VIRAT KOHLI – THE MONOPOLISTIC SUPPLIER OF A BILLION DEMANDS

Al Capone once said, “I am like any other man.  All I do is supply a demand”. Virat Kohli seems to echo the sentiments of this legendary and notorious persona, albeit in situations that are more circumspect and sober. The stylish Indian Number 3 has of late morphed into a universally acknowledged monopolistic supplier of demands involving improbable run chases. Seemingly insurmountable targets in the shorter and shortest formats of the game are battered down by Kohli and the impossible transforms into the inevitable. A clinical demonstration of this extraordinary ability put paid to the ambitions of an Afridi led Pakistani side which was hoping to end their wretched jinx of having never defeated their arch rivals in a World Cup encounter. As the dust settled down at the magnificent Eden Gardens and the victors retired to celebrate, the vanquished were left licking their wounds and rue over a statistical incongruity which read 11-0.

However there is absolutely nothing incongruous about the way in which Kohli goes about his cricket. There is a refreshing joie de vivre with which this marauding yet assured phenomenon goes about dismantling his opponents with a cricket bat. Like a master artisan meticulously sculpting a masterpiece, Kohli has a patented method to his lethal madness. A method that massacred Malinga and Sri Lanka at Hobart; decimated George Bailey’s Australians at Jaipur; took the wind out of the collective Bangladeshi sails in the Asia Cup finals; and ran roughshod over a bunch of gregarious Pakistanis at Eden Gardens.

Having miserably crumbled to New Zealand in their home opener, India, even if not tottering, was in an extremely uncomfortable position having lost 3 wickets for only 23 runs. Having put into bat in a match curtailed by rain to 18 overs, Pakistan had garnered 118 difficult runs on a pitch that resembled more a treacherous mine field than a pristine featherbed that is usually the preserve of T20 games these days. Ashwin and Jadeja got the ball to turn square and at right angles. Hence it was something of a mystery when the Indian skipper decided not to back their spinners to complete their full quota of overs. An obdurate partnership involving Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal ensured that the Pakistani bowlers had a semblance of a competitive target to bowl with.

The Indian reply did not exactly follow the script when the extremely talented, but incorrigibly complacent Rohit Sharma had departed first after Shoaib Malik poached a mistimed skier off Mohammed Aamir. An inexplicably scratchy and tentative Shikhar Dhawan soon followed suit playing a fast Mohammed Sami delivery back onto his stumps. And when Suresh Raina, struggling for proper form was castled first ball not only was Sami on a hat-trick, India’s impeccable record of having never lost to their arch rivals in a World Cup encounter was being seriously imperiled. 23-3 and the momentum was totally with the guests. An added historical fact of Pakistan having never lost a game at the Eden Gardens seemed to have bestowed on them an infectious spurt. Yuvraj Singh joined Virat Kohli at the crease and managed to safely negotiate the hat-trick delivery.

Embodying the resolve of the indefatigable Michael “Terminator” Bevan and the unique assuredness of one of the best finishers of the game, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virat Kohli decided to take matters into his own hands. Initially proceeding to work the ball both sides of the wicket, Kohli put his fabulous wrists to magisterial use by deftly flicking and driving the ball. A beautifully timed pull off Wahab Riaz through the mid wicket region provided a much needed release from the pressure that had enveloped the Indian batting. This was soon followed by the first six of the Indian innings when going down on one knee; Kohli slog swept Shoaib Malik to send the ball soaring high over the square leg boundary. The maestro was just beginning to warm up to yet another challenge. A breathtaking inside out shot that burnt the blades of grass at cover before thudding into the boundary provided ample testimony to the sheer class epitomizing the wrist work of Kohli. Spotting the length of the delivery in a flash, Kohli using lithe and nimble footwork employed his wrists in devastating fashion slapping the ball past the cover region. However the shot of the day was to follow soon. Mohammed Aamir was reintroduced into the bowling attack to dislodge a partnership that was attaining dangerous proportions. To a ball pitched slightly outside the off-stump, Kohli displaying the full face of the bat, timed the delivery exquisitely, placed it to perfection, before dispatching the ball to the cover boundary. Time seemed to stand still paying homage to an imperious genius in imperial form. Kohli however was not bent upon impressing a phalanx of Gods. He was paying his tribute to the one preceptor whom he revered and the only God whom he worshipped – Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. The greatest batsman the world has been grateful to witness since the Bradman era, acknowledged this honour with equanimity and pride as he applauded his protégé’s accomplishments from the stands. Another inside out shot with a predominant bottom hand whipping the ball towards the cover boundary brought Kohli near the brink of a landmark half century. When he attained the milestone, the rafters at the Eden Gardens came down in a thunderous chorus of approbation as thousands of fans gave vent to their feelings of euphoria.

Yuvraj Singh after essaying an innings of impact had departed the stage, but not before sending a ball sailing over the mid wicket boundary for a vintage Yuvraj six. His innings of 24 was punctuated by a six and a four each. By the time Kohli reached his 50, the target was whittled down to a mere 14 runs. As is the custom towards which M S Dhoni seems to possess a religious addiction, a towering six followed by a single finished the game off with 2 overs and a delivery to spare.

Yet again Virat Kohli had proved his mettle. Combining a Zen like tranquility with a controlled fury finding expression in an exuberant array of regal stroke making Kohli had once again drilled home the fact that when it comes to chasing down targets, his presence and performance was an indispensable factor. The progress of India and the performance of Kohli were now two factors that had an inextricable nexus between them incapable of being severed. An anomaly against New Zealand found its atonement against Pakistan. However, lest we forget this is just the beginning. Not only during the course of this World Cup, but long into the future, weighty demands will be ceaselessly placed on the sturdy shoulders of this great batsman in whom Sir Vivian Richards saw shades of himself. The demands will be relentless, rigorous and remorseless. But there is every reason to believe that Virat Kohli will deliver. The monopoly is under no threat and the supply stream shows no sign of abating!

IN KOHLI WE TRUST!

The Wrath of Virat Kohli

During the course of a magnificent, marauding and merciless century which took the wind out of the collective sails of the Sri Lankans at Hobart, when Virat Kohli essayed a powerful cover drive, an impressed Ian Chappell exclaimed that this stylish right handed batsman had a bit of ‘swagger’ about him. The former Australian cricket captain undoubtedly knew what he was talking about as during his playing days he himself was not bereft of a ‘swagger’ or two! Virat Kohli, the enfant terrible of Indian cricket, though not boastful of an imperious ‘swagger’, such as epitomized by the incomparable Sir Vivian Richards, has sans a semblance of doubt created a strong impression during his short and illustrious tenure on the cricketing field till date as a fiery competitor and a fascinating cricketer.

An ‘in-your-face cricketer, who firmly believes in the tried and tested adage of ‘an eye for an eye’, Virat Kohli exudes self belief and has in his repertoire an abundance of determination and fortitude along with an envious armoire of searing drives and controlled pulls. Whether it be mouthing expletives after the completion of a century (a fact which provoked the original little Master Sunil Gavaskar to complain that Kohli had a ‘school-boy temperament’), or giving a bunch of hostile and taunting spectators the ‘middle finger’ salute, Kohli’s actions and antiques convey neither a contrived effort nor a casual aberration. Giving  an impression of possessing taut nerves of steel, Kohli is like a coiled serpent which at the least provocation would bare its venomous fangs and strike with extreme rage. Controversy, to this extraordinary bundle of talent is as natural as the exhilarating strokeplay that he employs to thrill millions across the length and breadth of the globe. The former Under 19 World Cup winning captain does not seem to believe in either remorse or repentance, but only in consequences. The inappropriate gestures, the irascible flood of obscenities in combination with the incredible array of batting firepower, are all but mere means to achieve the more important and permanent end. An end which for this temperamental youngster is nothing less than a victory for his team.

His philosophy of aggression is implemented with singular conviction in every facet of his game. The never-say-die attitude is reflected in every elbow grazing dive, maniacal running between the wickets, lobbing some innocuous but wary lollipops as a part-timer, spectacular lunges to get his hands on a flying ball leaving him spread eagled on the ground, and also in every kick of disgust and a lamentful holding of a hand upon his head whenever his tenure at the crease comes to an end. The end of every single dismissal, for this remarkable cricketer is, in his convinced mind, a pre-mature termination of a knock, irrespective of whether he is yet to get off the mark or has blitzed a breathtaking hundred! This hungry and wolfish attitude, has certainly gone a long way in raising the standard of Virat Kohli as a batsman, and more importantly as a cricketer.

This is a man for whom playing the game that he loves and playing it in the way in which he feels is the best way to do it, constitutes  a veritable douceur de vivre. Some stellar statistics, especially in the shorter version of the game also provide ample testimony to the fact that the performances of this mercurial cricketer are in no way restricted merely to his antiques. Boasting a commendable average and an inspiring strike rate, he at times, has combined with a perpetrator in crime, and at others, produced solo virtuoso performances to bestow India with some memorable wins. So when he pummeled, pulverized and put to sword, a stupefied Sri Lankan bowling attack in general and a pole-axed Lasith Malinga in particular, on his way to a match winning, undefeated knock of 133 off only 86 deliveries, the cricketing world would have been forgiven for being stunned but not for an expression of surprise!

Even though the blitzkrieg at Hobart might not be enough for India to make the finals of  the Commonwealth Bank series, Virat Kohli’s veritable objet d’art has left no one in doubt that a part of the future of Indian cricket is bright and boisterous. It is a unique part indeed, for, in addition to possessing a middle finger, an occasional mohawk, a good deal of wrath, and a motor mouth, it also has ‘masterclass’ written all over it!

Rahul Dravid and the Assurance Factor

On an overcast August day in the year 2002 at Headingly, Leeds, Sourav Ganguly won the toss and, much to the bewilderment of experts and laymen alike, choose to bat. The skeptics seemed to be justified in their dissent with such a move when the explosive Virender Sehwag perished after notching up eight measly runs. When the naysayers were wrinkling their noses and rubbing their hands, out strode Rahul Dravid wrapped in a jumper to ward off the biting cold and also with a clear mandate to thwart an upbeat and encouraged English attack. What followed next was an unbelievable story to revel in and to store for posterity. In the company of a brave but inexperienced Sanjay Bangar, Dravid provided an exhilarating and exemplary exhibition of the art of facing, and equally the art of leaving a cricket ball! Swing, seam and spin were negotiated with equal equanimity and sharply-rearing deliveries were either played with soft hands or allowed to thud into the body. When his epic innings finally terminated at a gritty 148, it was a job admirably well done and a job that provided an assurance of victory.

Cricketing greats have graced this pristine game with factors and attributes that have been their prerogative. While players such as the legendary Sir Vivian Richards, and the famous fast bowling quartet of the West Indies evoked a fear factor in the opponents, class acts such as Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara instilled a sense of awe amongst competitors and comrades alike. With Dravid it is the singularly unique factor of assurance that has endeared him to millions of admirers across the globe. An assurance that the broad blade will come down upon delivery after delivery with candour, courage and conviction; an assurance that once he has marked his guard, the crease will be his for the taking for an inordinately prolonged duration; an assurance that deliveries pitched just millimeters outside the off-stump would not be met by a fishing willow, but by a broad opening up of the arms or by an expansive leave; an assurance that the players in the dressing room can put up their legs, relax and enjoy the beautiful technique of batting; an assurance that magnificent and mediocre bowling would be meted out the same treatment and the respect which they respectively deserve; an assurance that the crouch at slips would invariably result in a safe poaching of a ball that has ended its fleeting tryst with  an edge; an assurance that the need for a specialist glove-man can be compensated with a makeshift, but honest wicket-keeper to accommodate the proverbial extra batsman or bowler!

The sight of Rahul Dravid pressing down his helmet to allow a rivulet of accumulated sweat to stream down has now become part of the cricketing folklore. Possessing unbelievable amounts of concentration (a fact which would be wholeheartedly endorsed by an army of fatigued bowlers around the world), Dravid has more often than not been an insurance against catastrophe for India. Reveling in moments of crisis, he has on innumerable occasions put his hand up and ensured that his team wriggles out of a seemingly impossible entanglement. He has also put up his hand with a willow in it to acknowledge adulation and applause on many a memorable occasion. Instances of Dravid warming the cockles of a plethora of hearts with his staggering deeds are too numerous to recount. And his heroics with VVS Laxman – his perpetrator-in-crime at the Eden Gardens and at the Adelaide Oval – represent stuff that legends are made of.

It is also totally unnecessary to either sing his paeans or account for his accomplishments as doing so would merely mean stating the obvious. He has also distinguished himself severely as a gentlemanly cricketer and a great ambassador of the game by always exhibiting an impeccable behaviour both on and off the field – an added assurance that controversies and chaos would never ever be part of a repertoire of flowing drives, controlled pulls and delectable cuts. A purist’s delight and a purveyor of the textbook style of batting, Dravid’s tenures at the crease have more often than not been a reflection of the resilience of a Rocky Balboa, the intuitiveness of an Inspector John Rebus and the instinct of a Holmes (Sherlock and not Percy!). It is a moot point to ponder as to whether Rahul Dravid would have been the best batsman India has ever produced, but for the simple presence of a phenom going by the name of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Even with a bounty of laurels to his credit, it would not be an exaggeration to state that this unassuming and formidable cricketer has spent the best part of his career under the shadows of the illustrious Mumbaikar, and has on more occasions than one been relegated to being an unsung hero.

Being the human that he is, Dravid has also not been bereft of the attendant frailties and flaws. Though a keen and avid reader of the game, this great student has not able to metamorphose into a master. As a captain and a leader of men, even though not an abject failure, Dravid has not matched up to the standards of either an aggressive Ganguly or an astute Mahendra Singh Dhoni. A controversial declaration leaving Tendulkar stranded on 194 against Pakistan irked an entire nation and made for a stirring debate. In the shorter version of the game, Dravid has copped criticism (at times unjustified and unfair) for not having the ability to up the ante when needed. The non-selection from the historic World Cup winning squad of 2011 must have hurt his pride no end. However, frailties and imperfect contradictions play a vital role in enhancing the perspective about an individual and in unearthing his/her real characteristic traits.

The man who narrowly missed scoring a century on debut at the Mecca of cricket, has indeed come a long way. An unwavering determination, an unflappable temperament and an unbelievable technique spanning more than a decade and a half represents a selfless service to Indian cricket. This messianic cricketer, who abhorred flamboyance and flourish for effectiveness and efficacy, has now decided that the time has come to bid farewell to the game. The famed assurance factor now has found a permanent place in the cricketing hall of fame.

Maybe Dravid decided that it was time when many a delivery mischievously found a gap in a defence, hitherto impregnable, to kiss the stumps; maybe he felt that the ball bouncing off his once ”as-safe-as-a-house” hands was an indicator that a different professional career was on the anvil; or maybe the great man sincerely felt that he had given enough of his blood, sweat and tears for the cause of the game. Whatever the reason, only a cricketing illiterate would dispute the fact that Dravid has done enough and more for the game which he has dearly loved and lived. The sight of this fascinating batsman striding in to bat at the position which he has made his own, along with the likes of Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis will now be one for the archives. However, in a queer way, even while departing from the game, the illustrious Dravid has left behind an assurance factor; an assurance that perhaps he is the only one of his kind – with none before and none to follow.

The redoubtable ‘Wall’ might have been battered, bruised and bleached, but it has always given an assurance and stood by it that it would never ever be broken down. And as it has finally decided to shift itself from the view of many a relieved bowler, every single brick therein stands unblemished with pride, passion and dignity!

Rahul Sharad Dravid, Thank you!

Shivnarine Chanderpaul – A Blind Watchmaker but never Dobell’s ‘Selfish Gene’

The erudite and extremely readable George Dobell, in an insightful piece has gone on to describe Shivnarine Chanderpaul as not only a dogged batsman, but also as one possessing a selfish gene. In the said piece titled “Selfish gene fails shallow talent pool”, Mr.Dobell has also cited a few instances supposedly lending credence to the selfish gene argument. Such instances are predominantly gleaned from the first day’s play in the ongoing Test Match at Lord’s where the men from the Caribbean are now in an all too familiar spot of bother (at least as I am penning this). I did have the unexpected but extremely privileged fortune of being a spectator soaking in the hallowed atmosphere that is the sole prerogative of the Mecca of cricket on this very day. Whilst I claim myself to be neither a Chanderpaul fanatic, nor a Dobell critic, I would, with due respect to Mr. Dobell, try and refute his arguments on the basis of both the happenings on the first day’s play and almost two decades of maniacal cricket watching.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul, in the current unenviable West Indian set-up is one rock solid boulder amidst an extremely unstable and fluid collection of pebbles. Application at the crease has been his unquestionable forte and as Mr.Dobell himself is wont to believe, he is one batsman who just hates to throw his wicket away. A batsman who puts such a heavy and almost extortionist price on his wicket is sans a semblance of a doubt a priceless asset to be possessed. Here neither Mr.Dobell nor yours truly have an axe to grind against each other as we both seem to be standing on a mutual admiration pedestal. Chanderpaul is indeed the proverbial cockroach which gets smashed, swept and savaged, but never dies, at least not without putting up a remarkable resistance.

Let us now come to the point where Mr.Dobell dwells about Chanderpaul leaving Bravo stranded and more importantly being the instrument of catastrophe when it comes to running between the wickets. As per the statistics quoted by Mr.Dobell, Chanderpaul has had the ignominy of being involved in 23 run-outs where he has been the suffering party on only 3 occasions. Thus on 20 ocassions in Test Match cricket, Shivnarine Chanderpaul has been the harbinger of doom for his batting partners. Does this statistic in itself make Chanderpaul selfish? If that were to be the case then the most selfish batsman the game has ever seen would be the legendary Steve Waugh. This redoubtable Australian master class has been a nightmare for his batting partners not only in Test Match cricket, but also in the shorter form of the game. In Tests, while Steve Waugh was involved in 27 run-outs  his partner was run out a whopping 23 times, which means that  Waugh was dismissed on just four occasions. When it comes to one-day internationals the record only gets more garish – Waugh’s involvement in run-outs is on 77 occasions with his partner being left stranded 50 times! So much for being the “Iceman”! The history of cricket abounds with many such players. Even the great K.S.Ranjitsinhji was not bereft of this ignominy. Does it make the champion batsman selfish? I emphatically think not!

Now coming to the second argument of Chanderpaul exposing Fidel Edwards to the guile of Stuart Broad in the last over of the day. The state of the current West Indian batting line-up is such that, there are quite a few batsmen who need to be protected against quality bowling, whether it be pace or spin. Even assuming Chanderpaul had cleverly palmed the strike and faced Broad, it was only a matter of time before Edwards would have faced some bowling. That moment would have come eventually. There is no way that Chanderpaul can either bat from both ends or grab a single off the last ball of an over with the consistency befitting that of a metronome! The act of Chanderpaul leaving Edwards to face Broad, hence does not reflect upon the selfishness of the former. On the contrary it portrays in a starkly naked vein the brittleness that is the hall-mark of the present West Indian batting line-up. while Chanderpaul would be willing to face the first, middle and final overs in a day, his team’s cause will never be furthered if there is none to support him at the other end.

Yet another argument advanced by Mr.Dobell is with reference to the position at which Chanderpaul has to wield his willow. While it brooks no argument that West Indian prospects of a good batting total would be enhanced with the entry of Chanderpaul at No.3, which would allow this unique southpaw to face more deliveries, such a move might come to naught if the rest of the batsmen flatter to deceive. Irrespective of the position in which Chanderpaul bats, he cannot be the ever reliable and ever dependable Knight in shining armour. The fact that this dour and gritty batsman still boasts an average of above 50 in Test Match cricket and dons the mantle of the best batsman in the world bears ample testimony to his selfless service to his nation. Also if the West Indian team management feels that the ideal position for Chanderpaul to bat, in the interests of his country, would be No.3, then logic dictates that the fact should be conveyed to him in a direct and emphatic manner. The player that he is, it is hard to envisage a refusal emanating from him.

The bane dogging West Indian cricket seems to be a combination of things. An unrelenting Cricket Board, an unwavering set of players in rebellion, and an unreliable infrastructure for encouraging the game at the grass root level. Where the cause is systemic, the consequence would obviously be systematic. This is highlighted in a classical manner by the fact that a precocious talent of West Indian cricketers are peddling their wares in the ongoing IPL, instead of plying their talents for enhancing their nation’s cause in England. Till such time the internecine conflicts between the Board and the players remain unresolved, the fortunes of West Indian cricket will remain uninspiring and insipid.

Till such a revolution happens, one selfless batsman will continue to keep his head high, place a proudly beating heart on his sleeve, wear war paint under his eyes, mark his guard by beating a hapless bail into the ground, and continue to frustrate the best in the business by unpretentiously doing what he just loves and never tires of doing – plunder runs, more runs, still more runs and lot more runs.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul, is not a selfish gene but a blind watch maker who irrespective of the tumult and turmoil going on around him continues to fix a badly broken watch, and in the process remaining timeless himself.

Sachin RameshTendulkar – The Brook of Alfred Lord Tennyson

The man who according to the former Australian captain Ian Chappell, was in possession of ‘peripheral awareness’ prepared himself to face Shakib Al Hasan, an under-rated all rounder from Bangladesh who was all of two years old when his opponent first got a taste of international cricketing experience. The batsman was steady and statuesque in his bearing with a head as still as a deep resting stream. As Shakib with his inimitable round arm action released a well pitched up delivery, the batsman, using his heavy blade softly pushed the ball on the onside and scrambled a run. This seemingly nondescript event in the midst of an India-Bangladesh game in the picturesque stadium of Mirpur, signaled an event epochal in its character and momentous in its nature. For the batsman who had taken that run was Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar and the eventful single brought about his 100th international hundred, a feat unparalleled till date and, one that would arguably remain unconquered.

The raising of the Adidas blade acknowledging the applause of an appreciative crowd and awe-inspired teammates alike coupled with the looking up to the heavens to thank the Gods that might be, and, probably a benevolent departed father, demonstrated the culmination of a nerve-racking year not only for the messiah of Indian cricket, but also for his fanatical and adoring supporters. Sachin Tendulkar had endured an extended century making drought spanning 33 innings, 3 tours and more than 365 days. Though at times he came perilously close to achieving this memorable distinction, his form by his own standards was, but a pale shadow of his brilliant and belligerent past. The exuberant, effervescent and sprightly Sachin of old was replaced by a tentative, timid and tepid batsman, who after exhibiting brief moments of aesthetic flourish, merely flattered to deceive. The unusually frequent sight of the bat being tucked under the arm as Sachin made his way back to the pavilion after yet another uneventful score became the unwitting reason for many a stirring debate and a raging deliberation. Commendable feats of the past were relegated to the confines of the dust bin of history and the future of this once invincible star was being dissected in public. As the dreaded phrase ‘graceful retirement’ commenced to rend the air, eminent cricketers of yore started providing their unflinching, unhesitating and at times unsolicited views regarding the most opportune moment for this Master of the game to walk away into the sunset. The most natural amongst all cricketers to have graced Indian cricket, and also one of world cricket’s most enviable all-rounders, Kapil Dev, vehemently declared that Sachin ought to have bid the game good-bye once India reigned triumphant in the World Cup of 2011. Little did the mercurially talented cricketer realize, that he was suffering from a foot-in-the-mouth syndrome as he seemed to have obliterated from his own memory the painful phase when he trudged along on weak knees and non-existent pace towards the fag end of an illustrious career. It was a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black! Caustic jokes and cruel hashtags made their way into social networking sites and to compound the agony, batsmen of the likes of the talented Virat Kohli, and the genial Rahul Dravid seemed to possess an ability to conjure tons at will! Elsewhere Alistair Cook and Jacques Kallis notched up hundreds before once could say “Open Sesame” and even the once woefully out of form Ricky Ponting regained his indefatigable stamp of supremacy as he decimated a below par Indian attack in the series Down Under.

But throughout this roiling period of tumult and turmoil, Sachin maintained a composure that was commendable, a confidence that was innate and a character that was worth emulating. Though, in all probability the proverbial, precious and almost prodigal hundred would have undoubtedly been a Damocles sword hanging over his neck, he never even for an instance exhibited an outwardly or apparent admission of the same. But for an understandable affront at his dismissal after being ‘obstructed’ by Brett Lee, resulting in a run-out, and an incomprehensible consternation at being caught by Jayawardene off a Lakmal full-toss, he played the game in a manner which he has been doing for a period of over two decades. Every premature and discouraging dismissal received the same response – a brisk trot back to the confines of the dressing room with no pyrotechnics or nonplussed expressions. All that the disappointed admirer was privy to was the sight of an exasperated tongue licking the lower lip within the confines of a sturdy helmet and the vanquished batsman being replaced by his designated teammate. Occasionally the shot that ought to have been played, but was not executed, was shadow practiced for the sake of posterity. While an unlikely Ravi Rampaul put paid to all hopes of a dream hundred in front of a home crowd at the Wankhede, and a likely Peter Siddle in Australia rattled Sachin’s stumps to dampen many a spirits, the gladiator maintained a rock solid temperament. But it would not have required either a psychiatrist or a behavioral psychologist to comprehend the fact that behind such a saintly demeanor lurked a veritable catharsis. As reverence transformed to remonstration, and as devotion metamorphosed into  denigration, the highest run getter in the world and Donald Bradman’s object of praise rode through the obstinate rough patch in the same sublime manner as he had rode through many a rough and rising delivery throughout his glittering and glorious career.

Sachin Tendulkar’s career spanning an astonishing twenty two years has ensconced within it tales of triumphs and auguries of tribulations. His rise and fall has been almost synonymous with the fluctuating fortunes of Indian cricket. From the time he made his debut against Pakistan as a raw, impetuous and innocuous looking child of sixteen, till such time he raised his bat in Mirpur two decades hence as a mature, magnificent and marvelous thirty eight year old man, he has been the bastion of Indian hopes and the torch bearer of a billion aspirations. His affair with the game boasting of such longevity has been a literal penance. Dedication, determination and devotion have been his avowed objectives. He has in fact epitomized the unforgettable “Brook” of Alfred Lord Tennyson – the brook which has been characterized as follows:

“Till last by Philip’s farm I flow 
To join the brimming river, 
For men may come and men may go, 
But I go on for ever”

For twenty two years, this legend has occupied the ‘dressing room’ and has been an unwavering spectator to a cascading flow of men who came and went by. The deserved and the damned; the sublime and the silly; the reasoned and the relegated. But like the obedient brook of Tennyson, Sachin has been the preserver, protector and the performer that Indian cricket has so craved. While his on-field achievements deserve no recanting of justification or proof of quality, his off the field behavior has also remained untarnished and unblemished. But for an avoidable controversy involving the waiver of Customs Duty on a gleaming red Ferrari gifted to him by the iconic Michael Schumacher, Tendulkar has maintained his balance and brevity. Fame has never been granted permission to get to the mature cerebrum of this intelligent cricketer, let alone get the better of him. More than anything else, he has been the purveyor of hopes and the harbinger of good tidings for the game of cricket in a cricket-obsessed country. While his match saving feat at Manchester in the capacity of an impetuous young boy evoked motherly affectations, his brilliant handling of McDermott and Co on a fast and bouncy Perth track elicited fatherly pride. Two glorious back-to-back centuries at Sharjah against a bewildered Aussie attack brought an element of romanticism to the game! A phenomenal hundred, albeit in a losing cause against Pakistan whilst nursing a creaky back literally ended up with his fanatical followers shedding tears, and passing a veritable test of will in scoring a double hundred at Sydney following a run of unenviable scores in the 2003 season provided ample testimony to the mettle of which the man was made. While feats such as these are too very numerous to be rendered an exposition or an elaboration, the fact is that the phenomenon called Sachin Tendulkar has lent an altogether new dimension to the game of cricket- a dimension which ought not to be judged solely for its statistical weight, for statistics represent only an attendant and inevitable accompaniment that cannot be severed from the larger perspective of  common sense; a dimension that has encapsulated within its sweeping breadth an undying love for the game and an unstinting service to its cause; a dimension which recognizes that no player is bigger than the game itself and that attainment of success depends to a great extent on the possession of the virtue of simplicity; and most importantly a dimension that severs every iota of complexity from this pristine and precocious game, a dimension that brings with it an awareness of the fact that irrespective of whether one wins or not, the real spirit lies in the passion with which the game is revered, regarded and respected.

The formidable Matthew Hayden might well be forgiven for his grossly exaggerated praise of Sachin Tendulkar. Hayden famously remarked that God batted at No.4 for India! While Sachin Tendulkar, can by no stretch of imagination be equated with divinity, there is no doubt that he is a human extraordinaire! He is a human being with a singularly solid purpose. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is a human being – OF CRICKET; BY CRICKET AND FOR CRICKET!!

Boycott, Richards and the Dilemma of an Autograph Hunter

The swagger that had etched itself as an integral part of cricketing folklore was unmistakably there. The attitude of nonchalance accompanying every step bordered around being contagious. The dark shades on the broad face hid whatever message or meaning the eyes were intending to convey. As the almost imperial figure advanced towards an elevator manned by two young men wearing jackets with the word ‘Steward’ emblazoned upon them, I clumsily ran towards him and stretching a scrap book that was tightly clenched in my fist, asked in a quivering voice “Sir can I have your autograph please?”. Much to my horror and disillusionment, the man in an attitude that could only be described as brazen, for the want of another appropriate word, refused to even acknowledge my mortal presence and with a cocky jerk of his bull neck calmly entered the elevator whose doors slowly closed upon my perplexed face.  The man in question – the legendary Sir Issac Vivian Alexander Richards and the setting of my disappointment – the hallowed Lord’s Cricket Ground, the veritable Mecca of cricket.

Unfortunately the aforementioned experience was not an isolated incidence in disappointment for yours truly. I was lent the proverbial cold shoulder by a few more masters of this pristine game, the most notable amongst the culprits being Sir Geoffrey Boycott. While I would have been thrilled to bits if the opening great had even scratched a page of my autograph book with a stick of his famous rhubarb, he was utterly disinclined to even give a peremptory look at the stationary. But unlike Sir Vivian Richards, who choose to be bereft of any words, Sir Geoffrey executed the role of a consummate liar to suave perfection, when he said “I will sign for you when I come back after my media duties”. It would not have taken a genius to figure out that a patient and interminable wait for his return would only be an exercise in abject futility.

I must have taken on a pallor of utter desolation after these refusals, for a fellow autograph seeker voluntarily made his way towards me and provided me with a few words of unsolicited but welcome consolation. I for a moment had even contemplated that contemptuousness might after all be a natural fall-out of knighthood. The Good Samaritan incidentally had also been brushed aside in his quest for a signature by Sir Geoffrey. He wryly proceeded to remark that there was a good probability that Sir Viv might have had breakfast with the English legend which resulted in the former assuming the same bearings as the latter! While this thought brought about a good laugh out of me, it also set me into thinking as to what might be a rational cause for a celebrity not obliging a signature seeking.

The practice of offering and obtaining autographs supposedly has its roots in the Greek tradition. The word autograph refers to a document transcribed in its entirety by the author. Thus the practice of collecting autographs from achievers is one that has been followed from times immemorial. The collection of autographs is also a hobby referred to as philography. The act of collecting an autograph epitomizes the adulation and admiration which a genuine seeker possesses towards the author in question. Also the fact that the same can be preserved in the vein of a precious treasure even long after the earthly sojourn of both the giver and the receiver bestows upon a signature, a special distinction. It is almost as if the person signing on an ordinary piece of paper or on his/her photograph is leaving behind a lasting legacy in his/her wake. An autograph is also not without its monetary benefits. It can be extraordinarily rewarding possessing unimaginable commercial value. As an illustration it is estimated that if any of the six original signatures of the immortal bard William Shakespeare were to come up for a miraculous auction, it would probably sell for in excess of $5 million US. But would the Bard-of-Avon himself have had any qualms in the event of such an improbable occurance? A genuine collector of autographs in general would rarely bear to part with them, excepting under dire circumstances. The intangible value in the form of happiness, prestige and pride invariably overrides the tangible and monetary aspects attached to a precocious collection. And even if an autograph is sought in anticipation of a commercial sale in the distant or near future, any paranoia on the part of the giver is hard to fathom. In the current world of cricket, that is characterized by an explosion of innovation and where T20 games take precedence over Test Match cricket, it is hard to envisage a signature of Sir Geoffrey Boycott being a ticket to generating unbridled wealth! Although there have been instances of celebrities charging a ‘signing fee’ for putting pen to paper on the apprehension that the autograph seekers would be professional autograph traders selling the autographs for full profit, such instances have been sparse and scattered. A New York Yankees legend, Joe Dimaggio was a notable proponent of such a practice. However such a practice, in fact might have the invidious effect of putting off fans rather than accumulating admirers.  No fan would like to see his hero donning the mantle of a sophisticated and civilized extortionist by putting a fat price on a signature. At least I would not touch a person who charges for his signature even with a 50-foot barge pole! A predominant motive in requesting a celebrity for an autograph is to capture in permanence a part of history. Nothing pleases an autograph seeker more than laying hands upon a document or an object that has been signed by a notable personality. It is not for nothing that fans brave despicable weather and embark on an interminable wait to just get a scrap of paper signed by their favourite celebrity.

While it is a personal choice on the part of a celebrity to either accommodate or abhor a request made by a fan for an autograph, more often than not, it is hard to digest a refusal. It almost signifies a form of betrayal for the ardent person making the request. It is as though the feelings of reverence,regard and respect that the fan possesses for his idol have gone unnoticed and unrecognized by the latter. At times, while it might be utterly impractical to satisfy the wishes of an autograph seeker (for example where the fan is part of a massive and teeming crowd), it might not be platitudinous to conclude that on more accomodating occasions, the fan would be well served to obtain that invaluable signature.

While I brook no hatred towards either Sir Geoffrey or Sir Vivian Richards and will continue to be a staunch admirer of these two brilliant cricketing legends, and also while there is no doubting that at the next available opportunity ( a possibility that seems both bleak and remote) I would not hesitate one jot before asking these two to sign their names for me, I would be deceiving myself if I were to conclude that I have not let down by the whimsical attitude displayed by these greats. But as the adage goes every rainbow invariably has a pot of gold. I found mine when the disappointments that were Boycott and Richards were more than made up for by the euphoria that was Michael Holding. The Whispering Death not only obliged with his unique signature but also had an encouraging word or two to spare! It was a pure Rolls Royce moment!

“Out of the Blue – Rajasthan’s Road to the Ranji Trophy” by Aakash Chopra

When the compact former India opening batsman Aakash Chopra penned Beyond the Blues: A First-Class Season Like No Other”, he revealed that he had as much dexterity holding a pen as he had flourishing a willow. Now with “Out Of The Blue – Rajasthan’s Road To The Ranji Trophy”, this prolific run getter in the domestic circuit has proved that such a dexterity was not a mere flash in the pan. His second book provides an interesting and at times intriguing account of Rajasthan’s incredible clinching of the Ranji Trophy during the season of 2010-11. This story of rank and unheralded underdogs upsetting many an apple cart and bringing to naught many a well-crafted strategy of much bigger rivals during their course of creating history, undoubtedly warms the cockles of the reader’s heart.

In a queer sense of the way, this book might not have seen the light of the day, but for the supposed intransigence displayed by the Delhi & District Cricket Administration (“DDCA”) in unceremoniously dumping Aakash Chopra from the Delhi squad for the domestic one-day games. This episode, recounted in a calm and matter-of-fact manner in the very first chapter of the book, rankled this batsman so much that he vowed never to represent his State again. It was as though years of unflinching, uncomplaining and undeterred service rendered by a faithful servant of the game were discounted remorselessly in one fell swoop. The consequence of such an action was a move to the ‘surrogate state’ (as succinctly put by the author) of Rajasthan, and as the much used and abused cliché goes ‘the rest is history’.

The initial chapters of the book are dedicated to providing a bird’s eye view of the players constituting the Rajasthan Ranji Trophy squad. Resembling a motley crew, this aspiring bunch shares the enviable values of determination, devotion and dedication and is firmly bond by the glue of togetherness. Any young cricketer aspiring to make an indelible mark would do well not only to read these chapters but also ingrain in him/her the invaluable and precocious lessons contained therein. The trials and tribulations undergone by each of these cricketers not only showcase their mental resoluteness but also a never say die attitude. Some of the incidents narrated in a simplistic and unflattering manner are to say the least, extremely moving. Vineet Saxena continuing to play the game in order to tend to his family, not even taking adequate time to grieve over the untimely passing of initially his father, and later his two month old infant is an exemplary case in point. Pankaj Singh’s teething troubles and a torn allegiance between choosing between volleyball and cricket, Ashok Menaria’s tryst with fame and ignominy, Deepak Chahar’s resoluteness and his polychondritis afflicted father’s unconditional encouragement all serve to prove the point that it takes more than just talent for one to establish oneself firmly in this game. Also immensely and intensely inspiring is the story of the young Gajendra Singh, a left-arm spinner who scalped Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson (yes all five of them) in a practice match and then had his whole world shattered with the death of his father and mother. In spite of adversity staring him point blank at his face, this tough cricketer braved the odds to turn into a determined cricketer and a bowler of note.

The book also embeds within its pages a fair sprinkling of humour. The story of Robin Bist, the young batsman being woken up in the night from the cramped confines of a seat in a rickety bus, by the licking of a goat (with the man tending to it firmly perched on his cricket kit bag), a group of primates invading the playing arena when the author was at the crease during a game at Kota, are a few examples.

Aakash Chopra also highlights the wide chasm in personal comforts and luxuries that are the prerogative of an established national cricketer vis-a-vis a player struggling to make a mark in the domestic circuit and facing innumerable obstacles (both avoidable and inevitable), in a clear and uncomplicated fashion. The obduracy and indifference of various selection committees, a humble family background, a cruel jugglery between holding on to a not-so-well-paying job and playing the game one loves the most are some of the perils that an aspiring cricketer faces in his endeavor to earn a name by playing this great game.

The second part of the book provides a gripping narrative of every game played by Rajasthan, their promotion to the Elite League from the Plate Division. The thrills and spills are entertainingly narrated and performances of note highlighted. The reader is thus regaled with the account of Hyderabad collapsing for an unbelievable 21, with Deepak Chahar being the wrecker-in-chief with an unbelievable haul of 8 wickets, the sleepless nights spent by the author himself on course to compiling a marathon unbeaten triple ton against Maharashtra in a crucial game and the slaying of the Big Daddy or “Australia of Indian domestic cricket” (in the author’s own words), Mumbai in an enthralling game.

A few erudite and technical points of note with regard to the most prudent manner of batting depending upon the state and nature of the pitch also merit a mention. Such an analysis ensures that the reader appreciates the various nuances that are the subtle prerogative of this seemingly simple and uncomplicated game.

A point of crescendo is reached when the indomitable desert warrior s contrive an amazing fairy tale to beat the seemingly invincible Mumbai to secure a place in the semi-finals of the Ranji Trophy. Facing a barrage of bouncers on and off the field, the tenacious skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar’s team ploughs on with their spirit undeterred and hope unyielding. As a visibly shattered Mumbai resign to their fate, a glorious hope is instilled in the Rajasthan players’ hearts with renewed vigour and realization dawns that the seemingly impossible dream is a mere two games away! As Tamil Nadu and Baroda bite the dust following the footsteps of their seven predecessors to have played Rajasthan, a rousing and endearing fairy tale is scripted and the record books rewritten!

In the overall context, this is the story of team work, self-belief and an unflinching attitude of camaraderie displayed by a bunch of talented and determined cricketers, willing themselves to go the distance and take the proverbial leap of faith. And as usual fortune never ever fails to favour the brave!

As I completed the final few chapters of this engrossing read, as coincidence would have it, Aakash Chopra raised his bat to a sprinkling of spectators by stroking a fluent century against Uttar Pradesh in the ongoing Ranji Trophy season. During the course of this elegant innings, he also achieved the enviable landmark of completing 10,000 first class runs. The first thought that entered my mind as I stood in the confines of my living room to generously applaud this feat was that of a young eight year old cricketer who shouldering a heavy cricket kit, hung on grimly to the ladder behind Bus No.442 heading towards Rajdhani College to practice a game of cricket. The boy has indeed grown into a multifaceted and mature man and a marvelous cricketer!

“Out of the Blue” – The colour of cricket, cause and courage!