Adventure Sport

Our city leaders don’t often get the credit they deserve. While one might try to excuse it by saying that there is only so much credit one person can give; and with the central government after every ounce of it, what can state and city leaders expect, the truth is that we are a bunch self-serving, selfish, entitled people. It is a harsh indictment, but the truth.

We have seen the days when city leaders had to explain to us, logically and patiently, upon our wanting to know where the footpaths were for people to walk on, that if footpaths were left for people to walk on, where would the same people park cars and put-up electricity distribution transformers? Did we need to ask? Could we not have put two and two together ourselves?

In all fairness, we may be self-serving, selfish and entitled, but we do agree when a logical argument is presented. And, in the face of one, that was that with footpaths and the desire for footpaths to walk on.

It was, therefore, a surprise when a few months back my good friend Rohin said that he had been walking on a footpath on the city.

But there is a back-story to that.

One fine day Rohin announced that he was in hospital as a result of injuries sustained in a dangerous adventure sport.




Now Rohin is a peripatetic traveller if ever there was one. If he is not in Slovenia he is probably in Japan and if he is not in Aurangabad he is probably in Masai Mara. He writes extensively on his travels and if someone wants travel guidance from me, for whatever reason, I merely point them to his blog.

Believing he had discovered some new destination for adventures sport, I excitedly asked him those three detailed questions. In the excitement of talking about adventure sport, rarely does one worry about the condition the participant is in.

I am a nature enthusiast, at least to a degree. I have a great regard for people who test their physical limits against nature, in a respectful manner. Whether it is mountain biking, or rock climbing, or open-ocean swimming, or white-water rafting. Like Rohin. In an ocean of push-button, or picture-postcard, or even hired adventure, such examples stand out.

“In Gurgaon, where else?”

My face fell, realizing that it was not another exotic locale that I could aim for. But then, on realizing that I did not have to spend money to get to Gurgaon, as I was already there, I brightened up.


“Outside Max Hospital,” he said, responding to my fourth detailed question. Perhaps realizing that that did not satisfy my curiosity, he added, “on the footpath.” Perhaps realizing that I was still not satisfied with his answer, he added, “I was walking on the footpath outside Max Hospital with my daughter. After some distance the footpath ended.” My ears had perked up when he said he was walking on the footpath, but I could only say, “Ended?”

“Yes. Ended.”

“Ended like…?”

“Ended like ended. Finished. Ceased. Concluded. Stopped.” He paused as if to ask if I needed more synonyms.

“I felt the breeze in my hair as I descended six feet into the gutter when the footpath ended, with a thud. It was more exciting than a bungee jump. In a bungee jump you deliberately jump, here the ground vanished from under your feet suddenly. Can you beat the sense of that thrill? You will not get such broken bones and bruises them so easily even at the best adventure sites in the world, that too for free.”

I nodded. I have done some adventure sport in my time, and I could understand what he was saying. It was beginning to make sense. While we had been mocking them, city leaders had been quietly turning the city into an adventure park.

An adventure park not like Appu Ghar, the water park, where one needs to strive for adventure, and one is conscious of it. But an adventure park where adventure can come from anywhere.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I now knew that one could walk on the streets once again, at least in some places. Seeking adventure for free, I set out immediately after hearing about Rohin’s adventure, to seek mine.

After not having found adventure on Golf Course Road, M G Road and even on the Old Delhi Road, I finally found my adventure yesterday, just when I was beginning to lose hope. Or, perhaps, my adventure found me.

It found me on the humble stretch between my home and the South City-1 colony market, less than half a km away, on the way back.

The footpath having been consumed by parking and an electricity distribution transformer as per the vision of the founding fathers, the road flooded after ten minutes of light rain, I was making my way through a dump yard that, I believe, was meant to be a park. My adventure found me as I tripped on a wire stretched across the path, barely above ground level, at the exit point of that park.

Thank you, city leaders. Together, we can make our city a popular destination for adventure sport. On second thoughts, why together; you have it in you to do it all by yourself.

My trophies from the adventure are displayed here:

Alive and Kicking

Traditionalists have had the last laugh, for once. Doomsday predictors predicting the demise of Test cricket, the oldest and, according to many, purest form of cricket, have been forced to eat humble pie. Test cricket is alive and kicking.

And all credit to the Indian cricket team for this swift turnaround, all in a matter of two weeks. Pretty much in keeping with its position as the leader in world cricket. Generating over 80% of global revenues from cricket and, well, generating some x share of cricketing capability where, in mathematical terms, x currently is tending to zero.

The Indian cricket team has made a rousing statement for Test cricket in the ongoing series in England. It has often been felt that in the modern world, Test cricket, which is played over a period of 5 days, has no future, as nobody has either the time or patience to spend 5 days on one game. After threatening to compete in the first game, they have pulled out all stops and shown that a Test match can be completed in a period of just two days without ending in a tame draw. Overcoming rain and inclement weather as well.

Imagine the amount of time they have given back to the nation; 3 billion days, assuming a billion follow the game.

Imagine the amount of time they have given back to themselves for shooting commercials.

Great teams do not follow established rules and standards. They set their own. This team has set a new standard for speed. At which a team ranked number one can plummet to the bottom of the pile. Top ranked teams don’t just lose. They capitulate. As they have so ably shown in the past as well. To ensure the last two weeks’ performance does not turn out to be a flash in the pan and to constantly remind themselves of the uphill task at hand, they even have coined a new motivational slogan that they break into each time they go out to play:

Come rain, come bright shine

Defeat, thou shalt forever be mine

Selflessly, risking their own legacy and rankings, they have ensured that future teams, irrespective of their performance, look like they have fared better than earlier ones. And, like great politicians and great corporate leaders have done so successfully earlier, kept us salivating at the prospect of a bright future without trying to worry about events past.

They have also been able to give us a hero that we so desperately yearn for. Not good performance, not winning teams, but individuals as heroes. How many other teams can make this claim? By collapsing in a heap around one player, the legend of that single player, in a game of eleven, has been fed and strengthened.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the richest sporting body in the country by far, and always ahead of its times, has constituted a committee to look into the performance in the first Test, which took almost four days to finish. Could we not have lost that match as well in two days?

Another committee has been formed to address the issue of talent in cricket. Why are we still allowing talent to thrive in Test cricket? Why have we not killed it, as we have so effectively done in ODI and T20 cricket? Why are bowlers still allowed to bowl fast and swing the ball and be accurate? All at the same time. Difficult questions will need to be answered.

The BCCI President has also called for a revamp of the ranking structure in Test cricket. It has to be kept independent of performance, he has apparently stated. You cannot mix two unrelated things together.

I am looking forward to the next Test starting later this week. I have already made plans for the three days the team will give back to me. Have you?

All’s Well That Ends Well

‘Twas that time once again. The time that cometh but once every four years. The uniquely Indian festival. The time of celebration, of joy, of revelry. Almost sacred time. Marked out on calendars much in advance. Being prepared for over several years.

It seems like the revelry of the previous event had not even finished when the latest edition was upon us. Time flies when you are having fun, isn’t it?

You guessed it right. I am talking about the period immediately after the conclusion of the sporting extravaganza called the Olympics.

It is the period when many Indians, especially middle-class urban, become experts on the miserable performance of the Indian contingent. For committed participants, of which ilk there are millions, as are of any ilk in India, preparations begin well in advance.

Like creating (based on anecdotal evidence only; FBI and CBI are still trying to trace the creators) and circulating WhatsApp messages ignoring performance data and commending the preparation of the contingent and putting pressure on them by asking them repeatedly to bring in a rich haul of medals beyond their capability.

Like indulging in harmless banter on Facebook by ridiculing the rich haul of other teams and lauding the commendable, mostly medal-free, performance of the Indian contingents in past Olympics.

Like not lampooning (before the Games) folks like writer Shobaa De, who, swimming against the tide of data and trends available on FB and Twitter, and only relying on actual historical data and her own gut, had the temerity to say that the Olympic contingent will disappoint.

And, of course, during the Games, rapidly moving from channel to channel to collect data on poor performance. And expertly navigating away from the performance of athletes putting up a fight and extending the inevitable and preventing a viewing of a larger cross-section of events.

The seat at this table does not come cheap. Participants need to possess sterling qualifications for this task and spend years preparing.

Most of them have spent a good part of their adult life only trying to become rich.

They are committed to the cause of a healthy, physically active lifestyle. Whether it is mowing the lawn, hammering a nail in the wall, or fetching a glass of water, they steadfastly refuse to do anything physical.

Their commitment to a physically active lifestyle regularly keeps them engaged in stressful and physically challenging sporting activities like going for a morning stroll in the car, crossing the street on foot, or spitting out far onto public property. Most of all, they routinely exercise their vocal chords by shouting out for minions for completing any activity that remotely looks physical.

They have a close association with the wild outdoors and are avid travellers. When they go somewhere, they go to see. They go to a mountain to see the mountain and click pictures. Never to climb or hike. They go to a river to see the river and click pictures. Never to row. Why row when you can hire a boat with a 60-year old to row it. They go to the ocean to see and click pictures. Never to swim.

They have so much motivation to play that they are never able to organise themselves in order that they can play. The logic is sound. Why take the trouble when you can buy tickets for, and watch performances of sports leagues created by business houses designed to make them richer.

When called upon to participate, sometimes by family members interested in their well-being, or on account of work related requirements, they demonstrate their supreme ability to put the good of others before self by showing up and skipping out at the first opportunity.

With such qualifications, it is difficult to go wrong.

This august group always manages to find the real reasons behind the debacle. And, to their eternal credit, they find the same real reasons four-year after four-year.

They find that there are more administrators in the contingent than sportspersons and coaches. So many more that the allocated stands for supplying drinks to the nation’s marathon participant have to be left unattended leaving her to collapse at the end of the run.

They find that it was a young team that participated and that this was meant to be a great learning experience which will stand them in good stead for the next one for which they will not be selected.

They find that there is no cost in being unsporting and yet expecting the moon from people drawn from the same stock, many of whom have reached where they have because of personal motivation and desire, and not a supportive environment.

They find that the scoreline never accurately reflects performance. When we win 2-1, the scoreline fails to reflect our superiority over the rival team. When we lose 1-7, the scoreline does not represent how close the game actually was.

They lampoon (after the Games) folks like writer Shobaa De, who, swimming against the tide of data and trends available on FB and Twitter, and only relying on actual historical data and her own gut, had the temerity to say that the Olympic contingent will disappoint, because a silver and a bronze were won between 1.25 billion people.

Not one to stop at mere analysis or fact-finding, this group of experts boldly goes where no official committee dares to; they make recommendations and claims for the future of Indian sport.

As punishment, a different swarm of officials will be sent to disgrace us at the next Olympics.

A team of officials with no idea of sports will be sent to (mostly European) nations like Belgium and Netherlands in peak tourist season so that they can ensure none of their practices are ever introduced for better results.

Officials will travel first class while athletes will go by ship, instead of Economy Air, in order to keep them sharp.

The position of the Sports Minister will be upgraded with better facilities, so that athletes can perform better.

And, importantly, laws will be introduced to ensure that any youngster showing ability and motivation to work hard and perform well in sports, is either packed off to a suitable college of higher studies at the earliest opportunity or given a bit role in the next Bollywood movie. Charges could also be brought against parents of such children for not having checked the desire at an earlier stage. Booking them under “anti-national activities” is also a possibility.

This group has declared that based on performance at the recently concluded Games, it can safely be assumed that this is the beginning of a golden era for the country in the Olympics. They had declared this before the Games had started. Again, the assertion is based on hard facts.

It will be like the Golden Era that started after K D Jadhav won a bronze in wrestling in Helsinki in 1952.

Like the one that began after Milkha Singh came fourth in the 400 metres race in Rome in 1960.

Like the one that started after P T Usha placed fourth in the 400 metres hurdles in 1984 in Los Angeles.

Like the one that started after Leander Paes won a bronze in 1996 in tennis in Atlanta.

Like the one that started after K Malleswari won a bronze in weightlifting in 2000 in Sydney.

Like the one that started after Rajyavardhan Rathore won silver in shooting in 2004 in Athens.

And like the one that started after Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012 that included a gold won by Abhinav Bindra in shooting.

Meanwhile, Bollywood is abuzz with possibilities these Games have thrown up. Makers of Lagaan, Chak De, Mary Kom and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag are in a dead heat for producing the next sporting biopic on the lives of famous Indian Olympians, based on concocted stories linked to oppression under a foreign regime and the pain of partition. And if a concocted story shows that the Indian underdog always performs at the crunch, it must be true in real life too. And since we perform so well at the crunch, preparation is a waste of time.

The purpose is noble. The purpose is to inspire the youth to greater heights.

Business corporations are also abuzz. They have selflessly been trying to inspire their employees to greater performance and teaching them the fine arts of Change Management, Strategy and Leadership, by exposing them to rare snippets, that can be seen in movie halls by purchasing a ticket, from these great movies based on real concocted stories, in the confines of their training facilities. On account of the limited variety available in Bollywood, they have even exposed employees to rare footage from commercial Hollywood movies, mostly with a character played by Al Pacino who delivers a stirring speech and changes the world , that could be seen in a movie hall by purchasing a ticket. Now they will have a greater variety in Bollywood to choose from.

Indian coaches have been asked to focus on their own speech-making skills instead of working on their athletes.

Nothing comes easy in life. A few athletes like PV Sidhu and Sakshi Malik had threatened to derail the four-yearly celebration by winning medals at the just-concluded Games. Thankfully, it was not a communicable disease that the others caught.

All is well that ends well.

Already looking ahead to the festive period immediately after the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

No Mountain Too High

“Chairman of the National Thermal Power Corporation, sir.”

“CEO of State Bank of India, sir.”

“Director of Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, sir.”

“Commander of the Armed Forces, sir.”

Designations, each more renowned and reputed than the last, were coming at him fast and thick. Delivered in a crisp tone, with body upright, as befitted the solemnity of the occasion.

The smile on the minister’s face was becoming harder and harder to hide, as he passed along the rows of youngsters, asking each of them the same question, “With the rigorous training you are getting, what do you aspire to become?”

This was not the graduation ceremony of the reputed Indian Administrative Service.

This was a bunch of youngsters hard at work at a cricket coaching academy in the city, trying to hone their skills at the game they loved. And the minister was doing what only seasoned politicians can do with such equanimity; preventing others from going about their life without any reason.

Momentarily, while passing along the rows, his mind had wandered back to the not so distant past when similar youngsters, after their playing years, would aspire to become coaches, selectors, commentators, umpires and even groundsmen, in order to stay close to the game they loved, and guide the next generation of cricketers in realizing their potential. But he quickly brushed that disturbing image aside and pushed ahead through the rows, bathed in the glow of the brave new world of possibilities.

The change in “sentiment”, that deep, meaningful and measurable, and particularly Indian, index, which logically explains everything from stock movements to the rise and fall of political fortunes, was palpable. There was electricity in the air.

The recent appointment of Chetan Chauhan (CC) as the Chairperson of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), a prestigious institution of learning, had opened the floodgates of aspiration amongst the middle class.

As everyone knows, CC is eminently qualified for the position of chairperson of NIFT. He played cricket for India in the company of the legendary Sunil Gavaskar. He runs a cricket coaching academy. He owns a printing business. What more credentials do you need? As the NIFT Act of 2006 also clearly says, the chairperson of the institute is expected to be an eminent academic, scientist, technologist or professional.

And yes, he bailed out the Union Finance Minister against charges of corruption and financial irregularities in the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA), levelled against him when he was the President.

Meanwhile, getting ready for the role, CC has confirmed that he will be able to spend 20% of his time at NIFT which explains why his appointment as a full-time chairperson was necessary.

Now there is no mountain too high to climb for aspiring cricketers. No river too wide to swim. No jungle too dark to penetrate.

But even the government, always well prepared for the fracas its illogical and unilateral decisions generate, was taken by surprise at the violent reactions to this appointment. The opposition is baying for blood. They want to know why Sakshi Maharaj was not considered for this position. He has impeccable credentials. At no point of time in his life has he displayed anything which could even remotely be considered as studious or academic. CC, on the other hand, during his playing days, is known to have studiously left alone balls he could not play, or took them on his body. Sakshi Maharaj has also displayed an uncanny ability to make inane statements for no rhyme or reason. CC, in comparison, is barely audible. He even meekly accompanied Gavaskar when he walked out of a match in Australia in protest at poor umpiring.

What is a government to do? It takes decisions in the best interests of the common man and all it gets is rebukes.

Like any mature political establishment, the government is not responding to the criticism. When your conscience is clear, and you have acted in total disregard of commonly accepted rules, you don’t need to.

They have plans is what one hears from reliable sources. Sakshi Maharaj may be delayed, but he cannot be denied. He is soon to assume the role of chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India. It is learnt that the country’s reliance on imported enriched uranium will, as a result, reduce. Instead, Sakshi Maharaj’s volatile and inflammable temper tantrums will be used to light the centrifuges.

Other important appointments are also in the pipeline.

With the retirement of M S Dhoni, long-time captain of the Indian cricket team, from active service, nigh, it is learnt that Uma Bharti is being readied to take over the reins. By creating Ram temples on foreign pitches, she could well neutralise the “home” advantage held by teams like Australia, England and South Africa.

Anupam Kher is waiting for a suitable position to open up by hounding an existing incumbent to step down citing personal reasons.

In this reshuffle, driven by knowledge, competence and suitability for the job, Arun Jaitley could become the next RBI Governor.

Meanwhile cricket, always a top choice, is witnessing an unprecedented surge in popularity. If one becomes a cricketer, who knows what one could become.


Advance preparation

In the final analysis, the Indian cricket team managed a respectable showing in the recently concluded World Cup Cricket for One-day Internationals (ODIs), ending up as one of the two losing semi-finalists.

How that happened cricket pundits are still trying to figure out. Pretty much the same team that did not win a single game in the two months they spent in Australia prior to the World Cup, their undefeated progress to the semi-finals has become a bit of an enigma. Knowledgeable analyses like “they would have felt at home after so many days in Australia”, “playing Pakistan in the first match was the key”, “the team management helped them focus on the game” have been offered, giving us deep insights into winning cricket games.

But this is the hallmark of great teams. Up one day, especially when playing at home. Down the very next. Frequently giving up without a fight. Being consistent, especially when on a losing streak, particularly in unfamiliar conditions overseas.

While the armchair pundits continue their efforts at unravelling the mystery behind the team’s showing, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), claiming responsibility for the World Cup performance, while maintaining a dignified silence on performance prior to the Cup, is not letting the cat out of the bag. Instead, demonstrating the leadership that has made it India’s richest sports body which apparently generates 80% of the revenue generated by the game all over the world, it has already hunkered down to the task of preparing for the next World Cup.

Their actions in the immediate aftermath of the recently concluded World Cup might also provide some clues on the turnaround in the team’s performance.

 As a start, the BCCI has lost no time in issuing guidelines to the Advertising Standards Council of India, the apex self-regulating industry body for advertising companies, that when a pretty girl calls a cricketer in an ad, she has to give him at least an hour to reach her. Five minutes will just not do, as was the case with a TV ad of a tyre company where a girl had the cheek to ask the vice-captain of the team to reach there in five minutes, and which, one can conclude, was the reason for his lasting no more than five minutes on the pitch in a crunch game.

Thankfully (or was it pre-planned by the Board? Perhaps we will never know) the next edition is in England and Wales, where our teams have had spectacular lack of success in the past, though a couple of teams in the past did buck the trend. A long series of matches has been scheduled just prior to the tournament, involving the home team and, for additional insurance, the other best team in the world (India is always one of the best teams; sometimes one of best four, sometimes one of best seven, sometimes one of best twelve). Matches will be scheduled on pitches that require skill and fitness. After this series against fast pitches and competent opposition before the Cup, whatever performance the team is able to put-up in the World Cup will be like manna from heaven.

The number of teams participating has been reduced to ten. Who can argue that even if the team involved is Afghanistan or Ireland, or even Fiji and Chile, who have never claimed to play cricket, for that matter, the possibility of defeat always looms, such glorious uncertainties is what the game of cricket is made up of. Gradually, the number of teams will be reduced in future editions, till we are left with two, one of them India. From then onwards, the winner will be decided based on the toss of a coin. If we lose…well, who can argue with the caprices of a coin.

Even management of supporters has not been left to chance. Selection policies have been updated to ensure that at least one of the major players has a girlfriend who is a well-known actress, so that knowledgeable fans know who to blame for the team’s poor performance.

In an inspired move, the selection committee has asked for the duration of T20 cricket’s India Premier League to be extended so that the top overseas players who participate in it can qualify to play for India and eliminate the problem of Indian players not performing overseas. There need to be teams and players overseas to lose to, stupid! In any case, it is a much more controllable and easier method to deliver results than the alternative, which is to get people to adopt fitness and sports as a way of life. 

Eagerly looking forward to the next World Cup.

FIFA World Cup 2014

Determination is a key ingredient for success.

One needs to be flexible to be successful.

Keeping your goal in sight helps in reaching it.

Past success means nothing.

Talent does not always win.

Strategy is important. In fact, it is the ultimate weapon.

Never stop. Even when you are ahead.

An Action Plan will win against No Action plan.

An underdog can spring surprises.

Isn’t it is amazing what the FIFA World Cup 2014 has done?

So many things we would never have known but for the World Cup.

Whichever way you turn, you come across “What the FIFA World Cup taught me” stories. About winning. About goals. About strategy. About success. And the pitch has become even higher since the mauling of Brazil by Germany. The world has been learning even more things after that.

There are lessons for senior executives. There are lessons for HR Managers. There are lessons for entrepreneurs. There are lessons for Sales people. Even for startups, which is where I currently count myself, there are learnings. Who would ever have thought startups can learn anything?

I have been unable to look my friends in the eye ever since the start of the Cup. After the Brazil-Germany game I have even been unable to look people in the street in the eye. How could I look into the eyes of people shining bright with knowledge gained from watching matches in the FIFA World Cup 2014? I have enjoyed watching some matches. Got bored watching a few others. But never did I learn anything from these games. Whenever I am out on the streets, I feel like the only person in the world who did not learn anything.

But it was not always so bad. I have been a quick learner in the past. In fact, regular readers of this blog might recollect the insightful sessions I had in front of the TV watching advertisements in Educating Ankur.

Deep inside, I knew I had it in me. I knew I could do it again. I shook myself out of the funk I had got myself into by watching FIFA World Cup matches merely for the pleasure of watching fine young athletes compete, and sat down with a pen and paper and started to reflect upon the learnings I had received.

In case Benjamin Franklin did not, someone may well have said, “you can do anything you set your mind to”.

This is what I learnt…

There are numerous knowledgeable people who know how a match was going to turn out, but choose to reveal their knowledge only after the match has finished.

There are World Cup tournaments where participating teams are from more than one nation.

Strategy plays an important part. It is important to have a winning strategy. With a winning strategy you could end up winning. With a losing strategy also you could end up winning. You could also end up losing.

After the discovery that there is human life outside the country, said to have happened over a hundred years back and that took a century to be verified and accepted, the discovery that there is a sporting event more popular than the Superbowl and World Series has again set the dovecotes aflutter.

I have not been able to establish if people still watch sport for the joy and emotional high of watching fine young athletes in action. It is rumoured that there are, but has not been conclusively confirmed.

I know the learnings are few and I have only the final and the third place game before that to redeem myself. Though I promise to try, a big challenge lies ahead for me.

I have been an ardent Argentine fan since I saw Maradona create magic in 1986 with his weaving, solo runs. It is great they have made the finals, though not in the prettiest manner. The problem is that they face Germany in the final. No, not because Germany destroyed Brazil in the semis. But because both my teenage sons are long-time fans of German football. And they have planned to invite an army of supporters over to watch with them. And we will probably be watching the match together.

At least for the duration of the match I must learn to keep my emotions in check.

O Captain! My Captain!

On the eve of the away Test series against South Africa, the captain of the national cricket team got into a freewheeling discussion with a leading daily. He was in a relaxed and expansive mood. He had every reason to be relaxed, as the team had just successfully suffered another rout in an away series in ODIs (One day internationals).

Produced below are extracts from this conversation.

Interviewer: You have achieved a lot at a very young age. What do you now look forward to when you play?

The captain broke into a half-smile. He said: When you play for the country, the job is never done. Each day brings a new challenge. I am looking forward to leaving behind a legacy that people will remember.

Interviewer: Does that mean you are looking at retirement soon?

Captain: One has to face retirement sooner or later. I have made contributions on the field. Now, I have come to that stage of my career where I will be selected to play without making any contribution, purely because of my past performances and the love people have for me, so that they can debate in offices and coffee-shops about my retirement and offer their advice. Such is the price one has to pay for fame and success in our country.

Interviewer: That will be quite a change. The paying public has got so used to seeing you in the middle, not having a clue about what to do, especially when playing on fast and bouncy pitches overseas, as in the ongoing series.

Captain: Well, things change.

Interviewer: Back to the question of legacy. Do you have any short-term goals for the team?

Captain: I would like to restore cricket in our country to its rightful position. We have made a start in the right direction by losing the last two away series’. And we did not leave things to chance. We lost both series by convincing margins of 0 – 4 so as to leave no room for doubt. After all, we claim to be the best team in the world. If we don’t lose in style, who will? The upcoming Test series against South Africa provides us with a golden opportunity to build on this success and make it three away series losses in a row. And, in between, we even managed to lose a series at home. Which team can beat that?

Interviewer, nodding his head: I can empathise with that. As you know very well, there was a period, a few years back, when there was a threat that the team will buck the trend and become a world-beating team. In fact, the influence was so strong that even when you became captain they continued to win matches.

The captain, with a deep sigh: You have seen the terrible times we have been through. There was a time when things were so bad that some of our teams had even started winning overseas. Such things will happen from time to time.

Interviewer: But how did things become so bad? Who do you think is responsible?

The Captain: Though different people will have different views, I think that we have to blame two batsmen who happened to play together in the same team. We could have handled one but with two of them together, backed by a bold captain, some victories could not be avoided. But that is providence. It is rare that two batsmen of this calibre happen to play for the same team at the same time. You can only try to minimise the impact. With both of them now retired, we are back in contention, as the ODI matches in the current series have shown.

Interviewer: Any advice to young cricketers?

Captain: What can one say? Youngsters these days have their own mind. They will not listen to advice. There is a young cricketer from UP who has hired a former player as personal trainer. Such dedication is uncalled for and unheard of. ‘This is not tennis’ I have told him, ‘where you need to keep running hard and hitting for hours at a stretch. This is cricket’. If he continues to practice and hone his skills even in the off season, when will he have time to do the ad shoots which all of us cricketers owe to our adoring fans. He says the sport pays him well enough to engage a personal trainer. Such dedication could shake the foundation of the sport in our country. It needs to be nipped in the bud. And if he gets paid well enough, he should open a restaurant like some of our illustrious predecessors have done. Or buy motorcycles without really needing them, as some others have done.

Interviewer: Do you have a message for your fans?

Captain: Our countrymen have made us proud and have contributed their mite towards our achievements. The more we lose, the more they love us.

We (cricketers) love you too. Please turn up in large numbers for my last match which will be held in Ranchi. I guarantee we will bring the weakest team to play that match against.

Interviewer: Any suggestions for the future of cricket in this country?

Captain: We are lucky to have an engaged and proactive Cricket Board guiding the fortunes of the game. They have been quite busy looking for countries to teach cricket to so that we can beat them. Being financially strong, they might even start their own countries. I understand the country’s maiden Mars mission has been partially funded by the Cricket Board. In case any organisms are found to exist on Mars, we will teach them cricket and organise a series. I don’t think the paying public will notice.

Interviewer: Finally, back to the question of legacy. Is this how you would like to be known as? The guy who managed to lose three away series in a row and restored cricket to its rightful position in our country?

The captain looks up at the ceiling, then in the distance. You could see a smile coming to his lips. He knew what he had to work towards. He finally spoke: I think more can be done. We lost the last two by 0 – 4 margins. Unfortunately the present series only has two matches. But, perhaps, we can try to lose a two match series by a 0 – 3 margin. That will surely be difficult to beat.

With that, he got up, shook hands, and went away.

Best laid plans

With ears glued to the FM radio, I listened, transfixed, as reasons were trotted out for being proud of one’s country. It has been impossible to miss the advert on FM while driving, these last few weeks.

Equally compellingly, the advert asks you, as a proud countryman, to register with the National Population Register (NPR), which will become the single source of identity for all. Quite a doable task, as opposed to unrealistic expectations of FM and TV adverts in the past drumming up patriotic fervour either for fighting the enemy on the borders with guns and bullets, or for helping the cause of women in the country by changing our parochial, paternalistic outlook, or even for contributing generously towards flood relief.

Coming in the wake of the volley of messages sent out by the Unique Identity Authority (UIDAI) that has been set-up to collect data on each individual that will form the single source of identity for all, appealing to the patriotic spirit in each individual and asking them to register with UIDAI, the message was particularly compelling.

Now we have not one, but two institutions that will be the only source of identity for all.

This wise use of national resources is expected to give a boost to the sagging economy by generating needless employment for millions. Once the two databases are ready, a third institution will be created to ensure that the earlier two are aligned. A fourth is likely to be created to handle cases of conflict between the two.

But I digress.

Even in the darkest of times, there is always hope.

Even though the present times are not necessarily the darkest, hope has nevertheless surfaced through the unlikely medium of the FM advert alluded to earlier.

This FM advert tells you, among other things, that you should be proud of your identity as a citizen of this country, because, plans for a Moon mission nothwithstanding, we have now planned a mission to Mars.

This message has rekindled the hopes of countless. In every discussion, at every streetcorner or office corridor, the clinching argument often is “so what if we haven’t completed our Moon mission, at least we have been able to plan a mission to Mars”.

Experienced space watchers see this as the dawn of a golden age of space exploration for the country.

The bolder amongst space-watchers have forecast that within twelve months of the announcement of the Mars mission, without reaching Mars or having done anything towards reaching it, we will be ready to announce plans of a new, bolder mission. It is likely to be a mission to Jupiter, the largest planet.

Then, within twelve months of that, without reaching Jupiter or having done anything towards reaching it, we would have planned for yet another newer, and even bolder, mission. A mission to the edge of the Solar System, an area about which little is known.

Thus, in a span of barely three years, the country would have progressed from the insignificance of a  planned Moon mission to the exclusivity of a planned mission to the edge of the Solar System.

Richer countries with greater resources have taken almost half a century to go from Moon to Mars.

Reverberations of this startling development can be felt all around.

For one, it has given a boost to the country’s flagging fortunes in many different sports.

The country’s football association, which had made plans of trying to beat one of the neighbouring countries, none of whom with a distinguished record in the sport, and move up from 147 to 145 in world rankings, has announced a bold new plan. Of taking on and defeating Japan and Korea, the two highest ranked Asian countries in the sport, in the Asia Cup.

It is a timely plan as the country is unlikely to qualify to play in the Asia Cup. This will give a further fillip to the game in the country as this will enable the association to soon announce plans of beating Spain, Brazil and Germany, probably the three most consistent performers over the last two years, in the next World Cup. Again, since we know we have not qualified, it keeps options open for a further rapid rise of the game in the country.

From planning to beat neighbouring countries, minnows in the game, we have progressed to planning to beat Spain, Brazil and Germany, possibly the three most powerful teams in the world today. All in the space of a few months.

The Finance Minister, in the meanwhile, under attack for not delivering target growth numbers, is making plans for achieving growth numbers double that of the realistic plan.

General elections being around the corner, all major political parties are busy making plans…

Game, set, match

Setting aside their differences, leading tennis players of the country have come together to plan for and protect the future of the game in the country. The issue has acquired urgency after the thrashing the country’s leading singles player received at the hands of Roger Federer in the French Open currently underway. They have always been losing to unknown and inheralded players all over the world, but when they start losing to Roger Federer you need to do something, as the whole world is watching.

Readers may recollect that an effort had been made some months back by a few players to get the two warring factions together and discuss the future of the game in the country. However, more pressing issues at that time, like lobbying for staying out of the losing Davis Cup team had taken precedence. The team had lost 1-4 to another country from Asia.

That effort had been widely praised by politicians of all hues and affiliations. The Sports Minister had said that the country’s tennis teams, who had been losing badly to leading tennis playing nations like USA, Spain, etc., could ill afford to ignore opportunities presented by the region. “I am glad to see that we are now losing by the same margins to countries in Asia. Why should we go all the way to the US or Spain, or even Serbia or Greece for that matter, to lose badly, when the same result can be achieved closer to home? What is even more remarkable is that we are breaking new ground and losing to nations that have no pretensions of knowing how to play tennis. This is a true demonstration of the democratic values our country lives and loses by”, the knowledgeable minister had gone on to say.

In a rare show of solidarity, auguring well for the future of the game in the country, all leading players, putting aside their wheelchairs and walking sticks, have put their heads together and issued a strongly worded joint statement. Without mincing words, and displaying their authoritative grasp of the history of the game, they have squarely blamed a past generation of players for needlessly introducing athleticism and aggression in the sport. According to them players like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and Boris Becker need to stand up and take responsibility for introducing these foreign qualities into a, till then, gentlemanly game. Things went from bad to worse and have now come to such a pass that you have players like Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal who can keep running, stretching, twisting, lunging, for five hours without breaking into a sweat.

They have asked ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) and ITF (International Tennis Federation) for a level playing field. How can you pit a person like Djokovic who can keep running and sliding and hitting for 5 hours against someone who starts panting after jogging from the baseline to the net, they have rightfully queried? Governing bodies of the sport have been forced to take note.

Further, in a bid to secure the future of the game, the group has petitioned ATP to initiate a new discipline, of triples. Movement of fit and capable singles players into the doubles arena is likely to defile the doubles arena as well and it is important that we introduce a new event in order that the purity of the sport is not compromised, they have forcefully argued. ATP has agreed to examine the issue and take suitable action.

In deference to the logical demands put forward, and to keep the sport healthy and competitive, ITF has decided that henceforth Davis Cup will be played on an entirely new surface. It is called PS3.

Cricket pitch

“Commodity markets rocked by strong demand for Sahara sand”,

“Sahara sand advances on demand from cricket Board”,

“Dunes lose height overnight as Sahara sand changes into dollars”

screamed the headlines in popular daily newspapers.

The run-up to the cricket Test series had well and truly begun.

A day earlier the visiting Australians had fired the first salvo by claiming that they have a fast bowling attack that can scythe through any team, on any surface.

In response, and a fitting one at that, the captain of the home team petulantly demanded that pitches for all the matches be covered with imported sand.

Like any powerful, self-respecting governing body in a popular sport, the cricket Board promptly gave in to unreasonable demands of its players. But, to their eternal credit, not without putting up stiff resistance.

“Look what happened against England in the recent home series”, the captain is said to have queried officials of the Board when they suggested sticking to sand from the local Thar desert while preparing pitches. The home team’s recent capitulation against the visiting English team still fresh in everyone’s minds, the officials had no response to this well-researched and thought-out query, and promptly agreed. He did have another query in his mind; could our players not work hard on their game and fitness levels to obviate the need for such measures? But better sense prevailed and the query did not leave the safe confines of his mind.

For the uninitiated, coating the playing surface with sand is a traditional ritual, carried out with much fanfare in the country prior to any Test series against a visiting country that does not have a better spin bowling attack. Which equates to Nil nowadays. But the ritual continues. Because it is also carried out with much fanfare in the country prior to any Test series against a visiting country that has a better fast bowling attack. Which equates to all Test playing countries. Though recent performances may lead the impartial observer to other conclusions, the objective of this ritual has been victory over the visiting team.

The traditional ceremony has relied on sand from the Thar, an expanse of desert on the western periphery of the nation, bordering an often hostile nation to the west. But, it now seems this sand has been afflicted by a strange virus because of which even visiting teams are able to win matches.

The decision to import sand has got nationalist elements up in arms.

Members of the opposition have bombarded the government with allegations on mishandling the quality of sand in the Thar desert which has led the country to become dependent on foreign elements for critical commodities like sand from the Sahara. “Can the nation afford to be dependent on foreign sand in as critical a matter as cricket?” they have rightfully queried.

The government has, meanwhile, levelled allegations of the presence of a “foreign hand” in the Thar desert. Considering that the Thar desert straddles the country’s boundary with an often hostile  western neighbour, the government has instituted a commission of enquiry into the origins of the subversive nature of Thar sand.

In keeping with the current trends of litigating for no reason, and eager to demonstrate his passion for cricket, a Member of Parliament has filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the Thar desert for actions amounting to treason. In his petition he has stated “It is a huge letdown for all cricket fans in the country. Every fan eagerly awaits for a cricket Test series till the time it starts. Once it starts, and it becomes clear that it is a losing cause, he even more eagerly awaits for the next series. The Thar desert is playing with the emotions of innocent people and needs to be punished.”

Environmentalists have cautioned the Board to tread cautiously as it could play havoc with a fragile ecosystem; that of the emotional landscape of the country’s cricket lovers. If not handled properly, and if it does not yield the desired results, it could lead to irreversible long-term damage to that ecosystem.

People living in the plains are, long accustomed to being bruised and battered by Thar sand carried by the “loo”, the swirling westerly winds that blow across the dry plains in the hot months of May and June every year, are rejoicing as they look forward to the prospect of being bruised and battered by some particles of foreign sand mixed with the local Thar sand.

The soft-drink giant sponsoring the series has had to re-shoot all commercials to reflect the new reality. In the new commercial, the black liquid spurting from the sands of the Sahara turns out to be their best-selling product. The entire team has been busy with the shoot, gambolling on the dunes and quenching their thirst afterwards with a refreshing sip of the sponsors’ best-selling product.

Leaving the cricket to the visiting team, which continues to work on its game and fitness.

The new battle-cry of the local team is:

“Pepsi or Coke, glass-bottle or tin-can,

If Thar’s sand can’t do the trick, Sahara’s surely can”.