The Nationalist Revival – John B. Judis

JudisIn the lore of contemporary history, politics and even to a material extent, in literature, one of the most used and abused clichés is the one associated with the tenet of ‘nationalism’. Clothed in aggression, suggestive of a seething mode of activism and couched with anarchic undertones, the word nationalism is often succeeded by aggressive companions such as fervor, vigour, passion, pride and a whole horde of other similar sounding accoutrements.

What triggered this peculiar juxtaposition of nationalism with its attendant rigidities and notions? Is a new breed of nationalism unraveling its powerful roots and wielding its sweeping influence upon an unsuspecting new world seamlessly bound together by the forces of globalization and socio-political integration? These are exactly some of the questions which John B. Judis addresses in an unbiased and practical manner in his latest book, “The Nationalist Revival” (“the book”).

Although tracing the contours of the very concept of nationalism with a view to distinguish the word as it was espoused at its origin, from the morphed version that stares us in the eye today, the book can by no means be construed to be a treatise on the subject. It is more an informed dissection of the direction nationalism has taken and the divergent paths that it has traversed, than an academic bone dry dissection of the very term. This is the single most important element that makes the book so readable and thought provoking. Asserting that “national identity I not just a product of where a person is born or emigrated to, but of deeply held sentiments that are usually acquired during childhood”, Mr. Judis traces the psychology of nationalism that had the entire population chocked in a vice like grip resulting ultimately, in two World Wars of monumental and tragic proportions. It was to curb and contain this very breed of ‘fascist’ nationalism that the world came together post the World Wars to develop institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (“IMF”), the World Bank, NATO and such other likes. The vision of Spinelli and Monnet, universally regarded to be the founding fathers of the European Union had at its core this philosophy:

To avoid of “the recurrence of another world war, the European nations would have to cede their sovereignty to a supra national federation. Nationalism was inherently toxic”.

However, just when it seemed that this toxic genre of nationalism which was the very scourge of humanity was finally eradicated, it has resurrected and this time the revival is much deadlier and dangerous than what could have been envisaged by the prophets of doom. This mutant form of nationalism has found its métier in the Brexit of The United Kingdom Independent Party; the blatant racial prerogatives of Donald Trump in the USA; the exhortations of Marine Le Pen in France and the inclusive polices of Victor Orban in Hungary. So what is it that has manifested this unruly and vituperative shape of nationalism that has for a hear a narrow minded narrative and for a spine, repressive ideologies? What has happened so abruptly so as to leave the visions of Spinelli and Monnet in tatters? Citing various economic, social and geopolitical factors, Mr. Judis unearths the various trigger points and causes leading to the undesirable consequences that lay spread before us.

From following disparate and discriminating economic policies in the Eurozone whose consequences as brilliantly described by economic sociologist Wolfgang Streek, is that, “qualitative horizontal diversity is transformed into a quantitative vertical inequality”, this fuels nationalism of an aggressive albeit logical vein in the demand starved countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy. Merciless imposition of austerity leads to a manifold increase in the sentiments of nationality.

Similarly, divergent and uninformed beliefs regarding the policies of immigration stoke passions that are communal and polarize extreme advocates right down the middle. As Mr.Judis points out, post the publication of the controversial book titled “Germany Abolishes Itself” by a banking official and member of the Social Democrats in Germany, Thilo Sarrazin, the outlook on Germany’s benevolent policy of opening the gates to refugees flocking towards Europe from the Middle East and Asia, underwent a volte face. The ultra-nationalist party Alternative fur Deutschland, which was formed in 2013 became the official opposition party in Parliament, possessing the entitlement to chair the powerful Budget Committee, following the September 2017 National Elections.

Similar is the case with the rabid immigration and tariff outlook that is the inimitable prerogative of the irascible Donald Trump. Taking advantage of a disenchanted blue collared segment, hung out to fry following a massive loss of unemployment and a savage Recession the likes of which was last seen in the Great Depression of 1929, Trump evoked a sense of rampant nationalism in the “Rust Belts” which saw him sweep to power in a ludicrous 2016 Presidential election that was marred by controversies and tarnished by seedy campaigns. These alarming signs that have materialized uniformly across the globe are, as per Mr. Judis, representative of what the great psychologist Sigmund Freud called “the return of the repressed”. Mr. Judis, paraphrasing Freud states, “this occurs when instinctual impulses – or in this case very ordinary nationalist sentiments – are completely blocked from expression because of their association with aberrant, ugly desires, only to return in their most primitive, brutal form”.

The advocates of nationalism justify their belief in the concept with an element of pride and prejudice, with a sense of delight and disenchantment and in the anticipation of both delight and dread. This paradoxical tug and pull of nationalism treads a very delicate tightrope. Even a tiny slip up is sufficient to bring about a catastrophe whose unintended consequences may well be unimaginable. And it is this very consequence that Mr. Judis warns us about in his illuminating book.

Meanwhile, after successfully provoking a vitriolic form of nationalism following his public appearance in the company of Turkish Prime Minister, Raycip Erdogan, World Cup winning German midfielder Mesut Ozil has announced his retirement from international football, citing disbelief and expressing outrage at allegations of misplaced patriotism and misconstrued intentions!

DISCRIMINATION AND DISPARITIES- THOMAS SOWELL

Sowell

The multi-faceted Thomas Sowell ups the decibel level of informed debates, thought provoking discussions and essential deliberations in his new offering “Discriminations and Disparities” (“the book”). Painstakingly arguing that the “great disparities in outcomes found in economic and other endeavours need not be due to either comparable disparities in innate capabilities or comparable disparities in a way people, are treated by other people”, Sowell – a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of numerous books on subjects ranging from philosophy, history and decision-making theory – backs up his proposition with empirical evidence, fact patterns, cause and consequences. It is the absence of this very empirical evidence, which according to Sowell, influences policy mavens, politicians and even the common man to embrace unilateral reasons for disparate socio economic outcomes and vainly attempt to offer ‘solutions’ aimed at ameliorating such outcomes.

Urging the readers to not get seeped or enmeshed in the past, he paraphrases Edmund Burke to warn the world about the perils of employing the past as a barometer in determining the future. “In history a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from past errors and infirmities of mankind……the past could also be a means of keeping alive, or reviving, dissensions and animosities.”

The intellectual vigour and the sheer breadth of Sowell’s uncanny knack for unraveling ‘linkages’ finds absolute freedom in the book. Striving to demonstrate how counter-productive, knee jerk policy measures (although laced with benevolent intentions) might turn out to be, he provides illuminating examples of ‘residential sorting and unsorting’. Where people have innately and voluntarily decided where, how and with/near whom to live, the outcomes are likelier than not, to be desirable. However, where such a decision has been made by the Government, by trying to acculturate low income groups with middle income groups by unsorting the former from their prevalent abodes to relocating them to neighbourhoods predominantly occupied by the latter, the resulting outcomes have been, to put it mildly, embarrassing. Similar is the case with ‘educational sorting.’ The fascinating story of Dunbar High School in Washington pre and post the momentous Supreme Court Ruling in Brown v Board of Education is a revealing case in point. Prior to Justice Warren’s monumental verdict slaying the concept of racial segregation in schools, Dunbar High, an all-black educational institution produced a plethora of luminaries, who immersed themselves with distinctions of the highest order and degree. Post the Supreme Court decision, when Washington schools were all made neighbourhood schools, Dunbar was precluded from admitting black students from anywhere in the city, as was hitherto its policy. Ironically, once Dunbar was forced to take only students from the particular ghetto neighbourhood in which the school was located, it fast plummeted in its reputation and became a failing ghetto school besotted by academic as well as behavioural problems.

Sowell also points out the fallacy in misconstruing household income statistics by sorting into a single basket both annual salaries and income from capital gains that has accrued over a time period but realized as cash income during a given year. Such a methodology, Sowell argues, embellishes the notions of inequality and exacerbates the discourse that gives colour and content to the disparity theory that divides the top and bottom segments of income earners. However, to complete the cycle of logic, it would have been extremely beneficial if Sowell could also have expounded on the disparities in the means available to people placed in various income strata, to accumulate such capital gains and thereby become beneficiaries of one-time windfalls.

The reputation of Thomas Sowell as a multi-disciplinary thinker par excellence is a fact that warrants neither argument nor is accommodating of any deliberation. In “Discrimination and Disparities” he brings to the fore his wide ranging acumen, delightful erudition and an inimitable alacrity to discuss about an issue that is topical, relevant and essential. The accepted wisdom that is currently foisted upon the concerned personnel while dealing with notions such as discriminations and isolation will undergo a revolutionary change and a paradigm shift upon assimilating and absorbing the philosophy of Thomas Sowell!

Professional Reader

I Travel, Therefore I Am

“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world”Gustave Flaubert

Falls

(Kuang si Waterfalls, Luan Prabang, LAOS)

Although neither an inveterate back packer nor a preternatural traveler, I am completely in alignment with the thought expressed by Gustave Flaubert. Travel has the potential to broaden the horizons of perception, and bring about a paradigm shift in thinking. While a bout of travel might not leave us thinking about our infinitesimal place in the overall scheme of the Universe, it definitely nurtures an element of introspection and triggers a churn within.  We are bestowed with the precious power of differentiating between the petty and the profound, material and memory and most importantly existence and ego.

Aristotle coined a term “Eudaimonia” (also known as Eudaemonism) which is Greek for referring to a state of having a good indwelling spirit or being in a contented state of being healthy, happy and prosperous. In moral philosophy, eudaimonia is used to refer to the right actions as those that result in the well-being of an individual. The experience, environment and emotions that are the very essence of travel symbolizes more than anything else, the very essence of Eudaimonia. The exhilarating sight of a waterfall cascading down a mountain, the experience of a slow meandering boat ride over a wide expanse of a tranquil mass of water, or a solitary spell spent nestled in the bosom of an imperious mountain range that regally rises up the horizon to kiss an azure bank of blue skies is sufficient to put to rest a crisis that is of an existential proportion even! Travel is not just a soul stirring experience. It is a very act of liberation!

However in an era characterised by infobesity (information obesity, a term first coined by Bertram Gross in 1964, before popularised by Alvin Toffler in the 1970s), excess of connections and insatiable status accumulating prerogatives, the very purpose of travel gets eviscerated only to be replaced by a mechanical purpose. We seem to travel, more for furthering exhibitionism than for a free and uninhibited spontaneity that is the very synonym of a journey. Experiences are sacrificed at the altar of selfies, the likes on Instagram take unfortunate precedence over the lambent nature of the location and ‘check-ins’ on Facebook trump the fascinating canvas put out by Mother Nature! The sights, sounds and smells which ideally should offer wings to the unending power of human imagination, become mere captions for photo albums. The greatest disservice that has ever been done to the art of travel has been the coining of the phrase “bucket-list”. A journey now is a mere process, a robotic performance whose sole objective is to ‘tick off’ a destination that forms part of a personal bucket-list. Nothing ticks off (no pun intended) a genuine seeker of truth more than this notion! This pretentious aspect of the bucket-list puts paid to the very meaning of a meaningful travel.

The likes of Alexander Von Humboldt, Herodotus, and Ibn Battuta rendered yeoman service to mankind by throwing open to us the hidden treasures of Mother Earth by undertaking selfless circumambulation of our Planet. It is for every one of us to protect, preserve and embellish their lasting legacy by paying obeisance to the rich bio diversity that we have all been lucky to have inherited. Such a preservation can be attained neither by smartphones nor by selfies, but only by the genuine voices that resonate from the soul!

The next time you embark on a travel, just stove away your cell phone (but for the occasional capture lest I come across as a whining hypocrite who posts his own picture of a waterfall before proselytizing restraint ), obliterate social media from your memory and carry just a notebook (not the digital ones) and a few functional pens. Record your memories on paper, and imprint the experiences onto your soul.

The difference, I assure you will be marked!

 

The Supreme Soloists Of India and Pakistan – A Collection for Time Immemorial : Number 10

There are few alluring spectacles in the game of cricket than an India v Pakistan encounter. The mere prospect of such a face-off is enough to send cricketing aficionados from the sub-continent into an anticipatory vortex of hope and expectancy. Frayed nerves overpower temperate minds, Faustian emotions overwhelm calculated calm and frenzied passions cloud solid judgements. Many a time I have determined myself to maintain a veneer of stoic civility and a saintly sobriety whilst watching India take on Pakistan and have miserably failed realizing that such attempts merely constituted acts in incongruity. In no other rivalry (the Ashes included), is the dileanation between the victor and the vanquished so searing and so palpable. The ramification of the result are at times beyond mere sporting significance. The players themselves, recognizing such import and relevance dig deep into the innermost recesses of their resilience (even unbeknownst to them), and come out with some stunning individual performances. Since the advent of one-day international cricket, these two cricketing giants have engaged one another on innumerable occasions in contests absorbing, astonishing and awe-inspiring. While it would be an exercise in absolute futility to try and single out every individual performance of merit, there are a few acts of glory which have personally captivated me and held my imagination. Although I have tried to be as objective and rational as possible in selecting the following 10 best solo performances that have formed the corner stone of an India v Pakistan one day epic, an element of personal bias might have wielded a veiled influence in the selection. Even Julie Andrews would have wont to sing in her mellifluous voice – “these are a few of my favorite things”

NUMBER 10:

Jadeja juggernaut detonates at Bangalore

9th March, 1996, Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore – World Cup Quarterfinal 

Jadeja

Ajay Jadeja has always been known for his uncanny ability to pace a one-day innings. Commencing an innings with a few nudges and pushes, he continues with deft flicks and honest cuts, before concluding with swipes and smites. Although not as clinical or consistent as the classy ‘Terminator’ Michael Bevan, he has been a thorn in many an opponent’s flesh. He can also lay claim to have been one of the best ever fielders of his time. Unfortunately this mercurial cricketer was embroiled in a murky match-fixing episode which resulted in a 5 year ban. The ban was subsequently quashed by the Delhi High Court in 2003.

However, it was in this classic World Cup quarterfinal against the arch enemy that Jadeja found his metier. The Garden city of Bangalore and a capacity crowd at the Chinnaswamy Stadium played hosts with unbridled anticipation to this day/night tie between two of the fiercest rivals playing the game.

India won the toss and skipper Mohammed Azharuddin had no hesitation whatsoever in electing to bat. His decision seemed to be vindicated when a determined Navjot Singh Sidhu and a fluent Sachin Tendulkar got stuck into the Pakistani bowling. Pakistan needed to wait till 90 runs were notched up by this pair before getting their first break-through. Sachin dragged an Ata-ur-Rehman delivery back onto his stumps before trudging back to the pavilion. Sanjay Manjrekar lasted for 42 minutes and faced 43 deliveries for his 20 before ungainly smiting one off Aamer Sohail to Javed Miandad on the on-side boundary. Meanwhile the doughty Sidhu carried on hooking, pulling, driving and cutting with great grit and gusto. However the opener completely misread a flipper from Mushtaq to have his stumps castled and falling just 7 runs short of what would have been a deserving hundred. A couple of breathtakingly lusty blows from the Indian captain proved to be deceptively flattering as he edged one from Waqar to be brilliantly caught by a diving Rashid Latif. The skipper made 27.

With India tentatively placed at 200 for 4 in the 42nd over, Jadeja strode to the crease with a sense of purpose. With Vinod Kambli for company, he chose to have a peremptory look at the bowling before settling down into his usual ebullient stride. A searing flick-cum-drive off Waqar signaled his undisguised intentions as the ball sped past a bewildered and ageing Javed Miandad towards the boundary ropes. The fall of Kambli to the wily Mushtaq with the score on 226 neither deterred the concentration of the right hander nor dampened his fervour. Finding able allies in the local lads, Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath, Jadeja unleashed an amazing array of strokes putting the hapless and helpless Pakistani attack to the sword. Waqar Younis was singled out for special and specific attention as Jadeja surgically took the Burewalla Bomber to the cleaners. A magnificent cover drive in the 48th over sent Tony Greig into an orgasmic frenzy in the commentator’s box as not a blade of grass moved. The very next delivery was nonchalantly and neatly flicked with utter disdain into the stratosphere and into the midst of a roaring, raging and rapturous crowd. Yet another screaming shot off the backfoot had a baffled Waqar contemplating the trajectory of a soaring ball, this time on the off-side over the boundary ropes. When Waqar finally got his revenge getting a flailing Jadeja caught on the ropes by Aamer Sohail, the damage was well and truly done. The carnage in the form of a blistering cameo of 45 off just 25 deliveries had not only lent the much needed impetus for the Indian innings, but had also demoralized the Pakistanis. This orgy of hitting encompassed 4 hits to the fence and a couple sailing over it.

Ajaysinhji Daulatsinhji Jadeja was on the 9th of March 1996, not just a dilettante having his moment of glory under a bank of artificial lights. He was a unique artist who, with his inimitable trick of the trade, had hoicked, smote, swiped, whacked, thwacked and hammered Pakistan, with gay abandon, out of the 1996 edition of the World Cup.

As would be evident from the facts as set out above, India successfully defended their formidable score of 287 for 8 beating Pakistan by 39 runs. Jadeja also twirled his arm round bowling 5 frugal overs in which he conceded just 19 runs although going wicket-less. Navjot Singh Sidhu was declared the Man-of-the-Match.

This game was also was famous for Aamer Sohail’s foot in the mouth syndrome which transmogrified a priestly Venkatesh Prasad into a demonic “Predator” that Arnie himself would have found hard pressed to control, and, more importantly as the final one-day international match for one of the veritable legends of the game, the incomparable Javed Miandad.

Result: India won by 39 runs

Scorecard: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/current/match/65187.html

Next: Saleem Malik’s caustic carnage at Calcutta (now Kolkata)

https://blogternator.com/2018/07/24/the-supreme-soloists-of-india-and-pakistan-a-collection-for-time-immemorial-number-9/

 

Ten Cricketing Strokes to Die For – Part II

Ian Bell – The Cover Drive

Bell

Sir John Arlott once famously remarked that “one coverdrive from Hutton was a stroke to stir the romantic cricketer to extravagance”. While we cricket lovers are unfortunately deprived of the pleasure of watching the great Sir Leonard Hutton execute Arlott’s shot, the classy Ian Bell has done his very best to remedy the lacunae and fill the void. There is an element of languid grace and lithesome élan to Bell’s batting and no shot exemplifies these two features more than his cover drive. The English batsman’s driving can be encapsulated in one simple word – exquisite. It is a joy to behold Bell essaying the cover drive.

Capable of driving both on the front as well as of his back foot, Bell is the epitome of picturesque beauty when in full flow. Keeping his eyes on the ball till the very last minute, Bell plays the cover drive as a barely perceptible extension of the forward defensive. With his head perfectly balanced and looking over the front foot, he leans into the delivery and with the full face of the blade displaying its maker’s name, gloriously drives, nay caresses the ball, perfectly bisecting the fielders at cover, extra cover and mid off. If the stroke is splendid, the follow through is regal! With the bat facing the path traversed by the ball and the feet in a side on position, Ian Bell post execution of the cover drive is a photographer’s unbridled delight.

While playing the shot off his backfoot, Bell standing tall, plays the ball on the up, with a high front elbow and with a minimum of follow through and fuss, finds the cover boundary. According to Neville Cardus, the great Archie McLaren was capable of playing imperious strokes shooting grandeur over the field. In the world of modern day cricket, the sight of Ian Ronald Bell driving a ball in a silky smooth vein through the covers is a sight of imperial grandeur.

Brian Lara – One Legged Pull

Lara

Brian Lara’s batting exuded flair and was synonymous of flamboyance, two characteristic features typifying Calypso cricket. He was also endowed with an immeasurable appetite for runs and an enviable application at the crease. These two qualities ensuring that he is the only batsman in the history of cricket to have scored a quadruple and a quintuple hundred in addition to the usual suspects constituting the century, double and triple.  Lara never sacrificed either temperament or common sense at the altar of flair and flamboyance. Lara in full flow renders a rarified air to the atmosphere. As the mundane is replaced by the mesmeric, nuanced strokes stem forth unshackled from his worthy blade. Flowing cover drives, delicate late cuts, majestic drives and effortless flicks all machinate to manufacture moments of sheer ecstasy. It is as though the magical batsman is putting on a show to please the phalanx of Gods admiringly observing him going about his masterful craft.

While every sweetly timed or powerfully struck Lara shot is a symbol of dominance and euphoria, the one shot that evokes unabashed admiration and unashamed approbation is his authoritative pull shot played standing high on one leg. Initially Lara stands at the crease with his bat in the most usual and conventional position – by his feet. But he quickly changes the conventional into a pronounced backswing thereby ensuring an extravagant back lift. With unbelievable hand eye co-ordination and using the depths of the crease to incredible effect, Lara latches on to a short delivery in the twinkling of an eye. Lifting his front leg to obtain the requisite momentum and the relevant balance, Lara pulls the ball commandingly and unerringly finds the boundary in the square leg region. This shot is a potent combination of the savagery lent by Vivian Richards and the sublime skills exhibited by a David Gower. The sound of the bat hitting the ball is music to the ears of his friends and murder in the eyes of his opponents.

In the world of cricket there are batsmen and there is Brian Lara. A versatile mixture of power and deftness, Lara has produced many an innings of immense import and incredulous magnitude. All while manage to be elegant, graceful and fluid. To quote John Keats “a thing of beauty is a joy forever”.  Brian Charles Lara has undoubtedly been one of the most beautiful things to have happened to cricket and cricket will forever remember him thus.

Ricky Ponting – The Pull Shot

Ponting

There are few spectacular sights in world cricket than Ricky Ponting playing the pull shot. The fact that the former Australian World Cup winning captain is at unbelievable ease while essaying this horizontal bat shot both off his front as well as the back foot, not only elicits amazement but also makes for some scintillating viewing. The viciousness of this shot when played by this marvelous right hander is such that the sound produced by the bat hitting the ball is akin to a ringing gunshot!

The gum chewing Ricky Ponting with eyebrows raised under his helmet taps his bat a couple of times on the pitch as the bowler comes running in.  The delivery is one that is banged in short. Ponting with his natural ability to judge the length of the ball to faultlessness gets into an impeccably superb position, rocks back onto his back foot, and with a lithe swivel of the hips, rolls his wrist to send the ball crashing into to the square leg or mid-wicket boundary. Often times, he also chooses to get underneath the ball and sends it soaring into the stands. With great hand-eye co-ordination and a greater bat speed, Ricky Ponting is capable of choosing the exact spot where he wants to dispatch the ball to with this pull shot. His magnificent positioning ensures that he has that wee bit of additional time which in the game of cricket distinguishes chaff from wheat and a great batsman from the good ones. When the pull is played by Ponting off the front foot, the pirouette or the swivel is less pronounced since the batsman has elected not to rock back onto his back foot. The effect nevertheless is the same. However in this case the shot resembles a remorseless slap and is slightly inelegant in comparison with its back foot counterpart.

Greater the pace, the more effective is Ponting’s pull stroke. Therefore it came as no surprise to anyone when the late Tony Greig exclaimed that Ricky Ponting was the game’s best player of the pull shot! The gun shot effect; the gung ho manner of the shot and the gargantuan stature of the man all contrive to make it a great privilege to watch Ricky Thomas Ponting play the pull shot, play it like none other – and play it to perfection!

Virat Kohli – The ‘Inside Out’ Shot

India v Australia 6th ODI Nagpur

The Nostradamus of all run chases, the Indian captain could give a run to both the FBI and Al Capone in so far as hunting down a ‘target’ is concerned. Adept at all three formats of the game, this marauding Indian batsman has carved out a hallowed niche for himself in the art of batting. Nothing typifies this aspect better than the scintillating ‘inside out’ shot which Kohli has made his own. Every spinner’s (and when Kohli is in the mood, the occasional paceman’s too) nightmare, the inside out stroke is a delectable joy to behold for its sheer aplomb in execution!

Still headed, perfectly balanced, Kohli waits for the right ball to plot his move. Spotting the trajectory of the ball and reading the line and length in double quick time, he gets slightly outside the line of the delivery. Kohli with twinkling feet traipses down the track and his willow comes down from a very short back lift to send the ball hurtling either over or through the covers. A combination of extraordinary hand-eye co-ordination, ability to spot the line and length of the ball with precision and a singularly unique gift of timing contrive to make this shot one of the contemporary delights in modern day cricket. A strong bottom hand surprisingly does not seem to pose any form of impediment whatsoever to the execution of this imperious stroke. Finally a spectacular footwork ensures that the batsman is never cramped when getting to the pitch of the delivery.

The Inside Out Shot – A Kohli Copyright!

Sachin Tendulkar – The On Drive

Sachin 2

You know that the earth is perfectly spinning on its axis and the planets are adhering to their orbital precision when Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar essays the on drive! The Teutonic grace and incorrigible perfection with which Tendulkar plays this stroke makes it a veritable master class.

Peter Roebuck once famously compared Sachin’s straight drive to a “bullet fired from a most efficient gun.” The on drive is by general consensus regarded as one of the most daunting and difficult shots to play in the game of cricket in addition to being a purist’s allure. And no one accords more delight with this shot than Tendulkar. If the on drive is an art, then Sachin Tendulkar is its Vincent Van Gogh.

With a perfectly still head Sachin dissects the length of an even fractionally over pitched delivery and in a flash pounces upon it with the instincts of a predator. The heavy blade of his is impeccably close to his left pad. Slightly leaning forward, Tendulkar brings his full face of the bat ramrod straight to meet the ball and just punches it either past the bowler or past the fielder at mid-on. The left elbow is high and in picture perfect position. The shot is entirely bereft of an extravagant or extended follow through. It is as though the bat is just a natural extension of the hand. The moment the bat makes contact with the ball, it is send thudding towards the boundary at the speed of a furious meteor. The timing is exquisite, the placement precision perfect and the result glorious.

The scintillating genius of Sachin’s on-drive lies in the punctuating stillness which is in sharp contrast to the ball hurtling towards the boundary. The batsman immediately after playing the stroke is statuesque in his bearing; the hapless bowler stands shock still unable to comprehend the mastery of the stroke; the fielders are inevitably motionless while the non-striker just stands admiring the grass being seared by the speeding ball.

With over 30 thousand odd runs in the two major international formats of the game, this champion from Mumbai has ensured that he has etched an indelible place for himself amongst the pantheon of immortals in the world of cricket. However cricket itself will remember him the best for his coruscating brilliance and unsurpassed excellence with the on-drive in the same way the world of poetry will remember William Blake for his verses and visual artistry.

Ten Cricketing Strokes to Die For – PART I

The unparalleled Sir Neville Cardus waxed eloquent over the immortal genius of Victor Trumper thus: “You will no more get an idea of the quality of Trumper’s  batsmanship by adding up his runs than you will get an idea of the quality of Shelley’s poetry by adding up the lines written by Shelley.”  While it is debatable as to whether in modern day cricket there are batsmen who match up to either the panache of a Trumper or the poetry of a Shelley, there is no semblance of doubt that cricket over the years since Trumper’s untimely demise has abounded with batsmen reeking of class and oozing with caliber. The unfortunate absence of television and technology has had the invidious effect of masking the talents of very many such wielders of the willow. The avid cricket lover is left to either rely on the powers of his imagination on the basis of meticulously recorded chronicles of a particularly orgiastic stroke, or is demanded to make an informed judgment on the basis of carefully preserved news reel footages (which more often than not are more a coalescence of grainy pixels than the capture of an elegant stroke). However with the advent of television and the uninhibited rampage of technology, the fan today is in an enviable position not only to grasp every nuance of the game, but also to obtain an untrammeled and vantage view of his favourite batsman plying his wares or his beloved bowler exhibiting his  befuddling variety. While I personally do not consider bowlers to be children of a lesser God, the sight of a batman negotiating the trickeries of bowlers and neutralizing the treacheries of a pitch invariably whets my appetite and leaves me asking for more. A perfectly executed forward defensive stroke by Rahul Dravid gives me the same delight as an exquisitely timed silken cover driven by Kumar Sangakkara. While it is close to impossible and an exercise in utter futility to rank the whole gamut of cricketing shots (as made popular by their classy patrons) in the order of their excellence, it might not be an exercise in audacity to arrive at a personal rating of 10 best cricketing strokes essayed by its 10 best practitioners. The following attempts to do just that!

 Robin Smith – The Square Cut

Robin-Smith

While cricket has generated its fair share of batsmen well known for their prowess in executing shots square of the wicket, very few could lay claim to either matching or overcoming the power or ferocity displayed by this burly English and Hampshire batsman. A formidable foe of pacemen, Robin Smith was accomplished in his stroke play on either side of the wicket. However he will be remembered most for his brilliant and brutal perfection of the square cut.

Playing with a high back lift and a predominantly leg stump stance, Smith is all intensity as he lays in wait for the bowler. He allows the bowler to have an undisguised peek of all three of his stumps until the moment of delivery. However a last second adjustment of the feet ensures that Smith is across the stumps at the point of impact. If the ball is pitched even slightly short on or outside the off stump, Smith rocks back, gets into perfect position and the blade comes down over the ball to send it rocketing between cover and backward point. The sound of the ball hitting the bat, is at once sweet and ominous. Judging the length of the delivery to perfection, Smith plays the square cut more in the vein of a square drive. He is also a photographer’s delight with this particular stroke. With his left knee slightly bent, body arched back to lend the requisite balance, and the Grey Nicolls blade flashing hard and honest, Smith presents an intimidating picture.

Robin Arnold Smith possessed power, had the gift of placement and exuded panache. And boy could he use those three to play a square cut!

Kevin Pietersen- The Switch Hit

Switch

Arguably one of the marvels of modern day cricket. No shot has universally and unequivocally evoked such a wide array of emotions as KP’s ‘Switch-Hit’. Label it controversial or term it cavalier, the shot still remains singularly unique both in its conception as well as in its execution. Even though there exists imitations galore and competing variants, the original brooks no comparison. The beauty or rather the bewilderment of the ‘Switch Hit’ lies in its deception and nobody does it better than its pioneering master Kevin Pietersen.

With legs splayed wide apart and his huge frame slightly hunkered over the bat, Pietersen crouches and waits for the slow bowler to deliver the ball. After the unsuspecting spinner has just delivered the ball, KP much to the incredulity of all concerned and to the chagrin of the bowler in question, switches his right handed stance to metamorphose into a left handed batsman. This transformation is done in the twinkling of an eye with a violent movement, nay a jerk of the feet and hands. When the ball makes contact with the bat it is struck, or rather smote with utter disdain and extreme ferocity either along the ground to what would have been a right hander’s cover point boundary or even way over it right into the stands. The switch hit is a stroke of instinct, innovation and above all unconstrained ingenuity and no one executes it better than the now out of favour English Legend – Kevin Peter Pietersen.

Mohammed Azharuddin – The Whip-Flick

Flick

The ball is pitched slightly outside the off-stump. The fielders expecting the batsman to play the delivery with a straight bat towards the off side region expectantly wait in their respective fielding positions. Much to their collective vexation and amazement, the batsman with an ubiquitous black amulet dangling from his neck, moves across his stumps, fetches the ball from outside the off-stump and with a delectable use of his wrists, whip-flicks the ball wide of mid on! The front foot is right in line with the middle stump and the back foot is raised to provide the perfect balance and position. As the ball is retrieved from the leg side boundary and the appreciating oohs and aahs of the spectators die down, the batsman unable to comprehend the fuss revolving around him, unassumingly goes down the track, has a few words with his awed non-striker and modestly takes up his stance to face the next delivery.  What seemed unique to a majority of batsmen, was merely ordinary for Mohammed Azharuddin. This lanky former India captain from Hyderabad had the gift of timing and an eye for placement. But most importantly, he was blessed with a pair of phenomenal wrists which made him a special batting talent – a talent which when in full flow was a rapturous sight! Batting with a willow, that for its weight (or rather weightlessness has been compared to a cigarette and a feather, amongst various others), Azharuddin’s dazzling wristwork compensated for any lack of power and enabled him to play with wanton grace and place the ball with impetuous ease. Bowling at the legs of Azhar was plainly asking to be murdered. While those wrists could play havoc with the leg side cordon, their ability to irritate the offside ring of fielders was grossly underestimated. Azharuddin who was labeled as an onside genius could execute his drives to great effect. Getting his front foot out of the way, he could get to the pitch of the ball and drive it to perfectly bisect the cover and mid off region. He was also equally competent in playing the drive off his back foot. Sunil Gavaskar once famously exclaimed that Azharuddin had “wrists of steel”. He also quickly went on to add that those steely wrists were “flexible”. A veritable paradox if at all there was any! Yet it was this paradox that endeared Mohammed Azizuddin Azharuddin to fans and opponents alike across the cricketing spectrum. It was also this paradox that made his silky smooth batting such an exhilarating sight! Anyone doubting the last claim would do well to ask Lance Kluesener!

Mahendra Singh Dhoni – The Helicopter Shot

Helicopter

The best way to describe this most peculiar of cricketing shots would be in terms of the bat speed generated in essaying it. For its mere (and unsurpassed), bat speed this shot would go down in history as one of the most innovative of cricketing strokes, if not the most. The patented perfectionist of the Helicopter Shot, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, a World Cup winning captain in all three international formats of the game, never fails to evoke gasps of disbelief whenever he plays this shot. More often than not, success is a guaranteed outcome of this bizarre hit. If the back-lift prior to essaying this stroke is incredible, the follow though post its execution, is downright incredulous. Defying description, challenging elaboration and inconveniencing reason, the Helicopter shot is a magnificent invention of modern day cricket by arguably the greatest ‘finisher’ of the shorter version of the cricketing game. The whip lash effect and an astounding recoil combine to give a deceptive image of the batsman trying to swing himself off his feet while all the time………………………………….Bloody Hell! Just watch it!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGFSvVU7QkU

Sanath Jayasuriya – The Slash Six

Sanath

In a television interview, when asked to name two cricketers who served as role models and idols to be emulated in his cricket career, the prolific Sri Lankan wicket keeper batsman Kumar Sangakkara did not hesitate one bit before coming out with the names of Sanath Jayasuriya and Brian Lara.  Sanath Jayasuriya, along with the pint sized dynamo Romesh Kaluwitharana will be poignantly remembered for revolutionizing the art of batting in one day cricket – a revolution which won Sri Lanka it’s first and only World Cup (thus far) in 1996.

Sanath Jayasuriya over a glittering and accomplished cricketing career has put to sword many a vaunted bowling attack. With aggression and intent as his allies, Sanath wades into a bowling attack with great gusto. While there are many memorable Jayasuriya shots that send a chill down the spine of his opponents, there is none more intimidating and awe inspiring than the slash which sends the ball soaring over third man for a six. This exceptional shot, has, as its recipe for success, unbelievably strong forearms (upper body strength), a bottom hand that works over time, an open bat face, an uncanny ability to get under the ball (please forget rolling the wrists over and trying to keep the ball on the ground), and perfection of the slash.

If the above formula for success sounds to anyone like an esoteric combination of malarkey and hang over, then that unfortunate soul has committed the travesty of not seeing Sanath Jayasuriya in action. Even if the ball is pitched fractionally short on the off side, Jayasuriya pounces on it mercilessly and quickly gets underneath the ball. The bat face is open and pointing towards the cover region. With a strong bottom handed grip, Jayasuriya generates immense bat speed and proceeds to slash the ball over the third man region. Since there is no roll of the wrists, the ball is deliberately sliced in the air. While most of the times third man is a mere spectator waiting for someone in the crowd to retrieve the ball, the slash hit has on a few occasions landed Jayasuriya in trouble – one of the more important occasions being the infamous World Cup semi-final against India in 1996 when Azhar laid a deftly crafted trap and Jayasuriya succumbed to it. But failure with this shot has been an exception rather than a norm. While it is a scintillating sight to see this marauding left hander from Sri Lanka bat an opposition out of the game, it is an unforgettable sight to see a ball disappearing hard, high and handsome over the head of third man – courtesy a rasping square slash! Sanath Teran Jayasuriya – Master of the Square Slash!

(TO BE CONTINUED)

Remembering Mahendra – Tribute to an Unknown, Unassuming and Unplayable Fast man

The beads of perspiration that painstakingly formed on my forehead before slowly trickling down the face were more to do with the nervous anticipation than the sweltering heat generated by a blazing sun. As I made sure that I was reasonably aware of the exact position of my off-stump (for what might have been the umpteenth time, there being no umpire to help me in this endeavour), the bowler beset with a sense of growing unease and understandable impatience stood with hands on hips and hurled a steely glare in my direction. Possessing a barrel for a chest and boulders for biceps, the tall and strapping lad with the cherry in hand was an intimidating sight. His hair was closely cropped and stood on their ends like tiny porcupine quills that were reluctant to attain their standard and acceptable measure. With a quasi-sadistic view to heighten my sense of intimidation, the bowler turned away from his bowling mark and with an ominous sense of purpose, increased the distance from where he would come hurtling in. It was going to be nothing short of a baptism by fire. After what might seem to have been an eternity, I finally turned towards my opponent, crouched a bit and anxiously began tapping my willow on the ground. The man with the ball in hand started his run-up with measured ease and with long loping strides gathered speed and momentum as he glided into his delivery stride. The right palm that held the ball firmly in its grasp was grotesquely huge and the enveloping fingers long and sturdy. At the point of delivery, the left arm was raised, neither too high nor too very low and the right arm came into position nice and easy and released the ball in a swinging arch that was in tandem with an appreciative loose limbed leap. The ball after pitching reared off a good length and before I could even get into position to essay a protective stroke, came hissing at me with pure and undisguised venom, rapping me heinously and hard right on the thumb!

Emitting an involuntary howl and throwing the bat away, I tried flexing the tormented part of the anatomy gauging the probabilities of a potential break. Even though I was fortunate enough to have come off with a nasty bruise that transformed into an ugly clot the suffering was explicit and severe. Spurred on by a sense of foolish bravado, I decided to remain at the crease. After 8 unconvincing, uncomfortable and ungainly runs, I spooned a rare loosener delivered by my tormentor, straight into the safe hands of a gleeful mid-off. No batsman ever would have been as much relieved as yours truly to have abdicated such an abject stay at the crease. At the end of the game, the fierce fast man offered me his commiserations and also had an appreciative word or two for what I honestly felt, was a display of silly gumption. Not only had I faced Mahendra, but I had also managed to glean some respect out of him!
Hailing from a district situated at a distance of 100 kilometres from Bangalore, Mahendra was born and bought up in a modest household. Never one to be shackled or bogged down by the rigours of academics, Mahendra hardly ever used to make the grades in school and was a constant and consistent headache for family and the fraternity of teachers alike. However, when it came to manipulating a cricket ball, he had no parallel. Apparently his only stated purpose of existence was to bowl and keep on bowling till kingdom come.

Unpretentious and unassuming he had no coach to teach him the nuances of either nip and tuck or swing and seam. He perfected his bowling action by bowling for an interminably long number of hours day after day and week after week at anybody who would be willing to wield a willow against him. Since there was an understandable scarcity of volunteers, Mahendra was often times a solitary figure running in against and with the wind to keep hurling the ball against a stone compound wall adjacent to the school campus. He could not be bothered whether the seam was upright or scrambled. He had no notion whatsoever of the difference between a ball swinging into the pads (or the bare legs as was the case invariably) of the batsman or the one moving away tantalisingly past the outstretched edge of a flailing blade. In fact at times, during the non-availability of leather balls, the unimaginatively titled ‘cork’ balls used to be in employ. Bereft of a seam, these hard solid red fiends had the unerring capability to imperil batsmen in multifarious ways. The absence of basic protective gear such as abdominal guards for example could have the unenviable effect of terminating a whole lineage of a family with an unfortunate batsman! One more fascinating aspect that I learnt over the course of an enriching friendship with Mahendra was the fact that he did not believe in the concept of having a fixed run-up! The concept of a bowling mark was a veritable misnomer and an absolutely nebulous notion. If he felt like engaging in a bout of intimidation, the run-up was accordingly extended. On days of disinterest and disinclination (which were very rare and restricted to those where he was slightly indisposed), there was a dramatic shortening of the run-up to the crease! However Mahendra could generate considerable pace even from a short and curtailed run. Rumours had it that on a couple of occasions, Mahendra had clocked up such a searing pace that he was responsible for the breaking of a couple of gingery bats! Though I was not privileged enough to witness this extraordinary incident, I firmly believe that it is more of a fable than a fact. Mahendra himself though, diplomatically has neither affirmed nor disputed this claim!

Entreaties and impassioned pleas from kindred souls to for an enrolment at a decent coaching centre at Mysore elicited no action. Though he would listen to our arguments with rapt attention, nodding his head at frequent intervals, the ‘porcupine’ never considered such a prospect to be appealing. He was contented doing what he had taught himself and he also had this baffling notion that all coaches would be merely cantankerous task masters. Using the physical instructor of our school as a sphere of influence was also an exercise in futility as Mahendra did not find the timid soul to be a catalyst that could rouse him from his self-imposed mental slumber. In my humble opinion of the dissuading factors could have been a trouble which he had over the English language and about which he felt extremely uncomfortable and regarding which he was overtly conscious. Being an avid cricketer himself, it was an unbelievable fact that he religiously shunned watching cricket matches on television. He would instead spend time aimlessly wandering the streets near his residence accumulating company of various hues and cries, some tolerable and the majority, undesirable.

As I completed my schooling and shifted base to the Garden City of Bangalore, I lost touch with this splendid character. Internet and instant messaging were concepts about the advent of which we had little or no prescience. However a few months ago, an old acquaintance called to inform that Mahendra had met with a horrific road accident and was paralysed below the waist. It was unthinkable to envisage this effervescent cricketer and more importantly, an exuberant personality being confined to the four corners of a bed. Friends who knew him sensed that it would only a matter of time before the dignified spirit and the dour self-esteem would be replaced by a sense of despondency and dread. Unfortunately the naysayers and doomsday prophets were right in their prediction as soon afterwards Mahendra developed some serious complications and decided to end his earthly sojourn. He was all of 35 years old.
With the requisite coaching and thrust Mahendra might or might not have matured into a cricketer of merit with a genuine prospect of making it to higher levels. Since most of the cricket played by us as kids was in the hinterlands without much exposure to cricket and cricketers of more illustrious and bigger cities, Mahendra as a fast bowler might even have been an exaggerated figment of an overworked collective imagination. Maybe the warmth he exuded and the bond of friendship that he shared might have clouded many a rational judgement and lent a personal bias that might have accentuated his feats with the ball. But there was no doubt that when it came to passion, practice and performance, there could be few who were as genuine as this affable ‘porcupine’.

All those batsmen of repute who have already met their Maker better be ready as they might be jolted out of their reverie of complacency. And the willows they employ up above better be sturdy and strong! RIP CHAMP! YOU WERE THE BEST!