Friday, March 1, 2013


It was a Saturday. I was in Class 9th. The exams were approaching. We were supposed to be focused on our studies, and not be worried about anything else, especially no sporting events.

All this ended up being the prelude to one of my fondest hostel memories in over 12 years of living away from home. Our boarding school authorities decided that they will not be playing the India vs. Pakistan match live on the television for students to watch in the main auditorium.

"Only Class 10th have Board exams, let the others watch it please."

"This is the first match India is playing vs. Pakistan after the Kargil war - please let us watch it."

"This is the most important match for India in this World Cup - please let us watch it."

"You can confiscate all our radios after this match if you allow us to watch just this one match live on TV."

All those pleas fell flat. Our teachers and other school authorities were unmoved, safe in the knowledge that they can still watch it in their respective staff quarters.

On the morning of 1st March 2003 (classes were off as we had 'study leaves'), my dorm-mates and I tried pleading one last time. Once we knew it wasn't going to be successful, we decided to not do exactly what the teachers wanted us to do.

In protest of the decision to not allow us to watch that match live, we took our dormitory's radio set to the grounds, played the radio commentary of the match loud, and played our own cricket match alongside. We played cricket all through the afternoon, which comprised of Pakistan's batting and the innings break at Centurion. We had completed 4 matches in that period - 2 won by Division A and 2 won by Division B (that included me).

At this point, there was a discussion. Some wanted to continue playing a decider. Some wanted to break for studies (oh, how I still pity them today!). And I formed the part of a third group who decided that to try and watch the match by using crooked means.

We racked our collective brains and came up with four staff members' names who we thought would be sympathetic enough to let us watch the match for 10 minutes in their quarters. We took care that these four staff members had their respective quarters at different areas of the campus, so that we wouldn't be caught in our plans.

Just as Tendulkar was marking his guard (yes, I was surprised to see him take first strike), we knocked on the door of the first staff member on our list. As we had expected, he allowed us to watch the match for 10 minutes. We were delighted, and watched that first over by Wasim Akram (9 runs, yes!) and then the second over from Shoaib Akhtar started.

Now here's how bad our luck was! Akhtar took so much of time to start his over, and then ended up bowling two wides too (one of them fumbled by the make-shift wicket-keeper Taufeeq Umar), that the sympathetic staff member turned unsympathetic. After that fumbled wide, he had had enough and shoo-ed us out of his quarters. But because we were all so eager, he said that we could come back after 30 minutes if we spent them studying.

That had been the part of our plan. Oblivious to our dear staff members, these 30 minutes were to be spent at the quarters of other three members of staff whom we had in our list as the ones likely to be sympathetic to our pleas. We ran to the next one. And curse our luck - we missed the shots that would be replayed millions of times in different corners of the earth over the next decade and more. Sachin Tendulkar had decided to take on Shoaib Akhtar just when we were not watching.

When we reached and were admitted into the quarters of the second staff member on our list, we knew something had happened - something good. Otherwise there was no need for such beaming smiles on the faces of our Maths Sir and his wife. I didn't remember him smiling so much even when he'd gotten married in the previous semester!

After the advertisement break was over, we knew. The score was suddenly 27 for 0 in 2 overs, and we saw the replays soon. Even though we've all seen those shots hundreds of times on various news channels, highlights packages, youtube videos and quite possibly in our dreams too, it still irks me that I missed that event live. It was one of the defining moments of Indian cricket's finest era.

We continued our 'plan' for more than 2 hours. No one suspected us even for a minute, or so I believe today because it went off so well. But we abandoned it on our own accord after Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed. We didn't know things were starting to change. We still treated the Lord's 2002 (Natwest Final) as a one-off occurrence. The hangover of watching cricket as toddlers in the 1990s was so disconcerting that we weren't willing to continue with our plan and watch the match finish in what would be a famous win for India. There was no hope after that majestic innings of 98 (75) had ended.

We went back to our dormitory dejectedly, huddled around a radio set, and the live commentary fed us for the next hour and a half. Mohammed Kaif's batting had looked calm, and so we were prepared for the worst when he got out. But the Rahul Dravid - Yuvraj Singh partnership soothed us. And after soothing, it elated us. Every moment could be pictured as the radio commentators went about their business. And the Indian crowd at Centurion could not have been any happier than our huddled group late in the evening.

The cheering and hugging that followed will remain one of the most memorable moments of my life. The memory is still vivid - not decomposed yet despite the passage of time - an entire decade, no less! I have had many moments in my hostel life that I look back at with immense nostalgia - and this one is definitely near the top of that list. I am not in touch with any of the five friends that I shared those 4 hours with, but I am sure that if we were to meet somewhere any time in the future, the memory of that evening in 2003 would make its way into our conversations and would stay with us for a lifetime.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman. Or Very Very Special Laxman. Whatever name you prefer!

Personally, I don't remember much of VVS Laxman before the 281. I am quite sure a lot of people don't. In fact, pre-281, I can count my memories of him on my fingertips. I do remember reading about the Sydney hundred in 2000 (first one of that love affair with the ground) in newspapers, and I remember him opening against Pakistan in 1999. Even then, I remember more of his opening partner Sadagoppan Ramesh than him from that series.

Possibly the most lasting memory for me of VVS Laxman's pre-281 career for me is that moment when he took Wasim Akram's catch to seal Anil Kumble's 10 for 74. But post that 281, it all changed. The memories are so many that it's hard to pick one out that stands mightily above the rest.

That innings of 281 itself should unquestionably rank amongst the best ever played by any batsman in the world through the history of cricket. It marked the creation of a clear transitional divide between eras in Indian cricket. From Day 4 of that Eden Gardens Test (14th March 2001) to the day India won the World Cup again (2nd April 2011) - it was 10 years and 19 days of wondrous joy for the Indian cricket followers. For sure, there were troughs too, but none would be talked of much in hindsight when this era is looked at in its entirety henceforth.

I could not watch that innings of 281 live - neither that match, nor that series. I lived in a hostel back then, and all the cricket I followed was over the All India Radio and the newspapers. And following that match on the radio was an emotional turbulence of enormous proportions. First, there was frustration over the first 2 days (though there was the brief delight late on Day 1 when Harbhajan Singh claimed a hat-trick), then resignation on the 3rd day, then the feeling of small joys as Day 4 progressed that turned into one of hope by the time it ended... and then it ended with euphoria on Day 5. All of it possible because of three men - Harbhajan Singh, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.

Day 4 of that Test match was the day I learnt a new word in Hindi - 'kalai'. I heard it so many times over the day uttered by the radio commentators, that mid-way through the day, I had to ask someone what it meant, and finally understood it meant 'wrist'. That was also the day I came closest to being caught sneaking in a portable 'Walkman with Radio' inside the classroom (which I often did). Thankfully, I escaped with the help of a couple of friends who were being supplied the scores by me, and we carried on through the day as Laxman and Dravid carried on their vigil.

The first time that I remember watching VVS Laxman bat in Test cricket after that 281, was in West Indies - Port of Spain 2002. In a largely forgotten 2nd innings effort, Laxman scored 70-odd and in the company of Sourav Ganguly, ensured a 300+ target for the West Indies, which eventually proved enough. If my memory serves me right, when he got out, he had ensured a target of 300+, which could not be stretched much further as the tail collapsed.

Post 2004, there are many memories - Mumbai 2004 (vs. Australia), Johannesburg 2006, Delhi 2007 (vs. Pakistan), Sydney 2008, Perth 2008, Kolkata 2010 (vs. South Africa), Colombo 2010, Mohali 2010 (vs. Australia), Durban 2010 and Bridgetown 2011 stand out. What's more, all but two of them came in Indian wins - and both those should have been Indian wins but for bad umpiring (Sydney 2008) and bad weather (Bridgetown 2011).

But these scores are just numbers - they will be archived and brought up in future in debates and analyses. What they can never convey was the art called VVS Laxman's batting. It was wizardry of the highest levels, and could leave not just the spectators, but even his opponents mesmerised. I do not remember Azharuddin much at the peak of his career for I was very young back then, but I am sure he couldn't have been any 'wristy-er' than VVS Laxman - it just seems humanly impossible.

Those flicks to leg off balls way outside the line of off-stump aside, I will always miss those drives through the cover off spinners where the left leg moved right to the pitch of the ball and the right leg moved sideways as he completed the movement to finish the shot with a flourish. I have seen many beautiful cover drives played and will see many more in future, but whenever I see one finish with the back leg moving sideways in flourish, I am always going to remember VVS Laxman.

While Laxman did have a decent couple of years in ODI cricket, I will always imagine him as a smiling character in white who, when not batting, would be chirping away with his teammates at second slip or gully or at a catching position for a drive on either side of the pitch. While we all celebrate his batting mastery (or should I call it 'wizardry' again), I wouldn't want to overlook the fact that he was a fine catcher too. It will be an oft-overlooked fact that he has 135 catches too in Test cricket. In his youth, he fielded well at short leg and other close-in positions too, and it's only recently that he became a liability in the field.

Another one of the endearing memories would be one of Laxman always in the balcony of the dressing room, the widest smile on the face, whenever the time came to celebrate a teammate reaching a hundred or other such milestone. If he wasn't the non-striker, he would always invariably be there to salute his teammate and share that joy.

Oh VVS, thou shalt be missed dearly. But thank you! Thank you for the joy of your batting!

Friday, March 9, 2012


Rahul Dravid. The Wall. With a counting ticker of runs that will tick no more.

I have a very weird association with Rahul Sharad Dravid. I was a child when he made his debut in 1996. Over that period in late-1990s, a lot of girls became instantaneous fan of this new chocolate boy in the Indian cricket team. My sister was one of them, and she even bought a couple of posters of him to put up on the walls of our shared room. As an irksome brother, it was my moral duty to counter any action of my sister!

So I responded by cutting a large newspaper print poster of Sourav Ganguly and sticking it in my cupboard. Had my sister not been almost six years older than I was, I might well have stuck the Ganguly cut-out over the Dravid poster. For the record, I was a bigger fan of Sachin Tendulkar (back then and now), but Ganguly was the more immediate contemporary of Dravid then.

For a period of about a year during 1998-99, my sister went to the USA and allowed me the chance of watching Rahul Dravid’s cricket with a more objective eye. It also helped that it was about the time when I had started understanding cricket better and started following it more passionately. And most importantly, in that span of time, Dravid played some glorious knocks. I watched some of them live, followed some of them over print media, and gradually came to the opinion that this man is a promising cricketer – a great one in the making.

I remember that century in each innings performance at Hamilton early in 1999 against New Zealand that I had followed in the newspaper and over 7 pm Doordarshan news, when the news was about half-a-day old. It was the first time an Indian had managed such a feat since Sunil Gavaskar had done it (for the third time) late in 1978. And then I also remember that incredible run in the World Cup 1999 in England where he ended up as the highest run-scorer of all. Those two back-to-back centuries against Kenya (Bristol) and Sri Lanka (Taunton) are also remembered, despite the fact that he was not the highest run-scorer for the team in either of those two innings! He scored his top-4 ODI scores in the year 1999, and 6 of his 12 career ODI tons.

Late in 1999, he scored his only 150+ score in an ODI, only to be outscored by a teammate yet again. Some would say ‘the story of his career’! I disagree… I say it was a storyline that threatened to become his tale before he changed the script completely. He may have been outscored yet again by teammates during his 2001 knocks against Australia of 180 (Kolkata second innings) and 81 (Chennai first innings), but those contributions were recognised very well for they well worth their weight in gold. I remember listening to Hindi radio commentary about the emotional gestures that he made on reaching that hundred at Eden Gardens, and thinking that the commentator must have gone nuts!

The next time after that innings that I remember Dravid showing any emotions on the cricket field was flashing a simple smile after pulling Waqar Younis for a four to seal an Indian win over Pakistan in the World Cup 2003. But before that comes that 2002 tour of England – a tour that elevated Dravid as a member-elect of the pantheon of Indian batting legends – a membership that he confirmed with that knock of 233 (and another 72* for good measure) at Adelaide a year and a half later. During this time, he even kept wickets for India in the ODI squad and was the rock on which Ganguly built the church called Team India.

He has scored many brilliant knocks since then, including his highest Test score of 270 against Pakistan at Rawalpindi in 2004 in the Third Test of the three-Test series locked at 1-1. But for me, like many others, nothing would ever beat Leeds 2002 and Adelaide 2003.

He won the ICC Cricketer of the Year Award in its inaugural year with great performances that continued up to 2006. He even acquired the captaincy of the Indian cricket team in that period. And that was my biggest problem with the career of Rahul Dravid. He led India to Test series wins in the West Indies (2006) and England (2007), and even led over a streak of 18 consecutive ODI wins while batting second... but I never thought him to be as good a successor to Sourav Ganguly's captaincy as would have been ideal. For some explicable as well as inexplicable reasons that I don't want to venture into at the moment, I did not believe he was a very good 'captaincy material'. That is purely my opinion, and quite possibly, it is in someway influenced by India's performance in the World Cup 2007.

In respect of his captaincy alone, the words of Mark Antony said at Julius Caesar's funeral in the great Shakespearean play seem quite apt: "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." So let it be with Dravid!

When his form dipped through 2007 and later years, and when his runs came only against Bangladesh, New Zealand and Sri Lanka (at home), I did feel that he should have retired back then. Arguably, he managed to keep his place only due to the fact that the rest of the team was able to perform well and dare I say it, 'carry' him. It allowed him a chance for one final resurgence that began in the West Indies and continued to England in 2011. Though it was not a good time for the team, Rahul Dravid batted like the Rahul Dravid of yesteryears.

The failures of the Indian team over 2011 and 2012, as well as Dravid's own failures from 2007 to 2010, will take nothing away from the fact that he is indeed amongst the best Indian batsmen that have ever played the game - and it is quite a list! As he bid farewell today and my Twitter timeline went dewy-eyed with the announcement, it was time to sit back and reflect on what has been a wonderful era for Indian cricket. Now, only two cogs remain from the giant wheel that helped roll Indian cricket forward over the last decade... and this latest cog to call it a day has well and truly deserved his name to be spoken with respect and dignity!

hank you Rahul Dravid for your contribution to Indian cricket, and wish you the very best for all your future ventures!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


What a chase we had today! India, needing a bonus point win, chased down Sri Lanka's score of 320 in just 36.4 overs, to win by 7 wickets with 80 balls to spare. This win has kept India alive in this tri-series for at least 3 more days, and increased the interest in the last round robin match between Australia and Sri Lanka.

India knew right from the beginning that the target, whatever it may be, had to be chased down in 40 overs or less. So when the first half ended and the target of 321 became clear, the hopes of an average Indian fan were not too high. But the Indian batting unit, which has not enjoyed a fruitful tour of Australia, clicked well and - riding on a magnificent ton by Virat Kohli - chased down the target in a more than convincing style!

The chase was a brilliantly constructed one. Since the required rate for a 40-over win was above 8 runs per over, it was clear that a fast start would be of utmost importance. Sehwag and Tendulkar provided that with some audacious batting. When the mandatory powerplay ended, India had scored 97 runs for the loss of the two openers.

When Tendulkar got out lbw to Malinga in the 10th over, there were a lot of tweets on my timeline suggesting that Dhoni should come out to bat. Their logic must have been that he takes his time to settle in, and if there is time to be used up, it better be between 10 - 15 overs rather than later in the innings. That is fine, but I was happier to see Kohli come in to bat at No. 4, and happier still that he stayed till the end to guide the chase in a manner contrasting of how Dhoni would have done it.

My last post on this blog (about 2.5 weeks ago) was about Dhoni's planning of chases. This one is about how Virat Kohli planned this one, and comparing it with what Dhoni would have done (the latter part would obviously be presumption based on the pattern of his innings in the successful run chase against Australia and the tied match against Sri Lanka).

On of my biggest problem with Dhoni when he comes out to bat with overs in hand in a run chase is that he plays far too many dot balls at the start of his innings. Settling in is fine, but the same can be done more effectively by rotating the strike rather than dead batting the ball. Kohli too played 8 dot balls between 10 and 15 overs, but at the end of 15 overs, he was still batting on 16* (18b). Compare this with Dhoni's knock in the successful run chase against Australia, and you will find that Dhoni stood at 8* (24b) at one stage in that chase. Even if you grant Dhoni the benefit of a much easier chase on hand against Australia, I don't think you'd still justify 8 runs in 24 balls!

At the end of 15 overs, India stood at 118 for 2, and though only 21 had been scored in the last 5 overs, there was enough momentum to make Mahela Jayawardene delay taking the Bowling Powerplay, as he has himself admitted. Had Kohli made the kind of start that Dhoni made at Adelaide, India might have had about 10 runs fewer at that stage, and Sri Lanka might have taken the Bowling Powerplay, causing the batsmen to take a risk or two more than ideal. This is presumption, but by no means far-fetched!

In my last post, I had written: "if the best finisher of the team (MS Dhoni) is coming in to bat with 92 needed of 95 balls and batsmen like Suresh Raina (batting), Jadeja and Ashwin (to follow), and the team ends up needing 13 in the final over with two of these above batsmen still batting, then the chase has been miscalculated somewhere."

At Hobart, two of India's best chasers (Gambhir and Kohli) planned it in such a way that going up to the 40th over would not be necessary. One may argue that the early finish was more a result of the leaking Malinga - an assault that even Kohli would admit that he had not planned for - but I think it is still quite clear that Kohli had planned to finish the game off at least one over before the 40th. Their partnership saw calculated risks (mostly taken by Kohli) for boundaries every now and again, which allowed them to be unflustered if Sri Lanka managed to sneek in a good tight over. This is the reason why Rangana Herath's spell of 4 overs for just 20 runs did not have as big an effect on the result as it should have had.

When the second lot of powerplay overs commenced, Kohli executed the second half of his plan, which was to attack straightaway and keep the required run rate below 9 runs per over at all times, rather than chasing 13 off the final over! He was obviously helped by some poor bowling from Sri Lanka, especially some of the leg-stump lines... but one must consider that when a batsman is pulling off some calculated risks, the bowlers are under increased pressure and have greater tendency to falter.

India may still not reach the finals of the series, but it was a great match for the team... and something they dearly needed towards the end of a very difficult tour of Australia!