Monday, November 10, 2008

The Prince Bids Adieu

This piece has taken a long time to come. I wanted to pen it down the day he made the announcement; an announcement that did not shock me, but one that made me feel very, very sad. So I decided to hold on and gather my thoughts about this man.

He has always left me amazed. I wonder how I’ve managed to admire him and criticize him at the same time. If I ever put down my all-time favourite lists of cricket players or my dream team, he will make it to that list. Maybe narrowly but he will!
He is the reason for my first ever piece on cricket on the internet. No other cricket article of mine on cricket sites or on my blog evoked such fierce reactions as this one did; and almost 90% of them were comments supporting this man.

For all the wrongs we have accused him of; today when he takes stock of his career, I think he did more right!

His baptism into the cricketing world was harsh. A 19-year old making his debut with another teen sensation who had swept everyone down under in ’91-92 series. He played only one match and was immediately dropped after the tour under the pretext of him being arrogant and disrespectful to elders with an attitude problem.

He returned in not the most pleasant scenarios in 1996 to England, his selection being the most debated issue then. He put his head down (unlike him) and quietly made a test debut with a hundred at Lords. Not many have a hundred on debut in the cricketing world and even few at the Mecca of world Cricket – The Lords. He ensured he had left his name in the record books.
In my years of watching cricket for so long, I don’t quite remember such a fantastic comeback to the game( And to note he made it twice in his career!). From then on began a saga which would carry many twists and turns.

He proved his all-round mettle in the ’97 Toronto Friendship Series against Pakistan. Along with Sachin and Rahul he was beginning to form a batting force in world cricket to reckon with. This was further proven by the trio’s performance in the 1999 world Cup. Remember the magic that he and Rahul wove at Taunton against SL. It rained 4s and 6s that day. His knock of 186 remains the best by an Indian in the World Cup. It even prompted Rahul to say that day, ‘On the off-side first there is God and there is Saurav’.
A statement few dispute. In his prime form, the opposition captain could place all his men on the off-side and yet this guy could manage a four. On the off-side he still reigns supreme for me. It’s a pure delight watching him.

Entrusted with the captaincy in the most turbulent times of Indian cricket; his team reached the finals of the first ever ICC Championship held in Kenya in 2000 beating the likes of mighty giants like Australia and South Africa.

Then came the 2001 Australian series at home; by far the most memorable and cherished moment of Indian cricket; close competitor to the World Cup win in 1983. He may not have contributed with the bat but purely for his captaincy and verbal duel with Steve Waugh, he ought to be given due for that victory. I’ve always maintained that you have to beat the Aussies in the mind and then on the field. He was the one guy who had the guts to take the Aussies head on, get on their nerves and give them back in their own language. It worked, ever since that series India has stunned the cricketing world by being the only nation to beat the Aussies at home and away.

He fought hard for his team, brought in young blood and built that killer instinct and hunger for victory in the team, a spirit that was always lacking in the Indian Teams of past. Sometimes purists argued against it and sometimes they applauded. But he did not care and went about his business his way.

He was termed audacious, arrogant, haughty, but he simply did not seem to care as long as his team was winning and putting up a fight. The Bengal tiger was teaching this team to roar.

And how well they did, remember 2002 Lords Natwest Trophy, remember him flaunting his bare chest in the Lords gallery. Now who would have the audacity to do it at Lords. But the answer was simple, he was giving back to the Poms back in their language. If Flintoff does it in my backyard he better expect the same! Only he would have the guts to proclaim it loud. Not Sachin, not Dravid, Not Kumble, not Kumble, only he!

Remember 2002 test series, remember the Headingly Win! It is one of the finest of India’s wins. India had begun to win abroad. It had finally crafted an overseas win after 15 long years in 2001 in Zimbabwe. South Africa, WI, England, Australia followed. Even the World Cup in 2003 remains Índia's best performance after the 1983 World Cup. India was no longer tagged as tigers at home and lambs abroad.
My most memorable moment of his career apart from 2001 remains the 2003 series down under. His superb 144 at Brisbane set the tone for the series and India did not look back. With a tie we retained the trophy and emerged as the better team.

Then there was the slump in form & captaincy and added controversies. He saw himself in the dark again. He is not a supremely talented guy and he knows that. His attitude and grit have contributed most to his career. He fought hard, went back to domestic cricket, failed and picked himself up again.

He came back in 2006 and had his finest moments under the sun ironically at the fag end of his career. He takes back memories of a double hundred against Pak in ’07, a hard fought ’07 series with Aus down under and a terrific Farewell Series against the same opponent he most loves to beat.

A hundred in Mohali, a fine 85 in Nagpur, a sweet victorious end to a glorious hard fought career. He leaves the field a proud man. The team could not have given him a better farewell, beating Autralia , almost what he lived for throughout his cricketing life!

Saurav Ganguly, I admire him, I envy him, I really do. I’ve rarely seen a guy play till the end on his own terms. Despite all his flaws, all his weaknesses, all his short comings I still like him. He has cared a damn throughout! He has fought it out hard in the mind and on the field. He has made his presence felt and left an indelible mark on Indian cricket. He has led the brat pack of Indian cricket, he has planted the seeds of an aggressive India.
He has given me many a moments to cherish and a history that the younger generation will be proud of.

Though cricket purists will dispute, I won’t and like you I don’t care for them. Hate him or love him, but you cannot ignore him. Think of Indian cricket and you will think of him.

“The Rebel, The Revolutionary, The Prince, The Bengal Tiger, The Dada of Indian Cricket. Such was the man and such is the princely legacy he leaves behind.”

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Farewell Dada

So it has happened finally.
Dada bids farewell. The last time the Fab Four were together in a test match.
I don't want to accept it! Watching cricket again is not going to be the same.
So for all the statisticians to get to work; how many players began their career with a hundred and ended with a duck?
Don't feel bad Dada, we are proud of you and by the way you are in elite company. Bradman ended his career with a duck; so you see, there is always a silver lining among dark clouds.
Now, only if India wins he will leave the stage a very very proud man!
P.s: Tribute to Dada has just commenced. Watch this space for more! Need more time to gather my emotions and thoughts!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Of Jumbo and the end of my era

Now that is why Anil Kumble is known to be a man of few words

Kumble had his side of the anecdote that Tendulkar shared. "The first paper clipping that I have is of an under-17 match and the top headline says 'Tendulkar and Kumble score centuries'," Kumble said. "He scored a century for West Zone and I got a century for South Zone and I didn't know who Sachin was at that point of time.

"When we first came into the Indian team, everybody in India said you [Tendulkar] would break all records. You've done that. Congratulations to you. To me, when I first came, they said you won't last two Test matches.

You had the challenge of proving everybody right. I had the challenge of proving everybody wrong."

For the rest of the story go here

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan sums up to a tee my feelings at this point in life! No one could've put it better!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Almost in history!

Sigh!!! I thought this would be it for him. His moment, his ultimate glory; to start off with a hundred and end in one!
Life is not always fair and no one knows that more than Ganguly himself!

India should be winning this one for last time!

Monday, November 03, 2008

It’s Time to Say Goodbye…

The eyes are still moist and the mind does not want to accept. The images on the news yesterday will not go away for a long time. I’ve not seen my husband so upset. I’m even more surprised at myself, practical and objective always, I had a tear in my eye when I saw him take the field for one last time since 18 years.

The warrior, the fighter, the pacifier, the real gentleman of this game, Anil Kumble will be sorely missed by one and all; the cricketer, the bowler, the captain, the team-mate and more than anything the wonderful human being.

Calm, peaceful, determined, gritty, he has all the qualities that make us believe that cricket is indeed a gentleman’s game and Anil Kumble is fine representative of that breed which is slowly diminishing away.

But of all the qualities listed above, the one that you identify him with most is that of a true fighter and a committed player. Remember 2002- WI when he took Lara’s wicket with a broken jaw. The image is still fresh in the mind and it only talks of undying love and commitment to the game, to the country and more importantly to oneself. Anil Kumble personified each letter of the word commitment that day.

A rare super role model for generations to come, simply for the way he carried himself in the cricketing world for 18 years.

I still remember the ’93 series against England at home which lifted India from a series of defeats and put Kumble in the forefront of India’s bowling attack. There is no difference between that Kumble and the Kumble today. His thirst for taking wickets has not lessened a bit, he continues to accept challenges, he continues to toil endlessly without showing an ounce of tiredness, he continues to bowl and bowl, and everytime he takes a wicket, he knows he wants more.

Today his body has given away but his heart and mind have not.

He has made a good decision, he has called it quits at the right time and the injury to his hand has only hastened his decision which he might have held onto till the Nagpur match had he not been injured. I had a weird feeling since Ganguly announced his retirement at the start of the series that only more would follow.
The cricketing instinct in me scares me cause more often than not it turns out to be right. Hell, I’ve still not got any feelings about Sachin or Dravid yet and thank god for that!

There will be millions of articles up on the internet and newspapers about Jumbo’s retirement which will list his achievements. He remains India’s best bowler in the history of the game. 619 wickets and only the second bowler in the world to claim 10-wickets in an innings.
He has given us ample to cherish. However, my most cherished moments after the 10-wicket haul come from his batting heroics. His 88 in Kolkatta 1996 in his partnership with Azhar against South Africa and his 100 in 2007 at the Oval in England. He waited for a long time to add it to his kitty and what a well deserved one it was!

Anil Kumble’s absence will be more felt in the Indian dressing room, he was a mentor and friend to one and all. He stood calm and tall against all that was thrown at him and his team. His conduct in the controversial 2007 series down under proved this fact.

There is not a single fan of this game, of Indian cricket,who will disregard Jumbo’s valiant efforts in two decades, his courage, his grit and his dedication. Jumbo leaves behind a great legacy, one that will remain unparalleled for a long time to come. He leaves a path that will be tough to follow and emulate; but he has ensured that he will be there to guide those who try to tread the same. Ask Bhajji , Chawla and Mishra.

Jumbo we will miss you, and it will be tough watching the matches knowing that you will not be there to bowl the straight one, the flipper, and to shut the critics up who said you could not spin!

You leave this game in honor of being India’s best spinner and bowler till date; that has been the best answer to all the critics in the world.

Jumbo we all take a bow!
P.s: Some of the best tributes I came across: Harsha Bhogle, Suresh Menon, Great Bong , Ramesh