Friday, January 6, 2012

Indian team playlist

And now for something completely different!

Sure, Sydney was depressing. So depressing, in fact, that talking about it would be like beating a dead horse, mincing it into tiny pieces, feeding them to a bunch of wild dogs, then beating them. It's horrible, brutal, disgusting, and brings to the mind a great horror and despair.

So! Instead of that, here's something to distract us:

While travelling over the last couple of weeks, I tried to keep myself occupied by thinking of songs that would go best with the current Indian line-up. Here's what I came up with. This is, of course, entirely my opinion and my music preferences - feel free to make suggestions/additions/deletions. I'd love to hear them. :)

Here goes:

1. Virender Sehwag - "Wanted Dead or Alive" -- Bon Jovi
2. Gautam Gambhir - "Little Lion Man" -- Mumford and Sons
3. Rahul Dravid - "After the Storm" -- Mumford and Sons
4. Sachin Tendulkar - "Eye of the Tiger" -- Survivor
5. VVS Laxman - "Marchin' On" -- One Republic
6. Virat Kohli - "Vienna" -- Billy Joel
7. Mahendra Singh Dhoni - "Float On" -- Modest Mouse
8. R Ashwin - "Feeling Good" -- Muse
9. Zaheer Khan - "When They Come For Me" -- Linkin Park
10. Ishant Sharma - "Hot 'n Cold" -- Katy Perry
11. Umesh Yadav - "It's My Turn to Fly" -- The Urge

Monday, January 2, 2012

Lurching through a kaleidoscope of the nonsensical

First off: a very happy new year to everybody out there! Let's hope this year is filled with happiness, success and exciting cricket.

I apologise for the long hiatus. 2011 has been rather trying from a cricket fan's point of view. While I allow that my laziness is partly to blame, this year has been so full of dizzying highs and desperate lows that it's become more a chore than a pleasure to keep up.

The World Cup victory - has it only been eight months? Gosh - has already vanished in a haze of premature nostalgia, and people composing end-of-year review posts have already started warning us that the victory shouldn't hide the greater problems with the Indian team. Namely, our pathological inability to win anything substantial on foreign soil. While I avoid a large chunk of cricket writing these days - I can never shake off the feeling that I'm being talked down to, that there's a great deal of obfuscation regarding different forms of the same sport, that people who enjoy, or claim to enjoy, cricket at its basic levels can find it repulsive when not played for five days - I agree with the basic principle.

The time difference between our tour of England and England touring us was a matter of weeks. In every other way, however - they might as well have been photographic negatives.

The batting floundered, the bowling was inadequate, sure. But I've heard this story before. This team seems stuck in an eternal bog of inadequacy, sea legs on a distant shore, although they are probably more travel-savvy than most billionaires around the world. Our batting literally cannot get any better - VirunGauti at the top, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar at the top of their game, the Australian Nemesis VVS Laxman, both Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma making strong claims for no 6, Dhoni at 7, a surprisingly accomplished Ashwin at 8, and, uh, well, let's forget about the tail. This flopped repeatedly in England, and in both innings at Melbourne. If our bowling is some sort of patchwork rotating door, the batting is like one of those antique behemoths that crumble to dust at the slightest pressure.

At home, however - they swell like a tidal wave, and all is forgotten and forgiven in a burst of jingoistic retribution.

This team is stagnating. The stage has changed, the props have changed, the actors have changed, the director has changed, the music is loud and the audience is more rowdy, but the script remains the same.

You can call that an uninformed, or barely informed, generalisation. Sure, go ahead. But when I look at the cricket and feel nothing but a tired sort of deja vu, I have to wonder. Is this 2003? Is this 2007? Because it's the same friggin ground, the same friggin team, and the same sort of mindless capitulation after a strong start.

The technical analysis behind India's repeated failures abroad is beyond me; it could be the technique, it could be their mental status, it could be a hoodoo priestess in a rundown shack in Canberra, for all I know. All I hope for now is a quick re-write, before all the columnists start gnawing away like maggots on a three day old corpse.

Again and again, I keep coming back to this quote, but there has perhaps never been a more candid, more true statement about modern cricket:

After all, if taken in the right sense, we are the performers in the circus

Dhoni nailed it. 2011 was a particularly busy year for the circus. I have a vague recollection of a South African tour in January - wasn't Yusuf Pathan quite the hero in that? He's disappeared into the ether now - a ponderous group stage of the World Cup (barring a couple of exciting games) ate up most of February and all of March, and - after the glorious, glorious first week of April, we had the IPL right through the rest of the month and all of May. And then - again, I vaguely recall - a tour of West Indies? Or something. Duncan Fletcher got appointed as coach somewhere along the way, and Rahul Dravid made one of the most ironic statements in the history of the world with regards to a sense of humour.

July and August - touring England and getting our asses kicked, then coming home and kicking ass in return - squeezed in a Champions League in September before the West Indies came home, and -

- you know what? I don't even know anymore. There was cricket, and it was played.

Two of the best things in 2011 for me - apart from April 3, of course - was Dhoni surging to limited-overs glory in the middle of the ear, doing it in his inimitable, last-man-standing, boy on the burning deck style at first, then in a sort of Rockstar Terminator style later. The second was, of course, the rise and rise of one Ashwin Ravichandran. The man's a gem. He really, really is. I feel nothing but pity for Bhajji.

Coming to our current tour of Australia - given that we are following the paths tread as deep as the Grand Canyon, the Sydney test should be a better one. Whitewater raft your way through this one, boys - quit stagnating and shake off the seaweed.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Big Crash

There was a point, I think, right after the Lord's Test, where I was absolutely unconcerned about how the team was playing; I remained smug and solid in my conviction that this team was the king of comebacks, and that it would bounce back with the kind of alacrity that would lead to people making horrible puns that possibly included the words 'India rubber'. After all, we all know what happened in South Africa, right? Or Australia? Or Sri Lanka? Hell, the Freakin Amazing Test Match in '08 against England in Chennai, where we were losing for 3 and a half days before going on to win?

History said: India will make England slip off its perch so bad, it's gonna get rope-burn. Or something. (History isn't terribly great at mixed metaphors.)

Unfortunately, we went through a wormhole into a reality where it was India that continued slipping. And slipping. And slipping.

But more on that later.

So there we were in good ol' Trent Bridge for the second Test, and India seemed right on track. We had England at 100-odd for 6, Ishant Sharma was finally starting to look formidable again, and PK was a revelation. "See?" I said. "Everything's going according to plan."

Then: we... just let it slip.

Looking back on that moment, that session of play where we let Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann do what they pleased with the bat was The Turning Point. Possibly THE most important session in the series. When we let that go, we'd practically let go of the series, our no 1 ranking, any semblance of dignity we might have had. I remember being more bemused than angry. I still am, actually. It's like being smacked on the head by a cow that just fell from the sky. What the hell happened?

Yeah, sure, England played magnificently - not going to take that away from them - and we were crap warmed over, but - still. What? We can't be THAT bad, right? The depressing thing is that a team with the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag is performing a couple of notches below how Bangladesh would perform in the same situation. Hell, B'desh could've maybe managed a draw or two, even.

The final Test is going on at the Oval right now, and England scored bucketloads of runs in the first innings (as usual) and we - FREAKIN AGAIN - folded cheaply. It's like somebody went there and pulled the plug on some vital reserve in the Indian players. I imagine little gears and chains in the players' bodies, pulling them through over after over, through minute after minute of the depressing charade. In the few minutes I dared to watch the actual TV coverage - risky, because I tend to spend the rest of the day in a blue funk when I do - I remember Harsha Bhogle saying something along the lines of, "So Praveen Kumar continues to bowl. And bowl. And bowl."

I imagine he was praising PK's perseverance and stamina, but every word was also a statement on the black sludge that the Indian cricket viewer's soul was being dragged through.

And bowl. And bowl. And bowl. And bowl. And bowl...

A lonely and sordid nightmare.

Compounding the depression is that - man, this is England we're losing to. England! Forgive me for my prejudices, but - seriously, India? Seriously? About the only modern English thing I can bring myself to love is Doctor Who. Everything else is a horror acid trip consisting mostly of Swann's 142-character witticisms and Stuart Broad's, well, everything.

Dhoni must've known a series loss was going to come sometime. I don't think he expected it to be this bad.

I can't bring myself to watch/read/write about this series. It's physically painful. Just getting those links for the matches and verifying the scores was like taking raw chunks out of my soul. I remember my Dad watching an NDTV news bulletin about the second Test during breakfast. The anchor announced the highlights package as "Now for the Sadlights" without a trace of irony. If the team's performance is depressing, the local media reaction is even more depressing.

Sunil Gavaskar going, "The players, now that they've won the World Cup, act as if Indian cricket owes them something now, rather than the other way round" (paraphrased), was probably the only time I got angry through the whole affair. That's an unfair statement, Mr. Gavaskar. That's really, really unfair. I really can't say anything more than that, just goggle in sheer disbelief.

I can't stand it. I usually avoid news channels like the plague; now I've taken to just removing the sports pages of the newspaper and folding them under the toaster in the morning. Yes, I'm enjoying my ride in this river in Egypt; how about you?

I'm still waiting for THE moment, however. The moment where the Indian team gets that spring in its step and stop auditioning for extras in a George Romero movie. It's part wishful thinking, part romantic fantasy, but mostly proved by history. There have been passages - tiny, but they were there - of play in this tour where the Indians showed glimpses of why they are/were/are/were/ARE, goddamit, the best team in the world. Some good memories can still be salvaged out of this tour. Maybe even a couple of wins.

Meanwhile, I'll direct the depressing stuff to the ever-growing pile under my toaster.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My 0.2 seconds of fame

Finally, my report of what went down on the evening of May 4! A little late, I know, but I've been around a bit since then, and, well. The Chennai summer has been sapping me of the will to live, leave alone write.

However! Here we go.

It was the afternoon of the fourth of May, and it was HOT. I mean, not any more than usual, but it's not the kind of afternoon you'd want to play cricket in. With much sympathy (a rare thing for fans as entitled as we), three of my friends and I met up at a shopping mall nearby and took an autorickshaw to about as close as it could get to the stadium. On the way, we saw the team bus, and possibly spotted Albie Morkel at the window. Excited? Hell yeah.
Having purchased our CSK caps from one of the several vendors lurking around, and having made sure we were all decked in yellow, we proceeded to walk toward our designated gate. We were soaked in sweat by the end of that walk. I was dreading how much more of our body volume we were about to lose inside the stadium.

Security was... well. About as tight as they could manage. We knew about the no-food, no-water rule, but they also confiscated my tube of sunscreen and my friend's deo spray, which, well. Kind of pissed us off. Serves you right if my face comes off in great bloody strips and the toxic fumes from several thousand sweaty armpits kill us all, was my thought. In retrospect, it was probably silly, but that close to the stadium? I think I was already prepping myself for mindless emotional reactions. Yay!

So! Into the stadium we went. It'd been three years since I'd last been to the MAC (the last time was a CSK v DC match I went to with my family; that happened to be one of the only two games DC managed to win the whole '08 season, so I warned the others that they were taking a bad-luck charm with them). It looked... pretty, with the giant white canopies and the gaps between the stands and the profusion of giant screens (counted at least three at first glance). The major improvement, though? The seats. Also, the general appearance had made a giant improvement: I remember the first time I visited the MAC and being hugely disappointed by how shabby everything looked. Now, though? I felt like I was really visiting the stadium for the first time.

Our stand was the I stand, lower tier, which was fantastic because it was right by where the players practiced before the match started. The Men in Startlingly Bright Yellow were already there, stretching and doing catching practice when we arrived. The Rajasthan Royals had not come out yet, and the stadium was just starting to slowly fill in. Armed with those inflatable Zoozoo headband things we went straight to the fence to start gaping at the players ("who's that with the weirdass shirt?" "Hussey?" "You kidding me? That's Albie." "ALBIE! Look here!")
Just as Raina was leaving, we called out to him, waving frantically. He turned back, grinned at the four of us, and waved back. Did I mention Raina is awesome? Because he is. We tried the same with Morkel; he kinda glanced back and gave a reluctant little wave with his hand still near his hip; Badrinath didn't even respond. Which is kind of rude, since we were the only people out there calling for him. (We didn't laugh when his pants came down, though. Not much, anyway.)

So as the toss and the pre-match interviews went on ("there's no time gap between the pitch-report and the toss?" gasped my friend, a first-timer. Aaah, the routine of watching cricket on TV. Anything for ads featuring two-timing girls with bulky mobile phones.) and we started settling in (not really). We painted giant yellow hearts on one side of our cheeks and a CSK player's name on the other (I was "Ashwin" by the way; why not Dhoni, you ask? Ashwin needs all the fan-support he can get, yo! Plus it occupied maximum space, so. Y'know. Fun.)

So there we were, screaming and laughing and creating a right royal ruckus a good half-hour before the match had even begun. We managed to draw the attention of the official CSK website photographer, who snapped us grinning wide enough to split our faces open. Aaaand the photo came on the CSK website!

Our 0.2 seconds of fame, I declared.

Anyway. The match started, and it was tremendous fun. For one, it was actually cool. As in, it was pleasant and not horribly stuffy as we'd dreaded, mostly due to the fact that there'd been a lovely cool breeze blowing every few minutes. Also, we were in the shady part of the stadium, which meant there was no direct sunlight. It was an amazingly pleasant surprise.

Dravid was going great guns - it was a little surreal to be watching it real-time with no closeups of the batsman or following the ball as it went to the boundary; I swear at one point I was grasping at thin air for an invisible remote - and there was much chanting of "C-S-K! C-S-K!" from behind us in encouragement. Just to rile them up, we would go "Ra-jas-than! Ra-jas-than!" every time they started their chant. What? It was fun, although we did get a lot of funny looks.

However, we didn't always have a great view of the action, and had to move a little higher later in the second innings. Another disadvantage of being where we were was that Aniruddha Srikkanth kept fielding right in front of us, and we had a near-constant view of his generously-endowed posterior and his occasional fielding gaffe (he fell right over the ball even as it raced under him in the first over. I pray he didn't hear us cursing. We love you really, Aniruddha!).

Wickets fell like rain in the last ten overs - skiers falling down the throat of Murali Vijay, mostly; damn, that man must be a specialist in that sort of thing by now - and we screamed, oh how we screamed! Gave high-fives and vent to our throats in a way that would've cracked glass were we watching this at home. This is it, I thought, this is aaaall it's about. And it's brilliant.

It was. To give yourself to the ebbs and flows of the game like that, with complete abandon, and have ten thousand others do it with you? The feeling is like the best drug, man.

The second innings began, and perhaps the only blip there was that we lost Vijay early (one of my friends who's a HUGE Vijay fan was crushed; I laughed until I was reminded that I'd react the same way if Dhoni were to get out early. Which, y'know. Touche.) and that the result was all too predictable toward the end. "Let Raina get out and Dhoni come in!" cried my first-timer friend. "Let it be a cliffhanger like the Kolkata game!" Hell-llo. Gift. Horse. Mouth. A strict no-no. That is all.

At the end, Raina did get out with 4 to get, which amused me to no end. We cheered for Shane Watson and Johan Botha to break up the monotony ("Botha! Botha! Bo-THA!" "Dude. That sounds wrong." "Um. Johan, Johan?" "THE J IS SILENT!" "Geez. You sound like you're his mother.")

Shaun Tait, who was not playing but passed by where we sat, received a few cheers from us, too. He turned and gave a small wave, which, yay.

There were many aborted attempts at Mexican waves - aborted because one section of the crowd, the stand right next to us, in fact, would just not get up. Finally they did, and we did six continuous Waves. It was kind of awesome.

The winning moment was more of a "finally!" than a "wow! awesome!" moment, but yeah. A superbly comprehensive victory, the weather was great, and we were not the little puddles of skin-coloured goo on the cemented floor as we'd feared. The drinks were a tad expensive - Rs. 60 for an iced tea that was neither iced and tasted nothing like tea; in fact, it kinda tasted like ultra-diluted beer, but an incredibly enjoyable experience otherwise. There's nothing like being there, particularly with friends who are just as cricket-crazy as you.

Let me tell you what I love about this CSK team. They are a team. They are about the most locally represented team out there. Badrinath, Vijay, Ashwin... indispensable. (My heart still aches that Balaji is among the men in yellow anymore). I love that there's always somebody who steps up when the others aren't performing: if it's Hussey and Raina one day, it's Albie and Dhoni the next, or Vijay and Badrinath. If Albie and Randiv are bowling crap, it's Dougie and Jakati; if it's Ashwin and Bravo one day, it's Raina and Kulasekara the other. Mumbai is all Tendulkar, Rayudu and Malinga; Bangalore = Gayle. Not so Chennai. I love it.

I especially love that these guys can come back from bad situations and fight blood, tooth and nail till either victory or the very last ball. Is why they are the most successful IPL team out there any mystery? I don't think so.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Brilliance in an airport lounge.

I went for the CSK v RR match on May 4. There is much I want to tell regarding that, but considering I left that very night for a trip to Sri Lanka and returned only today, the report will come a little late.

Before that, however--

Just a few hours ago, I was in the Colombo airport, in the departure area, boarding passes in hand, flight just half an hour away, itching to go back to Chennai. They were showing the KTK v RCB match on the TV, and after I spent a few minutes boggling at the new Bangalore uniform -- lime green, seriously? They look like runaway runway markers. Or like unicorns vomited on them. -- Prashanth Parameswaran came to bowl to Chris Gayle. I like Parameswaran. I like that he came from nowhere, with a mouthful of a name that pulls Danny Morrison's tongue into knots and tons of cool attitude. I wondered how he felt, bowling to somebody like Chris Gayle. I mean, sure. Sehwag is Sehwag and everything, but Gayle tends to be even more unpredictable, and can demoralise you like nobody's business in the space of a few balls.

That over went for 37 runs.

Thirty-seven, people.

If I remember right, the first ball went for 6. The second was a no-ball hit for six, so that's 7, and the free-hit went for 4, so that's 11 runs off that second ball. Then I think he hit two more sixes and two more fours.

It was quite a scene. We were all gathered around the TV, some of us with huge grins on our faces, others with hands over their mouths, still more staring at the screen, fascinated, like it was some sort of newly discovered extra-terrestrial life-form. The last call for boarding the flight was on. Nobody moved. A frustrated wife tried to pry her husband away from the TV, but he kept saying, "Just one more ball! Just one more!"

(thirty-seven. the mind still boggles. such casual violence.)

Then Vinay Kumar came on to bowl. As Gayle came on strike, there was much conferencing. Mahela, Vinay, the 'keeper, everybody. Prashanth stood by the side, sweating and maybe a little shaken. Vinay threw everything he had. A bouncer. Slower ball. There seemed to be a catch dropped off his bowling, but it was a bump ball that bounced inches in front of a diving Ramesh Powar.

Then. Finally. Vinay went for a Malinga-style yorker. Went under the toe-end of Gayle's bat and dismantled his off-stump. Much rejoicing.

This was the point we all rushed to the coach that would take us to the flight, but the match situation at that point in time?

3.4 overs, 67 runs, chasing 126.

Freakishly awesome, and all in that space of time in an airport lounge in Colombo.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Oh dear lord.

One response:

Also, sorry. Got nothing meaningful to add, really. I thought I'd get more into the IPL as it progressed, but I've been able to muster nothing even near the enthusiasm of the last three years. However! I'll be going to a couple of matches in May (and I'll finally be seeing the brand new MAC!) so hopefully that'll put me in a blogging kind of mood.