Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Phillip Hughes: The story that should live



Twenty two players walked out on one of the most hallowed turfs of the cricketing world. That’s how a  story always begins when one writes or reads about a cricket match. The story then builds about how some batsmen crafted a beautiful innings, how some bowlers eked out wonderful spells. The story always ends with how a team won, or lost, or how the match was drawn. This time, and I hope that it’s for the last time, I read a new ending in a  match story – A man died! Phillip Hughes’ mortal remains were lowered in Macksville, Australia, but it’s important that his story lives.
Hughes was playing a safe sport. He didn’t hurtle down on tracks at 300 KM/h in a racing car. He didn’t face a raging Mike Tyson in a ring eager to knock him out. He was in a park, all decked in protective armour, but he still died and that’s why it’s important that his story lives on. That batsmen, far inferior to him, have come out unscathed facing bowlers even more fearful, but he succumbed, is why this story should live on. The fact that he died when he had so much to live for is why this story should live on. The belief that no other man with a dream should have a death like this is the reason why this story should live on.
Cricketers have done much on fields that has been reported. Taken stunning catches, scored gritty hundreds, bowled sublime spells. Some have questioned the parentage of the opposition batsman, some have tampered with the ball’s seam, some have stood their ground despite knowing that they have edged one and some have signaled crooks by hanging a towel from their waists. But no cricketer has ever wanted a life taken on a cricket field. As a fan I had read about Raman Lamba dying because of a cricket ball hitting his head when he was fielding. That story was reported, but it died. It has come back to life, ironically, because another man trying to build a career has died.
I saw Michael Clarke fighting his tears while giving his tribute to his little brother one last time. I saw Sean Abbot trying, manfully, to face his demons as he came to bid his mate goodbye. I saw an ageing man act as pallbearer for a man he’d once cradled and called ‘son’. This story needs to live on because stories on cricketing endings shouldn’t be ones of a mourning family at a funeral. Aren’t cricketing endings happy stories of a family acknowledging the fans for finally returning them their son who always had to be away?
We are now talking of the helmet that needs to be improved. We probably will see innovations that will cover the back of the head as well. We will probably see a headline in a few years that would say ‘Helmet manufactured that completely insulates cricketers from head injuries’. We will probably live out our lives without the news of a cricketer dying because the equipment protecting him wasn’t inadequate. This story needs to live so that the ‘probably’ used so often in this paragraph transforms to ‘certainly’. Raman Lamba’s story died, so it’s very important that Phil Hughes’ story lives.
I have read about two cricketing deaths and this is a sport where one death is also one too many. What has happened to Phillip Hughes can’t be undone, the pain and grief cannot be lessened. But we cricket fans can take solace in the fact that Hughes died when he was at a place he could call his own, doing the one thing that loved doing most, playing cricket. I believe that is another reason why his story should live.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A commentary on commentators

25th of June, 1983, was a momentous day in the history of not just Indian cricket but India as well. There is no denying the fact that those men went where no Indian had gone before. What I do not like, however, is when some of those men come on to news channels as broadcasters with nothing to contribute, but to remind us that they had won a world cup.

When I look at cricketers analysing cricket for me, I look for insights, I look for very interesting anecdotes, I look at them for stating things that are beyond the obvious. Apart from Sunil Gavaskar, none of these ’83 players say anything insightful or even entertaining. They keep repeating themselves on and on and on. All they talk of is the 1983 world cup. They have been doing this now for over a decade.
Imagine somebody tweeting something great one day and then retweeting the same thing for the next 10 years. It gets irritating. Here is an analysis of the most irritating characters of the 1983 squad on the tube.


K. Srikkanth: An ODI great despite a grand average of 29, swashbuckling despite a career strike rate of 71. Rahul Dravid has a better strike rate than him. I do not mind the superlative adjectives used for him, but what I do mind is that as a cricket analyst he doesn’t know his face from his ass. His scientific name is ‘selfus contradictus’. Here is a pearl from when we was doing live commentary – ‘great shot over the top and OH! He is caught on the boundary. What a stupid shot’. Just that to say this Cheeka style, please ignore the spaces between words.

 
Since those halcyon days of Cheeka the commentator, we now have Cheeka the expert. He comes on news channels to explain the ‘poishun’ of the game. Ok, ‘position’, but then that’s not the way Mr. Srikkanth pronounces it. He has now become the most forgetful of all ex-cricketers. ‘Whaddyoucall’ has become his favourite phrase. These days his lines go like this – ‘that was a great, whaddyoucall, catch, by, whaddyoucall, Yuvraj.’


Madan Lal: He embodies simultaneous translation. He is constantly thinking in Punjabi and simultaneously translating it in Hindi. If you are unfortunate, you will catch him translating it to English. A simple man, he strongly believes that all one needs to win matches and tournaments is ‘josh’. Here is how his expert analysis goes:
Q: Tendulkar did not quite look like himself in the last 2 innings. What should he do?
Madan Lal: He must play with more josh.
Q. What would a team like Zimbabwe be thinking when they are up against the might of Australia?
Madan Lal: They must come out with belief and with Josh.
Q. The finals. What would the teams be thinking?
Madan Lal: That come what may, we must play with josh.

No wonder, whenever he is asked what the team thought in the mid-innings break when they went out to defend 183 he replies, you guessed it, that they thought they will play with josh.


Kapil Dev: A lot of unjustified fun was poked at his English when he was a cricketer. His job then was to win matches for India. However, he cannot ignore his awful English when he comes on the tube as a cricket expert. He better be eloquent. But the Haryana Hurricane does on TV to the viewers what hurricanes do to trees.

 
He once asked after an insipid Indian performance in a match – ‘are we the problem balling, or is we the problem batting?’ I’m sure former cricket writers must have turned in their graves after hearing this, just like a few fans might have smashed their TV sets after this. For a bowler, it’s amazing how he pronounces bowling as ‘balling’.


Mohinder Amarnath: Courage thy name is Jimmy, is what Gavaskar once said about this brave-heart. But out of his cricketing whites, beaming from the tube, he turns his viewers into brave-hearts. Those people who do not have cable at home and are forced to watch matches on DD, start taking cable connections just so that they do not have to hear Jimmy paaji singing on ‘Fourth Umpire’. He is the only cricket expert in the world who’s mid and end innings analysis is songs with changed lyrics.

 
When he bowled, so slow was his run-up that he would put batsmen to sleep by the time he reached the bowling crease, and then hurl a ball to get them out. As an expert, he talks insipid stuff that puts viewers to sleep and then he suddenly sings to give them insomnia for weeks.


Syed Mujtaba Hussain Kirmani: By far, the most inattentive cricket expert. Maybe, not inattentive, but handicapped. After all, he was last seen advertising Widex hearing aids. But whenever I have seen him in a studio, he is sans his hearing aid, and hence the absolutely unrelated answers to questions.

 
Q: So, Mr. Kirmani, a tough total for Dhoni’s team to chase?
Kirmani: Dhoni has a reputation of drinking 4 litres of buffalo milk every day. So you never know what will happen.
The line above is usually uttered in even more unintelligible English and followed by a guffaw from the former keeper. If a buffalo was to hear Mr. Kirmani utter this, milk would curdle in her udders.

So, batch of 1983, we are grateful to you for having won a world cup. We shall, however, be forever indebted if you stop coming on the tube.


Friday, October 08, 2010

The right to smoke

This is something that I have been thinking about for quite some time now. There was a ban some time back, and rightly so, on smoking in public places. However, this ban was not thought through properly and hence was a draconian system that really hurt smokers. Let me explain why I thought so.

Just like non-smokers have a right to not inhale cigarette smoke, smokers have a right to smoke. If there is a ban on smoking at the airport or the train stations then there ought to be a smoking zone demarcated at those places that allows smokers to smoke. Well, it is not an illegal activity. Every adult above the age of 18 has a right to smoke tobacco.

If one were to walk into an airport, and pee near the check-in counters, the person would be fined or put behind bars. The person would be told that ‘there are loos in this airport and that’s where you need to go and pee’. So to ensure that a person can answer the call of nature, all airports and stations have loos. After all, it is everybody’s right to go take a pee.

Somehow, this sort of consideration is not shown towards smokers. We need to go and indulge from time to time. It is legal. What is not acceptable is that smoking zones aren’t always given to indulge in a perfectly legal activity. Till the Bombay airport was refurbished, there weren’t any smoking zones. I am yet to hear of any train station having a smoking zone. The Calcutta airport does not have a smoking zone. Most restaurants and pubs have been dictated to ban smoking on the tables, but they have not been dictated to ensure that an area is given for smokers to smoke. I would certainly feel like a wretch smoking on a restaurant table and a kid sitting nearby inhaling that smoke. But why couldn’t Ramadoss feel like a wretch when I could not indulge in a perfectly legal activity?

There are also some who get into the MORAL of the whole thing. I have read and heard time an again, senseless things like ‘smoking should be completely banned in India’; ‘Cigarettes are the causes of so many deaths’ and so on and so forth. Well, let me put some statistics forward. Out of the total revenue that India earns, 8.8% is earned from excise duty of cigarettes alone. Bidis, cigars etc. contribute a further 3.3% to the government’s coffers.

Furthermore, the tobacco industry employs 62 lakh people in India. Bidi manufacturing is the biggest cottage industry in the country. So all those who want to ban smoking completely in India, please consider these facts. Banning smoking would not only lead to a huge dent in India’s revenues, it would mean 62 lakh jobless people in one go, just for some nonsensical people’s so-called high-moral ground.

Some might cite the fact that smoking leads to cancer and that needs to be a reason enough to ban smoking. This argument is rubbish. Firstly, smokers who get cancer are extremely heavy smokers and even among them not all get cancer. Secondly, there are more people in India who suffer from diabetes and high cholesterol than cigarette related diseases.

So, first ban sugar so that diabetics can live. Ban butter and cheese so that nobody in India suffers from cholesterol problems. Then talk about banning cigarettes. And, may I add, cigarettes give more employment and revenue to India than butter and cheese and sugar.

The same NGOs and saviours of the earth will not move their bums to ensure that a Govt. of India ruling – cigarette shops should not exist within 200 meters of any school – is stringently followed. They will not ensure that a person selling a fag to an underage kid is put behind bars. They will not work to ensure that there are no cigarette shops within 200 meters of a school. I can show you many cigarette shops in India that are within a few meters from a school.

Well, I hope the right of smokers is preserved. They are old enough; they are indulging in a legal activity; and they should be given their space to smoke. There should not be a draconian rule like what exists in places like, say, Phoenix mills in Bombay – where one cannot smoke anywhere in acres and acres of place.

Punish the irresponsible smoker who smokes at the airport. But also ensure that he has an option of walking into a smoking room somewhere nearby. That way both smokers and non-smokers would remain happy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The best in the world

An attempt at a short story.. Inspired by a true incident that came flooding back when I heard the song ‘The Greatest’ by Kenny Rogers.


It was raining, and the 11-year old could not go out to play cricket. He was restless and kept looking at the clock, for there was only an hour’s day-light to go. Sadly, Mother Nature didn’t seem considerate enough to relent. The boy’s restlessness was understandable. After all, he wanted to hone his batting skills, he wanted to drive and cut and pull; he wanted to be Sachin Tendulkar, he wanted to be the best.


His mother saw him forlorn and lost and asked him to play in the garage instead of waiting in the veranda. The boy saw sense in the suggestion. He picked up his bat and a tennis ball and walked in to the garage. He switched the light on and prepared to battle. The moment the light was switched on, he was transported to another world. This was no longer a garage, it was Eden Gardens. And he had to practice his craft here for the day; he wanted to be Sachin Tendulkar, he wanted to be the best.


The rules were simple. The garage shutters were pulled down behind him; stumps were drawn on the shutter using crayons. The boy would stand with the stumps (garage shutters) behind him and hurl the tennis ball at the wall ahead; and when the ball came back, he would hit it with his bat. It was a new bat and a heavy one at that. His father had suggested that it might be a tad too heavy for him while buying it, but the boy was adamant. After all, his idol used a heavy bat and so should he; he wanted to be Sachin Tendulkar, he wanted to be the best.


He threw the ball at the wall, and the tennis ball quickly bounced back at him. By the time he gripped the bat and swung it, he heard the sound of the ball crashing into the shutters behind him. Well, the bat was too heavy for him to lift and swing, in a little more than a second; for that was the amount of time the ball took to come back to him after being hurled at the wall. He could have under-armed the ball to the wall very slowly, but he wanted to face the fastest bowlers in the world. That’s why he insisted on throwing the ball with full force instead of gently under-arming it to the wall. He had to learn how to face the fastest bowlers in the world; he wanted to be Sachin Tendulkar, he wanted to be the best.


The boy composed himself and launched the ball again. He swung the bat at the ball and again heard the sound of tennis ball on garage shutter. He walked down what he imagined was the pitch, tapped it like the batsmen did. He kept a running commentary on, and at that time the commentator said that this was a very fast pitch. It would require immense grit and skill to save this one for India and the boy had it. After all, he wanted to be Sachin Tendulkar, he wanted to be the best.
This process kept going on and on for half an hour. Swing, miss, ball crashes into the shutter. Not once did the boy lose hope. Not once did he throw the ball a little gently on to the wall. But every single time he swung the bat, he did not hear the sound of the bat hitting the ball. Each time the ball hit the shutters, each thud louder than the last one. Then finally, his mom called. It was time for homework. He raised the shutter and crawled out, walked into the house with bat and ball. His mom smiled at him and asked him if he batted like Sachin Tendulkar. The boy gave a wide grin and said “no, Ma! I didn’t. Today I bowled like the best, I bowled like Allan Donald.”


Friday, April 16, 2010

Of goodbyes and comebacks

I have seen people, aged 60, finding their world coming apart once they retire. The day seems to be a continuous challenge to keep oneself active, to still remain important. It is not that they miss an active working life because that is what they were best at. They might have been better singers than architects, better painters than soldiers, but still they really missed their jobs once they retired. Just imagine what retirement means to sportsmen, keeping this thought in mind.

These retired sportsmen are young people, most of them in their 30’s. In our corporate world, people that age will still be young men with a lot of potential for growth. However, we aren’t that kind when we're talking of a sportsman in his 30’s. We refer to them as old, await their imminent retirement. And retirement would mean that they give up, unlike us, the one thing that they are best at. For most of them, that is the only thing that they can competently do, something that has been part of their lives once they crossed infancy.

Of all things that we comprehend when we watch sport, there are some things that we can never associate with as viewers. We can comprehend skill, strength perhaps, for that can be seen. We can never comprehend physical pain, and emotion. When our favourite sportsmen retire, we are dejected, but we learn to move on, find other sportsmen to idolize. But can we ever imagine what goes through the mind of a sportsman who gives up everything that mattered to him?

Once they leave, over a beer or a cup of tea we wonder if that chap had one more season left in him. For the great ones, we usually ask why they have retired and wonder if he can just come back once. Can he, just once more, drive through the covers? Can he, just once, curl in the free kick into the net? Can he, just once, pull that stunning overtake?

Over time, I have realized that the retired sportsman thinks of this every waking hour of his life. Perhaps, he sleeps just because he can dream of that comeback. Some of them then start to work on the comeback after retirement. One does not know how differently they train, but probably they put in harder yards to get an obstinate ‘older’ body back into competitive shape. And then, some of them come back.

Why do they come back? There is a reputation that they would put on the line, they would constantly be reminded of the fact that they already know – that they are past their peak. They might reduce themselves from being champions to also-rans in their second avatar as a competitive sportsman. These are arguments followers of sport would put across, and rightly so.

But the sportsman is not programmed to think like this. Their thought process is driven by a will to win, to excel. They have spent a lifetime thumbing opponents in the nose, scrambled to emerge victorious, and trained to become the best in the world. Perhaps that is why they hold on to their dreams. Body and mind are divorced, but they let their minds keep custody of their dreams. Body says – ‘can’t do it’, mind says – ‘give it a shot’. They have lived a life living their dreams, and excelled at it, probably they need to hold on to that dream a little longer and thus they come back from retirement to active sport.

This could be the reason why Michael Jordan came back, or why Michael Schumacher is racing, or why Lance Armstrong would compete in the Tour De France, or why Warne and Ganguly and Gilly are playing one last IPL.

Or perhaps, none of this is true. Perhaps they never come back to hold on. Perhaps they come back one last time to say goodbye. When they first retired, they said their goodbyes to their fans. When they come back after retirement, maybe that journey is just for them, to marry mind and body and get them in agreement – an agreement to say goodbye to their dreams for ever.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

IPL: Of captains and owners

It’s just one match. It’s probably too early to say it, but I will say it. The team that won today belonged to India’s greatest war-time general. Shah Rukh Khan owns Kolkata Knight Riders, true. But once they step on to the field, the team belongs to the captain. Shashank Manohar or Sharad Pawar never own team India, it is Dhoni’s team. The Australian team is Ponting’s team, not ACB’s. The team that won today, belonged to Sourav Ganguly.


Does this mean that there is no meaning to what Dav Whatmore and Wasim Akram would have done? It’d be incorrect to say so. But what ultimately matters is what the men do on the field, when there is no second chance. That performance is driven by the captain.

Rewind by a year. South Africa, IPL-2. Shah Rukh Khan thought John Buchanan was the guy who’d lead KKR to victory. The natural leader of the team was Ganguly. SRK had no guts to be forthright and say that he wanted to sack Ganguly. They came up with silly things like 4 captains for the tournament, and then the captaincy was taken away in a very wrong way. Yes, it is the owner’s prerogative as to who the captain should be and who should be given the sack. But things need to be done with dignity and as a man.

I saw KKR lose matches that they should have won. McCullum as a remote-control leader was uninspiring. The real leadership resided with Buchanan, who was sitting in the dugout. Players can’t look beyond the boundary line for leadership, they need to see it on the field. Coming to this match, now.

KKR looked like they’d lose this match, quite a few times. But the difference was that this year they came back from the brink and won a match they should have lost. The difference was probably in the leadership. Probably Whatmore and Ganguly have an arrangement that beyond the boundary line, Whatmore is the leader and when they step on to the field, Ganguly is. I saw the man make 3 bowling changes, and all of them produced wickets. I saw a charged-up team. It’s just one match, but I saw a change.

I don’t know if they can make it to the semis this year. That’d mean that they have played most of their matches well, leading up to the knock-out, and then they can hope for 2 good games. KKR finished last in the previous edition of the IPL, and that had nothing to do with the then captain. The owner screwed things up. This time, SRK has left his team in his captain’s hands. If KKR does better, it is because of Ganguly. If they don’t then the captain should take the flak.

And the self-proclaimed No.1 should realise that in a cricket match the heroes are the ones who are sweating it out on the field. Not the ones beyond the boundary line. Team sport is different. It is not like a film or a soft drink, for which you select a team to make a good product. In a team sport, the team is the product.


P.S. On 24th April, nothing would please me more than seeing Sachin Tendulkar lift the trophy on his 37th birthday. He represents the city that is my home. If not him, then it should be Sourav Ganguly. After all, he is the best person to have led my country in cricket

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Looking for a hero

As I saw Tiger Woods reading out his apology to his fans, for his extra-marital affairs, I couldn’t help but wonder if he needed to do it. One school of thought said that ‘he better have done it! He cheated his fans’. The other school of thought said ‘hold on! Why does he need to apologise to us?’ The former thought is probably something that would be more acceptable to fans, than the latter. The refrain would be – ‘he was a hero and a role model to so many, and he let them down’. This is what I am uncomfortable with.

I had read an article written by Rohit Brijnath (the best sports writer in the world, in my humble opinion) that said that these top sportsmen are sporting champions, not necessarily heroes. I so agree with him. What I fail to understand is the need to crucify Woods for cheating his wife, the need to crucify John Terry for having an affair.

How well did we know Tiger Woods? Yes, we may know about the majors he won; we might know of the incredible shot he pulled off at the 2005 Masters; we might know that his first name is actually Eldrick; but what else do we know about him as a person? Precious little! That is the truth. On the golf course, he is a champion; outside it, we do not know him. So, why does he need to apologise to his fans who know nothing about Tiger Woods the man?

Don’t we all hold sports stars and film stars to an extremely high moral standard? Now, just think that you had a friend, and he or she cheats on the partner. Would we expect that friend to apologise to the partner that was cheated upon or would we expect that friend to call all of us over and apologise to all of us? I don’t think we’d feel aggrieved if the friend did not offer us an apology. We might feel bad, though, if the aggrieved partner has not been apologised to.

That is what should have happened. The press and the fans should have just let Tiger Woods be. Let him apologise to his wife, let him sort his life out, the one he leads away from the golfing greens. And once he comes back to swing his club, let us welcome back and cheer the champion that he once was on his turf.

And I hope that we all realise that not all sporting champions are real heroes. They are people who can go wrong, who can be insecure, who can be obnoxious, who we should accept as human. If we are to look for real heroes, let us search a little closer. Well, I did that and found my real heroes.

I think of that wonderful lady who sat next to me and helped me with my homework, and did not even make the slightest mention of her back spasm that badly needed rest. I think of that caring man who rushed me to a doctor when I had a 101 fever, and did not even bother that he was himself running a temperature of a 102. When I was old enough to realise this, I realised who my real heroes are. Believe me; some of my sporting heroes have let me down in one way or another. That why I looked for real heroes. And they weren’t difficult to find.

So the next time people mention Tiger Woods or Terry, let’s accept them for what we know them for; their prowess in the sporting arena and nothing else, for that is the only part of them that we intimately know.