Showing posts with label Sport. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sport. Show all posts

How My Cricket Coaching Taught Me Skills that School Could Not

Last ball, three runs to win.
I was the captain of the fielding side, positioned at mid-off. Our pacer Zeeshan Khatri bowled a yorker, the batsman managed to block it, and the ball trickled straight towards the bowler. He could have just taken the ball, strolled towards the stumps, clipped the bails off and won the game for us. But he was all of nine years old and attempted a direct hit at the bowler’s end. It turned out to be an overthrow that flew past me for a boundary and we ended up giving away a match that was sitting on a platter. United Sports Club had lost to Poisar Gymkhana in this nail-biting Under-10 cricket match and all us, red- cheeked boys did on our ride back home to Mira Road is cry. I didn’t know it then, but it was my first lesson in leadership, teamwork, coping with pressure, and dealing with failure. And only sport could teach it to me.
“I want to play cricket for India,” was every child’s dream in the era of Sachin Tendulkar, and I was no different. Every birthday, I got a cricket bat as a gift and I would watch all of India’s games (including Test matches) in their entirety. My father responded to my enthusiasm by getting me enrolled to a summer coaching camp with one motive: “Vacation mein kuch activity karega, warna ghar mein sirf TV dekhega pura din.” But it worked: A boy who was too lazy to get up for a glass of water would now voluntarily wake up at 5 am every morning during summer vacations for cricket coaching.
Our coach, Khan Sir was a typical pot-bellied uncle with Bhagat Singh-wali moustache, who wore a white hat and always walked with his hands crossed at the back. He had an unassuming personality but was quite stern and you didn’t want to cross him when it came to discipline. If you arrived five minutes late, he would just smile and declare “two rounds extra!” and walk away. There was no debate or arguing with Khan Sir and you had no choice but to start running. A murmur, and the punishment would go up by a round. “If I can be on time and everyone else can be on time, why can’t you be on time?” he would ask. A couple of such punishments and you learned to reach early, a habit I maintain to this day.  
Whether it was whispering expletives at a bad umpiring decision, resting during warm-up when you weren’t supposed to, or needlessly flashing outside the off stump (like Quinton de Kock), there was a crafty punishment for every crime. And it was always delivered with a smile, because you were learning a lesson. Khan Sir made it compulsory for all the boys to wash their own soiled clothes and clean their spiked shoes without help from their moms. He would then question parents on whether the kids were complying. If the answer was in the negative, there was more punishment incoming. I didn’t realise it back then, but he taught us early on about entitlement and equality. When one of us told him, “Kapda ladkiyan dhoti hai,” he made the boy not only wash his clothes but everyone’s tiffin boxes. Our coach might have been a man of few words but I’ve not forgotten the lessons he taught us even today, a decade later.
I will never forget the time I once went in to bat without a thigh pad. It was a strict no-no, and unfortunately I got hit. Khan sir was furious. But he had a polite way of making his point, and he just called out me out of the nets immediately and told me to do some fielding drills. He didn’t allow me to bat that entire vacation. I would often forget the multiplication table for seven but I never forgot to wear a thigh pad ever again in my life. You see, Khan sir had very simple ways to deliver complex messages and build habits that would stay with us lifelong.
While school was teaching us about the soil in Sangli and what the Pythagorean theorem was, there were certain skill sets that were out of its purview. It could help me land a great job at TCS or Wipro but not teach me how to handle the work pressure or work as a team in a corporate setup. The curriculum wasn’t designed to teach us teamwork, leadership, patience, decision-making or temperament – skills that are essential to life itself. But sport is a great teacher of things school can’t teach you, and it is the reason I cherish my formal cricket coaching years. I never played cricket at a professional level or ever became really good at it, but those years in coaching prepared me for life itself.  
Afterall, there’s nothing more beautiful than having a good time with your friends on the field and learning life-skills without even realising it.

What is Yuvraj Singh’s Legacy in Indian Cricket? Two World Cups and a Lifetime of Memories

As long as cricket is watched, written, and talked about, people will reference Yuvraj Singh’s heroics at Kingsmead, as the southpaw bludgeoned six sixes in an over. It is the most astonishing moment of play that most of us will experience in our lifetime. Yuvraj Singh played it, Ravi Shatri narrated it, and fans across the world lived it. No one will ever forget what it felt like to be in that moment. As Yuvraj Singh calls curtains on his international career, his lasting legacy will be the delivery of such unforgettable moments, whether it was Natwest 2002, World T20 2007, or World Cup 2011.
There are very few sights in world cricket as pleasing as Yuvraj Singh with his trademark shuffle and beautiful backlift, getting to the pitch of the ball and effortlessly caressing it through covers for a boundary. Seemingly a gentle, almost lazy push, the ball would fly past the infield and no fielder had the audacity to move a muscle. They had the privilege of standing in awe, and appreciating the display. It is cliched to talk of left-handed batsmen and grace, but at the zenith of his powers, Yuvi’s feet moved like a ballerina dancer and his batting was pure art.
Make no mistake, when the situation demanded otherwise, he could also be a bully. Ask Stuart Broad, who got smoked over every part of the ground on that dreaded night in Kingsmead.
The difference between good players and great players lies in when they choose their moment. And Yuvraj was a man for the big occasion. The bigger the stage, the more likely it was to bring out the best in him. India has won two World Cups over the last 15 years, the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007 and the ODI World Cup in 2011. Yuvraj Singh played a vital role in both, vice-captain in the former and Player of the Tournament in the latter.
When it came to ICC tournaments, Yuvi had no respect for previous records, current form, or fitness reports; he only cared for performance when it mattered most. It could be a 70 of 30, it could be a breakthrough with his modest left-arm floaters, or a moment of magic in the field. Yuvraj Singh could never be left out of a big game.
The only sight that could top Yuvraj’s style and flair with the willow was his gleeful million-dollar smile. Yuvi is the likeable darling of cricket, respected by opposition, adored by commentators, and loved by the fans. In him, supporters saw a character they could relate to, someone who was a celebrity on screen but was just like their friend. He was the young gun in a dressing room featuring Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman and Dravid, but that never stopped him from playing pranks on his teammates. Everytime he dived to his left and saved a boundary in the point region, he would share a grin with his buddy Mohammad Kaif fielding at covers. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and never shied away from a bit of bhangra after India had won a game. Yuvi is unapologetically stylish, has a dash of swagger about him, and is unabashedly himself, a persona that transcends the cricket field.
If Sachin Tendulkar is the God of cricket, Yuvraj Singh is the God of the Comeback, on the field and beyond. Dropped a few times from both the Test and ODI team, he always slogged it out in the domestic circuit, returning to form and giving the selectors a good headache. For their part, the fans kept rooting for him. Who could stop a man who had battled cancer to win the World Cup for his country? It was telling of not only his cricketing acumen, but his character as well.
Yuvraj Singh’s story isn’t lived only through his boundaries, wickets, and direct hits, it has also been lived through heartbreaking pictures from hospital rooms and videos of ecstatic celebrations after the World Cup finals. In a career full of highs and lows, Yuvraj Singh delivered memories that we will never forget in our lifetime.

Why the Neighbourhood Men’s Salon is My Favourite Place to Watch a World Cup Game

If you are a crazy rich Indian with frequent flier points that can get you on to any flight you desire, the best place to watch a World Cup game is undoubtedly Lord’s. If you are a city slicker, you’ll probably swipe your card and catch the match with your bros over beers in a plush SoBo watering hole. And if you are an everyday Indian, you’ll flock outside an electronic shop to-and-from work to get an update on the game. But let me commit a cardinal sin here (almost like stating that MS Dhoni should not be called out for “lack of intent”): The best place to watch a cricket match in India is not a stadium or a pub, it’s a men’s salon.  
By men’s salon, I don’t mean those big, branded franchises where your barber is more qualified than you, and you call him a stylist, not a hajaam. I’m talking about that dingy cornershop near your house, which has posters of Salman Khan from Tere Naam plastered on the walls, towels drying outside in the sun, and the fake version of every cream and moisturiser available in the market. (Go-Real, anyone?)
Every Indian neighbourhood is replete with parlours that cater only to men and they are the den of the retired and unemployed. Old Bollywood songs provide the background score as life unfolds lazily inside these salons. There is that odd customer getting a champi while the other hairdressers are waiting around. Nothing really happens inside these parlours… unless there’s a cricket match.
The salon in my gully called Scissors Palace is no different. I have been a regular here since I was a child. We would often rush to the salon for a glass of water after playing in the sun, or to catch the score of a Test match. During exams, when mum would not allow me to watch the game, I’d sneak out of the house, run to Scissors Palace, watch a couple of deliveries, and rush back. It’s been my favourite place to watch cricket ever since.
The owner of the salon is an old Mr Miyagi-type character who has been in the business since my papa was a young lad. He gives the best massages in the world, and his favourite story dates back to 1983, when Kapil paaji lifted the World Cup for India.  
On most days, Scissors Palace is as dull as the first two hours of Ship of Theseus. But on match day, the salon springs to life as every neighbourhood cricket fanatic gravitates toward it like Salman Khan fans throng to Gaiety-Galaxy for an Eid release. These gatherings are simple affairs – there’s no one flaunting an expensive jersey or carrying vuvuzelas or whistles. There is no time to take selfies or post one Instagram story per over. There are no stands named after cricketing greats and there is no place to sit. There’s just a musty shop, where emotions run high and complaints that someone is stepping on your toes are not welcome.
cricket match is probably the only occasion when patrons of Scissors Palace don’t stare at gora models in a magazine but instead have their eyes fixed on the men on screen for 10 straight hours. There are no crisp 4K visuals on a 55-inch flat screen mounted on the wall. There is no surround sound. It’s just a bulky box, which Onida probably stopped manufacturing decades ago, and which goes from colour to black-and-white on a whim. But in all this madness lies the majja.  
You can barely hear the commentators amid all the din. But that’s okay because the asli commentary is being delivered by the 30-odd people cramped inside the salon. They are as passionate about the game as Kohli is about hurling expletives.
Watching a game of cricket in a salon such as Scissors Palace, with complete strangers, is an experience like no other. There are regulars like Mr Miyagi and a couple of building uncles; the rest of the cast keeps changing. Invariably, there’s a teenager who has grown up on a heavy dose of T20 and gets restless if a boundary hasn’t been hit in six minutes. Patience is a virtue, and it is taught to him by Mr Miyagi, who will take an hour for a haircut on a match day – he’s all absorbed in the game and gives you a snip or two in between overs. At the other corner of the salon, Yadav, a young hairdresser, is telling his latest customer about Kuldeep Yadav, who hails from his village and how his chacha ka ladka played with him when they were kids. “Susheel ladka hai,” he says, as if approving of the left-arm chinaman. This is the story Yadav tells everyone who graces his salon chair.
Another regular at all salon screenings is Witty Venkatesh, who gives hot takes of the kind that would make him an instant celeb on Twitter. “We need 327 today.” “I think Rishabh Pant should open the innings with Rohit Sharma.” “Iss paar ya to uss paar. Time waste karne se kuch nahi hoga,” he goes on. Heckling him is Cynical Chacha. He is Scissors Palace most regular patron – you’ll see him at the shop every day of the week. “Bahot satta laga hai ye match pe”, “Sab setting ho gaya hai,” he says each time someone drops a catch or misfields, much to the annoyance of the crowd.
There is a lot of banter, it often turns into a heated debate and an occasional scuffle.    
If India loses the game, everyone from Cynical Chacha to Witty Venkatesh start cursing Kohli and the boys. Everyone turns into a critic, except for Mr Miyagi. I have never heard him say anything bad about the Men in Blue. Not even on their worst days.
And if India wins, the celebration here is not one to miss. The big-hearted Mr Miyagi will treat everyone to cutting chai. The school boys gathered will get a Kohli haircut, Yadav will start practising his bowling action in the aisle. Everyone is high-fiving and hugging their way through the crowd; it’s a lot like a mosh pit now. The post-match analysis will go on for an hour or so after the game, until a tired Mr Miyagi decides to turn off the lights, much to the disappointment of the revellers.   
The crowds disperse with as much enthusiasm if not more as those exiting from the grand gates of Lord’s. We might not have the best seats to the spectacle, but we’ve had the time of our lives. For a few hours in the cramped salon, all is forgotten – the worries about home loans, ailing parents, mounting bills, and promotions. And the differences take a back seat. It doesn’t matter if you backed the BJP or the Congress in the elections, no one cares about what you worship, or what’s the meat on your plate. Because if it is India playing in the World Cup, your unified by only one mantra: Jeetega toh Kohli hi!

How to Sledge with Style, a Lesson from Tim Paine and Rishabh Pant

“It’s red, round, and weighs about five ounces in case you were wondering,” said Greg Thomas to the great Vivian Richards after going past his bat with some rippers in a county game between Glamorgan and Somerset at Taunton. The Welsh fast bowler did get Sir Viv charged up, as the next delivery was smashed out of the ground and landed into a nearby river. The charming West Indian turned around to a hapless Thomas and remarked, “Greg, you know what it looks like, now go and find it.”
Sledging is the fine art of verbal exchange among opponents. The intention is to hurt the concentration and focus of your rival, to piss them off so they can make a mistake. The Americans call it trash-talk, Indians call it bakchodi, and if you’re an Aussie cricketer, it is known as Monday morning at The Gabba. The Australians, for long, championed both the game as well as the verbal barrage, earning a reputation as the bad boys of cricket. Australian legend Dennis Lillee had a famous routine where he’d tell a batsman, “I can see why you’re batting so badly, you’ve got some shit on the end of your bat.” When a gullible batsman looked at the bottom of his bat for some dirt, Lillee would walk away saying, “Nah, wrong end mate!”
With the game going global, the influx of different cultures and the monetary stakes involved, the sport got incredibly competitive and teams started to give back as good as they got (and the Australians haven’t taken it well). Dada’s Indian team in the early aughts, shed all the politeness that its predecessors were known for. Sourav Ganguly and his boys were no longer submissive. There was a cultural shift in the way the game was played. Who can forget the Indian captain violently waving his jersey from the Lord’s balcony at the end of the NatWest Series final in 2002?
Today, aggression has become the norm. Now when India play Australia or the Ashes are around the corner, there are op-eds in newspapers and debates on TV about on-field behaviour and chatter on the ground. Indian skipper Virat Kohli has become the poster boy of aggressive cricket; the bat, his tongue, and his provocative fingers all come into play.
There have been multiple instances over the last couple of decades where situations got out of hand and lines were crossed on the field. One such undesirable incident featured Aussie great Glenn McGrath and West Indian batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan.
Glenn McGrath: “What does Lara’s dick taste like?”  
Ramnaresh Sarwan: “I don’t know, ask your wife.”
Sarwan didn’t know it then, but Jane McGrath was undergoing treatment for cancer and the Aussie pacer was furious, with the players almost coming to blows with each other on the field. Who can forget Monkeygate, featuring our very own Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds, that caused a storm between the two teams as well the cricketing boards?
Cricket civilises people and creates good gentlemen. I want everyone to play cricket in Zimbabwe; I want ours to be a nation of gentlemen,” said former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. For the cricket purist, sledging is a violation of the “spirit of the game”.
Test Cricket

There is also a cheeky demand that Fox Cricket and Sony Ten share commentary remuneration with Rishabh Pant and Tim Paine, for all the entertainment they’ve provided from the stump microphone during the India-Australia series.
Image Credits: Getty Images

Sledging, much like Virat Kohli, has always divided a crowd, with one side deeming it ungentlemanly and crass, and the other side defending it as a bit of fun banter. There is no right or wrong answer. Test cricket has the capacity to get dull, and a humorous comment can lift up spirits of those out there in the middle. It can act as a tool of motivation. But at the same time, players are role models and you don’t want to showcase a version of the game that is vitriolic and mean-spirited. The general belief among fans and experts has been that there’s nothing wrong with a friendly quip or a witty remark but personal abuse and swearing is downright unacceptable. The art of sledging lies in knowing where that line is.
Sledging isn’t about getting personal with your opponent or putting him or her down, it’s simply about getting them distracted, to get them to make a mistake, with a funny observation or a chirp in their ear. “To sledge with style requires a ripe vocabulary, an ear for cadence, a fastidiousness as to the positioning of epithets and respect for your opponent. You want to topple him from high estate to low. You don’t want him down and out to start with,” said British novelist Howard Jacobson.
The ongoing India-Australia series has been a glorious endorsement of two things – competitive Test cricket and a good old-fashioned sledge. Tim Paine and Rishabh Pant seem to have auditioned for a roast battle that the entire cricketing world would pay to watch. With a smile on their faces, they’ve constantly had a go at each other in the most civil and hilarious manner, setting new standards in harmless, uncontroversial, and top-class banter.
Right from Tim Paine’s “Can you babysit?” to Rishabh Pant’s “Ever heard of a temporary captain?”, the “contest” has been loved by commentators and fans alike, with the clips going viral on social media and the remarks attracting discussion in post-match shows. There is also a cheeky demand that Fox Cricket and Sony Ten share commentary remuneration with Pant and Paine, for all the entertainment they’ve provided from the stump microphone. The fact that there is no bad blood but good camaraderie among the players was evident from Bonnie Paine’s (Tim Paine’s wife) Instagram post, where Rishabh Pant is playing with the Paine kids and the image is captioned “Best babysitter!”
The India-Australia series has been a testament to the fact that the games can be fiercely competitive, but they can also have an edge about them that doesn’t make us collectively cringe. That the gentleman’s game can not only survive, but thrive with a bit of healthy sledging and banter. Let’s have more of it, for not only does this keep us entertained and injects a bit of life into Test cricket, it also makes for wonderful anecdotes for years to come.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: Virat Kohli’s Aggression is Essential to Who He Is

If a rupee was donated to the Reserve Bank of India every time someone said “Virat Kohli is such a great batsman, if only he controlled his aggression a bit…” we could bail out all the struggling public sector banks in the country. Twice.
Virat Kohli is not the best batsman in the world, across formats, despite his aggression and combativeness, he is the best because of it. Like all elite sportsmen and sportswomen at the very top, Virat Kohli hates to lose. He hates conceding even an inch, or being bullied on the pitch. The relentless and unending desire to win every single moment in the game, to dominate every ball with the bat, to stop every single run on the field, to encourage his troops every single minute on a hot day of a Test match, to constantly be performing at 100 per cent, is what makes him Virat Kohli.
With great success comes greater criticism, and this is true for all sports. From the ranting John McEnroe, to the short-tempered Wayne Rooney, and angry Serena Williams, premier athletes have always come under heavy criticism for their competitive, aggressive, and in-your-face attitude that has been an essential part of their sporting make-up and what elevated them to the highest level in their field. As fans, we wish they were perfect athletes without the aggression, forgetting that without the attitude they would’ve not come this far.
Kohli wouldn’t be half the player he is if he didn’t ecstatically send off every opposition batsman or show his disappointment at every decision gone the other way. If he is your captain, you love him to bits for how passionately he backs each of his teammates. If he is your opponent, his brash and arrogant presence makes him the perfect bĂȘte noire.
Kohli loves a challenge, a fight, a combative experience. If you give him a daunting total on a tricky wicket in an ODI game, he thrives on chasing it down just to prove all his critics wrong. If you taunt him to find a gap while batting, he will take on the challenge and pierce the field to establish his supremacy. If you try to intimidate him with bodyline bowling, he will eventually hook one for six to let you know he means business. If you try to get under his nerves by sledging him, it only charges him up further, bringing out the best in him. Ask Pat Cummins.
The aggression and determination goes far beyond his mouth, his expressions, and his provocative fingers. It is ingrained in his personality – a typical Delhi chaud, if you will. On the third day of the Perth Test on a difficult wicket, Kohli was first hit on the elbow by a Pat Cummins delivery, and then on the forearm by a searing Mitchell Starc bouncer. The physio was on the ground and play was halted for a good five minutes as visuals of Kohli’s swollen arm beamed across the world. Injury scare? From Kohli’s body language during treatment, one could almost hear him say, “How dare they try to intimidate me, I’ll show them.” Virat Kohli did what Virat Kohli does, scoring a fantastic 123 as more records tumbled.
Columnist Rohit Brijnath writes about Kohli, “Why he has a beard and tattoos is unknown because he is intimidating enough. His look is plain: Are you ready because I am.”
Actor Naseeruddin Shah recently commented on the Indian captain, saying he is the “world’s worst-behaved player”. He may be right in his assessment. But Kohli doesn’t take the field to be the world’s best-behaved player, or the world’s worst-behaved player. He goes on the field to win. And you might say what you like but the truth is, that is what it’s all about – winning. “The Gentleman’s Game” is an empty moniker that has long stopped meaning anything, with the incredible money, pressure, and stakes at play.
We either have Virat Kohli with all his hundreds and his motormouth, or we don’t have a Virat Kohli at all. I much prefer the former.
Friendly banter or sledging isn’t an excuse for horrible behaviour, which is why we have umpires, match referees, and microphones on the ground. Checks and balances exist in the system, and the ICC must come down strongly when the line is crossed. Kohli has been fined in the past, and should be heavily in the future as well, when fault has been established by those in charge. But as long as the chatter is healthy and within the rules of the game, it should be allowed to flow, as has been the case in the India-Australia series so far. Human sport should have human element to it, because without the emotions of those playing it, sport might just be a boring endeavour of athletic display by robots.
As  a fan, I will chuckle for years at gems like “Shaam tak khelenge to inki gand phat jaayegi”, as well as enjoy the majesty of the 123 scored on a challenging wicket at Perth. Let the bat, as well as the banter, do the talking, as long as it lies within the rules of the game.