Friday, 15 June, 2007

The Boss!!!

It is often said that it takes a certain something, referred to, by the people who know these things, as the X-factor, to go from mere stardom to superstardom. With Rajnikanth, however, there is no such unknown quantity. What he has, in abundant measure, is the unique ability to keep his mouth open at a precise aperture regardless of whether he’s walking, talking, chewing gum, dancing (his signature step appears easy, but that’s only until you attempt it – one hand on head, one on hip, and perfect synchronous motion in two parallel arcs) or dodging a bullet and shooting one (to be split into two by means of a strategically placed dagger held at the muzzle, to deal with multiple large men of dubious morals) at the same time. No ordinary mortal can maintain such a delicate distance between upper and lower lip like thalaivar can. Particularly impressive is the nonchalant ease with which he keeps the viewer’s eyes riveted on his mouth even with the added visual treat of peroxide blonde hair.

Friday, 1 June, 2007

Extremely long, self indulgent post you may want to read if you're as jobless as I am

A great test match has twists, turns, topspinners and elements of tragedy. All these ingredients were thrown together for five enthralling days at the Madhinis’ front driveway and one of history’s finest contests came to a dramatic conclusion on the evening of the 30th. When I said five days, I meant it took five days for the drama to play itself out, with play only being possible on the first and final days, due to unavailability of players on the second, third and fourth days.

The match started off with two players on either side, with Mundhra and I losing the toss to the Madhinis, who, as is inevitable, chose to bat first.

A word on how our test matches are played; one batsman bats at a time, no one is at the other end, since two guys running around in opposite directions in narrow spaces is known to cause collisions. The batting team usually provides the wicketkeeper, in two-on-two matches. This ensures no one is sitting around making witty comments, but when there are more than two people on one side, there is intense competition among the two members of the batting side not at the crease to take up a comfortable position on Raju’s thunderbird. That means there are three players fielding at any given time – the bowler, the wicketkeeper, and the other guy on the fielding side; who is placed close-in or deep on the boundary gate depending on the skill level of the batsman and the bowler, the state of the match, and so on. There are always plenty of bikes around to help the fielding side along the way, but too many can be a hindrance to bowling around the wicket, unless you don’t mind sharp blows to the knuckles. The bikes square on the leg side invite the wristy turn to leg and the gently trotted single as the fielders squeeze themselves between them, performing miraculous contortions to avoid the bumpy bits, and extricate the ball.

We had to go through plenty of this during Raju’s innings, and he rode his luck, with Mundhra in generous catching form, and went on to make a brisk 83, before I showed Mundhra how to wrap fingers around a tennis ball and hold on, taking the ball as it rose, at about chest height, standing at a deepish mid off. We were mighty relieved.

Pavan Madhini is an example of the ‘if-only’ sort of batsman. Few can strike a tennis ball so cleanly, and so morale-damagingly. He is built along physically intimidating lines; the Hayden-Pietersen-Symonds-Flintoff sort, with a little more around the waistline to boot. When he puts his front foot down the pitch, he makes bowlers step back for fear of toes being stepped upon.

The bat, after having described a gigantic arc, usually makes contact with the ball in the region of silly mid off’s solar plexus, and sometimes the ball goes along the ground. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the ball misses the bat entirely, and this is what happened, after he had struck a couple of lusty blows, and the sound of tennis ball hitting broken steel chair heralded the close of their first innings at 96. Mundhra had picked up both the wickets.

We needed 47 to avoid following on, and I went in to open the innings, something I’ve always loved doing. Give me a bat and someone bowling at me, and I’m the happiest person in the world. If I ever have a son or daughter, chances are I’ll be training him or her in my backyard to become a bowler, letting him or her bat occasionally so that he or she doesn’t refuse to play with me again, but mostly having my share of what is known in cricketing circles as OC gaaji, probably telling him or her that he or she has bowled a no ball if he or she gets me out.

My batting style can be described as upright, unhurried and well, elegant; I certainly don’t feel the ungainliness and disjointed wobbliness I feel at most other times while I’m batting. I score runs at a measured rate, with a wristy dab here and a gentle push there, almost exclusively off the back foot, unless it’s pitched right up. I proceeded to do this for a goodish length of time, during which Nair arrived and joined the Madhini side, giving Mundhra a much needed period of lying down on the Thunderbird with a pained expression on his face. A cleverly bowled slow leg break beat me in the air and I offered Raju a simple return catch, which he didn’t drop. My score, and that of my team, at that point, was 70. Mundhra added 8 runs to that and got himself bowled in the span of the next over from Pavan and they had a lead of 18.

Pavan started off for them in his usual cavalier fashion, and fell into the trap of driving early at a well tossed up delivery from me and as Mundhra held on to the chance, his relief was visible. Nair was bowled for a duck in the next over from Mundhra and the score stood at 14.

Rajesh Madhini has the advantage of not having to face himself while batting, and usually makes use of this to the fullest, racking up one ton after the other, always scoring at a brisk, relentless pace. Give him anything remotely pitched up and he’ll drive without restraining his follow through, managing to keep the ball along the ground and usually in the gap. You generally look to keep it tight and not try too many things; and hope that he’ll make an error of judgment somewhere. He was past 30 and looking very threatening when Mundhra decided he couldn’t take the heat any longer and Nair decided he had to leave.

Play resumed after three days; without Nair; with Raju looking like he meant business. I thought to myself that we had to get him out in the first couple of overs or be resigned to waiting for him to throw it away after putting our target into the realms of miracle.

I was left clutching at my head when he was beaten by an off break which narrowly missed leg stump; wondering when the next chance would come; but Mundhra got one to keep low and sneak through in his very next over. Raju had made 50, his team 64, and our target was 83.

Our innings began with Mundhra scoring 4 runs in 7 overs with dour defense and plenty of luck before he lost his patience and slogged at an enticing off break from the elder Madhini, missing completely.

The task ahead of me was difficult, not impossible, but anyone who’s seen how matches have gone in the long history of underarm tests will tell you that I have come close plenty of times under similar circumstances, but seldom close enough.

I told myself to not keep telling myself things and overcomplicate my thinking as I took guard, aware of the fact that runs were going to come at a trickle, and that I’d have to reckon with a close-in fielder at all times, especially with the number of bikes blocking off my favourite route to the boundary - the checked on drive ricocheting off the mid on wall into the gate.

The first few overs were very quiet, with an uncomfortable stillness hanging about the atmosphere; interrupted whenever Raju sprang into the jumble of bikes to rob me of single scoring opportunities, or when Pavan jeered our team for its scoring rate.

Raju is a quite exceptional bowler, coming off a diagonal three step run-up, bowling ripping leg breaks and off breaks without too much change in his wrist action. The amount of turn and bounce he gets increases the area on the pitch which he can pitch on without being clobbered, and as a result the pressure he puts on batsmen is unrelenting.

His not-so-little brother is one of those sneaky buggers who stretch the limits of acceptability when it comes to bowling actions, and he delivers a wide range of deliveries from various angles of release, which can be broadly classified under the forehand and the backhand. Most of his deliveries go straight after pitching, neither troubling the batsman too much nor offering him room to free the arms and pummel him like he deserves to be. His height and blatant defiance of our already relaxed laws on underarm actions allow him to bowl bouncers as well.

It was thus a thoroughly attritional battle, with no square boundaries to add value to my pulls, off which I could only get the occasional single.

The Madhini brothers kept going through over after over, and the target was slowly being whittled down. Their fielding was freakishly good for some strange reason, and full blooded drives were being stopped by thrusting out one hand into which the ball would remarkably stick. I passed my fifty and the singles started flowing a little more frequently.

I was getting into some sort of comfort zone, and I knew this meant I was going to do something injudicious, soon.

Pavan bowled an over of temptingly slow deliveries, and I made sure I patted each one back with exaggerated care.

I should have whacked the bugger, in hindsight, because in the very next over his brother got one to keep low and kiss the edge of the chair after hitting my right shin. I was 18 runs away from the target, and it hurt, badly. Unfortunately I think I’m getting used to it and I’m almost resigned to the fate of coming bloody close and not quite making it. Damn, I need counseling or something. Or one of those self help books I’ve ridiculed all my life. Or maybe write one. ‘Almost there – by Ghanshyam Nair’.