retirement

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]

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Ricky Ponting – The Inglorious Basterd

There have been only two instances when I have cried, with regards to cricket.

One was the infernal disaster that was the 1996 World Cup semi-final at Calcutta. As a ten year old who fell in love with the game during that tournament, I felt cheated that I didn’t get the dream finish that I had hoped, with India lifting the trophy.

The other occasion was the 2003 World Cup final. Yet again, India and Tendulkar were thwarted at the cusp of glory. After overcoming a disastrous start to their campaign, India had built up good momentum before getting crushed by the Aussies in the final. As I reeled at the magnitude of the defeat and was left wallowing at another despairing end to a World Cup campaign, my eyes rested on a slight man dressed in bright yellow and holding the World Cup in his hands, with the widest grin on his face. In 121 balls of mayhem, the Australian captain destroyed the hopes of an expectant nation. At that moment, I hated Ricky Ponting in a very visceral way.

Funnily enough, till that point, Ponting aka Punter was one of my favorite international players. Three years earlier, I was fortunate enough to meet him in person when he had come to my school on a promotional visit. He was offering batting tips to a select few of the school cricket team, and the thing that struck me most about him was the grin. He was very cheerful, made us all feel at ease, cracked a few jokes in his Tasmanian accent (which most of us could not understand anyway!), and at the end, we all left feeling richer for the experience of interacting with a world class player who was surprisingly down to earth and relatable. From that day, he jostled with Jonty Rhodes and Wasim Akram for the spot of ‘my favorite international cricketer’.

All that changed on the evening of March 23, 2003. Since then, through the years, I have grown to dislike Punter. I have grudgingly acknowledged his successes, rejoiced in his failures and mocked his various mis-steps. He has played numerous memorable knocks (many of them against India!); knocks which stood out for their imperiousness, savagery and a brutal finality. Still, it was easier to dislike him than most other batting stars.

He fit the image of the ‘ugly Aussie’. There have been many finger-pointing incidents with umpires, and he was never shy of initiating a sledging contest with the opposition. He has shouted at the coach of the opposition,  broken a TV set in the dressing room, had on-field discord with team-mates; and I’m not even getting into the pre-2000 battle with alcohol, which he eventually overcame. All these were sufficient ammo for his detractors, including myself, because we had nothing else to go after; to put it simply, he was that good a batsman.

Ponting once said after the ill tempered 2007 series against India, “I don’t expect everyone to like me. I am here to do a job, and that is to win matches for Australia”. Well, he did that alright. For close to a decade, he was one of the best batsman of his generation and most of his records will stand the test of time. Like him or not, there was no disputing the quality of Ricky Ponting.

Over the last couple of years, my strong feelings have dissipated. His recent failures reminded me, that at the end of the day, he is a mere mortal whose powers are on the wane. Throughout the cricket world, people who once treated Ponting like their personal foe, started to feel sorry for him and wished that he would go out on a high. Being the proud man that he is, Ponting might have figured out that this was his cue to leave the arena.

Looking back, I can’t believe how much Ponting got in to my head over the years! Ever since that World Cup final loss in 2003, I looked forward to contests with Australia more than any other team. I wanted the Aussies to be thrashed, so that I could rejoice at the sight of a disappointed Ponting; because one look at his face after a loss, told one how much he hated to be on the losing side. In that respect, he gave me many occasions to gloat; Adelaide 2003, Mohali 2010, Ahmedabad 2011 – were all the sweeter as it came against Ponting’s Aussies. Of course, there is no shortage of the opposite results, where I have been absolutely disgusted about defeats, none more than the recent four nil drubbing last year.

Still, after a career spanning 17 years, Punter has earned my respect, if not my grudging admiration. As much as I loved to hate him for his excessive liking to Indian bowling and prickly behavior, it is hard to deny the fact that he made me that much more passionate about the game and inadvertently led me to appreciate his greatness. I won’t go as far as saying that there will be none like him, but I’m grateful that I got to witness the career of one of the most remarkable batsmen in the history of the game, warts and all.

Best wishes, Punter; you inglorious basterd.

 

Languid Elegance – A Very Very Special career comes to an end

Its been a while since VVS announced his retirement, but it is still hard to believe that he is not going to turn up for India ever again. Much like his dear friend Rahul Dravid, Laxman has been synonymous with the Indian middle order for more than a decade. So, when the Indian team take the field at Hyderabad for the first Test, it is going to be a strange feeling for long time followers of Indian cricket.

Most of my fond memories about India’s performances in Tests can be largely attributed to Laxman. Kolkata, Mohali, Sydney, Durban…..he has produced masterpieces all over the cricket world. Along with Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Sehwag, Laxman was an integral jewel in the crown that was Indian batting. While the likes of Dravid and Tendulkar led India to the top of the rankings, Laxman ensured that the team stayed there, as brief as the reign was. He was the master of the second innings, as he saved or won matches for India in critical situations. More importantly, he seemed to do all this while under constant pressure from the media to keep his place in the side. Like most important things in life, we will realize his true value, when he is not around.

Of course, when one talks about VVS, how do you know not mention his style? He may not be one of the most aggressive batsmen around, but the elegance and style with which he compiled his evergreen hits, will be sorely missed by cricket connoisseurs. After all, he was one of the rare breed of batsmen who could combine style with substance.

To top it all, like most beloved cricketers, he was one of the nicest men in international cricket. Even while under constant scrutiny from the media, he was prized most by the people who mattered – his team-mates; and his opponents, particularly the Australians, were big fans of his. He always had a congenial smile for friends and foes alike, and the only time he lost his cool memorably, was during the Mohali Test when he nearly decapitated his Hyderabad team-mate Pragyan Ojha for nearly costing India the game with poor running. True to his nature, he apologized to Ojha after the game.

So what does the future hold for VVS Laxman? Personally, I hope he becomes the BCCI chief or the chairman of selectors in the future. He is too good, to be wasted in TV studios analyzing games and stating the bleeding obvious. It is up to Indian cricket, to make full use of a cricketer who gave his all for it.

Goodbye VVS and thank you for the memories.

PS: I have largely desisted from writing a more exhaustive piece on Laxman, since I feel that following articles have done more justice than I ever could. Enjoy!

Safety Blanket by @thecricketcouch

Artist by @cornerd

A Test Cricketer Retires by @cricketingview

Thank You, VVS! by @cricsis

Opinions on VVS Laxman by @oponcr

The SpeedFather – A tribute to Brett Lee

When Brett Lee announced his retirement from international cricket recently, it brought to end one of the finest careers a modern fast bowler could ever hope to have, taking into account all the injuries and breakdowns associated with it. A career which included being part of a World Cup win and three Ashes triumphs, and in one where he ended up with 718 international wickets, and leaving as international cricket’s tenth leading wicket taker of all time. Despite several injuries throughout his career, including some which kept him out of the 2007 World Cup and 2009 Ashes, he stayed resilient enough to trouble the best batsmen through a 13 year career. Most importantly, his retirement brought down the curtains on the career of one of that rare breed of sportsmen: a player who is respected by the opposition and loved by opposition fans.

There are lot of pace bowlers on the international circuit, but there are very few who put the ‘fast’ in fast bowling. Lee was one of the few bowlers who consistently bowled at the same frightening speeds throughout his career. He never compromised on pace, which made him a terrific player to watch when in full flow. Along with his signature high jumping and heel clicking celebrations after taking a wicket, he was a true entertainer who had the performances to match.

This combination of an exciting player and wonderful human being is what makes Brett Lee so special. He entered the scene at a time when the Australian team was on top, but was not generally liked for their abrasive behavior. Slowly, but surely he wormed himself into the hearts of all cricket fans, endearing himself to many as a quintessential fighter who never gave an inch to the opposition but off the field very friendly with many of these same opponents.

Of course, just being a nice guy is not going to promise you a successful career. Lee had the skills to succeed in all formats of the game; in Tests, he was an able support to the likes of McGrath and Warne in the early part of his career, and after their departure, he took up responsibility for leading the attack. In T20s, he has contributed more to domestic successes in BBL, IPL and the Champions League; but it was in ODIs where he was a true world class performer. While he was initially profligate in the first half of his career, he soon improved to become one of the best bowlers in ODI history.

There are too many memorable moments from Binga’s career to recount here; but two stand out in my memory. One is that unforgettable Edgbaston match in 2005, where despite a defiant unbeaten 43, Australia fell short by 2 runs. The image of Flintoff consoling Lee was a reminder of the spirit which those two competitors shared. It is worth mentioning because it is rarely found these days. The other memory is when later that year, in a series against South Africa, he hit Kallis on the helmet with a bouncer and immediately ran over to him to check if he was alright. Next ball, a yorker crashes into the stumps. That incident showcased everything about Lee: a top human being who was also in complete control of his game.

Finally, it leaves the question of what kind of legacy he leaves behind. When he made his debut, he joined a bunch of ruthless star performers who maintained Australia’s hold on the top ranking. Now, he leaves behind a team struggling to fight its way back to the top. Still, if there is one positive going for the Aussies now, it is the promise displayed by the likes of Pat Cummins and James Pattinson. If Lee so desires, he can still play a major role in Australia’s resurgence by mentoring the young fast bowlers. Given Binga’s nature, that is not improbable at all.

Mark Boucher – He is Legend

Anything to do with Mark Boucher will never be straightforward.

He made his international debut thanks to a finger injury to incumbent keeper Dave Richardson.

He contributed to South Africa’s tragi-comic record in World Cups, when in the 2003 edition, he defended the last delivery of the final over in a rain-affected game, thinking that SA had done enough to qualify for the next round. They had actually needed one more run.

In 2006, he hit the winning runs in a record chase of 434 against Australia.

And most recently, he was forced into early retirement when a bail struck his eye and ruled him out of his final series.

In between, he has saved and won games for South Africa, played 75 consecutive Tests at one point and has taken a record 999 international dismissals as keeper.  More than all these, he has been a cherished team-mate, respected opponent and a loyal friend to many for the past 15 years. He was one of the last good guys in international cricket and with his retirement, the game has lost one of its most loved players. Here’s wishing him all the best for all his future endeavors.

Fighter. Champion. Legend. Mark Boucher.

The Wall That Stood The Test Of Time

Sigh.

The day has finally come. The day when I have to bid good bye to one of India’s finest cricketers and one of the world’s best batsmen, has arrived. His announcement doesn’t come as a total surprise, since we all knew it was going to happen sooner than later. Still, now that the moment is here, it is hard to let go.

There are already tons of tributes pouring in from former cricketers, team-mates, opponents, journalists and loyal fans; So, I’m not going to write a piece on why he is the great cricketer that he was; there are better people to write on that. What I want to do is, to take a trip down memory lane and recollect the way he affected how I followed the game over the last fifteen years.

June 1996

It was the year I discovered my love for cricket. My dad introduced me to the joy of the game, when he dragged me along to watch the 1996 World Cup on a friend’s telly; but India’s tour of England was the first time I got to see a Test match. It coincided with the debuts of future captains Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. Ganguly captured the attention of many with his regal stroke play, but it was the quiet class of Dravid with his correct technique and balance which marked him as the one to watch out for in the future. It was not going to be the only time, he would be overshadowed by his team-mates. Personally, I was in too much awe of Sachin Tendulkar (whom I discovered months earlier) to understand the quality of Dravid then; but that was his first step towards making of a legendary career.

May 1999

By now, I was a full on cricket fanatic, with up to date knowledge about the game and its players. When India departed to England for the 1999 World Cup, I did not hold much hopes for the team. The bowling attack was decent but not threatening and I wasn’t too sure of the batsmen apart from Ganguly, Tendulkar and Azharrudin. Robin Singh and Jadeja were the only two players in the team who could field decently, and Azhar was not too bad either. At that time, I had bought into the theory that Dravid could only bat in one gear and would be a flop in ODIs. That myth was totally shattered on May 26th, when India took on Sri Lanka in a league game. Once again, Ganguly grabbed all the attention with a blistering ton, but no less brilliant was an uncharacteristicly aggressive 145 by Dravid. That was the first time I realized that I was watching one of the finest batsmen in the game, who could excel in either format of the game. True to nature, he shifted the attention off himself by declaring Ganguly as the “God of Offside”.

March 2001

India were a middling Test side when Ganguly took over as captain and John Wright as coach around this time. So, when the Australians were in town, in the middle of a record making streak of consecutive Test wins, I didn’t give the Indian team much chance of stopping the Aussie juggernaut. To make matters worse, Anil Kumble was out injured throwing a spanner in the plans of the team management. Dravid and Ganguly were not in the best of touch either, placing a lot of pressure on Tendulkar. Sure enough, India were trounced in the first Test at Mumbai and halfway through the second Test at Kolkata, were staring at another heavy defeat when Dravid joined Laxman in the second innings. Everyone knows what happened after that. I remember watching the 4th day’s play with numerous other unbelieving school mates at the canteen, willing Laxman and Dravid to survive each over. The next day remains to date as the happiest I have been as a fan of Test cricket. Laxman and Harbhajan walked away with most of the accolades that day, but the cult of Dravid fans was born then.

August 2002

In a year where he scored 5 test tons, none were of more impact than the masterful 148 he scored at Headingley in challenging conditions against a disciplined attack. That knock ensured that India would win a Test match in England for the first time in 16 years. By now, nothing surprised me anymore. For all of Tendulkar’s brilliance, Ganguly’s grace and Laxman’s artistry, Indian fans grew to realize that for India to win abroad consistently, there was only one man you could bet your life on; and he rarely failed.

March 2003

Nothing epitomized Dravid the team player than the sight of him adorning the gloves during ODIs in the early 2000s. Before Dhoni exploded onto the scene, India were in a desperate search for keepers who could bat, and used Dravid as a stop-gap measure, particularly during the World Cup in 2003. To his credit, he never complained but accepted it as a challenge and did the job to the best of his ability. That is why it is all the more impressive that India managed to charge to the final without using a specialist keeper. Dravid never made the Indian fans miss a genuine keeper during that time.

December 2003

If ever there was a ‘Dravid’s match’, this was it. India were in tatters at 85/4 after Australia had scored a mammoth 556, when Dravid was joined by a familiar accomplice and proceeded to give the Aussies a tutorial in Test match batting. At the end of the innings, Dravid had scored 233 (which is my all time favorite Dravid knock) and kept the deficit to 33 runs. He was not done yet. After some Agarkar heroics, India were left chasing 230, and in one of the most important sub-century knocks ever played, Dravid led the way with an unbeaten 72 and took India to an historic victory. One of my enduring memories of Dravid will be the sight of pure joy on his face within seconds of unleashing the victorious shot. Ganguly might have inspired a generation to believe that Indians could win abroad but Dravid was the one who was walking the talk.

January 2006

While the keeper conundrum had been sorted out with the emergence of MS Dhoni, one of the remaining headaches was: who would partner with Sehwag at the top? Enter the man, who I suspect has a hard time refusing whatever the demands of the team management may be. He didn’t do too badly either. In 2006, he was part of a record breaking opening partnership with Sehwag as he made an entire legion of fans wonder what else could he do. It was also during this series, as captain, he made a bold decision in declaring the team innings over when Tendulkar was still on 194. Such was Dravid’s standing that barely anyone questioned his wisdom, despite Tendulkar’s murmurings after the game.

July 2006

The architect of historic victories in England and Australia next set his sights on the Caribbean. After three drawn matches, the curator for the final Test went overboard with his ideas for a result pitch. What resulted was a minefield of a track, where only the ones with best technique could survive. For Dravid, it was a pitch and match situation tailor made for him. Even as his team-mates came and went in a procession, Dravid soldiered on in both innings. The result was an historic series win for India. The days of India being poor travelers seemed a thing of the past.

March 2007

For one of the most cerebral thinkers of the game, Dravid never really excelled at captaincy. After all, to be a successful captain in India, one had to be cut-throat and willing to make harsh decisions which might not always toe the official line. No surprise then that for a gentleman like Dravid, it did not come naturally. He never really felt at ease as skipper and by the time India crashed out of the 2007 World Cup with the backdrop of player discontent and mutiny against the coach, one could sense that Dravid’s brief reign as the leader was coming to an end, mercifully.

April 2009

He could open the batting, stabilize the middle order, shepherd the lower order, keep behind the stumps in emergencies – what else could he do? He could also catch brilliantly at slip; he remains the only player to have taken more than 200 Test catches. Towards the end, his catching standards dropped; but some of the most memorable Indian catches in the last ten years figure Dravid among them.

August 2011

Towards the end of 2010, it was getting evident that Dravid’s powers were on the wane. The reflexes were slowing resulting in dropped catches as a fielder and more bowled out dismissals as a batsman. It was a sorry sight to see one of India’s greats fading away in front of our eyes. I, along with many others, felt that it was time for Dravid to hang up his boots. How does he respond? In a final burst of defiance, he got a second wind, and regaled us with some classic knocks of his. Nothing was more defining than the England tour, where he stood tall among the ruins and proved why the adage ‘Form is temporary, class is permant’ is so true. A century at Lord’s and few more stubborn tons adorned his final tour of England, from where he returned as the only person who could hold his head up high.

 January 2012

In a bit of irony, Dravid has left Indian cricket the way it was when he made his debut. The batting has gone back to depending on one man, and the bowling relies on one aging spearhead. The last memories of Dravid are of his stumps getting knocked over, however hard he tried to protect them. Still, one bad series cannot overshadow a glorious career in which he was responsible for some of India’s finest wins in history.

It is hard to put in words what I describe now. I have never known Test cricket without Dravid, and it is going to feel strange when India next take the field in Tests and there is no reassuring sight of him. Then again, he has taken the right decision at the right time for Indian cricket. For that, I salute him and wish him all the best for his future. Tendulkar might be India’s pride but Dravid will remain as one of India’s beloved sons.

Thanks for being such a great role model, champion. Take a bow!

A Letter to the Creaking Terminators

Where to now?

Dear Sachin, Rahul and VVS,

Hope you are all enjoying the pleasant Australian weather at this time of the year. It sure is a good time to take out the family on sight seeing visits or shopping trips, and I don’t half blame you for wanting to finish the games quickly, so that this can be accommodated in the schedule. After all, who needs 5 days when you can lose in 4?

Oh, I’m sorry. Did that sound too bitter? You will have to forgive me, as I’m not in a particularly good mood. Apparently, it was not enough that my favorite cricket team got whipped in the first two Tests of a much awaited series;  my favorite NFL team got knocked out of the play-offs today as well.

I digress. This letter is about you. More specifically, it is about your cricket. As you very well know, the series against Australia has not gone to plan so far. And that is stating it lightly. In any other time or era, that would have been accepted as standard fare; but in this series, we have had one of the most experienced batting line-ups in the world (barring number 6), a canny wicket-keeper/captain, a couple of talented spinners and a not too shabby pace attack led by Mr Khan. A lot was expected of you.

Instead, what we got was, embarrassing batting implosions, defensive captaincy, thoughtless bowling and ragged fielding. For a legion of fans who tune in to the game at odd hours and for a multitude of supporters who have invested so much in attending the games at the grounds, this is most disappointing. Again, note the understatement.

..and they all fall down

Now, when it comes to the bowling and captaincy, there is not much we can do. MS Dhoni is the best leader we have, for lack of viable alternatives. His captaincy can be defensive at times, but apart from hoping that he does a rethink of his strategies, there is nothing much one can do about it. As for the bowling, don’t get me started.

Gautam and Viru are an enigmatic pair. You never know when the mood strikes them, so that they will put on an attacking partnership and set up a platform for you guys. Don’t hold your breath though. As our dear captain likes to say, let us ‘control the controllables’.

That brings us to you – The Three Musketeers. Or as Rahul put it eloquently, ‘creaking terminators’. Sadly, you seem to be going out of your way to prove it. Not you, Sachin! You look in delectable touch. Rahul and VVS, you guys have contributed a couple of 50s, but it has not really inspired much hope for your supporters.

Now, I’m not going to rant about how you are pulling the team down, or anything. You guys are legends. You have served the team incredibly well over the last two decades. At the peak of your collective form, you were the envy of all opposition teams. Mammoth scores, incredible rear-guards, and thrilling chases (courtesy Laxman) were the staple diet which the cricket world got to engorge on, when you guys were in prime form. That is why, it is painful that it has to come to this.

You know, I was one of the innumerable supporters who rejoiced when the team won the World Cup last year. It was a victory that I will never forget. My dad’s generation has 1983, mine has 2007. Even then, I knew that only one event could complete the cup of joy for an Indian fan. A series victory down under.

When you guys lost in England, it was scarcely believable. It was not just the loss which hurt; it was the manner of capitulation, which was depressing to witness. Even then, we went along with the BCCI’s excuse list of injuries, insufficient practice games and seaming conditions. It was just bad luck, they said even as they quickly swept memories of the series under the carpet. Australia would be different, they promised.

We had a fully fit squad. Two practice games before the start of the Test series. The pitches were traditional Aussie pitches, but mostly without the lateral movement seen in England. To top it off, the first two days of the Melbourne Test promised so much.

Since then, it has been a depressing ride. While the opposition rejoices on its come-back men, new bowling sensation and  a leader who has enhanced his reputation with giant strides – we are left with nothing but pieces of our shattered expectations and fading memories of a batting order who once bowlers across the world used to dread. Where do we go from here?

Now, there are a lot of voices in the media (print, TV, social) calling for this player to be dropped and that player to be given a chance. Apart from providing a possible quick-fix, what would it solve? We might lose 2-0, 3-0 or 4-0. Ultimately, we are still leaving with a humiliating scoreline.

Now, knowing the BCCI and the selection committee, they will react to this result in the same way they did after the England tour. Putting it down to bad luck and concluding that it is a one-off phase – and with no away series scheduled till November 2013, they would feel very secure in the knowledge that they will be invariably right.

This is where you, giants of the game, have to take a stand. If the powers that be are not going to take the corrective steps that will benefit Indian cricket, then you guys will have to. You owe it to the fans, you owe it to yourself and most importantly, you owe it to the game. We don’t want our last memories of you as out-of-sorts veterans who didn’t know when to leave the game.

We are not asking you to retire en-masse; but we hope that you will formulate a phased out retirement plan among yourselves, if you have not done it yet!  Don’t worry about lack of worthy replacements. Thousands of runs and hundreds of match experience cannot be replaced overnight; but we are willing to lose for the initial few months with the inexperience of youngsters, if that will result in the Indian team regenerating a strong middle order in a few years’ time. And given that we have Che Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Abhinav Mukund and Suresh Raina chomping at the bit to be given an extended run, I can safely say that it shouldn’t take too long.

Sachin, you are in good touch. You have rolled back the years with some classic stroke play, and in many ways, it is the 90s again, with you standing among the ruins of another batting collapse; but even you know that you cannot go on forever. While it may be uncomfortable to face a future without playing cricket (after all, that is what you have been doing for more than half your life!), life isn’t too bad for former players. So, give it a year, and leave on a high. As they say, leave when they ask ‘why’ and not ‘when’. By the way, stop getting bogged down by a record that does not statistically exist, and get on with the business of heaping misery on Australian bowlers!

The Wall is losing one brick at a time...

Rahul, you are one of the last gentlemen cricketers of the game. You have endured criticisms and calls to quit, for most part of the last three years. This despite, scoring tons of runs in the last year, especially in England where you were the only Indian batsman whose reputation was left intact after a grueling tour. Then again, this series has shown that despite your hunger for runs and bloody determination to stay at the crease, the end is near. The mind is willing but the body is weak. Your reflexes have slowed down, resulting in a now familiar sight of uprooted stumps while batting and dropped catches while fielding. You are arguably the most sensible cricketer in the team right now, and you know that a decision has to be made in the bigger interests of the team. With no major away series for a while, it is up to you to plan a graceful exit. The Indian fans expect nothing less.

Very Very Shaky

Finally, VVS. The most graceful among them all. While Sachin has form to fall back on, and Rahul has the records in England to lean on, you have no such comforting stories. Yes, you did score a 176 in your last Test series and you are still the youngest among the trio; but take those two factors away, and your record, particularly in the last few overseas Tests are not encouraging. So, the money is on you to be the first to leave. You have served the team hard and long, but when it is time to go, it is time to go. Hopefully, you will make your last two Tests in Australia memorable and leave on a high.

So, that is what I wanted to get off my chest. I trust that you guys will do what is necessary to set the team off on what is going to be a long and painful journey back to the top of the rankings. Cheers and best of luck for the remaining games of this series.

Yours sincerely,

An Indian fan

 

Baby, please don’t go!

The final journey

As much as I think it was a mistake to recall Dravid for the ODI leg of the England tour, it is nice that atleast he got a chance to leave the shorter formats of the game, on his own accord. It won’t be long before he hangs his boots from Tests as well. Till then, play on Jammy!

Who the hell is Shoaib Akhtar?

It was early 1999, on one of those hazy February days when I was stuck in class, trying to follow the score of the ongoing Test match between India and Pakistan, surreptitiously through regular text updates which my friend was receiving from a friend of his who was watching the game from home. The inaugural game of the Asian Test Championship was taking place in Kolkata, closely following that magical Test in Delhi where Kumble picked all 10 wickets in an innings. It was the second day and India were batting after having bowled out Pakistan cheaply; Ramesh and Dravid were batting, solid as ever and I was hoping that India would end the day with a comfortable lead. I was just drifting off to a lecture-induced nap, when my friend nudged me and relayed the news that Dravid and Tendulkar were dismissed off consecutive deliveries by Shoaib Akhtar. I still remember my response – “Who the hell is Shoaib Akhtar?”

Over the next few years, Akhtar has shown me and everyone else around the cricket world, who he is and what he is capable of. Speed demon, prima donna, scandal magnet – he was a symbol of the unpredictable nature of Pakistan cricket. Controversies were never far away for most of his career, with a list that includes doping bans, complaints of poor attitude, indiscipline, and accusations of chucking, ball tampering, feigning injury, altercations with team mates and coaches, and even the indignity of a public announcement of his genital warts condition. Still, he found time in between these tumultuous incidents to demolish batting line ups whenever he was in the mood. With a long run up in those early days, the Rawalpindi Express would steam in, for what seemed to be like an eternity to the batsman, before delivering a thunderbolt, which if on target, would almost always knock the stumps out of the ground.

He was a visceral delight for any true cricket fan. Along with the likes of Lee and Bond, he was one of the few pace bowlers who could set your heart racing. The run up, the delivery, the airplane celebrations upon taking a wicket – they were all trademarks of a special bowler, who could have been much more if not for his fitness and discipline issues. Still, that was Shoaib Akhtar as the whole package. What you saw was what you got.

There were some memorable contests over the years. The 1999 World Cup, his battles with Tendulkar and Dravid, his frequent demolitions of New Zealand, the Colombo spell against the Aussies and much more.Over the last few years, his speed may have dropped off a bit, and he seemed to be bowling on crutches; but when he gets it right, like the Jayawardene dismissal a few weeks back, there is no better fast bowler in sight.

For me, there were days I wished he was an Indian, considering the lack of genuine speedsters in India. Looking around, many other countries might feel the same way. Except for Steyn and Roach, there is no out and out speed demon out there. There is a sea of fast medium bowlers, who need helpful conditions to be threatening; but guys like Akhtar, Bond and Lee in his prime, could take the pitch out of the equation with their pace. For the sake of more thrilling spells like the ones which we used to get from this trio, I wish we can unearth more genuinely fast bowlers in International cricket; and I wouldn’t be surprised if Pakistan produce such a bowler again!

So, thank you for the memories, Shoaib! Best of luck for your future engagements, and whatever you do, remember to play safe!

“How many diamonds can you retrieve from one single mine; there has to be an end somewhere. I don’t see any natural fast bowler after me.”