Ten memories of IPL 2010 which will stay with me

Up and above the initial euphoria, glitter, razzmatazz, cheer girls, over dependence on Mumbai as a venue for a national tournament, and some slanderous off-field controversies, these are the ten memories I would like to retain of this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL):

1. Adrenalin replaces blood:

MS Dhoni upper-cutting himself after the crucial ‘must-win’ tie against Kings XI Punjab in Dharamsala. His team had chased down 190 odd runs and he hit the final two deliveries for huge sixes. He was most definitely in the ‘zone’.

2. Effort balls:

Doug Bollinger’s 4 overs i.e. 24 legal deliveries every match. He put in so much heart and mind into those deliveries that at the end of each over it seemed as if he had climbed and descended from the Mt. Everest six times in a row!

3. The electrical appliance (a term coined by Harsha Bhogle in the final game):

Kieron Pollard – OFF when in the dug-out with his Mumbai Indians teammates, ON when on the Cricket pitch with the bat. For a person with the power of probably a 1000 horses, he believed that he could pull of 36 runs per over easy. To be fair to him, he came close to achieving that many times during the games he played. If only the team management weren’t obliged to send the other batsman above him in the batting order.

4. Royal hits:

Murali Vijay’s blistering 127 off 56 balls against Rajasthan Royals at his home ground in Chennai, and Yusuf Pathan’s breathtaking century against Mumbai Indians in Mumbai. To say that they played ‘wonderful’ cricketing shots would be an insult to their talent. Those shots were ‘magnanimous’!

5. The odd men out:

R Ashwin’s miserly overs upfront for Chennai Super Kings and Praveen Kumar’s hat-trick against Rajasthan Royals. There were other good performances too from bowlers like Vinay Kumar, Pragyan Ojha, and the veterans like Chaminda Vaas, Anil Kumble and Muralitharan.

6. Fortunes of a team and brilliance of a man:

Mahela Jayawardene’s final few innings for Kings XI Punjab. The century he hit while chasing down the huge total posted by Kolkata Knight Riders was a treat to watch. It was a pity that a team with so much batting experience and bowling talent ended up with the wooden spoon.

7. Mega-flops:

Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Tilakaratne Dilshan amongst the big fish. ‘Mongoose‘ or not, they weren’t in their elements for the best part of the season and most of the times their teams payed for it. Inspired bowling performances (as in the case of Deccan Chargers and Delhi Daredevils) could not compensate for consistent batting failures in a game loaded in favor of the people with the willow in their hands.

8. He came, he saw, and he conquered:

Angelo Mathews‘ innings for Kolkata Knight Riders. He seemed to be in a different league when compared to the rest of the team, and that’s saying something when the batting card boasts of players like Sourav Ganguly, Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum and David Hussey. His scores clearly shadowed other notable performances from the likes of Naman Ojha, Virat Kohli and Robin Uthappa.

9. Right on the edge:

David Hussey’s fine catch to get rid of Paul Collingwood. To have the presence of mind to flick the ball back while going over the rope, that too at a height which allowed him to easily come back in and pluck the ball out of the air again, was phenomenal.

10. Moses, and the crossing of the Red Sea:

Sachin Tendulkar shepherding the Mumbai Indians almost to the brink of triumph in the championship. His form in the IPL was sublime to say the least, and for a person of his age and level of accomplishment, the hunger for runs and success he displayed was unparalleled. If ever there’s a person who can rally his team around him, Sachin has got to be the one. Is Twenty20 a game only for the young? Sachin, along with Jacques Kallis and Rahul Dravid proved otherwise. I hope Sachin ‘steals’ his right of being a part of a championship winning team as early as the Cricket World Cup in 2011.

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Avoiding being hysterical about Sachin Tendulkar

Before I start writing this article in all seriousness, let me say that I am (and always will be) an ardent fan of Sachin Tendulkar. I have put up a huge poster of the Master Blaster in my room and probably it’s the first thing that comes in my line of vision every morning as I wake up. There should be no doubt whatsoever in anybody’s mind that he is a ‘phenomenon’ and a cricketing ‘legend’. But to the notion of glorifying him as ‘GOD‘, I have some huge doubts!

Sachin savours reaching his ODI double-century at Gwalior on Feb 24, 2010 (Image courtesy: Associated Press, Cricinfo.com)

Much has been said and written about Sachin in the days since his unbeaten 200 in and One-Day International (ODI) against South Africa. A lot more has been conferred on him in terms of awards, mementos, plaques and trophies by almost every Cricket club he has visited. With due respect to the man himself and the organizations rewarding him for his achievements, was all this exhibition really necessary? Instead of increasing the number of contents of his trophy cabinet, could these very organizations have donated money to charity in the name of Sachin? Wouldn’t that have made the ‘real’ difference? Sachin himself has always been involved in many goodwill tasks and charities. Wouldn’t this have recognized ‘Sachin, the person’ better?

It’s not surprising, though, for a country which is obsessed with making demigods out of living people. Cricket, like Football and Hockey, is a team sport. The contribution of one player can make a difference, but often it is not enough to secure a positive result. I wonder if Sachin would have made all those runs if he hadn’t had support from the other end of the 22-yard Cricket pitch. Shouldn’t they be credited too for his numerous batting records, and in turn the contribution to the team’s success? For an answer to this question, one should read the scoresheet at the end of the epic Test in Chennai in 1999 against Pakistan, where Sachin single handedly took India within reach of victory, and still the team lost by 12 runs after he got out. The same story repeated 10 years later, this time in an ODI against Australia at Hyderabad.

What if nobody was willing to stand his ground so that Sachin could reach his century in a particular match? What if the political situation in our country wasn’t as free for the growth of the sport as it is? A brief look at the career of another incredible batting genius, Andy Flower from Zimbabwe, and you’ll know the answer to that question as well.

The comparison of Sachin with some greats of the yesteryears is another thing which irks me. The environment, be it social or political or financial, in which former champions like Sir Don Bradman and Sir Garry Sobers played was very different than the current one. Even comparisons with the original Mumbai wonder Sunil Gavaskar aren’t warranted. The laws, interest in the game, notions of player safety, coaching methods, and fitness regimes have undergone a sea of change. Each one was, and is, a legend of his time. This is why distinguished sports personalities are inducted in a ‘Hall of Fame’, and not given the title of the ‘king’ or ‘queen’ of a particular sport.

Sachin has always been a very good ambassador not just for the game of Cricket but for India too, but to call him as the country’s ‘greatest sports personality’ would undoubtedly be too harsh on other sports which traditionally have not had the massive fan following which Cricket has enjoyed, especially when the number of countries having a national Cricket team are so few. The name of Indian legend Major Dhyan ‘Chand’ Singh is spoken on Hockey fields worldwide with the same fervor, even 50 years after he stopped playing the game.

A few days ago I came across this quote, and it struck a chord with me instantly:

“By idolizing those whom we honor we do disservice both to them and to ourselves, we fail to recognize the fact that we could go and do likewise.”Charles V. Willie (Professor of Education, Emeritus at Harward University)

For me, Sachin’s real legacy will never be scoring all those runs in the Test and ODI arenas or breaking almost every batting record you could think of. His most enduring legacy will be the fact that his style of play popularized the game of Cricket in the small towns and cities of India, and maybe in other countries too. Over the years youngsters have looked up to him as a role-model, not just for his on-field magic but also for his off-field composure in the midst of a Cricket-crazy populace. Present Indian superstars like Yuvraj Singh and current team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni were inspired to be what they are right now because they saw him playing on TV. They wanted to bat like him ever since they were kids. These people come from relatively lesser known cities, places which were not short on talent but on good role-models and infrastructure, and therefore were often overlooked while selecting candidates for the national team.

In his early days as a budding cricketer in Mumbai, Sachin was asked in an interview, whom he would liked to be known when he grows up. He replied, tersely, “I would be liked to be known as Sachin Tendulkar”. That says a lot not just about the man’s confidence but also about his maturity, vision and practicality. Here’s another one of his early interviews –

As he went about making a mockery of the bowling attacks of other teams worldwide, he had his feet firmly rooted on the ground. He might have gained magnanimous amounts of money through awards and product sponsorship deals, but his approach to the game never changed, even when he was going though a rough patch a few years ago. Whenever he’s queried on how he feels to be called as one the game’s greats, he replies by saying that he doesn’t get overawed by the praise and is just thankful that he’s got the talent to see the ball a little bit better and earlier than other contemporaries which makes him able to hit all those stunning shots. In fact, this feeling is shared by one of Sachin’s favorite sports personalities, Michael Schumacher, who says that he just happens to be a person who can drive the Formula One race car faster than anyone else, and is similarly thankful for the talent but not overawed by the success he’s received over the years.

Sachin still ‘enjoys‘ being on the cricketing field. He still ‘enjoys‘ batting. He still ‘enjoys‘ being a part of a team which had just won a Cricket match. He prefers being out on the field under the hot sun with the temperature reading 50 degrees Celsius, instead of sitting at home in the comfort of his air-conditioner. The fact that personal accolades never interest him over a team cause can be gauged by his body-language while accepting the Player-of-the-Series award after the 2003 Cricket World Cup final match in South Africa, in which India lost to Australia. This is what we should learn from him – the passion and the enjoyment in doing what interests us.

Obviously, Sachin is as human as you and me, and is liable to making errors in judgement from time to time. I think he should be revered and remembered not as a ‘GOD‘, but as a sportsman who did his best with the talent he had; and that in itself is something most of us rarely achieve in our lives!

Friends after the war..

In sports, and also in the competitive world we live in today, winning is all that matters. Its the final result on the score sheet that counts, not how one got there. Just to be more pessimistic, second place is the first among the list of losers.

Yet, sports often brings the real individual out of a person. Though success stories and ‘who-said-what’ at sporting encounters is of academic interest to most people, some tales do live on and are passed on from one generation to the other, only to become legends and folklore. Case in the point: the origins of ‘The Ashes’ cricket series between England and Australia.

Sportsmen are seen as warriors, or rather, more like gladiators fighting it out against each other for the coveted prize, and the honour that goes with it. But there’s a human side to things which rarely comes into focus. Its based on respect for each other, which ironically is a by-product of the same competitive spirit. A stong friendship can exist even between the most bitter rivals on the field, and we have many instances in the history of sports, or even in the history of the wars the world has fought to date.

On Sunday, inside the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, we all were privileged to see that piece of history repeating itself. It was the moment when an emotional and hurt Roger Federer was consoled by the very person who had humbled him just a few minutes ago in a marathon final match at the Australian Open Tennis Grand Slam Championship. Few would argue that both have achieved a lot of success in their careers, earned a whole lot of honour and respect from the fraternity and will go on to even greater heights in the future. This is surely not the last time we have seen them slug it out on court, but its incidences like these which will be remembered long after they have bowed out from the centerstage.

I quote Nadal’s own words here: “Sorry for today, Roger. I know how you are feeling right now. But remember that you are one of the greatest champions from history and you will go on to improve the 14 (major Grand Slam titles).”

That is humility for you, a quality that Tennis as a sport has taught Nadal. At a stage where you constantly have to be on the top of your game and face-off with the best everytime, this quality is a great asset to have. It keeps your feet grounded at all times, the main ingredient of the recipe called ‘Champion’.

I mentioned ‘The Ashes’ a while ago, and I would like to round off the article with a similar incident which occurred after the historic 2005 Ashes test at Edgbaston. It was a series where the English reclaimed the coveted Ashes urn by defeating the might of the Australians. But it will also be remembered for the picture of Andrew Flintoff crouching beside a heartbroken Brett Lee on the pitch at the end of the match, and consoling him, amidst the crazy celebrations from the English players and supporters.

Andrew Flintoff consoles Brett Lee at Edgbaston (Ashes 2005)

(Image courtesy: 'http://www.theage.com.au')

The following quote from R.G. Briscow made during the World War II just sums it up:

“If only Hitler and Mussolini could have a game of bowls once a week at Geneva, I feel Europe would not be as troubled as it is.”