Dear Rahul (Dravid, not Gandhi)

Dear Rahul,

Yesterday you retired. You handled it like you did your batting –  direct, to the point and with all your heart. You answered questions on your future, the team’s future and your feelings like only a true gentleman could. You said you were sad to leave but proud as well. You have no idea how sad you have made us yesterday. You have not idea how proud we are of calling you our countryman.

I heard about you in the early 90s. Read about you in the Times of India, the only source of news to me during the pre internet times. I saw you for the first time on ESPN. They were showing highlights of a Ranji match you were playing for Karnataka (this was the time when ESPN used to show Indian first class cricket. Harsha Bhogle used to travel all over India to bring us these matches. Compared to it, the current Ranji coverage can be safely called rubbish). I saw you toying with the first class attack and thought, “another of those flat track bullies.” But then I heard Bhogle raving about you and calling you India’s future. Something I heard a lot of times during that period.

Your ascent to international cricket was slow as per your die hard fans. Neutral fellows like me were kept wondering what the fuss was about. To the relief of your fans, you were finally picked. However you were restricted to the coloured clothing variety of cricket for the time being. You played your first match against Sri Lanka in Singapore of all places. You had developed a bushy moustache at that time which made you look older than you were. Your first scoring shot was a fine cut against one of the SL spinners. A cut so precise that it led to considerable praise from the commentators, praise too high for a single. You were out for 3 and India won a close match by 12 runs. However what stayed with me was that cut.

You then came to notice in England where you made 95 runs in your debut Test inning. You may have got overshadowed by Ganguly. You may have played a bit slow. I do not know as a stupid dispute between ESPN (which chose the England series to become the first ever paid channel in Indian history) made me miss that series. The highlights do come but your innings are best seen in full, not in precis.

You then made your presence felt in Canada (India played too many useless ODI matches in non Test playing countries during those pre IPL days.) You made 39 runs in the first ODI in challenging conditions. The second ODI saw you build a big partnership with that flawed genius Azhar. Both of you exhibited contrasting but no less alluring wristplay. It was lovely. That India lost due to the wristplay of another flawed genius Salim Malik was not important. You then played a brilliant inning in the 3rd match where the pitch was at its dirtiest. You made 46 of 93, a tally which in today’s hyper charged times would invite boos and catcalls. In those circumstances, it invited a Man of the Match award and high praise from His Awesome Highness, Sir Garfield Sobers. That recognition did it for me. I was your fan. 

You next shone in South Africa, the first overseas assignment as captain for SRT. The South Afrcan side, bruised by the defeat inflicted by India in India a few month earlier had let loose their fast bowlers on you and your team mates, helped by the green pitches prepared there (not complaining since the earlier series had seen spinners’ paradise). You showed your mettle by making 27 not out out of a total team score of 66 in the 2nd inning of the 1st Test. You showed even more skill by belting a magnificient century, your first, in the 3rd Test. You contributed to India’s finest performance in an overseas Test in a long time. You were to make that a habit. That tour also featured a brilliant sixer off a Donald rocket from you. A shot which stunned the normally silent White Lightening into becoming a South African version of Glenn McGrath.

You continued with your merry ways, battling adverse conditions with the straightest of straight bats, playing with zen like patience in the most challenging of situations and behaving like a gentleman while going though all this. You had your bad days. You were dismantled by the Aussies in 99/00. However we all still had faith in your abilities.

You had a second coming in THAT Eden Gardens match. You silenced your critics by forging with VVS a partnership that was a longer uncut version of those partnerships with Azhar in Canada. And million times more valuable. When you reached your century, you showed a bit of outward aggression for the first time ever by pumping your fists and pointing towards a section of the crowd. You have always been an inwardly aggressive type. A type seen just by looking at your eyes when you were batting. An aggression which must have sent a chill down the spines of your opponents.

You were a committed team man. You took up wicket keeping in ODIs when it was required to maintain balance. Your selflessness was the main contributor to India’s dream run in that period which culminated in a fine performance in the World Cup of 2003. You were the unsung hero for me then. Again.

You excelled in overseas Test after 2002. You led the Indian charge in England with that 148 in Headingley. You followed it up with a double at the Oval. You then dismantled the Aussie bowling in Adelaide. You were a fixture of those path breaking wins. You were awesome.

Your 270 in Rawalpindi was an example of grit overcoming any odds. You were scrappy during that inning. But you had a job to do. And by God, you did it. You were Godlike.

You took up captaincy during the Guru Greg phase. You went along with his ideas. You were hated by many Indians for the first time in your life. You took it in your stride. You led a disastrous WC 2007 campaign. While we may fault your tactics, we never doubted your sincerity. Your expressions during the loss to Sri Lanka were heartbreaking. You took the loss a bit too personally.

You led India to series wins in England and West Indies, the first wins in many decades. You led India to the first Test win ever in South Africa. You then chose to quit captaincy. It takes balls of steel to relinquish power. You had them. 

 Even after leaving captaincy, you gave your all. Chinks were developing in your armour. You slip catching became a bit dodgy. You found runs a bit harder to come. But you still carried on. There was a job to do. A fortress to protect. You kept giving your 100%.

You excelled in England (again) in 2011. While the rest crumbled around you, you kept on standing. You handled your return to ODIs and selection for the T20I with a dignity only you could show. You showed us what a role model should do.

Australia 2011 was like the worst nightmare. The team failed. And you too. The chinks in the armour had become more prominent. And they were magnified by some great bowling of Siddle and Co. We knew that you knew your time on the field was coming up.

As you sat in that press conference being yourself, all these thoughts kept swimming in my mind. The journey you undertook and which I had the privilege of witnessing, initiated by that Ranji match highlights, started when I was a boy not yet in my teens. I grew up as you grew up in international cricket. You have been the role model I have always wanted to emulate. Your absence on the field will always rankle me from within. Test cricket without you is unimaginable.

Anyways, now is not the time to worry about the future of Indian cricket. It is the time to celebrate you, dear Rahul. You have given me enough joy, enough lessons in life and enough good memories to last a lifetime. For that, thank you sir. 

 

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When Shastri met Kenny.

When Shastri met Kenny.

This is what I thought would happen when the King of Cliche got stuck (like a tracer bullet in a wall) in an elevator for 1 hour. Elevator, the Realm of the G – Kenny G!!

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04/03/2012 · 2:53 pm

All hail Exit Polls

Today we saw the results of Exit Polls for the state elections which just concluded yesterday. The methodology of these “polls” is simple – take a sample of constituencies, take a further sample of polling station in those constituencies and take an even further sample of voters in those polling stations and make them do dummy voting. The results are then extrapolated and estimates are made. You could see how it can never go wrong.

As we have been taught in school, India is a land of diversity. This in addition to making it a fascinating place makes it a very frustrating place for researchers who specialize in surveys based on random sample. How do you decide on a representative sample taking into account all the caste, regional and occupational equations in this country?

My first exposure to such exit polls was in the 1997 general election. For Tamil Nadu, these polls indicated a landslide victory for the DMK TMC (Tamil Manila Congress, a splinter party then. Now merged back with the Congress. I guess.). The actual results showed a landslide victory for AIADMK. One jubilant AIADMK member said “these people doing exit polls should exit the business of doing exit polls.”

Exit polls are like dress rehearsals. Pundits discuss them as if their accuracy was a 100%. Then when counting began, the real discussion begins. Invariably the exit polls would be off in certain critical areas and the panel then has to improvise. Many a times you have the exit pollers on the panel trying to explain where they went wrong. If at that time, a person from the party which was written off in the Exits and are actually now winning is also on the panel, you get to see some hilarious exchanges all about “Na na na na na na, you were wrong, we rule (literally and figuratively”.

So why this huge hoo haa over Exit Polls. Mainly because it is something differant. Our news channels love elections. The amount of coverage the BMC elections got was itself too much. The battle for the states has been going on not only in the states but also in the studios. The ancors have been repeating the same thing (Rahul Vs. Akhilesh, Maya ka Jaadu, manifesto torn, reservation, quota, President’s rule) ad nauseum. In all this Exit Polls come as a breath of fresh speculative air.

So we have on 1 channel Arnab the Great bellowing on air asking the SP whether they have opened back channel talks with the Congress. SP you see is winning 180 odd seats as per the exit polls. The way he says it, it seems actual counting is just a formality. Also he thinks that his badgering will make the politicians reveal their strategies. Then we have Rajdeep Sardesai asking philosophical questions on whether Rahul Gandhi effect has been null. A day ago, the same channel was calling him the game changer. Again, all this based on a survey of not more than 5% of the total voting population.

Day after tomorrow, we have the real counting. The votes that matter will be opened, tagged and aggregating to give us the winners of the hundreds of seats in contest. This will be the real thing. We will again have the same discussion as today. The same words will be repeated. News will be broken, exclusives will be captured. And today’s drama will be forgotten. By all except the exit pollers. Their bloody lives run on days like today.

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Arnab

Arnab

My computer crashed when I was working on this picture. Even machines cannot take the load of Anab’s outrage.

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03/03/2012 · 11:24 pm

I am back – hopefully, maybe.

It has been a while. Got hooked to Twitter, started taking shortcuts via Facebook notes, did idle surfing instead of writing, etc., etc. Until today. The spark for the same was my better half objecting to my favourite excuse when asked by people on the dormant blog – “Since marriage, no time to blog.” She asked me in her own sweet but terrifying way whether she had at any time objected to my spending an unhealthy time “Wiki”ing stuff, tweeting smartass crap, reading blogs and following cricket via net while simultaneously watching it on TV. It opened my eyes. 

So starting today, I aim to be a little more regular (of course compared to last year, the “little more” is not at all challenging) and also a little less rambling (which as you have seen from the earlier sentence and even this bracket is infinitely more challenging). Am not betting when my nex post is going to be. However one thing is for sure.

The next time I will have to give another excuse. 

 

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Controversially Yours – More like “Potrait of the Express”

Spot the differance One always pictures ghost written autobiographies going through a particular development process – The subject gets one draft ghost written and submits to the editor to go through. The editor goes through the draft and sees if there is adequate material which if leaked can cause enough uproar to
1) Generate free publicity to make genuine readers know about the book
2) Make the non readers curious so they buy it just to see if there is more such baring of the soul.
If not, he must ask the subject to add some masala, some hook to attract more sales.

We saw this with Adam Gilchrist’s book. Selective passages related to the Indians were leaked in India, caused uproar and must have spiked the sales. Fair enough. Here the process must have been different. The editor on receiving the draft instead of suggesting additions must have requested, nay, pleaded to the Speedy One to REMOVE certain objectionable content so as to not attract a case of libel. For Shoaib has written this book as he used to bowl – In your face with the intention to hurt.

To his credit, Shoaib starts the book with a very nice and sensitive retelling of his childhood days. He talks about the poverty and the compromises his family had to do to make ends meet. Here we find a very humble Shoaib describing his childhood with a lot of respect given to his parent, siblings and friends who never ceased to support him. Even in this phase we get glimpses of our preening peacock with exclamations of “I’m gonna be a star” and his long sessions on “Shoaib’s thinking stone”. But it is lesser and leads you to think of an additional dimension to the personality of this enigma.

He talks of his struggling days in a filmy manner – after all for him, this is the first act of a Hindi film, the struggle of the star. He thinks of him as a hero in the film. Heck, he even compares his eyes to that of Salman Khan. He talks of sleeping on the footpath before the trials for his first employers. Here we are supposed to go “Oh, this guy has slogged to get what he has!! Applause.” but again the cocky manner in which he goes through this passage puts you off a little.

On getting his first job, Shoaib loses whatever humility he has mustered while narrating. Here he turns into a pissed off snake and starts hissing and spitting and lunging towards all his enemies, real and made up. He blames his employers for not supporting him during the Karachi riots. He talks of unpaid dues and non selection to matches. He talks of the angst of being wronged. He goes melodramatic. He leaves his job, gets selected to represent a Rawalpindi team and unleashes hell on his ex team members by yelling at them. And his international debut is yet to come.

He talks of his debut and the poisonous atmosphere in the dressing room. He fires his first shots against Wasim Akram by implying that he was threatened by his presence. He does not spare the rest and gives the feeling that from the beginning he was his own man in the dressing room. He talks of being dropped, then being bought back due to Waqar being dropped. Here too he burns Akram by crediting his politics for getting Waqar out. Not that he spares Waqar. He gives Waqar the treatment later. He talks of Eden Gardens and his head turning two deliveries. he then goes into 1999 World Cup calling himself the MVP even though Saqlain, Akram, Razzak and Mahmood took more wickets and conceded lesser runs. He strangely does not give his wicket tally.

He talks of being banned for chucking, the entire machination which led to him being recalled and the testing process on Australia. He blasts the PCB for almost giving up on him. The testing process is a good read and gives some great insight on the entire throwing issues.

Shoaib has targeted everyone who came his way during his international career. He has this schizophrenic way of first belittling someone and then praising him. He talks famously of SRT not being a finisher and then praises him by saying he has developed his finishing game in the last 3 years. He disputes Dravid’s match winning skills ignoring the 2002 – 2004 phase where every Test win had a Dravid masterclass behind it.

Even in the games he played, he displays selective memory. During the 2004 ODI series he says that the bowlers did a great job in the 1st ODI. 344 runs in reply of 349 runs is not the result of a good job by the bowlers. He barely mentions India’s historic victory but whinges about being accused of faking injury in the 3rd Test match. He claims of not being able to bat in the match. However everyone saw him hitting sixes in that match showing no discomfort. Only discomfort was in the eyes of a visibly furious captain Inzamam Ul Haq. Maybe our eyes were deceived.

In fact in the entire book, the only stats mentioned are his bowling figures when they were good and the blasted speed gun. Ahh, the speed gun. I have never seen so much ink being spent on describing the speed gun and its results. The man is obsessed with it. More than 70% of his coverage of the 2003 World Cup is spent on that delivery bowled to Nick Knight which clocked 100 miles. The fact that Pakistan lost the match is glossed over. He even gets a quotation from Knight where he says he was scared like shit while facing the ball. Funny, I saw that match and Knight had played that ball with the minimum of fuss. In fact some of the quotes of opposite players that Shoaib comes up with are unintentionally hilarious.

He then reaches the phase where he used to be rested more than played. He plays the wronged hero again and again. At this point you want to yell, “Enough of it!! Who told you to bulk up like a mad man and put more pressure on your brittle bones?” He offers explanation for that too saying the muscles supported the bones. If that is the case, bodybuilders should be able to bowl 100 miles all the time.

He has some good words for Bob Woolmer and explains his entire pushing saga as a misunderstanding. He evidently has respect for the man and credits him (a little) for his good show against England in 2005. Here too he whinges at not given the Man of the Series forgetting the awesome display of batting by the actual winner.

He then whinges more, does some politics and tries to get in the team. He gets picked for the final phase of his career, gets dropped for doping and then hitting Asif and then, more whingeing.

He witnesses the spot fixing from a distance, expresses disappointment over the juniors and brands Asif as a criminal. Then comes the World Cup 2011 and his announcement to retire. He then expresses disappointment at being benched forgetting the awful bowling against NZ. He gets piqued over sitting out for Wahab Riaz against India. He sees Pakistan lose and declares grandly that result would have been different had he been picked. Forgetting that Wahab took 5 wickets. Forgetting the 2003 shellacking. Forgetting a rampaging Sehwag. Forgetting…forget it, you get the picture.

His last chapters are over miscellaneous thoughts he could not talk about earlier in the midst of bashing all and sundry. Here we see a grown up side of him. His thoughts on handling fasties are more an open application for a fast bowling coaching job. Even then there are some candid thoughts. He admits of being a rebel without a cause, of being a maverick. not in these words. Because what is Shoaib if he starts owning up.

I genuinely feel that reading this book gave me a great insight into the mind of this unique person. This book showed the vulnerability, the megalomania, the insecurities and the bravado of the man we know as the Rawalpindi express. Read it just to get a peak into his mind. What you read may not be 100% accurate. However it serves as a mirror to the mind of Speedy One.

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Random Thoughts

1) While Arundhati Roy grates on the nerves and has views which are half baked and diisturbingly anarchic, threatening her with the Sedition Act is not done. We are a democracy and freedom of speech, however idiotic, disturbing and perversely funny the speech may be, should be protected.

2) The great thing about India’s performance in the CWG was the success of the women, specially those from Haryana. What was not great was the utterance of the father of one such winner about killing her if she deviated from “tradition”. Listen you bloody chump and those from your ilk – your daughter has achieved more than you and a thousand sons of your bloody “biradiri” have and ever will. Wake up from your tradition fueled sleep, take off the “izzat” tinged blanket and for God’s sake, fucking grow up.

3) In my home state, a curious little scam involving allocation of prime real estate at a pittiance to influencial parties is being unearthed. What is significant is the name of dear ol’ Ashok Chavan, the Maharashtra CM being taken as one of the beneficiaries. This following the sting operation where it was alleged that CM Chavan “raised” Rs. 2 crores for a rally being addressed by adarniya Soniaji. Talk about good fortune!! Foul play, doesn’t it look like?

4) My current hobby before sleeping is browsing the Pakistani news sites for their opinion pieces related to India and the US. The vitriol being spewed in the name of unbiased editorials is funny in a perverse way. The country is a tinpot “democracy in name only” running via remote control which is in the hands of the uniform wearers. Its financials are in doldrums and its economy is in a precarious state. It relies on the US for survival. The US in turn does its typical dadagiri. The editors forget the US aid and focuses only on the dadagiri. The tone of these US related articles is such that the aid portion takes one or two lines while the “jyaagti”, the “imperialism” portions take thousands of lines. Hey people, you invited Uncle Sam in your territority in return of roti, kapda and makaan. Now do not complain what they do to you in return. Then there is the India bashing. Anything and everything is blamed on India, specifically RAW. The name of RAW is invoked with sheer disgust. Never knew our faction ridden intelligence agency is this good.

5) The Ashes beckon. THe English are overly confident of their chances. They have had a string of good result. Conversely, Australia are in a relatively bad portion. The English say that the Aussies are at their weakest having lost 3 Test matches in a row. However if one looks a little more closely, it does not seem that simple. England’s successes have all come at home. Australia’s defeats have all come overseas. Australia has lost only one series at home in this decade. That loss was against South Africa with the scoreline of 2-1 in a 3 Test series. The teams had then played another 3 Test series in South Africa where the Aussies whacked the Springboks 2-0. So, I would never bet against the Aussies in a 5 Test series at home.

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