Featured

“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.

 

Advertisements

What Sachin Tendulkar means to me…

Sachin

So it has happened eventually. Sachin Tendulkar has announced that he will no longer play international cricket after the 2nd game against the West Indies, which will also be his 200th test match. A lot has been written since the announcement was made with articles ranging from favorite moments of his career to what he means to the game of cricket. There have also been folks saying that he left his retirement a little too late and that he might have diminished his legacy to the game in the process. Opinions of course, are always many,

I’ve been doing some thinking on my end for a while now, trying to figure out what Sachin has meant to me over the years he has played cricket. I consider myself an absolute fanatic for cricket, a glutton for the test version, and a fierce supporter of the Indian cricket team. I have the capacity of blocking out all criticism even in the worst of times and look forward to watching the team play again, and again and again. And above all, I want to see Sachin play, That is probably something i can do for hours, whether its re-runs or a live game. Consider this a disclaimer.

As a kid, I was a bigger fan of playing cricket than of watching it. My father, from who i have inherited almost all of my cricket sense had these favorite cricketers, who obviously also became my favorites. I had not seen them play much, but because i was told that they were great, i went with that. Then one fine day, i saw a 16 year old kid playing an exhibition match against Pakistan tonking the great Abdul Qadir for consecutive sixes over his head, allegedly at some provocation from the spinner. Exhibition match it might have been, but that was the beginning of my obsession with Sachin Tendulkar.

No longer did i need any cricketing hero thrust upon me based on an opinion. I now had a hero of my own, and that relationship established on that very day, still lasts. There have been many great cricketers who have represented India since then, but my obsession with Sachin has been a constant factor. Last few days have given me the opportunity to reflect on why he has been such an inspiration for me, for people of my generation and probably for a few others who may never acknowledge it.

Back in the 90s, when winning was more of a bonus for the Indian team and under performance the norm, Sachin Tendulkar stood out like a rock. Not only did i look forward to watching him bat, somewhere deep down i knew that he was the only one who could get the job done.  Most of those times, i found myself praying that he takes us home, fingers crossed or palms folded, sometimes even sneaking a little prayer in the prayer room. Well, those were the days.

10 odd years down, things changed with my life. There was college, and then a job and many more jobs. I started to understand life a little more than when i was a kid. There was economics, politics, infrastructure and so much more to get involved with. Everything seemed to have an impact on me, and on people around me.  There were too many things to bog me down, too many distractions, too much negativity and too many opinions about how to get everything right. The sense of focus i had when i started, seemed to get mixed up in just trying to soak in all these opinions which led to confusion, and at times frustration too. I found it easy to blame others, and give up on a lot of things that held value for me before i started caring about someone else’s opinion on it.

All this while i found it hard to understand how Sachin Tendulkar continued to perform at the highest level so consistently almost every time he took the field. What was it that motivated him to come time and again to the field with the will to score more and more runs. How was he able to handle all the criticism, sometimes extreme, from his fans, team mates, commentators or for that matter anyone who had never held a bat, and still have the mindset to come back to the field and score a hundred. He had the expectations of a billion people to deal with and the same billion had a hard time dealing with his failures, but he still continued to do what he set out to. I, on the other hand was finding it hard to deal with criticism from my boss, sometimes even a peer and was spending a lot of energy fighting with irrelevant things that blanked out the goals i was striving for.

So what does Sachin Tendulkar really mean to me? To me, Sachin is a template for life. He is an example of someone who made a determination long back that he wants to bat and score runs, and never ever stopped trying to achieve that. He failed, fell down, got injured, picked himself back again and went about making his determination come good. Like i mentioned before, there was a time when he was the only one who looked capable and motivated enough to pursue victories for India. Everyone else was hoping to do well, or accepting the fact that the team is not good enough to win. But Sachin was making it happen. Almost alone. I would imagine a lot of us giving up or accepting mediocrity as a way of life in such circumstances, but he did not. He wanted to win…he wanted to do well and he did it, even if no one else in the team bothered.

Above everything else that he has achieved, the fact that he battled adversity, ranging from average team mates to folks who were actually trying to lose, to sharp criticism from his fans or the media, and never ever complained ‘why’ he was in the middle of it all, stands out as a quality worth having. We face almost similar situations in our life everyday. The path we choose when such a situation arises defines who we will be in the future. Sachin defined his destiny by rising up to such challenges and winning over them. We have a lot to learn from him, the humble, quiet champion of the game who has given us some of the most memorable cricketing moments in the past 20 years.

Once more this november, i’ll look forward to the adrenaline rush i always have in my stomach when Sachin comes out to bat. Once more i’ll pray for his success. One last time. Brace yourself folks.

Thank you Sachin. Thank you very much.

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.

20 Saal baad…[bhi]

While everyone showers much deserved praise on Sachin, and while all the television channels go absolutely berserk showing his interviews and supplementing them with popular bollywood songs like “Baar baar haan(courtesy Lagaan)”, I thought I would write my own view point on the master- the man who seems to have a personal connection with every Indian whether he is on the field or off it, the man who has for the past 20 years re defined the art of batting, the man who has given a country much deprived of heroes someone to look up to, and the man who continues to shoulder the burden of more than a 100 million people and still does an awesome job at it. Sachin Tendulkar – You are a true genius.

I am writing this on the day when there are reports of some people being upset about Sachin calling himself an Indian first and then a Marathi. The reasons for creating an issue out of Sachin’s statement are best known to these people, but the fact that this news is being run on all the television news channels tells me that they were able to do what they wanted to. And of course, in terms of numbers, the moral brigade does so much better than Sachin will ever be able to…The number of buses burnt down by them would definitely be greater than Sachin’s one day runs, the count of public property vandalization might actually exceed his test runs, and obviously the number of Sachin’s tons are no where close to the number of laws these self proclaimed protectors have broken…so yeah, obviously they understand the marathi psyche much better than Sachin does…duh!!

Crap apart, my first memories of Sachin are those of him hitting Abdul Qadir for I don’t remember how many sixes, after Mr. Qadir allegedly said that this kid can’t do much against him (he was apparently hitting the bowler at the other end as well). Champion born? Thats what I thought with the very little cricket acumen I had then…but then I wasn’t wrong, was I?

Sachin has been entertaining the cricketing world since that day. I don’t think a blog post is enough to count the number of absolutely brilliant innings he has produced in this time. Whether its the innings when he opened for India in ODIs against New Zealand for the first time, or his brilliant test hundreds on his maiden Australia tour; whether its the awesomely cool last over that he bowled in the Hero cup semis when all was lost, to the ultra majestic desert storm double whammy in Sharjah, its been one heck of a ride.

Whats so special about him that makes the entire nation smile when he is on song and also makes them cry when he gets out? Why do we not feel the same kind of emotion for someone else in the team? The answer is the charisma of Sachin, his masterful batting along with his impeccable character, his almost untouchable pureness…years of batting, of facing criticism from the idiots (read “the so called television experts”) as well as some of his peers, of public scrutiny, and of the ups and downs in his own career haven’t been able to tarnish anything in him. He is still the same, the greatest sportsman of India and still as humble as he was when he started. But what defines Sachin more than any of this is the way time comes to a standstill when he goes out to bat, the way people fold their hands, close their eyes, and pray as hard as possible so that he scores yet another hundred. My personal best has been switching the TV off and going in an empty room praying with almost tears in my eyes that Sachin leads India to victory. This is what he does to India when he bats…that’s the magic of Sachin…at least for me…

There isn’t any doubt that it will not only be difficult but almost close to impossible to replace him when he decided to quit…but until he does so, can I just make a humble request to all the self proclaimed cricket experts on the zillion TV channels – Please shut the frick up and let us enjoy…let us enjoy the cricket of the man India is proud of.

Thank you Sachin for whatever you have done for cricket in India…take a bow.

Quick update: I cannot believe that NDTV is running a campaign called “Do you agree with Sachin’s sentiments”…Why do our news channels even bother publicizing such crappy news…un-fricken-believable.