Tag Archives: Indian Cricket Team

Thank you, Steven Smith

I like to think of myself as an intense cricket fan.

But if I were to lay the facts out in the open, the truth is that I have followed very few cricket tournaments from start to finish.

I don’t mean following parts of innings when time permits, skimming the newspaper, or catching the highlights the next day. I have done all of that. I mean religiously following every ball of the match, taking breaks only for absolute necessities like answering calls from Mother Nature, food, and rolling one.
Circumstances haven’t been too kind to me in the past. As I scan my memory through the greatest moments in Indian cricket, I find myself trapped in a variety of situations that are both comical as well as tragical.

When Venkatesh Prasad made a mess of Aamir Sohail’s stumps, I was praying to God in a hostel. The only reports of the match came from a teacher who brought us detailed reviews of the matches (‘Boys, India won!’ – Yayyyyyy! ‘Boys, India lost’ – Noooooo! )

When Sachin Tendulkar was haunting Shane Warne’s nightmares at Sharjah, I was sleeping in a Sai Baba temple, the cheers and noises from nearby homes the only indicators of India’s progress in the match. When Laxman and Dravid got together to string the most magical Indian fairytale, I was battling a teenager’s curiosity of the world. When Yuvraj and Kaif waged a battle against our colonial masters, I was locked up in a room, craning my ears for cheers from neighbours.

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I have always wanted to follow a Test tournament by the ball.

As a famous Brazilian author says, ‘When you want something with all your heart, but you lead a distinctly middle class life, the universe conspires to screw it up for you’. When a young brazen English team was making Aussies sweat in the 2005 Ashes series, I was fighting off the rigours of a call centre job. Every Test series has been jeopardised by a number of internal and external factors – examinations, semesters, jobs, or mangled affairs of the heart.

But not anymore.

A few weeks before the India Australia tournament kicked off, I washed my hands off worldly callings. I did away with my freelance and content writing work, took a break from the humdrum and revelled in some Laxmi Shiva Durga. I had nothing on my plate. In fact, I didn’t even have a plate.

When Steven Smith flipped the coin against Virat Kohli on February 23rd, I was prepared. The stars had been hesitant to start with, but I had successfully manipulated them into conspiring in my favour.

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If you do not follow cricket, it is difficult to encapsulate what makes Test cricket special. On the surface, Test cricket has nothing going for it.

No other sport is played over 5 days, only to end as a draw. In the age of VR and FX and zip-zap-zoom, taller-faster-stronger – Test cricket is an archaic colonial indulgence that 10 of the world’s countries indulge in. On the surface, Test cricket is a coterie of cartels. But that’s the surface.

Scratch deeper, and Test cricket is the only form of sport where the name conveys the true meaning of the word. Test cricket is a test of human will and perseverance. Unlike other sports, where skill, talent and form can help you bulldoze through an opposition, Test cricket demands the strictest of regimes. It requires excelling across 5 days under the sun. It entails adapting to nature – soil, grass, outfield, pitch, weather – over five days.

While other sports are battles, Test cricket is war. You might lose two sessions, but you have to shake yourself off and fight again. You are required to regroup, refocus, reassess, reassure. Test cricket is cricket at its toughest, its most unforgiving form.

But ride the wave, and it is cricket at its most sublime, most nuanced.

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If one begins to believe in stars and their alignment, there’s no end to the extents even a rational man would go.

Surely it could be no coincidence that for this particular series, the Indian team would be at its strongest and the Aussies at its weakest? That their front line bowler should get injured after two tests? That our middle order should fire when the captain gets injured? That we bounce back after losing the first match? That the tournament would be undecided till the penultimate day of the final Test?

The team that was dismissed to lost 4-0 (‘Australia will lose 3-1 if they play very well’ – Harbhajan Singh. Roadies Judge) fought valiantly. At times, it was brutal. At times it was curiosity to understand the etymology of our swear words. But playing the Aussies has never been easy, given their long line of impressive leaders – Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke.

It wasn’t easy to like Ponting or Steve Waugh. They both came across as insiders, groomed under the brash Australian system that gave them their thick skins. When Waugh encouraged his bowlers to hound batsmen, or Ponting walked up to the opposition to pick banters, they epitomised Australian aggression.

For some reason, Steven Smith doesn’t seem like a mean guy. Unlike Ponting and Waugh, his face doesn’t betray a sharp, incisive man. Steven Smith seems like a captain burdened by the history of being the Aussie captain. Australian captains were always expected to lead. To take the attack to the opponents’ chin. Unlike Ponting and Waugh, Smith has none of the natural grace or technique. He resembles a crab grappling to survive on the pitch. The nervous shakes of the hand, the shifting outside off stump.

And yet, he stood strong, the best batsman on the tour. Captaining a ship of greenhorns in baggy greens.

Does that seem like the face of a cruel, aggressive leader? No! It's the face of an innocent man burdened by history. Like Draco Malfoy, if I may say so.

Does that look like the face of a cruel, aggressive leader? No! It’s the face of an innocent young man burdened by his history. Like Draco Malfoy, if I may say so.

Perhaps that is what endears him to Indians,  makes him stand out from his Aussie brethren. That he apologised after the tournament proves that he not only possesses better technique than Virat Kohli, but also a larger heart.

This tournament helped me understand the eternal puzzle in my head – the Aussie fan. I had imagined them all to be beer-guzzling hooligans who sledged and heckled. As I followed ball by ball coverage on r/cricket, the difference struck me.
Perhaps it is a cultural difference. The way we approach and consume cricket is different from the Aussie style. As fans from both sides sledged, heckled and hurled insults across each other, I was able to see beyond the surface. Beneath the shell of ‘Behnchods’ and ‘Cunts’, lay a mutual respect for each other.

Perhaps Indians tend to get overtly aggressive because of our colonial history. Or perhaps the biting truth that we are absolutely miserable in Australia. That we know deep within that we won’t be able to even draw the series when we go down under.
As the home season comes to an end, it is time for IPL. The glitz of the tournament blurs international boundaries, and loyalties melt and metamorphose into personal loyalties.
While my bread and butter, my chai and sutta is located with Sunrisers Hyderabad, I shall keep an eye out on Rising Pune Supergiants too.

The one Test tournament that I followed ball-by-ball, is being called one of the greatest tournaments between the two sides. It was a glorious summer of cricket.

A summer of leather and wood. Of sessions that swung this way and that. A summer when the two greatest exponents of the sublime art of batting led their sides.

One came off victorious at the end of an arduous war. The other won a billion hearts.

Thank you, Steven Smith.

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Featured Image courtesy: Sky Sports.

A Dressing Down in the Dressing Room

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The white plastic chairs are set around the table. They trickle in one by one, each taking a chair and easing himself on it.

He waits for them to settle down, cursing under his breath, but holding the cool exterior that he was known for. When the last one of them had settled down, Ravi Shastri began speaking.

‘Right, so here we are in the dressing room today…and it looks like this one is going down to the wire’. ‘Cliché’ mutters someone under his breath as the bowlers begin to giggle. Shastri glares at them and they stop.

‘We have been asked by the higher-ups to have a meeting and discuss what’s happening. One just gets a feeling-‘

Suddenly, Varun Aaron stands up, yells, and charges at the wall. He crashes into it, then turns around, and charges towards the opposite wall. Dhoni shares a glance with Shastri. They understood.

Ishant Sharma sat on his chair, his lanky frame hunched. ‘Idontwanttobowlwiththenewballbutbehnchodtheseguyskeepaskingmeto…’
‘Is there something you want to say, Ishant?’
‘Mmmmmgrumblegrumblemumblemumble’
‘You are the leader of the attack, you need to pull up your socks now.’ Ishant stops, bends down near his bag, pulls out his socks, and runs out of the hall. Dhoni shrugs his shoulder and looks at Shastri.

Ever so slowly, the chairs begin to shift a little, gravitating towards comfort zones of their own. Dhoni is gradually surrounded by the calmer ones – Pujara, Rahane, Ashwin, Vijay and Shami. Towards the other side, Virat, Rohit, Dhawan and Yadav are forming a circle of their own.

Shastri looks at the team, wondering if he should have brought Sunny along. But Sunny was growing older, and one couldn’t control what he’d do to the players when he lost his cool. Shastri’s mind went back to the last time Sunny bhai had addressed the team. Sreesanth had picked his nose, and Sunny bhai abruptly poked a burning agarbathi in his cheek. May be he was better off doing this by himself. We have to fight our demons alone. He had jumped at the opportunity to guide the team. Little did he know he’d have to deal with such nutcases.

He cleared his throat. ‘Alright, bright sunny day out here in Brisbane today, packed crowd, you can feel the excitement out here…’ Suddenly, a loud crash was heard from the other room.

Yadav ran across, and dragged Varun Aaron back to the room. He had charged at the television and smashed it into bits. ‘Leave me, I’m a fast bowler,’ he kept grumbling, but Yadav made him sit on the chair.

‘Right. So let’s begin with the meeting. I’d like each of you to state out the reason, according to you, for our loss. Let’s begin with Pujara’.
Pujara:
Shastri: Are you sure? But what about the wickets?
Pujara:
Shastri: Alright. Now let’s move on to Rohit. Why did we lose the match?

Rohit stands up, pulls out a handkerchief from his pocket, spreads it out on the table, and begins rolling it into a ball. Shastri is now losing his cool. ‘Let’s move on to Virat, then.’

Virat stares at him for a while, anger writ large on his face. And then, he speaks – ‘Motherchod teri maa ki choot saale bhonsdi ke haraami kaat daalunga saale behenchod harami’.
Rohit Sharma quickly turns around, takes out a notepad, and jots down some points.

‘If only he did that for his cover drives too,’ Shastri thinks, but knows better than to tell the players anything. He had been like them once – young, hot-blooded, brash, arrogant. The team managers had tried to stop him too, but it was a lost cause. His mind went back to that mad drunken night when he had 17 beers and humped Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. The world was shocked when he announced his retirement later that month.

‘Alright, then. May be we should move on with the-
Suddenly, Varun Aaron was up again. He took off his shirt, bellowed like a drunk bull, and charged at Shastri. Dhoni shook his head, looked at Kohli, and cursed under his breath.

Kohli, Rohit and Yadav ran to hold Aaron down, when Ashwin flung a chair at them. Enraged, they ran towards him, when Dhawan twirled his moustache and slapped his thigh, egging them forward. Rahane now stood up to block the marauding gang, but they got to him and slammed him down on the table.

Chairs were flying around, the screams inside the room had reached a crescendo. The voices grew louder and louder, as furniture, plastic, cloth, and bottles were flung across the room.

Dhoni sat in a corner and was quietly doodling on a piece of paper.

Two mountains, with a half-sun peeping out between them. There were a few clouds, r shaped crows, and a river that began at the point where the two mountains met. He proceeded to draw a house in the plains below, with three steps leading to the house. Should I add a window- BOOM!

There was a monstrous noise, as they all froze, and turned to look at the door.

Dressed in a black leather jacket, brown corduroy trousers, and dark brown boots. The jacket was open, revealing chest hair, and his hair was carelessly thrown across his forehead. There was no mistaking that look, no mistaking the magnetic power it had all over all – man, woman, object. It could only be –

Jackie Shroff. He walked towards the group, the click-clack of his boots echoing in the new silence. He said nothing, walking till he reached Dhawan.

‘Maushichigand!’ he slapped him hard across the face, as Dhawan flew across and landed on his knees. Dhoni made a mental note to put him in the slips.

Jackie walked on to the rest of the group. ‘Mach mach mach mach, all you fuckers do is talk all the time. But when it comes to playing-

He pulled Rahane up by his collar, till his toes were hanging in the air, shook him violently and threw him back on the chair. Rahane, facing yet another unplayable delivery, fainted.

‘And you,’ Jackie spat, his eyes on Varun Aaron. ‘You make even that monster (pointing at Yadav) seem like Gandhi in comparison’. He lifted Yadav and threw him on Aaron. Aaron yelled and began to charge at Jackie. Jackie raises his hand, and Aaron stops, whimpering and simpering.

‘And you’, He turned to Kohli and raised his hand. Only to smile and high five him. ‘Your girlfriend is hot. Kal dekha main. Kadak item hai’. He then turned to Pujara. ‘Do you have anything to say?’ Pujara stared – his lips moved, but you couldn’t hear what he was saying. Jackie lifted him up and slammed him on the table.

Ashwin was punched in the stomach once. And then kicked in the balls. ‘That’s the doosra, asshole. Use it’. He walks across to Rohit Sharma. ‘You. Talented cricketer. When the fuck is your talent going to win us matches? Or are you happy hammering West Indian bowlers in Vadodara? Behnchod go play in Ranji, then.’ He raised a beer bottle and smashed it down on his head.

‘And you’, he said, turning to Vijay. ‘Your name is Vijay, but you never get your team to a winning position. Look at me, my name is Jackie, and I’m Jackie Shroff’. He slaps him hard across the face.

Finally, as the rest of the team lies on the floor, twisting and writhing in pain, He approaches Dhoni, who seems unfazed by it all.

‘Abey oh, cool customer! Maushichigand!’ He lifts Dhoni up and choke-slams him down on the floor. ‘Don’t give me that calm and composed drama, understood? I played Shirdi Sai Baba for fuck’s sake. No one can be calmer than me’. With this, he lifted Dhoni and slammed him down on the rest of his teammates.

Amidst the noise, Shastri listened from the opposite room. He had sneaked out just in time, and sat huddled next to Duncan Fletcher on the floor. Jackie walked around the room. Varun Aaron stands up, looks at Jackie, but folds his hands in obeisance to The Lord.

‘Motherchod. I wake up every morning at five o clock, only to see your sad, idiotic drama. Maushichigand!’.

His work here done, Jackie gives the team a look of disdain, and leaves.

As he retires to bed that night, Jackie is a relieved man. Tomorrow he’ll wake up to watch the third test.

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