Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cricket and the Emancipation of India

India is a fascinating place. The people, their thoughts, their actions and their activities in general are affected by many external factors which may or may not play any significant role in the lives of non-Indians. Symbolism is one such factor. Be it political, or socio-economic, or regional, or linguistic, they all define the general mind set of the masses at a given period of time. The game of Cricket is one such symbol which has been an important part of our lives for many years. It would be interesting to analyze how this symbol affected us from even before independence to all the way today when we are one of the fastest growing economy in the world.

The British introduced us to Cricket. We were under their rule at the time, and pretty much only the Indian elite and the royalty could afford to be associated with the game of Cricket. It was a matter of pride for the young Indian princes who got the chance to rub shoulders with the Englishmen and tried to match them in their own game. These princes would go to England for the higher studies and there they would learn the nuances of the game. But their stint in England would not necessarily be a pleasant one because of the prevailing racism. Even if they were royalty in their own country, they were not given an equal status outside. However, It was 1932 (15 years before we got independence), when India played its first Test match against England and lost horribly. It was expected, as we the ‘slaves’ would never have thought in our wildest of dreams to defeat our ‘masters’. Still, people like CK Nayudu, Lala Amarnath, and Vijay Merchant etc. left their indelible mark on the face of International Cricket even in that era.

Then came 1947 when India became independent but faced the brunt of partition and another country, Pakistan was born which grew on to become our arch-rivals in everything including Cricket. Such was the rivalry (border-line animosity) that if either team on tour were to lose a test match against the other team which were the host, the losing captain was sure to lose his job as soon as he landed in his country after the tour, sometimes even in between the tour. Thus, there was a time when Indian team played for a draw from ball 1. They knew they couldn’t risk a loss, as they were not confident enough that they could win. Hence it can be safely assumed that this period in Indian Cricket was much like India’s political and economic policies of that time i.e. making cautious decisions so as not to slip further rather than taking risks and plan ahead of time to reap the benefits in future. The whole idea of mediocrity was synthesized in this era.

In came Sunil Manohar Gavaskar or as later he was called ‘The Little Master’. In the times when the West Indies pace battery comprising of Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall and Colin Croft was wreaking havoc and forcing the mighty opposition teams like Australia and England to bite the dust, Gavaskar faced them without any protective gear or helmet. His game was built around a near-perfect technique and enormous powers of concentration. It is hard to visualize a more beautiful defense – virtually impenetrable and it made his wicket among the hardest to earn. His everyday grind and professionalism was an inspiration to everyone else in the team and together with them he orchestrated many memorable test match wins overseas. Much like the tough political and economic decisions taken during that time by the incumbent government of India to keep a check on the prying neighbors like Pakistan and China, and to successfully initiate the Green Revolution in order to satiate the hunger of the masses. The message was clear – we are here to stay and we are ready to work hard. We can no longer be ignored globally and it was just the beginning.

A young Kapil Dev’s team won the limited overs’ Cricket World Cup in the summer of 1983. It was considered an anomaly, a fluke, a mistake. But those who thought this way didn’t know better at that time. Beating the two-time champions – the mighty Clive Lloyd’s West Indies and that too in the mecca of Cricket at the Lord’s Cricket Ground was a like a fairytale for most of the Indians staying in or abroad. But the dream did come true. Kapil Dev’s team didn’t have big enough names to win a World Cup. It was just the right mix of talent, grit, youth, able leadership and a tinge of luck. Much like the hip/pop culture which had started to grip India during the 80s. Educated youth of the country was finally opening up. They were looking towards the west for inspiration. Some of them felt liberated, others felt frustrated. But at least they were not content with the status quo like the previous generation which came immediately after the independence. Cricket changed too – from all whites to colorful clothing. From day games to playing under the lights. More money came in, more media coverage, and glamor started to get mixed with the game and as India hosted the 1987 Cricket World Cup, it was clear that this fever was only going to increase with time to come.

Then ‘The God’ entered the Cricketing arena and soon He enchanted the whole world with His brilliant stroke play, technique, work ethic and masterclass. It was clear from His very first test match that He was not going to get bogged down by the bouncers of the fiery Pakistani pace battery. He retaliated in the same language. Much like his idol Gavaskar, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar took the Cricketing world by storm and challenged it head-on but His methods were far more attacking than Gavaskar. Now we had our own master blaster and the bowlers were terrified of him just like they used to dread Sir Vivian Richards. Soon, He became synonymous to everything which was good and perfect. Be it the game, or the multinational brands, or the sponsors, everyone was benefited by His arrival. Today, it is hard to believe that at one point of time the BCCI had to pay Doordarshan to telecast the Cricket matches Live. Now it was an altogether different ball game. The 1996 Cricket World Cup just completely transformed the way India was perceived in the Cricketing world. It was not just a mere coincidence that the economic reforms of the 1990s took place in the same time frame. It was an open market and now everyone wanted his share of this never-ending Cricket carnival in India. Foreign investments, multinational brands, cola-wars, advertising surrounding Cricket was recorded at its all-time high during this era.

But as they say, excess of everything is harmful. With more money, came in more greed, which brought in more corruption in the game. It was the same time when India was reeling under the pressure of policy paralysis due to the incompetency of the coalition governments. The match fixing scandal broke in the late 1990s and the then Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin and many other players from the team were accused of sharing pitch and match conditions to the bookies, sharing dressing room strategy which affected the team selection, throwing away the matches and under-perform in order to make enormous amount of money – as if they already didn’t earn enough from legitimate means. It was the darkest phase of Indian Cricket which tainted everyone ranging from players to the administrators to the match officials and the opposition players. South African captain Hansie Cronje admitted to his guilt and was sacked immediately. BCCI, facing the pressure to take some action against the accused imposed a life ban on Mohammed Azharuddin and multiple other players from the team. The people of the country were disappointed and angry with their heroes. It seemed as if that this Cricket bubble was finally burst and the only thing left were the pieces of the souls of the fans and the game.

But just like the Phoenix rises from its own ashes, the Indian Cricket was resurrected under the leadership of one man – Sourav Ganguly. His leadership, along with the abilities of his lieutenants in the form of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, and VVS Laxman and later on Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, and Harbhajan Singh gave a new life to Indian Cricket. Who can forget the 2001 Kolkata Test match win against Australia which roughly divided the whole of Indian Test Cricket in to two eras – before 2001 and after 2001. Ganguly had aggression, ruthlessness, a shrewd cricketing brain and most importantly the belief that his team can win. After the match fixing scandal, even the players who were not involved were having self-doubt. What would happen now? How can I be sure that the 10 players playing alongside me are in fact playing for my team, my country? Or are they playing for the opposition just for the sake of some money? Ganguly made them believe that there is no place for such thoughts in his team. Work hard, give your 100% on the field and forget about what has happened in the past was his mantra. And don’t take anyone’s bullshit on the field – be it the mighty Australians, Pakistanis or the English. Be the bully to the one who tries to bully you. Reply in the language they understand better. Basically, don’t let them dominate you in your mind. Steve Waugh, Nasser Hussain and Wasim Akram, all can testify to this fact that Ganguly was the toughest Indian captain they had played against. This kind of attitude was never ever heard of in Indian Cricket. These players were ready to die for their captain. And in the matter of months, the weak and meek have been transformed in to the mighty. Much like the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA government of that time. Pokharan Nuclear tests happened under the nose of America and Pakistan. India didn’t care about the economic sanctions which were imposed by the West, because we knew that it was the need of the hour. Kargil war happened during the same time which was the reminder to our neighbors that it was not a good idea to poke the bear. Technology (primarily in the field of communication) boom, infrastructure boom, industrial boom and 24x7 media coverage started during that time. It was an exciting time to live in. India had changed at almost every front and it had much to do with the way we changed our thinking. Now we had stopped playing the ‘victim of circumstances’ card and finally took control of our future in our own hands.

Again a slump! 2007 brought Indian Cricket to a new low when they were crashed out of the World Cup in the very first round. A new coach in the form of Greg Chappell had joined the ranks in 2005 but that change had created problems within the team. Sourav Ganguly was not performing well personally and he was soon losing the respect amongst the younger teammates. Chappell tried to took advantage of the situation by trying to oust Ganguly and other seniors thereby creating chaos within the team. Apparently, he had ‘plans’ for the team but those plans didn’t involve the seniors. Also, he was supposed to be the ‘boss’ in all his plans. Clearly, he didn’t understand Indian Cricket well. However, his tenure was short-lived as he was sacked soon after the 50-Overs World Cup debacle.
And like it happens all the time, with every adversity, a new opportunity comes along. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who had been in the mix for around 2 years now was given a young team to lead to the inaugural edition of the T20 World Cup. T20 – a newer, younger, faster format of the game which would completely revolutionize the face of Indian Cricket as well as project BCCI as the new superpower of World Cricket in terms of money, power, influence, everything – even bigger than the ICC! The young Indian Cricket team won the T20 World Cup under the captaincy of Dhoni and he became the new poster boy of Indian Cricket. Humble beginnings, hard work, a dash of luck and a lot of support from people who matter. His story had everything. But it was something else which changed that day. It was as if a switch went off somewhere and a billion-dollar idea was born. Untapped resource of endless fortune. An idea which will take Indian Cricket miles ahead of everyone else in the days to come. The ‘White’ Supremacy in World Cricket was finally over. For the past 150 years, the English and the Australians were running World Cricket and although the Indians had the potential to be the part of it, they were never truly given any importance before. They were never considered the supreme ‘boss’ before. But now, Indians had Indian Premier League – IPL.

The effect of IPL and the dominance of BCCI can be assessed by the fact that the ICC had to clear its itinerary to make space for the IPL. 8 weeks of power-packed league cricket scheduled each year during the month of April-May, every year for the past 9 years. There are cricketing leagues in other countries as well. But not many care about them. Moreover, players from all countries are welcome to participate in the IPL (barring Pakistan), but Indian players are not allowed to be the part of any other cricketing league. To retaliate, England barred their players to play in the IPL for some time. But later on they had to give in too. Also, IPL has provided a great platform for young Indian un-capped players to showcase their talent and earn a lot more than they would have if they were just playing domestic Cricket. The condition of Cricket stadiums have improved drastically in the past few years and new venues have popped up because now the BCCI have enough cash surplus to provide for these venues. The cash-rich IPL has generated better revenues with each passing year and everyone involved has benefited with it. In the year 2015 alone, IPL contributed $11.5 Billion to the Indian GDP!

But then again, when everyone is getting blinded by all that money, some people are bound to get greedy and start doing things which they ought not to do. Allegations of illegal betting and spot-fixing were made resulting in the suspension of franchise owners as well as players. Much like Congress-led UPA government of that time during which the idea of IPL was floated and became popular. It is fascinating to see that during the period when the corruption in the government of India has increased, the corruption in the game of Cricket has increased as well. So much so that this time, even one of the sitting MPs from the government was involved in the wrongful auction and procurement of the new IPL franchise. Later on, the honorable Supreme Court ordered to set the things straight.

Everything said and done, we should accept that Cricket is not just a game in India. It has become our identity. There may be many bad things happening inside or around it, but the bottom line is that it is the need of the hour. When there is a possibility to make money, one should make it – provided it should not be made through illegal means. It’s a cycle – the game brings in money, then that money helps build the game in a better way, which in turn brings more money, and then it helps us to be emancipated from the shackles of our ‘colonial masters’ who introduced us to the game at the first place.

Monday, May 19, 2014

An open letter to the Prime Minister-Designate, India: Narendra Modi

Dear Sir,

First of all, congratulations for that thumping victory for your party which made May the 16th, 2014 etched in the History of India forever. Never in my 27 years of existence had I thought that I would ever witness something of this sort, given the dependency of the national parties over the regional parties in our country and owing to the fact that the electorate of India has given a chequered mandate in so many general elections in the past. But this was not the case this time, as the BJP gathered 282 seats on its own and the NDA under your leadership and constituting 29-odd parties gathered 336 seats out of the total 543. As far as I am concerned, I am a strong believer in the two-party system. In other democracies in the world, wherever there is a two-party system, it has proven efficient and resulted in a strong government as well as a strong opposition. But in India, this liberty of having so many parties only create nuisance. Although I agree that for the time being, it is a necessity here because we still have a daunting challenge of providing social equality and there are certain sections of our society who don't have proper representation among the national parties.

Now coming to the important thing. Sir, you are a Gujarati. And everyone knows that Gujarati and Gujarat means business. So, I am sure that you would have already started to work over who you want to be in your team, and who will be appropriate in which department. As we wait for you to take oath as the Prime Minister, and announce your cabinet, we expect some able minds in your core team. Minds, who are in complete sync with you, who are absolutely loyal towards you and who can understand what is best for the people of this country. We cannot afford another PM who doesn't know what his ministers are up to. We had enough of that in the last 10 years! Your past record is the testimony of what awaits us and I am happy with that.

There are few things over which we need immediate attention and action. The most important being the current foreign policy towards our neighboring countries. With your advent, there is a feeling of shock and awe among them, and we should make sure that they understand that it would be foolhardy to do any funny business from across the border, now that you are the boss. A tough exterior with a tinge of humanity is what is the need of the hour. They should be made to realize that the Nizam in India is changed now, and they should better behave accordingly. Zero-tolerance policy towards cross border terrorism should be enforced with immediate effect, and we should make it clear that until this nonsense stops, there cannot be any dialogue.

Regarding the issue of corruption and black money stored in foreign banks, we need action now. Many of your interviews and speeches were filled with assurances that once you are in power, you will take steps towards curbing corruption and bringing back the black money. Well, now nothing should be stopping you as you own more than 50% of the house! Change policy, change rules, do whatever it takes,  but do this and do this quickly.

The stock market has soared with your advent, and the Rupee has strengthened against the Dollar. That is a good sign. Everyone is expecting you to bring reforms in India's economic policy which sends a good and encouraging signal amongst the investor in and outside the country. With the largest working population in the world, we must ensure that strong measures are taken in order to tap this potential. I remember you once said that I want to see an India wherein the Americans are lining up for our Visa. Well, this is very much possible if we play to our potential.

Coming to my home state, Uttar Pradesh. Everyone is shocked. I am shocked, and I am sure you are surprised too. Who would have thought? You won 73 out of the 80 seats and the rest of the 7 seats going only to the family members of the opposition political parties. Such was the impact of your campaign, that the Uttar Pradesh which is infamous for choosing their candidates on the basis of caste, creed and religion unified for you and practically plummeted the opposition! You owe us now, Sir. You need to do something to improve the standard of living of the people in Uttar Pradesh. People are angry, they are hurt, and they want change. They want you to personally ensure that things change there. We need roads, electricity, jobs, security, social harmony, and someone to hear our plight. Two years ago, I wrote a similar letter to the then elected Chief Minister of UP, Mr. Akhilesh Yadav. I was hopeful that being a youngster himself, he will understand my pain. He will bring change to the way things are being done in UP. But he did nothing. On the contrary, whatever little we had was also taken away from us, rendering us helpless. You are bound by the oath you took at the banks of River Ganges in Varanasi, to bring change in our lives. Uttar Pradesh will never behave the same way it did in this general elections, if we are let down. Please don't let that happen. Not on your watch!

In the end, I would sincerely wish you all the best for your new role as the supreme leader of this beautiful country. I know that the people of Gujarat have made a big sacrifice by letting you go, but you have a bigger responsibility now. You have 1.25 Billion people to think about, even those who didn't vote for you. Thank you sir, for providing us hope. Make Atal Ji proud.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sachin - For the last time

For the past two months since Sir Sachin Tendulkar announced His retirement from all forms of Cricket, I wanted to write something which could sum up my feelings about this fateful decision of His. So much has already been shown/written/read that whatever I say/write actually doesn't matter the least. And I am no writer, so it is all the more difficult to pen down correct words to describe His greatness, not only on the field but off it, and also what He has meant to me for over the past 17 years that I have followed Cricket. But still, I am trying a make an effort in this direction as He had always believed in giving one's 100% in whatever one does, and it doesn't matter if he/she fails - the more important thing is that at the end of the day one should not have this regret that his/her effort was not up to the mark.

So let me clear this upfront - I didn't cry while He was giving His farewell speech just a few hours ago at the Wankhede Stadium. It was not my place, for who am I to cry at His departure? What have I done for Him that I should take credit of anything He said or did today? We all saw Anjali's eyes well up, and even Sara was about to cry, it was inevitable and rightly so. His family has sacrificed so much, and the thought that He is finally done and dusted with Cricket will obviously be overwhelming.

Then there is Vinod Kambli - an old 'friend' and a 'Cricket expert' who never missed a chance to spew venom against Him in the past few years, just to get some footage on his stupid TV news show. He was 'seen' crying on that show today; I don't know why? Either they were just crocodile's tears or just the thought that now as Sachin is retiring, he will not be getting similar air time after this whole retirement carnival gets a rest.

Ram had Lakshman to accompany him to the forest during their exile. His younger brother, his aide and shadow. Well, Sachin had Ajit, His older brother, His friend, philosopher and guide. Ajit never married, so that he can give his full attention to his younger brother's career. It was because He had Ajit is why we have Him today. Kambli also had talent, but he didn't have someone like Ajit. So he faded into oblivion, and today we all just know him to be a clown on a terrible TV news show. That is the power of family, and family values. So, if Ajit wants to cry today, he deserves to do that.

The whole point I am trying to make here is, that success has many fathers and failure is an orphan. Today, Sachin is synonymous to success, so everyone wants a piece of Him. I mean, Siddhu cannot just stop reminding us about how, back in 1994 in New Zealand, he had a stiff neck and thus Sachin got promoted to the opener's position and there we found the best ODI batsman the world has ever seen. What the hell man! What the hell is wrong with you? Not many people know that you were in a night club the night before the match and got your neck bruised in a scuffle. And it was Sachin who came to the team's rescue and took additional responsibility as an opener. Thereafter, His talent and hard work made Him the best in business, not your stupid break!

We Indians are very emotional people. We get moved very easily. I am not saying it is a bad thing, as I too am very emotional. I only have a problem with emotions which are not genuine. God knows I cried when we lost the 1996 World Cup Semi Final to Sri Lanka, or when we lost the 1999 Chennai Test match against Pakistan, or the 2003 World Cup Final defeat against Australia, or 2009 Hyderabad defeat against Australia when Sir Jadeja was not able to make 18 runs off 3 overs after He made 175 out of the required 351! I can recall countless instances of sorrow as well as happiness. Who can forget the desert-storm innings of 143 at Sharjah and again the swashbuckling 134 two days after? Or 241* without a single cover drive in the whole innings lasting some 10 hours. Or 200* when He broke the most coveted ODI barrier. But then I cannot just forget the headline 'ENDULKAR?' from The Times of India in 2004. Or Sanjay Manjrekar's jab after jab in 2007. Or Kapil Dev's rants since the 2011 World Cup win.

People, I am no expert, but I am very clear over one thing. If I support something/someone, I go with that thing/person till the end. It is not like an 'add salt to taste' approach with me which is with most of the Indians. Please try to understand what I am trying to explain here. Not taking away anything from the fans, I just want to highlight that it was us who have been the most cruel to Him over the past many years. We were cruel to Him when He was injured, but He said nothing. We constantly questioned His integrity on our 'prestigious' primetime TV shows, but He responded with His bat. We, practically, were sucking His blood during the period from 99th to 100th century, but He didn't show that on His face. The only time something was visible was a sigh of relief after that 100th century. It was neither joy, nor happiness, but relief - because we couldn't just let go!

I don't know what will be the readers' reaction to this post, but that is how I feel. I bid Him farewell, and hope that He finds some way to remain attached to Cricket, because even I know, He just cannot live without it.

#ThankYouSachin #BharatRatna #TakeABowMaster #GodOfCricket