Sunday, April 22, 2007

Adieu the Prince !!!!!

Yesterday, the curtain was finally drawn on one of the most glittering career in modern-day cricket !!! For 16 years now, Brian Charles Lara from the Carribean island of Trinidad and Tobago has entertained millions all over the world with his unique dish of batsmanship, a mesmerising blend of stunning hand-eye co-ordination and supreme timing and added to it, a dash of genius. Indeed, while he might have been just one of the best batsman in the world, he is, without doubt, the greatest entertainer the cricket world has known in the past 2 decades (Sachin, Ponting et al included) , a mantle he inherited from his fellow carribean great Sir Viv Richards.

The first notice he gave to the cricketing world was way back in 1989, when, as a 19-year old, he cracked 150 in a tour game against the visting Indian team. He just about missed getting into the Windies squad then (too bad, for it would have meant seeing Sir Viv and Lara in tandem, just imagine what both in full-flow would have done too the bowlers). But it did not take him too long for him to break through into the international squad, which he did in 1990. While he had a fairly successful World Cup in 1992, it was not until Sydney in Jan 1993, that he finally arrived on the world stage. The Aussies had seen a rare talent the summer before (exactly a year before, Sachin Tendulkar hit a majestic 148 at the SCG) and this time around, the SCG crowd was privileged to see another talent bloom. His first test hundred was a monstrous 277, ended only when he was run out. Sobers's record was under threat right from those days, and soon it would fall. Lara always reserved his best against the Aussies, a hallmark of great players, who flower against the best opposition. Apart from his 277, there was that trio of genuis-filled centuries in 1999, each one of them as good as the other. The 153 he scored then took the Windies to a 1-wicket victory and was adjudged the 2nd best innings of all time. The South Africans also felt the heat, centuries in the 1996 and 2003 WC by Lara knocked them out the first time, and started their slide in 2003.

Lara played and prospered against the best of them. Except for McGrath, no-one can claim to have got Lara's number. His mastery over Muralitharan in 2001 was another highlight of his career, where he scored 678 runs in 3 tests, but sadly, could not save his team losing all of them. Other bowlers, whether it be Warne, Vaas, Shoaib, Lee or Harbhajan have also suffered at his hands. Add to that, his appetite for scoring monsterous hundreds. To reclaim the record for highest individual score after it was taken away from him was the hallmark of one of the best, if not the best.

Lara in full flow was a real sight. It all started with that lovely back lift. As the bowler ran in to bowl, the base of the bat was almost touching his left shoulder. As the ball was released, it came down in a beautiful arc, ready to meet the ball at the sweet spot at the exact time. The next thing you knew, the ball was almost at the fence. When in song, the other delightful aspect of watching him was seeing him get on his toes, indeed jump sometimes, and hit the ball airborne through point or covers. And he could just as well dance down the track and, with the same beautiful arc of his bat, send the ball sailing over the fence for yet another six. All in all, someone whom you could pay and watch anytime, anywhere !! Incidentally, I remember a game that I had gone to the Brabourne Stadium in 1993. It was the Hero Cup, South Africa vs West Indies. The North Stand, where I was, was rooting for Lara while the East stand was backing Jonty Rhodes. Finally, after a few trademark boundaries, Lara skied a ball and was caught spectacularly by, who else, Jonty. It was the only time I saw him in the flesh and then, as on television umpteen no. of times, it was a great sight.

But, putting his career into complete perspective would also require one to take into account his role as a leader. There, as is the case with Sachin, he could not really be called a good captain. But all said and done, we should all remember the Prince of Trinidad for the sheer joy he brought to a cricket ground. Watching him bat was like savouring the great joys of life !!!!!

So long, Brian !!! The cricket world will be a poorer place now...


PS: The World Cup finally reaches the final week, and one only hopes that somehow, 11 Aussies can show up on the field drunk. Who knows, even that might not be enough !!!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Mahabharata.. re-looked and re-told !!

Have finally finished reading a magnum opus of a book. Magnum opus not because of any great literary achievements the book has had and not because the author is any stalwart. Magnum opus because of its sheer size (865 pages full of text only, and that too of small font) and because of the fact that it is in my mother tongue Marathi (the written word of which, I hate to admit, takes effort out of me to read). Anyways, after 4 months of chipping away, I finally managed to finish it, surviving my wife’s disapproving looks and comments J.

So what is this book about, you might ask? The book is titled ‘Duryodhan’ by Kaka Vidhate. As the name suggests, it is the story of the eldest Kaurava prince. It starts with his father Dritrashtra lamenting about being a blind prince just before his wedding with Gandhari and ends with Duryodhan dying near the river-bank on the last day of the Mahabharata war. Now the Mahabharata has always fascinated me since childhood. For me, it is quite simply, the greatest story ever sold (and even the ultimate soap opera J). BR Chopra did an outstanding job transferring the epic on the small screen (someday, I will buy the entire collection of DVDs) and hopefully, some director some day will craft an all-start-cast on the big screen. But this book was different from all other books that I have read on the Mahabharata. For once, this was more of a biography rather than being about the actual war (the war only takes about the last 200 pages or so). But more importantly, this was a view from the ‘other’ side, as it were. Though I have read and enjoyed ‘Mrityunjay’ (another outstanding book on my Mahabharata hero Karna, which, strangely enough, I read while doing my MBA at Bangalore), this book tells the epic in a different light, from the eyes of someone who, as history tells us, is the villain of the piece.

But the book raises several questions forcing us to re-look our generally accepted beliefs about the Mahabharata. For example, history tells us that the Pandavas were bound to win the war because they were on the side of truth, of dharma. But take a closer look at what actually happened in the war. Each one of the Kaurava commanders were killed rather than defeated (‘hatya’ as the book calls it as opposed to ‘vadh’ which is the Kshatriya way of overcoming your enemy in battle). Bhishma was killed when he refused to fight Shikhandi, Drona was mercilessly beheaded after he laid down his arms on hearing the false news of his son’s death. And Karna was defeated in the only way Arjuna could have, when he was without his weapons trying to get his stuck wheel out. And all this is generally accepted, not some new theory the book is trying to put forth. Against this, the only legitimate and accepted ‘adharm’ from the Kaurava side was in killing Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu (which the book incidentally denies but lets go with widely held and accepted ‘facts’.) So, atleast as far as the actual war is concerned, there is not much doubt on who acted according to ‘dharma’ and who did not.

The other important point that the book brings out is that Duryodhana lost the war not because he was in the wrong, but because of all his trusted aids betrayed him. Bhishma and Drona could not kill the Pandavas because they were so dear to them. But most importantly, Karna also did him in. He was the rock on which Duryodhana had pinned his hopes on, knowing fully well that in a legitimate battle, even Arjuna could not stop him. But just a few days before the war, out came Krishna (who, not surprisingly, is painted in more black than white by the book) and told Karna the story of his birth, shattering Karna from within. This led to Karma promising Kunti that he would not kill any other Pandava except Arjuna. In the actual war, Karna had each one of the 4 remaining Pandavas at his mercy, had he killed any one of them, the war would have stopped then and Yudhistir would have accepted defeat. So that left Duryodhana with absolutely no friends in battle. He was a marked man from the time the battle started and fate caught up with him eighteen days later (that too, courtesy of a cowardly act from Bheem who hit Duryodhana below the belt after realizing that he was not going to win otherwise).

All in all, the book tells an interesting and often, heart-touching tale of a prince and prospective (and maybe, even rightful) emperor wronged by fate, his father, his friends and his dear ones, leaving him to wage a lonely battle to get what he regarded as rightfully his in life. And, on top of all this, history regards him as a villain and the instigator of the war.

After all, what is history but not a story told by the victorious???


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The show goes on....

A lot has happened in the World Cup since I published my post around 2 weeks back. Some things have changed, some things have remained the same. Two of the biggest crowd-pulling sides have been knocked out of the competition, virtually cutting the estimated global audience for this event by about half. The embarrassing exit of the Men in Blue was immediately followed by the entire country going overboard. As I said, some things remained the same. Effigies were set on fire, restaurants owned by some of the players were damaged and elaborate security was required for the players homes and families. The media, aided by former cricketers (most of whom now get free airtime as 'experts' on the dime-a-dozen news channels), was quick in blaming everyone from the coach, captain and senior players. Calls to revamp Indian cricket flew thick and past. Thankfully, after a few days, the storm has subsided. People now sleep on time and report to work on time. The tournament itself has lost quite a lot of its sheen. The Super Eights, which at one point of time, appeared to be packed with mouth-watering clashes (remember the ICCs scheduled advertising the India-Pakistan clash on April 15th) , now has to see South Africa and Ireland 'battling' it out. Australia, as before, is kicking ass and appears on course for a hat-trick of titles. For people who were calling it the 'most balanced' tournament, things have gone wrong.
But spare a thought for our neighbors. Not only did they suffer an even more embarrassing defeat, but a day later, one man actually lost his life. Till we know the exact cause of Bob Woolmer's death, we can only assume that he paid the price for 'being the man who knew too much'. That it was not a natural death was very much apparent from the start. Also, it could not have been the work of some idiot who lost his mental balance after seeing his team being thrown out of the World Cup. Quite clearly, this was a manifestation of something much more serious and elaborate going on behind closed doors. One only hopes that in the times to come, Bob would be remembered not just for his exemplary coaching skills but also as the man whose death led to a complete clean up of world cricket. After his death and Inzamam's quitting, Pakistan cricket is really in the abyss. Hopefully, it will rise like the Pheonix.