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Zak, the warrior


In a batsmen obsessed nation like ours, it is not often that you see a bowler sharing the limelight. Time and again, we’ve seen our spinners foxing the opponents in minefields by magically rolling their wrists and fingers. Our wickets literally take the fast bowlers away from the equation. It is for this precise reason that Zaheer Khan will hold a special place in the annals of Indian cricket. His heroes, the legendary Kapil Dev and the incredible Javagal Srinath were special and India celebrated them. And Zaheer with his performances, emulated them.

I remember his early days in 2000 clearly. It was a new phase in Indian cricket when the youngsters were being heard and encouraged. One of them started shooting those toe crushers in Nairobi. Every one of those had a message “Zak has arrived” written on it. They were special and Indian cricket fan woke up. The young man from Shrirampur who never bowled in a turf till 17 was suddenly one of the most feared fast bowlers in the world. In between, he massacred Henry Olonga with the willow in an over. He was part of the pace attack that took India to the WC final in 2003 and Zak’s best came in the super six against a formidable Kiwi lineup. Then came the fifer at Gabba, partnership with Sreesanth in that famous win at Johannesburg and a string of useful spells all over the world.

As is the story with every Indian pacer, injuries derailed his progress. Fitness kept him out of crucial encounters. There were questions on his form. His pace dipped and he was no way near his best. That’s when he did something smart. He signed up for Worcestershire in the English county cricket to hone his skills further and when he came back, he became a ‘smarter’ fast bowler. There was more variety in his armory. He mastered the knuckle bowl, learnt the trade of controlling his swing and started hitting the sweet spots in the pitch. Zak, the promising youngster was ready to spearhead the Indian bowling attack.

Second part of his international career began when he blew England away in Nottingham in 2007. Left handers became his bunnies. He started to look lethal in the sub continent when he reversed the old ball. And all those were reflecting in the bowling figures. He complemented the spinners wonderfully when we swept opponents at home and was an inseparable entity in the test team that reached the pinnacle in 2010. And then came the 2011 world cup. Zak was at his best. In a tournament dominated by Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh, Zak was in a league of his own. He opened the bowling, bowled in middle overs and was India’s go to man at the death. I have fond memories of his knuckle balls to dismiss Paul Collingwood in early stages and Mike Hussey in the QF. What a peach that was! And what a world cup he had. Sadly, fitness and form kept him in and out since then and he was no where near where he was in his prime.

Thank you Zaheer for enriching this beautiful game. You can be extremely proud of what you’ve done. We’ll miss you Zak. The hairstyles. The high jump. Yorker. Knuckle ball. Wickets. And this.

Thank you Zak

                               Thank you Zak

 

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You won our hearts, South Africa


I couldn’t take it. I was gutted. I broke down. I was heartbroken. I cursed the ‘luck’ factor. It was as if when they wrote the cricketing laws, someone secretly included that South Africa would never progress after the Semis. Then I saw the legend Abraham Benjamin De Villiers cry. I also spotted the tall lanky Morne Morkel weep, only to be consoled by Wayne Parnell. Camera turned around and I saw Faf Du Plesis look shattered. Dale Steyn was down. These are some tough people who played unbelievable cricket, batted for hours in testing conditions to save Test matches across the globe, take fifers with ease in the flat decks of Sri Lanka and India, chased down 434 in an ODI and also played tough cricket. They were no pushovers. And suddenly, I saw all these cricketers weep inconsolably. It was difficult to see.

This world is cruel

This world is cruel

I wasn’t even thinking of where did South Africa go wrong in losing this match. That was for some other day. Today, it should be all about sharing South Africa’s pain. Yes, we all admired New Zealand, their exciting bunch of cricketers and the brand of cricket they played. But our hearts said ‘South Africa. South Africa’. There was just too much sentiment with the Proteas. Except for the 40000 odd people in Eden Park and a million in New Zealand, every one in the world were cheering for the Saffers. May be it had to do with the unfair ‘C’ tag. or may be it was for AB De Villiers.

We all loved South Africa, didn’t we. The minuscule Quinton. Warrior Amla. Fabulous Faf. Steyn Gun. Killer Miller. Abraham Lincoln’s beard-inspired Imran Tahir, Tall Morne and of course the man himself, AB De Villiers. We even adored their predecessors. We knew what Duckworth and Lewis did to them in 1992. We remember that look on Lance Klusener’s face in 1999. We’ve read and heard about how unfairly, journalists used the word ‘Choke’ every time they bowed out in the knockout stages of a World Cup. And that’s why somewhere you secretly wished South Africa emerged victorious.

But sadly it didn’t happen. Is it South Africa’s loss or the World Cup’s loss that the former has never held the trophy. Nevertheless, spare your thought for the great AB DeVilliers. Jeez. Isn’t he the greatest cricketer in the world right now. Is there anyone who doesn’t have a ‘weak’ zone, scores with ease and class 360 degrees, improvises masterly, hits sixes disdainfully , plays inhuman shots, scores tons breathtakingly, fields acrobatically, leads inspiringly and does probably every thing possible on a cricketing field. Does he even realize his greatness? Dale Steyn was spot on when he said that ABD has no idea how good he is. If this is a fair world, I just wish and hope that ABD lifts the world cup one day.

Cricket is, after all, a gentleman's game

Cricket is, after all, a gentleman’s game

I’ve grown up respecting the beautiful game and its servants, no matter which part of the world it was played and who played it. That’s the beauty of a sport, isn’t it. It transcends boundaries. We all stood up and saluted Wahab Riaz for THAT spell. Today we all sat back and shared South Africa’s pain. We sat back and thanked both the teams for giving us a cracker of a match. We sat back and adored the way the match was played. No swear words. No verbal altercations. No sledging. It was the purest form of cricket where it was a contest between bat and ball. I think both the teams can be extremely proud of it.

And dear South Africa, you can go back with your heads held high. Your country would be extremely proud of the way you represented them.

“You have a beautiful country, wonderful people and amazing footballers-this match may not destroy your pride! Mesut Ozil after Germany beat Brazil in the world cup Semi final in 2014.

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Thank you Sanga. Thank you Mahela.


Cricket is about partnerships. It takes two to tango. Bowlers hunt in pairs. And so do batsmen. Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge were denting terrible blows on the confidence of bowlers in the 80s. They always hunted in pairs. They are still remembered for their partnerships more than their individual brilliance. Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, with two world cups, were in a way, the modern day versions of Haynes-Greenidge. Hayden also partnered Justin Langer in Tests and the duo is one of the best pairs in the history of test cricket. Aravinda De Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga, together changed the face of Sri Lankan cricket. And then, there were Indians. Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly amassed century partnerships with ease. So too did everyone’s favorite pair of Sachin and Virender Sehwag. Every cricket lover knows what Dravid and Sachin did together in Tests. Still, Kumar Sangakkara – Mahela Jayawardene is a special story.

Partners in Crime!!

Partners in Crime!!

When I watched the final moments of the Quarter final today, I knew I was emotional. I felt the same when Sachin retired. The very realization that I’d see a Sri Lankan team step out on the cricket field without these two great men, was hard to accept. I choked a little. Memories flashed by. Of those gritty knocks in Tests. Of those numerous match winning innings for Sri Lanka. Of that marathon 624 run partnership against South Africa. Of Sanga’s cheeky little chatters behind the stumps. Of Mahela’s 2011 world cup final ton. Of their presence in the IPL. Of their celebrations after leading Sri Lanka to the WT20 triumph in 2014. Of Mahela’s presence in the Kochi Tuskers IPL team.Of Sanga’s four back to back tons in this world cup. And a lot more. Their personalities defined their batting. The gentle, soft spoken gentleman Mahela, played his strokes with such elegance. When he bats, it is as if he never wanted to hurt a cricket ball. He had the gift of timing and nobody played the ball as late as he did. When he batted, the world seemed a peaceful haven. Sanga, a qualified lawyer, was more prolific. He was orthodox, yet versatile. His MCC lecture on the impact of cricket on the war-torn nation, was moving. He was tough, yet played the game with so much dignity. Much like Rahul Dravid.

When legends retire, it isn’t about the number of years they played nor the mountain of runs they scored. The numbers would speak for themselves. But It’s about leaving behind a legacy. It’s about being an inspiration to an entire generation of cricketers. It’s about garnering the respect of opponents, with whom they competed fiercely. Its about the love and admiration from the across the globe. It’s about giving back to the beautiful game, that established them. And I think, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene can be extremely proud of what they’ve done. Thank you Sanga. Thank you Mahela. Cricket bids an emotional farewell.