Friday, March 25, 2011

I did not cry

This won't be a review of the greatest Indian ODI victory in recent times. If you didn't watch the match, you probably don't want to read this post either.
Here are the salient features, the way I saw it:

1) Great toss to lose. Had we batted first, our batting daredevils would have aimed for 300, groaned their way to 210 and lost with 12 overs to spare. As it happened, Ponting first made the right call by shouting Heads and then made the wrong call (in hindsight) by opting to bat. Mahi would have made the same mistake.

2) This Australian team has recovered from the hangover caused by the departure of Warne, Gilchrist, Hayden and McGrath. In the past couple of years, it has lost quite a few games trying to act invincible. But on this day, even the uber-talented Ponting played well within himself. The thinking has clearly changed. This team has decided to curb its ambitions. A sane approach; the eventual defeat cannot be attributed to the Ozzie batsmen.

3) For once, Harbhajan's eyeballs did not seem poised to pop out. A side-effect of Ashwin's presence, perhaps?

4) Is this the same Zaheer Khan who lost the plot before stepping into the Wanderers to open the bowling in the 2003 final? Can flecks of gold in one's hair make such a difference? Or are promising potbellies accompanied by wiser heads? My screams numbed the pigeons on my window sill when Zaheer castled the greater Hussey. Because when Hussey replaced Bollinger and, later, the quarterfinal line-up was determined, I had resigned myself to yet another humiliating Indian defeat.

5) Nowadays, I keep recalling the interview Yuvraj gave Harsha Bhogle around 4 years ago. His exact words, when Harsha reminded him of his decent bowling stats in domestic cricket: 'I hope my captain is watching this. I do feel I can contribute more with the ball.' The captain in those days was Rahul Dravid. Maybe Jammie wasn't tuned in that day, but Mahi certainly seems to have been!

6) Yuvi fielded as if he was still young enough to have Kaif standing beside him! Raina, Kohli and Ashwin were exceptional too. Zaheer held on to catches, Harbhajan actually made an effort (during the England encounter in Chinnaswamy, I was among the thousands who booed his numerous misfieldings). Even Munaf stopped a few balls. If we fielded like white people today, then a chunk of the credit must go to a white man named Gary Kirsten. Why? Here's why.

7) I don't know if Viru's injured knees were folding beneath him, but he showed up with a desire to play many overs. Insha allah, he will be fit for the match against Pakistan. He just needs to be fit enough to play through the Powerplays. After that, he can snooze in the dressing room. I won't miss his fielding terribly.

8) It's now understood that Sachin can, at best, lay the foundation for victory during crucial encounters. The middle-order better stay awake to finish the games.

9) There's something seriously wrong with Gauti. Why has his confidence slumped? Doesn't he remember that he was MoM in the T20 finals? He had to sit out, twice, due to injuries and a couple of youngsters showed up. But why should that frazzle him? The Gauti of 2008 could walk into this Indian line-up. The Gauti of 2011, however, seems to want an ego-boosting scoop over extra cover to get going. Doesn't always work that way, my man. Ajmal and Afridi are no Krejza.

10) Mahi's part in the proceedings: losing a tricky toss, marshalling his resources like non-Waterloo Napolean, trying to hide his despondency during the Batting Powerplay collapses and hitting the rare boundary. If he didn't keep wickets, I'd be tempted to call him the non-playing captain. As Manjrekar said before the World Cup began, 'Keep Dhoni and Zaheer wrapped in cotton wool.' For we have no replacements for them.

11) Raina over Yusuf? This is a no-brainer, as per me. Yusuf would have holed out in embarassing fashion against Tait. He's the star of featherbed pitches. He's a nightmare for lesser oppositions. Agreed, if we let him play for 10 years, he might secure 15 other impossible victories for us. But for crunch games, I'd keep him out.
Of course, Raina has a split personality. You might have seen his alter ego go for suicidal hoicks simply because the bowler's 5 o'clock shadow bothered him. But the true-Blue Raina reads a match situation like it's being fed to him by a teleprompter. That Raina seldom puts a foot wrong.

12) Every time I got engrossed in my work, we bled runs or lost a wicket or two. When Mahi got out, I decided to focus on the game for the sake of Indian cricket. I thus gave my beloved country the Yuvi-Raina partnership. You're welcome to send me gifts. I'm partial to single malts. :)

13) Another superstitious trend of the day: whenever I took a piss, the game turned. Needless to say, I smartened to this by the fourth time. So if the game changed against India, I drank two bottles of water and took another leak. No, really. I don't kid in matters of life and death. Make that two bottles of single malt, please. I feel like I've earned them.

14) After the television channels moved on to less important things, I spent hours on FB and Twitter, reading a million jubilations. I posted one of my own on FB:
Today, the ghost of the 1992 Brisbane match was exterminated in Motera. It is also learnt that the ghosts of 1999 (The Oval) and 2003 (The Wanderers) have decided to end their disgustingly haunting ways. After the match, Ponting was spotted shopping for a smirk-free face. Terrified by the noise originating from the subcontinent, an alien scout ship decided to exit the Milky Way.

As you can see, this victory didn't mean that much to me. Seriously. I did not cry. Let me repeat this for effect. I did not cry. I might have flicked inchoate tears off the ends of my eyes. I might have kissed a total stranger on the street and asked her (or was it him?) to marry me. But. I did not cry.

And I was man enough to spare a thought for Ponting. Over the years, we Indians have unreservedly called him a b**tUrd, motherf**ker, ass-brat and many more delicious names. Yes, he deserved every one of them. Because till the game ends, he exhibits less sportsman's spirit than even Greg Chappell. Well, almost. But he's always been gracious in defeat during the post-match conferences. And today, he showed us that he was a true champion. He reminded us that, in crunch situations, he'll be at least twice as good as the unparalleled Sachin Tendulkar. Now, that deserves respect. It's unfortunate that such legends will one day walk into the sunset. Australian cricket will never be the same again without him. And the rest of the world can sigh in relief.

As for the Indo-Pak semi-finals at Mohali, I've decided that I want my physician by my side. If I survive that match and if we win it, I might blog again.


  1. Eshwar, this is one of the most eloquent and brilliant pieces I have read in a long time. thanks my dear friend, you made my day.
    More than enjoying watching the match, this was truly re-living with you.
    I dont know if I can watch a match with you, not the semi-final for sure! but may be some day.
    I have kind of gotten into the art of not getting too judgmental or too emotional about team-India.
    Good to see you have not yet lost hope in BCCI and the private "Team India"
    however, please dont stop blogging.
    About the Singlemalt - am not sure as you know why!!!

    Loved it!

  2. Eshwar,
    All is well that ends well.We almost choked in the middle of the game till Yuvvi steadied it.Gautam suddenly lost his balance and started running where there was no run.
    I felt sorry that Tendulkar cld not get his ton but my grandson felt that it was good as we wld hv lost had he got hiis ton.Another superstition that always turned true!!
    I liked yr tribute to Ponting.He played a Captain's knock and I salute his never say die spirit till the last ball.
    A good match that gave moments of anxiety.Ashwin seems to fit in well.Your review is excellent

  3. Great one. Enjoyed this piece thoroughly as I do reading all your pieces. Your blogs deliver kicks equal to Single malts dear.

  4. @Vishnu: Thanks, buddy. You must teach me that art of being too emotional about Team India. I often feel the need for it...

    @Parathasarathi: A lot of people are saying that about Sachin's tons. Stats don't lie, but it's still a harsh thing to say. Can't believe I just said that because I'm one of his fiercest critics. Maybe I'm getting cured of my ailment :)

    @Arup: Thanks, dude. One single malt deserves another. Waiting for your next blog post.

  5. Vendam valikidhu.....azhdhuduven.

  6. :-)
    Esh, dear chap. What to say?
    A couple of curious thoughts came meandering into my mind like Srikkanths from Square Leg. One, that this match is not as important to us from the perspective of the WC. The next match is. Second, this match is the second 'turning-point match' in India's ODI history - the first being the match in Berbice in 1983. It marks the end, the definite end of the Australian Era. And India was the causative for the turning in both cricketing terms :-P

  7. @Mohen: Lol. What's a Vadivelu punch line doing in a cricket narrative?

    @Pat: Few diehard fans are even aware of the Berbice 'Holi' ODI. Great reminder. And the parallel is quite apt.
    But as regards the comparative importance vis-a-vis the Indo-Pak clash, I'd say that the Ozzie match will be viewed as far more important in the history of the game. I fear for my life when I say this, but I'd rather lose to Pakistan than to Australia. The psychological wounds inflicted by Pak have healed. That was not the cause with the Ozzies.
    Your thoughts?

  8. Hmm. I think, for most of us, losing to Pakistan is still too depressing for words. THe last few years have started creating the track record of animosity between Oz and INd. The track record is still not as deep as with Pak. but it's getting there. And you are right, it's far easier to actually defeat Oz and gloat over it. With Pak, it looks a tad overdone, what with being of the same blood and all that rot.
    Ozzies are of the right colour, as Bhajji piped, to set our 'blood boiling'

    All said and done, its a joy to know that Ponting shall henceforth go smirkless.

  9. Hummm..I read through the article and I picked up one name that interests me...that's Harsh Bhogle!...but I am beginning to feel, cricket could be interesting, if my perception is changed....hum...