The name says it all.

I grew up epitomizing you, you were my Guru and inspiration outside family. You are not just a Cricket player, much more to the country as a sportsmen and so much more to millions like me as a Superstar, Master and God.

My childhood was a bouquet of your batting. Your fifties, hundreds and double hundreds used to be my bread and butter. As swashbuckling innings from you would keep the smile intact on my face for days to come and even your 20s and 30s would make me cheer like a kid with inexplicable toys in hand. My scrap books were all you, you were more important than my academics, you were my only reason to get up and watch a cricket match with Chicken pox. Eden, Lords or MCG – doesn’t matter, I will watch the game as long as I see you coming in to bat.

Your batting was my soul, you being in the 11 was good enough reason for me to watch the entire match including the commentary that talks about your replays. Your presence in the field meant adrenaline unlimited for me and the team. You are my ‘Bahubali’ plus ‘The Dark Knight’.
You were Sachin and for me, your name gave me goosebumps.

Your cover drives made me topple with joy, your flick was my life’s sweetest menace, your on drive was a delight to savor and your straight drive made me go crazy. It was not the strokes that made me fall in love with you, it was ‘You’ and the batting in ‘You’ that made all the difference in a world of meandering cricketers. ‘Sachin’ isn’t a name for me, you were my lifeline.

I remember most of your epics, your test centuries, your ODI gems, your World Cup exploits in 1996 and 2003. Your debut, your birthday, your first ODI century – some of the very few dates I remember in my life outside family. For me, they are not dates. They remind me of your legend, your batting, your iconic aura and the magic of God.
As Harsha aptly said – ‘Absolutely Divine’.

I yelled at my mother as I was extremely upset over your dismissal in the 2003 WC final and my mother has still not forgiven me for my innocent burst of anger. At that point, I and India were shut down. And that’s an usual behavior towards any of your dismissals because I never believed that you can fail. And, you taught me to succeed.

Your discipline is a subject of awe for me. Your humility stuns me, your simplicity is contagious and your aura inspires me.

Cricket is still being played, we still have superstars and the game is still very popular.

But, for me, there will never be another Sachin.
And, since, Cricket has never been the same for me.

As the planet says, Happy Birthday!

Demise of a Legacy

Yes, It died long back. But, every time I see a West Indies collapse and the repercussions of ‘The Fall of Giants’ does the round in a vehement bout of passion and cricketing folklore.

As India trounced the Windies in their backyard in the ongoing series, I withstood a gamut of emotions and cricketing history that’s embedded in a sorry state of affairs. Yes, I am particularly impressed with the way India has scored a thumping victory under the KK leadership – Kohli and Kumble. But at the same time, I see how devastated Cricket stands in the islands of the Caribbean.

Yes, I keep reinstating that I believe in legacy. Legacy is an opportunity to keep your glory days alive and withstand the sheer passion – as an individual and as a country to relive the memories of astounding feats and exploits of a superpower. Sadly, West Indies have lost both. I am not ready to believe that the current crop of players and administration don’t know their history – 2 big men were part of the mighty West Indies, way back then and I can see their heads sever in shame. Joel Garner and Courtney Walsh. Apparently, the last test match was played on Viv Richards turf – his expression of agony and reparation was inconveniently visible in his statement to Telegraph after the Indian victory.

Let’s have a massive throwback. In the 60s and 70s, England and Australia were pepping up with some serious fast bowling. Fast bowling with real pace. I vividly remember couple of videos from the fast bowling machines of the era and it will gives you a riveting display of what the batsman had to encounter those days. West Indies stuck venom with their ‘Fearsome Foursome’ and fast bowling was never the same gain. Spells from Jeff Thomson and Michael Holding will make the fast bowlers of our generation look like kindergarten – with all due respect, we must admit that quality fast bowling has seen dispersing decline over the years.

A mere look at the West Indies line up in the 70s and 80s will tell us why they were masters of the game. The bandwagon opens up with Haynes and Greenidge, you luckily dismiss them and you will see Llyod and Viv Richards follow through. Jeff Dujon could keep and bat as well, that makes him an allrounder. The bowling department is handled by Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall. A god send team with phenomenal abilities. A team that could post imposing totals, chase herculean scores and take 20 wickets in a test match consistently. Individual brilliance, yes. But, it was a menacing team that ran havoc for more than 15 years in world cricket. Remember, I am not even talking about the Sobers era, phew! 

Even in the days of Lara led Windies, they still possessed a valuable team but never had the steel to win matches or even come close to what their predecessors achieved in 2 decades.

The decline of West Indies is largely attributed to multiple factors. Legacy needs to be nourished and bought up by able hands. West Indies came a cropper as they decided to bask in their undisputed glory but failed to build an empire on their imperious past. Plus, their problems with the administration and governance have only multiplied. Despite former greats like Clive Llyod, Richie Richardson and Joel Garner at the helm, motivation levels have been a pale shadow of what the West Indies were known for. 

‘Fire in Babylon’, the docu-drama on the mighty West Indies story is a revelation. When the world was battling issues on racism and dominance in a paranoia of diverse communities, West Indies and Cricket were a lethal combination. Their dominance over the game came from 2 factors – discrimination and passion. It tells a poignant story of perhaps the greatest fall from glory in any team sport in the world. It’s a pity that West Indies now only have their T20 victories and IPL exploits to rave about.
I am not sure if West Indies will ever redeem even a semblance of their glory days. But their story and subsequent fall from grace is a lesson for other teams. Times change, teams change, game changes but passion can never die. Passion is human and sports is all about human resilience. Yes, we like our teams to win but we equally admire a team that goes down fighting like a wounded lion hungry for glory.

the portugal moment

Not sure why, but Portugal victory is the fairy tale story of Euro 16. Minus Ronaldo, the team showed you can still be magic on field. Maiden Euro, getting better of France in 41 years is crazy. #till2020

enjoying grass

Brilliant return of serves, exquisite passing shots and the consistent control. Murray on his way to his second but heart with Raonic. Still. #wimbledon2016

Green Grass is Back

There is no joy in lawn tennis if we take Wimbledon out from the equation. Ever since my growing years, my dearness for ‘The All England Club’ has only intensified – even though am not the same avid youngster who used to wait for 3rd of June to come soon. Especially, after witnessing all the faltering in the land of clay. There is a sublime reason to it as well, since players and spectators have unanimously shown their fondness for the green.

I am more of a classic guy and love history, more significantly since the game, players and their aura keep changing. I developed a keen sense of interest in the adulation this venue garnered for the sport in itself. The open era remained, quite oblivious, to our generation but the achievements and the glory was read, grasped, admired. Rod Laver, for example. Players, great players, finesse players, star players. They will come and go but we will always remember the ones who were lucky enough to lift the gorgeous trophy in Centre Court, kiss them, kiss them again, keep kissing them, stand for the media and press, then take a lap of victory before the sun goes down.

A major throwback – Boris Becker’s first in 1985 as ‘Boom Boom’ Becker and his shock upset in 1987 by Peter Doohan. The cool, suave Stefan Edberg and the art of ‘Serve & Volley’, Agassi – the fighter and the best return of serves in the game. Sampras’s straight second title beating Goran Ivanisevic – scoreboard read 7-6,7-6,6-0. Ivanisevic’s first and only Grand Slam victory as a wild card entrant, the iconic rivalry between Sampras and Agassi. The charm of Gabriela Sabatini, class of Steffi Graf and resilience of Monica Seles.

This is the Wimbledon story I was possessed and grew up with. The game evolved since then, is less of grace and more of power. But with modern greats like Federer, Rafa and Djokovic, the art of tennis is always blooming with enormous talent and the promise of keeping the art alive.

Who will conquer 2016? Let’s wait, watch and enjoy the moments that encapsulate on the green grass.

Truly. The Greatest.

When I heard the news of Ali’s passing away, this is what struck me – Boxing was a sport then when he used to play it. Well, that sums it up. Muhammad Ali for me, was one of the greatest sportsman who bought glory to perhaps the ugliest and nastiest game in our sporting history. Rest, I don’t want to know. Rest, as they say, is history.
Prudently, I am not a big devotee of the sport itself, have never been. Boxing for me, is Raging Bull and Rocky Balboa. I watched a glimpse of his heydays in the documentary, ‘Facing Ali’. Honestly, I have never ventured beyond the cinematic versions of the sport that itself is on its way to redemption. But, I know who Muhammad Ali is. I always did.

Influential people have always inspired me. I look up to them for achieving the glorious applause of life, and their way of conducting themselves towards the pinnacle of life gets my adrenaline flowing. Muhammad Ali is perhaps, and quite courageously, the man of the moment.

He doesn’t belong to my generation, he retired from the sport when I was at the peak of infancy. The sport he played and conducted himself in is a dying art today. But Ali has been a patriarch of the sport itself that possesses very few superstars – am leaving out the self-acclaimed ones for a different chapter. Yet, the fact that Ali stood out in my memories through history and my education of sports is in itself, an enormous tribute to his stature.

Muhammad Ali has been a saga of adverse episodes and staggering accomplishments. His emergence as Cassius Clay, conversion to Islam, being jailed for refusing to participate in the Vietnam war, his unsurpassable feat of winning the heavy weight championships a record 3 times, his iconic bouts with contemporaries like Joe Frazier and George Foreman, being a civil rights activist and ferociously outspoken sportsman (one of his kind in his generation), being at the helm of propagating and encouraging medical institutions to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease (PR). He just wasn’t a sportsman and a boxer, his fight lasted outside his ring and his victories were far greater and noble than what he achieved within his squadron.

My take on Muhammad Ali is that of his adversaries. (Borrowed from ‘Facing Ali’) A fierce competitor, a through professional and a gentleman who held the sport in high esteem. He fought hard, in the rings and outside it.

Very few can garner such respect, even in those evergreen days. This is my derivative of Muhammad Ali.

Image Courtsey: Time Magazine Cover, June 2016 edition.

old house

This used to be the favourite hideout of my younger days, much much fitter and agile days I must say. 

 Field, outfield, pads, coach, technique, drive, gloves, tension, sweat, lots of sweat, passion, craziness. More importantly, it was my age of adrenaline.

After years, took a look at myself through the strokes of the young guns. Few minutes, but went back a long time ago.

Tribute: Legends of Cricket: Martin Crowe

Some players must be measured by the times they played in, not in terms of averages. Martin Crowe was one such artist. I have seen very little of him in early 90’s and my impressions of him were established in the 1992 World Cup. A maverick batsman, he undoubtedly was one of the most swashbuckling stroke players Cricket has ever seen. Natural flair and a gift for gaming nuances, he was not surprisingly, 92′ edition’s player of the tournament. By far, New Zealand’s finest, his penchant for runs and glory catapulted the Kiwis’ to stardom. His impact paved the way for their Cricket to produce some illustrious talents like Nathan Astle, Chris Cairns, Daniel Vettori and Brendon Mcullum. New Zealand owe a large part of their sporting legacy to Martin Crowe.

You went early Sir, but you will not be forgotten in a hurry.

Picture Courtesy: Google Images

The Viru Days

Cricket before 15 years wasn’t the same. ODI was still the most popular version, opening slots weren’t as dynamic and specialist openers often decided the fate of an elusive encounter. Slam bang approach was not a part of the 21 yard strategy and full throttle test matches were still the bane of the great game. Incidentally, that was the time Virendra Sehwag was lurking around, and quite explosively, I must say. As he hung his boots, very silently, an era has ended. Truly, this time around.

Public memory has always been short, and the administrators of the game have conveniently discarded him as just-another-player treatment to once in a lifetime achiever. We don’t have to unveil a statue but a decent farewell would have accounted for a fitting tribute.

Cricketers like Viru deserve to be celebrated amongst giants of our elite fab. Not for his sluggish average of 35 in ODIs or his near inspiring almost 50-ish in tests. Well, Sehwag is not the batsman with numbers on his side. Neither is he gifted like God nor courageously hard working like Wall, not even precariously talented like Punter or someone as sustainable as Kallis. Yet, Viru has been a hardcore entertainer and a genuine match-winner. If noticed, this continues to remain a niche combination, and not many possess the ability or the flamboyance to destroy the best of bowling attacks with disdain. 15 of his 23 tons in whites are 150+ scores, which is symbolic of his daunting contribution to India’s cricketing success in the last 20 years. Not to mention, a 2 time triple centurion in tests and the lone Indian to achieve the feat amidst stalwarts like Sachin and Dravid, handful of batsman in the contemporary world have this distinction and the numbers might not go past the single figures if I take out Don from the equation. Phew!

Few cricket players belong to a generation, some last longer and very few last forever. Sehwag, quite enormously, belongs to either of them. He always had a mind of his own, and admittedly, his adamant approach led to so many of his downfalls which otherwise could have been converted in to much bigger knocks. But, Viru was never your containment player. He relied on his instincts rather than footwork and the former was backed by impeccable hand-eye coordination. As long as I remember, another player in this extinct clan was Sanath Jayasuriya. Adam Gilchrist was another such destroyer but he was far more tactical than Viru. But for me, no one epitomised the opener’s slot in world cricket better than Viru. And, evidently, he glamourised the position. For India, if Sourav Ganguly bought the charm of a southpaw to the opener’s pantheon, Viru gambled it with his swashbuckling stroke play. And his stamp was so damn fulfilling, enjoyable.

I am not sure how many from Najafgarh will make it big. But, certainly, there will never be another Virender Sehwag. He is too large for someone else to make it big. Faithfully.

As good as it gets

Grand Slams happen every year, champions get crowned, the vanquished gets paranoid before embracing normalcy and the next year is ready to come.
But for one that swears fascinating blend of charisma and top notch performances, a grand slam seldom braces such menace in abundance. That’s Wimbledon for you.

I dont recollect my last outing when I watched a men’s Wimbledon final at the imperious All England Club, thanks to my prophecy of withstanding priorities. Yes, truly, and indeed, I loved Wimbledon since my younger days and could give any statistician a run for his money. Perhaps, I will come back to this a bit later.

Watching Djokovic demolishing Federer today, for me, in a way, is the beginning of a new generation and end of yet another glorious era. I spoke of the same eulogy when Federer ended Sampras’s reign as the numero uno of tennis world, way back in 2001 as a curious yet talented 19 year old chap. World moves on, so does tennis and so inevitably does Wimbledon.
I know Federer did say that he loves the game and will continue but as they say, the strings wont produce the same music and not sure if we will see him in next year’s final. Yet, fingers crossed.

I dont think Federer played terrible tennis, though his 10+ unforced errors and blemished first servers were an indication of the man who wasn’t at his best, your body cannot respond with the same reflexes and vigour after 17 grand slams and 14 years at the top of the world. I just thought Djokovic was brilliant. His madness from the baseline, his accurate and powerful first serves, the passion to dominate the nets and his demeanour of furious collage – I saw all the makings of a future champion. And, sure to stay.
Some of his return of serves were bullet hits breezing past a giant of a player, and couple of passing shots will hit through me till next June. He was a bit ruffled when he lost the second set, I thought Federer fought back like a lion but a player of his stature cannot rest on missed opportunities. And, as anticipated, he came back roaring. In fact, he was never quite in danger of losing his serve and always looked towering enough to break Federer each time he pledged to retain his serve.

Coming back to my obsession with Wimbledon.
I can safely say that I grew up watching players like Sampras and Rafter. Honestly, I still keep saying that there will never be another ‘Pistol’ Pete to shoot the temperatures up. In fact, a notch higher and loved watching Boris Becker (his collaboration with Djokovic is reaping dividends) play. An era of the serve and volley, players like Borg, Lendl, Mcnroe, Becker, Edberg were great exponents of the skilful game. Its a dying art today, but thought the game kind of revived charm with likes of Sampras, Agassi, Rafter, Ivanisevic (probably the wild one of this lot). Still remember Sampras finals with Ivanisevic and Agassi, even Rafter. If one was raw power, the other was precision and grit. Agassi, was a combination of craziness and gloating talent. Such was the enormity of players then, though I admit that have not been following the contemporary quite frivolously as I would have loved to. Reliving them after all these years kind of brings the ‘me’ in me.

This year, gloriously, has been rewarding for the Indian scene in Wimbledon. 3 back to back championship titles in 2 days for Leander and Sania, was thrilled to see the young lad come up trumps in the tussle of Boys. Leander has been our warhorse for years now and his accomplishment is one for those great Indian sporting stories we would like to talk about, often and more. Pleasing sight!

Ironic to say, when I visited Wimbledon couple of months back and was basking in the place reminiscent of some great following of the sport and its history, I was kind of disappointed that we didn’t have much of Indian presence to rave about. I thought India as a nation is boggled with enormous talent and sporting abilities, and this is one place we would like to stamp an authority on. In fact, the lady we got as a guide quickly exclaimed that they would love to see an Indian Champion soon, not sure about hers but my prayers have been answered, would love to visit her again and pay the compliments with due usherness.

In Wimbledon, it only gets greener every year.