Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ashta Chamma - Great music

There's much to share. For starters, my brother, Ram Mohan's first movie venture as producer - a Telugu movie titled 'Ashta Chamma' is ready for release. The release date is September 5, 2008, and I am damn excited about it all. Ram is the producer, Mohan Krishna Indraganti, the award winning director of Grahanam is the director (have lots of faith in him, he's brilliant), Kalyani Maulik is the music director (great job, and I loved that song in Aithe), Swathi (of Colors fame, and all the smiles and all the energy in the world), Nani (an RJ and aspiring director turned actor), Sreenivas, Tanikella Bharani and Jhansi and others have all put in their best into making this romantic entertainer.
I think it will take up most of my waking hours until the release date - just thinking (as I normally am apt to do) about all the little things that can be done and ways I can help. I am proud and happy at the same time (and also many emotions in between as well) at Ram's achievement and hope it becomes a huge success and that he makes many more movies in the future. He's always been there for me in the ups and downs, and I will be there for him always.

August 8, 2008: The music release of Ashta Chamma was a fun affair on a day when the heavens opened up and poured. Despite the daunting rain, the entire press contingent was there, a hundred odd people were there and film star Venkatesh was there (looking very debonair) to cut the cake. Fantastic ambience at Xtreme Sports Bar, Banjara Hills, (thanks Arjun, loved the evening) where the event was held, lots of good energy and mostly I felt, so much pure emotion. Whenever the song clips were played on the screen, the audience went wild. I loved all the songs especially the title track 'Ashta Chamma' and 'Nuvve Nuvve' which reminded me of the romance of 'Zara Zara'. The first thing that struck all of us when we heard it first was 'Hey, that's really good music!'
More on Ashta Chamma in the coming posts.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


The task: To form a cricket team to win the final of the biggest prize money championship ever.
The challenge: To pick the winning unit and do whatever it takes to win.
The prize: Whatever it takes. But if you lose, you pay.
No excuses. Only results. Get paid if you deliver. Pay penalties if you cannot.
The day may not be too far away when such an ad would appear. How would you go about it?
I’d pick the coach first. One who has more knowledge and understanding of the game than anyone in the team. Technical knowledge, strategic and tactical knowledge, man management and most importantly the psychology of winning. The coach will be responsible for all the inputs that the team and the captain gets and will take all responsibility for its complete preparation. The coach gets to pick his support staff. The coach would provide his plan, his detailed roadmap to the final. This plan would be approved of by the captain and the team management as the one they all stand by.
The captain next. With him I’d vest the responsibility of picking the team and that of its performance. Goes without saying that he is the best man for the job in the team, has excellent leadership and man management capabilities. Not the popular choice but the best man. The captain needs a strong intuition, complete belief in himself and his players, ability to bring out the best in all his players, to keep his cool and always be probing to convert half chances into an advantage.
The captain would be assisted by the coach and the team management in selecting the players. However, since the captain is the one vested with the responsibility of the performance of the team, He must be able to convince the committee on his decision. The captain leads the discussion with his list. The other members on the committee balance out the selection process so it is not skewed.
The committee would pick the team keeping in mind the overall balance of the team and the role of each player. Most importantly the playing eleven should be backed up by enough bench strength, each sub capable of replacing the player in the first eleven. Player’s capabilities, motivational levels, ability to adapt, capability to fit into their roles, availability and being part of the team are factors that would be considered while selecting the players.
Having picked the team that everyone is agreed upon (since your captain picked the team, better support him or else pick your team and another captain), its imperative to get the team to bind together. This is the one area which needs most focus. To know individual strengths and what makes them give their best is what the captain and coach need to find out. Infact everyone in the team needs to know that – since most are proven players they have a record but then there could be new roles, new dimensions. Everything must be explored to make the team come together like a fist. One goal, one purpose, one team. All for one and one for all. Apart from having the services of a sports psychologist (one who knows his job) its worth getting trained by a commando outfit for such an expedition.
The big factor is always going to get the team working as a unit as quickly as one can. That remains the main job for the support staff - the coaches, CEOs, COOs and all other support staff with the captain and senior players. Knowing strengths and weaknesses of each and every team member, making everyone feel as they belong in the team, making everyone aware of the team's goal, the team's method, their roles and the roles of others. It is important because the differences between players is not just about geography; it is also culture, and about the huge gap in their exposure to the game. Since most players are hardcore professionals, coaching them is not so much the big thing as getting them to function as a unit. That I think is the key to the successful teams and the not-so-successful ones.
Coach. Captain. Team. Bonding. Mission. Goal. Preparation. Belief. Action. Correction. Action.
If the team can take the ownership of the goal, if all the preparation can make them take ownership of the goal, its more than likely that they will give their best for the cause. They will have a personal stake in the cause. Success is more likely to occur than failure in such circumstances.

Monday, May 19, 2008

IPL Saga - Leadership styles

The IPL's inaugural tournament has thrown the spotlight on leadership in the T20 format. Never before has leadership come under the scanner so much as in this form of the game. In T20, plans have to be implemented instantly. The captain has to be completely clued in and act proactively. There is no time to wait to make a bowling or a fielding change - one over can change the game. There is no time to sulk or get angry at a bad over, a misfield, or a dropped catch. The leader has to be on the ball every moment, forgetting the past, egging his players on and making and changing plans to the situation that's evolving, until the final ball.
The T20 leader needs a strong intuition, complete belief in his players, ability to rally the players, to bring out the best in them despite a bad over or a dropped catch, to process lots of information depending on the situation, to pull the team together at all stages and so much more.
In IPL, the big factor was always going to get the team working as a unit as quickly as one can. That was the main job for the support staff - the coaches, CEOs, COOs and all other support staff with the captain and senior players. Knowing strengths and weaknesses of each and every team member, making everyone feel as they belong in the team, making everyone aware of the team's goal, the team's method, their roles and the roles of others. It is important because the differences between players is not just about geography; it is also culture, and about the huge gap in their exposure to the game. Since most players are hardcore professionals, coaching them is not so much the big thing as getting them to function as a unit. That I think is the key to the successful teams and the not-so-successful ones.
Some leadership styles worked for me and some didn't.
I was rather skeptical about the leadership of Dravid and Laxman from the beginning. Though I rate their understanding of the nuances of the game highly, I feel they were not suited to lead this format. Dravid is a thinker and a delayed 'doer' - as a T20 captain that is not good at all - he reacts an over too late, a match too late. Consequently Royal Challengers did no justice to their potential and were clearly below par.
Laxman's team, the Deccan Chargers, had too many players of individual charisma and personality that only someone with a strong personality would have made it work. By the time Gilchrist took over, the damage was done. It was just a personality problem, a sub continental trait of leadership by consensus.
I had great hopes on Sehwag whom I rate highly in terms of intuition, courage and implementation. But what let him down I felt is his penchant to ignore the small details. I feel Sehwag made the mistake of thinking that everything could be tackled as it came-batting, bowling, fielding. Everything could be tackled by his intuitive captaincy. A bit more planning, more informed decisions and taking it match by match and situation by situation could have probably seen Delhi Daredevils faring much better. After all they have one of the best balanced sides.
Mumbai Indians got off with the wrong captain - Harbhajan, who is too immature to be a good captain. Pollock pulled the team together and steadied the sinking ship. Now they have the tactical genius and inspirational presence of Tendulkar and will do much better. Tendulkar, one can be assured, will have all the information, all the tactics in place for every match, every situation. The only thing against him is that is presence is awesome for most players (including Jayasuriya who all but admitted it) and it depends on how he channelises their hero worship. I feel that if he lets the players be, with a quiet word of encouragement and not burden them with his usual high standard of expectations, he will get them to do even better.
Saurav's leadership lacks his usual confident and there seems to be some dichotomy in his mind. Whether it is the pace of the game or the individual brilliance of his team members that's making his captaincy appear sluggish I cannot fathom, but he has not fared too well so far with his leadership.
Dhoni is doing well in his own quiet, unobtrusive way, keeping things under control and taking things match by match. Most experiments are done, the team's doing well and they seem headed to the semi final. Dhoni's style intrigues me, he is very undemonstrative, yet very effective. He lets everyone make their own method to execute the team plans and that I think is the beauty of it - there are eleven players thinking like captains and Captain Cool to soak in any pressure. His clarity and composure will serve the Chennai Super Kings well as the matches get tighter.
Yuvraj has learnt very fast from his early outings in the IPL as captain and has pulled his team through admirably. I must admit that I was not a great fan of his captaincy after some initial gaffes, but he has motivated the team well enough to perform even when he, their key batsman, is not scoring. That's a tribute to the spirit he has infused in the team and it's now one of those teams where everyone seems to be focussed on one goal-the team's victory. Irfan has got his swing back, Piyush is bowling beautifully, Mahela,'s great to watch this side in T20. The best model for this form of the game is the Rajasthan Royals model. A lot of high potential fringe players who have everything to prove and nothing to lose. An icon like Shane Warne at the helm puts even a Graeme Smith secure in his role. Warne is canny, street smart, tactically on the ball. He knows every player inside out, their strengths, their roles...he throws them into the deep end and expects them to do well. And they respond. How he infuses confidence in the younger lot is something I would dearly love to know but I know this much-he will not do it quietly like Dhoni; Warne will articulate it. All fringe players know their role, know their captain knows how to use them, all senior players with well defined roles again, and at the very top, Shane Warne using the power of his personality, his understanding of human nature, the game of cricket and what it takes to get the slightest of advantages and convert that into a win.
It will be interesting to see how these leadership styles evolve further. But this much I know. They will all evolve. Just as the players will. Exciting days ahead.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

IPL - Corporate Franchisees and the Sportsman Spirit

Vijay Mallya is the first to come out in the open with his feelings but I suspect there are more to follow. After all it is not easy to digest a bad loss after spending a fortune. Especially for corporate leaders who are used to winning corporate games. It's bad for the image.
If corporate India thought it could walk into a domain like cricket and expect their team to win, it should have prepared accordingly. It should have taken the trouble to understand the dynamics, players, strengths, limitations. The same rules apply here.
If you want your team to win, set your priorities right. What's the goal? How do you achieve it? What is the best combination of players that will achieve it for you? Who is the leader who will deliver the cup? What are the roles and responsibilities? What's the preparation required? What is the support required? At what stage do we seek correction if things are not according to plan? What is the detailed action plan? What is plan B and when do we enforce it? How do you ensure that the team plays together as a unit to achieve the goal? Who is responsible overall for the team's show?
Assuming that the RC team had a clear goal (they looked good for the semi final atleast), they do not seem to have spent enough time thinking of the other things. Preparation, leadership, combination, tactics. Rahul Dravid, in my opinion is a great player even in T20 and deserves the icon status but as a leader he is not the kind who can pull a diverse bunch of strong individuals into a winning unit. Team selection is a specialist area - leaving it out to one man, even if he is the captain is a grave error. That's why there are committees to balance out any judgmental errors. Surprisingly the team that RC picked, though oldish, is still far better player to player vis-a-vis say Rajasthan Royals or Mumbai Indians. And now, with support fast vanishing for the team, any hope of recouping now will be a miracle-not good corporate management.
The management's prime concern at this stage could be finding out why the combination didn't gell and make appropriate corrections rather than sacking a non-cricketing CEO who has almost no role to play in player performances, blaming the captain for poor team selection and abandoning the team by saying that its a team that it did not want.
These are signs of lazy and uninspiring management. It reflects badly on the corporate image; even worse than losing matches. Sports and games are about playing hard and giving your best. Spectators and consumers understand that you win some and lose some. They will cheer the one match that you get things right and return again hoping for a better show the next match. But what they don't forgive is lack of sportsman spirit - abandoning your team just because you don't make a pretty picture at the end of the match.
Winning is one thing but maintaining your dignity in loss is quite another. What they say is true-you learn more about a person in one hour of sport than you can in ten years of knowing. Hopefully there will be gains eventually. The cricketers will learn to win and the franchise managements will learn a bit about sportsman spirit.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

IPL - First Impressions

I watched the first round matches of IPL's T20 show. Some of the impressions I am left with are as follows:
1) Teams must be young. Old teams like Royal Challengers have no hope.
2) Teams need good, solid leadership, captains with a tactical mind and the ability to rally the team together. Warne, Dhoni, Sehwag, Yuvraj are doing well. Laxman, Dravid, Saurav, Harbhajan/Pollock are struggling.
3) The difference between your international 'stars' and the younger lot in the country is not much - infact some youngsters look better than the 'stars'.
4) The best names do not make succesful teams. Deccan Chargers, Kolkata Night Riders and Royal Challengers to some degree are cases in point.
5) Not many bowlers seem to be able to bowl yorkers consistently, or for that matter even a consistent line and length.
6) I have no personal stake with any team, not even my local Hyderabad team. I root for the underdogs because they provide drama and they are doing well - Rajasthan Royals.
7) The filmi and corporate franchise owners are probably wondering how anything gets done with cricketers, whether there is any logic in anything at all. And that in sport, you don't jump up and down after one match-you can afford to do that after the tournament - else you look rather silly.
8) Harbhajan suspension and Sreesanth's crybaby act left me shaking my head; grow up boys. Gawd! Counsel them please someone-they are such terrible examples to young cricketers.
9) After a while, the matches are getting to be a bit like the WWF matches; watch it because there is nothing else to do.
10) Having CEOs, Chief and Assistant Coaches, team songs, logos and team ads, designer wear, brand ambassadors, models and actors - do not maketh the team. You are better off planning a better team. The Rajasthan Royals got it right there.
It's sad that the Royal Challengers reacted to their bad team selection and uninspiring leadership by sacking Charu Sharma, the CEO, for no fault of his. The first of many scapegoats I am sure. If someone had to be sacked, it should have been Rahul Dravid as captain. Rahul is playing well but sadly lacks the dynamism of an inspiring leader.
Mon these issues in future blogs.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Grey Area

If someone has the answer to this please tell me. I can't understand how an entire system colludes to save a few criminals. How can a system, by omission and commission, save criminals who are accused of the worst possible crimes? How do these people get entire systems to connive with them to twist processes, procedures and justice around? You'd think someone in the system would put a spoke but no, it seems heavily loaded in favor of the people who want to operate in the grey area. Twisting and turning, hiding and shielding, blocking and threatening. Jessical Lal, Scarlett Keeling, Ayesha Meera, Shibani Bhatnagar, the tandoor case, Prof. Sabharwal, Gujarat riots, Mumbai could be anyone.
One feels helpless when watching from the outside.
But its heartening to hear news of the mothers. sisters, fathers and brothers standing up to a system, braving threats, fighting an unsympathetic system that is doing all it can to victimise the victims and punish them, and doing all in its power to save the perpetrators. I do wish there was one forum where such injustices could be brought out systematically, where people can pour in their support and where truth can be shown as it is. Something better than the one time SMS outrage. I would like to see if most of us also side with the people in the grey area or if the conscience is clear.
But till then, we must take inspiration from these mother's and sister's and father's and brother's and son's and daughter's for being the conscience keeprs of the nation. For telling us that the offenders cannot hide forever behind the system...that one strong will is enough to expose it. That justice will prevail.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Why We Won In Australia

The Australian series taught much. We can learn lessons or choose to ignore them.
First, that we don't need a great side, we need a bunch of players who have the hunger to win. Not players who are in the side because they played reasonably well last time. Pick players on hunger. Full points to the selectors on that.
Second, pick a captain who is clear headed, intuitive and can get the best out of every member in the team. One can spot the Kumbles and Dhonis easily if one meets them, sees them in action with the team, in the dressing room. The team is only as good as the captain. Remember the famous quote - I'd prefer a lion leading an army of sheep to a sheep leading an army of lions? Full points again for the selectors for picking two lions.
Third, we always had the talent. Much better teams have gone before to foreign shores. But they needed a Sydney to buck them up. They needed a Symonds, a Clarke, a Hayden, a Ponting to pull up their socks. Wcan beat the best if we enter each match with the same frame of mind. Instead of waiting to be ruffled and then taking it personal.
Fourth, the preparation. I assume that the preparation had much to do with the team's success. The support staff was brilliant-Venkatesh Prasad, Robin Singh, Chetan Chauhan, M.V.Sridhar, Gloster and all those other wonderful men. Truly a team effort.
That then is what it takes to win. Go get em now boys!

Monday, February 11, 2008

If you can do it once, you can do it again

In Krishnamachari Srikkanth's blog he mentions (in his forthright manner), that Kapil Dev was probably the only one who believed before the 1983 World Cup that India had a chance. In a team meeting, he recalls, Kapil Dev said words to the same effect - that if India could beat the mighty Windies once, they could do it again. Srikkanth recounts that Kapil's words got some of them thinking and believing that maybe, just maybe, it could happen.
A single thought.

The rest is history.

If we can do it once, we can do it again. Dhoni and his men proved that again at Melbourne yesterday - bringing the mighty Aussies to their knees. Once again. And Dhoni for sure knows that he can do it again, and again, and again if he and his men wish. The capability is there. No doubting that.
To me, its an important lesson. Champions acknowledge their small victories. You need not start with the big things like winning the World Cup. You can start acknowledging the small victories.
When you beat them once, it was not because you got lucky. You beat them because were better than them that day. You have the capability. Add to that belief a hunger to win and you start doing that consistently.

If hunger and win don't fit well, then let's call it, a desire to be the best you can be-winning happens. That's what we are all here for isn't it-to be the best we can be. To enjoy that state of being fully ourselves - in our chosen form of expression. Cricket, music, writing, accountancy..
And lo, a champion is born.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Wanted - Expletives Experts

As per recent events I understand that calling someone an illegitimate child is generally ok (honorable even, according to Ponting ji who believes that professional cricketers are rather different these days), even calling one's mother a certain something is also ok - but its not ok to call one by the name of an animal who according to Darwin lists among our forefathers. So the next time someone gets mad on the cricket field, ICC feels its fine errr its ok (fine's a bad word in cricket circles these days), if one raises certain moral issues with the other's female relatives such as wives, mother's and sister's (as one Mr. Materazzi did and got butted rather nastily on the bean by one Mr. Zidane) - as long as animals are not drawn into the issue.
In keeping the ICC's moral code errr model code, very soon it may be completely inappropriate to address anyone else as a dog (some friends call each other that- Ranvir, Vinay and company please take note), a cat (used appreciatively by some journos of some acrobats), a kitten (romantics may have to find new ways to describe their lovers, may we suggest "your sister's #$%), a bear (teddy or otherwise may be rascist), a pup (hey, that chap Clarke is called a Pup-come on ICC please banish that nickname), a jumbo (isn't that what they call Anil Kumble-or am I confusing that with Jammy-better still let's ban both jumbo and jammy under rule 257, level 5, degree 4), monk..(he he..can't catch us there pal, its a spello) its actually....donkey (used affectionately by school teachers across India to admonish certain rather dense elements in class), a hare (journos say that sometime to describe fleetfooted chaps now they'll have to use something like your @@#$).
Similarly we wont be able to say that someone sings like a bird (birds may take offence at being left out), nor can we say that some is crawling like an ant, or a mosquito, or say someone stings like a bee (sorry can now sting like your mother's @@###).
Having thus burdened our cricketers (who are already physically and mentally burdened), with having to find new expletives, the ICC, and the English speaking have moved on, licking their respective chops at having fettered our boys' mouths with all this lingo business. I have a suggestion here. Instead of competing with the Aussies on their strengths, i.e. sledging and English expletives, I humbly suggest to the BCCI that the Indian team also include another support staff to its rather generous support team, in the form of a linguist. Preferably someone who knows as many Indian languages and dialects, of which we have a million, to cull out some choicest words to describe female relatives of the opposing players. It would be money well spent I am sure - politically correct, nationalistic, promoting near extinct Indian languages and fits in with the code. Maybe the Tourism and Culture departments could lend a hand here. After all its a question of Indian pride!!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Rajan Bala - Legendary Cricket Writer

Rajan Bala. The last word. A cricket writer of legendary status. Described variously as the "most perceptive of all the game's (cricket's) writers in the country"and as one with "a terrific understanding of the technical intricacies of the game, in fact the best you will" and so on, Rajan Bala represents the kind of people we don't see many of these days. Entire generations of cricket lovers in India grew up feeding hungrily on visuals of the action on the cricket field painted by masters like him. Uncanny intuition, razor sharp expression and a keen eye are only some of the qualities that this veteran journalist brought to the sports page for over forty years. I would not be far from the truth when I say that many newspapers were popular for their sports pages in the seventies and eighties - especially since television had not yet been born in India. Rajan Bala wrote and wrote - prose and poetry, critique and praise as he described match after match, player after player. Exquisite phrases, balanced critique, issues beyond the field, people and places, inside stories written with a sense of responsibility - it was never enough for the cricket lovers.

New phrases came into existence, most still being used by our popular cricket commentators of today. New media came in. The game gained an amazing following flying high on a surge of momentum built entirely on India's population and its favorite game. Today it's worth billions of dollars. There is so much money in the game that one cannot even conceive how it became so popular. It's time the game stopped and thought about it. And looked around to see where its original heroes are. The ones who took it from the stadiums to the millions across the country. The ones that helped it along when it was still an infant.

"I believe he never ever corrected a single draft," "He is known never to take notes - the scores are all in his mind," "He had a personal equation with several players, "Razor sharp in grasping the nuances, he was often sought by the lesser players for technical feedback and corrections" "A very erudite person (Anita Nair) - words flow out in open admiration for the grandmaster of sports journalism in India. Never one to hesitate while speaking his mind, never afraid of making enemies in the way of an honest opinion-Rajan Bala was and continues to be the enfant terrible of Indian cricket journalism. You can't help but wish that there were more like him - that acerbic wit, that vast reserve of knowledge, the enviable amount of cricket history he has personally witnessed, cricketers he knew personally, that clarity of thought and mostly that brash, bratty manner that always says "come on, put em up" - or simply ignores anyone or anything he thinks is not worth the time. Anyone who has spoken to him or met him will vouch for this - it is difficult to steal the last word from him. His weekly columns, aptly titled 'The Last Word" are eagerly awaited for their candour as for their wit, for their in depth analysis as for his weighty opinion.

Rajan Bala was then, the name I looked for to give me an opinion on my novel "The Men Within - A Cricketing Tale" which was launched in February 2007. It appeared that there was not much fiction written on the game and I gave it my best shot with a ideas of my own interwoven into the game. Having played first class cricket, having been a corporate manager, I could not sacrifice all sense and make a novel based on wild sweeps of imagination. I made a conscious effort for the story to make sense to the layman as well as the expert. I needed then, not just an expert who understood all aspects of the game - from captaincy to the coaching, from physical to psychological, from winning to merely hoping to win - I needed someone who could relate it to life. To the struggle we have of even daring to look at our dreams, to actually daring to dream, and then chasing dreams down.

Being a cricketer of limted success and almost zero credentials as a fiction writer, I had several doubts. Will my simplistic theories appeal to someone who has seen and dicussed strategies and plans with cricketing masters? Will the story work especially since I was treading a new ground that had not been, for some inexplicable reason, left untouched by so many writers and thinkers that the game has produced in India. Rajan Bala, Raju Bharatan, Ramachandra Guha, R. Mohan, Mukul Kesavan, Harsha Bhogle...and so many more who had both the knowledge of the game and the capability to write fiction had not attempted it. So who was I?

When Vidyut Jaisimha, my friend of all these years, proposed sending the book out to Rajan Bala I knew that it was he I was looking for. The book had to pass his critical eye. And so I sent it with great apprehension, writing and rewriting my note to him that accompanied the book. And then the wait. Not for long though. The next evening there was a call from Bangalore and a rich fruity voice addressed me with great familiarity and warmth. I don't remember the exact conversation we had but I remember thinking how easy it was to talk to him and laugh with him.
And how unassuming he was for a man of his stature.

I guess he liked the book because he wrote its finest review yet in The Asian Age". One that I'll treasure forever. There was no doubt in my mind when I did a book promotional event in Bangalore the following month that he would be the chief guest. When I first met him at the Asian Age office, I was completely bowled over. There was chai and banter, cricket talk and razor sharp repartee. His staff (the youngest being 23, a lad called Chokappan), walked in periodically with all kinds of stuff - bajjis, jokes, questions on cricket, - never once giving the impression that they were unwanted in the Resident Editor's office. Through that week I met him a few more times, once for the book promotion function, and by the time I left Bangalore I was completely taken in. Apart from his wisdom and extensive knowledge on cricket and so many other issues, the one thing that struck me was that I never felt any barrier - intellectual, age-related or anything ever. It was great fun listening to his stories and his characteristic dismissal as "rubbish" of things he didn't much care for. He'd sum up things like "writing a book is a matter of organisation" and I knew when I heard it that it will always stay in my mind forever. He'd listen to you, never making you feel that you are lesser in any way, always willing to discuss anything cricketing under the sun, always giving well-thought out opinions, always bringing on a funny side to things in a stark, brutally honest way. Like I said to him, the one thing I'd love to witness is a conversation between him and Woody Allen. I also wish he wrote more humour because I think it'd be a riot.

He was extremely helpful to me, a complete stranger, in his own way. When I told him that I proposed to invite one of my favourite Indian novelists Ms. Anita Nair to the book release fucntion, he said not a word to me, but called her up on his own just to do his bit. Similarly he put in a quiet word for me with Sanjay Manjrekar who was Chief Guest for my Mumbai event, as he did with the incomparable C.P. Surendran, who graced my Pune launch. I guess that's the way he is - lives on his own terms without giving a damn for anyone. If he has an opinion about a person or anything, I think it it does not matter to him what the rest of the world says. And so he argues for the case of Azhar as batting coach despite knowing that it is not politically correct at all, bats steadfastly for Greg Chappell when he has not a single friend in a billion Indians (it would have been professional harakiri for most), ignores Dravid in his book "Glances of Perfection", frequently takes on the BCCI's biggest names when he thinks it necessary, or for that matter writes fearless edits on politics and such. To me its wonderful to see people like him because I don't meet many like him anymore. They had a good time - he enjoys his drink, his food (so what's for dinner tonight?), reads voraciously, tells wonderful stories, has razor sharp wit, sings even more wonderfully, understands the bigger picture, does not miss the details, lives on his terms, always expresses himself fully.

Today, he is sadly not in the best of health. He is seriously ill with both his kidneys "packing up" as he said. Enough to keep him on dialysis for ten hours a day! When Vidyut and I went to visit him at his Bangalore residence late January 2008, we were relieved to see that the spirit was very much there. He did appear dulled by the sudden turn of events - he was pretty fine until a month ago. He was his usual cheery self, full of humour and wit as we spoke to him and his wife Priya over the weekend. Since then he's only getting better - back to work and even writing a fine piece on Kumble, the statesman-captain.

We were looking at Australia and India drawing the test match. We were looking at the amounts of money that BCCI and the IPL was raking in. We were watching cricket in India being at its helathiest financially and I could not help but feel sadly that veteran journalists such as Rajan Bala were somehow left out of the party. I hope someone at the BCCI includes all the people who pushed this game forward in on their gratitude list. I do hope that they do something for people like Rajan Bala who gave us reason to wake up and read the paper like it was the tastiest dish we ever ate on match days. He also gave us six wonderful books, mostly on Indian cricket which, I feel, only he could have written.

I hope BCCI does it without making him ask for it. There is something about our culture - we always acknowledge our elderly masters. I am certain that Mr.Bala will get comfort, assurance, support and love from several sources across the world.

After all he deserves it. He has earned it as much as the players on the field have. He is as much a hero as any other Indian cricketing hero.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


With the Perth victory Anil Kumble and his men shut up all the Sydney test nonsense in a way that brooks no answer. The Aussie skipper who was all belligerence after the last match shut up. The Aussie team with its irritating, whining quotes after the Sydney match shut up. The Aussie media at large shut up. Most importantly, all the fans in India who reacted with ‘Call the team back’ and who typically over-react to everything cricketing in India, shut up.

This was one of the most satisfying wins I’ve ever experienced by India. It made me smile. It made me take a walk out in the sun. It made me feel warm and fuzzy. No histrionics, no shirt-stripping-and-waving, no raucous shouting and falling over each other in a heap, no pushing out senior administrators rudely out because we won a historic win, no jumping all over the carcasses of the vanquished – no, just a quiet celebration for winning a game of cricket, genuine in every word (unlike some of the antics we see from some of our players which are clearly aimed for the cameras that they know are looking for some visuals to splash across). No wonder, the warmth touched us all the way here. And to all those TV anchors who doubted it – yes, it’s a gentleman’s game still.

It will remain a gentlemen’s game as long as we have players of such exceptional temperament. They belong to the highest league of men – Kumble- the statesman, Dravid – Mr. Fair play, Tendulkar – an icon who sets the highest standards of behavior on and off the field, Ganguly – an exceptional leader and motivator of men, Dhoni – a quiet achiever and incredible man-manager, Sehwag – the most under-rated of all, VVS Laxman – who’s so good you hardly notice him despite all his selfless heroics …there are more but yes, this is a list of exceptional men. Not because of their records but because they know how to lose.
And precisely because of that - they are also capable of winning. Like at Perth.
It’s time Australia learnt how to win. And to lose. Maybe they could hire Kumble to teach them a few lessons in the art of winning.

Bravo boys. This is about being Indian. We don’t need to sledge. We don’t need to fight and beat our chests. We can forgive - like we did Hogg. We can take it on the chin and still carry on – like a racism slur from the most ill-behaved team of all. We can play where it matters most - in the middle.
And we can hurt where it hurts most – by taking away your pride in your den.

But it’s not about that really. It’s merely about playing a game of cricket. And playing it consistently well over four days to deny the famous Aussies the pleasure of dominating even a single day. It is about all the players doing what they can do the best – Kumble daring to bat first on WACA, Jaffer for sticking out the first morning, Sehwag banishing all fears of pacy wickets and attacks, Dravid resolute in defense and so compact that nothing could have got him except himself, Tendulkar carrying the fight deep into the enemy’s heart on the first day, Ganguly for just being there, Laxman making sure that Australia chase 400 by scotching all hopes with some fantastic batting with the tail, Dhoni who excelled efficiently behind the stumps as with the bat, Kumble for captaincy that was uncannily on the button, RP for spirited batting and bowling and young Ishant for lion hearted bowling that reminded me of Kapil’s attitude against famed batting line-ups. A special word for Pathan who did no wrong with the bat and ball and tormented the Aussies and finally hurt them badly everytime he was out in the middle.
Did I miss anyone? Yes, the reserves, the support staff, everyone of us who egged the team on in our mids and said ‘Go on boys, do it at Perth”.
The world’s in good hands my friends. And I know I can wake up with a smile of anticipation tomorrow. The news in the morning papers is bound to be good.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Sydney Test - Lessons and Impressions

The second test between Australia and India at Sydney was eventful. It provided an unlikely result. However the match will be remembered for things other than cricket. The racism row, the atrociously bad umpiring, the Aussie penchant to win at any cost, India’s habitual capitulation under pressure, and what’s now a regular feature of post match analysis – glorifying the victim archetype that the Indian team has become.

Not everything was bad. VVS Laman was glorious, Tendulkar redeemed himself, Hayden and Hussey performed as efficiently as they can and Symonds batted well under pressure. But what made one sit up first was the Australian code of winning – one rule for others and another for themselves. When they sense a kill, they throw everything that’s decent and sportsmanlike to the winds. For a team that’s credited with having begun sledging and refining it to a fine art, they are remarkably coy and sensitive when it comes to anything thrown at them. Come on guys, grow up. Call it racism, call it whatever- this is a man’s sport and we’d like to see them behave like men – not whining like schoolboys. One thing’s clear – the Aussies don’t like to take what they dish out. They’ve lost a bit of that champion sheen now and are showing signs that they are rattled. (I’d love to see Sehwag, Sreesanth back in the next match and India giving Australia a hiding at Perth-no idle fantasy, I believe they have the firepower to do it if they get their act together.)

And for Mr. Proctor, it is time someone reminded him that the world is not a white man’s paradise anymore, so don’t slap racism charges here on us Asians because you think we are easy prey. We are not as dumb as you think so be prepared to get a bit more than what you dish out.

The umpires certainly need to be cooled off for a year for the bad show. You seriously can’t get paid to do jobs like that. Maybe, someone should actually investigate if the Bucknor-Benson duo’s integrity has not been compromised. It’s the not first time its happened so maybe its worth a visit for the anti corruption guys at ICC.

It would certainly be better for India if Bucknor was kept off Indian matches for a while (just as Hair was kept of Lankan matches). And I seriously doubt if Benson would have checked with the fielding side’s captain if the fielding side was Asian or West Indian. He must be relegated to the Sunday leagues games where such partisan work is best left. But the probe is not a bad idea since there are enquiries galore anyway.

Alright let us now, leave the external factors alone boys. You cannot hide behind bad umpiring and racist charges because you have yourselves to blame. No excuses for losing a match that could have been drawn even with two batsmen not being available fully. You are becoming the victim too often. I’d like to see the Indian side take on Australia and show some fight especially in the light of what’s going on. If Kumble can show grit as a batsman to save a test, so can the top six. Focus on the game, focus on the result. The one way to fight Aussie arrogance is to beat them in their own backyard, if not deny them the pleasure of winning. Come on guys, you could have turned the first match into a better game (you could have won with our fabulous batting lineup), you could have saved the second easily. Now after all this, please do find that something within you and come out blazing and beat the Aussie in the third. Get Sehwag back, let Rahul play at three or four, Sreesanth comes in and Irfan. And go for their throat fellows. The only way to beat them is to push them on the backfoot and keep going for their throat all the time. It’s a street scrap so get into it with all guns firing from the first ball. No warm up nothing. Change tactics. Get that final match.

Whatever happens don’t come back without claiming your honour. Treat them separately. Umpiring is bad - so fight it separately in appropriate places. Racism row, alight fight it where you have to. But when it comes to playing cricket, beat them so there’s no more talk. Remember how they shut up after the T20 loss in Mumbai.
There are no excuses. There are no victims. Nobody will remember the umpiring. We remember performances. Courage. Skill. Heart. And victory.
Do it. For pride. And for honour. We’d like to see blood and sweat, guts and gumption. We don’t care if you win or lose but don’t come back without giving them the fight of their lives. Which could very well be the fright of their lives.
Remember, bullies crack up first when someone stands up to them.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

2007 ends on a high - Book launch in Pune

Shri Chandu Borde, me, CP and Suhita
2007 whizzed by. Very satisfyingly I must say. The last major event of the year was a book launch of 'The Men Within' at Pune. Crossword Bookstores, Pune, was gracious enough to host the event. Shri Chandu Borde, legendary cricketer, and Shri C.P. Surendran, journalist, poet and novelist, were kind enough to join the panel. Smt. Suhita Thatte, well known TV and movie actor, in Hindi and Marathi joined me for the bookreading. The event went off well as book readings do, with a goodly crowd of some 50 people comprising friends and relatives mainly, in attendance.

There is one thing about events such as this that always make me wonder, make me want to pinch myself. As a first time novelist who is keen to see his book reach out to all kinds of audiences (infact I would like everyone on the planet to read what I wrote), I keep pushing myself to promote the book in some form or another. Some times people take me seriously and sometimes they don't. But in the end, I realised that it all works out for the best. The right people come by at the right time and give the right vibes. It all works out perfectly.

For example I am truly floored by the simplicity and big heartedness of someone like Mr. Chandu Borde, a legend, and one of Pune's greatest sons. He not only spoke to me warmly and with such disarming simplicity when I first called him, that I instantly decided that when I grow up to be his age, I'd like to be like him. Here's someone who hardly knew me, who did not know what I had written about and with hardly any reference of sorts, and he has the big heartedness to consider being chief guest at my book launch function. When I called on him, he showed that wonderfully humane side to him by considering juggling times and dates between his busy Christmas schedule and I was so touched by it all that I decided that it does not matter whether I have the event or not if it inconveniences him. Finally, we decided on a date that was acceptable to him.

I was also fortunate to have dates that matched CP Surendran's - my first choice to be on the panel. CP Surendran, a writer and respected journalist, whose style is so stark that I always envied him for it (I know I can never write like he does). I have been reading his column since my days in Mumbai as far back as 1994-95 and have always enjoyed it. His perspective is always refreshingly different, it would always be different knowing the way CP writes and thinks, never conforming, always retaining his individuality even if the general idea is the same. He is an acclaimed poet with four collections of poems published by big publishing houses in India. I don't understand poetry much, except that it is a product of intense thought, and whatever little I read of his poetry did leave me disturbed. As a person too, he is direct, forthright and says it like it is, never saying anything because it is the done thing but only because he believes in it. CP is a busy man as the resident editor of Times of India in Pune and when he accepted my invitation to be on the panel I was extremely happy. More so because CP is known to my brother and it was he who put me on to my publisher in Delhi (despite not being convinced about what I wrote).

Suhita is a busy actor and resides in Mumbai. She travelled the distance to Pune to attend the function and read excerpts from it merely as a show of solidarity with me and my ideas. Her role during the entire event was for 10 minutes but she took the trouble to be there despite a hectic schedule, a bus that broke down on the way - all for an event that's certainly not the biggest draw. Suhita is my wife Shobha's cousin and was always supportive of my decision to write, but then it does warm the heart to know that she came all the way for the event. She is an extremely warm hearted person and I am very fond of her but the fact that she chose to travel the distance will remain among my cherished memories.

In such acts of supporting unknown people like me, merely on good faith, the gentlemen and lady mentioned above, have reaffirmed my trust in the innate goodness of humanity a thousand times. More so when my agenda is not so much as to make a commercial success of the book, as to have it read by as many people as possible because I believe that it has simple ideas that could possibly inspire a few to dream, to come to terms with self-belief. And when people such as Chandu Borde, CP and Suhita, Rajan Bala, Charu Sharma and Anita Nair, Ayaz Memon and Sanjay Manjrekar, spare sometime in their busy schedules to lend their energies to a book launch of a first time writer, I am convinced that the book would certainly find its way to its audience.

And in the process I learnt some very humbling lessons from these ladies and gentlemen about how to be as a person. I am deeply grateful for that.

Like I said, 2007 was a year well spent.