Sunday, December 23, 2007 

Final Frontier

I have never been so excited to write a post I think. I am typing faster than I am thinking it seems. Every time I write a post I go through it many times in the head over several days before putting it on my laptop. But this one will just flow with my emotion. For a day has come but comes rarely in history. Probably a little over the top, but I am over the top today I guess. I hate to be sitting in my room right now typing out this post when I could have been there, right there where it happened. Fittingly right where we should have done it. People who know me people who don’t, I am thrilled to bits to tell you all that IIT Delhi won the Inter IIT Cricket Gold in Bombay. My hands shiver as I write this, because it always seemed only a distant dream.

I may not be a part of this team now but the tears are real. I may not have influenced this achievement one bit but the attachment is intense. Roushing Singh and a bunch of young talented boys have done it. I am so proud today. This post might give the feeling that I am taking credit for this, to hell with that I could never care. It is my team and I feel that I am still a part of it and a big part of me is still connected with it. Finally the clock has turned on this team and they have done what every team wishes to achieve. Invincibility.

2002 in Delhi was the only time we came close to winning the gold. We lost the final to Madras and the sight of my sulking captain who played out of his skin to try and win it, made me choke. The presence of his father on the field made it even more emotional. But having done my bit of sobbing in a match before I decided not shred that tear anymore, not when we lose.

2004 in Madras, we won both our league matches topped the pool. In the semi final against Madras, we batted first and were skittled for 65 on a dying pitch. We lost by 10 wickets. There was nothing to be said to each other just a walk back to our rooms, no one talked to each other. We played the 3-4 playoffs and lost again. The dream ended in a nightmare.

2005 in Roorkee, when I was the Captain, we won all three of our league matches including a smashing victory over Madras which my team brought as a personal gift for me. We batted first in the semi final were restricted to 109. This time we fought like tigers, defending a small target we got to 7 wickets and due to some bad luck lost again. One of the new boys in the team started crying on the field. He reminded me of the unfortunate final in 2002 and I almost choked, but helped the boy recollect himself and put his head up high. We played the 3-4 playoff and won handsomely to finish 3rd, redeem some pride. But the dream just couldn’t be the reality.

2006 in Guwahati, we probably had the best team on paper, with all 11 capable of batting. We won both our league matches by some distance and topped the pool. In the semi final we batted first and got out for 125, and were chased down with 4-5 wickets in hand. I had left the team the previous year, but the news of losing a third straight semi final was disheartening. We again finished 3rd and the dream made it clear that we have still not woken up.

In 2003 when the Inter IIT was played in Bombay, we probably played with the worst team I have been with – lead by an erratic captain, an influential non performer, an egoistic star, an ordinary batting order and of course an uninspiring vice captain (myself). We lost all our league matches. This included the one I described some time back in a post where I had to get 5 off the last 2 balls and I couldn’t put bat to ball. We went back humiliated and crushed, not just by our own expectations but also of the entire contingent of 120 fellows representing IIT Delhi.

In 2007 back in Bombay for the inter IIT, we won both our league matches and topped the pool. This time we chased in the semi final and won by 5 wickets. Two days ago at the same venue, the gymkhana sports complex in IIT Bombay, Roushan Singh and Arwinder Singh (VC) would have stood as the proud recipient of the winner’s trophy. Guess who we beat in the finals? Yes it was IIT Madras. My emotions get to my eyes even as I imagine the two boys going up to the dais to lift the trophy. The hooting, the cheering, the slogans of Delhi Delhi Delhi…I can almost hear them. The only place where we hadn’t won a single match during my 5 years in IIT is the most fitting arena to win the gold. This win is truly a tribute to Sandeep Chhokker, who made his debut for IIT Delhi at this ground in 2003, and came out as one of the few good performers (besides Amit Gupta and Balaji). As he finishes his Inter IIT stint this year, this is the befitting reward for his excellent service to the cricket team as a player, as an ex-captain and also his efforts as the General Secretary of the BSA IITD this year.

My heartiest congratulations to the entire team for this outstanding achievement. The dream is finally reality today. While most of the players must be new, those who I think were part of it – Roushan, Sandeep, Arwinder, Krishna, Randhawa, Siwach and one of my two most favourite Akshay. You all are champions; you always were, it was just about getting it all together.

While I almost envy these guys for getting this achievement without me, I am as I said before, thrilled to bits. I will miss those days, that passion and the excitement. It comes very rarely in life. The lesson to be learnt, is that it will always pass you by. The best way of enjoying it is living it in the moment and reminiscing it the rest of your life.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007 

Down Under

Its 4.30am as some noise hits my sleeping ears. It’s probably my dad hustling about in the house. I was sleeping in the main bedroom with mom and dad as I was still too afraid of sleeping alone. My mother is also up due to the constant noise and decides get on with the day already. My dad brings a nice cup of tea for himself. The tube light in the bed is still off as some other light starts to distract me from my sleep. With half open eye lids I wake up to see what the fuss is all about. As my eyes adjust to the light if the television I realise a certain K.Srikkanth and Ravi Shastri are batting and McDermott has the ball in his hands. That chilled morning of 1991 was a start of new phase of my life.

It was probably the first time I woke up at that hour and saw the sunrise, albeit from the window sitting inside my rajai and watching cricket. But a new dimension was added to my knowledge of cricket i.e watching the game on TV. I spend the next three-four months, what we know as the Australian summer, going through the same rituals, only that I was happy getting up now. While tea was forbidden for me at the age of 8, my mother would get me milk and add some tea in it so that I can taste it. As most Dhamdhere’s do, I developed an instant liking for it too. Those days of watching cricket sitting in the warmth of the rajai, sipping hot milk is an experience I’ll remember till the end.

The season also included the cricket world cup, one of the best in terms of format till date. While India’s performance in both the B&H world series and the world cup was poor, I enjoyed every bit of the watching on TV. The sad part though was that on weekdays I had to leave the day matches in the middle to go to school and miss the first innings of day night matches. I remember running like crazy from school to watch the India Pakistan match in the world cup. I missed India’s innings but the Pakistan innings was the real punch of the match.

Matches in Australia have given a different meaning to television viewing. Channel nine is far more superior to any other broadcasters of cricket matches around the world. ESPN-Star come second followed by Doordarshan and Sony. Oh sorry shouldn’t include Sony in this list they know nothing about cricket, I don’t know why they bother to present important tournaments such as the world cup. But watching matches in Australia is an experience in itself. You don’t have to waste day time to watch the match, your mom can’t scold you for getting up early and she won’t ask you to take a bath and do the daily chores. I have mostly liked watching cricket matches alone, or atleast without too much chit chatting going on. And I hate it when there is a ball by ball analysis of the game by people around me. I like to just sit there watch, observe and learn. And the Oz tours are the perfect bet for that because a less interested soul will not take the pains of getting up so early.

Apart from these things and the obvious difference in picture quality, the unmistakable beauty of Australian grounds is visual treat. The stands are not as packed as in India, but they are well populated and genuinely keen on the cricket. Somehow I have felt that the Indian team looks much smarter in Australia, be it there outfits or their general presence. Of course the Indian batsmen don’t look too smart, and the bowlers have a tough time as well. Barring the last tour to Australia, Indian bowlers only get to bowl once in a test match so they don’t have much chance of impressing either. To add to this picture is the excellent commentary. The Bill Lawry’s and the Benaud’s, Greig’s and add to that the Indian masala of Bhogle and Gavaskar. It’s a great component in the entire experience.

There is a lot of talk again as India head to Australia to play a test series followed by the World Series. What will be the result? From a broad level perspective its easy to say that India will lose the test series and have a good chance of pipping out Sri Lanka to enter and lose the finals to Australia. But as a cricket optimist and lover of the Indian team, I hope for much better results. The biggest threat with this series is the potential exit of Rahul Dravid from both forms of the game. I think if he doesn’t do well in the first two or three tests he will bid good bye to both forms of the game in the fourth test. If he does really well, and that’s not asking for too much from a player of his calibre and pulsar (ganda of the year), he might find a way back to the one day team. The rest of the team basically pick themselves both for the tests and one dayers. I know the Yuvi problem exists, but unless Kumble is thinking of playing Sehwag, I think its ok if Yuvi sits out for the big four. Sehwag has got an absolutely unwarranted call back for that one destructive innings he is capable of playing. I can’t understand how much difference one big innings is going to make to India’s cause. I hope Dinesh Karthik gets one final chance to prove that he is worth it. The bowling lacks penetration and it will be too much to expect Kumble to take 5 wickets in an innings too many times.

So as days close in on the all important boxing day, I start my preparations as well. Setting up the bed in front of the TV so that I can enjoy the matches just as I did in 1991-92. India lost the five test series 4-0 then, hope this time is much better.

Sunday, December 02, 2007 

Hawk Eye

The Jamia cricket ground is the very best in the national capital region. Although devoid of flashy stands, scoreboards, tv screens et al, the ground has everything good cricket grounds around the world should have - green outfield, long boundaries and a one paced wicket. It was the first time I was playing on this ground, which hosts many of Delhi’s Ranji matches. I have been to the Kotla, unfortunately not to play, but no less fortunately to watch. The Kotla ground is about 15-20% smaller than this one, or atleast was before its recent renovation. But it could not have gotten bigger than this one by any means.

The match was a good one, we lost by 5 runs but it was good, enjoyable and challenging cricket. I went in to bat with 24 needed of 10, but the big ground got the better of me as I could get only one boundary and in the end it was just a tad too much. But I felt good about having tried hard, despite some poor show by some team mates.

On my way back to gurgaon, my cab got punctured and I and the other six team mates boarding the cab were stuck. As we waited for a cab reinforcement to arrive, I slid myself into an interesting conversation. The starting piece of the conversation/debate where I joined was one of my team mates capturing how Sachin Tendulkar had won a match for India even after Azharuddin and Jadeja had allegedly fixed it. According to him and the ‘legend’, Anshuman Gaekwad, the then coach, told Sachin that the match has been already fixed and the little master promised that he will get the match back.

There are two things about my character that come out during discussions and debates. One, a strong desire of playing devil’s advocate, and a second slightly complimenting trait of not believing in such super hero stories as the one mentioned by my friend. Every one pictures Sachin as the god today. Sure he is an umatched talent, one that the country will not see again, but his talent and skill is the only thing that has performed 100 percent in his career. His perseverance and application has been short of 100 many times. That is by no means to say that Sachin fixed matches, but I believe he should not be naturally assumed to be the good guy when there is controversy and allegations surrounding others.

Why would Sachin fix matches anyways? This was a response from one of the participants of this conversation. “He has so much money and admiration already why would he do it”. By venturing to answer that question, two points come up in my mind for deliberation. Firstly when was the last time a man realised that he has now earned enough money that he doesn’t need to earn anymore? I don’t think such people exist or ever existed for that matter. It’s unlike human nature to give up on luxury and comfort. The second point is what else could make someone fix matches. While there is only one obvious reason that comes to mind, it is only natural to believe that this reason will apply more to Azharuddin rather than Sachin or Jadeja.

Someone then actually remarked what if the D guy was involved in forcing these people somehow to throw matches. That Azharuddin had relations with some conspicuous people related to the underworld has been in public knowledge. But is it only money that could have forced him to throw matches, if at all he did. Azharuddin may have had a liking for swiss watches but he couldn’t throw matches. I have been watching cricket for 18 years now and I think I can tell who is going wrong where. To my knowledge Azhar never fixed matches on the field. There could have been something off it, like the Shane Warne and Mark Waugh incident where they sold insider information about team composition and pitch condition; I can never say anything about that. But on field I never felt and still believe Azhar never threw matches.

And Jadeja, well I would believe for a moment that Sachin, Sehwag, Mongia could have fixed matches but not Jadeja, and don’t get me started on Saurav Dada Ganguly, for he is virtually the other D in cricket. Sachin owes a lot of his success to Jadeja and Robin Singh because these were the two people who were winning matches for India during that period between 1996 and 1999. While Sachin was ofcourse getting runs at the top, these guys were finishing off matches in ways Sachin dreams of when he goes to bed. Add to that the fact that Jadeja was the icon of fielding in India along with Azhar and Robin Singh. But oops Tendlya wasn’t doing well in that department.

As 1999 approached towards an end there was a strong feeling that Azhar might soon quit captaincy. He was not very much in form either with the bat. So the crown of captaincy would have to go to Jadeja, the then vice captain. But somehow it didn’t settle well with some people. The match fixing saga thus unfolded, putting Jadeja, Azhar and Mongia out of the game. Sachin’s friction with Nayan Mongia was well known and when Sachin would be captain it would have been difficult to have him in a key position like the wicket keeper. Somehow Samir Dighe who ‘accidently’ belonged to Mumbai was drafted in the team, after MSK Prasad’s pilot project was over. No offence to both these gentlemen but they were dwarfs in comparison to Mongia even in terms of batting ability.

Azhar was handed a life ban by the BCCI. Ajay Jadeja and Mongia were reprimanded for 5 years. Jadeja appealed to the court and won the case, and it was only a small matter of four years. Mongia was later exonerated by the BCCI and brought back in the team, only to point fingers at him because he walked a caught behind decision in a test match at Mumbai against Australia. This for a man who kept wickets with a broken nose at Kolkata during that Very Very Special Test win for India. When Sachin Tendulkar made 136 runs with a back ache against Pakistan at Chennai, it was a monumental effort. And the effort took centre stage rather than the fact that India couldn’t win the test match.

With Azhar and Jadeja out of the team, India was in severe dearth of leadership. The ‘aaila go get it’ boy was no good for the top job. But he took the job, only to relinquish it quickly in 2000. The decision was baffling at first sight, but a good one taken keeping the longer run in mind. Saurav was made the captain. But this time, it was important to check anyone from threatening to take leadership of the team until Saurav was ready to let go (i.e never) or Sachin was ready for another time. The obvious victim was then asked to do the dirty work. But this guy was too good for Sachin and Saurav. He was asked to open the innings, he looked uncomfortable but applied himself and succeeded. He was asked to keep wickets in one dayers, he looked stupid, but applied himself and shouldered the march to the WC finals. Then this man entered his purple patch, perhaps more purple than even Sachin had seen in terms of sheer number of runs. The tours of England and Australia stamped the mark of this guy as the best Indian batsman. But when his chance to take up captaincy came, people were reluctant to vacate the position. But Dravid had to get there one day and he did, and with that started a whole era of Indian cricket albeit 3 year long. I will touch upon that someday, but watching the 2007 WC matches I feel like asking people who is throwing matches now?

Somewhere in my conversation with team mates, the point on BCCI’s role came up. Make no mistake this organization is hand in glove with every cricketer. Yes every single cricketer. I guess the famous lines of the movie Anand go well with BCCI. You can easily imagine Dravid telling Dhoni – ‘hum sab rang manch ki katputliyan hain, jiski dor BCCI ke haath me hai, kab kaun kaise uth jayega ye koi nahi janta…ha ha ha ha ha’. But I feel BCCI is a few steps even further. As someone pointed out in the discussion, if tomorrow it were proved that Sachin is involved in any sort of malice, the entire cricket in the nation will halt. No one would want to watch cricket. Aha! That means BCCI will not be able to mint money which they are doing so easily right now. So is there a chance that BCCI may have been covering up for Sachin. Of course as much as I stood by Azhar and Jadeja on the basis of my knowledge of cricket, I will stand by Sachin as well. He never threw matches. All I want to say is that even if he was involved in a blip off the field BCCI will make sure it doesn’t get public. Ganguly also had his uncle running the BCCI for most of the time he was playing.

As the discussion went to the other side of a half hour, people started to virtually shout at me for defending Azhar and Jadeja and suspecting Sachin. The tension was broken by the news that after having waited for an hour there would still not be any cab reinforcements. We decided to take an Auto and leave for our respective places. On the way a discussion of Taslima Nasreen’s books ensued, about Islam and its practices. But all that is not or can not be related to my blog, so I will leave that for the wise.

P.S. – In the 1998-99 tour of New Zealand when Anshuman Gaekwad was the coach. India lost the test series 0-1. Azharuddin had the 2nd highest average after Dravid. The one day series ended 2-2 with one match rained off. Mongia had the 2nd highest average with one match winning knock (I till remember that match). Dravid again topping averages, with Azhar and Jadeja ranked 4 and 5 respectively. Sachin Tendulkar averaged 18.25 in 4 matches ranked 8 in averages above Nikhil Chopra averaging 16. I know numbers don’t reveal much, but then again nothing really does.

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