Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Beating Pakistan just isn't the same any more



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For those of us who watched "that shot" Javed Miandad deposited into the crowd off a Chetan Sharma full-toss; these 6 wins in the World Cup, starting in Sydney 1992 against Pakistan are sweet revenge.

You know...I want to feel that way but I don't.

Perhaps that sixer has already been avenged or it may never be. Try as I may, I do not believe India has won a one-day game; a final at that; in quite the fashion Javed Miandad did that day in 1986. May be Sachin's attack on Shoaib Akhtar at Centurion in the 2003 World Cup game comes a little close. Both were true assaults on the psyche of respective fans. But I'd have to get into the mind of a Pakistani cricket fan for a little while to know if those knocks are comparable.

But...I don't think "that shot" needs to be avenged any more....

Recent Indian teams, it seems, have the same attitude and skill that we envied about Pakistani teams of the 80s and 90s. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli are as Pakistani in the way they clinically chase targets or set them up that they could very well be the Javed Miandad, Ijaz Ahmen, Saleem Malik and Aamir Sohail from a generation ago.

But we don't have a Wasim Akram or a Waqar Younis or even an Aqib Javed....so any comparison to those Pakistani teams that traumatized us can only be a superficial search for a non existent symmetry,

Over the years Pakistan cricket has suffered. They no longer field teams like they used to in the 80s and 90s...even early 2000s. For that 2003 Centurion game, Pakistan had fielded a strong team. It meant something when India chased down that formidable total.

Compared to that game, the 2011 and 2015 wins seem facile.

Before the Adelaide game during the current World Cup it seemed this was Pakistan's best chance to finally win one against India. India had not won anything on the long tour and there were some doubts creeping in my mind if the reason for that was a weakness in the team exploited by Australian conditions.

The manner in which the game unfolded however and the meekness of Pakistan's fight makes that initial gut assessment look foolish.

While there is relief that India has won another game and the streak is still in tact, one cannot ignore the feeling of the win being facile. Moreover, recent trend holds no promises of enthralling contests like the ones in Sharjah 1986 and Centurion 2003.

There is no joy in beating Pakistan anymore because it seems to be happening so often these days and its hard to ignore that recent Pakistan teams are like poorly made Bollywood sequels of relatively decent-er originals.

Having witnessed West Indies's demise in its entirety, I fear that Pakistan cricket is headed the same way. The frequency of a new "fast bowling find" has drastically reduced and there is no batsman that has emerged in the last few years that can come even remotely close to the likes of Virat Kohli or Shikhar Dhawan. 






Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The World Cup



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The last people to let go of their old gods are the loyal priests. And Srinivasan is the latest example where the cabal most benefiting from his occupation of BCCI and ICC's chair is the one that's most quiet and protective of him. There is no doubt that its self-preservation at work because without these old gods, the priest would have to re-think their lives.

As painful as the saga of Srinivasan has been, it's been more painful to hear the deafening silence of the cricketing gods. India has perhaps survived for many centuries of conquests due to its ability to "shake it off" and continue as if nothing happened. And so we continue to indulge in navel gazing and waiting for the next puppet to emerge from the shadows. The heroes for many of these loyal priests seem to be the Putin-Medvedev combine and not the high standards set by Mandela or Washington. But it's dumb to even think that a man more or less accused of re-writing the constitution to suit his personal agenda would display any different behavior nor that his cabal would condemn it.

Its painful to hear Shastri, Gavaskar, Dhoni and others talk about BCCI and Srinivasan as being the same and pointing to high player salaries and perks as the justification for their enduring admiration. Is this what sport is all about now? Are our sporting gods all about this now? Do they believe that getting a fair deal is a blessing and that it's due to one individual? And that if Srinivasan were to be criticized or held accountable for over-reach, they would lose their pay? And so it's ok to cower in blackmail? What about the cricket? Is cricket in India beholden to one or two persons' largesse? Really?

And the Indian team is a clear reflection of what can be despite our administrators' best efforts to hog the limelight. I think Dhoni is a super player and a great captain. And I think Kohli is playing the brand of cricket that I hoped Tendulkar would always play. Kohli doesn't have Tendulkar's aura yet and he will likely never have that mystique due to the privacy that was dear to Tendulkar. However, Kohli with his public engagement and willingness to live life on his terms without any apologies is refreshing. I sincerely hope that people who don't like his brashness and are worshipers of humility don't trash him the moment he starts failing. He deserves as long a rope if not longer than what Tendulkar was given when his form slumped.

India has no bowling worth the name and it's batting is struggling to come to grips with Australia. While Rohit Sharma's form is a welcome sign, Dhawan hasn't produced a single meaningful innings in all his time in Australia. And without both openers being in form, India have no chance. Turning to Kohli or Dhoni or magic in every game isn't a formula for success. Rahane and Raina can add bulk but cannot turn games on their head. At best they are valuable supporting cast. The players that can take the game away from the opposition are Rohit, Kohli and Dhoni. These are the men that no one has answers for.

Pakistan is inspired and yet I don't see how they can topple this Indian team. But if Pakistan has had a better chance I don't know of one. India usually don't start well in such tournaments but this would be a home world cup for India given the amount of time they've spent in Australia.

This Pakistan team under Misbah is a team that I can like. Misbah, Afridi and Younis represent the three types of Pakistan teams that we've all come to see. Misbah is about the steel and pride that Zaheer Abbas and Asif Iqbal reflected, Afridi is the mercurial ability Inzy, Akram and Waqar played with and Younis is about the passion that we saw from Imran, Sarfraz, Miandad and Saeed Anwar. There is a certain beauty to Pakistan cricket that few teams can match.

I put India a nose ahead in this game simply because Indians have played a lot of cricket and don't usually need miracles to win games. They are experienced and know when to turn it on.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

World Cups in Australia



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Mahendra Singh Dhoni has had to resort to - "This is more or less the same team than won the Champions Trophy" and "These guys know how to deliver in ICC tournaments"... He is essentially pleading to keep the faith in his team. You surely can't expect him to say what he really thinks, which could be "How on God's green earth am I going to win anything worthwhile with this team"


A World Cup in Australia always seems enticing for an Indian fan. Memories of getting up early to watch Roger Binny take out David Boon, Azharuddin fielding like an international cricketer pulling off a catch at point and India winning the World Championship of cricket are still fresh. The few times India have done well in Australia somehow mask the routine mauling and disappointments India has been subjected to in Australia.

The last time too, in 1992, India had embarked on what Sanjay Manjrekar called "an endless summer". That world cup had ended in disappointment. Shrikanth holing out to Deepak Patel to that one fielder on long-on to start a must win game against New Zealand, Venkatapathi Raju celebrating too early and getting run-out going for a run that could have tied the game against Australia, rain ruining the game against Sri Lanka and Ian Botham taking out Sachin Tendulkar when he seemed set to take control of the chase...

The lasting images of that World Cup did not include many Indian moments. Inzamam's mauling of New Zealand, Johnty - the airplane, a Wasim Akram special in the final, New Zealand's innovations at the beginning of each innings; batting and bowling... 

That World Cup was also where 2 themes took birth. South Africa's emergence as a side that could find impossible reasons to lose a match they have all but won (The crooked rain rule cost India and South Africa games they should have won) and India never having lost a game to Pakistan at a World Cup.

Given how this Indian team has done so far on the tour, there shouldn't be much optimism to even match the performance from 1992. It seems that the fight India showed in the Test series was false advertisement for the World Cup.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The World Cup is providing diminishing value



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The format of this World Cup is such that it would be virtually impossible for India to not qualify for the Quarter Finals, 5 weeks into the excrutiatingly long tournament after an equally long winless series against Australia and England on this tour. It would be commendable if India go any deeper into this tournament 


It is sad how, over the years, the game has become lopsided in terms of distribution of sporting prowess. 



The West indies are a side in turmoil, where they have got themselves into a situation where they cannot send their best side. Pakistan seem to be stuck in the 80s; some may say England's too. The promise of Bangladesh now seems misplaced and Zimbabwe's political situation has left its cricket weak. Post 2003, World Cups have ceased to be truly open events and the decline of many teams has robbed the recent World Cups of a good amount of high quality competition.



Administrators may pat themselves on the back for maximizing their revenue streams, but for the average fan the World Cup is providing diminishing value. It is in the hands of sides like Afghanistan, Ireland,   Scotland and UAE to deliver that excitement in the early stages. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa seem set to do the same in the knock out stages. Pakistan having won the World Cup in Australia before, has to get a token mention as a dark horse, simply as a mark of respect for Imran Khan's triumph in 1992.



India is a side bound to be weighed down by the length of the tour and judicual proceedings at home and their World Cup may well end emotionally just as soon as it begins if the place where 'the streak' started also becomes the place where Pakistan finally win one against India. 




Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I think I know how Yuvraj feels



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Last year me and 2 very good friends; one of them Vidooshak; decided to train for and run the marathon. Like all feats of physical activity, running a marathon requires focus, training and serious amounts of motivation.

Each of us set goals, drew up training plans and went about the training in earnestness. Each of us was at varying levels of physical fitness and set our goals accordingly. I set mine to run a sub 4 hour marathon. Millions have finished marathons, but only about 20% of them finish within 4 hours. I had run 2 marathons before and I wanted to enter the somewhat elite club of sub 4 hour marathoners; so I could; with reasonable etiquette; look down upon the majority of ‘just finishers’.

My previous best marathon was a 4:39 when I was 10 years younger. I wasn’t in the mood for anything that would make my goal seem unreal. Plus this time I was going to train specifically to run fast, so this goal seemed logical to me.

To motivate myself, I started making public my goals to anyone and everyone who would ask; friends, family, acquaintances and eventually passersby and imaginary people. Among the close circle of friends this was a race between the 3 of us. I might have something to do with hyping it up. For weeks leading up the marathon, we made sure the conversation was running, how we were doing in training and based on our training time, who was the favorite to win.

We hyped it to no end. I did.

My training was all wrong. I convinced myself that training on inclines with heavy shoes would make me a stronger runner. That when I transition to lighter, minimal shoes as the marathon date appeared closer, I would magically be able to run 9 minute miles required to safely finish a marathon under 4 hours.

The epic day arrived.

Everyone who I remotely knew, knew was going for a sub 4 marathon and that I wanted to finish ‘first’ among the 3 of us friends.

I spotted the 3:55 pace setter and ran. Running Miles 1 through 10 was a breeze. I was feeling light, I was right on target pace and I was running without a care for the remaining distance. Then I felt a slight twitch in my left calf.

I ignored it.

At mile 13, I was slightly ahead of my target pace.  I thought the twitch was just a twitch. Sub 4 was a foregone conclusion.

A few hundred meters into mile 14, there were no twitches in my calf. It was a full blown cramp. I stopped, stretched massaged and off I went again; only for my right calf to cramp up. I hobbled a couple of more miles before I resigned myself to the reality that sub 4 is history.

By now I was walking

A few moments later it dawned on me…what a flop I was. After weeks and months of hyping this race, when it came crunch time, I broke down. I felt vain, defeated, stupid and above all a complete loser.

I eventually walked the second half of the marathon, with a finish time of 5:14. A full hour and 14 minutes more than what I wanted to do.

After I crossed the finish line, I remember thinking, may be this is how sportsmen feel when they fail in a big game. I was instantly more sympathetic towards them. I told myself I will be less critical of players who flop or freeze in crunch time. Will be less flippant about calling South Africa chokers, will be more sympathetic when a batsman does not deliver in face of a mounting asking rate.

Because, as Mahendra Singh Dhoni said, no one wants to do badly.

In my case, after analyzing my training, I figured that my approach was all wrong. Within 6 months I am ready one more time to have a second shot at a sub 4 marathon. This time I used a training plan from an expert.

No one can question Yuvraj’s commitment or earnestness. Neither can one discount the fact that his innings was one of the key contributing factors to India losing the finals.

When people criticize Yuvraj, they are not discounting his previous contributions. So Sachin, Harbhajan and company, please don’t recant his resume to us.

Ever since Yuvraj has returned from cancer treatments, I am not questioning his desire, his earnestness, his ability. I am wondering though if he has been given the right support to succeed.

Why Yuvraj failed is not Yuvraj’s problem alone. We somehow have to get his confidence back. A repeat of 2011 in 2015 is hard to visualize with Yuvraj sitting at home in India