The Merchant of India and his Friendly Nemesis

While growing up, I used to be fascinated about the three Vijays of Indian Cricket, namely, Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare and Vijay Manjrekar, drawing parallels with three Ws in my mind. As I grew up, I realised, while Mr. Manjrekar was the better batsman in his family, the other two Vijays were in different class, both in terms of age, as well as batting class and averages.

There are a lot of things, that can be told about the two Vijays, not least Cricket with Vijay Merchant or Mr. Hazare who breached the Don’s defence twice, a feat not many bowlers achieved, leave aside, the person being one of the two best batsmen in the team. But today, the story is different. Merchant is the Indian Numero Uno, the batsman with the highest First Class average after who else but the Don, he was the founder of Mumbai School of Khadoos Batsmanship, a tradition modified only with the arrival of a curly-haired teenager more than 5 decades later. While the biggest tragedy for Indian Cricket according to Merchant was that Hazare (a Test batting average only .07 lower than Merchant) couldn’t be the finest Indian batsman due to captaincy load.

The batting rivalry of the Don Bradman and Wally Hammond is well-known to the cricket literati, their Ashes rivalries where eventually the Don would prevail over Hammond besting Don’s previous efforts. Similar story-line developed in a similar time frame on the grounds of India, most famously in the matches between Bombay and Maharashtra (Baroda later).

The run race for the highest individual innings by an Indian between the two Prima Donnas began in 1941-42. Merchant’s innings of 242(3) for Hindus against Muslims in Bombay Pentangular was the highest score by an Indian till date. A record, duly broken by Hazare in the very next season with a score of 248 in the same championship against the same opponents, for “The Rest” against Muslims.

The next year, the final match featured, Merchant’s Hindus versus Hazare’s The Rest. Hindus batted first, with Merchant yet again breaking the record with a 250 in the team score. Not to be outdone by the other Vijay, Mr. Hazare scored a mammoth 309 out of a team total of 387, a 300 run partnership with his tailender brother scoring 266 out of them. Thus becoming the first Indian triple centurion.

Final saga of the story again came from the Merchant, scoring a 359* almost a week later, settling the debate for one last time. Hazare although scored another 316 but couldn’t best Vijay Merchant, the Indian Numero Uno.


Historical T20 XI

Last few months, since the preparation to World T20 cup began with India’s T20 series down under. We have had too much of T20 cricket to be able to actually digest and when you can’t digest properly, you either shit or vomit, me I hope do a little better in the following lines… This underlying is the result of me having too much of T20. A list of players, who played before T20 age but could have been more than a handful in the shortest version. We can only think, fantasise and romanticise but watching this team play a T20 would have been a mouth-watering, eye blinding sight.

I restricted the list taking the God standard, only the people who started and mostly (finished) their careers before Sachin were considered for the compilation.

  1. DG Bradman – He would score daddy hundreds, he would score them at as fast a clip to with the usual shots and he would score them in every innings. The fact that Kohli’s IPL run could be as close as anything we could have seen to the Don, makes you wish. If Only we could have seen his scores in IPL!
  2. Barry Richards – It’s almost impossible to find a cricket ‘What if’ XI with his name not being in a serious contention, all that for a Total of 508 Test runs could seem weird and unfair on some accounts but then Barry was magic cricketified. He once played an entire innings off the outside edge of the bat just for the fun of it. 9 centuries before lunch on day 1 do no harm to his T20 credentials.
  3. IVA Richards – The Universe Boss might be left scurrying if the real swag ever came into play in the T20 cricket. The original blaster could make the huge Australian grounds look like Chinnaswamy with his power hitting if he would have ever come to it. He bullied, brutalised, lorded and owned the bowlers all around the globe. The fact that his record of fastest century in Test Cricket stood the test until Jayasuriya bettered it in ODIs make him the most demanded player for T20s
  4. Graeme Pollock – Judging by the Bradman Gold Standard, he is statistically the Silver of World Cricket, an average of 60.97 puts him next only to the Don in Test Cricket. His batting seems to be an amazing perfection of batting style of the two modern left handed boundary hitters, Yuvraj’s timing and Warner’s power and placement and yet more than the sum of both.
  5. Garry Sobers – Bradman might be the best batsmen ever and forever, but a bigger cricketer is yet to set foot on cricket grounds across the globe than Sir Garfield St Aubrun Sobers. He held the record for highest individual innings for 40 years, most career runs for almost 10 years at an average higher than anyone who has scored in excess of 7500 a full 400bps higher than the God, he bowled left arm medium pace, left arm orthodox, left arm chinaman and was the 6th highest wicket taker when he retired. Variety is perhaps the biggest call in T20 cricket and this guy defined variety.
  6. Ian Botham – He was the ultimate prototype for a T20 bowler. Play hard, Party hard, he would have been the ultimate mercenary T20 player plying his trade in different parts of the world. Bowling fast and hitting far without any concern for reputation or situation, he would turn a test match by virtue of his batting or bowling alone, taking a T20 by the cuff of its throat would have been child’s play for Botham.
  7. Imran Khan -Batting average of 40, Bowling average of 19 in the later parts of his career. His reverse swing would have been the biggest asset in the slam bang fest. With Imran Khan also comes the charismatic, Inspring, Uniting leader that any team of such amazingly talented individuals would need.
  8. Alan Knott –  By almost all records, Alan Knott is considered arguably the best wicketkeeper in International Cricket.  5 Test centuries and 30 Half centuries don’t do much harm to the batting reputation of a keeper who played in the 60s n 70s. Best wicketkeeper might be an arguable opinion but best Wicketkeeper-batsmen before the date of 5 November 1999 might not be as easy to find.
  9. Erapalli Prasanna – The off spinner and leg spinner is the one thing you’d desire when you have such talent pool. The very few times when spin had such major an influence before the arrival of flummoxing the batsmen with spin and drift as in T20 was when the Indian Quartet brought teams down with the help of Sunil Gavaskar to take the shine off. Prasanna as the Off Spinner is as canny as any representative you’ll get from the group.
  10. Sydney Barnes – He was fast, he was nasty, he didn’t like giving runs, he liked collecting scalps in heaps. Sydney Barnes was a leg cutter more than a spinner, making cricinfo term him as medium pace. He could be better understood as a mix of Warne and Kumble with the pace of Shahid Afridi. His fast pace might make him an easier target in some views. But you didn’t target Barnes, he devoured you!
  11. Malcolm Marshall   – A fast bowler who can snare wickets at the top with his mean fast bowling is as much an asset for you in T20s as it is desired in Test Match Cricket. Malcolm Marshall is perhaps the best of the WI fast bowling battery. He possessed a mean bouncer which could shock people not attempting to hoick every delivery out of the ground. In T20 cricket, he would have felled many a batsmen trying to smash him out of the ground.

World Cup Round up

India – The hosts, the arguably(?) best team at the moment, though the reality should be clear after the SA tour. Only thing I can say is, they would be unfortunate not to win this cup. They have The Best batting line up in Tests & ODIs, in Dhoni they have a smart enough captain and perhaps the best keeper batsman beside Sanga (yeah I Know McCullum!), bowling, they have Zaheer and well.. Others! Bhajji, we are still hoping he will perhaps perform, Praveen Kumar and Nehra are good to okayish for ODIs. Although in the end it shall all depend on Batting and ofcourse The God.

Man to look out for – Are you asking Me?

Sri LankaGood team, great composition and since this is the sub continent, they are always there. Have got a good batting line up and in the form of Malinga and Murali(?) they have the power in bowling. Yet, to me the most important person of this tournament for them could be Matthews, the player you would love to have in ODI’s, he can bat well, he can always be depended for a good spell and quite frequently wickets. He is the man to look out for!

Man to look out for – Angelo Matthews is my pick.

England Aah! The new darlings of world cricket,  courtesy them belting Australia out, everyone’s hailing the Poms. They have some of the better batsmen in the world at this time (which has always been rare in my memory). Their pacers are nice enough and yet they have the spinner so required for sub-continent, again for the first time in my memory they have a world class spinner. They have done that recently (T20 world cup). They are the hot favorites, if not the 2 hosts, and had the WC not been scheduled in the subcontinent, they could well have been the second favs after India

Man to look out for – Eoin Morgan,He is the one Sachin tipped. He’s exciting, the ideal guy for sub continent.

South Africa Oh the perennial favorites, and the perennial chockers. They never have had any problems , they have been almost the best team always, they would have players, they will win matches and yet something or the other would happen. In Amla and AB, they have the 2 best ODI batsmen, Smith is there and Kallis, is still there, he’s never gonna leave you. They have Steyn and (?) Morkel. Only problem they seem to have is of a quality spinner(which they never have had) although some Pakistani player who shifted to SA could be an answer.

Man to look out for – Well they have always been a team.. May be AB? Amla?

Australia – Australia, Australia!! Oh mighty Australia. How far have you fallen. If only not for the fact that they are Australians, they def would have been atleast 1 and probably 2 spots down . Yet since they are Australia and they are still the no 1 side in the world. They remain in fray! In Ponting, they have a dilemma, he is one of the best batsman in the world and this is gonna be his swan song, he is going to try so hard to save his legacy which (depending on Ashes result) could have been trodden down upon or barely there. He’s gonna give it all to it and although his sub continent record say something different, but his last tour to India is something he can count upon. He definitely is the man to look for in this squad. One thing which they have going in their favour is, they have had success at sub continent more than the English, SA(ODIs), WI and likes. They are more familiar to subcontinent

Man to look out for – The Old Horse, Ricky Thomas Ponting

PakistanPerhaps for the first time ever, you rank them in the lower category. They have always been mercurial, they will always surprise you, that’s why even mediocre pakistani teams have been rated highly. Yet, this time, it feels like too much has happened. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bangladesh can defeat Pakistan comprehensively.

Player to look out for – Are there any left?

West Indies – This is where it starts getting inconsequential. You have all your lives hoped for a Caribbean revival but it has never happened and although they have fared okayish in sub continent but still 2nd level.

Player to look out for – ?

New ZealandWould have put them above the windies but a 4-0(even if you don’t consider Bangladesh as minnows) and a 5-0 loss, it just doesn’t give me confidence at all. They have the players who can perhaps by the sheer grit save matches for you, but this is not test matches we are playing. They just don’t have the fire power and in the sub continent, you cant do without it.

Player to look out for – I’d rather not look at them

Bangladesh Could I put them above NZ, given the current affairs? Somehow the conventional wisdom sets in. With their slow left armers and a guy names Shakib-Al-Hasan, they definitely are going to the 2nd round, specially given the home crowd. Their they might won some matches but don’t see them going ahead. Although stranger things will happen. Readers – Can they make this one a SL 1996 kind of triumph?

Players to look out for – Shakib

Zimbabwe Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!

PS: Bear with the arbitrary links, checking out a WP feature.

Music & Cricket : The Deadly Combo

The Gods

If in Cricket there is only one God among many highly ranked mortals, then even in music, there has only been one band which could lay claim to the status of being Greater than Jesus. You already know the 2 people I am talking about, Sachin Tendulkar and The Beatles. The similarities dont only end here, lonetivity of their art is another common factor joining them. If Sachin is being nominated for the Cricketer of the Year in his 22nd year of playing, then a look at the playing stats of would give an idea as to the Numero Uno status of Beatles almost 50 years since their beginning.
If Sachin’s word was considered as final in the Sydneygate, then there’s an incident related by Pattie Boyd, about a party hosted by Rolling Stones which she and George Harrison were attending and (as expected) there were drugs going on, but it was only after the two left the party that the Police raided the venue, signifying the respect even the police had for the “Tops of the Pop”

The Trouble Children

The man who flaunted his bare chest in the Lords pavillion, who got under the nose of even the hard headed Australians, who was the first Indian to have the eye for eye attitude for anything thrown at him, the guy who is perhaps the most hated and loved one in recent indian cricket history could find no other comparison in music world other than The Rolling Stones. You wouldnt be hard pressed to find occasions when Saurav  Ganguly crossed the line, similarly instances abound when The Stones were presented before the court for their unruly behaviour.

The Ones who Changed it all

Kumble came with his flipper and the bounce and pace, weapons unknown for a leg spinner and flummoxed batsmen all around, forming the holy trinity of  bowling with Murali & Shane Warne. While Dylan came along with his baritone voice, the acoustic guitar, the harmonica and became the spokesman of people in the most eventful decade of the century again forming the Holy Trinity of Classic Rock with Beatles & The Stones. Both of them lacked the usual talents required in their field of choice(Spin/turn for Kumble, Good voice & music for Dylan) yet no one can deny the fact that Kumble is the man who won India most no of test matches and at times can only be considered second to just Sachin in stature while most of the music magazines put Dylan at the second pedestal just after the Beatles.

The Closest to Gods

Led Zeppelin are at times called the Beatles of 70s, their effect on the music scene of 70s and thereafter if not greater than Beatles, is almost as good as them, while the only regret The Wall would ever have is, had Sachin not been his contemporary, he might have a shot at being considered the best India ever produced.

The Special Ones

While Clapton was the one who defeated Harrison in a guitar duel, Very Very Special Laxman is the only batsman of the current generation whose batting can at times overshadow Sachin’s when it comes to the sheer beauty with hardly any people ever coming close to the celebrated duo. While Layla will forever be remembered as the only song to chart in 3 different decades and as perhaps the best example of romantic ballad in Rock History. The epic 281 in Kolkata will forever be remembered in annals of Indian Cricket as perhaps the best Innings ever played by an Indian. The beauty with which a ball way outside outside off is flicked through midwicket can only be matched by the enthralling solos which Clapton has managed to produce over time.

Honourable Mention:
The Golden Oldies

While Elvis’s shot to fame was the fact that he was a white man producing the kind of music only associated with blacks (Blues were the preferred genre of white musicians back then), Kapil Dev was the one who brought fast bowling into India a land known primarily for its stylist batsmen and menacing spinners. If Kapil Dev had both the boxes ticked in form of Batting and Bowling, then The King of Rock & Roll, was almost as famous for his movies as for his music. If the King, with Hips that swivelled from Africa to America made performing sexy, then the Haryana Hurricane with his power hitting was the one who brought excitement into a country filled with technically sound yet somewhat dull batsmen(read Gavaskar and likes).

Parting Shot
Geniuses on fire

You never knew what Hendrix would do with a guitar in his hand, and the same goes for Sehwag with a bat in his hands. They just blow everything away in a storm of their show

We are the champions

We have generally been a nation of mediocres with no special achievements to show for on an international arena. We might have given the world its 0 and the Kama Sutra  but that was in a time so prehistoric, that I dont even know what and who they were. Talking of recent achievements except a few Nobels by NRIs and a very rare Nobel once in ages could be the only thing we could talk of! In sports, too, nothing to boast of except may be the hockey prowess of people who arent even alive.

So now when the Indian team has become the No. 1 test playing team in the world. I guess its high time all of us take a pause and raise a toast to these bunch of individuals, who although may not be the best in the world, not even the best India has produced. They have gone and done what has never been done in around 80 years of Indian Cricket. For the first time, India is at the top somewhere (not even in things like Population, COrruption and Pollution are we No.1! how disheartening).

Most of the people around me have been brought up in the disappointing decades of 90s when overseas tours were synonymous with white washes. So coming to the naughties, its always been a great pleasure to get up at some odd hour, checking the score of a match being played in Australia or WI and to your surprise finding a score favourably loaded in India’s favour, which ofcourse over the time became more of a habit than a rare surprise as the later years of the decade started rolling over, and the ending of the decade being capped with gaining the Numero Uno status.

Indian team might not be the undisputed champion, they are not heads and shoulders above the opponents as WI or Aus used to be, but they have definitely been consistent and provided results and just for that, lets stop brooding over, if this team really deserves to be No. 1 or how long will we remain atop.

Instead let us all remember all those moments passed by, teary and jubilant, dominating and defiant,of Glory and of Disappointment which all brought us here, and raise a toast to the great Game of Cricket and the Team of ’09 which finally did it! Because thats what they deserve 🙂

Presribed Readings for the cricket fans:
Steps to the summit
It’s been a long Road

A long time ago

Yet Not in a Galaxy Far Far Away

The world didn’t know much about a boy named Sachin Tendulkar. He hadnt assaulted a million bowlers, even his test debut was one and half years ahead, even Ranji Trophy wasnt graced by his presence yet.

The Little Master

And that’s when our favorite Commentator Harsha Bhogle wrote this piece about the young boy

Season 1987-88 was a purple patch that never ended. Playing in the Vijay Merchant tournament he scored 130 and 107 and then at the Inter-Zonal stage he made 117 against the champions, East Zone. Then in the Vijay Hazare tournament (for Under-17s) he scored 175 for West Zone against champions East Zone.

Then came the avalanche. A 178* in the Giles Shield and a sequence in the Harris Shield of 21*, 125, 207*, 329* and 346*! A small matter of 1028 runs in five innings! And in the course of that innings of 329* he set the much talked-about record of 664 for the third wicket with Vinod Kambli, who, it is not always realised, scored 348*. Perhaps the most fascinating of them all was the innings of 346*. Coming immediately, as it did, in the shadow of the world record, a lot of people were curious to see him bat. Sachin ended the first day on 122, batted through the second to finish with 286, and when the innings closed around lunch on the third day, he was 346*. And then came back to bowl the first ball. In April’s Bombay summer.

Can  read more of the article here

Another interesting piece about the famous Sachin-Kambli partnership is here.

And the day…

…shall always be remembered with happiness, sadness, ecstasy, disapointment. Every person in India was glued to the tv screen or cricinfo if the Tv wasn’t available. It was a day when all the cricketing noobs around the world got a taste of Godness of a particular person, besides getting to know the fundes of Powerplay, free hit amongst others. It was a day when a mere mortal took it upon himself to perform a deed which even the Gods couldn’t think of. This was the day when this particular person transcended the boundaries which the Gods have defined for humans, a performance which would be marked as scintillating even by those who observe us from skies above. Had such a feat been accomplished in Mahabharata or Ramayana, the associated imagery by the authors would have been of Gods coming down to Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Hyderabad and garlanding the master or showering him with flowers from the skies above.

20 years have passed, many moments, many memories have passed, there are matches which almost every fan has by heart. It all started with Karachi in 1989, when the world saw the youngster for the first time, there was that mastery in Old Trafford in 1990, Sydney 1992 (arguably his best innings), Hero Cup 1993 where he showed the first signs of his magical side, 1996 WC where he started to take serious strides towards becoming the best in business (which btw was the time I started watching cricket), 1998 Sharjah aka the time when we knew that we werent witnessing some ordinary mortal, instead it was the God of cricket who was charming us, Chennai ’99, the epitome of disappointment, 2003 WC, where he again stamped his authority on the spot of the Best, that 186 against the Kiwis in Hyd. Almost any other player would be content to have one such match associated with him like the 281 by Laxman or the Adelaide test which belonged to Dravid and yet this man has been doing it for the  past 20 years. He set a benchmark in 1998 and now 11 years later, he comes up with something which could be termed as spectacular if not better than that one.

Everybody knows that there have been 2 Sachins who have played international cricket, one who was a youngster back in 90s whose name was synonymous with terror for bowlers, Shane Warne, arguably the best spinner to have graced the game would definitely agree with that. His innings used to be flashy, commanding,  flamboyant, he was jumping out of crease, he was slapping the bowlers for sixes, the pulls that he played were audacious, the last thing on mind when playing a drive was whether its in air or not…

And then came the Tendulkar of 2000s, a guy who in his late 20s was supposedly the senior most member in the side, a guy who was held responsible for every defeat although similarly cheered for every victory. A guy who didn’t have the cushion of someone like Azhar who was his senior to fall back upon. One who had to effective instead of attractive, his injuries also playing a role in this transformation. The whole of India was flummoxed at this transformation, where was that cherubic boy we loved and adored, instead he was replaced by some sincere statesman of the game. We slowly got used to this new avatar. After all we Indians are used to listening stories of 9 avatars of Lord Vishnu, this God had took just a single new form. Slowly we begin to love him, because although the stepping out to spinners wouldn’t be there, but the gorgeous cover drives were still there with cheeky shots behind the wicket replacing those straight sixes and he was Great as ever and more effective than earlier, when there was always a risk factor associated with his innings. We started thinking its ok, we don’t miss the previous avatar that much now.

BUT, deep within our hearts there is always a collective desire to see him back in 90s mould. We always loved sights of him traumatizing the bowlers, him stepping out of the crease to play that shot straight over the bowler’s head or that pull which would deposit the ball on the roof of the stadium. Although admitting something like this would be a sin, but deep within our hearts and minds, the greed is still there, the lust factor always prevails, each time he comes to bat… there is a secret desire… a wish in our minds and a prayer on our lips that we will get to see the first avatar of the God today and not the latest one.

5th Novemeber 2009 was one such night, you could sense that something speical was in store when he threw the ball on ground in disgust after the last ball of Australia’s innings, after all how many of us have seen him displaying his emotions. I have never seen such a mad rush of people on twitter, FB, Gtalk Statuses. I was always of the view that  I must be a bit different to be such a big fan of this person but last night was the night when he dispelled all those notions, guys n girls (yeah girls), cricket fans as well as amateurs, all of them were reciting just one name and there was only one number which people were concerned about i.e 200!

I have always wondered what it must be to be The Beatles but I guess this guy’s life must be more extraordinary than those of those 4 individuals combined. In my living memory, i havnt seen a real life scene as dramatic, awe-inspiring as this one. This is one of the nights I will always remember for the rest of my life , and even though all of India can still feel the pain of last night, but such is the quality of the man, that some years later, this match wouldn’t be remembered as a failure of India, instead it would be seen as the triumph of a man over all things earthly. When Sachin plays in the manner he did last night, the results are mostly inconsequential ( although they definitely count).

Its just a sense of respect for the man which lingers in your mind, a sense of previlige on having witnessed something as Godly as this from a man, who walks the earth and devours the grains just like we do. Frankly speaking I consider myself ill-equipped to be the narrator of events such as this..

Would just end the story here with a line by Rohit(a college batchmate FYI) which describes almost everything which happened last night.

I think God doesnt want Sachin to be God, so he keeps doing such things to him