Lesson in Leadership

Although my interest in cricket has significantly declined since the advent of T20 cricket, the events of the last few days prompted me to sit up & take notice. Nothing new actually happened. It was all circa 1999 where Azhar, Prabhakar and others were caught in match fixing and banned for life by the Board. And to add to it, Indian cricket was going through its worst phase in terms of performance – losing 3-0 to Australia in Australia followed by a test series loss to South Africa at home in 2000. Heroes had fallen, a new team was under formation and cricket fans were gutted to say the least..

In early 2001, the average cricket fan was losing patience. India lost the Mumbai test to Australia by 10 wickets and it was hard to see how this team could even draw let alone win against arguably the best Australian side to have ever played the game. It seemed that way till day 2 of the Kolkata test by when Indian cricket’s obituaries were being written in the media. What was to happen – no one could have every imagined….

I always felt Indian cricket was in safe hands as long as the fab four – Sachin, Sourav, Rahul & Laxman – played in the squad, not to mention the legendary Anil Kumble. However, as always, only one of these legends stood tall at a time when Indian cricket is in crisis – Rahul Sharad Dravid. As captain of the Rajasthan Royals in IPL 2013, Rahul once again exemplified why he is the leader than Dhoni or Sachin or Gavaskar could never be. As his players got arrested for all the wrong reasons, Rahul stood up not just to media but also to the people of this country to express his hurt and disappointment. Throughout his career, Rahul hasn’t just been an accomplished cricketer but also a very honourable gentleman. His biography, his famous MCC lecture and articles published on him all highlight his love and respect for the game. I saw Indian cricket’s fortunes change when Rahul Dravid played for India..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20o6n2nP9Pc

On the other hand, it was reproachable to see the silence of Dhoni as the India team embarked on its journey to England for the Champions Trophy. The grin on his face smacks of scant respect for Indian cricket let alone the Indian cricket fan.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r71FOL2DPcs

His post-match comments after India suffered whitewashes against England & Australia away followed by the test series loss to England @ home proved how money has come to dominate this beautiful game. With the powers-that-be colluding at the top, it’s hard to see how the nexus can be broken. And the only good that can happen to Indian cricket now is for India to lose a few series & for sponsors to back out. It seems unlikely but I do hope we will see a leader like Dravid emerge at the end of this dark phase for Indian cricket..

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A sad day for India..

>Normally, such statements might be reserved for large-scale violence or a terrorist attack involving numerous deaths but the act of ‘massacre’ carried out at Sydney has dented the optimism and hopes of many Indians and has indeed hurt the pride of the nation.

Cricket has evoked many emotions in me but probably this is the first time it has truly brought me out not just to back the Indian team through and through but to even support the clarion call for abandonment of the tour to uphold the spirit of the gentleman’s game. India went into the Sydney test after having suffered utter humiliation at Melbourne and they showed their ability to fight back in the first two sessions at Sydney. Having Australia on the mat at 134/6, the dream cherished by Dravid, Kumble, Sachin, Laxman and Saurav, in what would be their last series down under, of winning a test series in Australia seemed real. This was definitely India’s best chance to come back into the series, their best chance to create history by beating the best cricket team in their own backyard. What followed next was not just an umpiring error but also the complete dashing of hopes of a 19 year old youngster!! I remember Bucknor doing the same poor old Murali Kartik at the same venue 4 yrs ago when I bunked all classes to watch India win on the final day – a win which was not to be thanks to Bucknor!! Just imagine what confidence Ishant would have carried forward had he got the prized wicket of Symonds at that crucial juncture!! Australia went on to post a mammoth 463 runs in their first innings in which the umpires had decided not to give any stumping or LBW!! All hopes of an Indian resurgence evaporated then. Still, there was some hope in the Indian batting with the old hands of Laxman, Dravid, Sachin and Ganguly playing stellar roles to take India to a competitive total of 532.

From what I saw on TV, there is no way Harbhajan could have gone on his own will to speak something to Symonds as Harbhajan and Sachin were batting brilliantly with Harbhajan completing his first fifty against Australia in test cricket. Surely, something provocative was said to Harbhajan to make him react in that manner. The end result – Ponting and co have combined to give Harbhajan a 3-test ban. For me, this surely is the greatest testimonial of racism in cricket – where white skinned people get together to hand over punishment to a brown-skinned person!! If that controversy was not sufficient, what followed in the Australian 2nd innings was appalling. Mr. Cricket is given not out when he is on 45. He goes on to score 145 runs and Australia score 401/7 setting India a target of 333 runs in the last innings. Ofcourse, I happen to miss a few plumb LBW appeals where were very conveniently turned down!!

If there was one man on whom I would bet my life to bail India out of trouble, it would be Rahul Sharad Dravid and indeed, he lived up true to the nickname of ‘The WALL’ which he has earned over the years!! A certain Mr. Benson conveniently forgot to signal no-ball for over-stepping but thanks to Symonds’ drop catch, Dravid’s innings was not unfortunately truncated. 38 runs, 103 balls and over two and a half hours – Rahul battled on to save the test match – He is the most selfless cricketer I have ever known to have played the game!! And what we got was an absolute shocker from Bucknor to end the most hard-working innings by Rahul. Saurav’s glamorous innings was cut short with Ponting giving him out. Some say that even RP Singh was not out but that is very very insignificant for me in the larger context of the game.

The series should have been 1-1 at the end of the Sydney test but it reads in official records as 2-0 in favour of Australia. The series is long gone and there is not even cricketing pride to play for since even that has been snatched away by the umpires. There is only one thing left for Kumble and co – to return back to India. Forget Australia, forget the final frontier!! I know it’s hard to forget a dream which one has cherished since a long time!! But surely the dream cannot be pursued in the midst of such a ‘massacre’. If Kumble and co play at Perth, they have no shame, no pride in their nation.

Some b’ful moments..

>Honestly, I have received enough brickbats for not being in touch with some of my close friends, not responding to e-mails, not commenting on blogs etc. etc. But if all this has to happen when you have spent two unbelievable months, then it’s worth it.

With virtually no work to do by the mid of February, boredom was plauging me like anything. Just needed something which could make life more interesting for me. Somebody posted on our company intranet about an inter-company cricket tournament being planned between 4 companies (Veco, Technip, Tebodin and Worley Parsons – all engineering consultancies) to be played at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi. This was really a mouth-watering prospect for me. In all my life, I never got an opportunity to play top-flight leather ball cricket and now one stood at my door-step. I really put myself in top gear running hard everyday after office hours, pushed myself hard to exercise and sweated it out in the completely dry but relatively cold climes of Abu Dhabi. I used to run on the hard ground outside a shopping centre and it used to pain a lot in my calf muscles. But it also made them rock-solid.

We started off with a practice match against Tebodin in the last week of February before the tournament started (which was to be played on every Saturday in March). We won the match chasing down a target of 140 runs in 20 overs with myself making a handy contribution of 29 runs.

After a rigorous selection process which saw the squad being pruned from an initial number of around 30 players to a final 15 for the tournament, the team was getting ready for the first match of the tournament between Technip and Veco on 3rd March. I wasn’t picked in the final eleven for the first match but was not too disappointed about not making it. I had determined myself to practise harder and push my claim for selection in the next match. Technip lost the match quite badly and with two more league matches to go, it was going to be do-or-die for us. By now, I was showing considerable improvement in my batting which is what I had to be picked for. After the final practice session couple of days before the 2nd match, the captain indicated to me that he wanted me to play this one. I was thrilled at the opportunity of being able to play at the Abu Dhabi Cricket Stadium in a proper leather-ball limited overs cricket match. I called up home to give the good news and went back home to get some good sleep after a tiring day at office followed by a cricket practice session unaware of what was to come.

The next morning (Thursday, March 8th), just before I went to have my bath, the flat-owner came and told me he was going to India for a week. I went in, had my bath and sat down in my room to have my breakfast. The thought just passed my mind of calling my parents to Abu Dhabi to watch me play at the stadium. Though I had requested the owner previously as well, he had declined to allow my parents to stay in his flat. Besides, hotel accommodation is extremely expensive in Abu Dhabi. Still, with my fingers crossed, I went ahead and requested my owner if he would allow my parents to stay with me atleast till he came back. To my good fortune (and by god’s grace), he said yes and thus began what was to be probably the longest day of my life!!!

I reached office at 8:15 am with half my mind thinking about how to get all the formalities (getting the visa, getting the ticket for the flight on Friday) done within one day!!! I tried calling a contact in my office who handles visas but he too said that it’s only possible to get the visa in 2-3 days. I wasn’t convinced. I went up to our administration department and asked them if it was possible to get visit visa for my parents in one day!!! The lady initially scoffed at me but still pulled out my salary certificate (which was completely in Arabic) and gave it to me. Then she directed me to go to one of those legal translation shops down below and get the visa application form typed by them. The form along with my salary certificate then would have to be deposited at the immigration office and perhaps there was some provision to get the visit visa (which has a validity of two months) within a day provided we make some extra payment.

Sometimes, you really don’t know if what you think or plan would actually happen but really nothing should deter you from making the effort if that thing is really close to your heart.

Taking a break from my office hours (which had to be compensated later), I got the form typed in an hour’s time and then took a taxi straight to the immigration office. I reached there in about half an hour’s time and no sooner I found myself running around to get to the right counter. I made all the payments and had to wait for another agonizing hour before I could deposit the form at the counter. They asked me to come back and collect the visa after one hour. I caught another taxi and headed straight to office. Work clearly was the last thing on my mind and somehow I managed to plough my mind till it was lunch time. In the meanwhile, I had asked my brother to book the ticket and keep it ready but the agent had said that he needed the visa by 5 pm (India time). I was fighting against time and completed another trip to the immigration office by 2:30 pm local time (Abu Dhabi is behind India by 1 hour and 30 min) to collect the visa after a frustrating wait for the taxi in mid-day sun.

By 3 pm, I got the visa copies scanned and sent by mail. In another half an hour, I had them faxed as well to the travel agent in India. Returning back to work, I pushed myself hard to concentrate on the work but clearly I was waiting to hear from my parents if they had received the tickets. By evening time, mom called up to say that I had delayed in sending the visa and that actually the visa was to be received by the agent by 4 pm India time and not 5 pm. As a result, he had cancelled the booking and now only a fresh booking on March 10th (the day of the match) could be made. I was distraught, angry that so much effort still did not yield the desired result. Consoling myself, I asked them to get the tickets for Saturday if it was not possible to make it on Friday. I went back to my desk, almost feeling defeated. I had to put in extra hours that day as I had to make up for the office hours lost. Late in the evening, after almost everyone had left office for the weekend here, my brother calls up to tell me that they had managed to get the tickets for the next day (Friday, March 9th). A sense of relief spread through me as I just relaxed myself and shut down my PC for the day. I left my office only to realize that I had forgotten the original visas in my office drawer. I ran back to get it, got down again, went to recharge my cell and went back home looking at the sky, smiling and thinking,” Impossible surely is nothing”. One of my long-cherished dreams to bring my parents to a foreign land was standing to be fulfilled.

Next day, early morning, I headed for the airport at 9 in the morning and deposited the visa. The flight was on time and soon I was standing there smiling as my parents came out. My parents accompanied me to watch the match. We won chasing 165 runs in 25 overs in a thrilling last over finish. I scored only 9 runs but managed to put up a good stand of 50 runs.

Initially, I had thought of being able to accommodate my parents only for a couple of weeks but soon I was able to secure a reasonably less expensive family accommodation for them for two months. Next week, my parents went off to Dubai and Sharjah where they stayed at my mom’s friend Anna’s place and my friend Chetan’s place. In the meanwhile, unfortunately, I was down with viral fever and had to take leave from office for two days. The do-or-die clash with Tebodin was coming up on Saturday in which the winner would be through to the final. I was fighting my illness and only by Thursday had I somewhat recovered when my parents came back from their short trip.

I was picked for the virtual semi-final, this time as an opening batsman. Still feeling weak and not exactly in full fitness, I crossed the ropes and marched into the ground with my opening partner after our skipper won the toss and elected to bat. This really had to be my test of character. I faced the first ball and just flicked it to the leg. My partner called, I just lifted my hand to say no but he was half-way through the pitch. My heart skipped a beat as I realized I was sure to be run out first ball of the innings and had I not run, people would have blamed me for being selfish. I just pushed the yards, half-falling, half-running. A bad throw and a miss and I managed to complete the single. A loud cheer went through the stadium from the lot of our company supporters who had come to watch the match. I hit one sizzling straight drive for four, a shot which I still feel proud of and in no time, myself and my partner each scored 21 runs and put together a partnership of 59 runs. Our captain came out and scored a brilliant fifty and we put up a massive total of 204 runs in 25 overs, which was just too much on that day for Tebodin to chase.

One more week went past swiftly and soon, the day arrived – March the 31st. It was the grand final between Technip and Veco. We had lost to Veco in our league match and were definitely hoping for a reverse. Veco won the toss and batted their way to 213 runs in a 30 over per innings match. The onus was again on myself and my partner to put up a good opening stand. This time, I went on the defensive just taking the singles and giving strike to my aggressive partner who was going hammer and tongs against the bowling. In no time, 50 runs were on board when my partner retired hurt. Soon after, I threw away my wicket in a very soft manner – a shot which I regret till now. Thankfully, my captain in the company of other batsmen played stunningly to ensure that the inter-consultancy cricket cup was ours. The ground was invaded by the sizeable crowd which had come for the final and the exciting moments simply went on and on and on…A few of them said that my parents brought our team a lot of luck as we won every match after they arrived and witnessed.

The month of April was very hectic – lot of work had piled up and the deadlines were closing in. I was put with long hours of work at office and used to come home tired. Ofcourse, my parents were always there which gave me a sense of relief. Still, almost every weekend, we managed to make atleast one trip – a desert safari, a trip to Al-Ain and a trip to Kurfakan/Fujairah. The desert safari was especially enthralling with all dune-bashing, sand skiing and traditional Arabic food. Al-Ain is really special for me as it is such a peaceful place with all its greenery and lack of commotion. More importantly, it was made all the more wonderful by Kartik’s parents at whose place we were put up for the night (Kartik is my batchmate from IIT Bombay). They enthusiastically took us to the Al-Ain zoo and the absolutely fabulous Jebel Hafeet mountains. If Al-Ain was fantastic, then a ride to Kurfakan was absolutely outstanding. We went with another family in a van past the Hajjar mountains and drove to the beach which was simply marvelous. I enjoyed a little swim and a short boat ride at the beach. All-in-all I thoroughly enjoyed taking my parents around UAE as much as I could. Returning back, we were all happy with fond memories to cherish.

I can never forget the last two months which were simply fascinating in every sense, almost unbelievable for me. I thank God and all my close friends with whom I can now share this amazing time in my life.

Live Sport, Live Life…

>I am inspired to write this on the back of India completing its 58th Republic Day last week & I enjoying yet another successful Friday morning in all departments of the game – Batting, Bowling and Fielding.

I sat on the 26th of Jan watching the Republic day parade celebrations going on in New Delhi on TV. India’s rich culture, its versatile geography, nature’s gifts in the form of rivers & the mountains, different climatic seasons, fertile river banks, her diverse mix of people, our tremendous belief in spirituality & human values never cease to amaze me. You just feel a lot at home when you are living in India. It’s so comfortable – you would not find politics and diplomacy in your relations with your near and dear ones, you share a lot of fun with your friends, your relatives & even your neighbours!!! Despite the various personal or professional setbacks one has, you would always find someone of your own who supports you through the tough times – something which I feel originates from India’s ancient culture. In the last 58 years, a lot has definitely changed. India has made giant strides in different walks of life. Our economy is growing rapidly. I really am not aware of any statistics in this regard but we sure have set ourselves on the path of tremendous progress.

The news also brought to light our darker side – incidents like the Nithari killings, the Jessica Lal murder case and more recently the fake encouters in J&K. It’s sad to watch and read about them and it made me think more about the way the present generation (atleast in cities) has been brought up. When I look at our city life, it’s so very busy. There is not enough time for parents to be with their children, to teach them good values or just spend enough time playing with them or addressing their curiosity. They say, “Money talks and Money walks” even if you end up doing a job which you know is well below your intellectual capabilities but is earning you the big bucks simply because you happen to put in 10 hrs a day in office and you still feel proud about it!!!

There was a time when I used to complete a part of my school homework by 5:00 pm and no later would you find me in my half-pants (as they were popularly called then :)) on the building compound or nearby ground or a nearby court batting, bowling, fielding, kicking the ball, saving goals, hitting smashes with alarming accuracy in TT (and I was damn good at that) or even the odd games of “sakhli” or “Pakda Pakdi” or “dabba express” which we engaged in after the primary sport was over for the day. Play time continued for a minimum of 2 hrs if not more and I am ever grateful to my mom who did not send me to evening tutions as was the case with some of my friends. I enjoyed every bit of it, it imbibed in me a spirit which is truly unique – I call it the sportsman spirit. It taught me to be honest & dignified even if it meant to lose a game and ever humble even after effecting a brilliant save or playing a superb shot!!!

To my great satisfaction, these qualities could be found in certain measure in all the people alongside whom I played and this certainly enhanced my interest, commitment & love towards sports in general. This also did meant I was kept away from the regular fare of video games which was quite popular in those days. In todays’ times, when I do come home or have the occasional rounds of my school grounds, I only find the regular players playing – no new additions!!! Sometimes, I just begin to wonder where are all the kids?? Maybe they are busy in tutions or playing video games or maybe just chit-chatting or gossipping their evenings. If this continues to be the case, I am sorry to be harsh but have to admit that India has no socially wealthy future.

Sport is life. Life is sport. This saying is the ultimate for me. It epitomises everything for me. I may sound partial but there are certain things which no other form of education can provide us. Sport inculcates in us a spirit of self-will. In today’s sedentary world, it helps us remove our physical restlessness & build our health. So what? Even jogging or going to the gym daily can help us do all that. The most important thing that sport does is build our character!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, I am talking about that form of sport which is true in nature. There might be many who may turn up to play but not many who are truly a sportsperson. I am not talking about the professional players but about the sportsperson in each one of us. A true sportsperson is epitomised by a character of the highest order. Only a military education could inculcate more discipline than sport but even that comes more so out of punishments being meted out to the guilty. For a true sportsperson, he or she simply enjoys the discipline of sport and consequently is able to perform well in it.

Sports is an important distraction as well esp in today’s times where too much information is available in the hands of almost anyone and which can induce the young to do something wrong or immoral. Sports helps esp the youth to stay away from lust, temptation, immoral thoughts and deeds and channelises their energy towards something useful, constructive and helps to improve even their mental powers of concentration. The importance of this cannot be exaggerated and only if parents sincerely encourage their children to play regularly would we see a new dynamic, educated yet virtuous India !!!

I have seen people in office and elsewhere who have little or nothing to do with sport & those who atleast enjoy discussing India’s performance on the field for the day. Quite remarkably, I notice the latter as being extremely different in their thinking and ideas, ready to live life more and in simple terms, “a better human being” overall than the former who continue to live their routine life and would hesitate to add any dynamism to it.

I am quoting from what my friend once told me. The great Swami Vivekanand had said, “Football is a better way of taking us closer to GOD than reading the Vedas”. The truth is this statement is quite remarkable.

Even as India stands on the threshold of big things, an olympic gold medal still continues to elude us 1 billion people. We are yet to play at the soccer world cup let alone winning one. Our national sport continues to decline as politicians continue to poke their dirty noses in it. Dogged by controversies and handicapped by lack of infrastructure, I feel sad for the greats of the yesteryears who had taken Indian hockey to unimaginable levels. We continue to receive mixed results from Tennis, TT and badminton but I am sure we can do better. Chess is the only glittering sport at the moment but sponsorship is lacking. It’s unfortunate to see something as beautiful as sport become a victim of that dreaded money!!!!!!!! So can the BCCI share some of its whopping deals and earnings with other sports? Maybe it can but when those chaps end up putting only 2% of their earnings into improving domestic cricket facilities, what more can we expect?

I wish as in all other fields, it’s the people and not the bureaucrats or the administrators or the politicans who can bring about a revolution and witness India making its mark in the world of sport!!! Ofcourse, the corporates need to provide sponsorhips, the money should be pooled in to develop the infrastructure and offer world-class facilities. But it all starts with that one small step – allowing the kid to play 5 pm onwards everday!!! Miracles have happened in the past and history does repeat itself!!!