Babble Without a Pause

March 18, 2015

Chokers No More

Filed under: Cricket,Sport — rajivmathew @ 3:41 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Australia celebrate
Laugh at me. Call me a traitor. Call me a fool. Call me what you will. But with the knockout stage of this World Cup finally here, I, a perennial Indian cricket fan, have begun to realize which team I really feel like rallying behind. And it is not the country you would assume. For all the pomp of an undefeated run in the league stage, an unprecedented 6 consecutive bowl-outs, for the ripping victories, India has played some shitty cricket for a long while now. If we eventually win, it would be a result of a brief golden run, but one that is in stark contrast to a positively mediocre run for the 4 years that have gone before. No, I think the time has come for a country that has for so long played some of the most consistently top-notch cricket, and been a perennial member of the Top 3 year after year, yet has been brutally denied a single knockout match win at the World Cup, let alone the entire tournament. For a team so talented, so exciting to watch, that is a crime against sport.

So for the rest of this world cup, I will cheer South Africa on, and I will do so knowing that far less deserving countries have won it, and it is only fair that a country as talented as SA, one that endured being ostracized for decades as a proxy on behalf of a political system that wasn’t directly of their doing, one that came back from said international sport ostracism, to be screwed out of a place in the finals because of an asinine rain rule (that has since only got sillier in its new avatar as the Duckworth-Lewis rule). Once they shrug this voodoo off their back, they can, should, and will win this cup. Four years ago, India said they won it for Sachin. This year, some sixth sense tells me SA will win this for AB. And they will win it for Gibbs, who dropped the catch that kept them from greatness. And for White Lightning, who must even now be heartbroken for his role in that same loss. They will win it for Klusener, their champion who almost single-handedly won it for them 16 years ago. And lest we forget, they will win it for Cronje, who for all his failings as a sportsman and as a human, and in spite of all that he did to push them back 100 million miles in their evolution as a cricketing nation, still remains their finest captain ever. They will win it for Bob Woolmer, a coach who revolutionized the concept of technology in sport all those years ago, ushering in a new era for competitive sport. And they will win it for Boucher, for Kallis, for Kirsten, for Smith, for Ntini, for Pollock, for Cullinan, and for Jonty.

Watch South Africa play the game, and you realize why this team, more than ANY other, deserves to win, and win big this time. For a team as talented, if not more talented than Australia, South Africa really do play the game hard but fair. It’s a phrase so absolutely cliched and so triflingly used by Australia, that it has seemingly lost all meaning. When the spoilt brats of cricket have time and time again crossed the line with inappropriate behavior more suited for the WWE, their cricket achievements and all their wins have been used to defend their boorish, even juvenile ways. The ends supposedly justify the means.

But watch South Africa bat, bowl, and field, and you have in front of you a team that very rarely comes close to the line, let alone jump over it. This is a team that has, over the years, (clown characters like Andre Nel aside) maintained a very high level of class when playing the game. They don’t walk past the stumps and knock the bails off then appeal like it was out. They don’t appeal for a stumping when they know the ball isn’t even in their hands. They don’t bowl underarm to avoid losing. They don’t edge a ball to slip and stand rooted to the crease pretending nothing happened.

Don’t believe me yet? Try this for an exercise. Look up ‘South Africa cricket controversy’ on Youtube. Tell me what you see. I’ll tell you what I see in the search results: not one single controversy or video of them acting like spoiled rich kids. Hell, the top 15 search results include videos detailing a Kevin Pietersen controversy, a DRS fail, and a Shane Warne v. Marlon Samuels fiasco video. Scroll further down on the first page of results, you see the following:

  • Richard Levi Fastest T20 Century for South Africa
  • Top 10 Best Cricket Fielders Ever in Cricket History
  • Proteas Surprise Visit

    That’s right, a video of the fastest century, a clip of the top 10 best fielders, with the thumbnail appropriately enough being Jonty Rhodes flying horizontal to the earth, and finally, a clip of 6 of the team’s top players voluntarily taking time out of their busy schedules to visit a boy who idolizes them. All positive, endearing videos. If this isn’t a deserving team, I don’t know who is. This is a team that is cultured, a team that has so much talent they can afford to bench real stars, a team that respects the game, and doesn’t terrorize umpires every minute of the game. Why haven’t they won a World Cup? Your guess is as good as mine.So starting today, and until the end of this World Cup, I intend to cheer for South Africa for every fibre of my being. Because while the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ lecture is just that, a long-winded annual essay on why the spirit of sportsmanship is essential in theory, this team is one of the very few that lives it, and plays it, and believes it. Not just to win an annual ‘Spirit of Cricket’ award. But because it is the right thing.So come on, South Africa. It is your time now. Prove that nice guys can finish first. Fear not the choke. Just go for broke.

“No one is going to ask us if we played exceptional cricket when we win the World Cup, we’re just going to say that we won the Cup, so we’re just going to find a way to win the game tomorrow. All I can say is we’re not going to choke. We’re just going to play a good game of cricket tomorrow and come out on top. Simple.”

April 8, 2011

Ind-glorious Basterds


2:30 am – It could be pre-match anxiety, the cold in my matchbox apartment, or the acid reflux in my throat from having wolfed down 3 parathas with paneer makhani barely an hour ago. Either way, I can’t seem to sleep. I take a walk outside my apartment in 40⁰F weather, thoughts all the while on what might transpire over the next 10 hours.

2:45 am – Back home. The walk definitely helped. Dilemma time now. Stay up for another 1 hour, then get ready. Or sleep for an hour, and risk oversleeping and missing the 1s (possibly Indian) innings. I fall asleep …  still weighing my options.

3:46 am – Hmm, so there is such a thing as a biological clock. The alarm I set for 4 am has yet to go off, yet here I am, wide eyed. Possibly the first time I’ve woken without hitting the snooze button 10 times or smashing the clock against the floor. Time to take a shower, methinks. Sri Lankan cricket team stinks, that doesn’t mean I should too. A quick shower, brush my teeth and I’m set. Meanwhile, in my apartment, 3 of my friends are snoring, having driven down from New Jersey to watch the match.

4:20 am – Frantic calls from fellow cricaholics,  enquiring my latitude and longitude, and how long it might take for me to walk/drive/fly the quarter mile to our rendezvous point, their apartment. I assure them I’m ready and leaving, but end up getting distracted and online, chatting for a few fleeting moments with the fiancée, who’s not yet fallen asleep.

4:35 am – Phone rings yet again. Friends yet again, wondering if I got mugged while walking down the road in ‘The Greatest City In America’. I assure them I’m not, and proceed to close said chat session, much to fiancée’s chagrin. Run blind from the apartment, jump into the trusty BatMobile Honda Civic. Fly at 70 mph (I think) in a residential area. I’m there. FINALLY.

4:35 am – Yes, it’s been exactly 0 seconds from leaving my apartment, to getting to the friends’ place. Impressive, yes. Why thank you. We leave, walking at a brisk pace, still faster than Munaf Patel can bowl. In between, we walk through the university campus, discussing the merits or lack thereof, of the theme song, “De Ghuma Ke”, in context of the 1999 anthem; “Come on India, dikha do”.

4:45 am – We’ve walked a ¾ mile in 10 minutes. We’re HERE. We walk up the 2 flights of stairs to where the room at Nolan’s should be set up and ready for action. A BIG queue outside the entrance seems to indicate it is already house-full. Apparently, not. The undergrad student in possession of the keys seems to have a malfunctioning biological clock and is nowhere to be seen. The faithful stand intently in front of a laptop showing the live stream, and stand at attention as the national anthem is played. Goosebumps. Some sing it loud, others whisper the words, still others with eyes closed When it’s over, the WOOOs, YEAAAHHHs and whistles pierce the early morning silence.

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5:00 am – Ok, so we’re in the room. Front row chairs immediately grabbed, and apparently, we still don’t have the keys to the inner control room which has the remote controls for the projector and the ceiling mounted big screen. In the sea of 50-odd Indian fans in the room, we now spot 3 Sri Lankan fans, dressed in their team uniforms, and draped in the SL flag. It shows you what this game should be about; bringing people together. Folks pull out two laptops, mount them on strategically placed tables on left and right sides of rooms. Connection to WillowTV established, we are just in time to see Tharanga and Dilshan take guard, to our man, Zak.

5:04 am – It’s slowly become apparent that there’s a delay between the two laptops. Left-side-of-room Lenovo is 5-6 seconds ahead of right-side-of-room Dell. We figure this out after entire left side of room erupts in joy. We wonder why, and then erupt again, as as Tharanga falls on our screens too, to a stunning catch from Veeru. Jai Ho, and all that good stuff. 1 down. 9 more Lankans to go.

5:05 am – Funny status update from friend on Facebook. “Pehle goron ko haraaya. Phir haram khoron ko haraaya. Ab Sita ke choron ko haraaya” [Roughly translates to –  “First we beat the whites (Australia). Then we beat the (insert expletive here) Pakistanis. Now to beat the kidnappers of Sita”] On a side note, projector room keys have now arrived, and thanks to some nifty work by the IGSA guys, we are all set now, and watching the action on the proverbial big-screen.

5:25 am – A large crowd seems to be heading to the back of the room. Come on, it can’t be over that quick, I think to myself. Turns out, a certain Donuts company of the Dunkin’ kind, has very graciously offered to sponsor a light breakfast for the 100-odd people assembled. Mmm, bagels, chocolate donut and potato chips, topped off with coffee.

5:30 am to 9:10 am – I’m not sure what happened. Woozy on the details here, but I’m woken from my blissful sleep by a friend who tells me SL have wrapped up their innings. About time. Boy, that was some good boredom-plus-food-induced coma. It’s true what they say. If Kumara Sangakkara won’t put you to sleep, then Kulasekara Mudiyanselage Dinesh Nuwan Kulasekara (yes, that’s one person) will.

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9:23 am – Sachin and Sehwag stride out to the square.  I’ve always wondered why it’s called that, especially since from where I’m sitting, it almost certainly appears to be rectangular. Oh well. Note to self. Go to an optician and have your eyes checked. Watching them take guard for the innings that could shape the fate of this cup, I am itching to yell ‘THIS IS SPARTAAA!!” but somehow manage to temper my excitement.

9:25 am – Gone. Out. LBW. To baal-ki-dukan. Whattaball. Stunned, we sit. Sehwag has immediately referred it, so surely there must be an inside-edge. He must know something we don’t. The side-on view – not a no-ball. Pitching? In line. Hitting? In line. Surely it hit bat before pad? Turns out it hit more air than bat before the pad. 3rd umpire verdict. OUT. Goddammit.

9:32 am – Ok, Sachin is in pristine touch. The ball seems to be rocketing off his bat, but for whatever reason, doesn’t make its way to the boundary the 1st couple of times.  The outfield surely doesn’t seem lightning fast as it did in the 1st half. Conspiracy theorist time. I’m betting they took out the outfield during the dinner break, and put in a heavy, sodden turf when no one was looking.

9:32:54.5 am – Sachin. Ramesh. Tendulkar. Bat – Straight. Power – Immense. Punch – Short. Ball – Flies. GOD. IS IN THE HOUSE.

9:40 am – Sri Lanka’s side-arm chucker bowler Lasith Malinga runs in. Bowls a perfect outswinger to the man. Who reaches for it, and a significant outside edge is gobbled by the keeper.

Malinga to Tendulkar, OUT, The ball that silenced a billion. Most of Wankhede is silent. Some of it is very noisy, and has Sri Lankan flags waving away in a frenzy. Sachin’s World Cup is over. No 100th 100 today. Malinga gets another over, another go at a wicket, and he responds with a wicket. It’s that patent back of a length ball outside off and as always, Malinga got it to go away. Sachin tried the same shot, last ball of the previous Malinga over, trotting across and looking for the steer through the off side. This time he edged it, and though it was dying on Sanga, he wasn’t going to put it down. He dives to the right and comes up with the biggest wicket of the World Cup

SR Tendulkar c †Sangakkara b Malinga 18 (21m 14b 2×4 0x6)

Hushed silence. So quiet, it’s almost as if as a nation, we’ve died 1.2 billion collective deaths. Some reach for their cellphones, to update foreboding I-told-you-so status messages on Facebook. Others ooh, aah and swear under their breaths. A friend looks at me and goes: “Ok, Macys’ chalna hai?”. Pat comes the reply. “Not a chance. Let’s sit and watch this pan out.”

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9:45 am – It still hasn’t sunk in, that century no. 100 will have to wait another day. The poet, the romantic, the diehard fan in us all still thinks Sachin will walk back out of the dressing room, call for UDRS to review the decision, and that infernal heart-beat sound on the slow motion stump microphone will fail to detect the edge, thereby giving him another life.

9:50 am – Ok. Fine. Sachin didn’t do it. Gautam and Virat start off circumspect, knowing another wicket at this stage will cause irreparable damage. A couple quiet overs. It doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t. The expert commentator in each of us kicks in. There’s about a 100 of us in the room right now. Every run, every single, every forward defence, every leave is applauded as I have never heard before.

10:13 am – Gambhir steps out to Randiv. He lofts. It goes miles in the air (really Sunny Gavaskar? Miles? Where’d you learn measurement? Your physics teacher would be so ashamed of you right now, if, you know, you hadn’t scored those 10,000 test runs). Kulasekara gets under it, and …… drops it.  Gambhir, now on 30. “You just dropped the world cup, son”.

10:38 am – Gambhir tickles Murali around the corner. Murali doesn’t seem amused at being tickled in public. Maybe Gauti should try under the soles of his feet next time. Turns around for the second, runs in, desperately short, flings himself in to the crease. Thankfully Sangakkara hasn’t collected it cleanly, so our little man is in. The dive that inspired an entire Cricinfo article.

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10:53 am –As Ravi Shastri might say, “against the run of play”, a STUNNING catch from Dilshan, whose name, like his famous Dilscoop, is suffixed with a TM. Seemingly innocuous ball. Attempt to whip to leg. Flies to the right of Dilshan. Who plucks it like a chicken’s feathers at a poultry store (Sorry, couldn’t think of anything more appropriate that could be plucked). Kohli is pretty damn pissed as he walks off. Well played Virat. No shame there.

10:53 am – WHAT? Mahendra Singh WHO is in? Are you effing kidding me? The guy whose top score all tournament has been 34. To face Slinga’ Malinga? Damnit. “If this guy likes living on the edge so much, perhaps we should just push him off it the next time” I think to myself as Malinga runs in to bowl to the Indian captain. Calls for his head ring out across the room. As the wise zenmaster Sidhu says: “IF if’s and and’s were pots and pans …..” something something

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Let’s be honest. When was the last time you sat through an ENTIRE 50 over innings. Never, I presume. Me neither. Yet here I am, sitting in the front row seat, surrounded by about 100 fellow maniacs, applauding every single, every forward defence, every box(cup) adjustment, and every drinks break. Dhoni reaches out, pats it down the ground to long-on? No worries. Applause rings out across the room. Gauti steps out and gently coaxes the ball into the gap? Even louder, we go “Gambhiiiir ….. Gambhir <CLAP CLAP CLAP>“. Inbetween, chants of “Jinkalaka naka-naka ooh aah, ooh aah” start up. The target is being whittled down with such assuredness, that us old-timers, followers of cricket from the mustachioed days of Kumble, Srinath, Ganguly and Azhar instinctively sense something ominous about to happen. Can you blame us?

11: 23 am – Gambhir and Dhoni, continue ticking precious runs off the target. The required rate goes above 6 barely a couple of times, and everytime it does, Dhoni steps back to a customary short ball from Muttaih Muralitharan, whacks it through covers, with deceptively ferocious power, and watches it rocket to the fence. Russell Arnold, he of the annoying nasal voice, says something about “destiny” and an Indian win, which seems totally arbitrary at the time, but as minutes tick on, he seems to be on to something.

12:20 pm – OUT! Gambhir has, as is his wont, tried to give the opposition a chance. As a country, we’re renowned the world-over for (apart from call-centers), being a hospitable people. As if trying to exemplify that fact, as he did thrice against Australia in the quarters, he runs down the pitch, and half-cuts, half-slaps the ball, which doesn’t bounce as anticipated, and the resulting edge cannons into the stumps. WHY the f*ck Gauti?!!! Anyway, once the choice abuses directed at female relatives are done with, we stand up as one to applaud an innings, scarcely believable not so much in its production, but in its timing and context. Generous applause continues for a whole minute.

12:30 pm – Powerplay time. 30 balls. 30 to get. 5 overs. 3 from Malinga. 2 from Murali. It’s come down to this. The atmosphere is still tense, as is the knot in my stomach. By this point, I’ve had so much coffee, I might soon Bleed Bru. Walking around the room trying to scavenge the last donut from the table in the back, it gives you goosebumps, looking at the crowd that has gathered. Apparently word has gotten round, so it’ s heart-warming to see an old gentleman and his wife, probably 70 years of age, sitting at the back of the room, holding hands, looking intently, squinting to catch a glimpse of the far away screen. They can tell you how it felt when we last won one of these. Glory days of Indian cricket, they will tell you. If that doesn’t give you goosebumps, nothing ever will.

12:34 pm – Malinga has just bowled the last over for 3 runs. 27 required from 24 balls. For the first time in a while, the required rate is more than run-a-ball, with Murali due to come on next. Palpable tension in the room. And THEN. Sangakkara turns away from Murali. Apparently he doesn’t have enough faith in his trump card tonight. 800-wickets in tests. 534 in ODIs. But today, he’s been rendered toothless Just like his smile. It’s Kulasekara to bowl the 47th over. As one, each of us quietly says a thank-you to our brother-from-another-mother, Sangakkara.

1.4.1.4.0.1. Just like that, its down to 16 from 18 balls. Surely, we have it now.

12:38 pm – Malinga, for the 48th over. Ok, lets just see him off. Thrash Kula again. Dhoni has other ideas. Consecutive whips to the leg-side, fly away to the boundary. We’re up on our feet now. Everyone. Every known mother, father, brother- and sister-related chant rings out from literally every mouth in the room. I’m hugging strangers, back-slapping people I don’t even know, screaming choice abuses and high-fiving friends so hard that my hands are ringing from the impact.

12:42 pm (Probably) – 4 runs to get. 11 balls. Kulasekara runs in to bowl, lands it on a length, curving into Dhoni, who swings. Bat traces a beautiful arc, straight through the ball. Shastri is mumbling some tripe (as always), but stops talking, and changes mid-sentence. “….. absolutely magnificent ….  DHONNIIII ….. finishes it off in style!!!”. Side-on camera from square leg takes over. Dhoni stays still in his follow-through. Frozen in time. He takes a forward step, bat upright in left hand, twirls it a la Rajnikant in slo-mo, and holds it upright once more. Captain COOL indeed. What style. What a sexy. What an effing innings. Whatay match. I can’t even hear myself think, as pandemonium descends on Nolan’s.  Screeching, yelling abusing, shouting, hugging, fist-bumping. High-fiving.

We’ve beaten them. We’ve beaten them all. INDIA. CHAMPIONS. ONCE MORE.


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