Saturday, February 27, 2010

To the Game and its Master

Getting up in the wee hours, with the alertness that was always missing in the other early risings, the careful walk down to the living room that had the TV in the corner, the soft baby steps, a cat walk, so that there was no noise to wake up the parents, along, with my oft repeated self quote ‘am not superstitious but a little luck did no one any harm’ - then switching on the BPL television (most oft on mute mode) and looking at the half-fuzzy, out of focus cricket scores, sometimes a third of the figure eaten up by the top right corner of the screen, and a me almost bending under, a tilt of the neck so as so get a peak into the half hidden digits, then squinting the eyes, and various facial muscles put to good use to get the clear figure,
"what’s the score man!"

All of this reminds me of the best times I spent with the game. In addition to the rituals I indulged myself in on the D-days, what really added the charm were the colourful uniforms, the white kookaburra balls and the lush green Australian grounds.
Yes, that’s my memory of the Benson & Hedges series in Australia. And then came the worst, the struggling Indian batsmen against the giants and monsters like Merv Hughes, Craig Mcdermott and company. It was always a lost cause. Post 1985 series, we had consistently failed to make a mark in the Benson & Hedges series. Sanjay Manjrekar, Kris Srikanth, Ravi Shastri, Manoj Prabhakar and others were always struggling. Often their wholehearted shots wouldn’t even as much as disturb the birds, conveniently sitting, lazing actually, at the boundaries in the Australian grounds. The scores would read: 3/32, 4/27 etc.
Australian score cards always had wickets before the runs. And in times like those, situations would arise that figures like 3/7, 2/5 – would make it really annoying to first read those scores with half awake eyes, and then figure –

“Yeh runs kaunse hai… wickets kaunse… out of sheer disbelief of the situation”!

During vacations the game and me used to be the best of friends, inseparable duo. The early childhood days in Bombay – the one bedroom hall flat was my Eden gardens! I used to constantly bowl at the two chairs, lying not so conspicuously in the hall. They were joined such that hitting the ball at their legs, that is bowling to their legs would have the ball go in different directions – depending on the spot of the leg that the ball was hit, all this, meaning the two chairs were my batsmen. And when I wanted to bat and enjoy the game, the vintage ball-in-the-socks-tied-with-the-ceiling was the best method. And when I fell sick or invariably got my leg injured or sprained, and was restricted to the bed, to stay in touch with the game, I would play the ‘Book Cricket’!

Turning the page of a thick book and getting the even page number as the score of the batsmen. I had my own unique set of rules and regulations for this form of sport. Eg: If the page number was 190. Then the last digit 0 meant the batsman is Out! Those tough book cricket days came as an unsuspecting, unusual companion to rescue. My favourite Book or I might say ‘collaborator’ used to be super thick Banking Examination book that my father used to read during his Banking Exams days.
I wonder how any of the kids didn’t like tear away all the pages numbered –digits ending with ‘0’; oh, we hadn’t been exposed to the phenomenon of ‘match fixing’ as yet.

Being the only child then, I did everything; I played my own tournaments; did my own commentary, organized my own world cups, and had my own winners. Of course India had to win in almost all of them, but when it used to be Wasim Akram bowling, I would allow him a 5-wicket haul! I shamelessly copied Wasim bhai’s style even while bowling in school grounds, for years to come! Like the young Andy Kaufman's wall in Man on the Moon.

There was a time in the early 1990’s, when India was playing dismally. I remember the 1992 world cup, only 5 points. 2 for beating Pakistan, 2 for beating Zimbabwe and 1 for the rain-washed match against Sri Lanka. Rest all matches were lost. Mark Greatbatch, Brian Lara, David Boon, Andrew Hudson all collectively assaulted the Indian bowling line-up. In those times I blocked myself, as far as I could from the stats floating around and indulged myself in my own drawing room cricket tournaments, cups and series, where I was calling shots, doing it all to make India look a little better in my mind. The game was so much a part of me; nay the game was me. That’s where my heroes lay and they were failing me.

Post 1996 World Cup, life became too busy with academics and I couldn’t follow the game as closely. Perhaps I grew up and stopped letting India win in my mind and the joy it brought along, Perhaps I was mature now:
“Hardik these things don’t happen simply if you make them happen in your mind”. Or perhaps India started performing great esp. around 1996 World Cup.

It’s been years since I followed cricket, but I sincerely thank god(and the Kochi sun) for giving me a strong headache on the 24th Feb 2010. I didn’t go to work and thankfully the Master chose that day to show the world, yet again what he Is capable of. That one milestone that only the most deserving one could and should reach. A double hundred.
Again like the movies of my childhood: Ajooba:
“yeh talwaar wohi shahzada nikaal sakta hai, jo iska haqdaar hai!”.
That sword stuck in Shammi Kapoor’s kingdom. And how amidst an emotional chorus of crying women did Amitabh Bachchan pull out the sword. Fans of Ajooba will remember this.

That night I thought about all the brilliant innings that he has played and fought so strongly for India. Fought for grown up kids like me who would not want India to win in their minds but win on the grounds. Maybe if he had started playing these innings in that early 1990s phase then I would have never left the game the way I did.
A writer said an amazing line about Sachin: “He may not play in the finals, but he will make sure that India reaches the finals” I thought about this one innings, perhaps the best, or one of the many best innings that he has played.

In 1994, on the day when I was playing holi with my friends in the building, the master was asked by the then captain Mohd. Azharuddin, to open the innings for India. The first time he was asked to open, in a match against New Zealand at the Auckland ground. The Master had started hitting the ball in his style. My father called me from our third floor flat:
“Come up, India’s batting has started”
I was still busy with the group of friends. My father again shouted from the window:
“Tendulkar has come to open the innings. 2 fours in the first over.”
“What!!!” exclaimed the group of friends.
We stopped playing and rushed to our respective homes.
2 fours in the first over in the pre T20 era and the age of Ravi Shastri’s 23 (65 balls) was a revelation.

That day I saw one of his best innings. Firecrackers were bursting on Holi, no we’d not confused the festivals, it was the Master’s 82* in 49 balls. I can never forget the way he approached the ball, the way he would come in position and hit that flashing straight drive, from right under the bowlers nose, the ball zoomed past. That square cut, you could almost hear the ‘knock’ sound of the kookaburra ball. The going on back foot and the lift over the mid-on and the amazing hook shot – the blitzkrieg of the genius. From that day he always opened the innings for India.

I can never forget the way he welcomed an aggressive “talking-too-much-to-media” Shoaib Akhtar in the 2003 World Cup. Six over thirdman. Youtube terms it as a “shot of the lifetime”.

To all the masters whom I started following off lately including Abbas Kiarostami, Michel Gondry, Micheal Haneke, Emir Kusturica, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog. Sorry sirs – I forgot The First Master - My Childhood Master.

“No one like my Sachin.”

I feel extremely sorry for he had to make a 200* to make me realize how important a man he is for my game and how great an impact he had had and continues to have on our lives.

Time to play some cricket.
Phir dil do apne game ko…

Happy Holi to all the readers. Ironically aaj bhi holi hai...!!

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta


Nirmit Speaks said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nirmit Speaks said...

really nice one!!.. m sure there have been thousands like u who hv luvd d game and its master!! act feelin a bit nostalgic after readin this!!.. even i used to play alone and organise tournaments where india invariably had to win.... i remember mitu bhai also kept track of my tournaments sometimes and how he used to tease me k dar vakhte india na jite!!.. i laughed it away but actually felt quite awkward that why is it that i cant tolerate india losin atleast in my tournaments!!... i had actually thought then that may be sportsman spirit is what is lackin in me, and i could never accept defeat for myself and my COUNTRY!!..

Abhilash said...

Happy holi Hardik. Thanks for the comments.

Nice writeup Hardik.

Shailesh said...

SWEEEEEETT!!!! U r hitting the sweet spot dude consistently now.. :)

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