Mera Pyaar Virender Sehwag or Why Sehwag is a better batsman than Beethoven?

The co-author of this blog once famously stated in an economics forum that India’s greatest asset was Virender Sehwag. He meant it to be a joke but all he heard were a few chuckles in the conference hall. I remember him mentioning this story to me and then us vehemently criticising economists for their lack of a sense of humor. I still use that story to break awkward silences amongst cricket loving strangers and insult hauty economists. Today I would like to make an apology to them as I was wrong. Those (f – word) economists did not laugh because they knew that what my friend said was actually a fact, it has nothing to do with their sense of humor. India’s greatest asset is Virender Sehwag.

As we strive to make our lives complicated, Viru swims in the sea of simplicity with a bat in his right hand, and as he swims he would still manage to hit that wretched half-volley over extra cover for a six. Such is his genius. I still wonder why haven’t temples been named after him after his divine 206 in Galle. In Galle, the Indian team seemed like a bunch falling feeble Pandavas while Viru rode on Krishna’s chariot. Indestructable, invincible and genius. It also explains his lack of footwork, as he won’t be needing that if he rides on a chariot.

A good innings by Sehwag brings about the same emotions as an inspiring novel or an engaging movie. It keeps you in awe for a long period till you start seeing the artistic beauty of it all. Then you fall in love with it. He inspires the same in his opponents, a rare quality. When he was scoring his triple against South Africa, I saw the many faces of Graeme Smith. He was pissed about dropping Sehwag in the beginning and then he became Mr. Focus where he tried every tactic in his book to get Viru out and ultimately he became a happy spectator, smiling recklessly at Viru’s genius even though he knew that he would lose the Test.

His love affair with the boundary is the most intense relationship I have seen in my life. It is one of those passionate romances all of us crave for and Romeo died for. It has an abundance of love but also a lot of charming hate in it. He likes to kiss the boundary rope but also looks through it when he fiercely uppercuts the short and wide ball for six. He spends quality time with it by hitting a lot of Fours but when he misses it too much, he hits them consecutively. Umar Gul was once a victim of Viru’s extreme yearning for the boundary and gave 20 runs in an over. And while Umar Gul wept at the end of the carnage, I was simply jealous. If I was the boundary rope, I would have wrapped myself around Sehwag by now. But the boundary rope is a better lover as it knows that distance makes the heart grow fonder.

I am a happy person today. I am happy that he has done what everyone thought he would do someday. And I wish he does it again, and again and again and again. Not because he will have a career average of 200 after 200 innings, but the cricket world needs him to bat like he does to make them realise that it is not true that a genius knows no boundaries. Sehwag only knows boundaries and he knows them very well. It is the only thing he knows after Maa ka Doodh and Tandoori Chicken.

I wish that today I was Sehwag’s mom or his brother or sister or best friend or Gautam Gambhir or the glove on his right hand. I wish I was everyone who met Sehwag today. And obviously I have thought of what I would say to him. After shaking his hand, hugging him and shedding a tear I would tell him, in a very heavy voice, I would repeat a beautiful truth in my head and tell him the co-author’s story and then blush on the punchline – “Viru, You are India’s greatest asset”.

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Remembering the Titans

1. The Bangalore weather. Never again will an ignorant North Indian mock the glorious meteorological gift that is Bangalore. The daytime heat was invigorating and the evening cold air was fragrant. Every afternoon’s oppression instead became an inviting carousal. A carousal fit for frothing barley and marinated pork with a special pinch of salt i.e. conversation. The experience cannot be stressed enough – its always lovely weather in Bangalore!

2. The National Anthem at the start of each match. Hearing an entire stadium chant the rhythmic crescendo of the anthem never once failed to inspire a visceral romance with each heartfelt verse. Every time felt like the first! Each individual reached a climax of momentary renouncement where they were willing to sacrifice everything, even their souls for our great nation.

3. The India vs England tie. The virgin match. This is what we had come for. The second and the hour all blended into one long impetuous flash. There was not one person in the stadium who‘s throat had not dried with the vacillating perspiration of the tale. And what a tale it was… one to be relived for lifetimes to come. As they say, everybody remembers their first time.

4. Sachin Tendulkar. Sachin is a phenomenon. He may or may not be the greatest sportsman alive but he surely is the most loved across the universe. Winning the world cup was fantastic, but to win the world cup for Sachin was extraordinary. We simply cannot get over that. The moment he ran onto the field to hug his team members, his fierce determination surrendered to an infantile pride. And that is why everybody adores him, it is because he is still the true son of the nation.

5. The Mexican Waves. Alright, they are annoying but after seven matches we do miss it. Maybe it was the ill timing and inappropriate frequency, the Mexican waves surely had an allure, forced but equally commanding. Struck by the Stockholm syndrome, we didn’t stop at the stadium. It went on long after the last ball … while waiting at traffic lights, from auto-rickshaw to auto-rickshaw, or at quiet country clubs while sitting around round-tables tipping with empty beer mugs.

6. Zaheer with the old ball. The moment Zaheer ran in with the old ball was a blissful start of patience. We knew there was a phantom around the corner. Even a 60 year old Macallan would bow down in experience to the aged wisdom of India’s pace grandmaster. Zaheer isn’t fast, atleast not anymore, but ask any girl, haste isn’t exactly a sought after quality, and knowing where to pitch is everything. Oooh Yeah!

7. Mohali Celebrations. The mania of 2rd April was first initiated in Mohali. When the Prime Ministers were looking for an excuse for moderation, the people of Mohali were combusting in their immoderate splendour. The whole way from the stadium to the hotel was an unrestrained picnic basket and there was enough for everyone.

8. Yuvraj on his knees after India beat Australia. In a parallel Non-Dhoni universe, Yuvraj would be captain, cricket would be played with only the heart and India would probably not be world champions, but seeing Yuvraj fall to his knees in that outrageous genuflection, only the few stoic hearts could resist the empathy of relief. Yuvraj was no man on a mission, he was just being himself. When we say himself, we mean a rockstar beyond all imagination. A musician who manages to blend the ethereal liveliness of rock with the orgasmic subtleness of jazz.

9. The final drum roll. We have gotten over India’s win, but cannot get over the nation’s reaction to it. The celebration strived populous desperate for a reason, finally lost itself in a sea of triumph. The nation founds it’s voice once again, and this time it lasted for way more than fifty two seconds. We for one, wanted to put a ring on the moment and live with it for the rest of our life.

10. People We Met. The bandages from the last world cup had been stripped clean but the ignominy never died. Your past is your GPS to your future. No amount of rankings and miniskirts could suture every Indians humiliation of 2007. We shared not just reckless screaming with fellow spectators, but the indubitable compassion of siblings. This could not be more evident, than in the last two hours of the Ahmadabad game against Australia, when we escaped the torments of the stadium’s silence by stepping outside. We were not alone and the past had caught up with us all. Fear like a rumor blew over us all, but no one knew where it started. We are all logically delinquent to having left our lives to be at the stadium but it isn’t the end that makes up for our constant indulgences, but its the knowledge that we are not alone. Sharing the same disquiet with a stranger is so much more broadening than sharing triumph.

R&R

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Finding a Nation’s identity

28 years had passed but a nation had struggled to find its own identity. The many milestones in wealth, technology and breeding were not enough for it to find its soul. But a few men, with their bats held high, showed us the meaning of India, or should we say INDIIAAAA, INDIA…!…!…!

Snacking on the twisties of self doubt and a spicily rebellious media; bathing in the nagging showers of hope and despair; wearing the boxers torn by the logical tug-of-war of failed results and boastful advertisements; and sleeping on a mattress of bruised egos and unbounded desires, we crawled through the hours of the day, without even knowing the meaning of being ourselves. A moment changed all that.

A 16 year old boy with a single minded hunger for cricket glory took 21 years to realize his own potential and find his true purpose. A stylish and aggressive left – hander with the cricketing talent of Gods and the effusiveness of Punjabis, had to tread through a long dark tunnel to find the light. And a gritty left-arm seamer took 8 years to redeem himself by proving his coming-of-age to the world.

A crowd found its own innocent unity. Celebrities rejoiced like children out on curfew. The cities landmark monuments almost fading into history, were re-illuminated with the sparkle of a million smiles. The stern cops melted into liberal managers of the greatest party on the planet.

Vande Matram found a new purpose and freedom a new relief. Fate took a breather while the moment took the stage.

INDIA HAD NEVER BEEN LIKE THIS BEFORE AND NEVER WILL BE.

Three days later, the feeling still lingers. It is not on the surface but somewhere way beneath. At a place where it is easily exhumed by our nerves, where the simplest recollection of victory can cause moments of true bliss.

– R & R

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Mohali was extraordinary

The half utopian city of Chandigarh didn’t just breathe oxygen, it breathe the incense of a billion prayers. The creamy softness of the butter chicken was spiced with the dressing of the events to come. The Mohali stadium’s usually dry atmosphere was inundated by the desperate elite, its proud politicians, greedily pretentious actors, wastefully freeloading officials and of course, THE noble fans. And everyone knew… that THIS was an Extraordinary Day.

School kids went for an early lunch, meetings were rescheduled, the Maulvis read their namaaz prematurely, and even Navjyot Sidhu maintained an inspirational moment of silence.

The national anthem echoed so loud that you wished you were at the centre of the pitch, to hear the cosmic monotone of the entire stadium. The sheer number of flags in the stadium made it seem that the whole arena was painted in tricolor. Even Bryan Adams, exalted by the cricket mania in India, has apparently submitted a plea to change his chart topping single from its earlier drag to ’18 not out’. However, at the stadium the Indian shook the Pakistani’s hand and they wished each other the best of luck….not about graver issues, but cricket.

Each in the ground had suffered his own injustice to be there. Even the fleas and the mosquitoes had purchased a pass to witness the event. As He came on to bat, the initial patient anxiety had given way to reckless jubilation. At that moment, the result did not matter. The only thing that held any weight was the bat of the Little Master. Not even the gravity of the situation affected Him, as He dismissed it,explaining His own weightlessness.

A 21 run Umar Gul over was a feat not seen before in this World Cup but it happened on that day as his tasteless bowling was matched by the brutality of Sehwag. And still the crowd chanted, “SAAACHIN, SAAACHIN!”. He returned the cheer by playing a handsomely flawed innings but which was soon to precipitate down into a whirlpool of confusion. Apparently while walking back to the pavilion Kohli whispered to Yuvraj that he’s ordering butter chicken from the dhaba and wished him a long innings. Meanwhile the rest of the Pakistani fielders were catching some of Kamran Akhmal’s disease. And then unlike history, our U.S.S.R (Uniquely Sensible Suresh Raina) did not break.

During the Pakistani innings Umar Akmal’s effortless boldness stole the already wavering confidence of the Indian spectators. The lights under the Chandigarh cars started flickering. Just then Bhajji came up with his own answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything… THE Doosra!

The big-hearted Pakistani team looked atypically at loss of energy and Shahid Afridi took another jab at getting his name crossed off the all-rounder list. At the end, the Indian team had made the promising Pakistani team look ordinary.

The people of Chandigarh then danced to the tunes of the 11 Blue Pied Pipers of India. India was finally going to play a world cup final at home.

Chak De Phatte!

– R & R

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Nights Of Exuberant Anxiety

The tension was slow to engulf us. Unbridled enthusiasm and exuberance were enough to keep our jittery nerves ignorant to THE game. The prayers, pickled ages ago, were reaching their ripened peak. Mohali had become the nation’s magnet drawing all Indian hearts to live the event.
It rains in Mohali and the inertia of the nation seems dampened. Although the local weathermen use their calming words to dismiss doubts about the match, the fleet of pessimists still insist on asking the ‘What-ifs?’. But just like ‘Fevicol Ka Mazboot Zor’ (fevicol’s stern grip), the optimism never left our minds. And as we lie in bed to sleep the longest sleep in our lives, even the mosquitoes in the air are buzzing ‘INDIAAAAA, INDIA!!’.

– R & R

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A Time For Pressure

As the plane descended down onto Ahmedabad, we could feel the density of the tension below, almost as though the pressure was pushing against our Indigo jet. Even when the plane finally stopped, the cabin atmosphere did not descend into its usual chaos but the normally hasty passengers were suddenly taking calm measured steps towards the exit like a student walking towards his examination hall. Getting out of the airport, we were greeted with a silent smile from a security guard who lost his normally stern demeanor when he saw our India jerseys, and waved us off with an emphatic V sign.

The ride from the airport to our temporary hamlet was an inspiring one. We saw some India flags hanging off apartment windows which almost led us to think that it was Independence Day. There were large posters on the outer walls of important buildings which announced their support for the Men in Blue. On the pavements along the road wandering minstrels sang songs about India’s glory. We saw children in the playground engaging in what seemed like joyful play, but when you looked at their individual faces there was nervous anxiousness. Upon reaching our destination, the auto driver waved off our fare but instead he indebted us by saying ‘India ko jeetake aaana’ (make India win).

The evening was spent in quiet disservice to our natural instincts of indulging in vice. We instead engaged in rhythm channel surfing trying to prepare ourselves by watching cricket analysts like Ravi Shastri explain ‘India will win if it plays better cricket than Australia’ and basking in his untitled creative glory. We insisted on ending our day by watching His innings of ‘200*’ and falling into a reassuring sleep. As we slept we wished that we skip the agonizing wait and just wake up in the stadium the following day.

On the way to the stadium we could feel Ahmedabad cooking in its own pressure and releasing not steam but dust. While walking into the stadium we were surrounded by people with their faces covered in paint and purpose. The stern faces inside the arena found a moment of relief when India rose for the National Anthem.

Haddin and Watsons seemingly unending partnership added further weight on our already heavy situation. Even after Watson’s dismissal, Ponting firmly kept his foot on the accelerator and was skillfully guiding the Australian innings to a huge total, but India’s bowlers forced the Australian team to only a respectable one.

Veeru, having been more of a nuisance earlier, continued his streak of practiced laziness by aimlessly swinging the bat for a mistimed hook. Gauti came in at number three and Veeru looked forward to his much desired walk to the dressing room. Sachin holding the pressure, played a purposeful, almost perfect innings until the point he transferred the pressure to the spectators by nicking the ball to Brad Haddin. Yuvraj and Gauti then provided a classic demonstration of how to make a comfortable situation into an uncomfortable one by running like infants. Dhoni , unusually so, failed to calm our nerves by hitting an irresponsible shot.

Unable to handle Dhoni’s dismissal, we stepped out of the stadium in sorrowful thoughts about the future. Outside, we met other emphatic strangers, suffering the same hopelessness as us. And the fact that we found brothers in such strife gave us hope again. By gauging the decibels and the direction of the screams, we were trying to measure our proximity to a win. We entered the stadium when victory looked definite.

An injured Brett Lee then bowled the 48th over with the energy and grit of the 1st over of the innings even though India were a shot away from victory. Yuvraj Singh, with the focus of a scientist and the precision of an archer, glided India to victory.

The pressure was released from Ahmedabad. The crowd roared. And then Diwali came early to India.

– R & R

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Ashish Nehra and the stench of defeat

From the valleys of Bangalore to the dry heat of Nagpur was a dreaded journey. Life was not expected to be exciting in a city filled with industry and oranges. We missed the comfort and the vibrancy of Bangalore. The company of friends, the all-knowing glances of strangers who saw us entering bars in the afternoon, the lush green outfield of the Chinnasamy stadium, the ‘indulgences’ at our friend’s place and ….the lovely weather.

But it was not so bad.

With our friends PJ and RB and guided by a dim witted chauffeur who seemed to have had a perverse past with Haldirams, we set about exploring Nagpur by first tasting Calcutta. We ironically happened to be at a Calcutta Rolls restaurant when we were hungrily cheering for Bangladesh to overcome the English fast bowling. The Bangladesh win not only cheered us up but reminded us we need to acquire some alcohol for further cheering. Equipped with the necessary imports we proceeded to our temporary but no less filial home of Sarda Manor. A landmark in a quiet neighborhood in Nagpur, the Sarda Manor proved to us the importance of gainful employment. The enormity and hedonism of the apartment was enough to quell our needy iterant spirit. In fact as someone quipped, ‘the manner in which the Manor affected us made us stammer like MC Hammer.

After getting into the stadium early and we found comfortable cushioned seats and sat down to witness a thrilling contest of practice football between our Indian cricket team. How the dedicated Sreesanth ran excitedly all over the stadium and was thoroughly ignored by his own designated team members, gave us a deep sense of schadenfreude. An aide sprinted to our corner of the stadium to plant wickets for throwing practice, but for some capricious impulse the team decided to practice on another end of the ground. This annoyed a sardar who swore menacingly at the aptitude of the Indian cricket team.

The first 20 overs were like a dream when Sachin and Viru bedazzled the South African bowlers with their sensuous strokeplay. Sachin and Viru’s treatment made Morkel and Steyn nostalgic about the treatment they received from their mother when they refused to brush their teeth at night. And suddenly out of nowhere an enthused half-bald spectator exclaimed ‘The atmosphere…is breathtaking!’

Gauti and Sachin’s steady partnership raised everyone’s hopes of a 350 plus total. And yet again we faltered in the notorious powerplay when Sachin simply gave away his wicket. As he walked back to the dressing room he seemed disappointed but yet believed that the strength of India’s middle order would not trample the hopes of millions. However, during an optimistic hot shower, his optimism gave way to disturbed nostalgia when he heard Munaf Patel singing in the shower room.

South Africa had a covertly effective but inconclusive start. But when AB walked onto the field and calmly stamped his confidence on the match with clear hits around the park, the slow din around the stands changed from mild buoyancy to a hesitant cheer. The crowd was particularly alarmed when Duminy smacked Zaheer into the stands. But when Virat ‘Shady’ Kohli skilfully caught DeVilliers off Bhajji, the prospects of an Indian win were given a new life. The wind was blowing in India’s favor but Dhoni broke the wind by giving the ever-irreliable Ashish Nehra the final over. The South Africans then broke wind on Ashish’s face, who took a particular delight to the stench… the stench of defeat.

– R & R

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