I am an Indian. I celebrate a million festivals while cribbing about the pollution, noise & nuisance it creates. I have numerous relatives who live with the illusion that they need to control my existence. I have an opinion about everything in life irrespective to whether it’s asked or not. I eat more and exercise less. At times, I live like a beggar. Other times, I am the king of the world. I drink. I abuse. I laugh. I cry. And I follow cricket like there is no other sport in this whole wide world.
Cricket, for some, is an amusing waste of time. For others, it’s a hobby they like to stay updated with. Some look at it as a sour dream. And then there are those who are ready to hurl at a mere mention of the game. For me, it is a way of life.
I was introduced to the fascinating world of Cricket in 1995. As always, my father was the reason I paid attention to the game. You see, unlike today’s generation, most of us looked up to our parents & did things to impress them and make them smile. We did have our dreams & goals in our lives but at no point hurting or crushing our parent’s hopes were a part of the plan. I never thought that a random question by my father would actually change the way I will look at life from that point on. His question was about Murlidharan being called a ‘chucker’ by an Australian umpire during the Boxing Day test match in 1995.
Till that day, I never had any hobby; I was too busy with my studies & adjusting in new neighborhood/school. Father was in the Indian armed force & got transferred to a new location every couple of years. This made me an introvert, as I didn’t see any reason in making friends or hanging out at new places in town. Sooner rather than later, I was made to go through the whole process again. Thankfully, cricket became my new friend. It became a person who would stick by me irrespective of my location. It was my funny, interesting, exciting & more over, exhilarating friend. Every day it would throw a new challenge, ask me questions & then show me a way to make things work. Time and time again, it has proved the age-old clichés correct.
“Where there is a will, there is a way” | “Luck favors the brave” | “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going”
In 1996, barely three months after getting thrashed around by the mighty Australians, Sri Lanka won the Cricket World Cup. Their players were questioned after the Australian tour. Their integrity was on the line. Result? 8 games: 8 wins! They topped the Group stage, partly because Australia & West Indies refused to play them citing security concerns. Sri Lanka’s biggest challenge lay ahead when they found themselves against the now favorite Indian team in India’s favorite stadium in front of over 100,000 screaming fans supporting the home team.
This was probably the biggest game in the history of Sri Lankan cricket. One man stood up & silenced everyone. Aravinda De Silva, known as Mad Max, kept his cool & outplayed India and repeated the same against the Australians in the Final. Man of the match in back-to-back games. He believed in himself & was rightly supported by his team members.
1996: I was 14 and was learning very quickly from my new best friend. I was looking forward to challenges in life. I was looking forward to face my nightmares.
“There is no short cut for success” | “Don’t lie, cheat or steal” | “Patience is a virtue”
Mohammad Azharuddin & Ajay Jadeja were the cricketing idols for many millions. They played the game with beaming smiles, termed as the best fielders in the Indian team, they made way to many hearts with their flamboyancy on the field. One was the most successful captain in the history and the other had demolished many attacks and earned a tag of a ‘finisher’. These two gentlemen were widely respected & accepted as the influential figures in the cricketing arena. In 2000, they were found guilty for match fixing. A prompt life-ban was put on both & they were thrown out unceremoniously. World cricket has seen many such examples since this episode; some were shocking while others were shoved under the carpet.
I have always wondered why would anyone risk his/her name & fame, which took years and years of hard work & dedication. I am still wondering.
2000: We had shifted to Bombay a year back. Smiling came easy & making friends was not a task anymore. At 18, there were options of going abroad to make a good living (Family business) without any further education. Easy money never seemed so easy before. I chose college and till date it remains the best decision of my life.
“What goes up, must come down” | “Nothing is permanent” | “Never assume”
For over three decades, West Indies ruled the cricketing world. Everything about them was grand. Big bully batsman, fierce looking bowlers, Nonchalant all-rounder & above all, big-hearted fans. Sadly, I only saw the glimpses of their brilliance as most of the legends had retired from the game. But, watching players like Brian Lara, Carl Hooper, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose & Shivnarine Chanderpaul was enough to imagine the rich heritage of their cricket. These men played with flair & pride. They played for the love of the game. Till date, no other team comes anywhere close to the West Indians for the passions for life & cricket.
After dominating the game for years, they were on a rapid downfall. Lack of support systems, retirement of cricketing legends, bad pay structure & above all the ignorance towards their opponents were the main reasons behind their failure. Late 1990s & early 2000s were probably the harshest on their cricket. The super heroes were mere mortals now and were getting mutilated on every soil. Everyone expected them to bounce back like the old times but paid no attention basic rule of good planning & preparation.
2003: At 21, I was stepping out of my teenage life & discovering the real meaning of life. No more air castle, only the brutal realities waiting to pounce on me. I was ready!
“Nothing but the best” | “One must earn respect” | “Records are made to be broken”
Australia was the new West Indies of the cricketing world. Three World Cup wins. 16 consecutive test match wins. 10 years of dominating each & every opponent in each & every game. Champion bowlers. Champion batsmen. Champion wicket keepers. Champion team. Even on their off days, Australia was better than most teams playing at 100% potential.
The new age Australian cricketers took bench strength, fitness level, support staff and mental integration to a completely new level. They didn’t like to lose. They didn’t want to lose. They did everything to be a winner. Every year. Every month. Every week. Every hour. Australians went about their business of being winners with the same dedication, hard work & courage. Amazingly, they showed the world that life away from cricket was just as exciting & entertaining. Brett Lee sang, Mathew Hayden cooked, Shane Warne played poker & Steve Waugh made homes for children. No matter what they did, they did it like champions.
2007: I sold my share to my partner & bit adieu to our two-year-old company. After living my life in school, college & office; I was finally ready to embrace good things that this world had to offer. I had never known my family till then, nor did I travel much for pleasure. All the wrongs were rectified without any further delay. I was finally free at the age of 25.
“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” – Albert Einstein
Indian cricket has seen many legends in its rich history. Some deserved every bit of the fame, while some were gifted the throne by the media. One person, however, never received the due credit for his never-ending pursuit of perfection on the cricketing field. He lived, unfortunately, in the shadow of other legends. If there ever was one Indian cricketer that everyone took for granted, it was Rahul Dravid. In the remarkable career (Since 1996) there is only one match where he was fully credited for his performance (Vs Australia at Adelaide in 2003-04). For me, Rahul Dravid is best Indian cricketer of all time.
“Failure is success if we learn from it.” – Malcolm Forbes
Born with a silver spoon, he followed his passion for cricket with utter disdain. After his prolific performance in the domestic matches, he was given a chance to play at the highest level. One game & few rumors of him not being a team man, he was dropped from the team. Sourav Chandidas Ganguly took all the criticism in his stride & emerged a stronger player. He stormed in the Indian team after 5 years and never looked back. In his twelve years of International cricket, he created many records & became the most successful captain in the history of Indian cricket. If not for his aggression & optimism, Indian team wouldn’t have been the champions they are today.
“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” – Vince Lombardi
Steve Waugh is probably the most influential & successful captain in the history of the game. He infused confidence & the winning passion in his team to make the world champions for over a decade. Mind games were his specialty and he always lead with example. He truly won everyone’s respect by winning everything that stood in his way. Post retirement, he has won many hearts by working in a foreign country for the needy.
“A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” – David Brinkley
As I mentioned earlier in this article, I would have been oblivion to the perks of this sport if not for Muttiah Muralitharan. From being called a ‘chucker’ and facing a ban from cricket, this man went on to break all the records of the game. The highest wicket taker in Tests & One day international, ‘smiling assassin’ is easily the most successful bowler of all times. Always smiling and trying to give his 150%, Murali has been the epitome of the ‘spirit of the game’.
2011: Today, I have everything I dreamed of at the age of 18. After numerous failures in life, I am finally in my happy place. I am married to a beautiful woman & have the most loving and caring family. Professionally, I wouldn’t trade my place with anyone in the world. More importantly, I have all my priorities straight.
I am evolving every day and I owe it all to this wonderful game called Cricket.