Thoughts on the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup

28 years after Kapil Dev led an unfancied India to a sensational World Cup triumph at the Lord’s 25th June 1983, M. S. Dhoni led a thoroughly efficient Indian outfit to repeat the feat.

When Kapil won:

  • I was as old as my son Aikataan is at present: not yet 5.
  • Colour TVs weren’t in vogue in India. You had to place an order for one and it could take up to a few months to get one, as my father found out when he tried to buy one before the LA Olympics in 1984.
  • The only sport where India had previously made a mark internationally was hockey, where it had won the Olympic gold medal 8 times (3 times as British India, including Pakistan). This happens to be a record not yet broken.
  • ODI matches in cricket had 60 overs a side and they were played in whites with a red cricket ball.
  • Cricket World Cups were named after their chief sponsors. The 1975, 1979 and 1983 trophies were called the Prudential World Cup, the 1987 trophy was called the Reliance World Cup, in 1992 it was the Benson & Hedges World Cup and in 1996 it was the Wills World Cup. Only from 1999 did the trophy start being called the ICC World Cup.
  • India were beyond rank outsiders, quite in contrast to being the favourites this year. In fact David Frith, the founder-editor of the Wisden Cricket monthly had claimed he would eat his words if India won the World Cup. He famously kept his word.
  • Broadcasters were too few and Kapil’s breathtaking knock of 175* against Zimbabwe was lost forever due to a BBC strike.
  • The Man of the Match for the Finals took home £600. In contrast the BCCI has promised $200,000.00 to each member of the winning team this year.
  • There was no concept of a Man of the Series.

I haven’t a recollection of the 1983 World Cup (we didn’t have a TV then), and I am pretty sure Aikataan is too young to have a recollection of his parents celebrating this World Cup. One of our lighter moments throughout the World Cup was getting him to say “India will win”, or “India has won”. Whoever the opponent – Australia, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, he was always giving two thumbs down to India and saying that the other team would win. The superstitious lot that we are, whenever India’s fortunes were on the downturn my wife and I prodded him for his opinion as to who the winner would be. He would promptly answer “Sri Lanka” and immediately there would be something good happening for India.

Continue reading Thoughts on the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup

Sporting Gestures

I had written about Nadal and Federer at this year’s Australian Open, applauding the spirit displayed by Nadal after his victory. Today I came across an article in the Guardian (yes, I read all the British and Australian newspapers whenever India does well in Cricket, just to see what other countries think of it) that talked about the author’s top 10 favourite sporting gestures on the field. While a few readers have commented that Nadal’s act should have made the list, I was happy to see Andrew Flintoff consoling Brett Lee figure in the top 10 – that was something I had appreciated in my post.

I will be keeping my posts short till 24th April. The 7-day work weeks clubbed with a work-related repetitive stress injury has severely hampered my capacity to write here or to work on Aquoid.


The Baddy Blog

No – this is not a bad blog by any stretch of imagination. It is actually a Badminton player’s blog. Saina Nehwal’s, to be precise. Unfortunately it is not a blog in the classical style – there is no RSS / Atom feed or a place to enter comments. Nevertheless, it is a very enjoyable read. More so because I really love playing Badminton myself and Saina is an excellent player (10th in the world at the moment) and a very good writer. The writing style is direct and witty, describing aspects of daily training and with a peek into some interactions that she has on a day to day basis.

Saina’s rise to the top is a very inspiring story in itself. As an 8-year old she would start her day at 6:00 AM each day and ride pillion on her father’s scooter for 20km. From an American perspective 20km is a trifling distance – 12.5 miles, but this is a pretty long ride in India where your scooters don’t go faster than 40-50 kmph (25-30 mph). There were also financial hardships like kit costs, training costs etc. Luckily she managed to find sponsorships starting in 2002, which ameliorated the situation to a large extent.

I do hope Saina finds great professional and personal success – we need people like her to put India on the map of world sports.

The Inevitable Void: Part 1 – VVS Laxman

I had promised as far back as December 2007 that I would pay a tribute to India’s retiring generation of cricketers. I never really blogged much after that promise, until the start of this year. As a result I more than missed the bus. 2 of the 5 cricketers I had hoped to profile have already retired and another is under immense pressure to perform. In any case by the time this “Fab Five” retires India will have pretty big shoes to fill, hence the inevitable void.

If you know me personally you are probably aware of my passion for cricket. And if you don’t know me personally, here are 3 things I should tell you:

  1. My stated hobbies on Orkut include “memorizing cricket statistics”
  2. You can find evidence of the above in some questions that I post on Cricinfo.
  3. Even without a dish antenna here in the US, I manage to follow every ball bowled in every match that India plays, thanks to the Cricinfo commentary. I avoid sopcast, mind you, so Cricinfo commentary and my extremely fertile imagination help me create the whole picture in my mind quite effortlessly. In addition I follow every international match that takes place, though not necessarily ball by ball.

Anyway, back to the point. The cricketers I am going to talk about are:

  1. VVS Laxman
  2. Anil Kumble
  3. Sourav Ganguly
  4. Rahul Dravid
  5. Sachin Tendulkar

I initially set out to pay my tribute in a single article, but then I realized that of late consulting has affected my brevity and I have been writing pretty long articles. So I split this out into 5 different posts. Hope you like it.

The first player I will talk about is VVS Laxman.

Some good players raise their level of play to a stratospheric level when faced with a tough opponent. Laxman is one such player and the opponent he likes so much is Australia. Though people remember him for the epic 281 at Eden Gardens, he has a lot of noteworthy innings.

  • 167 in Sydney against Australia, 2000 – This innings should have given the Australians ample warning about things to come. Though India lost the match by an innings, Laxman’s 167 was breathtaking. More importantly his score was almost 64% of India’s total of 261 – something that fell marginally shy of breaking the oldest record in cricket – the one that Charles Bannerman set in the very first test by scoring 165 out of Australia’s 245, a whopping 67.35%!!
  • 281 at Eden Gardens, Kolkata against Australia, 2001 – The innings of a lifetime! Australia had won 16 tests on the trot, crushing India in the previous test by an innings. Here they set up a solid 445 in their first innings and bundled out India for 171. Following on, when India lost its first wicket, in an inspired move captain Sourav Ganguly sent Laxman in at one down – a position typically occupied by Dravid. Then India lost 3 more wickets, including those of Tendulkar at 115 for 3 and Ganguly at 232 for 4. India still needed 42 runs to make Australia bat again.

    What followed was the stuff of dreams. Dravid joined Laxman at the crease and the 5th wicket partnership lasted a whopping 376 runs. The pair batted throughout the fourth day and thoroughly wore out Australia on a hot and humid summer day in Kolkata. The sad part was Laxman missing out on becoming the first Indian to make a triple century on the 5th morning. But the battering was so severe that Harbhajan Singh and the Indian spin attack played havoc. And quite incredibly, Australia LOST!!

    I remember sitting at the office during the last half hour of the match, unable to concentrate. One of my good friends, Ashish Goel called up his home, asked his wife Alankrita to put the phone’s receiver near the TV, then switched on the speakerphone at his desk. And all of us shared the thrill of this spine-tingling victory.

    There have been only three instances in the history of cricket where a team following on has won a match. Australia has been at the receiving end in all three and this was the third instance. This match had such a profound impact on cricket in general that teams have been very reluctant to enforce a follow-on ever since.

  • 154* at Kolkata against West Indies, 2002 – This was in the third innings of the match, after West Indies had built a first innings lead of 139. India was in the danger of being bundled out for a poor score after being 4 down for 87. Laxman joined Tendulkar in the middle and took India to safe shores. India managed to draw the match.
  • 148 at Adelaide and 178 at Sydney against Australia, 2003-2004 – Two big centuries, two 300+ partnerships and an utterly frustrated Australia. By this time Laxman was a permanent fixture in the test team and his confidence was sky high. These innings were sublimely beautiful. The Adelaide innings came when India was in a tough situation. Again his partner in crime was Dravid, but this time Laxman played the supporting role. The Sydney innings was in Tendulkar’s company. Tendulkar had adopted a monastic approach, leaving any ball outside the off stump because of his dismissals that series. But Laxman had no such reservations and he delighted in feasting on the Aussie attack.

Laxman seems to derive sadistic pleasure in tormenting Australia. 6 of his 13 test centuries and his top 4 scores are against them. Most of the time he is a delight to watch – wristy, aggressive and with an array of strokes to rival the best. He has somehow not made much of an impact on ODIs, though 4 of his 6 centuries are against Australia in this format as well. Some of his ODI innings are remarkable too, like his 103* at Brisbane (against who else, but Australia!) and his 107 at Lahore against Pakistan in a match that helped us win the historic ODI series.

He has always been a stable influence on the middle order and is an expert on extracting the most from the tail. He also works excellently in tandem with Dravid. With his teammates being more high profile Laxman often doesn’t get the credit he deserves mainly because he bats so far down the order. I forever will remember him for one thing. 281.

Status: Still strong in tests, but out of ODIs.

Next up: Anil Kumble

The Road Less Traveled

As a recipient of a highly subsidised education in the best environment India can provide with some of the most intelligent people in the world, my days at IIT were focused on getting a challenging job that would offer the most money. I am sure there were several people with the same goals – get a job in the fourth year, graduate, make a lot of money and spend a life of leisure. Some decided to insert the additional step of post graduate studies before joining their professions by doing an MS, MBA or PhD.

By my fourth year of professional life I realised that my job paid more than average, the quality of work was not challenging at all and my life of leisure was not entirely that. That was when I happened to catch an email dated 13th March 2004 that my friend was reading. The title was “Parivaar” and it said:

Dear Sir,

My name is Vinayak Lohani and I am a 38th batch alumnus of IIM Calcutta. After graduating from IIMC I did not take up a corporate placement but started Parivaar, a Residential School for socially ostracized children from categories of orphans, children of women in prostitution, street children, children abandoned by their families etc.

Parivaar Centre (as it is called) started in January and currently houses 20 such children. We are admitting 40 more children whom we have identified who are highly vulnerable and need immediate support.

IIM Calcutta alumni have been of great help and 35 IIMC alumni (15 from my batch i.e.. 38th) have extended support to one child each at Parivaar. We need 15 more individual donors to place these children and ensure that they too get opportunities like children form ‘normal’ backgrounds.

You would be able to read about Parivaar Center at:

You can extend support to one child at Parivaar through our Child Sponsorship Scheme. The cost of one child at Parivaar residential Centre is Rs. 1025 per month i.e. Rs. 12,300 for a year. You will be associated with the sposnored child over the years and will be apprised of his/her progress.

Sir, this is a personal appeal to you for joining hands with us in this cause. If I do not get confimred support from 20 individual donors before March end I would not be able to admit some of these highly vulnerable children, 15 of whom are girls who have been identified to be under threat of being trafficked and forced into prostitution.

We had planned for 40 children this year but since 15 more such extremely vulnerable cases have been reported we need to move away from planning. What is planning when human lives are concerned. And hence for this reason I am writing to IIM Calcutta alumni who might be willing to extend their support. Your contribution will be a destiny-changing support to one child.

Looking forward to your reply.

I would be glad to answer any queries that you may have.

Vinayak Lohani

The mail shook me awake. Vinayak is a person of roughly my age who, after graduating from IIT-Kgp and IIM-C could have gotten an extremely lucrative job. But he chose to attend a higher calling and leveraged his network to do something that I can only dream about. This was what I had spoken about in my comment regarding Taare Zameen Par.

I visited Parivaar on 3rd October 2004 to experience first-hand what it felt like. It had to be one of the most humbling experiences of my life. The rain did nothing to dampen the spirits of the children, who each wanted to meet me and talk to me. They were a happy lot. Really happy. You could sense how much being a part of a family mattered to them. There was not a child whose smile did not touch my core. These children now attend mainstream schools and get an education that would help them compete with others from the more privileged classes.

Starting with 3 children in January 2004, today Parivaar has not only extended its reach to 386 children, but it also has lent a helping hand to other child shelters struggling with infrastructure issues. All thanks to one visionary individual who decided to choose an option that does not reward monetarily but amplifies manifold the satisfaction you get out of life. There are other organizations that care for the underprivileged, but Parivaar is the one I know most about and hence able to comment better on.

My visit to Parivaar changed me quite a lot. It taught me that there is so much more to life than flexing your intellectual or fiscal muscles. It made me much more mellow about a lot of things like uncooperative colleagues, decisions not going the right way and so on. Of course, I still maintain an argumentative streak, but someone who knew me 5 years back is bound to notice the difference. After all, what I face are minor trifles.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

From Mountain Interval by Robert Frost

Few things exemplify Robert Frost’s poem above better than Parivaar. Take a bow, Vinayak Lohani and Parivaar! May your tribe increase!

Almost there…

Last Saturday night, or actually the early hours of Sunday, 1st February, I was up watching the Men’s final of the Australian Open – a match-up between the two best tennis players in the world: Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. The world rankings say that Nadal is #1 and Federer is #2, and if the current form is any indication, Nadal is bound to catch up and overhaul the career Grand Slam mark that Federer sets.

But for as long as Federer is an active player, he will remain my favourite. Being a right-handed player with a single-fisted game myself, albeit of phenomenally less talent, I love watching the beauty of his play – so effortless, so graceful, yet so fascinatingly dominating. He is the reason that I resumed playing tennis after a 15-year hiatus.

Which is why I was really sad on Sunday morning. These two opponents have provided 3 thrilling encounters, all in the finals of grand slams – 2007 Wimbledon, 2008 Wimbledon and 2009 Australian Open. All were 5-setters, and the first one resulted in a victory for Federer, while the other two had Nadal triumphing. The two defeats, though worthy of the finals of Grand Slams, left me feeling very sorry for Federer. Here was a person on the cusp of history on both occasions – about to set an open-era record by winning his 6th successive Wimbledon in 2008 and his record equalling 14th Grand Slam at the Australian Open in 2009. Both the times Nadal halted his quest.

When asked to speak at the award ceremony of the Australian Open, he broke down and I guess most people could feel his pain. Sheesh – someone who has reached at least the semi-finals of every grand slam since 2004 and the finals of all but two of them, who has missed winning a calendar grand slam on two occasions, being thwarted by another genius surely must hurt. Particularly since Federer’s problems against Nadal are more in the mind rather than the ability. Throughout the Australian Open Federer had a first serve percentage of around 70%, but in the final it dropped to 51%. It is as though his form deserts him while playing Nadal. It was quite different in Wimbledon 2007, when the match kept see-sawing till Federer hit his groove in the fifth set. Nadal’s level of play remained the same, but Federer was sensationally sublime, as he is with every opponent other than Nadal. The result was that Federer convincingly won the last set. If only Federer can do that more often against Nadal! Till then I feel it is difficult for Federer to cross the number 14.

At the end of the day the greatest gesture of the Australian Open came from Nadal, when he put his arm around a distraught Federer to console him. The best moments in sport are highlighted by the victor commiserating with the vanquished, when the vanquished could well have won an engaging battle. Take a bow, Federer & Nadal at AO 2009, you join Andrew Flintoff consoling Brett Lee at Edgbaston in 2005 and Brett Lee applauding Sachin Tendulkar at Adelaide in January 2008 as my favourite sporting moments!