Monday, November 28, 2011

Two bells, one chime…

20 years ago, Roger Federer wasn’t the all time leading champion in Grand Slams, neither did he hold the records for most season-ending ATP tour wins or pocketing the highest prize money in the Open era. Instead, the furrow-browed, Swiss-cheese loving 10 year old, spent nearly 7 hours a day in the indoor tennis academy in Basel. He had a tough time getting selected to participate as a “ball-boy” in the ATP tournament held there, but like he puts it now, grinning as he spoke, he outpaced every other kid by a furlong to the gates of the stadium. 

Two decades on ‘Fedex’ is still setting the pace for bookmakers or tennis avid around the world. A win against Roger is considered to be some of the tennis professionals’ career-defying moment. But the champ himself has transformed from the burly young hot-head to a sense of calm and humbleness that is almost mystifying in the world of men’s tennis. Connors, McEnroe, and even Roddick defined Americans in the ‘tennictionary’ as the traditional tantrum throwers, occasionally showering some unfortunate match officials with royal outbursts. McEnroe, for once, even offered money to a line official to get his eye-surgery done. Roddick should have signed a non-negotiable contract with his racquet maker, that ensured durability of his tool; I’m sure Arthur Ashe stadium still has a mark on him near the right base-line! 

Roger Federer is, in plain journalistic words, boring to write about. His game and flair may fill up journals upon journals, re-write coaching manuals or even draw a million hits on a social site. But the person Roger Federer, offers a charming smile laced with his gleaming teeth, as he walks in 15 minutes late to his post match interview. “I’m sorry guys I’m late", he says and the media forgives his straight-away knowing that being held up for charity photos can be the last thing they can complain about. His win-loss ratio is quite stark in comparison, but his win-loss reaction is nearly similar. Same fist pump on every point, same grimace on every unforced error, same tears of joy and sorrow. Neither does he abuse his racquet nor does he scold the officials. He doesn’t throw away the towel in disgust or look towards his contingent in the crowd to yell inaudible chants. He is no con-man or joker off court, nor did he date beautiful Latin singers; he loved his childhood crush and made a family with her. His good deeds far outweigh his bad ones, however meagre they maybe. The Roger Federer Foundation generates ample sums of money, all done for the prosperity of children all over the world. The guy is so humble, he even stays back for pizza after every Basel Open with the ball boys and girls, proudly proclaiming that the slice of ham was once his only winnings out of the tournament! The demise of a certain eminent Tiger from the field of philanthropy has, ironically, aided Federer to reach such heights in human welfare that even though he may lose heart-wrenching semis to a physically superior Serb, he has won hearts all over the world more with his charm than his game. There is no clay, let alone tennis in Sub-Saharan countries you know. 

What is greatness? The question seems to an open cauldron where unique ingredients need to be added to conjure but the perfect potion. It has been proven in history that greatness had a certain, rather unmistakable touch of humbleness to it. We don’t need to scan world encyclopaedias for such instances, when our country itself provides testimony. Mahatma Gandhi preached ‘ahimsa’ and freed two nations. R.N. Tagore scripted perhaps the most beautiful anthem ever. Amitabh Bachchan hosting a T.V. show and opening arms to commoners, Sachin ever so graceful when he looks to the heavens to thank the Almighty; these are all instances of humble greatness. These people weren’t a Macedonian warlord set to conquer the world, who commanded people call him great. 

Federer maybe two different people, the artist and the observer, but his heart beats for the one sole purpose, same motto. Every win, a tournament or a mind perhaps gives him the same amount of happiness. He has won the world in the past decade, what can he lose now? My blog is just a minute snow flake in this shower of appreciative snowfall on the shoulders of perhaps the best we will ever see. I’m proud and happy just knowing the fact that I’m lucky enough to see him play and write about it. 

Roger Federer: two bells, ringing the same soothing chime.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


 What was lacking was intensity. I realized it from the beginning. 

It was a strange galactic feeling of triumph and sweet victory, a victory I had longed for ages. My enemy was standing at the very same place where he had started all this a long time back. It felt eons ago. But now he was there, all alone, cornered, dying. I loathed his every move earlier, his every meek decision, and I was proud that I had tricked him, him of all people. The great Master himself, the Supreme Commander, the All Forgiving, The Leader, my father. Yes, my own father, I tricked him to achieve my greatest goal, the summit that only I had dreamed of conquering. No other mortal was as bold or gallant enough than Ramdir’s own son, so had the High Priest for seed. But he remained silent in ascertaining which of his two sons. I was thrust this destiny by my own family, even though they knew the consequences that lay ahead. They knew that if I grew vary of what I was to gain from this venture, I would cross all barriers to attain it, be it murder or, as I always thought of it, sacrifice. It was a sacrifice indeed, one so terrible that only God himself could commit and be forgiven, and if that is what was required, if it was necessary to act like God Himself, then I would willingly do it for the greater boon that was to be gained.
But this victory tasted as sweet as it was bitter. I got it as I wanted, all perfectly done, but now at this precarious position I was having a change of heart. Why? Was it pity? Was it love? Or was it simply not the end he had imagined? It was cold, cold as a plunge in frigid water. I looked at the old man, the man I looked up to all these years, idolising, patronising, even worshipping, and I looked at the burning stacks of wood onto which he was about to jump. The person whom I loved so dearly was going to die, and I was responsible for it, I alone. 

I continued to gape at that weak figure, growing even weaker as he trotted close to the burning amber, and it was then that he turned and looked up at me. Tears made runnels down his pale, hollow cheeks as he stared at me through those piercing eyes, and as those drops made for the floor, I followed them, for I could no longer look into his eyes. It took me a while to summon all my energy to look up again and I saw a concerned look on the person standing beside my father, and by the looks of it, he knew that I was going to change my decision. He knew that even after all the hatred and jealously, loved still prevailed in me, love for the person to whose head he had pulled a gun. I marvelled at the crossroad in which I found myself, and it was a situation that I had always dreamt of. I was dreaming of it the previous night too, and on waking the next morning I promised myself never to think of it again. I would not listen to my heart; I assured myself and my colleagues, for it was weak and fell prey to emotions far too easily. There was no place for weaknesses in this endeavour none at all. Any loose step could have lead to cataclysmic results that would fail my purpose. But that man, harassing my father, knew that I was going to have feelings like these, for it was I, myself, who had warned him. I had foreseen these events and knew the outcome, but as of this moment, I wanted the future to change. 

I gave a dire look to the man downstairs and a meek look of helpless to my father. I knew it was too late, and Fate itself could not prevent him from dying. I closed my eyes and for the first time in ten years, I prayed. I prayed like a man begging for water. I opened my eyes and quite strangely, found myself in a situation quite similar to the one twenty years ago. The irony of life was such that it had to end, and we still call it death, forgetting that it was through life, and only life that death is achieved. And so it shall be, I thought as I signalled my apprentice to make the final move.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Turn and bounce: The Pakistan fixing tale.

29th August, 2010: The now-defunct “News of the World” news agency published allegations that three members of the Pakistan cricket squad touring England that summer had been approached by a bookie, who paid them hefty amounts of money to bowl certain “deliveries” at certain stages of the match. Mohammad Amir, an evolving youth in Darwin’s world of cricket, was accused along with his opening partner Mohammad Asif of bowling no-balls during the exact stages of the match. The third member of the trio, the team’s newly appointed captain, Salman Butt, (riding high on his endeavours in his debut series as captain against Australia) politely refuted the claims in the press conference that followed the day’s play. “I have no knowledge of the claims", he explained, “The Pakistan team has always been a recipient of ridicule. I’m surprised it has gone so far this time”.

Pakistan lost the test match, the fourth of the series, by a mammoth innings and 225 runs. The management looked into the allegations and decided to drop the three from the remaining tour, consisting of two T20 matches and five ODIs.
Now, as revelling the controversy might be, it is, however, very necessary to recall the events of the entire match, not just for the sake of judgement but also to highlight the contrasting features of the game – the astonishing “ups” and the disgraceful “downs”.

26th August, 2010: Having already lost the series, Salman Butt rightly elected to bowl on a pitch that had a bit of moisture as well as a tinge of green. His bowling attack consisted of a potent mixture of fresh blood and wily, experienced seam. Mohammad Asif was fresh out of his drugs ban, and two new faces in the Pakistani bowling line up were creating headlines, specially Mohammad Amir. Just 17 then, The Guardian touted him as the next best thing since Akram. However a soggy outfield, lashed with overnight rain, meant a delayed start for the players and early lunch. Play started post-lunch, and Amir bowled as Ian Botham pointed out, a fairly “indiscipline” no-ball. Asif, too, gave away an useless run when he stepped over “massively”, on the sixth delivery in the tenth over. Pretty usual it seemed. Strauss was cleaned up by an in-swinging peach from Asif, but the light was offered to the batsmen after just 12.3 overs, prematurely ending the day’s play.

27th & 28th August : England resumed play and Mohammad Amir carried on his good form that summer, zooming through a meek English defence, with Cook, Pietersen, Collingwood and England’s new star migrant, Morgan, all becoming scape goats to the swinging southpaw, the last three falling for nought. England 5 for 47 runs and in a heap of trouble. Prior stuck out nearly 2 and a half hours, facing over a 100 deliveries for his hard earned 22, and a critical 50 run stand with another RSA batsman, Trott, before he edged out to Amir. Swann came in, saw the weather, had a chat with the umpire and was sent for an early tea by Amir. He fell to a first ball duck. England were now staring at the barrel at 7 for 102 and for once, Butt was controlling proceedings in the series. In walked Stuart Broad, with all of his father’s height (and a bit more perhaps) and was only a novice with the bat then, having just scored one test match fifty. What followed was a partnership that redefined tail-end batting, as well as the record books, dwarfing (ironically) a sixteen-year old Pakistan feat, in which Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq put on 313 for the 8th wicket against a listless Zimbabwean attack, where Akram made a record 257 n.o. hitting 12 sixes in the process, a feat that hasn’t been eclipsed as yet.

Trott and Broad put on a gigantic 332 run partnership, batting for nearly 95 overs and deep into day three, to sway the game away from Pakistan. Both scored hundreds as England finished with 446 on the board. Amir did, however, claim a six-wicket haul. They then, skittled out Pakistan for a meagre and embarrassing 74 runs, and 41/4 at the close of the third day’s play.

29th August: England rounded off an emphatic innings victory by clearing out the Pakistan batting stronghold for just over a hundred runs. Stuart Broad claimed the Man of the Match medal for his heroics with the bat while, Mohammad Amir claimed the Man of the Series (Pakistan) title for his 19 wickets. 

What followed was no less than perhaps a nightmare for the teenager who hadn’t even received his driving license. The tabloid broke the news of the scam and the trio was banned effectively, after being judged on later findings. Wisden magazine had named Mohammad Amir in its issue of the top five cricketers for the summer. They changed their cover as soon as the story leaked, and for the first time published a “four-man” cover-story. Natwest nearly stripped Amir of his medal, but allowed it later on.

It was a test match that had it all; brilliant bowling, pathetic batting, heroes were born, villains emerged and a talismanic bowler was stained at the hands of the very man he trusted, his captain. Pakistan has always been touted as the controversial child of international cricket. Now that its corrupt scope has reached out to further avenues, we are left with a question: How do we see it as a cricket fanatic? For every time a Pakistani cricketer puts his hand into his pockets, you wonder whether he might actually be tampering the ball. On one hand the decision reached by the British court will serve as a reminder that the game will never tolerate corruption, but it also shows us that every player is not an Indian or an English cricketer, who enjoys superstar-dome and is well paid. ICC should be patted for its action as well as pin-pointed for for not allowing a fair and reasonable cap on the salary of players for the matches they represent their country in.

Moreover, it is our duty as spectators to choose the right conclusion. For me, Pakistan still remains the epitome of fast bowlers. The land of the Sultans of swing, the Handsome Pathan or the feisty Miandad, will never stop producing proud sporting moments for itself as well as for cricket. It is the current crop of players who are responsible for setting perfect examples for the brooding youngsters back home. It is rightly said that if India produces a Tendulkar-esque to smash it all over the park, Pakistan will definitely produce an Akram, trying to clean him up!  

The twist and turn of this team is surely turbulent, but I’m sure it will be well defended. After all, it has to be proven, specifically, within the 22 yards.