Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011: An eventful year for Indian Cricket!

When I celebrated my birthday in February, 2011, all I asked as a gift from God was something that every Indian wanted since 28 years. Yes, one billion hearts had just one unfulfilled wish, a dream waiting long enough to become reality. Although, we became the No.1 Test team in the world first up, there was something more on the agenda. I still remember the day I rushed home from my examination hall to watch India take on Sri Lanka in the finals of the World Cup. I was nervous, not for my exam paper, but for the upcoming exam that Guru Gary and his brigade had to face. It was as if the whole of India was about to go through it. Gods were being remembered, prayers were being offered and the streets were empty. Eyes glued to the television sets, we were all waiting for that historical moment that was about to change lives, millions of them. And it finally happened: 2nd April '11 was the day we saw that dream turn into an unbelievable reality! I had to pinch myself really hard so that I could be convinced it happened for real. What followed was the exact opposite of what happened in daytime; streets were overcrowded, crackers went up, the Indian tricolour was flying high with pride and random people exchanged hi-fives and hugs. This, for me, was the most memorable moment of my life. I had never seen something like this before. And for those who criticize Indian Cricket and it's cricketers, there couldn't have been a bigger evidence of why this sport means so much to it's fans. Cricket does that to our nation: it unites people, brings them joy, shares every emotion attached to the game. The year 2011 surely proved to be lucky for our Men in Blue and our World Cup triumph went down as a significant achievement in India's sporting history.

While we were still finding it difficult to digest this sweet taste of success, the IPL showed up in no time. Too much of intense cricket during the World Cup was reason enough for cricketers as well as fans to be exhausted. Mentally, the IPL was no longer important to us, because the WC win had overpowered everything that had ever been achieved before. However, the excitement of Twenty20 cricket and it's fast-paced nature attracted some spectators, if not all. Also, a slight change in the rules made it a bit interesting. Despite all that, the result was the same. The mighty Chennai Super Kings emerged victorious for the second consecutive year, thereby saddening the Mumbai Indians fan club, which includes me. Tendulkar was unhappy too, as we could see how well the team performed this year, compared to how it did in the previous editions. All our hopes were crushed after the semi-final defeat. But, we were upbeat about the Champions League T20, though some of my CSK friends easily made a joke of it. Little did they know that determination and self-confidence will only take us closer to our goal. And YES! We did it. Mumbai Indians won the CLT20, beating some of the best teams in the world. While CSK fans kept cribbing about the final being fixed, all I could tell them was that at the end of the day, it was an Indian team that won the tournament, one reason why they should be proud.

A series win in the Caribbean followed, and then it all went wrong. India landed in England with the Test mace on their shoulders. A shocking 4-0 drubbing ensured that the No.1 Test rank was gone, only making it more humiliating. But, amidst all this chaos and criticism, there stood a man we fondly call "The Wall". Even with the hype that surrounded Tendulkar's hundredth 100, Rahul Dravid continued to do what he does best. Top-class batting with utmost patience and a textbook style produced three Test tons at an age where most cricketers are at the end of their careers. Perhaps, this was the only positive that one could draw from an otherwise disappointing tour of England. India returned with deep wounds, but nursed them quickly with a whitewash over the touring Englishmen in the ODIs. That was some revenge. The winning streak continued against the Windies when they visited India. Ravichandran Ashwin made a memorable Test debut. But then, something unusual happened. Out of nowhere, Virender Sehwag stormed to a swashbuckling double century in an ODI and became only the second in the world to break the barrier, after Sachin Tendulkar. A proud moment, again, for India. For many Tendulkar followers, this was a heartbreak; for Sehwag fans, a dream come true; while those who enjoy some aggressive batting were simply overwhelmed. History was created, by someone who we thought would do it before anyone else, even Tendulkar.

At the end of the year, it all boiled down to the crushing 122-run defeat to Australia in the Boxing Day Test. What then, is the proudest moment for us? Primarily, the World Cup win - 2nd April, 2011: A day that will be remembered for decades together. Sehwag's magical 219, Dravid's superb form that resulted in him being the highest run-scorer in Tests this year, are some of the wonderful moments that 2011 has given us. However, the most anticipated feat is still under construction. Let's not keep a check on that, for you never know when it'll happen. But if the world is definitely ending in 2012, the ton of tons is just around the corner! After all, GOD too, has a wish to fulfill.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Make no Blunder, Down Under!

With less than a week to go for the India-Australia series, the heat is already being turned on! Even if Star Cricket wouldn't have come up with their ad campaigns in the meanwhile, we'd still believe that an India-Australia series is always intense, courtesy some memorable contests in the past. But the fact that some of Aussie faces have featured in those ads is something that I cannot digest. Especially after being beaten by New Zealand in the 2nd Test at Hobart, almost everyone knows who will be facing the heat.

As far as India is concerned, 4 Tests, 2 T20Is and an ODI tri-series will mean a considerable amount of time away from home and hence, they would like to make every minute count. Dhoni's army will be eager to wipe off the drubbing they last received early this year, when the team toured England and failed to win a single game. However, the year 2007 brings back memories of a determined Team India that beat Australia for the first time in 5 years in their own den. Led by Anil Kumble, the Indian side was humiliated in the infamous Sydney Test, but later lifted themselves to go ahead and defeat the Aussies at Perth. Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan emerged as stars in the dressing room and returned as heroes. And of course, the dependent batting trio (Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman) continued to shine for their country. A lot has changed for both sides since then; Australia are no longer the No.1 Test team in the world, senior players have retired and the younger lot has not yet proved themselves. The Indians on the other hand, are coming off a World Cup win to begin with, followed by a terrible defeat at the hands of England, thereby losing their top rank in Tests and eventually finishing with thumping victories over the West Indies. Therefore, this series will be a huge opportunity for both teams as Australia would be keen to live up to their reputation, whereas India would be hell bent on winning their inaugural series down under.

The home side may have the psychological advantage over the visitors, but they clearly have more reasons to worry. Former captain Ricky Ponting has been out of form since a long time now, and the axe is most likely to fall on him. A fairly new captain in the form of Michael Clarke will be put to test and only time can tell if he comes out successful. Their coach, Micky Arthur is also relatively new to the job and this will affect the team's performance in a way. The team's bowling attack looks weaker than before, especially after the retirement of Brett Lee, who was once dreaded. Patrick Cummins was a new find waiting to be explored on home soil, but now with him being ruled out along with their spearhead Mitchell Johnson, I wonder if the Aussies can even manage a decent bowling line-up. Plus, the inclusion of Shane Watson remains a mystery. The list of their problems is endless... However, pride is at stake for the hosts as they look to re-establish their dominance in world cricket by proving themselves once again.

Back to Mera Bharat Mahan: India have "never" won a Test series in Australia. That alone explains why this series is more important than any of the previous ones. MS Dhoni will be looking forward to do something that his predecessors have failed to do in years. This time around, Dhoni would be eager to change the trend. Well of course, we all know how much Dhoni loves to win, whether its an IPL or a World Cup. It seems like he knows no other way. Winning is the only goal of his life and it is this very intent that inspires his teammates every time they go out to play. In the past four years, India have unearthed numerous talents and many of them are now awaiting their turn in this much anticipated series. The batting line-up looks perfect! Virender Sehwag is on fire, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman are at their best when it comes to Australia, Sachin Tendulkar looks desperate (positively) for his 100th 100 and there is no better opponent to achieve that milestone. The No.6 spot is up for grabs and whoever makes the cut, will be slightly better than the ones who don't. Virat Kohli has been in terrific form this year and so has Rohit Sharma, who had a wonderful run against the Windies at home and away. Either way, it is a strong set of batsmen ready to face the challenge. Zaheer Khan, should he be fully fit and play the whole series, is our most beloved asset in the bowling department. Ishant may be struggling, but a fresh and young Umesh Yadav will want to capitalize on this big occasion with some good pace up his arsenal. The spin duo of Ashwin and Ojha have already proved their mettle at home, and are now awaiting their turn. Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun will have to pull up their socks, if they're called in.

Sadly for me, Irfan Pathan was not included in this Test team. Talk about adding salt to the wounds, Star Cricket kept showing the Perth Test where Pathan was swinging the ball and I couldn't help but stare in disbelief. No cricketer is guaranteed a permanent spot in the team, you slip once and you're out. Probably, Harbhajan Singh will be the best person to realize this at the moment. It was extremely disheartening to see Pathan being left out, especially with the experience that he carries. But all said and done, it is now time for some "Thunder, Down Under!". The Indians stand their best chance to win this time, and there cannot be a better farewell for our legends who will be stepping into the Kangaroo land for the last time in their career!


Thursday, 15 December 2011

The other side of being a Sachin Tendulkar fan!

Being a Tendulkar fan is not easy; if you thought it was, think twice. 90% of the cricket crazy population in India believe that there is no bigger God than Sachin, the rest 10% do not rate him very high. For them, Sachin Tendulkar is someone to whom things came rather easily, but very few know how much struggle and hard work went into it. And these are the same critics who will raise a finger at you every time Sachin fails to deliver, as if it was your own fault. All these years, I had never publicly announced my liking for him, in fact, my childhood hero had always been Rahul Dravid - from the day I understood what Cricket was. I watched him more than I watched anyone else. Tendulkar was an unknown phenomenon for me. But as I grew up, I could hear only one name. A name that stopped time in India, brought nations together, rejoiced and cried at the same time. To witness all this was strange enough, but it got stranger when I saw my dad taking leaves from his work just to watch India play some other team. I could hear him saying, "Today, Sachin will score a century." At first, I thought he was lying. But he wasn't. Sachin would perform almost all the time, and my dad would be the first one to light firecrackers outside our house whenever he reached a landmark. It was amazing to see the confidence my dad had in him. This was enough motivation for me to find out more about the man himself. I don't know whether it was my dad's influence or what, but I started following this God-like cricketer and very soon, transformed myself into a devotee who was mesmerized by the way he played his cricket. Little did I realize then, that the road ahead was filled with challenges.

Everybody rejoices when Sachin plays, but to accept defeat and face criticism is a tough task. Thanks to the social media, I was suddenly exposed to a whole new world, where I came across people who rubbished everything this man has achieved in his life. It was then that I knew such people existed. Today, every time he goes out to bat, every fan in this country also accompanies him. The day he missed his 100th ton at Wankhede, my heart stopped for a second and so did everyone else's. And it was no surprise that I saw my Facebook wall flooded with anti-Sachin posts. Everybody spoke about how he missed his century after reaching the 90's for the 17th time in his career, but did anyone notice where he would be standing today, had he got all of them? The fact that he has 99 international hundreds to his name does speak a lot about him. It makes me laugh when people argue with no basis, only because they want to prove their point. Okay, he wasn't a great captain as we all know but having said that, how can you dismiss the credentials of someone like him who has given the sport all that he could and continues to do so? Another argument that always frustrates me is that, people think just because he debuted at a tender age of 16, he has scored so many runs and tons. So? How many cricketers have actually converted every opportunity presented to them into something meaningful? Sachin did, but that was no cakewalk. The road to glory was long enough and filled with hardships. I think some people are just not aware of the reality, or maybe they believe in the saying, "Ignorance is bliss". They do not want to belong to the majority and want to differ in their opinions. Sure they can, but not at the cost of refuting others. It is completely alright if SRT is not your God, and Rahul Dravid is. After all, everyone has the right of making their own choice. But what irritates me the most is the comparison that is often made between Sachin and other cricketers. A classic example was when a friend of mine said to me, "Hey, you know what, "MY" Dhoni has won India the World Cup, what has "YOUR" Sachin done?" And this was via Facebook. Now no matter how much I argued, I knew this person was hell bent on making me realize that Dhoni is, indeed, a better captain. I did not deny it either. But just how fair is it to compare a stalwart of the game with someone who is only beginning to learn the tricks of the trade? Captaincy is an aspect that can definitely be compared, but the comparison becomes pointless when it is done on an overall basis. I had to finally block him, for I could no longer bear his nuisance and his stupid, illogical comments. Similarly, when Sehwag broke his record of a double century, was it appropriate to assume that he is the greatest cricketer today? Only because he holds a world record? I would say no. Sehwag is a class apart, he only knows to hit the cricket ball. It did hurt me when Sachin's valuable effort of a 200* was so easily ridiculed. To score a 200-something in any form of the game is challenging, and these two men have done it with great courage, in their own style. Why can't we give them the credit they deserve and stop comparing?

Sometimes, I wish I had remained a Dravid fan, at least I'd be quietly proud of him and his heroics on the back stage, overshadowed by the greatness of Tendulkar. Sometimes, I wish I had never watched Cricket and instead, chosen to follow Football or some other sport. At least, I wouldn't carry the burden of defending him despite his great achievements. But my love for Cricket and Tendulkar has brought me far, too far to think about stepping back. So what if people talk about Sachin? Just like he continues to make India proud, we, his devoted fans will always be by his side, still waiting patiently for his 100th hundred - because we know, it will come when GOD wishes!