Tuesday, January 31, 2012

No one knows....

Was reading Sidvee's brilliant take on the happenings in Australia, with Bob Gatewood's "No one knows" fortuitously playing on iTunes. Somehow felt a link between the words and the dilemma(s) facing the big 3 in the middle order, and also cricket fans like me (and Sidvee) who probably started watching serious cricket in the late 80s when SRT was just making his entry. I might overplay this one, but an Indian team without SRT is something that seems unfathomable to me (similar sentiments with Dravid for Sidvee, I assume), for want of a better word. It's almost like you walk past that compound where your grandparents' house stood, look in and realize it's no longer there, and Time has moved on, and there stands a multi-storey building. 

Life is a garden, the more that something grows....the more the ground is bare, when it goes 

Laxman and Dravid have been part of the backbone of our lineup for the last 15 years or so, and to me they are what GR Viswanath was to my father's generation - stylish, impeccable strokeplayers, probably straight out of the Don's coaching manual. I have to admit I've seen very little of Vishy; the only games I can recollect are from the 1980-81 series in Australia, where he looks rather unimpressive. I still watch the Laxman-Dravid innings from the Eden Gardens Test in 2001 and get nostalgic not just over their strokeplay, but also over the circumstances in which they played it. Sometimes I have a gut feeling that back in the 70s, cricket writers (and radio commentators for that matter) conveyed a lot more in their pieces than today, painting a Monet/VanGogh like tapestry, and not the Jackson Pollock-style inanities.
Water, sunshine, love and rain...can't make that space grown again....round and round we go.....no one knows...

Today, both Laxman and Dravid, and Tendulkar to a lesser extent, face questions about their place in the squad. Sadly, all three have looked woefully out of sorts during the series, despite their best efforts. People claim Kapil overstayed, which is a fact, considering the fact that he was blocking Srinath's path into the Test team. At this stage, I am not sure if the same can be said about the big-3. The Rohits, Yuvis and Sureshs have been tried and tested, and found wanting; which was not the case with Srinath. Quite frankly, whatever people might say, the cupboard is bare as of now. There is time before the next Test series, and that time must be used by the big 3, or the authorities/coaches to try and get the next generation (Sharma, Yuvi, Raina, Badrinath, Pujara) ready to take on whatever comes their way in the next 5 years or so (medium-term vision?).

No one knows if time is telling the truth....or how our garden will grow....why is time not ours to control....no one knows...no one knows...

I am not sure what the road ahead will be like, but the future has to groomed, and groomed NOW. IPL or not, It looks like the next away series of note is against South Africa in November 2013! There's more than enough time to get these guys geared up to face quality teams on quality wickets. At the same time, creating sporting wickets in India would go a long way in building bowlers who can make the most of conditions and not look like clueless buffoons on non-subcontinental wickets in Australia/NZ/South Africa. There was a time spin was India's strength, but that's not the case now. Ashwin is decent, but the buck stops there. Bhajji is in woeful decline, and I'm afraid his only performance of note on the field of the last couple of years of his career will be his settling scores with Sreesanth, if he does not come back AND perform well. Pragyan Ojha is decent, but might be second-best in holding a place in the side, considering Ashwin's decent run with the bat.

So for you the time has come, to head off towards your kingdom come....so unfairly now, you must go...

Changes must be made, although I fully understand they might not be implemented in the upcoming series at home vs. Pakistan. But I cannot really see Laxman or Dravid (or Tendulkar for that matter) in the team beyond that series. The tour to Lanka, and the subsequent home series against NZ, Aus and England potentially offer the perfect setup to get the new guys in, up and running. It may be unfair, but the time is probably right. The water, sunshine, love and rain provided (if any, since you can never be sure with the BCCI), will make the space grow again. If this does not happen, I foresee a very long and arduous learning curve, with the Indian team potentially heading into a steep decline similar to what the WIndies have gone/are going through.

So unfair a man like you, was cast down for what fate would do....for you there is no day in the sun...

And finally, back to Dravid...the man who has been the proverbial Atlas for India, bearing every burden (and the innumerable brickbats) which have come his way. He has done everything a man could have done in times of crisis - opened the batting, donned the wicket-keeper's gloves. If there is one man who should be allowed to choose when he wants to walk off stage, it is him. To me, despite my [blind] loyalties towards Bombay and Tendulkar, he is the true great amongst the three, or the greater of the 3 greats. Without him, I wonder what the team would have been like, much like you wonder what the Windies would have been like without Richards - he's the glue which has held the team together.

But then....Que Sera Sera....like Sidvee concluded, the last word lies with Messrs. Srinivasan, Fletcher, Dhoni and Srikkanth.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Travel diaries - Part One

(The first of a series, hopefully, of a travel diary)

One week to go, and PP was headed to India, for the first time after he came to the US. The airport, which is normally one of those where you can breeze through, was a buzz of activity that morning with queues stretching all over the terminal. Strangely, it took about 45 mins to check-in, which wasn't bad, since he had factored in checking in 3h ahead, since he was flying on an international leg from JFK onwards.

A week on, the boy found himself stuck in Philly airport with a six hour delay, with the rain pounding down. He thanked his stars for booking the domestic leg of the flight one day before the international leg. As usual, the US Airways folks were as knowledgeable about the flight status as their passengers. It was not the first, and most definitely not the last time the US Airways folks would goof-up travel plans!

The boy kept himself amused the next day, while the girl was away at work. Bags packed, ready to go, and before you knew it, they were at the airport. Waiting to check-in for a flight headed to India is an experience in itself; each passenger unique in his/her own way. The harried mother of two, trying to control one kid, while holding the other on her shoulder. The couple heading back home after grandparent duty. Gawky teenagers on their way to Madras to spend a few weeks of their summer vacations with thaatha and paatti. The businessman, suave and all, but still wanting to cut the queue at every possible opportunity.

At the gate, you see the AI flight to Bombay (777-300, in all it's glory) just pulling out, making it's way slowly across the tarmac, and you wonder how this beast makes it to 500 mph! This one's rather unimaginatively named "Jharkand" - a disappointment compared to the grander names AI aircrafts had in the past, like Samudragupta and other royal folks. The place slowly begins filling up.

There's not much to really do, so the boy and girl go check out the duty free section, looking immaculate with all the alcohol and perfumes neatly stacked up in there. It's a different story, that there's little place to move around in there - there are other bored people too! The boy eyes a Carolina Herrera 212, which he's had his eyes on for about 3-4 months, but as always the prices are forbidding in duty-free! He'll have to do with a splash to re-test its smell - which lasts all the way till he gets home, and turns out to be clincher and the first purchase once he's back in the US!

Still no sign of the aircraft at the gate - you can see it rest a short distance away from the gate with a couple of other big aircrafts. People are restless, and even though the airline ground staff still haven't manned the counter, they seem to be all set to take the door down and "take a walk on the wild side" off the aerobridge!

Once they get there, the airline staff do a phenomenal job of getting everyone on board, without making it look like people jumping into an unreserved coach of the Coromandel Express at Madras Central station! The guy doing to announcements seems a tad deaf/dim, as he doesn't realize whatever he's saying is audible on to himself! The best part is, everything seems placid. No babies crying, no kids running in the aisles, and we're all set for a smooth flight across the Atlantic.

It's 6:25pm, and on the dot, the aircraft starts pulling back from the gate. In the distance, you can see the Manhattan skyline, resplendent in its evening glory. As the aircraft waits for its turn to take-off, you get a close-up view of some real behemoths taking off on their way across the continent or ocean(s). At 6:45pm, the wheels lift-off terra firma, and the journey's begun!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wish you were here....

So you think you can tell......
In college, it was "compulsory" for each one of us to be part of an extra-curricular organization.

Heaven from hell...
It was either the National Service Scheme (social welfare and grassroots stuff), National Sports Scheme (basically get some fresh air after classes, and 'put adda" in the sports ground), and the best of the best, the National Cadet Corps.

Blue skies from pain...
I have no clue how I got caught - can only blame it on the seniors 2 batches ahead of me who waltzed into class, and picked me out immediately, since I was known as the "Bombay wallah".

Can you tell a green field......
Saturday morning parades, at 8am sharp. Misty mornings, empty #23C bus.

From a cold steel rail?.....
Crunch of boots with nails grating on the asphalt of the CEG campus. Wasted Saturday mornings?

A smile from a veil? 
Sometimes had the good fortune of a 'darshan' of the NCC Navy folks doing their drills - ballet compared to ours!

Do you think you can tell? 
Sometimes wonder if it was all worth it!

And did they get you to trade

Your heroes for ghosts? 

Venkataramanaiah, a clown of the highest order, always talking through his hat, about snakes he encountered. Later on heard that he just left college one day and escaped to Singapore, where I'm sure he's expanded on his reptile knowledge!

Hot ashes for trees? 
Some mornings in the brutal Madras heat. Soaked uniforms. Some unfortunate souls wilting and then being sent for a "frog jump"!

Hot air for a cool breeze? 
At least they served us some semi-decent breakfasts at the canteen! Developed some level of a liking for pongal.

Cold comfort for change? 
Missing the camp in the summer of '99 was blissful. A year on I'd realize how lucky I was!

And did you exchange 

A walk on part in the war 
For a lead role in a cage? 
 Would have to do the camp in the summer of 2000, but that would also mean missing out on a bit of Euro 2000! Going to camp as a 'senior' would be a relief from the humdrum of the usual parades and all the jazz.

How I wish, how I wish you were here.

We're just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl,
Year after year, 

Miserable summer camp, but we soldiered on as brothers, each one looking out for the other. Today, I think each one of us looks back at that camp, and remembers the good times, and not the misery of it!

Running over the same old ground.
And how we found
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.

Dedicated to some of the most amazing people with whom I strengthened our friendships on that camp - Tanay, PD, Venks, Arvind, Mohan, among so many more who were part of Signals!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Where have you gone, Ayrton Senna?

It will be 18 years this May......I remember that Sunday evening, like it was yesterday.....I was on the phone in the dining room, when I heard the news....Ayrton Senna was gone....forever! I had heard that another driver (Roland Ratzenberger) had been killed the previous day in qualifying, but this was a shocker.
Star Sports had just started showing Formula 1 races a year or two earlier, and for an aficionado like me, Sunday evenings were reserved for F1. It had come a long way from the days of reading about races 2 weeks after they happened in the latest issue of Sportstar (funny thinking about in this day and age). Admittedly in my early days of following F1, I had a tough time distinguishing Alain Prost from Senna! They looked the same (somewhat to my teen brain), and drove for the same McLaren team. Little did I know about the rivalry between them. Prost, the Frenchman, always the scheming Professor....Senna, the dapper Brazilian, reminiscent of his footballer brethren, stylish and suave.
He was gone before I really had a chance to see his true greatness at the wheel, living and driving on the edge. I had only read about them, until recently, when I got the chance to watch a fabulous documentary on him. Asif Kapadia's award-winning "Senna" is surely a must-watch, and shows the man in his prime, in life and in death. Star Sports always ended their races that year with U2's "One", in its near entirety, the lyrics of which ring hauntingly true to this day. And it always ended with his unforgettable yellow helmet atop his casket!

Coming to think of it, 1994 was a strange year in sports! Was exposed to the madness/mayhem when sports and reality TV intersect with the OJ Simpson brouhaha. Watched the Brazilians win a World Cup for the first time in my life, but also read about a young man lose his life for an own-goal. Had the good fortune of watching Brian Lara for the first time, in the flesh, after he broke Gary Sobers' unbreakable record and also belted poor Durham into oblivion.
But personally, 1994 will always be the year we lost the Prince of Formula1, Ayrton Senna!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Has Indian cricket really turned a corner?

Since I last scribbled on this pad, the "Men in Blue" somehow managed to win a cricket World Cup, banishing Kapil and his Devils of 1983 (hopefully) permanently to the woodwork, from which they tended to make an appearance every four years. The euphoria was thick in the air, even in the summer when they toured England and performed miserably! They looked woefully out of sorts, bereft of any passion for the game, leading my good friend King_of_Jacks, a hardcore Indian cricket fan to sort-of question his interest in the game (disclosure: die-hard fan yours truly gave up watching, even though he was India). As a friend said, whatever cold go wrong, went wrong with the team, particularly the f-word, fitness.

Not sure if it was a case of too much cricket, or whether the team just took it easy after the win, basking in the accolades which (rightfully) came their way. I am as guilty of these indiscretions as they are, so I can't afford to point a finger at them. I haven't been a big fan of T20, but then we would probably have not found Virat Kohli and Ashwin but for this format, not to mention Rohit Sharma, all of whom have a decent road ahead for them, provided they put in the yards. To a large extent, T20 is often about thinking "outside the box" and that's the way the game is going to be, whether we like it or not.

The BCCI is well, as Mohinder Amarnath memorably quipped, "a bunch of jokers". With Kumble at the helm of the NCA (and the KSCA), a lot of thought it would be a breath of fresh air, but the man's been working pretty much with his hands tied, and a lot of stupid innuendo floating around about supposed "conflicts of interest", when the emperor himself is a walking, talking conflict, who pretends to be holier than everyone else! I think Kumble would have been the perfect guy to mould young cricketers, and their skills on and off the field, to make them ambassadors of the game. Que Sera Sera! And to think, the straw which finally broke Kumble's back was a software package for injury management!

And so, the boys are now in Australia, and as usual there's a fear of another goof-up, especially on the fitness front. Agreed, the Aussies haven't been at their best, losing even to New Zealand. With Phil Hughes out of the Test squad, I suspect the Indians are in trouble. Only time will tell!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The beautiful game

Another World Cup is over, and it introduced a new champion, not unexpectedly. However, the inspiration for this post was ESPN's 30 for 30 on "The Two Escobars" going back some 20 years - bringing back memories of the Colombian football team.

Back in 1990, there were two Colombian footballers who created a clear impression on me. The inimitable Valderrama, with his frizzy hairdo, and ofcourse the crazy Rene Higuita (he of the scorpion kick). Back in the good old days when my hair had to be within a few microns of my scalp, Valderrama's 'do was quite a thing - I think it still is! Higuita ofcourse was known for his forays to midfield, and good old Roger Milla caught him napping on one of those forays, and celebrated in his usual "jiggly" dance on the sidelines!

It's the first football World Cup I can remember watching. Memories of waking up with Achan at what were then unearthly hours to watch some great players. Baggio weaving through defenses, Schillaci working his magic, Klinsmann heading in a blinder against the Yugoslavians, Sergio Goychochea pulling off some stunning saves, and so much more. It was about Maradona beginning his decline. The Germans playing some boring football (in general) and winning the Cup!

But more than that it was about falling in love with the beautiful game, and about a father teaching his son the joys of sport!

NOTE: This was started sometime in July 2010, and completed only in March 2011! Have watched more of ESPN's 30 for 30, and they've done a fab job of the series.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The wind in my hair...

Happened to get back earlier than usual one evening last week. The sky was overcast, a cool breeze blew through my hair, carrying with it the smell of rain. Leaves went helter-skelter, weaving patterns on the concrete, their rustles competing with the cicadas in full flow.

It all reminded me of home. This is the first time I'm really noticing this - it might be the new apartment complex too! As always, overcast skies remind me of "Fabric" by Midival Punditz - from the "Monsoon Wedding" soundtrack (raaga Bhairavi, I think).