Tuesday, 4 October 2016

MS Dhoni: The Man We Now Know

You don't often see a biopic made on the life of a cricketer who's still active in his career. So a Bollywood movie on the life of MS Dhoni was always going to be special. And why not! After all, Dhoni is one of the most celebrated cricketers in India's cricketing history and his achievements as captain of the Indian cricket team are unmatched. As someone who has admired the man’s cricketing acumen, I was looking forward to this film with much anticipation. I went in as a fan of MS Dhoni the cricketer, but came out as a fan of MS Dhoni the human being.

It is impossible for a filmmaker to sum up the life of a 35-year old cricketer in just 3 hours. But to the director's credit, we can tell he's done his best and given us an honest portrayal of the man we all admire. As for the film, the best part about the entire storyline was the fact that it prominently depicted the journey of an aspiring young cricketer, and not the hullabaloo and fanfare that comes along with it. As fans and armchair critics, it is easy for us to put down a particular cricketer when he's had a bad day at the office. But we often fail to acknowledge the sacrifices he has to make even to get to that stage. All this makes for an interesting behind-the-scenes reel, which has been brilliantly portrayed by the makers of this film. Those who've watched the movie know that there are certain creative liberties taken as far as Dhoni's personal life is concerned. But the cricketing aspects have come out cleanly without being tampered with. Sushant Singh Rajput has done a fabulous job of playing the on screen Dhoni. There are moments in the film when you actually start seeing the real Dhoni in him.

For cricket and especially Dhoni fans, this movie is a revelation of the other side of the man behind India's World Cup wins. It tells us why Dhoni had to take certain tough calls in his career and what made him so successful, who were the people who shaped his childhood and many other things that Dhoni himself wouldn't otherwise speak openly about. The film is also a gentle reminder of the fact that sheer hard work and determination can take you to the greatest heights of success, and it is not always necessary to have godfathers. It also taught us an important life lesson - you don't need a lot of friends to succeed in life. Few quality friends who can selflessly go the distance just to see you succeed are the ones you hold onto.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Phillip Hughes: Gone Too Soon

One moment, he was pressing for a spot in the Australian Test team. The very next, he was battling the toughest opponent called life. Unfortunately, he lost both battles. Phillip Joel Hughes, all of 25, was struck by a deadly bouncer from New South Wales bowler Sean Abbott in a Sheffield Shield game on November 25, never to return playing his beloved sport ever again. Who would have thought? The heart sinks. The tears start to flow...

The morning of November 27 was a shocker for cricket lovers across the world as news of Hughes' demise spread like fire, resulting in utter disbelief and a total loss of words. A young, hardworking and talented batsman was on the verge of making a much deserved Test comeback, with his family watching him from the stands. Little did they know this was all for nothing in the end. How could something so tragic happen to someone whose life revolved only around playing cricket? Was it the bowler's fault? Was it because of the helmet? Did god have his own plans? Or was it just a freak accident that capitulated into death? We may or may not get all the answers. What we most certainly now know, is that life is short, life is cruel and life is undoubtedly unpredictable!

How do we believe this has happened for real? Hughes' passing away has left a void so huge that cricket will never be the same again for its players, the fans and everyone who loves the sport in their own way. We turn to sport to get away from our worries and struggles of life, but now that sport itself has presented us with a tragedy that is difficult to comprehend, how do we deal with this loss? The next time any bowler steams in to bowl, what would be his underlying thoughts? Spare a thought for young Abbott. The 22-year old lad will probably carry the burden on his shoulders for the rest of his life. It is important now, to make sure we do not lose another cricketer in Abbott. Cricket is poorer without Hughes, the charming southpaw who probably had dreams of his own but not enough time to fulfill them. A long and potentially fruitful career cut short by a brutal delivery, such is the danger our favourite sport carries. Cricket meant everything to him, and the way he left us has numbed our minds. Will the scars heal? Does time really heal all our wounds and teach us to cope with a loss so deep?

This is indeed a bad day for cricket, maybe the worst. The cricketing family has lost one of its most dedicated members and the extent of the loss cannot be put into words by any means. It is shocking, it is tragic and it is sudden. When good people like Hughes go, you just ask one question to the one who took him away - WHY?

RIP Phillip Hughes - 63* in his final innings.

In our hearts and in our souls,
In our prayers and in our memories,
You will be cherished,
You will be remembered.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Farewell, Biff!

Robust yet subtle, muscular yet elegant – Few could carry the aura as graciously as South Africa's green-eyed boy, Graeme Smith. A decade of excellence involving top-notch batting and incredible captaincy finally comes to an end, leaving behind some wonderful memories.

I've never liked a lot of left-handed batsmen, of course with the exception of Alastair Cook. Watching Graeme Smith bat was something that happened randomly. At 22, this young man was handed one of the most tedious jobs of a cricketer – leadership. And boy, what has he done! South Africa's youngest captain had a huge task ahead of him, and he had no qualms about it.

For the past 11 years, South African cricket flourished under Smith's tutelage. What I find remarkable is the fact that his batting was hardly affected by the responsibility of captaincy, in fact it only became better. 27 Test hundreds and none of them involved a South Africa defeat – this has to be one of a kind! The Proteas haven't won an ICC trophy under him, but that doesn't undermine Smith's capability as a leader. He was upfront, brutal and spot on – in everything he did. His achievements as South Africa's most successful Test captain only became a reassurance.

Biff was one of the few cricketers I grew up watching and admiring. For me, South African cricket and Graeme Smith almost always sounded synonymous. It still does. Watching him marshaling his troops had become a habit of sorts. It will be hard to imagine a South African side sans Smith.

Perhaps, my best memory of a dedicated Graeme Smith will always be the 2009 Sydney Test against Australia, where the courageous captain came out to bat with a broken hand and departed to a loud applause and standing ovation from the crowd.

Goodbye, Biff. Thank you for the memories.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Goodbye, Master!

It’s over. The curtains have fallen. The era has ended. Tributes are pouring in, tears are still being shed. Me? I’m still trying to fathom what’s transpired in the last 24 hours.

For over two decades, chants of “Sachin Sachin” never left the stadium when Sachin Tendulkar batted. They were like a shadow, always behind him. Just like the billions of devotees around the world, who’ve worshipped their God in their own special way. This is not about records. They’re there in the books. This is about an extraordinary man, who has evoked emotions ranging from outright joy to complete breakdown in the life of an ordinary man.

It was my father who introduced me to this crazy sport when I had barely learned how to ride a cycle. I was far from understanding Cricket, but he would wake me in the middle of the night just to show me how it is played. He would take leaves from office when India batted first, and on days they bowled, he would come home just in time to watch his favourite cricketer bat. I didn’t know what to make of this. Why would anyone skip work or come home early just to watch some cricketer bat? What is so special about this diminutive batsman who literally compelled people to leave everything aside and stay glued to their television sets? The child in me never got answers to these questions.

I’ll admit – for a long, long time I found it difficult to comprehend cricket. The rules, the fielding positions, names of cricketers from certain teams; there was very little my mind could grasp. But then, even a child could remember someone who was a household name in the 90’s. My aim was to follow Tendulkar and get those answers. I don’t know how and when he became a part of me. When he scored a hundred, I would run of the house and burst those leftover crackers from Diwali. When he failed, I’d sit in a corner and weep. Story of my life.

Today, there are no crackers to burst, no corner to cry. He’s gone, but has left a plethora of memories, which will hopefully suffice for the rest of our lives. Cherish him, celebrate his success – we’ve all been lucky to witness the making of a genius!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Rohit Sharma: Talent has well and truly arrived!

'When the going gets tough, the tough get going'.

This was the 1st phrase that came to my mind as I watched him end a frustrating 3-year wait for an ODI hundred, followed by an unbelievable double ton and a phenomenal Test century on debut. This, after winning two T20 titles in the same year, however less valuable it may sound as compared to ODI and Test cricket. From consistent failures in the middle-order to opening the innings and unleashing his real side - Rohit Sharma has come a long way in six years of international cricket.

Years ago, when Sachin Tendulkar tipped Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli as the ones to break his records, I thought the God of Cricket had lost his mind. We all know Kohli can, but Rohit? That just didn't sound right to me. If the Test cap eludes you despite playing over a 100 ODIs, either the stars aren't kind enough or you're doing something wrong somewhere.

IPL always brought out his true colours as a batsman first in 2009, when he played for Deccan Chargers and later with the Mumbai Indians, where he would also blossom as a successful captain. But in ODIs, there was a stark contrast. The conversion of starts into big scores wasn't happening, and he would often get out because of his own shortcomings. "Brain fades" so to speak. There was a point when his failures frustrated me to such an extent that I was on the verge of giving up on him. Rohit had earned more critics than fans, and the ones who believed in him were slowly losing hope.

Then, September 10, 2013 happened. And my life changed completely. Rather, his.

SMAAASH conducted a wonderful contest where the winners would get a chance to meet Rohit Sharma. I was excited, and somewhere, I could see my dream coming true. And it did!! Not only did I meet him, but also spoke to him for 5 full minutes along with clicking a picture together! The best part of our conversation was that he recognized me when I introduced myself. (Yes, we have mutual friends). This was definitely one of the best days of my life.

CLT20 followed and Rohit added another feather to his cap with his 2nd title win. It seemed like his luck had changed, and the purple patch had begun. Friends and family started crediting me for his success, like I actually had any role to play. On a serious note, the captaincy stints did make him a better cricketer altogether, not to forget a bucketful of experience at the first-class level that came in handy too.

2013 has been a golden year for the 'talented' Borivali lad. A promotion up the batting order in ODIs was like a bulls-eye, and special credit goes to captain MS Dhoni for backing him through tough times. If you look at his teammates, most of them spoke highly of him even when he wasn't performing at his best. Gautam Gambhir called him the best player in the nets, and Virat Kohli appreciated his batting style as well.

What I love about his batting is the composure that has now started reflecting in his shots. After patiently waiting for his Test debut since that fateful Nagpur Test of 2010, Rohit's unhurried approach as he marched his way to a deserving Test hundred spoke volumes of his evolution as a matured batsman. He is finally out of the shell, and I hope it only gets better from here.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Why Rajasthan Royals deserve to win the IPL

For someone who has been a follower, supporter and ardent fan of the city of dreams throughout all seasons of the IPL, being in awe of another team this year is almost an anticlimax of sorts. But the Rajasthan Royals do that to you. They have the “X” factor; they compel you to automatically cheer for them every single time they’re victorious; no matter where you belong. No other team has had this kind of an impact, I assume, which is exactly why they are the deserving candidates for the crown this season.

It’s hard not to sit up and take notice of a team that is led by one of the greatest ambassadors of the game, Rahul Dravid. All these years of watching him toil in sweat for his nation has instilled in me a sense of admiration and respect, and to watch his side go down isn't part of the routine. The Royals have slowly and steadily climbed their way to the top without making fuss, quite Dravid-like. What’s even more heartening is the teamwork, dedication and commitment the team showcases every time they make their way out. While other teams bask their way to glory by banking on selective performers, Rajasthan have seen contributions coming in from each of their players in different situations. They aren't a side with the biggest of stars, they don’t believe in being flashy; they do not, by any means, underestimate their opponents. One of their biggest plus points has been the form of their skipper, and the sheer joy of watching him bat like a teenager is beyond words. For someone who spent most of his life playing the longer formats of the game, Dravid has adapted beautifully to T20 cricket and is a solid example of age being just a number.

Another striking feature of the Rajasthan Royals has been the inclusion of local talent right from the inaugural season. More and more youngsters have been given opportunities, and it has worked well for the team more often than not. Rajasthan have truly justified IPL's tagline, “Where talent meets opportunity” by unearthing some serious cricketers and encouraging them to conquer the cricketing world. Putting team before self has been one of the biggest qualities of someone like Dravid, and that explains why he chose to promote young Dishant Yagnik and Sanju Samson ahead of him in the last few matches. The man doesn't seem to put a foot wrong, and his intentions are pretty clear. He loves to go the winning way, and while he does, he carries his team along comfortably. We saw that when he played for India, and we've seen it now. Nothing has changed; he remains a team man, and treats even a Twenty20 tournament with utmost seriousness. Pressure doesn't get to him, and even if it does, there are enough tricks in the bag. It is this attribute that sets him and his side apart. His belief in his teammates has not only raised their morale, but it has also motivated them to give their best. Dravid brings the much-needed calm and leads his team to believe that no mountain is too high to scale. It is almost like he is the preacher, and his teammates are loyal disciples who only know one path – the Dravid path.

The Royals are a fascinating side, it’s like they’re waving a magic wand and we as spectators, are completely engulfed by it. It is heart-breaking to watch them lose and nobody has a problem with them winning. Probably the only team to evoke such emotions, they certainly don’t deserve to go home without the ultimate glory!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

From England: "Cook"ed with finesse!

Back in 2006, when Rod Marsh tipped Alastair Cook to become England’s captain and boast of a startling average of 50 in his career, few would have nodded in agreement. The youngster, all of 21, had just been pushed into England’s Test side that prompted a quick debut against India with a crackling hundred. He went on to score three more Test tons in the same year. Although he did not have a great first Ashes series, Cook had certainly shown enough potential for a fresher at a tender age.

“Cooky” isn’t the most visually attractive batsman, I agree. Especially when I look at his flamboyant teammate and one of my favourite cricketers, Kevin Pietersen! The former is a technically correct batsman but lacks the style, while the latter displays tremendous flair coupled with good-looking shots, in spite of not possessing the best technique in the game. Right from the start of his career, Cook has been one of those silent performers who’d prefer to stay backstage while the others took away all the limelight. This could well be the reason why, despite being the youngest Englishman to score 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000 and 5000 Test runs, he was still somehow not a part of the elite. But Mr. Chef was destined for bigger and greater things.

The Ashes of 2010-11 brought much relief to the southpaw, who was already under scrutiny for his lack of form earlier in the year as well as losing his place in the ODI setup. 766 runs in seven innings and Cook suddenly looked like a messiah England desperately awaited since 24 long, painful years. That, for me, was the moment to cherish. That, for me, was Alastair Cook! To be honest, I was never so happy with an Australian loss or for that matter, for an English victory, but this feeling was something special. Those were the days when early mornings mattered and every minute of watching him play were worth sacrificing my sleep.

An inspired English Ashes win confirmed Cook’s credibility in the side and that was the beginning of a fruitful, glorious journey. It isn’t a surprise when you look at his figures as they tell you the story of a hard worker who has shown great amount of dedication and determination to stamp his authority as one of the most exemplary modern cricketers in England. What surprises me is the age at which all the success has rapidly knocked on his doors. At 27, he stands just two Test centuries short of equaling Wally Hammond, England’s leading century-maker, one short of rubbing shoulders with his Test captain, Andrew Strauss and on par with the legends of Ken Barrington and Graham Gooch, along with mate Kevin Pietersen.

There is no doubt about the fact that Cook will eventually get past of all these sooner or later and consequently build more records, but what deserves attention is the immense maturity that he has shown at an age where cricketers are just about settling in. Sure, there will be bad patches, injury scares, etc. but I believe every cricketer who fights the toughest of battles emerges only stronger and better. I would love to see Alastair Cook conquer greater heights and come out as an even better cricketer, than he already is. Arguably one of the finest left-handers around, Bedford’s tall and handsome school boy has come a long way in his career and has miles to go. To draw comparisons between him and Sachin Tendulkar would be foolish. Instead, why not let the flower blossom the way it is meant to?