Days of our Lives!

August 30, 2012

Book Review: Rahul Dravid: Timeless Steel – ESPNcricinfo

Filed under: Books,Sports — Santhosh @ 10:54 PM

Book: Rahul Dravid: Timeless Steel
Author: ESPNcricinfo
Genre: Anthology, Sports

I read cricinfo. I also like Dravid. And I mean both in the most politely understated way possible. If ever someone got into the online stalking business, they’d find that a cricinfo hits counter for me would have a daily average not too dissimilar to Dravid’s, and for almost as long. Dravid’s the cricketer I’ve liked the most (with Sachin, it’s love, which is different) and I’ve gone through phases where I’ve voraciously searched and read everything to do with him (google alerts, rss feeds, the works). And then, along comes this book, which is made up mostly of the best of the cricinfo lot on Dravid, and complemented by new articles from some of my favourite cricket writers.

Nicely structured (as can be seen below), it at once provides both an intimate and a complete picture about the man and the cricketer. Because of the anthological nature of the book, and the filtering from among the tens of really really good writing on the topic, we’re essentially talking about a collection of, for the most part, truly great articles. That a couple may pale in direct comparison with the other articles in the book is more a reflection of the quality and richness of the collection.

The final retirement interview is a case study in its genre for both the interviewer and the interviewee. There is the unedited article of Vijeeta Dravid’s, the unabridged Dravid interviews that even further illuminate his class and intelligence, and edited versions of gems previously published but now with that extra bit of hindsight. Siddharth Monga’s amazing play-by-play account of the Kolkata 2001 innings took me back a decade and the brilliant dissection by Akash Chopra on Dravid’s evolving technique is a masterpiece in its own right. The articles by juniors, coaches and peers give a peek into the competitor and the professional, and Samir Chopra’s The Money Moment throws that bit of light on the steel behind the gentleman*.

* Something which I’ve also once seen happen during a Dravid interview just before the 2007 world cup. The interviewer was some kid who was clearly out of his depth and kept talking in cliches in terms of the game and, funnily enough, even of the man he was interviewing. At one point, there was some ridiculous question that Dravid politely patted away. The kid again pressed Dravid on it, and at that moment, I too saw the strength and steel behind the cool exterior. Dravid’s eyes narrowed a touch, his lines hardened a bit, his voice became steely, and suddenly the kid (and I) knew he was witnessing 20000 international runs talking to him.

My Rating: 5/5. Definitely a keeper. The book, that is.

**********

Introduction: Your Regular, Everyday Superstar by Sambit Bal

The Cricketer

In The Words Of His Peers

The Great Innings

The Man

The Interviews

The Bradman Oration

The Numbers

July 24, 2012

Book Review: It Takes All Sorts: Celebrating Cricket’s Colourful Characters – Peter Roebuck

Filed under: Books,Sports — Santhosh @ 12:25 AM
Book: It Takes All Sorts: Celebrating Cricket’s Colourful Characters
Author: Peter Roebuck
Genre: Anthology, Sports

I’ve always liked reading Roebuck, who’s been one of that rarest of breeds: the cricketer-turned-mediaman who is actually good at this second inning. His writing always looked at the bigger picture, never was there a hint of parochialism, and was one of the few that held original thought, thoughtful ideas, and incisive opinion. Foremost though, was his writing style and quality. Lyrical prose of Edwardian timbre adorning the back pages of newspapers, a delight any day. Unlike any sports article required or managed to do, you could read his articles purely for the joy of writing, the events and people being described becoming incidental happenstances. Of course, there have been times where I’ve wished he’d just get to the damn point and let ’em rip, but, as with all things, I miss his writing after his tragic passing.

This book is a collection of articles and writing published over a decade (approximately 1994 to 2004) and has some excellent vignettes within: immediate impressions of some of the grandest innings and spells; the first published article about a 17-yr old Ricky Ponting (where his mates call him “Sachin” for the prodigy he was developing into); an impression of Kevin Pietersen playing Sunday grade cricket in Australia during his initial days in the wilderness; the farewells to Merv Hughes and the Waugh Twins; the common-man connection of Allan Border with the Aussie public; the background stories of Klusener and a host of other African, Dutch and Asian players; the moving eulogies for some recent passed cricketers – Ben Hollioake, Malcolm Marshall, Corey Doyle, Don Bradman; impromptu games by a far-retired Lillee, noiseless cricket by the deaf, articles praising the brightest of futures for a developing club/county player(s) (who we now know never made it), etc.

Unlike non-fiction where you have to concentrate and analyze and think, and unlike fiction where it always ends up being a page-turner which you tend to rush through, this is a perfect lazy-Sunday-afternoon book to curl up with as the Sun sets in a hazy blaze of orange and the Bangalore monsoon pitter-patters on the windows.

My Rating: 4/5

April 22, 2009

The Indian Prime-er League

Filed under: Sports — Santhosh @ 3:40 PM
  • The auction packed Indian Premier League version 2.0 is finally here and I’m soooo looking forward to former chapati shot players wax eloquent about DLF maximums, little obnoxious weeds slapping balls in more ways than one, and watching Lalita Moody’s particularly beautiful nose every 7 minutes.
  • Just one thing though: I’m not sure of the leaguel implications of the Indian bit of it.
  • You first drill a hole in the bottle, poke in a straw and slurp a bit off. Then, you pop the bottle open amidst much fanfare and declare the bottle to be henceforth opened. This is how the first day felt like.
  • Anyone who’s out there in SA, can you please tell me why so many players have taken to wearing white lipstick? For some reason they call it zinc, but don’t you be fooled.
  • Oh, and while you’re at it, please throw a shoe at Modi no? Steel-rimmed hunter boots would be especially ideal, but even a Hawaii chappal would do nicely though. I’m not the choosy type.
  • “… hereby declare the IPL open” – as Amit Verma would say, immense WTFness comes.
  • Fried Flintoff tastes especially good with Nayar kadai chai.
  • Golden oldies, olden goldies, hold-on baldies… Enough rhymes I say!
  • I personally think the Indian Promotions League is a brilliant idea; to have a 3.5 hour dedicated window for advertisements: truly groundbreaking. They even show some of their actors chilling out with wooden sticks, leather spheres and pom-pom girls. I think it’s some sort of a warm-up they do for their acting.
  • I think the IPL best resembles good ol’ WWF – the garish costumes, tawdry trophy, hyperboles, superlative speak, and a McMahon like Modi.
  • Looks like Bhajji’s been doing a lot of thinking of late. Or not. – “I don’t think they think I think about my game” “I don’t think I am very happy with the mid-innings break”, “I don’t think I shave my legs”…
  • And heard the news about the prisoners in Kolkata’s Alipore Central Jail going on hunger strike? Tch, tch, the food should be even worse than my college’s.
  • More than anything else about this IPL, I just love this guy. For those who aren’t aware of him, he’s supposedly a member of KKR and does seem to know quite a bit of the inside scoop. Watch out for his wicked nicknames.
  • You know why McCullum was made captain? SRK called him in for a Knight Cap(tain)

December 17, 2008

Cheeeeee

Filed under: Sports — Santhosh @ 7:41 AM

Ruffling the hair, rubbing the back, patting the bum…
Watching the Aus-SA series, I wonder if bowlers should submit a writ for sexual harassment in the workplace.

November 3, 2008

Farewell Jumbo

Filed under: Sports,Top Draws — Santhosh @ 11:30 AM

It is said that the memory span of the average Indian cricket fan is three balls, six if it happens to be about Sachin. In Anil Kumble’s case, that may not be such a bad thing after all. A year back, the last ball he bowled in one-day cricket was a Jumbo rocket. Bermuda’s Malachi Jones stood stupefied – better batsmen have suffered worse – as the ball pitched in line, hurried inexorably on, and crashed into pad, trapping him plumb in front. Yesterday, the penultimate ball he bowled in Test cricket was also a quintessential Kumble special – it pitched on middle and leg, kicked up from a length from the rough, climbing past a bemused Hayden and a helmet-protected Dhoni had to fend it off his head. It made everyone forget the last few games, the worn shoulder, the tired fingers, the cut webbing, the relentless media scrutiny, the shocking wickets columns, the bite off the pitch evident by its absence.

His career can be divided into three parts – that wintry day in Manchester in 1990 to till his rotator cuff gave way in 2000, from 2001 to 2003-04 and from 2004 to 2008. Kumble spent 339 days in surgery, post-operative care, physiotherapy and rehabilitation. When he came back in 2001, he had lost his most dangerous weapon – his flipper. His reset shoulder just couldn’t generate the zip it once had, the ball didn’t grip as much, the wickets came slower. He still bowled accurately, still was as determined and willing, but he had turned from lethal and unplayable to merely threatening and respected. Between 2001 and 2004 he was in the wilderness. Bhajji was the spinner of choice for ODIs and Kumble played only when two spinners were required in a Test. And then he fought back, reinventing himself like not many before him have to set off on his most productive run yet. It started in Adelaide when Bhajji was injured and he got his break. Over the series, he once again became India’s premier spinner and with India’s batting starting to run up scores overseas also, he started clearing his CV of sporadic blemishes – wickets overseas, series wins, a Test Century even. Therein lies his USP – humble enough to accept change, determined enough to never give up, willing enough to reinvent himself.

A lot of my memories of cricket while growing up involve Kumble – he just seemed to always be bowling if India was. In the 90s, at a time when Kumble was sometimes the fastest bowler in the side, with Venkatesh Prasad at Mid On and Navjot Singh Sidhu at Cover to call as fielders, when our bowlers used to push the speed barrier only in getting back to their short run-ups, it was Kumble who so often kept us in the match. Back then, he was relentless, pinning the batsmen down with fast deliveries, working them over, drying up the runs, building the pressure, denying them the chance to attack for fear that the ball might skid or leap, that the temptation was a trap. He was accurate, relentless, and mean and hated giving away runs. His top-spinners bounced more than anybody else’s, his googlies spat off the rough, his flippers screamed through to the stumps when the bat was still coming down.

We could almost plot the batsman’s dismissal ourselves when Jumbo was setting them up. Four deliveries pitched up to draw him forward, with a top-spinner thrown in to keep Silly Point interested. The fifth would be the flipper – fast, straight, pitched on a length and skidding in, the batsman caught on his back foot, his mind willing his bat to come down faster. It seldom did.

He never caught the imagination of the world along the lines of Warne and Murali, something similar to the way we now feel about Ponting – good, but never to be spoken in the same breath as Sachin and Lara. He was the top wicket-taker in the 1996 World Cup, outperforming Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan in the subcontinent. He has claimed more LBW victims in Test history than anyone. He’s got wickets all over the world, including a tenner. And yet… Maybe it was because he didn’t burst on to the scene but rather slowly imposed himself on the game. Maybe it was because he debuted as just another spinner during an age when India had world-class exponents by the dozen. Maybe because his bowling didn’t have the natural beauty of a spinner like Mishra over the last week and Warnie for years, have. The ball was never thrown up, it never had that drift in the air towards the batsman’s legs to grip the surface and spit and turn past the batsman’s bat. He had his own methods and with the precision of a surgeon, set to work with his tools. Like he said, “The difference between the middle of the bat and the edge is one inch.”

We were with him when his 6 for 12 ran through the Windies in the midst of the torches that 100,000 Kolkatans held aloft at the Eden Gardens; when he and Srinath won us that Titan Cup match against Australia in their hometown, with their mothers screaming and cheering at the Chinnaswamy stadium; when he took all ten at the Kotla; when he had his arm in a sling and mentored Bhajji to 32 wickets in the epochal 2001 series; when he came out with a broken jaw and bowled 14 straight overs, appealing with his eyes to the umpires, before finally prising Lara out; we have been with him when he reinvented his bowling, and with the Fab Four set out on a golden period of overseas wins; we have been silently roaring with him every time he and More, Mongia and Dhoni have gone up; we have been jumping out of our seats every time the ball was edged just short of Short Leg or an inside edge just managed to keep the ball out; we have been with him right through the bespectacled days through the rotator cuffs and the broken jaws till yesterday’s split webbing (when, after eleven stitches and general anesthesia for half a day, he returned to take three more wickets).

I’m sad, yes. Very. Had a lump in my throat when Sachin collected his cap to hand it to the umpire one last time. But happy for him. Happy because of him. Happy for having witnessed what he was and what he did. Thanks Jumbo, for all those Sunday afternoons and whispered updates during class, for making us run home from school and keeping our mobiles switched on in college, for the wonderful memories of hope, triumph and inspiration, for showing us that it is neither talent nor predisposition but choice and will that matter more, for reminding us that it is important to fight even when hope seems lost, for showing us that aggression and attitude are not about sledges, glares or brave statements in the press, and yes, many thanks for having been a major part of our cricket lives!

Tomorrow’s papers

Filed under: Sports — Santhosh @ 12:29 AM

Bespectacled, engineer, mild-mannered, soft-spoken, fiercely competitive, unlike Warne and Muralitharan, hardly turns the ball, like an inswing bowler, line-and-length, McGrath of slow bowlers, on pitches with uneven bounce, flipper, all 10 wickets in a Test innings, bowled with a fractured jaw, gritty lower order batsman….

August 31, 2008

The media dandanaka and Abhinav

Filed under: Sports — Santhosh @ 11:37 PM


A cool 10.7 out of a 10.9 on his final shot and suddenly we have our first ever individual gold. And a week’s worth of pot gold for our media starved of quakes, elections and Rakhi Sawant videos.

The media tell us that he has single-handedly given hope and inspiration to a billion people who’ve been praying, pining, yearning and aching for him to win. Reportedly, the weather department had even observed a sudden fall in global warming when more than a billion of the world population held their collective breath when he squeezed the trigger.

We also suddenly have the latest New Most Eligible Bachelor v3.8, patch 132. An Olympic gold to add to someone who already is an undergraduate from the US of the A, is the CEO of his own company Abhinav Futuristics, has his own phoreen coach and personal training range worth 8 digits, and whose dad gifted him a five-star hotel for having come first (most get bicycles) in Beijing. Even guys should be queuing up for advice from Rose akka.

It’s been fun watching the media work (with) him. Used to getting half-hourly one hour proclamations from the likes of Sania and Sreesanth, they are suddenly finding themselves banging their heads sore against this reticent fella. While they’d have liked a hairy, open-chested, clenched-fisted hero, they’ve had to settle with a bespectacled kid with a half-smile who looks more like the boy next door preparing for his TNPCEE or CET. While the media are hinting themselves silly to get fiery sound bytes and roars* from the kid, all he’s talked is “Yes I’m happy, it’s yet to sink in, it’s a great feeling, the hard work’s paid off, I’m proud, my parents are happy“. Each such gem mumbled with the sleepy, droopy, innocent, cute face looking down every two minutes to check his wristwatch. And while he looks like all he wants to do is to down his Junior Horlicks and go to sleep, the press are hounding him with references to marriage and Bollywood.

*Yuvi would have talked of serving the country, battlefields, fighting fire with fire, Kapil Dev and Padukone while Yuvi’s dad would have already given press statements about kurukshetras, lions, patriotism and his son not being interested in the prime ministership.

psst: do check his blog out (sponsored as it is)

April 21, 2008

Why the IPL needs all the extra glitz it can attract!

Filed under: My Cup of Socie-Tea,Sports,Top Draws — Santhosh @ 2:24 AM

Now that the IPL has finally begun in all its hype and hoopla, everyone seems to be asking just the one question – why do we need all this glitz, glamour and sideshows for a cricket match. To understand this, one would first need to understand the Indian cricket fan. There are essentially two types :

One is the cricket sport fan.
The one who has a genuine love of cricket as a sport and is able to appreciate the fine nuances of the game. He understands the subtle changes in the spinner’s flight and angle according to the batsman and the field or the way a batsman changes his grip slightly to bring more of his bottom hand into play. To him, watching a cricket match is an experience, understanding the critical passages of play, riding the ebb and flow of the match and becoming a part of a most intricately constructed drama where he becomes one of them. For such a fan, even seemingly boring passages of play – low-scoring scraps, batsmen biding time by letting balls go by, a spinner bowling six maiden overs in a row – fascinate and fill his mind with action, adding to the drama slowly unfolding around him. Unfortunately, for such a fan, going to the cricket ground is not necessarily a requisite option. He wants to follow the game at the micro-level – close-ups of the batsman as he prepares to face, the change in grip as the bowler decides to go cross-seam – none of which can be done if he’s sitting near square-leg in a pathetic stadium and can’t even follow which way the ball is swinging, never mind the inaccessibility to tools for his own analysis (pitch-maps, replays, comparisons, etc).

The other is the cricket entertainment fan.
He looks at cricket as another means of entertainment, another Bollywood movie, with a Dhoni or a Yuvraj as the hero. For him cricket is about the story of the good guy winning against the bad guy, the hero who would do all the things that he wanted to, but couldn’t. And just the way the movie fan leaves the theater muttering his dissent if his hero couldn’t win in the end in one of those tragic-dramas, the same goes when his team doesn’t win and in which case we have effigy-burning and house-stoning. This fan wants fours and sixes and excitement and action and confrontations and shots of women in the crowd. He just wants to be entertained. This is the Indian Cricket Fan that the outside world gets to see – the one who builds temples for his idol but also throws bottles on fielders and burns effigies. This fan is not crazy about cricket – he’s crazy about Indian cricket, more specifically the international version, which is why India was the only country where domestic 20-20 was such a huge flop last June.

However, it is this second category of fans who make cricket such big business in India. Their blatant ignorance of the sport in question is entirely besides the point, because they are the ones who bring in the moolah by flocking to the grounds, paying millions for sweaty shirts worn by their heroes, and generating billions in revenues for the BCCI. This is why so much coverage of the game is hyperbolic, designed to keep viewers perpetually excited. This is also the reason most commentators are ex-cricketers, hired for being familiar to a celebrity-obsessed audience, and rarely for the insights they offer – why we are forced to hear a Rameez Raja’s “That was a fast ball. Make no mistake. The mistake was made by the batsman” or an Arun Lal’s “That ball was in the air for a while, but it didn’t quite reach the fielder”. The commentary is mostly rhetorical and the commentators are mere summarisers with a delivery like the Speaking Clock. It’s playing to the gallery that knows no shades of grey – just black and white – which is why even experienced retired cricketers, even taking their relative lack of common sense into account, judge a shot as splendid or terrible based on just the result.

So for the IPL to sustain, the cricket is not going to be enough. The category of fans who matter for the balance-sheets are not going to want to pay good money day in and day out for 3 hours where more than 50% of the players are cricketing nobodies from the Ranji wilderness. This is the reason why Lalit Modi and co feel there’s a need for firangi cheerleaders and Akshaye “I-act-only-in-multi-starrers” Kumar swinging down cables; why SRK feels it is fine to dance away in the crowd, how much ever patronising or contrived it may look; why we have gold coloured pads, orange helmets and Gavaskar commentating in ultra-speak mode.

So rather than asking why we need all this razzmatazz to be a part of cricket, we should look at IPL cricket as just a part of the packaging for the category of fans that matter. The IPL is for the masses, pure and simple, a 3 hr movie for the star-crazed fan, with generous doses of hype and masala and girls and action and high-velocity entertainment. The cliche of IPL being the marriage between Bollywood and Cricket suddenly makes sense – both are essentially based on and serve just one particular quality/need of the fan.

ps : if you’ve come till this, you belong to category 1 and I love you, but if you haven’t then better get your fat backside off to the Chinnaswamy stadium – Mallya’s got some Redskins with pom-poms for you.

November 11, 2007

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Filed under: My Dayz,Sports — Santhosh @ 2:11 PM

We guys get together at M’s to catch the 3rd ODI. Just like old times. A planned occasion this, you know, a guy thing. To try and re-live more than a decade of similar Sundays.

Sachin gets out.
All of us give a collective groan.
Pathan clobbers a six.
P lets out that ear-splitting whistle of his.
Misbah’s bowled.
A and R swear out loud.
India Win!
High Fives all around.
Me and J poke each others’ eyes.
Sigh!

September 30, 2007

So, what just happened?

Filed under: Sports — Santhosh @ 12:02 PM

“I think I just saw India beat Pakistan in a World Cup final and lift the cup!”
“Really? Well, take two of these with a glass of water and everything should be fine in the morning.”

The next day in office, it wasn’t hard to tell who’d been up all night staring and shouting, unable to take their eyes off an event that was never supposed to happen.
~ There were the ones who were staggering around with wild eyes, preoccupied with their thoughts, and looking as if they’d been visited overnight by Manmohan Singh in a Hawaiian shirt sporting Pamela Anderson on his arm.
~ Then there were the doubters, the ones who kept pinching themselves, checking every website available for the scorecard, and confirming on Google Earth that Nostradamus’ prediction of doom was yet to materialize.
~ Then there were the ramblers, still so thoroughly affected by the experience that they kept blurting out snatches of the action to themselves.
~ And finally there were the perpetually happy – the ones who infuriated non-cricketing types by walking around the office with permanent grins plastered across their faces.

Our cricketers could have at the least given us a bit of warning before pulling a stunt like that. It’s all very well to knock over Bangladesh, THAT upset notwithstanding, or to beat England in a Test series. We are comfortable with that. But beating England, South Africa, Australia, and Pakistan in consecutive matches to lift a world title? It’s a wonder people didn’t panic, grab a few essentials and flee the country overnight. At the very least Dhoni and the ICC should be reprimanded for their tomfoolery.

How quickly things can change in a week. Not more than a fortnight ago, India were limping to this T20 World Cup from England, their one-day form in tatters, even relative to the last couple of years. Mind you, without their top three run-getters and their best bowler, into a format they had as much knowledge about as my office security have on servlets and WSDLs (not that I’m going risk asking them about it though). And that was after an iffy butsy series victory against Bangladesh. And now the Indians are being feted as world champions after galvanising a nation with some of the most exciting series of successive matches ever witnessed in the history of the game.

Now we’ve got to deal with not only a sizeable proportion of the population rendered incoherent by the past fortnight’s happenings, but also with fairy godmothers such as Madan Lal and Anshuman Gaekwad chiding us for ever doubting that it would happen. The press, as always, are in a little league of their own; Kapil’s Devils has now become Dhoni’s Daredevils (Cricinfo) and Dhoni’s Demons (TOI) – note the wonderfully creative use of alliterations here.

To witness the unrelenting intensity levels that our team produced with their backs against the wall, to watch Yuvi and Rohit and Robin defy gravity and pull off stunners and direct-hits, to see the South Africans and the Australians caving under the sustained pressure, to watch a young tyro in Sreesanth spin a web around Haydos and Yuvi pay back in interest to England and Bhajji bowl a magnificent spell to Afridi in the first game… it was as if the mind was playing tricks. If it wasn’t for the number of witnesses, you’d swear it was a propaganda stunt filmed in Eden Gardens with the help of that Chak De movie director to boost public morale before a hectic cricket season.

But the abiding memory will be of the exhilaration of an entire nation who connected with the team on a near-spiritual level, transported as one back to those heady days of the nineties when a Sachin at the peak of his powers smashed the Aussies all over a sandstorm-hit desert park, when an Ajay Jadeja sprinted towards a catch with our collective hearts in our mouths, when an India-Pakistan encounter emptied offices and streets and had the population assembled outside TV showrooms and paan-shops! There were times there when you could close your eyes and imagine the clock being turned back a decade. And that’s what Dhoni’s team helped give us this week (apart from the eyesight concerns) – a connection with our past.

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