Turning Point: Super Sundays – Sunday Blog

12th March 2001. Close of Day 2. The Indian team had put in a meek response at 128/8 to the invincible Aussie’s (16 wins on the trot before this match) first innings score of 445. The next day, they had folded up for 171. 1-0 behind in the series and forced to follow-on with a deficit of 274 runs, a meek surrender looked imminent. In the entire history of Test cricket, only twice before had a team secured a victory after following -on. The previous instance was in 1981.

When Sachin and Sourav got out leaving India at 232/4 in the second innings, the little hopes an ever-optimistic Indian cricket fan like me had, of salvaging a face-saving draw seemed to be fading way.  Warne, Gillespie, Kasprowicz and McGrath just needed one more wicket to get into the Indian tail. Just one more wicket…. Rahul Dravid had come in at an unfamiliar no.6 to join the in-form VVS Laxman who had already scored a century by then. Close of Day 3- India’s score was 254/4. Decent fightback but definitely didn’t look good enough.

It all looked way too familiar. Lot of promise but not enough to get a positive result. Before the start of the series, India were supposed to give a tough fight to the Aussies and prevent them from conquering the Final Frontier. It had been 30 years since an Aussie team had won a Test Series on Indian soil. As expected, the Aussies were right on top and chipping away. Just one wicket separated them from getting close to a series victory. India’s bowling attack in the series was severely depleted with Srinath and Kumble out injured. Venkatapathy Raju and a rookie Harbhajan Singh and were leading the spin attack. So there seemed to be no way India could manage a draw. A victory was out of the question. If someone would have asked Sourav Ganguly at end of day 3, on how his team planned to win this match, I am sure he wouldn’t have had a ready answer.

Just one wicket and it was game, set, match and series the next day for the Aussies. Except that the elusive wicket never came on Day 4 for the Aussies. Session after session, VVS and Dravid took the attack back to the Aussies. They didn’t offer a single chance. They did one thing – stuck their neck out and refused to give up even when everything seemed lost. It was not just talent and technique, but also about resilience and determination. McGrath, Warne and co were sent on a leather hunt for the entire day. How many times in the history of cricket have we witnessed 0 wickets on Day 4 of a Test match, with a team following on? 254/4 at end of day 3 became 589/4 at end of day 4.

Let’s pause here for a moment. At the end of day 3, various things would have been going through the minds of these two gentlemen. VVS in his autobiography 281 & Beyond talks about how he and Dravid had planned the next day..or rather not planned the next day. They just decided to take it session by session, without thinking about the outcome. And in the end, the outcome became a part of history. That partnership gave confidence and the Aussies cracked under pressure. They couldn’t last 75 overs on Day 5 and India went on to win the series. That partnership was the turning point of the match, series and paved the way for a resurrection for Indian cricket after all the lows of the match fixing scandal a few months back. Under Ganguly, the Indian team reached new highs – winning matches on foreign soil and playing a fearless brand of aggressive cricket.

Day 4, Eden Gardens , 15th March 2001 became a turning point for Indian cricket. More importantly, VVS and Dravid had converted a crisis into a turning point from which there was no looking back.

Have you had a turning point moment in your life/ career already? Look back and reflect. If the answer is yes, you have already become a hero. Look back at what worked for you and feel proud. Share it with me if you are comfortable doing so. Would love to feature some of these in subsequent blogs.

If no, even better. You will soon have an opportunity to become a hero like VVS and Dravid.If you are currently in a crisis situation, think of Day 4 – Eden 2001. Just don’t worry about the situation or the outcome. Easier said than done, especially in an Indian context where since childhood, highest emphasis has generally been given on outcomes over processes and learnings. I must confess even I have found this tough to implement. One hack is to keep yourself distracted in chores, activities, movies, work, exercise, learning , music etc so that you don’t have time to think about outcomes.  

There is another additional thing you can do – you can just hang in there without giving up. The law of averages and outcomes will be forced to favour you eventually if you don’t give up. One session, hour, day at a time.  The current pandemic is being harsh on everybody, in different capacities – personal and professional. But this can also become a turning point for each of us to become heroes in our own way. The measure and method of success for this can only be decided by you alone – without the need for external validation.

Standing in the hall of fame
And the world’s gonna know your name
‘Cause you burn with the brightest flame
And the world’s gonna know your name

Listen to this song “Hall of Fame” by The Script if you haven’t.

Be a champion. Be resilient. The world is yours for the taking.

Dil Chahta Hai – Super Sundays – Weekly Blog

This New Year’s eve was a “different” celebration for us. In 2017, we had attended a party at Radisson Hyderabad and in 2018, we had rung in the new Year in a resort in Alibaug.  When 2019 arrived, my wife was less than two months to deliver so we had a “Monopoly” party with our cousins at our place. I had missed most of the Monopoly game as I was in a month-end sales closure and was busy shouting away on my phone in the hope that we could get as close to our targets as possible. Amidst all the shouting( you guessed right- it didn’t help in meeting the targets), New Year arrived and we hoped for a great 2019.

2019 was a great year on the personal front as we welcomed our little angel in February. Time literally flew and before we realized, she turned 10 months old. Seeing her smile is the biggest stress-buster for all of us. Our schedules and in turn our lives now revolve around her. My wife and me haven’t woken up past 7 am at all, haven’t gone to a movie theatre together, have gone out a handful of times in the whole year but we don’t have any regrets about any of these. So, we decided to have a “silent Party this New Year’s Eve. While a majority of the world around us was celebrating New Year either heading out, doing house-parties, holidaying abroad or attending apartment organized celebrations, we decided to order food (Biryani, Coke, Kurkure and Gems) and watch a movie on Netflix. The little one was asleep by 8 pm and we didn’t want to disturb her sleep. We watched Dil Chahta Hai. At the stroke of midnight, we wished each other Happy New Year and continued watching the movie.

I have never been a fan of New Year Resolutions and have never bothered to make one. This year, for a change, I resolved to write a blog on New Year’s day and all major holidays. Jinxed as it may sound, I watched Dil Chahta Hai and slept around 2 am. The New Year blog became a dream. And I have decided to go back to “no New Year resolutions”.

While Dil Chahta Hai screwed my new year blog plan, it did give me something to write about this week. My blog frequency has been very irregular of late and unless there is a special stimulus, I somehow am not able to get myself to write at the frequency I would like to. Dil Chahta Hai is the stimulus for this week’s blog.

Its almost close to 20 years since the release of Dil Chahta Hai but the movie still remains close to my heart. For all those born in the 80s, this was a cult “coming-of-age” movie. The movie was a rage in those days for various reasons – the iconic scene where the lead trio of  Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan and Akshay Khanna  chlli out in Chapora Fort , Goa; Shankar- Ehsaan- Loy’s soulful music , the designer clothes worn by the stars , the scenic locales of Australia and the performances by the lead cast.

Despite it being his first movie as a writer-cum-director, Farhan Akhtar could bring out different themes and emotions in the movie with finesse (friendship, love, family, tradition etc).  The characters in the movie were easily relatable -Saif’s portrayal as a happy-go-lucky guy who always gets booted out by women, Aamir as the guy who doesn’t believe in love and Preity Zinta as the opposite to this.

To me, though, the stand-out performers were Akshaye Khanna and Dimple Kapadia.

20 years ago, for Bollywood to talk about a relationship between a young man and a woman old enough to be his mother was a big deal. The maturity displayed by these two characters was exceptional. Boundaries were pushed but, in the end, Farhan Akhtar decided not to go overboard and the climax with the respect to the status of their relationship was a “safe” ending.

20 years later, Saif, Farhan and Aamir are still going strong but unfortunately Akshay Khanna hasn’t done justice to his potential as an actor. Some of his roles in movies like Humraaz, Race 1 were amazing but beyond that , either he hasn’t got good scripts or his choice of movies wasn’t great. Wish we could have seen more of his acting prowess.

After the release of Dil Chahta Hai, The “bald Akshay Khanna” look suddenly became cool , after this movie, along with Aamir’s “Spike” cut. Farhan also ensured that the movie had enough masala to become a typical Bollywood entertainer. Dil Chahta Hai had class written all over it.

The lyrics of the title track are deep. If you have a close set of friends , these lines will strike a chord

Dil Chahta Hai, Hum Na Rahein Kabhi Yaaron Ke Bin

Din Din Bhar Ho Pyaari Baatein

Jhoome Shaame, Gaaye Raatein

Masti Mein Rahe Dooba Dooba Hameshaa Samaa

Humko Raahon Mein Yoonhi Milti Rahein Khushiyaan

And for those who are worrying about the future holds in store, including the year 2020, these lines from the same track are bliss:

Kaisa Ajab Yeh Safar Hai, Socho To Har Ik Hi Bekhabar Hai

Usko Jaana Kidhar Hai, Jo Waqt Aaye, Jaane Kya Dikhaaye

Oh Oh Oh ….

Cheers to a great 2020. May the New Year bring a lot of joy to all of us.

Jo Hum Chaahein, Voh Hum Paayein
Masti Mein Rahe Dooba Dooba Hameshaa Samaa
Humko Raahon Mein Yoonhi Milti Rahein Khushiyaan

Dil Chahta Hai

What happens in Vegas – Super Sundays – Weekly Blog

My first international trip was to Las Vegas in November 2014. Never in my wildest of dreams did I imagine that I would be going to Vegas so early in my career, at the age of 27. I was one of the 30 Area Sales Managers from across the country who had qualified for this trip organized by Mahindra for exceeding sales targets. It was a week long trip to the U.S with 2 days in LA and 4 nights in Vegas. Till date, the memories of this trip are fresh in my mind.

Aerial View
With ex-colleagues from Mahindra Auto

Our stay in Vegas was organized at The Venetian. It was a resort cum casino. In Vegas, every place is a casino first. The ambience of all the casinos has been cleverly planned in such a way that you will never come to know the time of the day , once you get involved. The lighting stays the same all through. The noise outside is cut off, food and drinks are served at the table continuously. Everything is done to ensure that you don’t move out from the table once you are in. It is truly a different experience. When we first sat at one of the tables, we did not realize that five hours had passed by. Such is the lure and aura of the casinos in Vegas.

The Venetian , eponymously, has been modelled on Venice. There are a few artificial boatways connecting two parts of the resort. The experience at the resort was truly world-class , with easy access to all the major attractions. The Venetian is part of the Vegas Strip. The Vegas Strip is a strip of land where most of the must-see casinos and tourist attractions in Vegas are located. The Americans are gurus at marketing and it is amazing to see how a small area of land, situated amidst a desert, can generate so much income and money. It is one of the most expensive places in the world.

The Strip

Time is money in Vegas and we realized it the hard way. We want to visit one of the clubs and had asked the club for a pickup from our hotel at 9 pm. Typical Indian time of 9 pm means at least a delay of 15 to 20 minutes. When all of us had come down by 9:20 pm, the driver promptly gave us a mouthful saying time is money and refused to take us. He said he waited just to ensure he could convey this and also lodged a complaint with the club saying time was not honoured by us. From then onwards, we became careful and would only call taxis once we were all ready.

While Vegas is rightly called “ Sin City” because of its nightlife dominated by casinos and strip clubs along with related indulgences , there is another side to Vegas, which is not spoken of in the same breath. Vegas is also a great destination for families and kids (yes you are reading this correct) and there are enough activities to keep families and kids engaged. Every evening , there is an artificial volcanic eruption around 7 pm at The Strip and it is a sight to watch. There is a musical fountain which plays every hour in the night and crowds gather to watch this beautiful sight. The Strip also boasts of replicas of the likes of the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower. We had gone up 470 floors in a lift and watched the beautiful fountains from the top of the Eiffel Tower replica. Vegas also is a hotbed for arts and culture, hosting several popular plays, shows and concerts all round the year. The best in the business come and perform at the various theatres here. We had watched a show by an acrobatic troupe at the MGM Grand and it was a marvellous performance. The Strip also hosts a Harley Davidson café and a Madame Tussauds. For the adventure freaks, there is a casino called Stratosphere, which hosts a few thrilling rides on the topmost floor. For a few extra bucks, there is also a helicopter ride which will give an aerial view of the city. The Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam are a few hours drive from Vegas. We also rented a limousine ride and it was quite an experience.

The fountain.. viewed from the Eiffel Tower
The replica of the Statue of Liberty
The Harley Davidson Cafe

The highlight attraction is undoubtedly Fremont Street. This is a tiny street frequented by people of all ages all through the night. It is lively and always buzzing and has everything for everyone. There is a ride called SlotZilla where you can zip-line through from end of the street to the other. There are street performances daily and it is a unique experience and you can keep walking in and out of every shop. Clothing, accessories, souvenirs, food – you get everything you need to shop at every price point here. I was pleasantly surprised to see families enjoying themselves in hordes here.

With Wax Britney at Madame Tussaud’s Vegas

We spent 4 days in Vegas but this was not enough. This is true with most international locations but all the more with Vegas. A one-of-its kind destination, which everyone should experience at some point in their life. I must consider myself lucky that I got to experience this early and hopefully, will visit this place, once again at some point in time. I will not comment on the Sin City related experiences, because………

…………………………..

…………………………..

What Happens in Vegas …Stays in Vegas 😊

Jai Hind

Throwback- Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho – Super Sunday – Weekly Blog

Six years ago, in October 2013, I was working as an Area Sales Manager with the automotive division of Mahindra. The auto industry had witnessed a muted first two quarters and the festive season of October November followed by a discount heavy December was the last hope left to salvage things.

The festive season ( Oct- Nov) in Indian retail sales is boom time for every consumer facing industry. Discounts, new launches clubbed with the typical Indian consumer sentiment of buying new products in an auspicious period make it a season to look forward to.  In 2013, all of us were hoping for the Festival of Lights to bring back something to cheer about in an otherwise gloomy year.

Mumbai Area Office, where I was working, was part of the West Zone. The previous festive season ( 2012),  West Zone had sold an all-time high of 16,000 vehicles in these two months. That year, the auto industry had recorded month-on-month double digit growth.  We were expecting a target at best of 21,000 vehicles for the Zone ( a 30% growth over last year – which itself was very steep considering the way the first two quarters had panned out).

In October,2013 a contest was launched for the Mahindra sales team and the dealer principals – Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho. Based on targets achieved, winners could fly to Las Vegas , Rome and Singapore ( 100% + achievement was Vegas, 95 to 99 % – Rome, 91 to 94% – Singapore). While we were all looking forward to the contest and the thought of going to Vegas was mouth-watering, we also knew that this would not be easy as the targets would be extremely stretched.

When our West zone target was communicated – 25,000 vehicles for two months ( against 16,000 the previous year), we were all taken aback.  Unrealistic, unattainable, far fetched from ground reality. The motivation levels were low because of the dismal first two quaryers. One man though, was in a completely different state of mind. It was Jacob Varghese, then Zonal Head for West Zone. Jacob was highly regarded for his market knowledge, ability to get into the details and ruthless execution. Jacob also was extremely aware of the pulse of his team. He called all of his sales team for a 2 day program in Garudmaachi, a picturesque outbound venue on the outskirts of Pune.  The entire agenda of the two day program was to make us believe that the targets were achievable.  Jacob had his unique way of alignment. While all of us had individual Area Office targets, Jacob throughout was only harping on one number – Mission 25k for West Zone. He got in a speaker, Dinesh Nathani, who was an expert in conducting workshops which focused on mental beliefs, positive psychology and training the mind. Nathani had a half-day session which was focused on visualizing positive outcomes, letting go of negative thoughts and feeding positive energy off each other. Jacob also coined a name for the team – Western Warriors. All the departments – including HR and Finance , were made to participate in the program. A famous motivational video –“Inch by Inch’  by Al Pacino was played multiple times during the day. By the end of the two days, all of us were charged and focused to deliver Mission 25k.

For Jacob, it was not only about doing a two day program. Post that, he created a mail chain where people would continuously write about success stories, statistics and tracking of how we were inching closer each day. Jacob would also have his weekly con-calls and keep the motivation going. Jacob’s energy rubbed off on all of us including the dealer fraternity. We were out in the market for 5 days in a 6 day week trying to do everything possible to make the magical number.

For the first few weeks, the number looked a distant dream. But with each passing week, what looked improbable started coming to life. In those days, I used to handle the territories of Nashik and Jalgaon. The Jalgaon dealer, whose monthly average was 70, was chasing a steep monthly number of 200. There was a chart on which 1 to 200 was written in the backward order and with each vehicle sold, a number was crossed. I had accompanied a few sales executives to close some bookings .  Travelling to the interiors of the hinterland made me get a feel of rural India.  These folks had no clue about terms like recession, GDP , growth rate etc. For them, all that mattered was a good monsoon, which would get a good crop, leading to substantial income and the excess income would result in retail purchases. While the folks in the corporate would think of strategies to improve sales in rural area, at the ground, the factors involved were pretty simple. One of our prospects was a legislator, who wanted to replace his vehicle with a Scorpio. Sales thrives on relationship, especially in rural areas and because the Sales executive had  a great relationship and was continuously following up, he finally ended up booking the vehicle. The biggest learning for me was that Sales is not complex, yet difficult. The folks with strong follow-up and great relationship skills would invariably end up achieving their targets. Motivation was the key and there were various angles to this – the desire to be recognized, the need to earn the extra rewards and the feeling of being a winner. If the basics were taken care of, then results would follow. The Jalgaon dealer had announced a Goa trip to the entire team,if the overall target was achieved. The feeling of group-win gave that extra push and as a result, the entire team went over-drive to win in difficult conditions. The Jalgaon momentum rubbed off on neighbouring Nashik as well. We were not sure where we would end , but all of us knew that there would be no one who would question the efforts.

Likewise, in other parts of Mumbai AO and West Zone, success stories started emerging. After two months of hustle-bustle, the festive season came to a close. Jacob Varghese’s Western Warriors had achieved what seemed improbable two months ago. We had crossed 25,000 vehicles. While a strong monsoon had helped from  a macro-economic perspective, the biggest differentiator for me was a motivated unit and the power of the collective.  Accolades followed. West Zone had the highest %age of ASMs going to Las Vegas. Me and 5 other people from our Area Office went to Las Vegas. Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho had brought about a fresh lease of life in a gloomy environment. For me personally, it was a defining moment in my career transition from HR to Sales and the thrill of achieving the near impossible.  I had doubts about moving from HR to Sales but Western Warriors and Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho changed everything.

6 years have passed and Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho continues to be one of my favorite memories in my sales career.

Cheers to hope, motivation, positivity, team work and focus. Hopefully, the current auto slowdown will end soon and there will be similar tales told by the current crop of auto sales folks.

Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho

Jai Hind

Diary of a “Stay-at-home” dad : Freaky Fridays – weekly blog

6 months ago, I decided to take a bold and impulsive decision of quitting my job without another job in hand. Initially, I thought I would apply to other jobs but as my wife’s delivery date drew closer and closer, I decided to take a “break” from corporate. I had resigned from my current job and applied to a few jobs but secretly, I hoped that I would not get through any of them so that I did not have to join soon. My wife was supportive of this decision. Her only concern was finances and having saved enough for 6 months, I took the decision to be a temporary “stay-at-home” dad.

Now-a-days, sabbaticals and breaks have become common. Different people take it at different points in time. My friends, who were not in recent touch with me, thought I had taken a “sabbatical”. For those who are not aware, a sabbatical ensures you have not lost your job and can rejoin the same organization after the specified duration, in any available role. Most organizations have a sabbatical policy for people who have completed a minimum tenure. When I told a few of them that this was not the case, quite a few of them told me that I was taking a big risk by quitting without a back-up job and a back-up plan. What would I give as a reason for the break for potential employers? What if the gap becomes a problem in me finding another job?

Nonetheless, I moved on as what mattered to me the most was what I was thinking. I was venturing into “unknown” territory. There was no reference point for me – no one in my close circle had taken a paternity break. Maternity breaks have been the norm since ages. In my head, I was clear that I wanted to give all possible support to my wife and help her through a transition. I was not so much worried about the future.

I resigned in January and my wife’s due date was 6th of March originally. But the doctor had told us to be prepared from Feb 20th onwards. Having worked for 9 years, the month of February was a pleasant surprise for me. I felt I was like one of those “retired” Public Sector employees who seem very contented with life and who walk the race of life at their own pace, unlike the younger generation which just keeps running without any idea. The running race starts from school, where we are told class 10 is a big hurdle, then IIT/medicine, then post-graduation, job, marriage and keeps going on and on. The comparisons about how others are doing keep happening and make us run harder and faster. All this stopped for me in February and life was different.

I would get up early, hit the gym for almost two hours, do some house chores , read the newspaper and wrote chapters of my book. For the first time, I had no serious goal to target. I just wanted to enjoy the time till it lasted. The baby had not yet arrived. I would go for walks daily with my wife and just try to not discuss the fact that we would soon be parents. To distract her , I would discuss the chapters of my book , the people in my gym etc. I also did a few online certifications. I started using Instagram more often. Life was good even without a purpose. I started blogging regularly. This was month 1.

On the 27th of February, our little bundle of joy arrived. It finally hit me that I had become a parent. My wife had started preparing herself to be a mom since the time she discovered she was pregnant. For me, the realization dawned only when I held the little one in my arms for the first time. Post that, life started zipping. Quite a few of my friends told me that life would no longer be the same and I would not get time to sleep, would have to let go of a lot of hobbies etc etc. I was a bit apprehensive at hearing all this. But what happened with me was completely different. As I was not working, I had enough time to do a lot of things. I would burp the baby, do a few household chores, watch sitcoms and in my free time, would start writing chapters of my book. The first two months were very hectic, especially for my wife, as the baby would feed every two hours and she would get very tired. But gradually, things improved and she was able to get better sleep.

As far as I was concerned, the break made me try a lot of creative things. I made my first DIY wall clock from  a used iPad cover, wrote the manuscript of my first book, tried working on a couple of whacky ideas ( a Youtube finance video series and an education start-up). The last two ideas didn’t go through as I had to depend on other partners and it didn’t work out. But I became fitter, stronger and much more creative as a person.

As a dad, my primary KRA was to put the baby to sleep every night and play with her during the day. It was fun and I was in a utopian world. I had all the time in the world – to take care of my body, my mind and family. I secretly hoped that I could extend the break for another year or two. Why would I want to let go of the new found freedom of not running a race against time?

But six months later, practicality kicked in. My savings had almost been utilized and there was a burden of an EMI. I had no option but to start working again. The break was not pre-planned and it had to end sooner than later. I joined in an organization two weeks ago and things have changed again.

“Time”, which was in abundance with me  during the break, is now a luxury. I barely get to see my little one. By the time I am back home, she’s asleep. I hardly hit the gym now. I rarely am in a frame of mind to write creatively as most days I come back exhausted. I have not read the newspaper. Weekends fly away with my wife and baby as that’s the only time I get to spend with them. Slowly, I am getting back into the race of life. The future on the work front looks scary –travel, resolving issues, late nights, burn outs , appraisals, lay-offs, promotions. It looks as if the juice is going to be sucked out. I have not had the time to plan out my book launch. My biggest fear is I will stop doing the things I love – writing, reading, gymming, cleaning and playing with the kid. I hope it doesn’t come true. Secretly, I pray to God that all my worst fears do not come true and I continue to create time to do the things I love doing.

Time and tide waits for none. I hope the tide turns in favour of me sooner than later. Hopefully, the next break will not take another 9 years and hopefully, I will find the time to keep writing. One of the songs playing in my head right now is…

“ Suhaana safar aur yeh mausam haseen… humey darr na hum kho na jaaye kahin”

-Jai Hind

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