Sampath G

Archive for the ‘Cricket’ Category

A sober companion to watch IPL with

In Cricket, Sports, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Pained by the degeneracy of contemporary cricket, a famous essayist lamented, “A hard utilitarianism and commercialization have far too long controlled it.” Years later, a famous cricketer who felt the same pain commented, “The first and worst trouble of modern cricket is that players play too much, our best men will be permanently stale, irritable and below form.”

Just consider: when these two observations were made, there was no IPL, no T20, no one-dayers, no live telecast of cricket matches, and therefore no multimillion dollar sponsorships or broadcast deals. The first observation is from E.V. Lucas, writing in 1907. The second one was made by Walter Hammond 60 years ago.
And here we are today. Guess what’s ailing the sport? Too much commercialization and too many matches. Both these taken together leave our best men permanently stale, irritable and below form. We saw extreme evidence of this when M.S. Dhoni’s men got thrashed 4-0 in England within three months of being crowned world champions, and our laborious ascent to the No 1 ranking in Tests began to be remembered more by our premature ejection from that position.
And yet, for all the pain, the typical cricket lover—even, and especially, the purist—cannot help but continue to follow the sport. For that, too, is an essential trait of the purist: loyalty to the sport no matter what. No matter how many times the game is dragged through the gutter of fixing scandals, no matter how many times the sport is betrayed by its administrators, and no matter how much of meaningful cricket commentary is replaced by vacuous chatter, the purist will not—cannot—stop watching.
For such souls, which are bound to be in pain at this time of the year in this part of the world, the first Indian edition of the Wisden Almanack comes as a quiet, shaded grove where, sheltered from the lurid assault of Indian Premier League, they can meditate in peace on a magnificent career come to a close, or relive the nostalgia of a famous victory, and energise once again their waning enthusiasm for the game.
The first edition of the Wisden Almanack came out in 1864. It took nearly a century and a half for sport’s longest-running reference book to come to India. Edited by Suresh MenonWisden India Almanack 2013has almost everything one has come to expect from the UK original—essays, match reports and scorecards, compilation of records, obituaries and quirky chronicles.
Easily the most outstanding feature of this 760-page volume are the essays, some of which go beyond the boundary, both in space and time, and entertain even as they illumine the action within.
Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie’s The backside of Lord’s is a delightful account of what it’s like to live within cheering distance of the Lord’s cricket ground. When she is working, she says, the TV is on mute. “If the wind direction is right and the Lord’s crowd near capacity, their cheers come through the open window—the sound somewhere between the roar of a wave and the whoosh of car tyres speeding along a road—and I can swivel around and, thanks to the slight lag between event and transmission, actually catch the bails flying or the ball leaving the face of the bat to bring up that century.”
While it is de rigueur for the purist to bemoan the dumbing down of the sport wrought by the IPL phenomenon, the fact remains that IPL has benefited young cricketing talent in the country by opening up career options. In The IPL Generation, Anand Vasu narrates the fascinating story of 28-year-old Thiyagarajan, who used to open the batting in the first division of competitive cricket in Chennai. The pragmatic youngster demoted himself to the second division in order to “improve his ball striking skills”, and within a year of the move, succeeded in snagging a contract worth one million rupees with Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Bishen Singh Bedi’s tribute to Tiger Pataudi, and Sanjay Manjrekar’s piece on Sunil Gavaskar are lively and affectionate accounts of how the legends had inspired the writers in their respective lives and careers. Javagal Srinath’s piece on Kapil Dev is resonant with what the former cannot or would not say about the impact the latter had on his career. Srinath coyly admits to having competed with the great all-rounder, nothing more.
In Why the richest is not the best, the evergreen Ayaz Memon gamely attempts once again what every cricket writer worth his word count has tried at some point and given up: appeal to the nobler and saner side of the gents who run the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). He writes, “…the mindset of the administration too has to be tweaked – from constantly looking to fill its coffers to constantly seeking results and excellence.” Good luck with that, Ayaz.
The only disappointment in this otherwise excellent volume are the tour and match reports, many of which are tame narratives of what happened, offering little of the insightful touches that one expects from Wisden. The report on India’s tour of Australia last year, for instance, makes no reference to the most glaring (and for the fan, most frustrating) feature of India’s 4-0 drubbing: in match after match after match, despite repeated failures, not once did India make a single change in its dysfunctional batting order. Young Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane warmed the benches right through a Test series that we lost 4-0.
The match report on the third Test in Perth, where David Warner scored a murderous 180 and India lost by an innings and 37 runs, asserts that Warner “sucked the fight out of India.” Interestingly enough, Warner said after the match that “he felt the pressure” when he went in to bat. “If this is what pressure made him produce,” says the Wisden writer, “one shudders to think what he will do when his mind is calm”. Now, this is exactly the kind of facile rhapsodizing that you don’t want to see in a quality match report.
Warner was not fibbing when he said that he felt the pressure. India, who batted first, was bundled out for 161 because the Perth wicket really was difficult to bat on. It was slightly easier for Australia, but even then Warner was very cautious to begin with, and kept playing and missing. Then he did what he does when under pressure—he tried to hit his way out of trouble.
When a player of Warner’s caliber swings the bat, there is a decent chance he would connect. And he did a couple of times. Immediately Dhoni took away the slips and spread the field, taking the pressure off, and making it way easier for Warner. If anything sucked the fight out of India, it was poor captaincy. Had the Indian skipper kept faith in his pacers, we could have been more competitive than we were. By switching to a defensive field prematurely, any chance of an early breakthrough was as good as forfeited, and the Aussie openers put on a massive partnership of 214, effectively taking the match away from India. A little less enthusiasm for eloquence and a little more for close observation and analysis would have considerably improved the tour narratives.
Like all great reference books, the Wisden can be read from cover to cover or dipped into whenever the mood strikes you. The section on records is ideal for browsing when you’re on the couch watching IPL and there’s a commercial break. Did you know, for instance, that in first class cricket, the third highest career average in the universe, next only to Don Bradman and Vijay Merchant, belongs to Ajay Sharma(10,120 runs at an average of 67.46)? Or that, of the three fastest triple centuries in the history of international cricket, two are by Sehwag?
Personally, the record I found the most interesting was the highest percentage of team’s runs scored by a player in his Test career. As you would expect, right on top is the greatest—Don Bradman. The Australian scored 24.28% of all his team’s runs during his career. At number 3 is Brian Lara, who accounted for 18.87% of his team’s runs. Sachin Tendulkar doesn’t find a mention in this list but it would be an interesting exercise to see where he stands on this one, and also the several Indian batsmen who would rank above him.
The chronicles section, of course, is rich in intrigue and entertainment. Here’s a gem, sourced from a national newspaper: “Navin Mendon, 37, of Lokhandwala, has failed to regain full use of his voice after cheering himself hoarse during India’s semi-final win over Pakistan during the World Cup. Doctors said his vocal cords had been abused.” And here’s a typical it can happen only in India story: “The Bombay high court has started investigating a complaint by two alleged terrorists that they had failed to appear for a hearing because the policemen supposed to be escorting them were watching an IPL match.”
If you love cricket, and nothing but cricket, the Wisden India Almanack 2013 would be a nice companion to have by your side when you sit down to catch your next IPL match. I did just that, yesterday. And whenKarishma Kotak asked Kings XI Punjab’s Manan Vohra about nightlife in Chandigarh, I picked up the thick, fat volume and threw it at the TV. Luckily for me, I missed.

Is cricket turning you into a SHIT?

In Cricket, Humour, Satire, Sports, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm

I’ve finally decided to start a self-help group for the Indian cricket fan who, despite being in constant pain, is unable to wean himself off the game.

Modelled on Alcoholics Anonymous, it will be called Suckers Hurt by Indian Team (SHIT). Members of the group will gather on alternate Fridays in an empty classroom or an available conference room. Each speaker will start by saying something like, ‘My name is Sampath and I am a sucker hurt by the Indian team,’ before going on to share his/her horror stories about obsessively watching cricket and irrationally supporting Team India and the extreme suffering and self-flagellation they’ve had to endure on account of being an Indian cricket fan.

Regular readers of this column would know by now my views on jingoism, idol-worship, nationalism and flag-waving. And yet, when it comes to cricket and Team India, it’s as if some primal neurological reflex kicks in – a bit like VVS Laxman outside off-stump – and I go fishing for some vicarious glory that every rational cell in my body knows is simply me asking for the spectatorial equivalent of water-boarding.

But then, isn’t that how addiction works? Your intellectual comprehension of the utter stupidity of expecting some happiness from watching a game of cricket is powerless to save you from subjecting yourself to another session of pulling your hair out in frustration. (Now you know what happened to the hair on my head – yes, the BCCI took it. You can see it on display at the CCI.)

I’ve been following the game for a quarter of a century. Guess what, I’ve also been trying to stop following the game for a quarter of a century. But I realised recently that I have the same problem as Sachin Tendulkar – can’t call it quits though I know it’s time to do so. And this is not surprising, for Sachin and I go back a long way.

As a school boy, around the time Sachin was putting together that marathon partnership with Vinod Kambli for Sharadashram Vidyamandir, I wasted my afternoons following North Zone versus East Zone on the radio. I nearly flunked my class XII Boards because I couldn’t not watch every single game of the 1992 World Cup which, held in February-March, clashed precisely with the one-month ‘study leave’ you got to prepare for the exams.

In college, there was a phase where I would watch the whole game, from 9am to 5pm or whatever, if it was an ODI, then catch the highlights at seven or eight at night, and then watch the video-recording of the match from ten till five in the morning, managing just two hours of sleep before waking up to go for my classes.

My cricket addiction reached its peak during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. I think I must be one of the few elite losers on the planet who managed to watch every single match of this tournament live, including the Canada, Namibia and Holland matches, and then followed it up by reading all the World Cup-related coverage in three newspapers, memorising the scorecards and fall of wickets and bowling figures and the number of maidens and no balls and wides delivered by bowlers who I didn’t even know existed until the World Cup, like Sanjayan Thuraisingam, for instance.

Of course, those were the years of magical thinking, which usually centred on a boy with the curly hair and the straight bat. Even if India was decimated, and literally had its nose rubbed in the grass, as happened almost every time we played abroad, you at least had the satisfaction of watching a Sachin straight drive; or a Sachin leg glance, or at least a Sachin adjusting his crotch guard by doing half-squats, which was still an endearing novelty in those days.

But then, there comes a time when every Indian cricket fan has to confront the reality of being a SHIT, and for me, that time is long past. In my 25 years of cricket addiction, four things have not changed: one, BCCI’s mismanagement; two, the inevitable degeneration of fresh-faced, noble talent into selfish, greedy mediocrities who take the team down by holding on to their places long past their sell-by date; three, idiotic team selections, and four, our infinite genius for conjuring defeats no matter how strong our talent pool, how favourable the conditions, or how weak the opposition.

The ongoing series, where we should have been on our way to thump the Englishmen 4-0 but are now likely to go 1-2 down, is the 33,970th time (that’s one more than the runs scored by Sachin in Tests and ODIs together) I’m telling myself, ‘Buddy, give up! Stop being a SHIT!’

So all you SHITs who want to make it to the first SHIT meeting, mail me and I’ll send you the venue details. Until then, if you really have to watch a sport, my advice: stick to beach volleyball.

10 questions you wish somebody would ask Sachin

In Celebs, Cricket, Humour, Popular Culture, Satire, Sports, Uncategorized on July 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm

There is only one thing more boring than a Sachin Tendulkar interview, and that is a self-proclaimed Sachin fan ‘defending’ the man from the 0.00001% of the media that dares to criticise him.

The past week has seen newspapers excreting massive interviews with the selfish gene-cum-genius. And the general format remains the same as always: cleverly flattering questions followed by seriously vapid answers.

Since I am in the enviable position of never having to call Sachin for a quote ever again, and never having to ingratiate myself with the numerous cockroaches that survive on the branded crumbs that drop off his table, I would like to share a list of 10 questions that I have waited for somebody to ask him, in vain. If anybody can get him to answer these questions, I hereby publicly undertake to buy anybody a drink.
So Sachin, here are my 10 questions:
1. In 1999-2000, Indian cricket was rocked by the match-fixing scandal. You were a key member of the team that was captained by Mohammed Azharuddin, and Ajay Jadeja was your teammate. But you didn’t say a word. When asked why you remained silent, you said: “The only reason I did not speak about it is that I didn’t know anything about it. I would have given a statement if I knew something.” So are you lying, or are you being a cretin when you say that you had no clue about match-fixing going on?

2. The whole world knows that you (and subsequently MS Dhoni) are the reason the BCCI has been stonewalling the ICC’s move to make DRS (Decision Referral System) mandatory in all international fixtures. What exactly do you have against the DRS? Is it that, without technology, the benefit of the doubt (especially on LBWs) goes to the batsman, and you, knowing that there will be far more LBWs with DRS than without, don’t want technology messing with your averages and milestone-hunting?

3. You are richer than anybody can ever want to be. Why then are you forever, and shamelessly, asking or accepting favours from the government? Be it having to change the law (Customs Act) so you don’t have to pay duty on an obscenely expensive luxury vehicle, or petitioning the government to relax the FSI regulations for your bungalow in Bandra, why can’t you just graciously accept the rules that apply to everyone else instead of cashing in on your celebrity status to seek favours?

4. For most, nay, all, of your adult life, you have been a very influential person, with access to the highest corridors of power. Yet, not once in your life have you ever taken a stand on any issue — not even on sporting ones. Do you then seriously expect to make a meaningful contribution to any of the debates in the Rajya Sabha? If not, why did you agree to become a Rajya Sabha MP?

5. And having become a Rajya Sabha MP, you say ‘cricket comes first?!!’ What were you thinking? That being a Member of Parliament is a nice hobby or what?

6. Why is your captaincy record so abysmal? If your cricketing intelligence is so great, and if you are a thorough professional, and if you are a nice guy, how can you not be even an average captain, like, say, Anil Kumble was? You’ve got to have something that the other guys don’t have for you to be such an extraordinarily poor captain. What could this be? You ever think about that?

7. Against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup this year, you crawled to your 100th hundred (114 in 147 balls on a flat track against a bovinely gentle attack) at 4.5 runs an over, and actually slowed down in the slog overs when the team’s interests dictated that you score faster. And it was because of your milestone obsession that we lost the match to Bangladesh, which cost us a place in the final. This is not a one-off incident, but the culminating irony of a long career marked by the relentless deployment of individual talent for individual glory, though last I checked, cricket was a team game. Now that you’ve got every record in the book, will you, at least in the last remaining matches of your career, either stop playing for records, or stop paying lip service to how you are a team player — because it’s too brazenly hypocritical to do both?

8. Why is it that when the chips are down, and India is chasing, you never (save the Sharjah hundreds way back in 1998 on a flat track) ever take India home? Don’t say, ‘check the records’ — because the records tell me very clearly that you’ve never single-handedly (like Dravid did in Adelaide or Laxman did while batting with a number 11 to take India home against the Aussies) taken India past the finishing line in your 22-plus years of international cricket. And what kills me is that you had the ability to do exactly that — if Yuvraj could, Laxman could, and Dravid could, so could you. But you never did. You just cannot bat for the team under pressure, is that it? Or is it that you never cared for the team as much as you claim to?

9. I’ve been pondering this one for ages. How did you become such a boring person — open your mouth and everyone goes to sleep?

10. This is an easy one. Do you like journalists who suck up to you?

G Sampath is an independent writer based in Delhi

Tendulkar should retire only when God retires

In Celebs, Cricket, Humour, Satire, Sports, Uncategorized on March 30, 2012 at 10:45 am

G Sampath | Saturday, February 4, 2012

First published in DNA
I am so enraged that I can barely even type. I am absolutely, gloriously, magnificently appalled that someone of the stature of Imran Khan should have the gall to suggest that Sachin Tendulkar should have retired after the 2011 World Cup. How dare he even suggest thatSachin should ever retire! Does God retire? For Indian cricket fans — every single one of whom is also a loyal Sachin fan — this is the moral and cricketing equivalent of someone outraging their modesty. That too in public. And for free.
If I was a lumpen element and could get a visa to Pakistan I would personally ransack Imran Khan’s office for offending my religious sentiment.
Really, does Imran have any idea what Sachin means for India? Is he aware that every timeSachin goes out to bat, he carries a billion hopes on his helmet? Is he aware that no Indian cares whether India wins a match or not so long as Sachin scores a hundred? And this is when you are speaking of a ‘normal’ Sachin hundred.
But what is at stake today is not any Sachin century but Sachin’s hundredth hundred! CanImran imagine how many orgasms an Indian cricket fan gets by merely contemplating this feat? Does he not know that a billion Indians forget all their problems, such as poverty, corruption, and parking space, the moment they see Sachin on screen — even if it is onlySachin poking and prodding at a fifth-rate spinner on a first-rate batting track? Does he know how many Indian commentators and sports writers have made their careers by praising Sachin endlessly and tirelessly? Does he now expect them to start sucking up to some callow youngster who is less than half their age and doesn’t know how to respect elders?
Imran Khan is wise enough to know these things, which is why I find it hard to understand his comment. And it’s not just Imran. Last week, the former Indian bowling coach, Bruce Reid, remarked that all three — SachinDravid, and Laxman — should retire so that India can groom youngsters for a strong team in the future. Hello! When will the world understand that in India cricket is not a team game? The two teams that play are merely a sporting framework, a platform, where individuals go out and create personal milestones, break records, and keep playing till such time that there are friends in the board who can ensure you keep getting selected, and friends in the media who will raise such a stink if you are dropped that no selector will dare drop you.
Besides, the three oldies have given their services to India for so many years now that theBCCI cannot be so ungrateful as to sack them just because they have stopped performing. You cannot force someone to retire on the basis of such flimsy reasons as lack of fitness or lack of form. And to insinuate that a player should retire just because he is getting old betrays the worst form of ageist prejudice.
Come to think of it, the double standards we apply to our cricketers are scandalous. While every other profession enjoys a retirement age of 58, why should our players not play till they are 58? Imagine how many more centuries Tendulkar can score if he played till 2032! Not less than 400! And if we are getting so excited over his hundredth hundred, imagine how fantastic it will be if Sachin (who has never hit a 400, by the way, though the mediocre BrianLara has) scores a quadruple century of centuries!
As it happens, India is not scheduled to play any Tests abroad for the next two years, which means there is no urgency for the oldies to retire at least for the next two years. And if we don’t play abroad ever again, they don’t need to retire at all — ever!
That is why I believe that from now on India should play only at home. If we do that, and if theBCCI has the foresight to schedule Test matches only against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Holland, Canada, and Uzbekistan, I am sure Sachin will be able to play till he is 58 and acquire more milestones than anyone else in the history of not just cricket, but of any sport — he can become the one sportsman with more records to his name than any sportsman in any sport anywhere in the world at any time, beginning with the Olympics of ancient Greece. In fact, why restrict his greatness to the field of sport — he can even become the one human being with more records to his name than any human being who ever lived or lives or will live. Imagine how proud it will make all of us Indians!
But it’s not enough even if we continue to select him for the Indian team till the general retirement age of 58. We should give him special extensions till he is 100 years old. The crowning glory of his career, and the mother of all his records, will be when Sachin — with the help of a walking stick if need be — becomes the first man in the history of the universe to score a hundred at the age of 100. What a stupendous record that will be! Of course, that is assuming he would have got his hundredth hundred by the time he is 100. But even thinking about this gives me goose bumps in my tennis elbow.