspiracy – a shameful list of wrongdoings which is the antithesis of sports. If proven guilty, these players are staring at the end of their careers, a considerable amount of time in prison and a lifetime of regret and guilt.

The first thought that came to my mind when I heard of the news was, “How can these guys be so stupid?”. In the last few years, spot-fixing has been firmly thrust in the spotlight; Amir and Asif during a Lord’s Test, Kaneria and Westfield in county cricket, uncapped IPL players attempting it in the Indian domestic circuit. All these players got caught and were handed appropriate punishments. The ICC and the respective national boards have revamped their anti-corruption units in recent times, while there has been an increase in efforts to better educate the players as to what to do when they are approached by bookies and which authorities to contact when it happens. Spot-fixing has been pretty much publicized and recognized as a new scourge of cricket all over the world, and yet three well paid cricketers, one a Test player, have likely sacrificed promising careers in the pursuit of “just a little more $”.

Sure, there will be a bunch of detractors gunning for the tournament. Any league which throws around the amount of cash it does will always be a ripe target for bookies. Added to it, is the lopsided difference in salaries between team-mates at a particular franchise; a seasoned player getting much less than a supposed T20 specialist is as susceptible to approaches by undesirable elements as an uncapped rookie who earns barely a fraction of the highest paid players in his team. These and other points by IPL detractors are pertinent and not to be ignored. At the same time, these should not distract from the core issue – the susceptibility of these players who fall prey to greed.

Spot fixing or match fixing is not just confined to the IPL; in fact, it is not even confined to the game of cricket. It permeates just about every major sports in the world to varying degrees. One can’t wash his hands off watching sports altogether, just for that. The problem is not a specific format or a tournament; the problem is the man who is willing to compromise his morals, ethics and integrity to satisfy his greed and in the process, deceives his team-mates, fans, coaches, family and himself.  And its not a problem that is going to go away easily.

The game of cricket is lucky to have some extraordinary players who entertain with their talent, inspire with their courage and make us loyal fans with their commitment. In a nutshell, that is the essence of sports. A few bad eggs (a term which is all the rage right now!) should not shake our faith in the game or its players. You can form all the anti-corruption units in the world, educate the players every day about the scourge of fixing, provide better salaries – but there will always be a few for whom greed pervades over all other factors. So, much like the War on Terror, the fight against corruption in sports will have to be an ongoing exercise; there will be setbacks along the way but it must never end. More importantly, never let a select few sully your love of the game.

ICYMI – February Flashback

 

The lack of information on number of attempts to frame this tweet is disappointing

The lack of information on number of attempts to frame this tweet is disappointing

RETIRING IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

The day was coming, you would think. Given the increasing relevance of social media in cricket today, it was about time some player used Twitter or Facebook for something other than copy-pasting philosophical quotes and informing us what food they “smashed” recently. Kiwi batsman and pioneer freelance cricketer Lou Vincent drew curtains on a very unfulfilled career by  tweeting the ‘only’ useful stats us cricket fans are interested in and informed his followers about his decision. While scoring a century on debut in Perth against the likes of McGrath, Lee and Warner will remain as the highlight of his career, using all of his allotted 140 characters to tweet his retirement is no less feat.

“This is the face of ruthlessness. Fear me.”

FROM KING OF SPAIN TO RUTHLESS COACH OF ENGLAND  

England’s newest cricket coach, albeit only in the limited-overs version, Ashley Giles has made a promise to maintain a stiff upper lip while it comes to choosing the right combination of players for the Champions Trophy in June. With the success of their new star Joe Root, England are in a dilemma as to which player to leave out of their top order – KP, Trott, Bell, Morgan, Root. This is complicated by the fact that Trott and Bell are former team-mates of Giles at Warwickshire. My advice to Giles would be to ask himself the question – ‘What Would Dhoni Do’. Then go ahead and pick a combination that no expert will be able to understand. Also pick more Warwickshire players in the squad.

“Ineffective? Gulity as charged. You got me!”

THE CONTRASTING FORTUNES OF SINGH AND SUPER KINGS

MS Dhoni had a dream test at his second home, as India packed off the Aussies in the first test. He scored a double century and his spinners sealed the fate of Clarke and company. Dhoni, Ashwin and Jadeja rose to the occasion at a ground they should be knowing very well by now. On the other hand, Harbhajan Singh returned to the venue where he sealed a famous win against the same opponents 12 years ago, only to highlight his declining effectiveness, even on a helpful track against inexperienced batsmen. Harbhajan is now the Ashwin of two months ago, and Ashwin is now the Harbhajan of twelve years ago.

“I got the wicket of Harbhajan…that counts, right??”

CAN MOISES LEAD THE AUSSIES ACROSS THE INDIAN WILDERNESS?

Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke and now Moises Henriques. If it is an Australian tour of India, you can rest assured that it will kick-start an Aussie cricketer’s career, or at least rejuvenate it as in the case of Hayden. While Clarke was always the known threat for the Indian bowlers, they wouldn’t have expected resistance from a 26 year old Portuguese born  cricketer playing his first test ever, let alone his first on the subcontinent. 280 balls faced, 149 runs scored, 11 fours and 2 sixes later, the Australian top order excepting Clarke might have just found a template on how to tackle spin for the remainder of the series. And no, you cannot request to “re-debut” against the Indians now.

“This international cricket is easy-peasy…yawn…”

A DIFFERENT KIND OF ABBOTT-ABAD

It is not even funny anymore. As if facing Steyn, Morkel and Philander is not bad enough as a batsman, there is a new South African pacer on the block. Kyle Abbott, all of 25 years and 38 first class games old, made a stunning debut against Pakistan, picking up 9/68 at the Centurion test.  Granted, it was against a brittle Pakistani line-up and his pace hovers in the mid-130s kph; but his modus operandi is very much similar to Philander, and look where the Vern is now. If there is any cheer for the opposition, they can breathe easy as Abbot is only the sixth choice bowler for the Saffers. Yup, with the likes of Steyn and Philander to terrorize you, why worry about him? Yet?

“You mistake me…I eat only the red ones!”

THE RETURN OF AFRIDI: THE SEQUEL TO THE TRILOGY

I don’t know which is funnier – that Shahid Afridi is making his umpteenth comeback or the words of chief selector Iqbal Qasim, “this is Afridi’s last chance and he has to perform”.

“Vaas” my name? It’s Chaminda

SRI LANKA IS “GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER” 

Sanath Jayasuriya is chief selector, Chaminda Vaas is bowling coach and Muttiah Muralitharan is a special adviser. Hey Sri Lanka, the late 90s called and they wished you best of luck. After all, these are exciting times for the island nation, as they start afresh under new captains, and who better to show pointers than a bunch of cricketers who were responsible for their golden era?

“This knock should help….urm….uh….my team to win!”

CHRIS GAYLE TWITTER STAR

Gone are the good old days when Gayle garnered sympathy for his stand-off with the WICB. Now that he is back, he is expected to exhibit that annoying trait expected of any cricketer worth their salt – “consistency”. After a disastrous run over the last two series against Bangladesh and Australia, the Jamaican Hulk decided that he had enough, skipping the one day series against Zimbabwe to take a break. If you thought that Gayle takes this break to spend some quiet time with family or work on his game, you obviously don’t follow his Twitter account. It’s only a matter of time before he jumps ship and becomes a Reality TV star.

[This article was originally published in Sportskeeda on February 28, 2013]

Two Days at Chepauk

photo (22)

Slightly nervous mixed with barely controlled excitement. That’s how most international debutants feel; and it was no different for my Test match debut as a spectator at the stadium. I watched the first two days of the Chennai test between Australia and India from the stands in Chepauk and was not disappointed as Ashwin, Clarke and Tendulkar made it a very memorable experience. I’m still kicking myself over missing Dhoni’s double ton on the third day, but that story is for another time. Here is a brief recount of the highlights of my two days at Chepauk.

  • My trepidation about attending a match at the stadium had to do with the assumption that I would not be able to appreciate the minor details as much as I would have if I watched the game on TV. Instead, I realized that the trade-offs go the other way too; the joys of watching quality spin and pace bowling (Ashwin and Pattinson), masterful batting (Clarke and Tendulkar) and stunning ground fielding (Warner) at the ground does not really give a fair contest to a TV experience. Also, the ebb and flow of a hotly contested Test match really sucks you in as a spectator. There are no distractions; just an absorbing contest between a bowler and a batsman. I left the stadium with a much deeper appreciation of Test cricket. 

photo (23)

 

  • The ‘Knowledgeable Cricket Crowd’ title for Chennai fans is quite appropriate. At so many points in the match, I overheard interesting stats and anecdotes from fans sitting around me. Another impressive factor was their recognition of lesser known players. It’s one thing to recognize an Indian  reserve player, and it is another matter to realize that the Australian player walking along the boundary ropes in front of you is Jackson Bird. The Aussie players would be pleasantly surprised whenever someone would call out their name and start cheering. The same applied to players on the field. Michael Clarke and David Warner were big crowd favorites on Day 2, when their names were being chanted (this, at a time when Sachin and Pujara were at the crease!). Both obliged crowd requests by doing mini-jigs, thereby getting a lot of love from the stands. And there was something else that I never would have imagined I would see in a Test match: mexican waves. Young, old, men, women – all joined in and had a gala time doing it. All of this made for a fun two days of watching cricket at the stadium.

photo (21)

 

  • Indian players getting cheered at the stadium is no big deal. Still, it was an experience in itself whenever Tendulkar came into play. If the ball went to him when he was fielding, there was a loud cheer. If he defended a ball for no run, there was a loud cheer. The big screen at the stadium had to just show him sitting in the pavilion, and a loud cheer would resonate around the ground. There was this ridiculous instance in the first session of Day 2, when the Aussie tailenders were resisting; Sachin was off the field for a short while and the crowd was getting restless. Out of nowhere, someone started a “Sachin, Sachin” chant, which immediately got picked up in the stands. All this for a player who was not even on the field of play! It’s just mind boggling to think how he handles this game after game, in different stadiums in different countries, decade after decade.
  • It was not all perfect, of course. Entry into the stadium was not nearly as smooth as I would have liked; fans were asked to switch off their phones (in my case, I was asked to “remove the battery” of my iPhone!), those who were wearing black t-shirts were turned away (fearing some political disturbance) and there was no re-entry allowed for fans who wished to leave in between and come back later in the day. As for the big screen, it was annoying to see the action replays being cut off midway and replaced with a random ad, which always resulted in loud groans from the stands. All these amounted to minor quibbles over the two days. 

Overall, I had a great time watching the game from the stands. I understand that experiences may vary in other stadiums within the country and outside it, but I would highly recommend watching an international game at the ground for any fan who hasn’t done so till now. Watching a well contested game between two quality sides in the company of thousands of cricket lovers, making new friends and meeting up with friends you only knew in the online world till then; all of it made for a memorable international debut…..for me.

photo (24)

 

[This article was originally published in Sportskeeda on February 26, 2013]

Silence of the Damned – Sports, Asia and the taboo that is Depression

A mental condition characterized by severe feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy, typically accompanied by a lack of energy and interest in life. (Depression, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary)

In the last few years, cricket has seen a spate of revelations from former players who have confessed to bouts of depression during their playing days. It all began with former England opener Marcus Trescothick, who opened up in 2008 about his crippling battles with the affliction which would often leave him in tears and shivering with anxiety. Since then, a few other cricketers like Michael Yardy, Tim Ambrose, Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff, Steve Davies, Shaun Tait, Lou Vincent and Iain O’Brien have come forward to share their personal experiences of dealing with depression as a sportsperson.

Now there have been plenty of articles written recently about depression in cricket, and sports in general. So it is good to see that ignorance and stigma is being replaced with awareness and acceptance in most societies. Players are less afraid these days to open up and share their stories, in the knowledge that it might help others going through the same situation. While they may have been subjected to ridicule in eras gone by,  sportsmen in the present can breathe easier as there is a shifting perception towards the better, among the media and general public. Still, there is one issue that has bothered me with regards to this topic over the last few years.

Why are there no players from the Asian countries coming forward to share any similar experiences they may have had? If you look at the history of depression in sports, you will find that it is littered with examples from Australia, New Zealand, USA and the European countries, but nary a squeak from the Far East. Either, it is possible that Asian sportsmen are not as prone to it when compared to their western counterparts, or that the stigma of suffering from mental illnesses has not truly lifted off from the region yet.

The truth is, while rates of depression in the Asia Pacific region are marginally lower, they are still comparable to western countries. Every year the number of reported cases increase, as more and more people are emboldened to come forward and seek help when they realize that they need it; yet, there is a long way to go for depression to be treated as a mainstream disease.

Let me draw from experience. In the United States, I have encountered people (friends and strangers alike) who are not averse to admitting that they have issues which they can’t sort out by themselves and that they need help. They then seek out this help either professionally or from family and friends. In India, I have rarely seen people (even close friends) admit to any kind of weakness, even if it is very obvious to everyone else.

I discussed this with some of my colleagues and a few elders from my family, and the following are some of the most commonly cited reasons as to why depression is not made as big a deal in the subcontinent, as elsewhere:

  • Asians are mentally stronger and generally not riddled with self-doubt and anxiety
  • Presence of strong social support at home helps to deal effectively in early stages of depression 
  • Unwilling to be stigmatized as ‘crazy’ or be ostracized from rest of society
  • Right from a young age, individuals are told to ‘man up’, to not let down their guard and reveal any insecurities or weakness to others
  • Asians are conservative in nature and prefer to deal with these issues privately

Before I expand on these reasons, let me bring cricket into this. In the international game, players from the subcontinent are subjected to the most scrutiny. Every day their games are dissected in print and online media, their private lives serve as fodder for public consumption and the slightest miss-step on their part can lead to a deluge of outrage and criticism fostered upon them. With so much pressure from all corners, how do they deal with the inevitable stress and not let themselves get sucked into a vortex of anxiety or depression? Why have we not heard of any Asian cricketer stepping up and admitting that they too have suffered from crippling self doubts and battles with inner demons?

In this context, I tried to understand the reasons stated previously.

  • There is no evidence supporting this theory that Asians are mentally superior; it is just something that people would like to believe about themselves. Nothing about the performances of the Asian teams over the years suggest that this is true. It is more likely that the players have learnt to stow away their despondence and abject feelings of hopelessness better than players from other countries.  

 

  • There is a lot of merit to the idea that a strong social support can help deal with depression. When you have a parent or best friend who is always at hand to help or guide you through tough times, it is unlikely that you will push yourselves into a corner. In Asia, family members are very involved in each other’s lives, sometimes bordering on the intrusive. If an individual shows any sign of deviancy from usual routine, an alert family member or companion will usually notice. Taking the case of cricketers, it is rare to hear of any player who isn’t close to his family or of one who has made it to the top without support from his kin; but what happens once he makes the team? Especially in Asian countries, where there is a cut-throat competition for places in the squad, one needs a strong social support group to navigate the tricky terrain. As much as teams like to give the impression that they are one big family, there will always be a few individuals who can slip through the cracks; the tales of Trescothick and co need to be cautionary. Given the present state of cricket in most Asian countries today, is there anyone confident enough to say that cricketers have strong social support networks within the teams?

 

  • The fear of being labelled as ‘crazy’ or ‘mentally unstable’ is not exclusive to Asians alone; it is an universal phenomenon and only now it is being slowly peeled away in western culture. By the nature of sports, those kinds of labels are career-breakers, and it makes sense why players have been reluctant for so long to come forward and reveal their personal battles. Still, the times are changing and with each passing day, there is growing social acceptance of this genuine medical condition. Will we see any Asian sportsperson in the near future who is willing to confront this issue publicly?

 

  • Yet another cause which is universal, but definitely more pronounced in Asian cultures. I can personally attest to it and so can many of my friends, who while growing up were never allowed to feel morose for too long, as it was a “sign of weakness and low confidence” in ourselves. ‘Man up’, ‘toughen up’ and ‘stop pitying yourself’ are some of the commonest refrains from elders if they suspected that all was not well. In this kind of background and with this prevalent attitude, which sportsperson would be confident enough to accept that he has a problem?  Read any interview of a cricketer who is fighting for his spot in the team, and you will find that they will talk about loss of form, fitness issues and bad luck; but apart from Gautam Gambhir, not many will mention if they fight with self doubts or issues of insecurity. It’s almost as if you are a cricketer in Asia, mental frailties are supposed to be of a foreign nature. The current environment is all about being confident and aggressive; it is not really conducive for a player to go against the grain in these cases.

 

  • Finally, dealing with the illness is a matter of individual preference. None of the cricketers who have come forward in the last few years were obligated to reveal their conditions to the public. Yet they did, for a reason. Players like Trescothick, Flintoff and O’Brien have channeled different avenues to talk about their personal battles and spread awareness about the condition, which is proving beneficial in removing the stigma attached to depression and helping individuals with similar experiences to tackle their issues head-on. It is why I believe that if there are any Asian celebrities out there (let alone, sportsmen) who are debilitated by this condition and prefer to deal with it privately, it would be a tremendous boost for mental health awareness in the region if they share their experiences on a public forum. You will never see a public personality shy away from revealing that they have cancer or diabetes, so why the reluctance to help fight a condition that is still very much under-reported and untreated? A lot of causes have been helped over the years by the active participation and promotion of celebrities, thanks to their unique position of influencing public opinion in these matters; in countries like India and Pakistan, who better celebrities than cricketers to help not just their fellow players but their countrymen as well? It may not be an obligation, but you only need to read about the responses to Trescothick’s book and Flintoff’s TV program to understand the value of a player understanding his responsibility.

To summarize, I believe that given the constant pressures, hectic schedules and cut-throat competition for spots that an average Asian cricketer is subjected to, they are as likely, if not more, to suffer from depression as their western counterparts. The present culture and associated stigma might be preventing them from coming forward, but if they do, the benefits outweigh the risks. It not only helps the player to face his condition and effectively counter it; it will also empower the unknown number of people hiding in the shadows – flailing in the dark, ashamed of their affliction and hoping that no one finds out about their ‘mental instability’.

If I were N Srinivasan

“Hmm….go on…”

These days, the most hated person in the cricket world is not a non-performing cricketer or a bumbling umpire; that privilege goes to a soft spoken, bespectacled business man from Chennai. Narayanaswami Srinivasan, or N Srinivasan (or, Srini mama as “affectionately” known throughout the social networks) is the current BCCI chief, which in turn makes him the overlord of all international cricket bodies (allegedly). It takes a special kind of talent (sorry, Rohit) to be universally disdained by anyone related to cricket. Indian fans hate him for reasons pertaining to IPL, DRS and an autocratic approach to governing the Board. Non-Indian fans hate him for reasons pertaining to IPL, DRS and an autocratic approach which influences the governing of other national cricket boards. It is nice to know that in a cricket world divided by misplaced nationalistic fervor, we can all agree that the BCCI chief is a tool. And that Jade Dernbach’s tattoos make Mitchell Johnson’s look like a work of Picasso. Don’t even get me started on that.

“Cool story, bro….now get to your point!”

Anyway, I was thinking about it and it led me to wonder what I would do if I was the BCCI chief. If Twitter and Facebook is to be believed (and when are they ever wrong?), Srinivasan has unlimited powers through which he can fix IPL games in a way that the Chennai Super Kings make it to the final every year, bully other boards into selecting/dropping certain players, ensure that Dhoni remains the unquestioned ‘Super King’ of Indian cricket and fit in enough time to destroy the game of cricket as we know and love. If all that is there to it, I think Srini mama is selling himself short. Here is what I would do if I was the former Honorary Sheriff of Madras (see, you learnt something new today!):

  • First step – through brow beating, arm twisting and using Navjot Sidhu to make prank calls every day to each board chief, grab control of the ICC presidency (officially). Welcome to the era of Srini.

“Change you BETTER believe in”

  • Make MS Dhoni the Vice President. Well of course.

“Together we shall rule the world!”

  • Make some changes to the ICC constitution (if they have one!) and give myself unlimited powers to affect the internal functioning of all member boards. All with their “permission” of course.
  • Let’s turn to the Black Caps. Who is this Hesson fellow? Remove him and appoint Stephen Fleming as coach. Also, ask “Where the heck is Daniel Vettori?” More importantly, arrange for two series every year between India and New Zealand. There is bound to be some morale boosting wins. For one of them.
  • Australia. This John Inverarity makes Srikkanth look like a genius. Sack him and appoint Warne as chief selector. Give Elizabeth Hurley a role – perhaps fashion consultant? Most importantly, make sure to “rest” Michael Clarke from series against India.

“For Mitchell Johnson, I’m thinking….plastic surgery would be a good choice”

  • Next, Sri Lanka. They have already done their part by selecting a politician as their chief selector. What could go wrong? Go one step further, and ask the Lankan president to be the honorary coach of the team. Also, offer the post of fielding coach to the Sports minister. That is one way of bringing the Lankan fielding to Indian standards.
  • Moving on to South Africa. I love Dale Steyn. He is the future of fast bowling. Heck, he is the future of bowling. A legend of his quality needs to be preserved well. It is important to balance his workload and he should get rest from time to time. Ensure that his rest coincides with India’s tour to South Africa. Also, appoint Faf du Plessis as captain in all formats.

“psst…want to join the Super Kings?”

  • England has troubled us for too long. Time to bring them down a notch. Make Kevin Pietersen the captain again. Remove Andy Flower and bring back Peter Moores as coach and appoint Nick Knight as assistant coach. Make sure that Bopara and Dernbach get to play in every game. Also, give Alastair Cook mandatory rest during series against India and grant Indian citizenship to Monty Panesar.
  • Allow Pakistani players to feature in the IPL. Sign up Junaid Khan, Hafeez and Ajmal for the Super Kings. Shahid Afridi and Umar Akmal will go to the team that annoys me the most. Shah Rukh, I’m looking at you.

“Ok…these impromptu dance performances SRK keeps asking us to do, is too much now!”

  • There are no entertainers like the West Indies cricket team. Allow them to feature as the 10th team in the IPL.
  • MS Dhoni will not only be captain, but will also be the chief selector of the Indian team. Say hello to RP Singh again! Make India Cements the official team sponsor. Grant Suresh Raina the “honorary” number 6 spot in Tests and assign R Ashwin as the “honorary” first choice spinner in all formats; no to forget, the official spokesperson of the team after every defeat. Also, replace Fletcher with John Wright.

An overjoyed Fletcher, on hearing the news

  • For my dear CSK, appoint Mike Hussey as the coach and ensure that they get to play all their games on slow tracks, be it home or away. Make a special allowance for the team, so that they get to play 6 foreign players in the XI. Rule of thumb: Chennai Super Kings shall always win the IPL.
  • Remove the DRS and institute “SRS” – any time a player wants a decision reviewed, the umpire shall call a special number through which the calls are routed to my private phone and I get to take the final decision depending on my careful analysis as to how the dismissal would affect Indian cricket. Even if the game does not feature India.

“but, Sir…we can only give one batsman out at a time!”

  • Appoint personnel to follow Twitter and Facebook for any unfavorable mentions of me; any culprits found besmirching my name will be spammed to eternal banishment from the World Wide Web.
  • After I’m done enjoying the fruits of my “labor” for a few years, I will go on Oprah’s talk show to confess that I had taken all the previously mentioned actions under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs (I foresee a drop in sales of my “What Would Srini Do” wrist bracelets). I will leave the public eye gracefully; but in one final act of defiance, I will ensure that Ravi Shastri and Sunil Gavaskar become the new ICC and BCCI chiefs respectively!

“You get a Shastri…you get a Sunny G….everybody gets a one-eyed BCCI puppet free!”

PS: Mr Srinivasan, if you’re reading this by any chance……I kid, I kid! I’m a big fan, sir. Please don’t banish me from the World Wide Web!  

“I’m watching you…”

11 Thoughts on Cricket from January

The first month of 2013 is almost over, and already it has shown signs of what to expect in the coming months. Here are 11 stray thoughts on the month that is (not quite) gone by:

1. NEW ZEALAND IS THE NEW WEST INDIES 

"If that is true, we will win the next T20 World Cup...huzzah!"

“If that is true, we will win the next T20 World Cup…huzzah!”

Get bowled out for scores of 45 and 121 en route to a crushing Test series loss to the Saffers before turning the tables on the hosts during the ODI series, which included a 1 wicket heist in the opener (from 105/7 while chasing 209) and a match winning ton from future great Kane Williamson in the second game. Only a last ball six from McLaren in the third game prevented a series whitewash. The average Kiwi supporter must have gone through the full range of emotions possible, in the past month.

2. MIKE HESSON IS THE NEW JOHN BUCHANAN

"That is a low blow, Mr Bullet"

“That is a low blow, Mr Bullet”

Problems with team’s star player and favorite punching bag for all? Check. It makes perfect sense that the former Australia coach is responsible for Hesson’s appointment as New Zealand coach.

3. ENTER THE FAF

"Move over Jacques, there is a new rock in town"

“Move over Jacques, there is a new rock in town”

In the span of three months, Faf du Plessis has gone from being a replacement in the Test squad and a fringe player in LOIs, to a certainty in all formats of the game. It culminated in him becoming captain of the ODI side in their series against New Zealand after de Villiers copped a ban for slow over rate in the first game. Despite the loss, he is already being talked of as future captain in all three formats. This proves that good things happen to those who play for Chennai Super Kings.

4. DE KOCK WILL GIVE ‘RISE’ TO NEVER ENDING PUNS

"The name is de Kock. The 'de' is silent"

“The name is de Kock. The ‘de’ is silent”

South Africa’s newest member and interestingly named Quinton de Kock is a talented and hard-hitting batsman, who is capable of keeping the momentum flowing at the top of the order. As a keeper, his soft hands and ability to let the balls come to him instead of grabbing at it make him a valuable addition to the team. Any puns detected in the previous sentences were intended.

5. MAHELA IS THE PAST, ANGELO IS THE PRESENT AND PERERA IS THE FUTURE

"Bad boys..bad boys..what you gonna do? what you gonna do? when they come for you......"

“Bad boys..bad boys..what you gonna do? what you gonna do? when they come for you……”

Dilshan, Sangakarra and Jayawardene are on their way out; but Lankan fans need not despair as the next generation take over. In Angelo Mathews and Thissera Perera, they have their next stars who seem destined for great things. Nerveless batting, attacking bowling and electric fielding – they are the new age cricketers, as it was always meant to be.

6. TO ROTATE OR NOT TO ROTATE, THAT IS THE QUESTION

"Psst...Mickey...don't look now...but the KFC sponsor guy is coming over and he doesn't look happy"

“Psst…Mickey…don’t look now…but the KFC sponsor guy is coming over and he doesn’t look happy”

If it’s Australia and January, it is ‘talk about rotation policy’ time. Last year, India took the heat for theirs, and now it is the turn of Clarke’s men…or Bailey’s. Their one day series against Sri Lanka ignited a fresh debate over the polarizing topic, throwing up references to A-teams and B-teams and free publicity for McDonalds after a bizarre put-down of George Bailey by the Channel 9 chief. Lost in all this hullabaloo was Phil Hughes’ impressive start to his ODI career, Kulasekara’s deadly bowling and a farcical abandonment of the 4th ODI. At the end of it all, the debate over rotation continues to rage.

7. THE WORST BEST DEATH BOWLER IN ONE DAY INTERNATIONALS

"The Girl with the Ridiculous Tattoos"

“The Girl with the Ridiculous Tattoos”

He is supposedly the death overs specialist for the number one ODI team in the world (before the conclusion of the series against India). Like Shakira’s hips, statistics don’t lie though: In 22 ODIs, Jade Dernbach has 30 wickets at an economy rate of 6.28, which is the highest for any international bowler who has bowled over a thousand deliveries; and this is the same man, Nasser Hussain said that India would desire to have in their side. No thanks, Nass. We already have Sreesanth.

8. JOE ROOT IS THE REAL DEAL

"Size doesn't matter"

“Size doesn’t matter”

After playing a supporting role in England’s historic Test series win in India last year, Root took the center stage for the English in the ODI leg of the tour. He emerged as the find of the series for them as his reliable batting and disciplined bowling was all they could take away at the end of it all. Unlike a few others in the side, he seems grounded and is set for greater things ahead.

9. ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK

"Next stop...Test cricket!"

“Next stop…Test cricket!”

Positives: India won an ODI series against previously top-ranked side after a disappointing loss to Pakistan earlier, and in the process found quality seamers in Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Shami Ahmed, while reiterating Suresh Raina’s value to the team.

Not-so positives: Gambhir continues to throw away starts, Kohli’s purple patch is over, Rahane and Yuvraj appear clueless against pace and spin respectively, Rohit booked his place for the next year after a solitary fifty while Pujara warms the bench till Tiwary returns.

10. WHAT IS ASHWIN?

"Pictured: Highly intelligent player who talks a good talk. Not pictured: An Indian spinner the opposition dread to face"

“Pictured: Highly intelligent player who talks a good talk.
Not pictured: An Indian spinner the opposition dread to face”

When Ashwin came on to the scene, most Indian fans breathed a sigh of relief that an alternative to Harbhajan Singh was found. After disciplined performances in LOIs, he made a stunning entry into Test cricket by decimating the West Indians and Kiwis at home. That was as good as it got. Against England on the subcontinent, he has failed in Tests, T20s and now ODIs to pose a threat to an opposition ripe for the picking, as he has been comfortably out-bowled by ordinary bowlers like Tredwell and Root. It’s a matter of time before the Indian selectors and management decide if they want to persist with Ashwin in their plans – as a batsman who can bowl part time spin. In that case, the Turbanator can confidently say, “I’ll be back”.

11. MOVE OVER SHIV, TAG IS IT

"The cricketing world waits with bated breath to see if the gene for the crab stance has carried over"

“The cricketing world waits with bated breath to see if the gene for the crab stance has carried over”

From the maker of countless bore-athon knocks apart from the odd whirlwind ton in Tests, comes “Chanderpaul 2: Tagenerine”. Junior is said to be a carbon copy of his illustrious father, and as he makes his first class debut for Guyana at the tender age of 16, the WICB will hope that he turns into a future star capable of saving many Test matches for the team.

 

 

For The Love Of The Game – A Short Story

It was the incessant ringing of the door-bell that woke him up. Groggily, the old man checked the time on the wall clock above his television set and was surprised that his friend had arrived much earlier than expected. Slightly annoyed, he got up from his rocking chair and switched off the TV, even as the door-bell continued to ring. “I’m coming!” he shouted grumpily. Muttering to himself, he ambled to the front door and opened it.

 

“Hello Grandpa. Hope I am not disturbing you.”

 

For a moment, the old man didn’t know how to respond. After all, it was not often that his teenage grandson came around to visit him; but there he was, standing at his door step with an almost forlorn expression on his face.

 

“Of course not, kid. Come on in”. The old man moved aside and let the teenager trudge in to the living room. Even as he tried to gather his thoughts, wondering what the reasons for the unexpected visit could be, the teenager flopped on a near-by sofa and asked for a glass of water.

 

Fetching the glass of water, the old man handed it over to the boy, who gulped it down in a flash.

 

Shifting uncomfortably, the old man asked, “So, what’s the matter, kid? You look upset.”

 

The Kid looked up at his grandfather. “Well, I AM upset, grandpa. As you may know, I play cricket for my school team, and recently my form has hit rock bottom. I can’t seem to work it out and am on the verge of getting dropped from the team. Mom said you have played some cricket in your younger days and that you might be able to help. That’s why I’m here.”

 

The old man’s eyes lit up for a second. Some cricket, huh? Suppose one could call that, he mused. Still, he wasn’t interested in the Kid’s problems. All he wanted was to get some more shut-eye before his friend came along to play chess with him.

 

“Well, it’s no big deal, kid. Every cricketer worth his salt runs into bad form now and then. It is part and parcel of the game. You just got to keep working hard in the nets and never give up. Eventually, everything will fall into place again, and you will be much better for this experience. As they say, form is temporary but class is permanent.” Saying this, the old man subtly walked towards the front door.

 

The teenager didn’t look convinced. After pondering for a moment, he got up from the sofa. “You know what? Never mind. The only reason I came here was because my mom forced me to; but you are telling me the same stuff I have heard over and over again for the last few weeks. It doesn’t really help; but it’s ok. I was thinking of leaving the game anyway, and trying out for football instead. The other day, I heard a team-mate saying that cricket was dying. If that is true, I might as well make the switch now.”

 

As the boy made his way towards the door, the old man said calmly, “Sit down, kid. We need to talk.”

 

There was a fire in the old man’s eyes that the Kid had never seen before. Without asking any questions, he made his way back to the sofa and sat down.

 

The old man took his place at the rocking chair and didn’t say anything for a while. Just as the teen was wondering if he should say something, the old man spoke up.

 

“Cricket isn’t going anywhere, kid.”

 

The Kid just sat there with a puzzled expression, even as his grandfather continued.

 

“Cricket is dying, it seems. What a load of rubbish! Do you know of the game’s origins, boy?”

 

The Kid spluttered, “Umm…it started in the late 1800s I think….”

 

“The game of cricket was mentioned as early as 1598 in an Italian-English dictionary”, the old man interjected. “So, this game has managed to survive for close to five centuries in one form or the other. During that course, it has survived various tweaks to its laws, two world wars, a series which threatened to bring two countries to an armed conflict, match-fixing claims and more recently a power struggle between ICC chief Stuart Broad and BCCI president Virat Kohli. In the course of my life time, I have heard many doomsday prophets predict that the game was dying; they said that cricket was not keeping up with the modern ways of the world, that an increasing number of youngsters were getting seduced by other sports, and that the game would eventually fade into a relic of the past. Guess what? Cricket has outlasted each and every one of them!”

 

The old man looked over to the Kid who was listening with his mouth half open and in rapt attention. Satisfied, he pressed on.

 

“And I’ll tell you why it is not so easy to kill this game. The sport is not owned by a bunch of fat cats sitting in board rooms, as much as they’d like to think so. It survives because of the passion of every individual who is genuinely in love with the game. It survives because of the junior cricketer who wakes up every day with dreams of representing his country at the highest level. It survives because of the pride of the cricketer who plays for his country and recognizes his special privilege. It survives because of the fan that makes sacrifices to watch the matches in stadiums, forsaking the comfort of watching it on TV or the internet. These individuals, who consider this sport as their life, are the ones who keep the game alive.”

 

Leaning forward and fixing his eyes on the boy, he continued. “So, don’t worry about the game, kid. It can take care of itself. Administrators, players, fans – all will come and go; but cricket will survive. As for your problems, my simple advice would be to relax and learn to enjoy the game. Don’t over complicate matters by worrying about the number or runs you score or the number of wickets you are picking up. Enjoy the simple things: holding a bat in your hands, running between the wickets, diving around the field and running in to bowl a delivery. Learn to celebrate the success of your team-mates and to acknowledge your opponents when they have played a good game. Listen to well meaning advice, acknowledge your shortcomings, and do not let success get to your head. Continue to work hard no matter what. When you have mastered these things, you will be at peace with yourself and your game. The results will invariably follow. Get it?”

 

The Kid nodded in a daze. After few seconds of silence, the Kid realized that his grandfather was done. He quietly stood up and started his walk towards the door.

 

At the door, he paused and looked back towards his grandfather. “Thanks a lot, Grandpa.”

The old man just nodded in acknowledgement.

 

“Tell me one thing, though. When Mom said that you used to play some cricket, she was just understating it, wasn’t she? Till what level did you actually play?”

 

The old man got up from his chair, beaming. “Well, let’s just say that I was part of two world cup winning teams and I played over a hundred tests for India.”

 

The Kid’s eyes widened. “Whoa! That’s awesome! So, all the stuff you were talking about…..you actually know that stuff don’t you?”

 

“Kid, I don’t just know it. I’ve lived it. Highs and lows, I have seen them all; and I learned these things the hard way. It was a journey full of twists and turns; but oh, what a journey it was!”

 

The Kid smiled. His new found admiration for his grandfather was unmistakable. Saying his goodbye, he exited the house. On his way out, he passed an older man who was entering the house.

 

The visitor looked back at the boy who was leaving the house, with a spring in his step. “Who was that kid, Bhajji?”

 

“That, my friend, is hopefully a kid who has just realized what cricket is all about.”