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.
1. Okay, I'm getting sick of the Dhoni-madness. I lapped it all up with much glee the first couple of days, but all the bandwagon-hopping hypocrite groupies are pissing me off. You really love the man so much? Try sticking by him when he's not winning World Cups!
2. IPL! I mean, look. I consider myself a pretty indefatigable cricket fan: keep it comin', is my motto. I'll snark, I'll groan, I'll shake my fists, but trust me, I'll make sure I follow the match somehow: TV, internet commentary, radio, mobile updates, what have you. But this time? First match was CSK v KKR, and I couldn't work up anything. I was half-asleep until the last five overs of the match. The World Cup took more out of me as a spectator than I'd expected. Huh. Who'd've thunk?
3. Speaking of the last five overs, hah. What an exercise in hilarity. But good for you, Southee. Aaaalso, I think everybody needed that cliffie. Both teams and their fans were sleepwalking till that time. All of us needed that fillip, I think. Feeling ready for the rest of the season? I think. Hopefully I'll get tickets to go to a few of the matches this time 'round.
4. I know I've been pretty critical of IPL opening ceremonies in the past, but I expected this to be better, since, you know. It's Chennai, and everything. But, no. It sucked beyond belief. I couldn't even watch it. Why?
Too much Bollywood. I honestly expected the likes of Sivamani, Simbu, Vijay, etc, etc., to be shaking a leg out there. Not Sunidhi Chauhan and Shah Rukh friggin' Khan. WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF BOLLYWOOD, AND ITS STUPID, GENERIC PSEUDO-PUNJABI BEATS. IF YOU WANT A CEREMONY IN CHENNAI, YOU MIGHT TRY MAKING IT A LITTLE MORE LIKE IT'S ACTUALLY IN CHENNAI.
What's that? SCREW "NATIONAL APPEAL". YOU WEREN'T EVEN ABLE TO ENTERTAIN THE CROWD PRESENT AT THE STADIUM, YOU FOOLS.
Blah blah blah magic and then the obligatory Shah Rukh friggin Khan "speaking" (read: horribly dubbed) in Tamil, and dancing to the very obligatory Appadi Podu. Do you guys realise that that song is over eight years old? Man, slap a label and milk it to the very last stereotypical drop! Insulting and disappointing.
SRK? Vijay pwns you in the dance-department. Just saying.
I repeat: this is Chennai. Not pseudo-Mumbai. What a frustrating and terrible ceremony.
5. It was physically painful to see Balaji bowl for the opposition. Seriously. Love the man so damn much, and he sticks out like a sore thumb in the Sourpuss Squad, also occasionally known as the Kolkata Knightriders.
6. What the hell, Gambo. Comin' in at 6? Not one of your brighter ideas. I get it when Dhoni does it - he's played in every position in the line-up, and 6 is usually his place. But you're an opening batsman, dude. Not a slogger.
7. One of my favourite moments from last night's game was this: Gambo hits one to long-on (I think, I was still fighting sleep at the time), where Albie's fielding. Albie fumbles a bit, but he gets the throw back to Dhoni, who kinda stops the ball with his body. The ball rebounds off his gloves and dribbles behind him, so he loses sight of it. Gambo senses an opportunity and scampers for the second run. Dhoni's looking frantically for the ball, but Styris swoops down on it and throws it at the stumps with Gambo short of his crease. KKR sink further into the depths. And what happens? Even abject incompetence from Dhoni is made to look like genius. He set Gambo up for the run-out by muffing the take! seemed to squeal the commentators. Dhoni just grinned sheepishly. I laughed and laughed and laughed.
8. I love that CSK is more or less the same team as the last three seasons. How much do I love this team, you ask? Sometimes even more than the Indian team, is my answer. Chennai, the city, remains my only love in India.
9. ... And that's all she wrote. I'm back at the hospital after a break, and I am exhausted. Possibly last night's fatigue wasn't entirely due to post-World Cup hangover. Whatever.
ADDENDUM: Oh god, I'm so tired I think I'm hallucinating. I just saw Laxman hitting a six.
I sometimes feel out of place in cricket discussions: the upstart, the young girl who's followed cricket for barely nine years, the fangirl who hero-worships Dhoni like some people hero-worship Tendulkar. They speak of several years of supporting a faltering Indian team, watching it slump and then grow and then slump again; they talk of the choking emotion in watching it move from triumph to triumph after the turn of the century. Their heroes are slowly going out, one by one, except for that one man who's been a constant fixture in Indian cricket for more than 2 decades. They talk of the '83 World Cup victory with unbridled nostalgia; in '83 my parents were still five years away from even meeting each other for the first time. This World Cup win, then, is special for them in so many ways - ways that are scattered across cyberspace, freely - but for me?
My affair with cricket started with the 2003 World Cup, when I was a giggly 12 year old who barely knew the difference between 'leg side' and 'off side'. My grandmother was - and is - the original cricket buff in the family. She religiously watches every single match that India plays - and as many other cricket matches as she can - and her enthusiasm as the '03 Cup approached rubbed off on me, more than any amount of media hype. I remember studiously cutting out the colourful World Cup match schedule from the backpage of The Hindu, laminating it, and then checking it every morning to see what match was on that day. Much of my emotional investment in the game today comes from my memories of that tournament. I whooped and I cheered and I cried. I pestered my Dad with all sorts of cricketing questions. I remember enjoying listening to Sanjay Manjrekar and Rameez Raja commentating together. I remember giggling at all the jabs at Mandira Bedi. I remember the Tarot card reading before the Ind v Kenya semifinal. I bought an India jersey just before the final and sat in front of the TV, hoping, hoping, praying. Of course, the team flopped at the final stage, but long before Tendulkar fell, Ponting blitzed an amazing century and I think we'd all come to accept that India wasn't winning this one. But hey, we said, we reached the final. That's pretty damn good, right?
At that time, it was. I religiously followed the Indian team after that. There were periods - most of 2006 - where cricket was the last thing on my mind, but for the most part, I followed the team that I believed would do it, would do it next time. I acquired a working knowledge, played backyard cricket with my brother, devoured as many cricket-related articles as I could.
In 2007, I was the hormone-ridden 16 year old who believed "Dhoni's going to win the World Cup for us this time." I was in the throes of a crush on the man, what can I say? Those dreams, of course, came crashing down pretty quickly, but it was nice while it lasted. I had a copy of the World Cup schedule - this time, it was an already-laminated copy that came free with some magazine or the other - under my pillow, so when I woke up, the first thing I'd do was check the day's match.
One of the things I remember best about the run-up to the tournament was our ability to fool ourselves. Not all was well with the team - the unceremonious ousting of Sourav Ganguly, Chappell being an unpopular coach and media-handler and PR... well, just unpopular in general, home series losses to Australia and Pakistan, a godawful tour of South Africa, where we lost everything except that Test win in Jo'burg and our first-ever Twenty20 - but we won a couple of hastily-arranged bilaterals at home against SL and WI, which of course, assured us that we could still make a fist of things. It wasn't to be, and like the '03 final, we'd (or I'd, anyway) forgiven the Indian team long before the final wickets fell against SL and Rahul Dravid's tears broke my heart. I remember feeling a kind of malicious glee as reports came in about a tournament that was poorly organised and poorly attended, a tournament that had its final end with one of the most pointless and farcical finishes in the history of the game. After all, how can a tournament that had neither India nor Pakistan even make it to the second round ever be popular? But still I told myself: we would do it, we would do it next time.
That debacle prompted me to up my cricket obsession by several levels. I followed the exploits of the team more intensely than ever before. If you ask me, I can tell you anything you want to know about India's matches in between May 2007 to December 2008. Anything. I can even quote some of the scorecards. "Religious" didn't even begin to cover it. We were beginning to lift ourselves after that disaster, and I didn't want to miss a moment. A Test series win in England, a curious, good-now, bad-now, good-again sort of 3-4 loss to Eng in the ODIs (characterised by the most atrocious fielding I have seen from the Indians ever), and then: the inaugural Twenty20 WC.
Hah, that tournament. Full of dizzy highs. The thing that I found remarkable about that tournament - more than Yuvraj's six sixes, or Irfan Pathan's performance, or RP Singh's magic with the new ball, or even Rohit Sharma's emergence - was something that happened during our tie in our first match against Pakistan, and that ridiculous(ly awesome) bowl-out we had to decide the winner. Malik had no clue what was going on; he just picked five bowlers who'd bowled the best that day, and that included the likes of Umar Gul and Asif. Dhoni? Dhoni picked Sehwag, Harbhajan and Robin Uthappa, who'd never bowled an international ball in his life, much to everybody's astonishment. Result? India win that 3-0.
Why? everybody asked Dhoni. What was the rationale? And Dhoni said: they'd been preparing for just such a scenario. The squad had divided itself into 4 groups, and during practice sessions, they would have bowl-out tournaments. So, it was easy, he said. He just picked whoever had the best record in those little tournaments. In fact, he said, Rohit Sharma, who was not in the XI in that game, had a 100% record.
That, for me, was mind-boggling. Here was a guy, just appointed captain of the team, playing a tournament in a format of the game that was still in its infancy, coming into it just days after a long, draining tour of England, with no senior players, having played just one Twenty20 till that moment, no practice matches, no coach... and he was so goddamn prepared. He was at the top of his game, he had every base covered, right from match one of his captaincy. This was a keeper, I thought, and I didn't mean his role in the side. I hoped it was a portent for great things to come.
We would do it next time. Next time.
I watched this team with a sort of open-mouthed fascination over the next year or so. The superbly entertaining, if controversial -- oh, who am I kidding, it was that entertaining because it was so controversial -- Australian tour, the CB series of awesomeness, IPL, the Asia Cup, the Mendis menace and the SL tour, the Border Gavaskar trophy, Ganguly and Kumble's retirement, the captaincy going over to Dhoni completely, the whitewash of England in the ODIs and then that magnificent Test win at Chennai-- 2008 was a fab year, and I loved every moment, cherished them. I became more involved with cricket online -- I joined various forums, I'd check out cricinfo at least once every day, I started reading blogs, and late '08, I finally created one of my own.
'09 and '10 were what I like to consider the sobering years. I didn't follow cricket as closely as I moved to my college hostel which has no TV (it's an evil hostel, I know) but I made up for it with online commentary. One of my favourite memories was listening to Sachin Tendulkar score his ODI 200 on radio a year and half ago. A long lazy afternoon, but I was sitting in front of my radio, super-tense and practically vibrating with excitement. And when Sachin hit his 200th run? I ran out into the empty corridors - everybody else was either sleeping or reading or lazing about - screaming. I knocked at doors, screamed "Sachin scored a double-century!" and hugged everybody in sight, friend or enemy.
But yeah. Those two years gave us a better idea of what this Indian team was settling into. There was failure now, interspersed with success, and people were finally beginning to realise Dhoni was human (about time!) but not dealing with it very well (which sucked). We are a lot with our heads up our asses a lot of the time - the sense of entitlement we possess is staggering, and I do not consider myself an exception. But I love this team, and I understood they had to grow on their own terms. I ranted and raved when I could, and I defended them fiercely. We can still do it, was my constant refrain.
So. This World Cup arrived. My gut feeling was India's going to win this. I told my friends until their ears had fallen off: there can't be a better opportunity for India than this. We are perfectly placed. If we don't win this, then we don't ever deserve to win the World Cup.
My previous post elaborated my feelings on India's journey in this World Cup: I felt like they were saving their best for the last. We would do it, we would do it, I chanted. And how--!
The first striking thing was the fielding. My jaw dropped open! So quick, so fast, so dedicated! Not even in the T20 WC '07 did I remember them being this sharp. Yuvraj, throwing himself around and saving boundaries like a friggin' Superman on steroids! Raina! Kohli! Gambhir! Sreesanth, Zaheer, flinging themselves near the boundary rope! My house did not have current supply for exactly the period between the 44th over and the end of the Sri Lankan innings, and apparently that was the time the Indian plans came apart. Just as well for my blood pressure that I didn't see that, then. But still -- to come out with this kind of a mindset with a billion people breathing down their necks... my heart burgeoned with fresh admiration.
The prospect of chasing 275 was an interesting one. My grandmother had given up. It's Sri Lanka's day today, she said, with a shrug of her shoulders, All fate. What can we do? But I told her to just wait and see. Unlike a lot of the fans out there, I've seen this team slug it out a lot more times than I've seen it roll over in the mud.We would do this. We would do this. We ARE doing this.
Sehwag goes first thing, but I pushed down my trepidation, swallowed it like it was a particularly large chunk of bitter medicine, and thought: Okay, Sachin. Here you go.
Here's the funny thing about Sachin Tendulkar. He has played so many matches and played with so many generations, I bet he has enough to material to fill half-a-dozen very interesting books. He also means different things to different generations. To my generation, he's the Established Hero. We were what? 7, 8 years old when he played some of his most memorable innings? Hell, I was born a whole year after he made his debut. A lot of my contemporaries idolise him, of course. But for me, he's the kind of guy who you just have to admire, but not hero-worship. I can't. I'm baffled at the Tendulkar-devotion. Maybe I didn't live his greatness; after all, when I was starting to really get into cricket, he was struggling with his tennis elbow and run of poor form. So, no. Tendulkar is not god, at least for me.
But last night? I might've thought just that.
However, he was out, and it was upto the Unscarred Generation to get us through. I like Kohli. He has attitude - shit happens is just a few notches below we are performers at a circus for my favourite candid comment from a cricketer - and he has the ability. With experience, he can be a future leader. And Gambhir. With his advances down the pitch like a rampaging anaemic bull with ADD. He was brilliant, but it was upsetting that he threw it all away on 97. More than his century, I raged, he's allowed Sri Lanka a window of opportunity. But then Yuvraj came to join Dhoni, and I sat in my living room with my grandmother - nobody else, just the two of us, sweating because neither of us dared to get up and switch on the fan lest another wicket fell - and we hoped and prayed and watched.
What can I say about Dhoni? For me, one of the sour points of this tournament was that Dhoni'd had a very average tourney with the bat. It nagged me like a particularly persistent insect at the back of my brain. But I told myself he'll come through when it matters. It seemed like a selfish thing to wish for, that Dhoni get in and play big, match-winning innings, that I rarely discussed it with anybody else. But the hope lived on in my heart.
He delivered better than I ever thought he would in the final.
To cope with all those expectations, in anticipation of the massive backlash he'd receive for his selection decisions and strategic moves if he failed, to deal with humidity and noise and chronic back pain - at one point, he looked scarily like he couldn't move another inch - to do all this with the poise and grace that has become uniquely his - no amount of 'ice' and 'cool' metaphors can do justice, sorry - and hit the winning runs with that trademark shot for six (how many times has he finished off a chase with a six for us in his career?)... wow. I salute you, Mahi. It's not like I needed another reason to hero-worship you, but you were brilliant.
Brilliance. That's all I can say. Like a thousand brightly burning suns.
I screamed during the winning moment. Not for long, though. Not even as much as I screamed for our win over Pakistan. After that, I hugged my grandmother and sat down and watched the celebrations and heard the fireworks and grinned and grinned like my face would split open. And the only thought in my head was:
A medical student who, according to everybody who knows better than her, should NOT be obsessing with cricket and randomly fangirling its players, but hey. It's a free world, right? Loyal Chennai-ite and hardcore MSD fangirl to boot.
Oh, and watch out for my Mad Random Capitalisation Skillz.
In case you're a) feeling bored b)feeling really young or c) both, do feel free to check out my attempts at fiction based on stuff I obsess over other than cricket: