Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Bangalore fiasco and the placard

The placard said it all. 'I didn't come 10000 miles to see this". I did not see such placards before in Indian cricket arenas, so it interested me.

In case our players did not know, I'd like to clarify this. There is a primary responsibility that spectator sports have. It is to entertain the spectators. Entertainment in the form of honest competition; closely fought competition that makes spectators sit on the edge of their seats.

But in the Bangalore test between India and Pakistan, the Indian skipper Anil Kumble defied all logic by not declaring soon enough and foregoing a chance to win a rubber 2-0. My disappointment was more because I genuinely appreciated his captaincy in the first two tests.

The only thing that came to my numbed mind was that there is a definite way that justice is served when there is no honesty. No wonder the Pakistanis got away with bad light in a match they would have lost embarrassingly if it was played out for another twenty minutes.

As a spectator I'd appreciate a situation when gallant challenges are thrown at opponents even if it meant giving them a lifeline. Don't mistake me. I am all for killing the opposition when it is down: but I cannot forgive a decision that denies your side a chance to win.

The inexperienced captain might even lose a match with a sporting declaration, but he will certainly win many spectators hearts. The experienced captain would know the margin (especially when he knows the opponent's batting strength). But here's a perplexing case of an experienced player denying his side a win.

Was our bowling, spearheaded by Kumble himself, so bad that they cannot contain a depleted side within 300 runs in two sessions? Was the batting practice of fringe players so important? Or was there something that the poor spectator could not see that only the greats inside can see?

There must be millions of spectators out there who felt cheated. I did, even though I only moved as far as the couch in my living room. I can only imagine how my placard-holding brother from 10000 miles away must have felt.

I only hope Kumble or whoever made the call, had the right reasons for making the appalling decision. And in future, whosoever makes these decisions better be warned; they better be in spectator interest.
That placard is only a sign of things to come.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pune - Warm and cosy

There's something about Pune that makes me feel warm and fuzzy. The first time that I had visited Pune was during a college break in 1986. I remember walking around Deccan Gymkhana, drinking in the buzz of the town, watching pretty girls on their bikes, feeling the cool winter breeze and the warm sun. And then I went to MG Road or Camp as it is called and ate lovely sandwiches at Marzorin bakery, washed it down with rose milk, fell in love with a few more girls, bought some real nice music and ate some real fine food.

Pune did leave me feeling good at first sight.

But it was only when I came to Pune to work for a year a few years later, that I really discovered so much more and so many more things to fall in love with. Trekking up Sinhagad and eating pitla bakhar and pakoda ranks high among those amazing experience. Riding out to Khadakvasla lake, or any of the rides past Pashan or the cantonment areas was beautiful at any time of the day. Strolling lazily around camp area looking for good bargains was as good a way to kill time as any. Steak at The Place near Camp with beer to wash it down, biryani at Blue Nile, parathas at Bund garden, coffee and southie snacks at Vaishali or Wadeshwar at FC Road, browsing for books at FC Road or for other knick knacks at Laxmi Road..there is always something to do at Pune.

Another interesting aspect about Pune is the number of destinations that are closeby. Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani, two hill stations with their own charm are about 120 kms away or 4 hours away. The forts come next - Sinhagad (an hour away), Raigad, Lohegaon (90 minutes away), Pratapgad (5 hours away) etc etc. The beaches are not too far away. Dive Agar, Srivardhan, Harihareshwar, Dapodi etc are about 4- 5 hours by car and all are rather virgin beaches. Shirdi is 5 hours away.

Shops that close at 1 in the afternoon and open only at 4 in the evening, the ubiquitous food shops selling loads and loads of food items, chai joints, people congregating for endless discussions at Vaishali and other such joints, theatre, music, the FTII and the many film festivals, Parvati, the cantonment area, free snacks with beer...umm, it all adds up to the grand flavour of Pune.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Indian consciousness and the cricket team

A team of eleven youngsters play. A billion emotions rise in hope. Then a billion hopes die. And then a billion people get angry that they have been let down. Why do they always do this? Is it money? Coach bought off? Sack the coach! Sack the captain! Sack the players! Sack the selection committee!
And then, we repeat all this all over again.

The Indian team reflects our consciousness. It is our punching bag with our faces on it. Look at it closely and you will see for yourself.
We can never forgive ourselves. We can never let ourselves and our team do better because then we will have to renounce our victimhood. And accept responsibility for who we are and what we do. If the team wins we cannot blame someone else then.
We cannot let our family have enough freedom to perform. If we did that we would be happy.
We would win.

It is not about the team. It is about ourselves. What can the will of eleven people do against the collective will of a billion people, who, under the guise of being supporters actually drag the team down. They have to drag the team down because it represents their own hopes that they are scared to fulfill. The team represents the billion who are scared to own responsibility, to actually get themselves to wholeheartedly say – yes, we are proud of you, we are one. We give you the freedom to be yourself.
But no, we have to be that draconian father we could never get approval from.

A team with the best names in world cricket, phenomenal players, names that represent honesty, commitment and integrity of the highest order – has always struggled. Against a current of deep rooted resentment, guilt and unforgiveness.

And then, a team of complete newcomers under a new skipper wins suddenly. Why?
Easy. The Indian consciousness took its foot off the pedal and relaxed for just a moment thinking that there’s no chance of winning. And guess what, the team won. Give yourself a break fellows. You don’t have to push yourself so hard to be victims. Give yourself a bit of freedom.
You will achieve. Easily and effortlessly.
And our team will take everyone to the cleaners as well.
Sania will win a Grand Slam. Karthikeyan the grand prix. Anand will be the undisputed grandmaster. And so many more.
Come on guys, cheer our own. Cheer yourself.
From the bottom of your heart.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

So who's a good coach?

With so much talk about the Indian cricket team's coach's selection I wonder what goes into the making of a good coach as per the selection committee. But at the very beginning I must say that I find it hard to subscribe to the following views:

1) A coach must have performed better than his wards to be able to coach

2) The wards can pick and choose their coaches based on personal reasons

3) A coach is selected based on his being foreign or Indian

4) A coach is selected because he has been a good player before

To get things in perspective let us understand what coaching actually means to players at the highest level. It is not 'training' where basics are taught to newcomers. Coaching is bringing out excellence; uncovering true potential in players.

To quote Peter Honey:
"Coaching is any discussion between you and a subordinate where the aim is to help him/her maintain and/or improve his/her performance. Coaching takes place on the job and assumes that people can learn from everything they do. Coaching is not issuing instructions, telling someone what to do or prescribing how to do it. It is about helping, guiding, encouraging, allowing space to perform and do things differently."

I think that sums up a coach's job nicely. Constant improvement to bring out the best in people.

To me a coach needs to have the following attributes.

1) He must be the best qualified man 'technically' i.e. the man with the knowledge to spot areas to improve in his players.

2) He must have the wisdom to gauge the potential of his wards and make his wards aware of the gap between their potential and performance.
3) He must be a motivator who knows which buttons to press to bring the best out of his wards.

4) He must be completely devoted to the task of bringing out the best in his wards, as individuals and as a team.

Simply put, a coach is committed to bring out the best in each individual, and as a team, in every way. The argument begins and ends there.

To think that because one is a Tendulkar or a Dravid or a Laxman, one does not need a coach is a hollow argument, because it suggests that there is nothing else for the players to learn. Hopefully that is not what on the minds of the players and the people who select the coaches because then the entire premise is wrong.

As for the wards, they need to take the idea of improvement and of giving their best seriously as well. Which means that they will have to kill ego and learn from everything they do and everyone they meet. If the players feel that they can only learn from certain people in a certain way then you are actually closed to the idea of learning-which is the beginning of the end.

It need hardly be stressed that a coach need not be a good player in his days. As most players realize, all the theory and thinking seems to happen well after the playing days so it is only a matter of how interested an individual is, in equipping himself technically of the finer nuances of the game. A person who has a basic scheme of understanding of all areas of the game, who is totally open to new areas of learning, who is looking to improve his knowledge all the time is better than say, someone who thinks he has been a good player, so he can automatically coach well.

A good coach will show improvement in the players in a short while - even as short a time frame as a mere session. Over a longer period these reflect in performances. To be knowledgeable one need not be of any nationality, of any particular training or pedigree - the improvement is there for all to see.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Goa - Kolva beach

Among all the beaches I spent lazing at Goa, Kolva remains my favorite. There’s something no-nonsensical about the place. A long and seemingly never-ending beach – I did some 11 kilometers once and still had not reached its end then. Of course it’s called by different names every hundred meters but we all know that it’s the same beach!!

Kolva beach is 7 kms from Madgaon which is the biggest town closeby. A single straight road from Madgaon takes one to Kolva. I have vivid memories of the 7 kms because I walked most of it with my young skipper Vivek Jaisimha after what could probably be my first drinking binge on wine (and most likely his) during a Ranji Tophy game against Goa in 1986. Back then there were not too many buses that were transporting people back from the beach after 8 so we had to leg it to our hotel.

That was the last I stayed so far away from the beach. These days I park myself at the Sukh Sagar a well hidden little place which is exactly five minutes away from the beach. All basics are taken care of – clean sheets, hot water, breakfast, reasonable price, morning tea – so unless it’s full, we head straight there. For all meals and beer we head off to the beach and find one of the shacks that is a small distance away from the entrance of the beach where most people congregate. Its this funny thing with the bus tourist to Goa. They all get off buses, race straight into the beach right opposite the entrance, plonk themselves fully clothed in the water or worse strip down to their underwear in other cases and jump into the water, some grab a beer and drink it all down like its going out of stock but the key is – do not travel more than 500 meters away form the entrance. Maybe they fear the bus going off without them!

But generally all the fun is farther away from the entrance. The crowd peters out, there’s more quality shacks, there’s a bit of peace and quiet and that’s where I’d like to go. When in Kolva I normally head off for a nice long walk early in the morning when the sun is still mellow and try to do as much as I can before I start getting hungry. It’s a long lovely walk and you can see the fishermen’s boats returning pretty soon with their catch and selling off some catch on the beach itself. Stop when I am hungry at any of the shacks that catches my fancy and do a fine heavy breakfast of fresh fruit juice, toast and one of those fine omelettes they make. Settle down with a book or the music or just watch the sa and then head off lazily in any direction that please me. Normally by then, someone from the gang spots me and we either hook up for a beer and some more lazy living. Closer to lunch we work up an appetite by either walking (my style) or swimming (other styles). And then its back to any of those shacks who has promised us a fine lunch of the new catch. Beer and King fish fry, rice and fish or prawns curry. Man that’s heaven. We just about have enough strength to head back to the room and doze off.

Evening’s begin with a pick me up tea. Walk down to the beach. By now the tourists are in. head far out. Jog or walk until its time for sunset. Settle down on the beach and get ready for the big show. You don’t get a better sunset than on the western coast of India. It’s truly magical until the Sun fades off. It always takes me many more minutes to get out of my trance and then with a deep sigh its back to the action at the shacks again. Sometimes if we find a better joint for food and drink we head there or even to some event. Night ends way late, of course, normally with a late night walk down the beach – another magical experience. And then fully sated, its time to head back to the faithful bed.

I have spent six days in Goa doing exactly this and believe me, I was enjoying the routine more and more everyday. Do just that when you’re in Goa next. Pick your beach and stay there. Just laze, eat, drink and make merry. I’d wager a bet that you could do it for the rest of your life and still not get bored!