Friday, January 06, 2017

A River of Purpose and Joy

There's a river that runs behind our house. It's a man-made stream but it is expansive and beautiful enough for me to lose myself watching the water flow, every day. It fills me with hope and sense of purpose that no pep talk can do for me. So does MS Dhoni every time he takes the field.

As we watch Indian cricket's greatest leader make everyone dance to his own unselfish, but highly focused tune one last time, I couldn't help but pen a few thoughts about a man who has filled me with hope and vistas of joy for over a decade, and almost always, held up his end of the bargain.

Writers with greater access than me will unearth stories about how he transformed the team, the players, even the system. But this is a man who most Indian cricket fans never met, but he still transformed their mental states for a few days every year. Year after year. There can be no bigger success than this.

I'm a Sachin fan through and through, but Dhoni has his own special place in my pantheon. It's difficult to admit, but he probably stands on the same pedestal as Sachin, in my book. This is not because of his grotesque technique. Not because of the helicopter shot. Not even because he won a few important trophies. It's because he filled us, the fans, with an unending hope that a match could be won, no matter how hapless the team's position or fancied the opposition.

For purists and cricket tragics like me, it isn't Dhoni's skills that make him so irresistible. It's his mind. His unmatched command of the situation; his ability to manipulate most situations to his advantage; but most importantly, the audacity with which he leads the most ordinary into slaying the most fancied. It's a trait few leaders possess, but one which a young Dhoni so magnificently articulates in his gripping biopic after the game during which a young Yuvraj made merry.

The mystery that the man has built around his persona is lamented by professional scribes. This opacity didn't help Dhoni's image during Srini-gate. Those who wished his reputation tarnished (and make no mistake, there were many such infidels) almost succeeded. But the thing about real heroes and true legends is that their reputations aren't built on performances or statistics, they are constructed with almost equal dollops of charisma, mystery and tenacity. Characteristics that real fans appreciate and naysayers never seem to imbibe.

It takes a man of unprecedented panache conjure as much respect for the near misses, as he does for his undisputed successes. MS's successor will do well to take every last opportunity to understand this from close quarters. I thank the heavens for allowing me the good fortune to witness MS flow free, if only for a few short moments more.
Continued >> >>

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The King of Good Times Is Not Merely Lip-Service

I'm not talking about the beer, but the man behind the brand. At least, the bloke that owns it. My debut first-hand experience with the IPL this year has blown my mind as to how spectators can really be given value for money in Indian sporting stadiums. I must admit I come from the school that propagates the "sport must be front and center" line of thought. Anyone who has seen a live sporting event in Australia will understand this acutely. Australia is a place where entertainment is provided by the warriors on the park and everything else is left to the drinking holes behind the stadium or before/after the game.

The first Royal Challengers Bangalore match of IPL6 at the Chinnaswamy stadium was my first experience with American-style sports entertainment, outside of the US. I love my cricket. I mean, the technical, dour aspects of the game. I could watch a test match, alone in a stadium, if I wasn't so afraid of looking like a loner! Yet, the Chinnaswamy's exhibition of criketainment was something from a different planet.

I haven't been to other IPL6 venues this year, but from what I can see on TV, they don't come close to the RCB, Chinnaswamy experience. The Chinnaswamy married glitz, glam and the wonderful game in a heady cocktail of irresistible entertainment.

There wasn't one identifiable element that elevated the event above all others. It wasn't just the DJ. It wasn't just the sea of red. It wasn't just the nightclub like ambience. It wasn't just the traditional dancers showing up the cheerleaders. It was all of these things rounded off with massive Chris Gayle sixes, a dollop of Virat Kohli elegance and a sprinkling of the mastery that only one Sachin Tendulkar can provide at the crease.

Mallya's airline might have crashed. His personal fortunes may be in decline. But, when it comes to selling good times, this bloke certainly can still teach his disciples and naysayers a thing or three.

Continued >> >>

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Cracks Keep on Swallowing

Cracks. Dust. Dodgy pitches. They may as well all be synonyms for an Australian cricketer thinking about Indian conditions. After the progress of Waugh and Gilchrist's teams, it appears that Australian cricket has once again regressed to the depths of the abysmal, as far as subcontinental form is concerned. The series has only reached the halfway mark and the dogs are already out!
In all honesty, however, Phil Hughes really shouldn't feel so dispirited. After all, one of the best batsmen of his generation, good ol' Ricky Ponting, would rather have batted on ice than against Indian spinners on Indian pitches. 

England proved during the previous Ashes and India has proven all over again, that Australian cricket is short of ideas. Not talent. Just ideas. Domestic performance is measured after tests undertaken on domestic featherbeds. Australia's best bowlers are, more often than not, injured during international duty, which leaves international batting hopefuls to play against "next best" attacks. These are not the characteristics of a system that once produced two decades of some of the greatest cricketers seen in the modern game. 

Team India was a great cricket team two years ago. Many a whitewashed series since have well and truly exposed the existence of cracks that every Indian fan dreaded. Today's Team India should not be beating the Aussies in a manner so demoralising. A team must know it's plumbing the depths of despair when the enigmatic Ravindra Jadeja becomes a 'match-winning' Test match bowler! 

This Australian debacle can only be attributed to a poor domestic structure that churns out flat-track bullies and an administration that has lost the ability to stick to the over-arching principles that produced success in such abundance over the previous two decades. 

Fixes for these structural issues are not found overnight. There will be more failures and more reports and more discontent. Team India fans can only but look ahead to Mohali with utmost glee and anticipation.
Continued >> >>

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Is Anyone Still Watching The IPL?

What are we up to now? IPL5? IPL6? I've lost count and I've lost interest. Part of it could be attributed to the lack of Lalit Modi. Part of it could be attributed to the absence of the FakeIPLPlayer. Mostly, in a sign of how the IPL has turned from cricket into packaged entertainment with little allegiance, my lack of interest can be attributed to the lack of TV coverage here in Australia. Lalit Modi created the IPL for TV. From the gaudy opening and closing ceremonies to the strategic timeouts. From the fat pay cheques to the televised player auctions. The IPL was an 'As Seen on TV' product. So what happens when the TV doesn't carry it any longer? The product fails. At least it has in Australia. The ratings drop suffered by last season's IPL was easily blamed on a nation still hungover from winning the World Cup. Most things in Indian cricket are attributed by those in power to 'minor blips' or 'something not so important' (anyone remember Team India's performances in England and Australia recently?). The real reason for a fall in TV ratings, anywhere in the world, is the fact that cricket administrators, the world over, don't actually care about crowds and audiences. They'll happily take in sponsorship money from betting sites, but won't actually take notice of how such sites treat their customers to ensure they keep coming back. It's high time administrators started paying attention to us, the fan that deserves a whole lot more love than we're currently getting. Continued >> >>

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Will The Real Swami Army Please Stand Up?

After 1 and half Tests of this 2011/12 Australian summer, it has become increasingly clear to many at the MCG and SCG recently that the famed Swami Army is merely a group of media hungry, bandwagon Team India fans bankrupt of all passion and verve when the chips are down. It's all well and good to tell the truth in advance, but at some point very soon there will need to be substance to support the fluff, else this lot's credibility will leak from Australian cricket stadiums at quite some rate of knots.

It is easy to join in the banter when life is good, but the modus operandi of a real supporter group should be to sustain the volume and vigour from the stands when shoulders begin to sag on the park. This requires creativity. This requires a genuine commitment to the cause. Above all, this requires unadulterated passion for the team in the face of all obstacles. After having witnessed this group in the flesh in Sydney and Melbourne, I can only surmise that they sadly may lack many of these qualities.

The one notable exception to this are the diligent lads on the dhol. They have shown time and again that they only need a small group to dance to their rapturous beats in an attempt to keep the inhabitants of the Swami Army bay from falling asleep. Long may they continue their fine work!

Welcoming High Commissioners and former Prime Ministers and cricketers is all fine and dandy. It looks great on TV and is also great fodder for the sound bite hungry online news media, and its no secret that any supporter group needs ample publicity to succeed. However, to actually fill a bay at an Australian cricket ground you need to be inclusive and prove that you are able to rally the troops when results on the park are less than stellar. Otherwise you leave yourself open to suffering the ignominy of being drowned out by opposition fans in all but the four rows you occupy.

As is the case for Team India for the remainder of this summer, there is still time aplenty for the Swami Army to prove they are the real McCoy and not merely the fair weather, flat track bullies they appear to be at the minute.

Continued >> >>
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