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!