Sunday, April 22, 2007

Thank You Sunnybhai!

There are some days that would forever remain etched in your memory down to the detail of how you sat cross-legged on the sofa reading those three panels of "Phantom" strip in the day's newspaper. Dec 27, 1984 was one such day in my life. I can vividly remember at least 20 strokes from that epic innings of Sunil Gavaskar.

Sunny grew up playing "Court Cricket" or "Gully Cricket" in a dense Bombay where he would be declared out if he hit the ball above a certain height. According to Sunny, he could never really come out of this 'defensive' mindset, and it resulted in a less than average one-day career. Yet he was -- apart from clearly being the best test opener ever --a great reader of the game, not just a local genius who somehow had a few unbelievable games like Vinod Kambli. Even in one-dayers, he adjusted and at the very end of his career gifted us an incredibly reactive 103 not out against New Zealand in Reliance Cup (World Cup 87).

Naturally, when such a great and intelligent player comes with words like these you expect somebody up there will pay attention to it and will focus the action to rectify the errors, not worsen it by following the formula that started the slide in the first place!

"When Chappell took over, there was optimism all around that Indian cricket would be ready to challenge Australia for the title of the best team in the world.

Instead, at the end of his tenure, Indian cricket is down in the dumps with a first-round exit in the World Cup, and is as fractured and divided as seldom before. The most promising of talents, as recognised by the ICC Cricket voting panel, has lost his way and nobody of note has come through in this period."

[Note: "divided as seldom before". Sunny's choice of words - in this case adding "seldom" in between - has always been a magic in itself. That "seldom" would bring an impish grin to anyone remembering the power struggle in Indian Cricket in early 80s!]

Please read Gavaskar's column in its entirety. Cricinfo - the so-called "leading" cricket site - has remained incredibly mum even after 24 hours this syndicated column was handed off to press. This adds yet another star to Cricinfo's partial and rumor-mongering reportage that could benefit to only a handful cricketers the website is 'allied' to.

According to Cricinfo, Sourav Ganguly should be dropped irrespective of the runs scored. If he scores too much runs, Cricinfo subtly starts rumor of a "contract" between Ganguly and his sponsor that rewards Ganguly for the time he spends at crease!! Ganguly's average, if not applicable his striking rate, and if not applicable -- sadly -- his age is sited as the reason the player "must be dropped" to accommodate the likes of tried and failed "30 year young" talents like Dinesh Mongia! I even remember reading a report where they even said Ganguly should just stop playing because, at least "Maharaj" does not need any extra money! Why the same site remains conveniently silent about Dravid's age, details of his contract (along with, if any, with cricinfo), his dubious decisions after winning important tosses and above all, his strike-rate or average (both lower than Sourav). Cricinfo reporting on Sourav is just an example here to underline the malaise with Indian cricket. Don't just get me started with Niranjan Shah-Shashank Manohar-S Srinivasan trio!

Gavaskar has again done a great service to Indian cricket! While the record book shows about 11,000 runs against his name it leaves mentioning how most of those precious runs had helped to keep our supporters from drooping, and our interests from waning from the game. We were sad after Malcolm Marshall and his buddies thrashed us badly at home in 1983 - just after we had won the "World Cup" beating "Them" in the finals. But, we knew who would be the last man standing, often without any significant help from the Yashpal Sharmas, to face the most ferocious horde of fast bowlers the game will ever see. That he was not wearing any helmet but pretty much a baseball cap with ear-flaps - called "skull cap"- only made the impending moment of violence more difficult to picture! But that moment never came in the 16 or so years He ruled. He ruled with an absolute authority of calm prevailing over mayhem.

And I thought he retired!

Today, the opposition has changed. Just like the bipolar "cold war"threat has now been replaced by an untraceable link of "terrorist cells" -- Indian cricket faces far more serious challenge from corrupt administrative forces within and from some money- and glamor-struck ex-Australian has-beens than from Glenn McGraths and Shane Bonds on-field. And guess who in the country of billion came down first, as calmly as he ever did, took his guard and said -
"Now even Ireland has a chance of beating Australia sooner than later"?

Thank you Sunnybhai! Just like you did 23 years ago in Chepauk, today you again assured me that it's not all lost yet! That there is someone unbeaten on the crease to take the fight to the day next. To a cricket-lover nothing can be more heroic and romantic than fighting a lonely battle against a pool of hungry jaws and I will patiently wait for you to win now, like I ever did those decades ago.

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