The Lords of the Kings…

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The champions of the world

There are times when a few of my ‘not so cricket crazy’ friends ask – “How can a sport be so important to a country that it stops people from going to work and almost brings the entire nation to a halt”. I usually respond with a smile, frankly because i have no clue to the answer myself. Since i was a young boy, probably 6 years old, i have had this crazy obsession with the game, which has not faltered a bit, in spite of the trials and tribulations that Indian cricket has been through.

When i was young, my father used to tell me stories about the 1983 world cup – how the team qualified for the finals against all odds, and then how he turned off his radio set after India’s innings and then could not help himself and switched it on again and found India on the brink of a famous famous victory. The glint in his eyes and the expression on his face while narrating the story – priceless!!

Here is the thing with stories though, especially the unbelievable ones. If you have been a part of that story, and have witnessed it, you feel like telling it over and over again, and the spark in your voice never dies down. You want everyone to realize the importance of the moment when you witnessed a great thing happen, and you never get tired of it. On the contrary, if you were only 2 years old when the phenomenon happened, and have no memory of it, you would grow up looking for such a story around you and try to be a part of something that can be shared for generations to come.

My such moment has come…On April 2nd’2011, at around 11:00 pm in the evening, I was sitting with my hands folded and a prayer in my mind, in front of the television set, when the captain of the Indian Cricket team, Mahendra Singh Dhoni the magnificent, used the pretty version of the much hyped “helicopter” shot to dispatch Nuwan Kulasekara over the long on boundary for a six. A special six that was too, for it won India the Cricket World cup, a moment that entire country had been waiting for. I shouted, hugged my wife, danced, and almost cried with excitement. The story I was looking for was here, and no one could have taken that moment from me for I was there, I witnessed it, I saw my team win the cricket world cup. Unbelievable feeling.

The wait was well worth it. The scenes of jubilation, the tears of joy in the eyes of the players, the hugs, the shouts, the fist pumping, the cheers from the Mumbai crowd, the victory lap, the lifting of the trophy, the flowing champagne…aaah…indeed the wait was well worth it…

I’ll keep it short and not write about the various moments of the game, the ups and the downs and so forth, because they are already permanently etched in our minds for the rest of our lives, but there were a couple of moments from the after match celebrations that just blew me away:

1. When Sachin Tendulkar was asked about his 22 year long wait before he could actually lay his hands on the ultimate prize, he said “22 years haan…I dint give up, did I??” Awesome awesome…everyone can take a cue from the great book that Sachin Tendulkar is.

2. When Virat Kohli was asked about the gesture of carrying Sachin Tendulkar on his shoulder around the stadium he replied “He has carried the burden of Indian cricket on his shoulders for 21 years, the least we can do is carry him on our shoulders”. Take a bow Virat Kohli…you are awesome.

There are lords of the game and then there kings of the game…but I can proudly say that the Indian cricket team has proven themselves to be the “Lord of the Kings”. The ultimate prize is ours, the ultimate feeling is ours…thanks Team India…we are immensely proud of you.

And now as i go back to basking in the glory of the victory, something that i have not been able to get over yet, probably wont get over it anytime soon, i have only one thing to say  to the folks not yet around- “Be ready kids – daddy has a story to tell!!”

(Photo courtesy Cricinfo.com)

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Its fingerlickin good!!

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It sure is…30 days into the cricket world cup, we will now witness the real deal. The quarter finals are decided and India will be playing the not so mighty Aussies on the 24th Of March…National holiday anyone? Be there, glued to your TV screens wherever in the world you are; as they say “more power” to the men in blue, and you will all be needed to channel your energies for the game.

All in all, the eight teams expected to be in the quarters are eventually there. Some like England, have peaked with the better teams and proven their worth, while others like WI have gone in with no so many credentials having only beaten teams ranked below them. The fact is that each game in the quarters, given that its a knock out, will be a very different ball game. The pressure will be different because the stakes are the highest now.

Ah…i still cant believe that India is playing Australia in the quarters. In the game against the WI, when the opposition was almost running away with the games, eyebrows were raised on whether India did not want to face Australia in the quarters and hence are not performing to their fullest. Painful, as it was to watch WI dominate the game for the first half of their innings, frankly speaking Indian bowling has been pretty much the same all throughout this world cup. The problem I guess is with the mindset that a team ranked below us will not be able to beat us under any circumstance, a fact that was proven wrong by Bangladesh in the last world cup. So instead of doubting our team and our players, we should enjoy the game as it stands.

Coming back to the game against WI, i was quite keen on seeing India match up with the Australians. Come on now…An opportunity to knock the Aussies out of the world cup at an early stage has not come that often, and that too under home conditions. Of course, whats added fuel to the fire has been the Australia vs Pakistan game. The Ricky Ponting caught behind must be the most embarrassing moment of his career. It would be almost foolish to assume that Mr. Ponting had the fancy thought that the Pakistan team wont go to the third umpire for the dismissal, and that probably speaks much of his current condition. In that one instant though, UDRS convinced me of its usefulness. It will probably still be debated much, and will still produce occasional controversies, but there is no doubt that it will discourage folks like Ponting from trying to improve their batting form at any cost.

If any of you folks watched the Aus-Pak game, you would have also have heard the Ian Chappell rant against Shahid Afridi’s celebratory posture and almost everything about the Pakistan team in general. Its not unusual to see Australians start to point fingers on totally non relevant things, when losing, but Chappell’s commentary was almost close to total nonsense. As far as i can remember the Australians have tried every trick in the “How to play dirty cricket” book to win games, and although several Pakistan players have contributed to maligning the reputation of their team, it seems funny to hear an Australian complain about postures on the field. Its called gamesmanship when an Aussie does it, “friendly banter” in the expert’s language, but when someone else does it to them, definitions change. Funny, but not surprising, coming from the Aussies.

The other great debate that has sprung up in the last couple of games has been ‘to walk or not’ if the umpire does not give you out, but you know you are. Sachin Tendulkar walked, when the umpire did not give him out, and numerous TV replays could not confirm if he had nicked the ball. On the contrary, Ricky Ponting did not, argued with the fielders, the opposition captain, and then had to leave the field because the TV replays clearly showed that he had nicked the ball. A lot of my friends and people i know have made this instance into a glorification parameter for Sachin. I disagree on this subject a bit. For starters, Sachin Tendulkar now needs no comparisons with any Ricky Ponting or anyone else to prove his credentials and greatness in the game. Lets leave it to the people who still dont agree with his greatness do the stupid talk and then just laugh at them. I guess that’ll be sufficient. Secondly, i believe what Sachin did, goes on to prove that you need to keep improving as a cricketer. He may have walked or not when there was no UDRS, but with the system in place all you are counting on is a blind person in the third umpires seat to not give you out. I guess thats what Ricky Ponting hoped for; unfortunately for him though, it was he who was made to look like a joker at the end of it.

The Australia-India game will be one hell of a cricket match, given the history of these teams, and the sweet relations they share with each other. I can only hope that India brings their A game on the game day. It will be sufficient; anything less than that wont do…Fingers crossed!!

My world cup assessment

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Cricket - India

25 days into the world cup seems like a good time to compose my opinion and assessment on this mega event. The “not so interesting” matches are now almost over, and as far as the world cup is concerned, things should only look up from now on. Of course the way India has performed, i am having some serious apprehensions; in other words, some of my serious apprehensions have been confirmed.

I am sure almost all of you have some suggestions for our team, and i have been a personal witness to quite a few of those suggestions ranging from – “Dhoni should be chucked out of the team” to “Sachin should never score a century because India always loses when he does” (Gladly proven false here http://www.cricbuzz.com/cricket-news/38170/the-myth-about-sachin-ton-and-india-losing) . It always pleases the hell of me to see the passion that continues to flow through our heads and hearts when our team is down and doing ridiculously bad(ridiculous because i haven’t been able to explain it myself), and although the passion almost certainly comes out the wrong way, we would be the first ones to sit tight in front of the television, ready to waste another 10 hours, whenever the next game is.

Anyway, i’ll probably talk about the amazing Indian cricket fans some other time. I will use this space to express my thoughts on this world cup as it has happened, and a few predictions as well.

One thing i can say for certain is that after these 25 days no one team looks good enough to win the world cup, and i am not saying this just because India is not doing well. In the last 3 world cups, Australia were the firm favorites, right from the start. It used to be a question of who can perform better than Australia on a given day, and it had to be your day to beat Australia in a world cup game. Their unbeaten streak of 34 world cup games is a great testament to a super awesome team. And even though they may be able to achieve the same feat this time around as well, they are neither the favorites, nor do they look like the great team they once were. The hard part to digest has been how poor some of the other good teams have performed. And you only need the best out of bad teams to win the world cup.

1. England – ‘Strange’ is the only word i have for England. Their performance has been very unpredictable, which has partly made the matters for Group B extremely complicated. I dont believe i have seen a team do so well against the Number 1 and number 2 ranked teams and do so below par against the associate teams. Some people have attributed their loss to Ireland and Bangladesh to fatigue from the tough Ashes tour just prior to the world cup, but then their performance against South Africa and India was exceptional, so i refuse to accept that fatigue is the only cause for this erratic performance. It wont surprise me if they get their act together in the later stages of the tournament, provided they reach it first. Their last game against the West Indies will be interesting.

2. Pakistan – They have been good to say the least. Pakistan is not a side whom you will bet your money on, and their inconsistent style of play is almost a norm now. They are the ones who will surprise you any day with a fantastic performance and will similarly surprise you on another day with an equally bogus performance. My sympathies are with the team purely because every time they perform poorly, fingers are raised on their integrity and its not the easiest to continue playing well when half the world is blaming you.This inconsistency though makes them ever so dangerous and hot contenders for the world cup.

3. West Indies – A few good performances here and there, but definitely not the team that can lift the world cup. Their true test will be against the English and the Indians, and both the games should be very competitive given that India and England have put themselves in such terrible situations.

4. South Africa – I have personally never been a fan of the South Africans. The bias has nothing to do with the players themselves, but their commentators. I have written earlier about how bad these guys actually are; all they want is to keep proving how good South African team is, even before a ball is bowled, and their stupid analogies just makes TV viewing a painful experience. As far as the team is concerned, they are not the best in the world. Excuses about flat pitches and unfavorable environment (which practically all away teams are using), just prove that the team is good in only some circumstances and a fail in the others. If it were not for the almost maniacal performance from India last Saturday, it would have been easier to say that South Africans are not as threatening as they used to be earlier, but then that was not to be. Lucky days like that wont come that often, and i do believe that their performance against England was a better sign of their quality.

5. Sri Lanka – They have been good in the games against the associate teams, but their performance against Pakistan was not much to talk about. Their only real test was against the Pakistani team, and they failed miserably in it. Their last game against New Zealand may or may not be much to look forward to, but then the entire group A has been quite predictable, and so there is not much to talk about there.

6. New Zealand – Their performance against Australia was sad, and they almost always look like a one man team. Daniel Vettori unfortunately does everything for the team, and no one man can make you win the world cup. Not much expectations.

7. Australia – Aha, the favorite topic of so many Indians. Australia and India have such a great cricketing relation that many of the so called Australian experts seem to earn half their money by writing good or bad about the Indian cricket team, instead of acknowledging the decline in their own team. Fair enough though, the heart is where the money is. Coming back to cricket, as mentioned by me earlier, Australia are not ‘the’ team anymore, they are definitely a very good team, but not the best. The mere fact that they could not dismiss Kenya in a run chase of 324 says a lot of their bowling attack, and their batting though strong, is nothing to write volumes about. One thing is for sure though, whatever happens to them, they will find an excuse to blame it on something else. Clearly, resting too much has already started creating problems for them, something that the other captains would love to have. Their performances have not been great; they will be tested against Pakistan, if its not one of Kamran Akmal’s bad days, but the way all the other teams have been playing, Australia still looks a good contender.

8. India – Keeping the best [or worst 😦 ] for the last. India has been, if i have to summarize in one word “disappointing”. Their performances against the associate nations were not outright dominant, and against England and South Africa it was mindless batting that cost them both the games. I love the cool attitude of our captain, but there are times when it gets to me. I am sure they are planning for every game, but the execution, at least till now has been very bad. The game against South Africa was a sad sad display of how to lose a game after dominating it for 40 overs. Even for the most optimistic of guys like me, it was frustrating. I can deal with loses, no issues there,  i have a hard time dealing with self inflicted idiocies, and thats exactly what the team went through last Saturday. Only if Sachin Tendulkar could bowl, he would have almost single handedly done everything in that game, given that he batted out of his skin and fielded superbly. 20 long years of watching cricket, and there are times when the team takes you back to the era when only one man performed and the rest prayed they dont get to bat. I know its not true, but thats how one would feel given the way everyone batted in the game against South Africa. Now that they have put themselves in the precarious position of getting eliminated before the quarters, i hope India will get their act together, give a solid performance against the West Indies, and look like a team that can win the cup. They dont as yet, not at all. And please, someone has to tell Munaf and Nehra that getting hit for fours and sixes is no laughing matter, please introspect.

A word about the associate teams. They have been a revelation, an absolute pleasure to see Ireland compete so fiercely. Their game against England was one of the best i have ever seen. Goes onto prove that nothing is over until the last over. There is a strong case for minimizing the number of games in the world cup by not playing the associate nations, but some of them deserve due respect, and this world cup will be remembered for some of these instances.

Your take on the situation??

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