Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Golden Era of ODI Cricket

Ok, I have finally fell for the temptation. To write something about my religion- Cricket. I did wonder for quite sometime about what aspect of the sacred religion that i should cover. Then it struck me, like an epiphany, what better moment than my first interactions with the game.

No wonder they say, the first impression is the best impression, and what a first impression! Me and my sis were returning from school, being battered black and blue by the Doha sun. As any other day, we were looking forward to hot rice and sambar under the cool confines of our air-conditioned abode, But the sight that greeted us as we opened the door that day was unbelievable. There was a huge crowd of all the uncles and aunties i had ever known shouting at the top of their voice while watching something I had never seen on television. We had neighbours, relatives, dad's office folks,(maybe even random passer-bys who knows) and all their kids!It was pandemonium. And the reason for this unexpected congregation at my house was the India-Pakistan Quarter Final match at the 1996 World Cup.We were one of the few houses that had installed the recently introduced cable television and this for some reason was the first cricket match to be shown (I am sure the authorities of the country were threatened  a work strike by the South Asian expatriates for them to show this match!)And  It was here that this food deprived boy was introduced to this madness, and I swear, the excitement has not diminished one bit and will never will.

From then on the worship began, Cricket slowly ousted football as the favourite sport in school, empty tiffin boxes became stumps and Sachin Tendulkar was the new God. From 1996 to 2000 we just ate, drank and slept cricket, the 4th to the 8th standard.No pressure of the boards yet and being in an All- Boys school., cricket happened to be our only distraction then. Wonder what the local Arabs felt, when they saw young Asian boys run out of their houses everyday with club like bats and sticks and pushing them out of their favoured parking lots where they played football.

So for all the above emotional reasons and for the extraordinarily high quality of cricket that was played then, I regard this period 1996-2000 as the Golden Era (GE) of Cricket.  My analysis of this period will be based on the teams that played the game, and how they performed primarily in the two world cups (96,99) and the champions trophy. Again, being first exposed to ODI cricket, the golden era reference is also limited to ODIs, as test cricket has clearly seen better times in this decade. This era according to me had the most competitive teams with no team really dominating the world scene. So here goes-

Sri Lanka- Jayasuriya- Kaluwitharna revolutionised powerplay cricket long before the arrival of Afridi or Sehwag. And with a middle order that boasted of Desilva and Ranatunga and Mahanama, Sri Lanka were a powerful batting unit. The legend of Murali was slowly emerging and Vaas became the perfectionist in line and length bowling. Athletic fielding rarely seen by an Asian side, and the astute captaincy of Ranantunga clearly meant that they had what it takes to be world beaters.Best performance in GE - Winner, 1996 World cup.

West Indies- The 96 World cup would probably be the last great performance by a dominant Windies side. The era witnessed batsmen like Richie Richardson, Chanderpaul , Lara, Carl Hooper, Jimmy Adams don the Windies shirt. Lara was considered the best then, along with probably the most menacing opening bowling duo of their times,Walsh-Ambrose. No wonder Shane Warne, claims this to be the best side he has played against. Best performance in GE- Semi Finalists- 1996, World Cup, Runner-Up- Champions Trophy, 1998.

New Zealand- Stephen Fleming, Nathan Astle, Craig Mcmillan, Chris Cairns,Chris Harris,  Dion Nash,Vettori, Aadam Pafrore, Simon Doull and Geoff Alllot. This side could give anyone a run for their money.More than individual brilliance, the side played very well as a unit. Who can forget Chris Cairns's century that enabled the Kiwis to virtually steal the Champions trophy from India's grasp in the finals in Nairobi. Best performance in GE- Winner,Champions Trophy, 2000. Semi- Finalist, 1999 World Cup.

South Africa- This was the era when God decided to play cricket as an All-Rounder named Lance Klusener. No one can deny that, the South Africans were clearly the better team at the 99 WC. With a bowling line-up consisting of White Lightning-Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock and all-rounders like Kallis and Klusener, SA were the team to beat. Gibbs, Kirsten, Cullilan, Cronje, 'Superman' Rhodes...the team was legendary.  If only they dint master the art of choking ! Best performance in GE- Winner,Champion's Trophy, 1998 and Semi-Finalists, 1999 World Cup.

Pakistan- Openers- Anwar, Afridi. Middle Order- Inzamam, Ijaz Ahmed, Salim Malik, Yousuf Yohana.Moin Khan.All-rounders- Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood, Bowling- Wasim,Waqar,Akhtar and Saqlain. Half the members of this team would easily find a place in Pakistan's best ODI team of all time. India did get the better of them in World Cups but they made sure they paid them back with  full humiliation honours at their favourite hunting ground, Sharjah. Best performance in GE- Runners-Up, 1999 World Cup and countless Sharjah Triumphs.

India- Following India during this period was seriously not advisable for heart patients. Life was always on the tenterhooks. One wicket would fall, and we all knew that it was an uphill battle from then. And that one wicket belonged to Sachin Tendulkar. It was very different then, we never had a wily captain in Dhoni or a dashing opener in Sehwag, life revolved just around Sachin. And boy did he deliver, from Sharjah to Chennai to Bristol. The 1996 World Cup probably marked the emergence of Sachin as a great ODI batsman and there has been no looking back since then. To mention about the others, Sachin-Ganguly did make a deadly opening pair and India had a middle order of Azhar, Jadeja, Dravid and Robin Singh. Nothing much to talk about the bowling that was spearheaded by Javagal Srinath. Best performance in GE- Runners-Up- 2000,Champions Trophy; Semi-Finalist- 1996 World Cup

Australia- This period was the formative years of Steve Waugh's 'Invincibles'. One can probably say that Aussie dominance in Wold Cricket began with the 1999 World Cup and lasted nearly a decade.Youngsters like Gilchrist had just arrived on the scene, and players like Ponting, Mcgrath and Warne were slowly finding their feet. And under the astute captaincy of Steve Waugh and the dashing exploits of his brother Mark, Australia had a team that went on to be world-beaters. More importantly, they choked the favored South Africans thereby starting an era of mental disintegration, where psychological tactics became as important as skills on the field. Best performance in GE- Winners- 1999 World Cup, Runners-Up- 1996 World Cup.

Zimbabwe- Yes, I am going to mention Zimbawe here and not England. Zimbawe then, were clearly an awesome side and about the English, I clearly don't remember them winning many matches forget tournaments. Talking about Zimbawe, they easily had one of the best batting line-ups around with the likes of the Flower brothers, Blignaut, Alaistar Campbell, Stuart Carlisle, Murray Goodwin and the Whittal brothers. Also the bowling line-up spearheaded by Heath Streak consisted of Henry Olonga and Paul Strang who were handful for many an opposition batsmen. Their upset win over India at the 99 WC is probably more documented that their fight to independence. Best performance in GE- Super Six Stage- 1999 World Cup.

So guys, that's it, my analysis of the  'Golden Period of ODI Cricket' . Like I mentioned before, the best way I felt I could analyse this was by comparing the different teams that played the game then and to show you their performances in premier tournaments. Hope it helped shed a light on how competitive cricket was then. The Game for the purists is always about teams rather than individuals, looking forward to that era again, where even a Zimbabwe were considered World-beaters, where no single team dominated, yet each team was an exciting one in its own right.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Epics of the East and the West

Before I start this article, I would like to state a disclaimer- That I am no expert on World or Indian Mythology. I have read books on the same and the knowledge I have gained is not even a molecule in this vast ocean of myths and mythology. Hence what I state below are just my observations, not a doctorate thesis by a student of theology.

The below are some of my points of observation after reading the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Greek epic- Iliad. I found certain stories, premises and characters that have similarities in these epics. These are just a few i have noticed, a historian or scholar can contradict, or someone else can point out further points that would have missed my attention.  Everyone is free to think on their own and derive your conclusions. So here goes-

One Man-

The first interesting point which we have to note here is that, both the Ramayana and the Iliad are considered the works of an individual. The Ramayana in its true poetic form is considered a work of Valmiki, who many regard as India's first Poet. This tale, Valmiki claims is a true story that actually happened in India. The story's original version in Sanskrit is known as Valmiki Ramayana, dating to approximately the 4th century B.C (as per Wikipedia). Similarly The Iliad and Odyssey are attributed to Homer, a nomadic poet. Many historians even today claim that Homer is just a fictional character and the tales in these two epics are actually folk tales that have been orally transmitted through generations However as per Herodotus(early Greek Historian) and certain modern historians, Homer is believed to have lived somewhere between the 9th to 7th century BC.

The kidnapping of Sita and Helen.-

Both the central female characters in these two epics were kidnapped. This forms the crux of the these tales. Ultimately both Ram and the Greeks (Menelaus)waged the terrible wars to get back their respective princesses. Paris was promised 'the most beautiful women on earth' by Aphrodite ( The Greek Goddess of Love) if he declared that Aphrodite was the most beautiful goddess in a contest.  Paris does so and Aphrodite makes Helen fall in love with him. However Helen was already married to Menelaus(the king of Sparta) and Paris had to kidnap her and take her to his kingdom, Troy. In the Ramayana, Ravan takes the form of a hermit and kidnaps Sita in the absence of Ram and Lakshman. He primarily does so, to avenge for his sister's humiliation at the hands of Ram and Lakshman. Though, Sita was kidnapped against her will, Helen willingly goes with Paris. But then again one must remember that she was made to fall in love by Aphrodite. Another point to note is that, both Sita and Helen, are not born out of human mothers. Sita was ploughed out of the earth by King Janak. She was a gift by the earth goddess to the childless king Janak. In Greek mythology, Helen is born out a goose's egg. Her parents Zeus and Nemisis (Greek Gods) mate in the form of geese and the offspring born was Helen.

Troy and Lanka- 

Troy and Lanka are the cities destined to be destroyed by the rampaging forces of the Greek and the Vanar Army. Lanka is ruled by Ravan, the king of the three worlds whom even the Devas feared. Ravan had received a boon from Brahma that he should die only at the hands of a human. For he did not fear any human, and this boon helped him conquer the three worlds. Lanka was his capital city and no Deva dared to enter there. Similarly, Troy was the impenetrable city of the Trojans. Its army chief was Hector`, regarded by many as the greatest warrior of his time. The Greek fought the war for ten long years but could not penetrate the great walls of the city. It was finally through deceit in the form of a giant wooden horse that they enter into the city. 

These are a couple of points I noted while reading about these two epics. However there is one particularly interesting story in the Mahabharata that closely resembles the story of Achilles-

The stories of the weakest spot-

 According to Greek Legend, when Achilles was born Thetis(his mother) tried to make him immortal by dipping him in the river Styx. However, he was left vulnerable at the part of the body by which she held him, his heel. He was ultimately killed by an arrow from Paris,that struck his heel. However, Achilles was undefeated in the battlefield and no one really attributes any heroics to Paris (for the death) as he could not defeat Achilles in true combat.

 During the Kurukshethra war, Gandhari asks Duryodhana to take a bath and appear before her naked. Duryodhana decides to obey his mother without really knowing the reason behind this peculiar request. He goes to the river and takes and dip and was on his way back to his mother's chambers when he meets Krishna. Krishna makes fun of Duryodhana for walking around naked and asks him to atleast cover his private parts with a leaf. Duryodhana feels embarrassed and decides to follow Krishna's adivce. He appears before his mother with a banana leaf covering his genitals and thighs. Gandhari removes her blindfold to look at her son, only to see that he was not completely naked. She laments him for not obeying her orders because every part of his body that she gazes upon when she removes her blindfold, would have been impervious to weapons. This was a boon she received for being willfully blindfolded all these years to share her husband's blindness.So now the only part where Duryodhana could be targeted in combat was his thighs. And that is exactly where Bhima hits him in a mace combat though it is against the law to hit anyone below the belt in such a combat.

In both these stories we see that the characters can only be killed/injured if they are hit upon a particular part of their body. This legend led to the development of the term Achilles heel which means 'a deadly weakness in spite of overall strength, that can actually or potentially lead to downfall'
Another vague point that come to my mind, thanks to the reference made by Devdutt Patnaik( author) is that the city of Mathura was actually ruled by a ruling council and not a king. Many considered Krishna to be the King, but actually that is not the case, and he too was part of a council that ruled the kingdom. This was similar to the Greek political system that ultimately led to the concept of modern democracy.

As mentioned earlier these are just few of the similarities i have noticed between our epics and the Greek legends. It just shows the great history and tradition these two ancient civilisations shared and how not just spices and silk but also stories were traded. Let us explore them further to better understand our history and the values they teach for us to become better individuals and progress as a society.

Please do feel to share any such interesting observations that you might also have, for as I said, its a vast ocean out there.....

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


 Dabangg Ho!

Yesterday evening i had the opportunity to finally watch Dabangg, finally because I had plans laid out to watch it on the first day itself, that never materialized.So let me start out by why I was so eagerly awaiting this latest bollywood offering-
  • Salman Khan in his full glory. Greek God meets Rajnikanth avatar.
  • Blown out stunts imported from Tollywood and Telugu movies.
  • Debutant Sonakshi Sinha (she looked super confident in the trailers) and 
  • Abhinav Kashyap's directorial debut ( The Kashyap surname surely has set high standards)
So did the movie live up to my expectations???...you bet it does!!!No one will ever leave the theater saying it was a letdown.A total paisa vasool film! Salman Khan has clearly given one of his best performances to date( ok i admit he never had many award winning performances to boast of in the first place!). But the guy fits the bill of the Robin-Hood cop to the T. He only speaks punchline language, beats up villains in Neo/Sherlock Homes style, dances with Munni and Rajo (Sonakshi Sinha) with equal ease and makes you laugh with his hilarious antics (the ring tone dance has already become a legend) But that is also the flip side of Dabangg, the moment he disappears from the screen the movie drags like a snail......

The premise of the whole movie goes like this, Chulbul Pandey is a corrupt cop who beats up local goons and steals their money, but he does not keep all the money to himself. He generously distributes it to deserving villagers and his police force, aka your desi Robin Hood. He lives with his loving mother (Dimple Kapadia), a step-father (Vinod Khanna) who cant stand him , and a step-brother who he bullies to no end ( Arbaz Khan). The antagonist is Chedi Singh (Sonu Sood), a local politician who uses Chulbul's brother and father against him because he has faced humiliation from Chullbul and also suffered monetary losses dues to his exploits. The leading lady is Rajo( Sonakshi Sinha), a potter who Chulbul falls head over heals with.

There is nothing much actually to write about this wafer-thin script and shoddy screenplay. I admit it is always tough to wove a meaningful story around a larger-than-life character, ask the directors from the south. So the benefit of the doubt can be given to Abhinav Kshyap i guess.Because i don't think anyone made this movie for screening at International Film Festivals. Performance wise, Salman steals the thunder. Sonakshi looks amazing in a sari.....performance???oh sorry, that was also pretty good, considering that she was paired against someone who is twice her age. Arbaz Khan should stick to film production and Sonu Sood flexes his biceps throughout sending his facial muscles to sleep.

A special mention has to made of the stunt sequences. They are easily the best you have ever seen in bollywood. Hats off to Mr Vijayan ( the stunt director from Telugu movies) and Abhinav Kashyap for picturising these dramatic sequences in such a manner that they draw all the whistles, hoots and claps possible. Those were clearly the best moments of the film. Kashyap is truly inspired by Tarantino ( the look and feel of the movie),hindi movies of the 70s and 80s(with the importance given to punch dialogues) and spaghetti western inspired background score. The songs in the movie are earthen ( the title track), soothing ( Tere Mast Nain) and raunchy (Munni!!!!!). Clearly adds weight to the overall cause.

On the whole, leave your brains behind, get your note garlands and coins, and clear your throat for the loudest hoot, Chulbul Pandey will knock the Dabanng out of you.!! Go watch it!

P.S.- I want a sequel!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!