The curious case of the 3D Glasses – Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

Since the past two days, the cricketing world has been abuzz with the sudden retirement of Ambati Rayudu, who decided to hang up his boots after being snubbed by the selectors. Time and again, the BCCI and the Indian team management (read Kohli, Shastri and co) have made a mockery of their own people by taking ad-hoc decisions. Let’s take a look at the sequence of events leading to Rayudu’s shock retirement.

About a year ago, Kohli issued a statement that Rayudu is the answer to India’s middle order woes . Things were rosy until the New Zealand tour in January 2019 where Rayudu has scored a Man-of-the Match 90 after India were 18/4 and helped the team put up a good total. With just 5 ODIs to go in a home series against Australia , and an average of 48 with 3 centuries and 10 fifties , Rayudu looked to be a certainty at no.4 . But things didn’t go well in the home series against Australia. Rayudu couldn’t do much in the first two matches and he was dropped for the next three matches. Kohli did a U turn this time and said that the middle order needed “solidification”. In quite a few matches, Rayudu had failed to up the scoring in certain situations and I guess this had been his undoing. The Indian squad was named in the middle of the IPL and as per chairman of selectors MSK Prasad, the “3 dimensional” Vijay Shankar was selected over Rayudu and Rishabh Pant for the no.4 slot.

Then, came the “3-D” moment on Twitter. An understandably disappointed Rayudu tweeted that he had just ordered a set of 3D glasses to watch the World Cup. This was a tongue-in-cheek jibe at MSK Prasad’s justification. Rishabh Pant was silent on social media and continued his good form in the IPL and smashed a few fifties to build a strong case for himself. Both Rayudu and Pant were named in the reserve list for the World Cup. When Dhawan got injured, Pant was asked to join the squad. When Vijay Shankar got injured, out of nowhere, opener Mayank Agarwal , who was not even in the reserve list, got selected ahead of Rayudu and a day later, Rayudu announced his retirement.

Firstly, let’s try to understand the plausible explanation behind choosing Mayank over Rayudu. The middle order has always been a concern going into the World Cup. While Vijay Shankar was supposed to be the No.4 at the time of his selection, things changed in the warm-up matches. KL Rahul got a century at 4 in a practice match and became the default no.4 choice for the first two matches. Interestingly, Rahul had made it to the team as a third back-up opener. The 3-dimensional Shankar doesn’t play the first two matches. Dhawan’s injury forces Rahul to open the innings and Vijay Shankar gets back at no.4. He doesn’t do well in two matches and is replaced by Pant. Pant puts in a decent effort in both the matches. India’s weakest link expectedly has been the middle order with both Dhoni and Jadhav not in the best of form.

Despite all this, when Vijay Shankar gets ruled out, the selectors in consultation with the team management bring in Mayank. The explanation offered is Mayank is a back-up opener as Rahul has had an injury scare. Nothing wrong but is the opener the problem or the middle-order? From now onwards, there is  a 3 day gap between each match and in case Rahul unfortunately gets injured, the guy can always come in. Clearly, the selectors and the team management didn’t want Rayudu. Why pick him in the reserve list and not give him his due especially when a second player has got injured? The 3D comment seems to have hurt everyone’s ego and Rayudu seems to have been “punished”.

The problem does not lie with the axing of Rayudu. There has been no communication made to the player over why he was dropped. This is a typical problem which we also see in the corporate world. We do not want to be transparent. Bad news is communicated in the worst possible form ( the incumbent comes to know of it through public announcements). Had Rayudu been spoken to by the selectors, then I am sure the “3-D” tweet would not have come in. In retrospect, the tweet was Rayudu’s cricketing death-knell. Had both parties kept their egos aside, we could have seen an attempt to solve the middle -order problem in the larger interest of the team and the World Cup.

India needed an experienced proper no.4 going into the World Cup. The likes of Morgan and Steve Smith occupy this position. But our team management let ego come in the way and now we have a risky proposition again. Why pick Rayudu in the reserve list if he was never in contention? Why not pick Shreyas Iyer, Rahane, Manish Pandey etc in that case? The BCCI and the team management never seem to stop behaving like cartoons. The problem with the Kohli-Shastri regime is too many selection blunders have cost the team dearly in recent times ( Bhuvi was dropped in a South Africa test, Rohit Sharma played ahead of Rahane in the same series). Let’s hope that the middle-order does not come to haunt India in either the semis or the finals. If it does, Kohli has no one else to blame other than himself. Ego and flawed logic can cost us the World Cup.

Let’s come back to Rayudu. Once he had been dropped from the squad, he could have just stayed silent and let his bat do the talking. But instead, he did the exact opposite. I wish he had consulted some senior player like VVS Laxman before tweeting. VVS was dropped from the 2003 World Cup but chose to put his disappointment behind and represented the county till 2013. Knee-jerk reactions backfire more often than not. The best way to weather a storm is to let it pass and live to fight another day. But Rayudu decided to be a social media hero.

This is not the first time Rayudu has reacted emotionally when the going became tough. Rayudu was tipped to be the next Tendulkar in his under -19 days. But he had a few disappointing Ranji seasons and had a brawl on the cricket pitch with Arjun Yadav, Shivlal Yadav’s ( former chairman of selectors) son. Amidst all this , he decided to join the rebel ICL at age 25. The others who joined were either India discards or people who had a very remote chance of playing for India. Rayudu was the surprise as he still had age on his side and one good Ranji season could have brought his national team aspirations back on track. But he decided to give in to the lure of playing with international players on prime time TV.

The Rayudu story is a classic case of everything wrong with Indian cricket. Talent needs to be nurtured and given a long rope. There should be a systematic assessment of the junior cricketers with specific performance plans for at least the first three years of transition from under-19. Everyone wants ready-made talent without wanting to invest time. Transparency in communicating decisions needs to happen. Indian society never celebrates failed attempts. Failures are still a problem and looked down upon. By incurring the wrath of the selectors and the team management, Rayudu’s future cricket options have also become bleak. This scenario could have been easily avoided if there were transparent chats and personalized counselling given. But since we cannot take sarcasm with a pinch of salt, we make a mess of things. The World Cup will soon be over and Rayudu will be a forgotten man but unless Indian cricket makes a systemic correction and works on logic, merit rather than ad-hoc random choices, we will continue to see such sad ends to cricketing careers. Rayudu for his bad reactions is equally to blame in this case but seeking advice would have been better for the overall benefit of Indian cricket.

Let’s hope that the middle order ghost doesn’t re-surface in the semis or the finals. Kohli and Rohit will have to continue amassing runs in these two games and hopefully, Pant, Dhoni and co will make bigger contributions. Else, the Men in Blue will bleed and the Shastri/Kohli/MSK trio will have no option but to wear 3D glasses on their return flight.

Jai Hind

281 & Beyond – Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

VVS Laxman was a soft-spoken and shy cricketer during his playing days. When I picked up his autobiography – “281 and Beyond”, I did not expect anything different. However, Laxman pours his heart out in a very candid and genuine account of his life and the book makes for a nice and inspiring read.

The book starts off with Laxman taking us through one of the most inspirational moments in Indian cricket history – the 281 Test Match at Eden Gardens in 2001. With Australia having won 16 successive Tests and enforced a follow-on, India’s chances of saving the Test were one-in-a million. But cricketers like Laxman and Dravid come once in a lifetime. India were at 232/4 when Dravid had joined Laxman and when Laxman departed, the score read 608/5. McGrath, Warne, Gillespie and Kasprowicz were taken to the cleaners. Australia lost 7 wickets in the last session of the last day and India had pulled off a sensational victory. Since then, Indian cricket’s fortunes changed and under Ganguly, the team reached new heights.

Laxman recalls how he had almost missed that match due to a back problem and how Andrew Leipus (then physio) and God ensured that he played the match and re-wrote history. Reading this chapter made me take a trip down memory lane – I was in class 8 when 281 happened and we were all in shock and awe at the turn of events on day 4 of the match. After that victory, Indian cricket under Ganguly reached new heights and India became a force to reckon with in Test cricket away from home as well. There is an interesting anecdote mentioned where Ganguly, decides not to expose Harbhajan Singh further in a warm-up game before the start of the series, after seeing him bamboozle the Aussies in the first innings of the match. Harbhajan gets picked in the squad and doesn’t bowl in the second innings. It gives an insight into the planning that goes behind-the-scenes. Laxman also analyzes the captaincy and mindset of legendary cricketers like Sachin, Sourav, Rahul, Anil and MSD, having played under all of them.

Born in a middle-class family to doctor parents, Laxman talks about how he had to make some difficult career choices – to skip pursuing medicine for the sake of cricket. He also gives a vivid account of his journey in his club cricket days – how being the junior most team member, he would religiously lay down the mat on the pitch and take it as a learning ritual without any cribbing. His Ranji trophy journey of building a career brick-by-brick and putting in the hard work day in and day out , the importance of a mentor ( his uncle) is a lesson for every youngster that there is no substitute for hard work.

Although Laxman was a middle-order batsman in first-class cricket, he was selected as a Test opener in his initial years as that was the only slot available. Playing for the country overcomes individual aspirations and while opening was not his natural game, he still tried his best and came up with a few good knocks. After a few years as an opener, a frustrated Laxman decides enough is enough, puts his foot down and convinces the team management that he is best suited in the middle order. This part of the book makes for an interesting read as it reveals a tenacious and gritty side of VVS, which is not known to many.

Laxman also speaks his mind regarding the match-fixing controversy and the Greg Chappell era. His take on Greg Chappell’s “divide and rule” style of management is candid as well as shocking to read. Like all sportspersons, he also has had his share of disappointments. He pours out his frustrations at not being selected for the 2003 World Cup and not able to win a Ranji Trophy championship for Hyderabad. He also talks about his unwavering belief in God helps him tide through various setbacks in his career.

For a man who averages 46 in Test cricket, with 135 catches, 17 centuries and close to 9000 runs, Laxman’s place was always under the scanner. Despite that, Laxman has featured in quite a few victories – Johannesburg ( where he played with the tail to set up a huge lead), a last-wicket victory with Pragyan Ojha and Ishant Sharma against the Aussies in Mohali, the famous Adelaide win in 2003 with Dravid are some of the ones he recalls. His last match was in Adelaide and it feels sad that he could not play his farewell match on Indian soil. Laxman also describes the mixed emotions in announcing his retirement just ahead of a home Test series against New Zealand.

Unlike a few autobiographies which tend towards self-glorification, this one is a genuine and honest account of a cricketer who made it big with his hard work, dedication and commitment, became a household name after 281, had an up and down journey but was always humble , simple and genuine. A man who gave up his status as an “icon” player so that his IPL franchisee could use the money for buying players, a man respected for his behavior on and off the pitch, a man who took his father’s words “The profession doesn’t glorify you.. YOU glorify the profession” and gave it meaning, Laxman will always hold a “Very Very Special” place in every Indian cricket fan’s heart. “281 and Beyond” is a reflection of this selfless cricketer. It’s a must read for cricket fans.

Jai Hind

In Memory of RCB : Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

Disclaimer : The below blog is not to be taken seriously.  It’s meant for pure fun.

Having run out of ideas for my weekly blog, I asked my friend Deepak for suggestions for a blog topic. Instantly his reply came “ Bhai, RCB pey ek funny blog ho jaaye” Initially, I thought it would be wrong on my part to make fun of my home team – the Royal Challengers Bangalore but after seeing King Kohli’s unwavering faith in giving Umesh Yadav the last over in every match despite him being consistently clobbered for 20 plus runs in every last over in 3 consecutive matches, I decided to take a shot at it. The cricketing world was discussing Ashwin “Mankading” Butler a few weeks ago. Sunil Gavaskar made a very interesting comment on why poor Vinoo Mankad’s name has to be attached to a case of a bowler running the non-striker out while delivering the ball. I completely agree with Sunny bhai, but after Umesh Yadav’s consistent last over disasters, I think we should have a new term coined for bowlers who get blasted in the last over – “Yadav-ed” Imagine the headlines reading – “RCB gets Yadav-ed by Dhoni”,  “ Russell Yadavs Malinga” One of my friends on Facebook Mohit Dayal had posted an amazing status message, which I think should be declared as the FB status message of the year – “ A few years later, when Kohli publishes his autobiography , we will come to know the thinking and the logic behind why he keeps giving Umesh Yadav the last over even though he consistently gets whacked”. The funny part about Umesh Yadav’s death bowling is there is not away a 10% probability that he will bowl a Yorker. Most of his deliveries are either good length balls or full tosses. Umesh had 26 runs to defend off the last over in the recent match against CSK with Dhoni on strike. While Dhoni deserves due credit for smashing 24 off runs off the first 5 balls – 2 sixes and 3 fours, Umesh Yadav deserves equal credit for bowling lolly-pop balls. With 2 runs to get off the last ball, he bowled a slightly wider slower short ball. I think it slipped out of his hand and therefore he was saved , else the ball would have landed on the usual slot. That over prompted by wife to remark “ Haar kar jeetne waale ko Baazigar kehte honge.. but jeet kar harne wale ko Umesh Yadav kehte hain”

Umesh Yadav is a very good bowler first up as he gets the ball to move. He was the second highest wicket-taker in last year’s IPL. But last year, he used to finish his quota of overs well before the slog. I guess the RCB management did not have time to look at last year’s analysis.  Also, the great Umesh had “Yadav-ed” an international T20 against Aussies in Bangalore in February as well. With 16 runs to go off 2 overs, Jasprit Bumrah had bowled a dream penultimate over conceding just two runs. With 14 runs to defend, Team India got Yadav-ed by the Aussie tailenders Jhye Richardson and Pat Cummins who were both new at the crease. The guy is a good bowler but not at the death overs.

RCB’s problems in the IPL were not only restricted to their death bowling. Most teams in the IPL this year had their share of problems, but generally they had one or two bases covered. For example, Sun Risers Hyderabad had a great opening combination and a decent bowling unit, but their middle order was non-existent. Similarly, CSK’s spinners were outstanding, but their top order misfired more often than not. RCB was the only team which screwed up every base miserably in all three departments – batting, bowling and fielding. Let’s start with fielding. In the first six matches which they lost on the trot, their catching record was an astonishing 50%. They had dropped every second catch. Their bowling leaked 12+ runs an over in the death overs. In batting, Parthiv was their top run-getter despite having stalwarts like Kohli, AB, Hetmyar, Stoinis and Moeen Ali.

The joke going around on Instagram is that the only good thing about RCB this season has been their Instagram page. Their social media marketing team has displayed greater passion than a few of the players. Their catchy theme anthem “ Yahaan Kohli hai..aur ABD… RCB rey RCB” was a big hit and drew fans into the stadium. The average ticket price for RCB matches was a whopping 2000+ but still the fans filled up every match. Their team selection was baffling. Poor Prayas Ray Burman, the youngest IPL player, got dropped after just one match, whereas the great Siraj flopped match after match but was continued. After 8 or 9 matches, the RCB management woke up and realized they had an India international player called Washington Sundar amidst them and he did well in the last three matches  Him being dropped at the expense of Pawan Negi for the initial few games was just inexplicable. I guess the management would have missed his name as names starting with W would have figured on the back page of the A4 size team list paper. In the first four matches, they had three different opening combinations. Their bad luck with injuries ensured Dale Steyn spent more time in his to-and-fro flight than on the pitch.

I think Kohli’s favorite book is “Fooled by Randomness”. This possibly explains why a random player Akashdeep Nath, whose batted more like Alok Nath, was persisted for three to four matches. I think the root cause of this would have been the franchisee auction where the think-tank would have just gone off to have Royal Challenge after having retained Kohli and AB. The others were just placeholders to make up the numbers. . I think the RCB fund managers in the IPL auction were given a wrong KRA. “ In 20 crores, ensure Kohli and ABD are retained. The balance money can be used to stack up Royal Challenge for posterity”.  The name Royal Challengers is an oxymoron for their performance as neither were they serious challengers nor did they play in a royal manner.

If SRH had openers Warner and Bairstow mopping up century partnerships, RCB gave a handsome reply with Umesh and Siraj scoring century partnerships with their bowling heroics. The lack of faith in Karnataka talent was evident in the number of Karnataka players doing well for other franchisees – KL Rahul, Shreyas Gopal, K Gowtham , Prasidh Krishna , Mayank Agarwal and Manish Pandey. Initially, I used to get frustrated with RCB’s performance but after a point, it became a comedy of errors. Kohli’s routine post match interviews blasting his players seemed more interesting than the actual match. After a point, poor Kohli had gotten tired giving post-match interviews as the losing captain and he jjust wished to have a recording of his interview played. Even Ian Bishop, the commentator started taking his case when he said he was getting bored interviewing Kohli as the losing captain.

That’s it folks. This was just a short cynical rant about RCB by a die-hard Kohli fan. I am sure Kohli and boys will be back next season to entertain us royally. I am sure every opposition captain must be using the following quote to motivate their team for an RCB

“ Darr Key aage jeet hai. Jeet key peeche RCB hai

Wahan Kohli hai aur ABD.. Koi nai, woh aakhirhai RCB”

Jai Hind

P.S : If you guys can suggest some topics to blog about, it will be great

Sachiin …. Sachiin : Birthday Specials – Blog series

On this day 45 years ago (the 24th of April, 1973), if someone had told you that a middle class Indian, a student of Sharadashram Vidyamandir School, would go on to become one of India’s greatest ever cricket inspirations, what would be your thoughts? Impossible, isn’t it? International cricket for a period of 23 years, from the age of 16, 50 plus scores in a one-day game every 3rd match, the only one to score 100 centuries in international cricket.. the list of records is endless. But Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is much more than records. For those born in the 80s and 90s , Sachin was fulfilling every middle class Indian’s dreams. Post liberalization in 91, a young and aspirational India wanted a middle-class hero, who could conquer the world and more importantly, our hearts. I don’t think a single cricketer in the 90s has generated as much discussion and debate as much as SRT. Because of him, Jonty Rhodes was a villain for many Indians for a controversial catch in Durban in a tri-series. Because of him, Steve Bucknor was a villain for bad umpiring decisions. Because of him, tonnes of electricity were consumed as well as saved depending on him getting out or otherwise. For a generation, he was the only hope. With each passing day, the hopes and expectations only increased, the debates only increased – did he choke in finals, was he not a finisher, could he not carry the team through in tense matches…

For a hardcore Sachin fan, it did not matter. Every time he was criticized, he let his bat do the talking. Some critics started saying that he plays only for his records and most centuries are in a losing cause. The job of a critic is to criticize, make a mountain out of a mole-hill. 15 Man of the Series awards, 62 Man of the match awards with 90% + Indian victories, Man of the Match award against every one of the ICC Full Members, a lunch with Sir Don Bradman. Unlike certain cricketers who had weaknesses in certain countries, Sachin conquered every country. The tougher the pitch, the more graceful the innings. Perth , Lords, Newlands, MCG, Manchester, Hamilton – name the ground, name the team – you would have SRT associated with it. While it’s easy to find faults, what people forget is the consistency amidst the weight of expectations. I can’t recollect a batsman who was so consistent in his era – an era dominated by Wasim, Waqar, Walsh, Ambrose, Warne, McGrath, Murali and Donald. The 90s had some of the most ferocious cricketers playing for their countries. And at the big stage, the World Cup, Sachin upped his game even more. Again, critics complained of his ability to come poor in semi-finals and finals. But what gets forgotten is the fact that he was majorly responsible for taking the country till that stage. For a decade, the country could not muster a batsman who was 50% close to his abilities. Despite that, India had a near invincible record at home and a miserable one away. Sourav and Rahul finally came on-board and then things started to change. Because of this man, a seemingly unknown injury known as “tennis elbow” got national importance. There was a time when he could do no wrong, on and off the field. He started being called as “God”.

God was quite a nickname for a cricketer. Initially, I didn’t understand what this God business was all about. My first Sachin memory was the 1996 world Cup. The stumping off Jayasuriya in the semi-final against Sri Lanka cost us the game. He had scored 60 odd in a total score of 130. Like the critics, I thought Sachin would never play in a big match. Then Desert Storm happened in Sharjah. Then came a Henry Olonga massacre. Then a 136 with a stiff back in Chepauk. That was the first time I cried after seeing India lose to Pakistan. With a stiff back and 270 to chase in the fourth innings, India was tottering at 82/5. I was waiting to switch off the TV but it was Sachin who prevented me. Nayan Mongia decided to give support and Sachin took India to 254/6. With 16 runs left, Sachin got out to Saqlain Mushtaq. Most Indians knew the match was over. The next three wickets fell in the space of 4 runs and India snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and lost by 12 runs. Sachin had lost the match but won a billion hearts.

But Sachin would hurt the Pakistanis 5 years later. He reserved his best for the 2003 World Cup battle with Pakistan at Centurion. Wasim, Waqar, Shoaib and co were punished duly. 98 off 75 balls but there was a game changing moment in the match. While on 32, Abdur Razzaq dropped Sachin off Wasim Akram. An exasperated Akram shouted “ Tujhe pata hai tu ney kiska catch choda hai?” That summed up the status of SRT in his heyday. By that time, Sehwag, Yuvraj and Kaif had arrived but Sachin was the big fish. It was my Maths exam the next day and most of my college mates, like me,decided to chuck the preparation and see the match. That was the power of Sachin and an Indo-Pak match.

When MS Dhoni arrived, he very rightly chose to do away with senior cricketers who were liabilities on the field. Sourav went first, followed by Anil and Rahul. But Sachin was in a different league. Till his last date, his fielding or batting was never a question. His commitment was 250%. That was the power of the man. Barring Glenn McGrath, I don’t think any bowler has “troubled” him per se. Warne was taken to the cleaners. Murali was out-batted. The others didn’t matter. Most people think Dhoni has invented the helicopter shot. But true Sachin fans have seen this shot in the Natwest Trophy 2003 against England where Sachin helicopters Darren Gough over midwicket. All these made me think Sachin was God.

But God has a way of showing mortals why God is God. The Ferrari car controversy where Sachin refused to pay some gift tax initially, the Rajya Sabha disaster, his failure as a captain twice were all God’s way of showing us that every human is fallible. Despite this, every Sachin fan hoped that he would be part of at least one World Cup winning team. That moment arrived in 2011 and Sachin should thank Gambhir and Dhoni for pulling India out of trouble. I guess God had smiled on him finally. It was only fitting that a young Virat Kohli carried Sachin on his shoulders that night at the Wankhede with the ever-familiar shouts of “Sachiiin… Sachiiin” That shout from the audience is much more than a shout. It means various things to various people – adulation, hope, inspiration, magic, glory, beauty, finesse, perfection, consistency, humility and idol worship. To say that his last international speech was emotional is an understatement. He couldn’t script his farewell with a century but he had done enough for a nation starved of sporting heroes in the 90s.

I can go on and on about this man but I have to stop. Stop because I am lucky to share my birthday with him and I must spend time with family on this special day. As I turn 32 and Sachin 45, I only hope that one day our paths will cross and I take a selfie with him. That is definitely high on my bucket-list. Even better if we both cut a cake jointly. I hope God fulfills my dream. Until then, I will keep staring daily at his portrait on my wall ( my wife gifted me a sketch by The Hindu where his 100 centuries are written as his face outline) and keep saying….

“Sachiiin.. Sachiiin”

SRT – thanks for the memories

Jai Hind

Throwback : Aamir Sohail vs Venkatesh Prasad: Freaky Fridays – weekly blog

If God had given me a wish to become someone for a few minutes, I think it would have been Venkatesh Prasad in the 15th over on March 9th, 1996 .

Last Saturday, the 9th of March , marked the 23rd anniversary one of the most inspirational cricket comebacks by a bowler – Venkatesh Prasad vs Aamir Sohail. Only those Cricket fans who have watched this moment live either in stadium or TV will be able to appreciate the magnitude of this moment.

The 1996 cricket world Cup was the first one for me.  My dad used to subscribe to The Sportstar magazine. I loved their colourful sports visuals. I remember the 96 Cricket World Cup exclusive edition where it had profiled all 12 teams playing the World Cup. The Sportstar was rooting for an India Pakistan final. It used the words “mouth-watering contest”. I could not fathom why an India-Pakistan cricket match was being hyped so much. But I was sucked into all the hype as I started following the World Cup and hoped to see an Indo-Pak final.

Powered by Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, India finished third in Group B having won against Kenya, Zimbabwe and the West Indies. Sachin’s heroics went in vain against the Aussies and the Lankans. Pakistan in Group B had defeated everyone except South Africa. So, on the 9th of March 1996, a Saturday , A2 and B3 squared off against each other. The Hindu’s sports page headline screamed “The match of the tournament today!!” I just couldn’t understand what the hype was all about.

Mohammed Azharuddin won the toss and decided to bat. The crowd at the Chinnaswamy Bangalore had already let out a huge roar when the coin fell in India’s favour. I just couldn’t get why cricket crazy fans went berserk at just the toss. Sachin and Navjot Sidhu got India off to a great start. India had gone to 90/0 in 21 overs when disaster struck. Sachin chopped one on to his stumps off Ata-ur-Rahman. At 90/1, with Sachin gone, I almost wanted to switch off the TV. But Indo-Pak matches were just not about one individual. Navjot Singh Sidhu, decided to play one of the best innings of his career and made 93 fighting runs. By the time Sidhu got out , India were 168/3 in the 36th over. Azhar was looking extremely good but he fell to a great catch by the keeper Rashid Latif off Waqar Younis. The score was 200/4 in the 42nd over. In those days , 270 plus was a decent score. In walked Ajay Jadeja at 6. Vinod Kambil got out at 234/5 in 46.3 overs. With 21 balls to go, 30 runs was a decent achievement against Waqar and co and 265 was something which could have given the bowlers a chance. Jadeja was losing partners at the other end. India had plummeted to 239/6 at the end of 47 overs.

Waqar Younis, in those days was feared world over for his toe-crushing yorkers. Anil Kumble, the local boy, lofted Waqar over mid off for a boundary. The roar was back at the Chinnaswamy. The legendary Tony Greig screamed “Anil Kumble – Get ready for a blistering Yorker on middle stump”. I guess Kumble heard those words. The length was just two inches short of a Yorker. Kumble played a glorious flick through mid-wicket for four. Waqar was clearly rattled. Kumble took a single the next ball. Waqar decided to bowl a Yorker on the off side to Jadeja. Jadeja creamed it along extra cover for four. The first 5 balls of the over read 3,4,4,1,4. 16 off 5 balls against Waqar Younis. Jadeja was not finished yet. Waqar with all his might bowled a toe-crusher on middle stump. I thought Jadeja’s middle stump would be uprooted. But Ajay Jadeja was in a different zone that day. He had read Waqar’s mind ,  took a step back on the crease , created the elevation and flicked the ball over mid-wicket for six. The Chinnaswamy was in raptures. 22 off Waqar’s over and India had moved to 258/6 after 48 !!! The 49th over produced 11 runs and India were 269/6. It was a good score already, but Jadeja was not done yet. Waqar steamed in. The ball was a length ball on off stump;Jadeja moved to the leg side and caressed him over point for four. The next ball was despatched over long off for 6. 10 off 2 balls. Waqar had lost the plot. Jadeja with his unconventional feet movement of moving to the leg side had got the better off Waqar. He got out the next ball but Ajay Jadeja’s 26 ball 45 with 2 sixes and 4 boundaries (all off Waqar’s bowling ) till date, remains one of the most inspirational cameos in World Cup history. India ended with 287/6. Pakistan were fined an over for slow over rate and their target was 288/6 in 49 overs. What a finale to the Indian innings !!!

The Pakistani openers Aamir Sohail ( stand-in captain for the injured Wasim Akram) and Saeed Anwar, got the team off to a flyer. 50 came in the 7th over, 84/0 at the end of 10. The bowlers were being flayed to all parts of the ground. The Chinnaswamy had gone silent. I almost wanted to switch off the TV, but always had a hope that all it takes was one wicket to get India back into the game. It had been a miserable start by the Indian bowlers. Saeed Anwar got out to Srinath at 84/1 but Aamir Sohail was still going strong. Pakistan crossed 100 in the 14th over and Sohail got to his 50. Sohail was slowly but surely taking away the match from India. 14 overs 104/1 . 185 off 35 overs required ( less than 6 runs per over). I felt sad for Jadeja, Sidhu and all the others who had helped India reach 287.

Venkatesh Prasad came running in to bowl the 15th over. Ijaz Ahmed took 5 runs off the first 2 balls Pak 110/1 at 14.2. Quite fittingly, the two commentators on the mic were Ravi Shastri and Imran Khan. The next 2 balls were dot balls.

14.5 Prasad bowled a back of length ball. Sohail flat-batted it between point and cover for a four. However, Sohail did something which stunned everyone. Sohail walked down to Prasad, pointed his finger in the direction of the boundary either in arrogance or in triumph. He did not know the impact of that small action on various individuals in the minutes, months and days to come. Little did I imagine that Aaamir Sohail’s seemingly innocuous act would change the game for me forever. At this point, I was feeling angry for Sohail’s act. I felt that Sohail was pointing a finger at Indians. I felt I was Venkatesh Prasad and I was being embarrassed. I never thought I would get so involved in an innocuous match. Now I started to understand why The Hindu headline screamed “The Match of the Tournament today”. I really wanted to slap Aamir Sohail if he was right in front of me at that moment. The fact that India Pakistan as neighbouring countries had a tense history only added fuel to the fire and added to the drama. I am sure every Indian cricket fan watching the match seriously would have wanted to beat up Sohail for his seemingly arrogant act. My dad was frowning. The crowd was somewhere between booing and shouting. Amidst all this Ravi Shastri screamed “What is Prasad going to do?”

Ball 14.6 India vs Pakistan – World Cup quarter-final – March 9th 1996 – Venkatesh Prasad against Aamir Sohail….

Prasad came in running, Sohail tried to move away and repeat the previous boundary shot and missed the length. Credit to Prasad, he held his nerve and bowled a “you miss, I hit “ ball and the rest as they say is history. Venkatesh Prasad sent Aamir Sohail’s stumps cartwheeling out of the ground and gave him a fitting reply – he signaled him off to the pavilion. The Chinnaswamy erupted. My dad jumped from his chair and angrily clenched his fist and said “BC .. bahut akkad mey tha Sohail.. Ab kya ukhaadega Pakistan”.  Ravi Shastri screamed “And he’s bowled him!! India are right back in the game”. I was like a fool jumping up and down with joy with both my hands raised. I went to my dad and gave him a hi-fi. I had never done this before and after. This was like a Eureka moment for me and I felt like I had conquered Mount Everest. I could not imagine that a cricket match could invoke so much emotion in me. Post Sohail’s wicket, Pakistan fell like a pack of cards. When Sohail departed, their run rate was 7.16 per over and the required rate was 5.23 per over. But Sohail’s lapse in concentration ensured he not only gifted his wicket, but also gifted the momentum to India. Rashid Latif, Salim Malik and Javed Miandad tried to make a match of it but Venkatapathy Raju, Kumble and Prasad ensured India had the last laugh. Navjot Sidhu was adjudged ” man of the match ” for his valiant 93 but to me, Venkatesh Prasad for his 3/45 off 10 was the “Inspirational Indian of the Match “.

Like in every match, there’s always a turning point in one’s life. The difference between movie heroes and sporting heroes is that sports heroes are for real. When the going gets tough, those who are mentally tough keep calm and continue to do the basics right. They put their past behind and work on the next ball. Thinking about the past is of no use as it is already gone. Those who hold their nerve under pressure, when their backs are to the wall ,and do the simple things right stand out in a crowd.

Venkatesh Prasad became one of my all time favourite bowlers, because in the highest-pressure cooker situations, he would save his best for Pakistan. In the 1999 World Cup, he took 5/27. Prasad, Sachin, Kumble and Sourav would always reserve their best for Pakistan. Venkatesh Prasad is a highly under-rated but a highly inspirational medium fast bowler India has produced. He may not have the highest wickets like Kapil or Anil, but he has a special place amongst cricket fans who have followed Indo-Pak World Cup matches.

Venkatesh Prasad – you have given me one of my most inspirational cricketing moments. You made me forget who I was and what I was doing for those few minutes. If somebody can do that, it means s/he has impacted you. That’s why I love watching sports live as sport is so unpredictable and the sheer joy of watching David win over Goliath is amazing. I felt lucky that I had watched this inspirational moment live on TV. Luckier were those who were there at the Chinnaswamy. India lost in the semis to Lanka but for most Indians, the World Cup was already won in their hearts as we had beaten Pakistan.   God’s 98 off 75 at Centurion, Desert Storm, a Very Very Special 281 and  Dhoni’s 6 to finish off 2011 WC come close but nothing has surpassed this for me.

If God had given me a wish to become someone for a few minutes, I think it would have been Venkatesh Prasad in the 15th over on March 9th, 1996 .

Jai Hind