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“Imperfect”, a book review

 

Books related to cricket, and the people involved in it, are unfortunately usually boring. I have read autobiographies of many famous cricket stars, but haven’t really found them engaging. You tend to start the book with much enthusiasm and then feel like it is letting you down by the time you get to the middle, and then you labor through to get to the end of it, if at all.

Those are a few reasons why I found, Sanjay Manjrekar’s autobiography, Imperfect, different. Sanjay Manjrekar, once a cricket star who was destined to make a mark in the world of cricket, now an accomplished commentator and analyst, has been a bit of an enigma for me. Sanjay came into the cricket scene before we knew that the greatness in Sachin Tendulkar will eclipse all other cricket topics in India. The era after Sachin’s appearance is all about Sachin, but Sanjay was someone who had the mantle before him. As far as I can remember, he was the one who was supposed to be the next “star” of Indian cricket. Everyone wanted him to succeed, he supposedly had one of the best batting techniques of his time, and he came into the team just at the right time, a time when India needed stars.

His autobiography is almost like an explanation of why all of this did not happen. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand why he did not achieve the success, everyone else thought he should have. I had so much fun reading the book, that I ended up finishing it in 2 days. That’d be the fastest I have read average length books, but it goes to show that the I related to it more than I do with some other books of the same genre. Anyone who grew up in the nineties, and watched India get battered all around the world, with inconsistent performances, illogical plays, and just the lack of intent overall, would enjoy the book because it gives you a sneak peek into why some of that may have happened.

The book can be divided into 3 distinct parts, each of them telling a different story about Sanjay’s relationship with the game.

The preparation years: They say that some people are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them, and some cannot manage greatness because they do not understand the real motivation behind it. Sanjay explains why he got involved in cricket, his real motivations behind playing the sport, his strange and strained relationship with his father and everything else that was part of making him a great ‘average’ batsman. His honest take on why he never felt passionate about scoring runs like Sachin did, but always looked for greatness in technique is a lovely yet uncomfortable glimpse into the mind of a troubled cricketer, whose motivation to play was never the love of the sport itself. I enjoyed the fact that he is blatantly open about the demons in his mind, that led to the way he played the game.
The cricketing years: Some of the most interesting incidents of Indian cricket have been highlighted in his narrative of his own cricketing years representing Mumbai, and India. The “Mumbai” school of cricket, which is not that dominant in Indian cricket now, has been passionately spoken of, and reading it you realize why Mumbai kept on producing brilliant cricketers for India for so many years. It was not only the quality of the individual but also of the system in place coupled with seniors and coaches who wanted success for those involved. It was an absolute revelation to read about all this. Sanjay’s description of why playing for Mumbai was tangentially different from playing for India, the cultural differences of players from different zones, and the senior-junior differentiation in the dressing rooms, is a perfect explanation for why the team played poorly in that era, and only sometimes showed the glimpse of brilliance, that too because of individuals. Reading his narrative made me feel that it was not really a team rooting for each other, but a bunch of talented cricketers who wanted to perform well individually. In a team sport it never works out that way, and the results India had in that era proves this.
The broadcasting years: Perhaps the most interesting and insightful part of the book is Sanjay’s transition from a novice commentator to a well-respected cricket analyst and lead broadcaster. It is not only Sanjay’s individual journey that makes for an interesting read but also his in-depth explanation of the nuances of television broadcasting, the anecdotal stories of his engagement with fellow commentators like Tony Greig, Imran Khan, Ian Chappel and of course Navjot Singh Sidhu, that makes the reader feel immersed. As someone who had no clue on how the cricket broadcasting works, how the pre and post-match shows are so perfectly executed, and how does everyone sitting in those rooms sound so intelligent, the book is a sort of guide into that world. It is fascinating to read about just this part, and I would think it can be made into a book by itself.
Like I said, as someone who grew up in years where explaining why India is such a poor, disintegrated team was difficult, this book offers some of those answers. Also, for someone who wants to understand why Sanjay Manjrekar never achieved greatness, I believe the author has opened up their soul and provided the answers. Anyone with similar interests will definitely enjoy reading this book.

 

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My weekly rant – Where did you learn your skills, Mr. Commentator?

I am writing this in the backdrop of the on going cricket series between India and SA. Things have gone beautifully for India, and although it could have been so much better, i still feel very pleased that our team has not succumbed to the pressure of their horrendous past performances in South Africa.

Notice how i did not use any other factor when mentioning the ghosts of what India has underachieved in South Africa in all of their previous tours. We were so used to hearing “They are a bunch of very talented players, but …..”, and the ‘but’ inadvertently was about embarrassing losses on the foreign soil. In the past few years, specifically in the Ganguly and the post Ganguly period, Indian cricket has evolved big time. One of the factors why things have worked out well for the Indian cricket team has been an excellent mix of experienced and good young players, but more than that its been the victories on the foreign soils that have made the team confident, resilient and very competitive. Sure there have been incidents where the team has gone down like a house on fire, but they have been way less in numbers than what it used to be.

That is precisely the reason why i find it surprising when the rest of the cricketing world, especially the part which considers its teams to be the best, has a hard time coming out of the past. A certain Mr. Shaun Pollock , now a part of a very biased South African commentary team absolutely gave no chance to the Indian team post their massive loss in the first test in Durban. It looked like the South Africans had already assumed that they will win the series hands down. Throughout the first game i was hearing the splendid team of Protean commentators harp about the excellent bowling attack they have, and the so called “bounce” factor which the Indian batsmen wont be able to handle. I used to think that it was the Aussies who were the most touchy feely about losing in their own backyard, but to my surprise the South Africans are probably a notch higher. Without exception, a stroke from the SA batsmen was the classiest shot, and the best shot from an Indian was a loose ball from the SA bowler. A huge nick from the SA batsman was “maybe out”, but an LBW shout from the SA bowler “had to be out”.  It looked like the commentators wanted the SA team to win more than the 11 players on the field did.

More than enough reason why i got a bit of “wicked” satisfaction, when India absolutely plastered SA in the second test match. The infamous “bounce” and the solid “batting line up”, just did not work for the Proteas, and neither did the blatantly biased commentary from the Jackmans and Pollocks on air. The third game, was farcical. The South Africans, with the help of some pretty inept bowling from India, kept batting on and on until the game almost lost all its meaning. I would have expected a team which was so sure of “sweeping” the series to be a bit more confident in their own bowling, but that was not to be. SA gave India less than a day to chase more than 300 runs, and absolutely killed the spirit of such a wonderful series. So much for having the best bowler in the world in your team.

After all this i would have assumed that the commentators must have learnt that playing against the number 1 test team and the number 2 One day team in the world is no joke and cant be taken for granted, but to my surprise even the One-Day International series is following a pretty similar pattern. India lost the first game, and it made the SA commentators think that their team (number 4 in ODI rankings) is suddenly the best one day team. What they forgot was how cool a game cricket is and how quickly does it leave you flabbergasted on your knees. Game 2 and 3 of the ODI series were a clear indication, that accompanied with a bit of luck, and lots of resilience you can win from almost any situation. India proved that they are worthy of all the rankings they hold currently. A team of very good players will not alone win games for you, its how long you can hang in there, and keep fighting even when the circumstances are against you, that will do the job. I am not saying that India does it all the time, but i am sure that South Africa practically never does it in pressure situations, which has earned them the infamous “Chokers” tag.

An incident in the 3rd One Day game absolutely proved how biased these SA commentators are. At one point in time, when India were pretty much in an advantageous position, they flashed a statistic about the ODI rankings of all the countries. Here is how the dude explained it “If South Africa win the series 4-1 they will replace India and become the number 2 ranked team, but if they win 3-2 or if the series is drawn, no change of positions will happen”.  I mean what the heck. They did not even bother to consider a scenario where South Africa could lose this series, by any margin whatsoever. Dumb confidence or just plain idiocy.

The One Day series is still wide open. India do have an advantage, but its still ‘game on’. As much as i like to see a great game of cricket (which India wins 🙂 ), i would also like to have an unbiased team of commentators providing their thoughts on the television. That has been the only sour grape for me in this otherwise wonderful contest between 2 very good teams.

back again!!!

Hey there..i am back again in some sort of writing mode and maybe this time, just maybe this time, i will not let the mode swtich off as frequently as it has happened to be before..but what the heck, lets talk some blogging…

So i have been reading this book written by Scott Adams called “Get back to drawing comics, monkey brain”. I have always admired Mr Adams quite a lot, more because of his terrific sense of humor and perfect timing, but maybe a little also because he is one of my species (the cubicle dwellers) who have managed to break the spell of the comfort fairy that exists in those cubicles. This book, unlike many of Dilbert’s adventures, is actually an account of the author’s blogging talent, and i am sure most of it is taken from real world scenarios and events that happen around him. Incredibly though, Mr Adams does manage to pack a punch in the blogging arena as well. The daily accounts of his life, work and lots of other things are very good to read. (i am pretty certain that he makes us read the funny part only).

Reading the book i felt as if Mr Adams is leading quite a interesting life and that the career option that he chose when he quit working under his “pointy haired boss” (believe me, everyone has one of those), worked out pretty nicely for him. Makes me wonder sometimes, what i would do if i had to go for a career switch. Maybe i will be a sports commentator; i can use my immense blabbering talent along with the little knowledge i have about sports, and survive alright. In returns i would use this opportunity to travel places and fly first class on my companies expense (that would have to be a pre-requisite). I have never actually travelled first class, but every time i have passed the first class cabin, i find people pretty happy in there. The air hostesses treat them well; i think they get to drink more than their less privileged economy class co-passengers, and i have a sneaky feeling that the one air hostess who serves them behind those damn curtains, is the best looking amongst the lot. Dont quote me on any of the above statements, like i said i have never been there; its all in my mind.

I just hope to avoid my arch nemesis in the new career that i have been talking about; yep that same old “pointy haired boss” is very likely to exist in this new job of mine as well. Its also highly likely that he decides to send me to cover games which are not too significant, places which are not too interesting, and of course airlines with not too good a taste of either liquor or air hostesses. To avoid any of the above from happening maybe i will have to be a ‘yes man’ nodding my head like an idiot as he launches a full blown plan for my schedule, hoping that my colleague gets to cover the games that no one bothers about and i get the ones which are eye candies. I would also be trying very hard to get to cover games with him, knowing fully well that the best is all saved for him.

Huh..i already see a pattern developing here..this is no different from what happens everyday in what i do…i must look for a better option, but maybe some other time..the sleep fairy is waiting for me…and incidentally i like sleeping more than i like to think…