Thursday, 26 March 2015


The last time that India lost a World Cup match to Australia, back in the finals in 2003, I was a school kid who was so heartbroken, I vowed to hate Man of the Match Ricky Ponting forever. I cursed our captain Sourav Ganguly for fielding first, strike bowler Zaheer Khan for leaking runs and all the extras, Sachin Tendulkar for top-edging to McGrath on 4, and everyone in the team for letting us down. But 12 years later, when India lost yet another World Cup match to Australia, this time in a semifinal, I am mature enough to understand that these cricketers tried their best and did not lose on purpose.

Yes, the boys could have played better. That Shikhar Dhawan shot could have been avoided, bowling could have been tighter at death, and Virat Kolhi could have played himself in before going for the big hits. But we cannot blindly blame the team for losing a match, implying that they did hard enough, not after being away from home for 4 months in preparation. And we most definitely can’t blame Anushka Sharma for ‘distracting’ her better half just by being in the stadium. That’s both sexist and insulting to Kohli, who has consistently been India’s top performer for years. Yet, numerous fans through the digital platform belittled the team and their relations, forgetting all the good work done in the past. To make matters worse, reputed media outlets labeled the defeat as a ‘shame’ and questioned player commitment. Such reactions betray that these supposed followers of the game do not know how sport works.  Usually, one side wins, while the other loses but everyone tries equally hard. People who say that they watch sport should understand this better than anyone else. In fact, they should be a sport about it.

Let’s accept that Steve Smith played a great innings and deserved his century, let’s give them the credit due because Australia is the better bowling unit and let’s face it that the better team won. But at the same time, let’s not forget that India made it to the semifinals when few gave us a chance, after losing every game in Australia for the last three months. Nobody, not even the most ardent supporter, believed that we could beat South Africa, let alone bowl them out for less than 200! Let’s celebrate the fact that in seven matches before this our young, inexperienced bowling unit took all the 70 wickets. Lets remember the centuries of Suresh Raina, despite his weakness against the short ball, or that of Virat Kohli that helped us maintain our perfect score against Pakistan, or those of Dhawan and Rohit Sharma pulling us out of tough situations. Most importantly, let’s acknowledge the contribution of captain MS Dhoni. The guy who carried us home last World Cup and was leading from the front till the penultimate moment in this one. He did not see his newborn daughter for over a month, choosing to stay in Australia with the team to prepare for the World Cup. But we saw the emotion on his face after the match, and we should know how much it mattered.

 In 2003, I felt let down by the team, but in 2015 I feel is pride for the efforts of our team. Because in the last decade I’ve grown up enough to understand that in sport, the team that performs better on that day wins. I sincerely wish that ‘fans’ who make whatsapp jokes and ‘media’ that says Shamed in Sydney also grow up and understand this.  

The Defending Champions may have not have lived up to their tagline of We Won’t Give it Back, but we certainly didn’t give it away easy. 

Monday, 23 March 2015


It all began with the a TV ad by host broadcasters Star Sports that was meant to kick-off India’s campaign at the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup against arch-rivals Pakistan, who have never defeated India in the tournament’s history. But what started as one-off add, became a full-blown campaign with Star Sports releasing a different ad before every India match, complete with the signature qawaalli tune of ‘mauka mauka.’ Most of these ads garnered thousands of hits and popularity all over the internet, especially in the social media discourse. But not all the Mauka ads have been as funny as the first. So here’s presenting a definitive ranking of all the Mauka ads released by Star Sports so far. (23rd March)

1.       India vs Pakistan
They say the first is always the best for a reason. This ad shows a grumpy Pakistan fan get old waiting over the two decades for Pakistan to beat India in a World Cup match so he can burst his aging box of crackers. A novel way to depict a running joke in India-Pakistan rivalry, this TVC caught the fancy of entire India.

2.       India vs South Africa
The second ad followed the same theme as the first, but in reverse. India had never beaten South Africa in a World Cup match and a couple of South African fans point out the same, giving Indian fans a box of crackers in jest. A continuation as good as the first, the turning of tables was a great way to get the attention of fans.

3.       India vs Ireland
This ad created quite a stir thanks to a teaser released showing the Pakistan fan in an India jersey along with a box of firecrackers. This and the fact that it was shot inside Star Sports studio featuring commentators Harsha Bhogle and Aakash Chopra made it a welcome surprise. The catch here was that if Pakistan were to qualify, they needed India to beat Ireland, hence the grumpy fan was supporting his rivals. The surprise elements in this Mauka ad, made the series impactful again, after few lukewarm ones.

4.       India vs Bangladesh
With the caption India vs the World, this TVC was a complete departure from tradition. It showed a Bollywood-esque song and dance sequence in a qawaalli face-off between the original grumpy Pakistan fan, who is joined by fans of other participating teams, and a group of Indian fans. This ad worked because the usual Indian vs other fans and the Pakistan fan’s jersey change was getting monotonous.

5.       Pakistan vs Ireland
This ad was different again, in the sense that it focused on a Pakistan match, instead of India. It showed commentators in the Star Sports studio discussing Pakistan’s chances of reaching the quarterfinals only if they defeated Ireland and Pakistan’s mascot fan listening in on this conversation. It worked because of its change in approach, talking about Pakistan’s match more than the fan’s jersey changes.

6.       India vs UAE
The Pakistan fan, annoyed at the South African fan after their team’s loss to India, throws their jersey away, only to be visited by a UAE fan who gifts him the UAE team jersey. This third ad of the series was unimaginative compared to the first two, with the return of the titular character as the only saving grace.

7.       Pakistan qualifying
This was a short TVC and only showed the Pakistan fan changing back into his Pakistan jersey, after briefly donning the Indian one, as mentioned above. This focused on the Pakistan’s chances (mauka) again.

8.       India vs West Indies
This ad was easily the worst of the lot. The Pakistan fan, after chaging colours from South Africa to UAE, all in the hopes of an Indian defeat, is visited by a courier person who delivers the West Indies jersey to him, as it’s the next team India was to play. He also delivers a packet of colous as the match was to be held on Holi. The courier man, advertised the online shopping brand and this showed Star Sports’ clear intention to milk the Mauka ads for all they were worth.

This is the ranking of all the Mauka ads so far. This list will be updated if and when more Mauka ads are released. 

Thursday, 19 March 2015


Kumar Sangakkara played his last ODI match on 18th March, 2015. It was one of the most abysmal ends to what is one of the greatest careers. Sangakkara was out for 45 off 96 balls, the second-last man to fall in Sri Lanka’s paltry score of 133 against South Africa in the first quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup. The moment of Sanga walking away was picturesque, but far from picture perfect. It was raining, he had performed poorly and there minuscule chances of victory. One of the greatest exponents of the limited overs game, one who scripted records till the match before that, was leaving the field disheartened. As emotional as the moment was, there is one thing that I’m certain of, this image is not how his monumental ODI career should be remembered.  

Sangakkara will be remembered as the second most successful batsman in ODI history, with 14234 runs, second only to Sachin Tendulkar, studded with 25 centuries,  and the numerous records that he has created and broken in the 50-over game, becoming one of the greatest ODI careers in the last decade.

He should also be remembered as the most successful wicketkeeper, with over 500 dismissals (402 catches, 99 stumpings), beating the record of Adam Gilchrist, who is acknowledged as the best wicketkeeper-bat in cricket.

Wickets was not the only thing Sanga kept, he kept up the mood of the match from behind the stumps. We may complain all we like about his incessant appealing, but there is no denying that he was entertaining on the stump mic. Besides his Niyammai encouraging the bowlers, his sledging and mind games were amusing. From quoting Oscar Wilde’s quips to Kallis to the now iconic video of him sledging Shaun Pollock in a 2003 World Cup match, he managed to make most people smile with his antics.

 Sanga should also be remembered as an astute captain on field and an inspirational leader off it. His captaincy figures of 1765 runs in 45 matches do not do justice to the impact he had. Despite his resignation following the defeat to India in the 2011 World Cup finals, he remains one of Sri Lanka’s most loved captains. In his final match as captain, he proved what it is to be a true sportsman in his post-match speech and conduct. No wonder, Sri Lanka received a hero’s welcome in Colombo despite defeat.

A national icon for his country, Sangakkara has always spoken about the problems plaguing Sri Lanka, going out on a limb against corrupt administrations. He led the team during the months where they were not paid by their Board and brought out the internal politics in public to ensure better functioning. His MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture in 2011 on ‘The story of Sri Lankan cricket’ is considered one of the most important speeches in cricketing history.

His on and off field achievements, lead to numerous awards, prominent among which is 2012 ICC Awards where he won three awards, including the prestigious Cricketer of the Year and Test Cricketer of the Year as well as the People's Choice prize, for the second consecutive time.

In limited overs cricket, his biggest achievement would be the 2014 Twenty20 World Cup, his only major World Championship trophy. For a player whose team had made it to the finals of the last four World championship trophies but always ended runners up, contributing to win a major title victory was a great achievement. His 52 off 35 in the finals, his last T20 match, earned him the Man of the Match and a fitting farewell in at least one format of the game.

Now for some of my personal favorite Sangakkara memories.

My earliest memory of Sangakkara is from his days as the long-haired, rockstar type days in the early 2000s. He made his ODI debut in 2000 vs Pakistan at Galle as a 23-year old, scoring 35 before he was run-out. In his debut series, a tri-series involving South Africa as well, which Sri Lanka won, he made 199 runs at an average of 66, and was the 4th highest run-getter. From then on, there was no stopping him from making his mark in the 50-over game.

My favorite Sangakkara ODI innings is one that came in a loss. His highest score of 169 is vs. South Africa and he has scored some brilliant tons against other teams as well. But the innings I enjoyed watching the most, came in 2006 against India in Jaipur, where opening the innings, he scored an unbeaten 138 of 147 deliveries. What entertaining stroke play it was, with 13 boundaries and 2 sixes! Unfortunately for him, his Indian wicket-keeping counterpart Mahendra Singh Dhoni scored 183 in the chase of 299 and India won that game by 6 wickets.

Another innings, again an unfortunate one, is the one he played against Australia in the 2007 World Cup finals in West Indies. Sri Lanka lost that game by Duckworth-Lewis method but Sanga scored a valiant 54 off 52 amidst constant rain. This image says it all about the conditions that day.

The above innings, was stitched along with his best mate and strongest partner, Mahela Jayawardene. Throughout their 15-year long careers, they have remained the mainstay in Sri Lankan batting, forming one of the best left-right combinations we have seen in recent cricket history. Known as Sangawardene, their partnership statistics of 5992 runs at an average of almost 42 over 151 innings tells the story of both their best partners in cricket. Best friends till the end, they both played their last T20 and ODI game together.

While Jaywardene was the classic wrist-flicker, Sangakkara was the stylish puncher. His trademark cover-drive, immortalized in so many photographs, is one of the most beautiful sights in cricket for me. Watching Sanga go down on his knees, put his weight behind the ball and slice the ball through covers, if seen in slow-motion, can be cricket’s version of porn!

This ‘pornography’ was in full force during his last ever ODI assignment, the 2015 World Cup. The number of records he made in his 7 matches of the tournament, were enough for everyone to question his decision to retire when in such sublime form. His captain Angelo Mathews even went on to say, “I have gone on my knees to beg him out of retirement, but at the end of the day, it is his decision.” He amassed 541 runs in 7 matches at an average of 108.20. He scored an unbeaten 105 against Bangladesh, 117 not out against England, 104 against Australia and 124 vs. Scotland to become the first batsman to record four consecutive hundreds in ODIs. Ironically, his only failure came in the game that needed him the most, and became his last.

But, in his own words, “Now that I am 37, the joints are creaking. I consider myself lucky. Sometimes, things just fall in place. Everything clicks. No matter how hard you try to find that one thing, it becomes difficult.” This was before that disastrous quarterfinals, but he was just as eloquent after it. “Disappointments are a part of our career, and you just take it on the chin and move on. Retiring from cricket is not about form. I feel that the time is now and it’s right, I’ve tried to give everything I have when I’ve played the game, the game goes on. You can’t hold onto it and people shouldn’t be too sentimental. I think a lot better players and greater players have gone, and the game has gone on and there are new players who take the mantle, and in my case it won’t be any different."

On that note, all I can say is Farewell Sanga, I for one will miss you. 

Monday, 2 March 2015


The stump microphone has been a great boon to cricket – helping umpires hear a knick, providing commentators with things to talk about, documenting evidence in case of conflict. At the same time it has also been a constant source of entertainment for the more discerning cricket viewer (or listener), thanks to the endless babble of wicketkeepers. You haven’t experienced a cricket match completely if you haven’t had your ears accosted by Nayan Mongia’s ‘Aai ga’, Kamran Akmal’s incessant ‘Shabaash, shabaash bhai’ and Kumar Sangakkara’s ‘Niyamaai’. From bowling tips to funny quips, from sledging batsmen to encouraging bowlers, the stump mic has given us memorable one-liners, hilarious sledges and some of the funniest moments on the cricket field. Presenting the five funniest stump mic quips, in no particular order, captured in the 2000s.

         1.      Dhoni reminding Sreesanth about the absence of his girlfriend

Let’s start with India’s Captain Cool, who seems to handle his fielders’ lack of concentration is his typical cool manner. In a Test match against New Zealand, S. Sreesanth appeared to be sloppy in his fielding position, which was promptly noticed by the skipper and his non-existent girlfriend had to bear the brunt of it. MS Dhoni was heard saying "Oye Sree udhar girlfriend nahi hai, idhar aa ja thoda (Hey Sree, your girlfriend isn't there. Move ahead.) Looks like Dhoni sure knows how to keep up the mood of both his team and fans!

         2.       Sangakkara attempting to motivate Pollock

The Australian art of sledging seems to have inspired Sri Lankan wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara to a great extent. In his own words, ‘Sledging, as pioneered by the Australians, is a measured comment designed to get a reaction out of a player. Not to abuse someone or use obscene language.’ Here we see him ‘encouraging’ Shaun Pollock during a 2003 World Cup match, by reminding him of the expectations of the home crowd, with his tongue firmly in cheek, eliciting a smile from the staid Pollock as well. Who would have thought that sledging can be both subtle and sophisticated!

         3.       Flintoff riling Tino Best to give up his wicket

England all rounder Andrew Flintoff is known for a number of things – his Ashes achievements, his alcohol exploits and his habit of constantly talking up to opposition players. Many will remember him as being the source of Yuvraj Singh’s six sixes at the 2007 ICC World Twenty20 Championship, as it was Freddie’s banter that drove Yuvi to pummel the hapless Stuart Broad over. But his exchange with the West Indies’s Tino Best during a Test match had the opposite effect. He kept yelling ‘Watch the windows, Tino,’ pushing the tailender to charge forward against Ashley Giles, getting stumped in the process. Freddie was so delighted by this effort that he couldn’t stop giggling for the next few minutes!

           4.       Kaif spouting statistics at Mohammad Yousuf

     An India-Pakistan match can never be complete without some hearty banter exchanged between the two teams, be it Javed Miandad-Chetan Sharma, Sachin Tendulkar-Abdul Qadir or Gautam Gambhir-Shahid Afridi. This particular incident is funny not because of the sledging, but because of the deadpan-commentator manner in which India’s Mohammad Kaif delivers it. Pakistan’s star batsman Mohammad Yousuf was having a patchy day on crease when Kaif, in the slips, starts discussing Yousof’s match stats in an emphatic fashion. ‘87 ball khel lee, ek bhi chauka nahin maara,’ (he has played 87 deliveries but hasn’t scored a single boundary) he says, gesticulating around, while Yousuf smiles benignly. 

            5.       Dhoni informing Jadeja about the role of fielders

We started with MS Dhoni, so let us end with him. The Indian captain has uttered several gems behind the stumps that can perk up even a boring match, memorable being this advice about teamwork – ‘Vijay apna hi fielder hai use catch lene ke liye hi aage rakha hai, off mein bowl fenk.’ (Vijay is in our team; he is placed in that position to take a catch, keep bowling on the off-stump) and referring to England’s Ian Bell as ‘ghanti’ with calls of ‘Ghanti bajaao iski’ (Ring this bell) and ‘Ghanti ko leke jayenge’ (Let’s take Bell’s wicket). My personal favorite however is Mahi informing Ravindra Jadeja about the role of fielders, in a Test match vs New Zealand. ‘Ye ghoomega toh Pujara ko isiliye idhar rakha hai, voh udhar taali bajaane ke liye nahi hai’ (If the ball turns, I've kept Pujara in the slips for catching only; he's not standing there just to clap). Yes, that’s how ‘cool’ the captain can get when the job isn’t done well!