Saturday, November 26, 2011

We Will Wait !

“Don't whisper a word. The whole world will be able to hear you. Wankhede is stunned into silence. Rampaul spoils the party, Sammy holds the catch at second slip.”
Perhaps obituaries would sound comparatively pleasant to some cricket fans. The lines appeared on ESPNCricinfo web portal, as Sachin Tendulkar departed without scoring what could have been his 100th international century – just one-hit-over-the-boundary short of it. As many firsts that the man has pocketed, this would be another first in the history of the game.
The dreaded words appeared: 'SR Tendulkar c Sammy b Rampaul 94'. At little under 140 kmph, this may not be the best ball West Indian pacer Ravi Rampaul might have bowled, but certainly will be the most memorable for him.
Right at the moment, the waving flags stopped, as if time froze. The clapping hands were on the heads. The crowd remained glued to their seats – silent in disbelief – as if this was not real. It couldn't be, they'd come in hordes to see their favorite player touch a milestone nobody else had dreamt of before. The shock on the faces of spectators, beamed through the TV, looked as if a catastrophe had struck the stadium.
A long walk for the most coveted batsman in cricket history followed, at the ground that’s been called his home ground, for past couple of decades. A sigh came from him. He looked at his bat. He looked at the crowd, as if to say, I’m sorry…
Before that very moment, all media, including social media was abuzz with mention of SRT's possible century. Fans crying out for support, anticipating a celebration… A tweet read: "In the train, around me everyone is logged onto either ESPNcricinfo or radio. Smiles and random fist pumps." Then, Tendulkar was going more than run-a-ball, having scored a four and a six in a Fidel Edwards over, bowled close to 150 kmph. Tendulkar looked ominous, giving people glimpses of his creativity, as he leaned back, played upper cut to score two sixes off Edwards, in the innings and also showcased the best of his straight drives. As thousands roared, the century was for his taking.
Just a moment later, after his shock dismissal, a frustrated tweet read: "No he is not out. That was a wide ball and no ball and dead ball and Ravi Rampaul is involved in match fixing and takes drugs." Anger, just because he ousted Sachin.
This is the awe that he inspires in a country of more than a billion, and beyond. Having been a witness to his batting and spectators' admiration in the Test Match in Delhi recently, this scribe learnt a few things about what cricket is for his fans. For them, cricket exists because SRT plays it. Yours truly - being an admirer of the cricketer and watching the match in expectation of his 100th ton - was still amazed to see fans chanting "Sachin, Sachin" at their loudest, even when he picked the ball that rolled to him. For others, boundary-saving efforts were treated with mere claps.
A fellow spectator said, "I wonder how he is able to pick his bat, under such pressure. I've seen, this is even louder in Mumbai". During the match, when Virender Sehwag was out, the noise reached its crescendo. Not in appreciation of Sehwag's batting, but because Tendulkar was coming in to bat. Everybody wanted him to score the 100th. However, he missed it, and the fans still clapped. They were frustrated, but I could not hear a word of criticism.
It's not easy to manage such adulation, being human. It's not easy to shut your ears to such decibels. But then, it's not easy to be Sachin Tendulkar.
He will definitely score his 100th, sooner or later, as Amitabh Bachchan tweeted: "Heartbroken! Ah well another day maybe. We'll wait!"
Another fan, in yours truly could not resist the temptation and wrote: "Sad that Sachin did not score the 100th... Proud that he played like Sachin we admire... Would be sadder to see him crawl to it..."

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 26th November, 2011)


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Is it Cricket?

These are difficult times to be a cricketer here. Mind you, under normal circumstances it would be busy times with a major championship not too far away (ACC T20 Cup gets underway in a fortnight).
Cricketers in Nepal have always considered themselves unlucky. In the beginning days of cricket here, most could not play, given it was only within a reach of richer few. Hence most were unlucky. Till late 90s, Nepal had no participation at international level, so the players were said to be unlucky. When the cricket administration prospered and coffers did not show zero balance, the cricketers said they were unlucky as they did not receive anything out of it.
Circa 2001, yours truly once met a national level cricketer who said he was unlucky not to be in the national team, forgetting a small matter of letting nearly 50 wide balls, in a small matter of 4-5 matches.
But the cricketers, for now, really have a difficult time. For, they're caught in transition. As if transition from long standing coach was not difficult in itself, they have an unenviable task of going through the restructuring – or should one say, reconfiguration – of Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN). It should be noted here that the past coach, Roy Dias, coached Nepali team since beginning of this century, and had played majority of his cricket in the 80s. Meanwhile, the new coach, Pubudu Dassanayake, played his cricket in modern era and coached a team to the World Cup. He is used to more modern ways and equipments of coaching and is trying to use it with the boys here. The national team players, though young, will take some time to adapt to that mechanism.
And, during the same time, they have to deal with the new administration of CAN, led by a Central Committee Member of a political party. Imagine the confusion, when the coach hardly knows the abilities of the players and the whole cricket administration is into the hands of someone totally alien to cricket. If we add to that the Nepali organizational culture of never keeping institutional knowledge or memory, you know what could go wrong. For players, it's like starting afresh, akin to doing an entry level job in a fast food joint, after managing it for five years.
If you were a player, it could be difficult not to be scared. The new CAN, the ad-hoc body supposed to hold election for an executive body, has announced that its new statute will not be in compliance with the ICC provisions. The person responsible for recommending the statute says, he was not aware of ICC provisions. That coming from a former cricketer and administrator sounds like a blatant excuse. World governing body of almost every sport has some provisions for the national bodies, especially on governance. If you are not aware of that, and are still preparing something as important as statute, you have disqualified yourself.
ICC is very clear on stopping political or government interference in national cricket boards. That would also include National Sports Council (NSC), known for dissolving the national sporting bodies, upon the whim of its chief. Continuing the tradition, Member Secretary of NSC, Yubraj Lama, appointed Tanka Angbuhang – Maoist Central Committee Member – as President of CAN. Perhaps to return the favor to the party that got him the most powerful position in Nepali sport. He was a sportsman once, but what he is practicing right now is definitely not cricket. Special mention should be given NSC appointing past president Binay Raj Pandey as Patron of CAN, without even notifying him.
With all of it going on in the background, one would be surprised if the players can still focus on learning newer techniques in cricket. And cricket fans would just hope that in this insane environment, at least the players would keep their sanity.

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 19th November, 2011)