Why we follow cricket

The match between India and Bangladesh was the latest in the game of cricket that makes you realize how lucky you are to have been following this game. In this batsman dominated format and the game itself these days, there are very few such instances when you get such a feeling of awe after having watched a game.
What happened in the match was not about a team’s win or loss but about why this game continues to get this kind of support in the subcontinent. Sport itself, like Harsha Bhogle said, one of the biggest forces of our time. There are not many things that can make an adult stop what he/she is doing at work and start watching this game, forgetting the meetings he has, forgetting the report he has to make, forgetting the calls and texts. Only things that matter are, the tension before and after each ball of the game and conversations with fellow peers about the game’s happenings. Thanks to technology, you don’t have to have these peers sitting beside you, the peers can be situated in other offices just like you, ignoring all that should be done, again, just like you. So this is what this game gives us, those fleeting glimpses of a team rising only to fall at the end.
We get to remember once again, those days when you watched the game in your hostel common room, 50 or more guys crowded in front of a small not-LCD tv, all praying for their teams. We would have seen this kind of results happen multiple times with South Africa or Pakistan, but would you not rather watch a game where Gayle is beating the bowlers to death or a game where both teams are desperately trying to clinch the victory from each other’s hands.
What this game gives you is the moment when you can thump your fist in the air, just like Federer does after having scored a point with a majestic forehand. We, sitting in our offices, are no Federers, but these games do give us the opportunity to feel so, when our team wins such matches, clinching victories from almost certain defeat. In that one moment, we all feel like Federers having just scored a beautiful backhand/forehand, in that one moment, we all feel like Phelpss having just beat the hell out of a opponent just by a fraction of a second, having burnt our lungs, in that one moment, we all feel like someone who defeated Usain Bolt (bbecause we sure as hell didn’t win as comfortably as Bolt does).
That is why, we follow cricket, for that momentary transformation from being a mere fan to having that feeling of an athlete, right in the middle of the action, winning, brilliantly. Period.

Sachin Tendulkar

Today I happened to chance upon an article in cricinfo. It was 5 questions to Brijnath, my favorite sports writer. And the questions were about Sachin Tendulkar.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/sachinfarewell/content/story/688325.html

The answer to the last question particularly stayed with me. Brilliant indeed.

Fifteen years from now, if a young boy or girl were to ask you about Tendulkar what would you tell them?
Even as a writer, I wouldn’t be able to. Not sufficiently. No numbers suffice. No quotes from his peers will do. I have about seven-eight books on Muhammad Ali on my bookshelf. He fascinates me. I will read everything on him. But I wish I lived in his time, through Vietnam and his ban, I wish I had experienced him. And it’s the same with Tendulkar. He was an experience. You were either there or you were not.

The first time I watched a complete match that involved a splendid Tendulkar innings was India vs Pakistan in 2003 World Cup. So vividly I remember that innings. Pakistan had batted first and I saw Anwar making merry with our bowlers and some good batting performance getting them to a 270+ score, setting up a decent target for India.

More often than not, Pakistan is a team that cherishes its bowling and getting batsmen into trouble. This time was no different. Their bowling attack included Akram, Waqar, Akhtar and a young Umar Gul. This was probably the best attack in that world cup, comparable only with the Aussie bowling line up led by McGrath.

So, there was the Indian opening pair, Sachin and Sehwag walking into the middle to chase down this target. Indian batting lineup definitely could give a hard day to the Pak bowlers. Especially one of the Indian batsman revelled at challenges. Just as you would love to do well in an exam of a subject that is along the lines of your passion and nothing gives more happiness than doing amazingly well in a paper set by a difficult professor, so was Sachin’s appetite for challenging totals and fierce bowling lineups. Except for that one chance where Razzaq dropped him off Akram, he was flawless in rest of the innings.

Such is the beauty of the shots he was conjuring that if felt as if one was listening to Bach or Mozart through the sounds that the bowl made when Sachin sent it to the boundary. I wouldn’t say this was a brash innings, if you can call any of Sachin’s innings that. Except for that one six off Akhtar, all the other shots seemed to be creating a symphony, one that an avid cricket fan would watch again and again, one that would bring a smile to all of his admirers, one that the Pak bowling lineup would remember forever.

As he went on with his innings, one could see the concentration in him. It was as if the entire cacophony of sounds in the ground weren’t audible to him, as if he knew he had to win this no matter what, it was as if he wanted the only eluding trophy he couldn’t win for his country. Once again, he got out at 98, due to a combination of cramps and bouncer by Akhtar. He walked off, yet again, without a century, but with having done almost what he set out to do in the first place. Thankfully, it was not a repeat of Chennai 136, though I very much believe this was a good possibility given the bowling lineup of Pakistan. The remaining Indian batsmen came through, especially Dravid.

Dravid’s innings is no less important than Sachin’s innings in this chase. Every additional minute he was batting was reducing Pakistan’s hopes of victory. And he made sure India did win that match. But his innings, as has been many a times, stayed and to till day stays in shadow of Sachin’s innings.

It was a victory that was all the more sweet due to the competition’s level. I do not think I have a Indian victory over Pakistan that I would rank higher than this one (among the ones I have seen live on TV).

A decade later, I would be in the stadium for his final outing for the Indian team. Little did I know that the master would continue this for 10 years more, for which I am thankful.

Like Rohit Brijnath says in the article, Sachin was an experience. You were either there or not there.

 

Best write-up on Rahul Dravid

This piece from Kunal Pradhan is in my opinion the best write up on Rahul and the way he sums it up is brilliant.

Rahul Dravid took a single off the first  ball of a new spell by Glenn McGrath and watched from the non-striker’s  end as Mohammad Kaif battled for survival over the next five deliveries.

It was October of 2004. The city of oranges was in full bloom,  celebrating the end of a hot summer and licking its lips at the prospect  of a citrusy winter. At the VCA stadium, India,  led by Dravid, was trying to save the “final frontier” on an unusually  green pitch from a marauding Australian team that had already won the  first Test in Bangalore.

Tottering at 75-4 in reply to Australia’s first innings 398, the hosts  had reached a point on the second day of the match where the Kaif-Dravid  partnership was the only thing that could, perhaps, save them from  imminent defeat.

At the end of that rare mid-afternoon over from McGrath, the batsmen met  for a conference in the middle of the pitch. “He’s bowling out of his  skin,” Dravid said, and Kaif, having faced five unplayable deliveries,  smiled back in agreement.

“It’s going to be tough,” he continued, “but we have a chance if we can see off this spell. Otherwise it’s all over.”

Kaif said he would do his best, but Dravid told him that he had a better  plan: For the rest of McGrath’s spell, Kaif would stay at the other end  against Warne, while Dravid would take on the might of the Australian  fast bowler playing his 100th Test.

This, Dravid hastily explained, was not a reflection on Kaif’s calibre  especially since he had been in good form over the last couple of  months. It was just something that he, being the more experienced  player, needed to do at this pivotal moment of the match.

“It’s settled then,” Dravid said, waving away any polite opposition that  Kaif may have had. “No more singles until McGrath is in the attack.  Forget about the scoreboard. You stay put at your end. I will see him  off from this side.”

Dravid scampered across to the business end off the second ball of Warne’s next over and resolutely marked his guard.

Over the next 18 deliveries, McGrath and Dravid were engaged in a kind  of battle that defines Test cricket. McGrath tried everything to entice  Dravid into playing a false stroke, to get him to fish outside off, to  york him, and to take him by surprise with a short ball. Dravid,  stubborn and determined, soaked in the pressure, lunging forward to pat  away deliveries directed at his stumps, and refusing to go near anything  more than an inch outside off.

“It was a spell of bowling that is best watched from the non-striker’s  end,” Kaif said later. “I can’t think of any other batsman who would’ve  volunteered, let alone insisted, to do what Rahul was doing.”

India scored six runs in the next five overs (a two and a four off Kaif’s bat  against Warne) as Dravid cocooned himself from temptation. In the  commentary box, the experts criticised him for going into a shell, for  being over-defensive, for appearing to be clueless against quality  bowling on a seaming track. They didn’t realise that Dravid had assessed  the situation and chosen to face the firing squad alone.

This cat-and-mouse game went on for the next twenty minutes. Two more  overs, Dravid told Kaif at the end of McGrath’s third, and we’ll be home  dry. “He’s starting to get tired now.”

Kaif patted out another maiden, and Dravid negotiated the first five  deliveries of McGrath’s next over without mishap. But McGrath, by now  aware of what was going on, got a ball to leave Dravid ever so slightly,  and kiss the edge before flying straight to Warne in the slip cordon.

The scoreboard recorded an innocuous 140-ball, 173-minute 21 against Dravid’s name. India lost the match two days later.

In the end, it was a small, almost insignificant knock: a tick in the  failures column for a batsman who has succeeded against fiery spells all  over the world. But it showed that he always, unfailingly, even during  his forgotten innings, put the team before himself. More than his  ability, or his records, it was this that made Rahul Dravid special.