Thursday, 26 January 2012

Flags, Flutter and Foul

Yesterday was marked as Australia Day. Australian flags were brought out everywhere as children waved them and cars and buildings flaunted them. If that wasn't enough the beaches were flooded with flag bikinis and briefs and even slippers (much to the horror of some Indians who would go to the courts if they saw their national flag on a chappal!:)) It seemed like a big occasion celebrated with great pomp and enthusiasm. But what exactly was being celebrated? Australia Day is not about autonomy or constitutional empowerment or sovereignty. It marks a day when the first fleet from Britain landed in Sydney and this island of aboriginal people was claimed as British territory, with British sovereignty firmly entrenched. What followed the landing of the fleet was annihilation of the aboriginal people slowly and steadily over a 100 years. Many enlightened Australians (like one of my colleagues said the other day) mark this as Invasion Day. There is nothing to celebrate, is there? While it is true that subsequent generations cannot be held accountable for what their ancesstors did, surely a more sensitive understanding of history would imply atleast a recognition of any nation's embarrassing moments? Public apologies would be nice and communities can come together to officially remember the ills/evils of the past, children can be educated about their history and public debate can be held. Remembering a troubled past can be cathartic and a country can feel proud that they have moved on.

Instead of any of this, we end up celebrating occasions that we never even think about or care to find out more. Australia Day, becomes a flag waving, beach and barbeque day, bereft of any public debate about its real significance to the thousands of aboriginal people, who continue to languish, whose death rates are appallingly high, who remain in unlawful detentions and whose living conditions are worse than many third world inhabitants. I would love to do a survey to find out what majority of Australian youth think about this day anyways and what history they are taught. I am not making this point only in reference to Australia. Every nation has brutal histories that it should rethink how it marks. In South Asia, wouldn't it be nice if we had Pakistanis marking Bangladesh invasion day, India marking communal riots day (Godhara and Gujarat), Sri Lankan state officially remembering the anti Tamil riots of 1984. Real reconciliation with brutal histories can begin only when the brutality is recognised and not when nations continue to live in denial.

Australia Day celebrations in Canberra were marred by aboriginal protestors who targetted a gathering where PM Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbot were present. Gillard and Abbot were shown on TV, being shoved into a car by the PM's security and then driven off. The PM lost her shoe and was dragged to the car by security officials who were ensuring the protestors didn't get to her. She later said she was fine and it was sad that the event was disrupted. My first thoughts were that it was not funny to see the PM being 'protected' by her security men who dragged her and shoved her into the car. Is this the training the Aussie security has to protect their public figures from mob violence? It was utterly ridiculous. My next question was, if it was Tony Abbot, would he come to Julia's rescue as she came to his? (wink). Afterall the protestors were targetting him and not the PM. And thirdly, again I wondered why the pseudo event was so important to the PM than actually addressing the gathered aboriginal people or mark the day with some gesture of reconciliation. There was a message in it though for shoe throwing individuals everywhere in the world. In this case, the protestors got her shoe instead!! The PM's rescue has made media headlines worldwide and the story of how celebrations on Australia Day were marred has caused flutter in many circles, with people referring to it as the day of shame. Lajja, really? 'Shame' is when a few aboriginal protestors disrupt the official party of the PM? ah well...

This country has a great cricketing heritage but yesterday was a day of foul play, it seems. The match between India and Australia, being played at the Adelaide Oval, had the brightest moment ever for Indian cricket fans this summer when young Virat Kohli hit a brilliant century...majestic and thoroughbred. But the onfield tactics were dominated by sledging by both sides. Ofcourse, the Aussie cricketers are masters of that art, piling verbal abuses at any opposition, racist, sexist and all that. They hunt in packs. So if one guy has a bit of chat with the opposition, the rest gather and cheer him on as if its an achievement. We saw this yesterday with Nathan Lyon clapping away when Warner, Cowan were having a go at Kohli. Disgusting. And when Kohli and Sharma decided to return their verbal volleys, that elderly gent, Ricky Ponting decided to play Ban Ki Moon and intervened by dragging Kohli away and reminding him that if he said anything, he would get into trouble. Such has been the story that Aussies have gotten away with any kind of verbal sledge while any team that has tried to compete in that category has had to face music. So Andrew Symmonds being called a monkey was a national outrage in Australia (hypocrisy?), and when Bhajji got away with it (if at all?) they termed it BCCI bullying. They dish out the choicest of ridicule and abuses to opponents and when get sledged in return, cry outrage and BCCI bullying. For those of us who hate the BCCI, that's one good thing it seems to have done...established itself as the bully! So, Ponting intervened and instead of counselling his guys, he was offering advise to Kohli. As we say in Hindi: hazaar (in his case not nau sau) choohe khake billi haj ko chali. (after devouring 1000 rats, the cat's on a pilgrimage). ha ha.

I would not condone the sledging tactics deployed by the younger generation of Indian players even if they merely return the verbal compliments of their opponents. But cricket is a game between bat and ball and it is a very intelligent game. Australians' mental disintegration or sledging or banter that they proudly claim as part of the game is utterly ridiculous and disgusting and ICC should come down heavily on any kind of on field chit chat by anyone. Moreover, everyone knows Australian's sledge more when they are frustrated. The message: if you can't bat or bowl well, or the opposition is walking away with the advantage, sledge. Fair game? They have been pretty quiet all summer coz they have been winning but yesterday when things started looking good for Kohli, the sledge contest began. If we can't win fairly, sledging is fine! We should then have matches where no cricket is played and 11 players from each team can participate in a game of abuses to see which team is more offensive. Imagine, spectators paying for a game where abusing the opponent is integral to winning. Aussie way?

Australian criketers do not stop sledging even once they retire. The legendary fast bowler, Rodney Hogg yesterday decided to win the sledge contest by tweeting slur on Muslims. He wrote, "Just put out my aussie flag for Australia Day but I wasn't sure if it would offend Muslims . . . So I wrote 'Allah is a shit' on it to make sure,". He apologised later and said this was Aussie bad humour. Fantastic, say anything shit and then say its bad humour. Humour must take the toll here. Hogg is a public figure and surely he didn't write anything that he didn't mean? He wasn't using twitter for the first time and ofcourse what he wrote came to his bigotted, lunatic mind. He isn't the first Australian cricketer to do this either. Remember Dean Jones, calling South African Muslim batsman Hashim Amla, a terrorist in a live cricket commentary? He apologised later to Amla by saying something like, "Sorry mate, that wasn't supposed to come out on telly." Meaning clearly that he wasn't sorry for what he said, only sorry that so many people knew! I wonder why Indian Muslims do not get agitated at this racist moron, hired by Indian TV channels to talk about cricket as Prof. Dino. His sight doesn't offend people, and Salman Rushdie's does? Sometimes, one must concede, people don't think, they simply act. Thankfully true revolutions happen only when people think through their actions.

So, Mr. Hogg, "corporate speaker, legendary fast bowler, cricket commentator, author, respected public figure, perhaps always a bigot, racist creep etc. etc." has apologised. Media reported his tweet as upsetting 'Muslims'. Really? Shouldn't all of Australia have been shamed by this, outraged by this offensive tweet? The PM felt sad when the Australia day function was disrupted. Maybe she should feel worse that a public figure tweeted this. As for media that is portraying yesterdays aboriginal protest fiasco in Canberra as national shame, they should declare Mr. Hogg a national disgrace who has shamed the evolving multicultural identity and ethos of this country. Hogg's autobiography is titled: The Whole Hogg: Inside the mind of a lunatic fast bowler. I cannot recall getting insights about just how lunatic his mind is!

Meanwhile, it is the fourth day at Adelaide Oval and looks unlikely, India will save this match. Dismal summer and disppointing times for Indian cricket fans. Will rant about this again, but for now, Saurav Ganguly is annoying me. Such a petty, petty man who is venting his jealousy and frustration at the trio. Ofcourse they should be criticised, but Ganguly's agenda is singular, to target Dravid, VVS and Sachin and keep ranting about how useless they are. Dada, your ouster was painful to you when these guys are still playing and we understand/empathise but please maintain some dignity. Ah, do you have any left after pleading with IPL franchisees to hire you at any cost? You were more often than not, a liability, as a fielder and as a as a commentator. You were the kind of captain who is the first to abandon a sinking ship. Wriddhiman Saha is a good batsman with lots to prove, and he isn't the 'best' wicketkeeper in India, only because he comes from Bengal! Dada, please have your maachh-bhaat and relax. You have served Indian cricket well, but your opinions are sad...atleast mask your personal vendetta. Sunil Gavaskar, among several others, is also criticizing the team but he has more insight and I guess authority?

In all this discussion, I forgot to mention about our very own Indian Republic Day, and the deshbhakti songs in full swing. Perhaps for another time. At the Adelaide Oval, the Indian guy who sang the national anthem, messed up his lines. That was bad omen methinks....:) Amar rahe humara gantantra. Atleast that's something to be proud of despite the dismal summer of cricket. :)

More soon...till then, hoton pe sachchai rehti hai, jahan dil mein safai rehti hai. Hum us desh ke wasi hain, jis desh mein ganga behti hai...:)

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Lamentable Loss

The third test match between India and Australia ended at the WACA today. Just 2 and a half days of cricket and Indians are ground to dust. It seems to most of us that Team India is saving its worst for the last match at Adelaide because each performance is worse than the previous one. If you thought 191 at SCG was a pathetic first inning score, they made 161 at Perth. An innings defeat again at Perth and abject humiliation as the match did not even last 3 full days, thanks to dismal Indian batting in both innings.

One can argue that it was expected, but the scale of it is shocking. I am very sad indeed because I know this match has spelt doom for my favorite VVS Laxman. I know for sure, that he will be shown the door in the next match, making way for Rohit. A ray of hope comes as Dhoni is banned for the next match, thanks to his two over over rate in this one. Would the selectors make three changes for Adelaide? Saha will replace Dhoni as wicket-keeper and Vinay Kumar will have to give way to either Ashwin or Ojha. Will Rohit come in at the expense of VVS? Maybe, and it might be good to have a young player. I do not know how much of Rohit's test talent Ian Chapell has seen, but fact is he hasn't played any international test and his ODI record doesn't impress me either. We are often told IPL has brought several new talents in Indian cricket to the fore. I am sorry, I do not recognise any of the IPL talents as good enough to play tests, leave alone performing well in them. So Rohit is not my favorite cricketer. I must however say, that Kohli's attitute annoys me but he definitely showed promise today. Batted an entire session even though wickets kept tumbling at the other end. His shots are good, plays close to the body, leaves the unplayable balls, defends well and has a range of strokes. I think he is a 'lambi race ka ghoda'...He will do well.

So, there's much speculation about why India lost so badly. Dhoni said it was the batting because the bowlers did get 10 wickets in less than 2 sessions yesterday. yes, ofcourse the batting has been appalling. Lack of application. Gambhir, Sehwag, Laxman gifted their wickets, Tendulkar's was earned and Dravid was bowled again.It was sad to see Dravid struggling. His footwork and reflexes were definitely one of a 39 year old. The most anguish I felt was when Dhoni edged it in the slips. It was as if he had planned to. His captaincy is not any better than his batting. The way he rotated his bowlers and set up fielding somehow felt very fishy, almost as if BCCI had paid him to underperform, so that test cricket is decimated in India. Very unlike Dhoni and very fishy. So when he came armed with that famous captain cool grin for the post match press conference, you wanted to ask him to wipe it off. And now he must be relieved he will not captain India through the grand finale of humiliation at Adelaide.

The one thing that the Indian fans and media are not talking about is how the IPL has ruined test cricket. BCCI has already announced the IPL teams for the new season in the midst of this important international tour and there seems to be no outrage on this. IPL should have been for the retired players, but its become the main tournament for current and future players, run by the most corrupt BCCI that is minting money out of this. Imagine that BCCI officials have direct financial stakes in the IPL franchises. And, that odious Rajeev Shukla, BCCI VP will perhaps say that India losing is a good thing for Australian cricket! He said that about India losing 4 nil in England. Not only is he BCCI VP, and UPCB honorary secretary but have just discovered, he is a govt. nominee in the DDCA along with another parliamentarian, Navin Jindal. This man, whose rise to power has not been surprising given he is a political middle man, a creep of the highest order with friends in high places, he controls the cricket board. He strutts around making statements on Indian cricket and cricketers....which is a higher insult to the players than losing a match. Just looked at his website, this creep has his badges and passes as a BCCI official scanned and uploaded!!!! Check it out... In India, politicians and celebrities are so in love with themselves!

and how I feel about Sharad Pawar being ICC president? that will be a rant sesison for another time...Sharad Pawar? huh? In India to be a politician, you just need to be a creep. Many people including Gavaskar are saying that we need to relook at the pitches in India. BCCI is making billions and it's not such a tough job to get new pitches that help the fast bowlers...pitches that we see in SA, Australia. Is it so unreasonable to demand good grounds, good facilities for both players and spectators? If cricket is the only game we are remotely good at, to compete at the world level, how much do we spend on improving the level of skill in this sport? none! Can you imagine the schedule of these players, bullied by the BCCI to play IPL for two good months in the year? injuries are common and the technique never develops. Frankly those who like the game know, there is no fun watching sixes being hammered left and right. There is fun in watching a tough contest between bat and ball. Hostile bowling and batting that toughs it out. Remember Sachin's century in South Africa against Dale Steyn's darting/snaky spells in 2010? Thats the kind of test cricket that is superb.

and while we rant about Team India's dismal performance, I am not so sure the Aussies should be celebrating hard. Barring Warner and Cowan who were firing against an insipid attack, the rest of the team collapsed quickly. Ponting's dismissal was 3 times uglier than Dravid's as Yadav managed to remove his middle stump. ughhh. and the high point was Haddin's dismissal by Zaheer on some Aussie fan wrote on cricinfo... Haddin can't bat, can't keep and can't sledge! hahaha. Hussey, Marsh and Clarke himself looked very uncomfortable and did not make good scores. Aussie bowling is top class but their best scorerer in a test is a T 20 import, Dave Warner, they have some serious batting issues that they need to address without getting too euphoric about scoring runs against a poor Indian bowling side. They have had batting collapses of mammoth proportions in recent times, including 47 all out in SA. I cant even begin to imagine what Tremlett and Anderson would do to the likes of Warner and other struggling Aussie batsmen when they tour England. So while victory against any opposition is sweet, Aussies are far from being a world beating side. At this point England and South Africa have a more balanced team.

Well, I have to admit, it was disappointing today because at one point I thought an innings defeat would be avoided. Alas. I am not sure I want to follow Indian cricket anymore for a while and am eagerly waiting for the Pak-England series. Anyone who watches IPL or argues about its merits is a partner in crime, for decimating Indian test cricket. We shouldn't even feel good if we do well in the ODIs here. In 2008 we lost with dignity and Kumble's not every talented team fought hard after the MCG loss. Captain Cool Dhoni's experienced team has meekly surrendered to an inexperienced Aussie side. Its such a shame to go down without a fight. Thats not what cricket stands for. Its a sport thats all about character, courage and fortitude...there were days when batsmen like Gavaskar, Richards faced the fast bowling of Lillee, Walsh, Roberts etc without a helmet! Hard to imagine as it would take a lot of guts. The game has changed now and players have more protection, surely not because they can meekly surrender.

Cricketers are humans yes, but they are also professionals who are paid to perform their best. they are paid millions today and earn so much more through sponsorships, endorsements etc. It is not unfair for fans to expect that these professionals will give their best to the sport. The logic is simple, when you are paid to do the job, you must do it...or you are fired. The bonus is its a job they like, and a job they choose early in their lives. I pay more than 100 AUD for every day ticket to the ground and see my team go down like a pack of cards. I am happy to respect the players, but as a fan, I deserve respect too! Dravid talked about respecting the fan in his Bradman Oration before the start of the series and then forgot about it each time he went to bat.

So my final message for Team India. Please respect your fans and apply yourselves. Its not about winning or losing, but about how you approach the game. You guys have been shamelessly dismal....If they cannot salvage any pride at Adelaide, this team's test status should definitely be revoked!

more again disappointed, sad...and now sleepy!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Cricket: That funny game....

So, its been a really long time and I have decided to revive my blog, put new life and spirit into it, something that the Indian cricket desperately needs on this 2012 Aussie tour. Infact, my blog has been pretty much like team India, brilliant start but didn't quite keep up with discipline, commitment and consistency. :)

I like being an academic but (test) cricket is like a religion to me like the rest of the billion Indians (though I know many of my friends wouldn't care about eleven players with the bat and ball, least of all seeing them battle it out for 5 full days when they could do so much work, and watch bollywood flicks, and catch up with friends and family!)I like the game because it does not rely on contact violence and physical prowess is tested more through mental strength when you battle/weather it out for 5 full days on the field. Cricketers get paid but spectators/followers must feel really passionate to be involved for 5 days. Right?

Last few years have been good for Indian cricket and cricket in general. Lots of good games, test matches with results, legends performing to expectations and underdogs coming up with surprise wins. My memories are of South Africa's fantastic victory in Australia on their last tour, England's Ashes victories in 2009 and 2011, India's victories against England and Australia at home, and most recently the wonderful New Zealand win at Hobart and Sri Lankan one match wonder win in South Africa. Like the rest of the world, cricket reflects a revolutionary change, the power centre has shifted and it's become more competitive than ever, more 'corrupt' than ever (with unfortunate match fixing scandals!), more globalised than ever with IPL, Big Bash and other domestic tournaments that bring all kinds of players together(Who would have thought Andrew Symmonds and Harbhajan Singh would share the same dressing room!) and more aggressive, more gendered than ever.

So, cricket lovers Down Under were waiting for this India-Australia series that promised to bury the memories of the controversial last tour in 2008. It was ugly, ugly, ugly and Ponting will forever not be forgiven for the role he played in that series. Coming back to this series, we drove from Sydney to Melbourne to watch the Boxing day test at MCG which India lost so badly. I still retained hope for the SCG test but it has ended on a sadder note for team India with a crushing innings defeat. I left the SCG ground after lunch on day 2 because it wasn't going to be a contest at all. Cricket lovers are despondent after India's performance and might I add, this new year has begun on a really sad note.

You win and lose in sports and it should be no big deal, but these defeats are reflective of our national ethos and dare I add, our foreign policy: marked by individual brilliance, general lethargy, lack of discipline and professionalism and lack of strategic thinking. The fielding is embarrassing to say the least, the bowling unit gets disheartened easily as was reflected in the runs they gifted to Aussie batsmen at the SCG. Sorry Michael Clarke, but your runs didn't come against a world class bowling attack but against an insipid team that gifted you runs to allow you that place in the sun. Infact Clarke shoud be thankful to team India members for their generosity, Hussey and Ponting should be grateful India has saved their careers! Lack of professionalism and discipline has been much talked about by the likes of Sunil Gavaskar (who ofcourse has no problems with IPL!)but it is also obvious to general public when they reach the grounds early for the match. While the Aussie team works hard in the nets and is seen warming up on all match days, the Indian team is nowhere to be found till you spot them, strolling lazily and moving their bodies as if its a burden they carry. So, it's not just Sachin Tendulkar with the monkey on his back. I remember watching the SCG Ashes test last year and the English team would always take to the grounds early and practice hard. Ofcourse Kevin Pietersen always likes to be where he can be seen!

Yesterday we still hoped Sachin and VVS would salvage it for us, but it was not to be. VVS played a career saving knock not a match saving one like Calcutta. And it was all over in 4 days. Questions are beng asked about Dhoni's captaincy and whether the young ones like Kohli are up to it, whether the old legs of Dravid, VVS and Sachin can carry further the burden of the team etc etc. Whatever the postmortem, fact is that the body is dead, this tour is over. The saddest thing is this is the best batting and bowling unit we have had in a long time but lack of planning, practice and discipline has resulted in scars that will be hard to heal.

I am taking it as a lesson for my own life. Talent is useless without hardwork, planning and executon. That should be my new year mantra. I know I will still follow the Perth Test quite intently remembering the last time India won there. Hope is never to be given up, but the disppointment is profound. It's a game that you invest emotions and time in and that should be respected by the players. It is not losing a game that hurts, but losing a game that you should have won, and losing it in such a humiliating manner.

It will also be fair to mention that while reading all the analyses, one finds a gaping vaccum....Peter Roebuck's exciting and insightful columns are missing. None are as eloquent as he could be and my thoughts on his story for another day.

This is a good place to vent and good place to fulfill some new year resolutions. So, dear readers, I shall keep you posted about this and that. Those of you who know me, know that I have much to say...but for now, a Happy New Year and here's to new beginnings.