Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Backbenchers of the World

Yesterday, we finally had traditional powers, Brazil & Belgium, bucking the trend of upsets at FIFA World Cup. While Brazil turned it around in the 2nd half, Belgium managed to do this with just 15 seconds left of the added time. This time, the heavyweights of the football world will remain in the shadows of memories.

What we recall would be the speedy Mexicans outpacing & outscoring the Germans, or Iceland defence, packed denser than an iceberg, puncturing the halo around Messi. But Argentina has a knack of getting into such spots. Remember 1990, when the defending champions lost to Cameroon in their opening fixture?

But this post is not about Argentina’s World Cup woes. It is about those unheralded teams & players who rose to glory during this once-in-four-years event. Like Cameroon, guided by an ageing sub, Roger Milla, reaching the quarters in 1990. That cup also saw the 2nd choice Argentine goalkeeper (another sub), Sergio Goycochea, stopping spot kicks like never before (or after) to take his team to the finals.

Not just 1990 (or 2018), but the history of the World Cup is replete with such upsets. Like North Korea defeating Italy in 1966. Or Nigeria reaching the knockout stage at its first appearance in 1994. And USA defeating England (unbelievable but its true) in 1950.

What makes these teams & players punch above their weight, defying al predictions & destroying reputations? The major reason, I believe, is an absence of any expectations. Devoid of pressure to perform, they attempt & deliver their best.

Then we have the lack of fear or risk. A star footballer is always worried about the injuries that he may pick up & plays it safe (a superstar footballer is more proactive, he feigns injuries!). But for these little known ones, playing at this stage compensates several times a few months of injury lay off. Thus, they go all out & give it their all which reflects in the result.

Next, is the joy they derive from the sport. They still are not the mercenaries of the sporting world, they play for pride, passion & fun. A missed chance is as good as a goal scored. Even in defeat, they are not heart broken.

Theirs is not a David vs Goliath tale. They shine briefly before the big boys take over. But in that short period, they leave behind indelible memories. And we love them for this. For want of a better term, let’s call them Backbenchers.

Another two weeks & the cup will be over. Or backbenchers will also disappear from the screens only to reappear in repeat telecasts four years hence as a build-up to the next World Cup.

But, worry not… If you have some understanding of Gujarati, you may as well go & watch the movie being released on 20th July – Backbenchers (brought to you by Purple Wings Productions). And relive those good old days!!

(And till the movie is released, you have the above vdo)

Pic source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_FIFA_World_Cup 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thank You, ABD

AB De Villiers, the Mr. 360 of cricket, announced his retirement from international cricket yesterday. This had to happen & would have been equally sad whenever it would have, for even legends have to call it a day sometime. ABD says he is retiring because he is “tired”. Now this is something not easily digested. Not only the most entertaining & awe-inspiring, he was also an extremely fit & athletic cricketer. I think the reasons go beyond cricket & I am hazarding a few guesses what those could be…

Is he looking at a post-cricket sports career in another sport. We already have Usain Bolt who is evaluating a stint in pro soccer in Bundesliga. And ABD has been proficient in other sports too. In fact, he played hockey, football, rugby, tennis & badminton for South Africa as a junior. Maybe, he is considering a return to one of these or some other sport where he could utilise the skills he so splendidly displayed while playing cricket. But I think, it will be definitely a contact sport. Playing cricket at the top level for such a long time makes players such as ABD experts in avoiding unwanted contact, with not just other players but also other elements of the game like bookies, journalists, etc. When avoiding a sliding tackle by a defender, ABD will thank his clean record while in international cricket.

We also need to acknowledge that cricketers of today play a lot more cricket all year round than their predecessors. This takes a heavy toll on their body. We have already seen MS Dhoni, another very fit cricketer, playing only the limited overs variety for this very reason. Players such as ABD & MSD give it their all when on the field. As the body ages, the physical capacity also reduces. Like MSD, ABD could also have opted to play the shorter versions of the game. But he didn’t. I think this is because he plays for RCB in the IPL, which necessitates staying in Bangalore. It is actually the Bangalore traffic that is tiring not a 40-over game of cricket. Imagine going to (and returning from) the nets or an IPL match on the Bangalore roads. And ABD had to hit all those amazing shots & take unbelievable catches. While ABD is only “tired”, ordinary mortals would be exhausted by the time they took the field. Maybe, he should have moved on to another franchise, say Kings XI. But that’s something ordinary people do.

Cricket is no longer a lazy gentleman’s game (the game being lazy, not the gentlemen). Especially the 20-20 version. It is adrenaline charged, high energy game from start to finish with packed stands cheering (or booing) every ball or shot. And with stakes so high, it is also a mental game. At the end of the day, a player is bound to be drained out physically, mentally & emotionally. It is for this reason, the promoters hold post-match parties for the teams & guests. This helps the players to totally forget the on-field action & wake up the next day mentally fresh & emotionally stronger. But with the King of Good Times, the singular Mr. Vijay Mallya, no longer around, I doubt the RCB’s post-match celebrations any longer help. Perhaps, this is why ABD said he has “run out of gas”.

Have you been also intrigued by the date of announcement? The day he tweeted his plans, a new CM was taking oath of office in Bangalore. After a week of political games that were as beguiling & had as much drama as an IPL match. But this was totally different than the way ABD played his cricket. In the way that a team won on the basis of how it played & consequently, result of the match. Or the manner a player’s performance was appreciated even if he happened to be in the other team. Or, walking off even before the umpire declared him out. But what happened in Bangalore on the days leading to ABD declaring his retirement from international cricket was just not cricket. An absence of honesty, integrity, ethics. How soon before cricket too embraced the ways of the outside world? ABD simply signed off before that happened. Leaving behind unforgettable memories for the fans to savour on a rained-out match day.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Why BJP (and you) should be watching the IPL

All of you would be in awe of AB De Villiers’ catch in the match against SRH. Most of his catches are such, but this one surpassed even his usual standards of athleticism. Same as the events following the results to Karnataka Assembly elections. The political players involved crossed the depths not seen for quite some time. Yet, they fell short of ABD. Maybe, they could take some lessons from him.

The 1st memory of the catch is ABD jumping up, beyond the reach of a normal athlete, towards the ball. Something BS Yeddyurappa did after the results were out, when he approached the Governor with his claim to the CMship. But ABD’s leap is something he has been doing all the time. Batsmen around the world know that the ball should cross ABD beyond at least 3 metres (in all directions) to stand any chance of crossing ABD. ABD has made his name in cricket, but he has been playing many other games with equal enthusiasm & skill. Which rubs off on his cricket too. Many other sportspersons follow this, e.g. MSD was a football (soccer) goalkeeper before taking up cricket seriously, while Usain Bolt may be seen playing football (again, soccer) for a top flight German professional club. In sporting lingo, this is called cross training. Sadly (for himself), Yeddy is too old a person to try his hand at other activities. He may be tempted to follow the footsteps of ND Tiwari or Digvijay Singh, but that won’t help!

It was not just the leap that did it. He stretched his arm out, as if pulling his body behind it. He went beyond the limits of his physical reach. Sporting greatness is attained by those who cross the barriers. Whether it is a Rahul Dravid with his mental focus or a Sergei Bubka who always pushed the bar higher (literally & figuratively!). But the largest party (by no. of seats won) failed to do this. Had they patched up with JDS before the Congress did, it would have been spared the embarrassment of a Trust Vote not taken. If the Congress, who had earlier accused JDS of being BJP’s B-team, could do so, why not the BJP?

When the ball landed in his palm, he latched on to it. Fingers closing around the ball, not letting it get off. Opportunity seldom knocks twice, they say. This is nowhere truer than sports. Had ADB failed to catch it, the ball would have gone beyond the boundary for a maximum. But champions seldom give up easily, true champs never do. They give it their all, and more. In Karnataka, the famed BJP machinery failed to break through the opponents’ defence & couldn’t entice even a single MLA to switch sides. They were not only the largest party by number, they also had their own person as the arbitrator of political fortunes. Maybe owing to complacence but still unpardonable.

And then landed firmly, within the boundary. Had he stepped out, the effort would have been wasted. But he was alive to the fact & ensured that not only did his feet drop inside the ropes, they stayed within the line. Sports has always been about honesty, integrity & playing by the rules. Those who do not, howsoever successful they may be, have been shamed once they are known to be cheats. From Ben Johnson to Lance Armstrong, sporting rehabilitation is out of the question. BJP failed here on the first count itself. By making the claim without having necessary numbers was crossing the line of political propriety. Not that ethics have been integral to Indian politics for a long time now. But this was too openly corrupt for a party that has been harping on the corruption indulged by its predecessor.

To summarise, the story line in Karnataka would have been different had BJP looked up the ADB's success mantras:
  • Multi-skilling has its payoffs.
  • Reach out to push the boundaries.
  • Never let go of an opportunity.
  • Honesty pays, every time.

But this is not all, there are other aspects to ADB’s success story:
  • It is years of hard work & practice that has gone behind ABD’s being the best in business.
  • ADB has never been lackadaisical in his approach & has always given his 110%.
  • He has managed to find motivation to deliver even when chips are down.

And not just our netas, if you can tick all the boxes above you can also be sure of seeing your dream come true. As my brother, Vikas, did who was literally on top of the world when he reached the summit at Mount Everest!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Kill

Many years ago, when cities were few and far between and we had very few zoos to keep and display animals, there was a pristine forest teeming with wildlife. As the day broke, the birds would come out and wake up rest of the animals from their well-deserved slumber. The animals frolicked around throughout the day and went to their resting places during the night. Then, the larger ones would come out and kill a few animals to feed themselves. Thus the animals led a peaceful life together in this closed ecosystem. The forest served them all their needs.

Except during the dry months when the water bodies ran dry and many of the herbivores moved to the outskirts near human habitation where they had access to food and water meant for their domesticated counterparts. This was a cruel time for those that stayed behind, especially the larger ones who were essentially disadvantaged by their meal preferences. Their dietary habits were such that they couldn’t partake of the plenty that the forest had to offer, which was essentially vegetarian. When very desperate, they had no choice but to go after the cattle and also smaller animals whose lives revolved around humans. But this provided only one meal, at the most, for the humans would soon come looking for them and ensure no more lives were lost. So perish they must, of hunger or human vengeance, but this is how the numbers are controlled ensuring each has enough to survive.

It was one such hot day. A grazing cow got separated from the herd and had strayed into the forest. Aware of the perils that lurked there, she preferred turning back before she herself was feasted upon. But the jungle is a different world altogether and its denizens were already aware of her arrival and subsequent movements. One female leopard was already stalking her, waiting for an opportune time & location to go for the kill. She had to feed her hungry cubs too. It was over four days since the family last had a decent meal. But it was a matter of minutes now. The cow will soon be out in the open and ready for the kill. Till then, she just had to keep enough distance between them so as not to alarm the cow. Stealth and speed were her weapons & she was in familiar territory.

But her sharp senses felt another, unwanted presence. She froze and merged in the background. Slowly she turned around to look in the direction of the presence. She felt it moving forward with bold & confident steps unmindful of its environs. Then, she saw it. A young leopard, who had often been seen here earlier and was such a nuisance. He was a loner but had no hesitation in breaking the laws of the jungle. Now it was also going after the stray cow, for no one in the forest can resist an easy meal.

This was going to be a tough day. This young male would not be shy away from fighting for the cow. But this was not what worried her. His carefree, reckless movement could alarm the cow who would then escape unhurt. There was considerable distance between the prey & the hunters to cover quickly. The chase would anyway deplete her energy reserves. And if she failed to get the prey, her family would have to go another day without food. Making it more difficult for her to get another kill. There was no way she could abandon this prey for another predator. This was going to be a desperate hunt, for survival.

The two contenders continued stalking the cow who had now moved into open land. It was just a matter of few minutes and they were prepared to fight it out at the end. Then, all of a sudden, the cow started running. But instead of going forward towards the village it turned right, closer to the young leopard’s path. As the dust cleared behind her they saw a tiger chasing the cow. A leap later and it had her neck in its jaws. The cow gave up the struggle soon. The tiger put it down and lay besides it, gathering its breathe. It was all over for the two leopards.

But, no. The young male leopard did not stop. It kept moving ahead. This was not normal. But the mother leopard made a quick decision. She followed the younger one. If there was to be a confrontation with the tiger, she would go along with the younger leopard. If not the entire kill, she would manage to get something for her cubs and herself too. The next day would bring other opportunities.

The young leopard, it seemed, had read her thoughts and welcomed her decision. The two moved forward and now were very close to the kill. The tiger, seeing them, had shrugged off the post-hunt lethargy and had taken up position to protect his kill even if it called for fighting off two leopards. Dealing with a single leopard was an easy task. Dealing with two leopards was also not so difficult but these were looking desperate. The very fact that they had not gone away but were just a leap away from the kill proved they had transcended fear. Rarely does one see an animal not afraid of the tiger.

The tiger had moved in front of the kill. The leopards would have to go past him if they intended to reach the kill. And the leopards too stood their ground. Facing the tiger together gave each added courage. This was going to be a fight to the finish. Neither the leopards nor the tiger were in a mood to share the spoils.

What happens next? For that we will have to wait for events to play out in Karnataka!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Success, Failure & Rahul Gandhi

So, Mr. Rahul Gandhi has lost another election. While the bhakt brigade on social media will have a field day, I hope he doesn’t lose heart & quit politics. Actually, he should have done this a long time back but we are not discussing it on this post. Results of the Karnataka elections made me think of success & failure & Rahul Gandhi’s political journey so far. Okay, that journey has only been a failure, but who knows when the tide would turn...

Charles Darwin admitted “I was considered by all my masters and my father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect.” A sentiment that Rahul would readily agree with. Except that he still has to attain the heights of success that Darwin did. He still has time on his hands & hopefully he will.

C. S. Lewis said, “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success. It appears to be one long road for our warrior. He has already come a long way & should plod on. Would IK Gujral & Manmohan Singh have, in the wildest of their dreams, ever imagined themselves as Prime Ministers. At least Rahul has the surname that grants him the 1st right of refusal whenever the Congress gets a chance.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts. This was Winston Churchill, the guy who pulled his country through the despairing years of WW-II. While not comparing our Rahul baba to Churchill, he has given enough evidence of the courage to stick around in the electoral arena despite repeated losses. (Sadly, the bravery awards are not given to the civilians else Rahul would have been a prime candidate.) Maybe, in the not so distant future, Rahul would be able to turn around the fortunes of the Congress that he has almost single-handedly destroyed.

“They told me I couldn’t sing” is what he told his father after returning from the audition. That was Elvis Presley. Rahul has also been in this situation more often than not & should get inspired by the phenomenon that Presley later turned out to be. Or, Fred Astaire who was rejected during a Hollywood screen test because he “Can’t act. Slightly Bald. Dances a little.” If they can, why can’t Rahul?

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. Did Henry Ford have a premonition of someone like Rahul Gandhi coming into existence much after he had passed away? It seems so, for Rahul has lived the 1st part & proven the 2nd part!!

We all know what Thomas Edison said – “I have not failed. I have just found 10000 ways that won’t work.” So has Rahul. Though he is still a long way away from reaching the 10000 failure milestone. Hopefully, it would arrive while one is still alive. He should start eating Mentos. It is supposed to light up dimaag ki batti.

“Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.” Not just Churchill, but by Charlie Chaplin’s standards too, Rahul Gandhi is personification of courage. Bravo man, keep plodding! Like Chaplin, you also have the knack of making people laugh at you without even trying hard.

Anyway, whatever be the final outcome of the Karnataka elections (Congress & JDS can, theoretically, still form the government), Rahul should now start planning for the 2019 general elections. And the state assembly elections that would be held in the meantime. If nothing else, he will continue to entertain us.

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