world cup

It’s exactly two weeks since the last ball of the 2011 World Cup landed somewhere in the top tier of Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium, probably in the hands of a lucky fan. That monstrous six by the Indian captain, the perfect finish to India’s campaign to regain the World Cup that was lost in 1987.

Sri Lanka’s batting lineup had been throttled for most of their innings, with 45 overs yielding just 211 runs, but with the brilliant Mahela Jayawardene holding one end steady, the Lankans put on an additional 64 off the last 30 balls, pushing India’s target from the very gettable into the realms of the difficult, planting seeds of doubt in the minds of Indian players and fans.

Challenging as it looked, 275 wasn’t a very difficult target to get, what with Sachin “Superman” Tendulkar, and his swashbuckling sidekick, Virender Sehwag to open the Indian innings. If belief was beginning to fade when Sehwag went second ball, it was all but gone when the great man himself left not much later. Wait, this was not the way the script was written. This was supposed to be his crowning moment, he was going to get his 100th hundred while winning India the World Cup. Oh well. So much for well written scripts!

The script may have been rewritten, the main characters may have been recast, but the story and the ending was going to remain the same. Indian hopes arose, and belief returned as the young middle order led by Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli steadied the ship. It took a brilliant, calm, cool and determined captain MS Dhoni at the wheel however, to bring the ship into the shores of victory. Not only had India exorcised the World Cup demons that had haunted them for 28 years, the great man – Sachin Tendulkar – had finally achieved the one thing that had been missing from his resume… the World Cup of Cricket!
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It is finally upon us. The expectations had been set long before it’s about to happen, but now there is no escaping it. The organizers are wetting themselves over the huge media frenzy that it has created. It’s been hyped up as the “mother of all matches”, touted as the “real” final, by both the media and the fans alike. Some have gone as far as calling it World War IV. Don’t believe me? Go Google it (or Bing it, if you’re so inclined!) for yourself.

This is War? Really? No!

Absolutely not. Far from it. It is but the 2011 World Cup semi-final match between two bitter political & sporting rivals – India & Pakistan – with the winner simply getting another shot at World Cup glory. As big a stage as it is, and as big as this rivalry gets, equating this to war is simply belittling the impact of, and disrespecting the victims of real wars that have been fought, and are being fought around the world right now. Try as hard as we might, there are no lives lost in sport, are there? Do these two guys – captains of Pakistan and India – look like they are getting ready for war? No!

Sure, there is a lot at stake, and I would love nothing more than to see India beat Pakistan in this match, but I draw the line at raising this to anything more than a sporting event. Huge event, but at the end of the day, it remains just that… a sport!
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This past Thursday, two teams took to the field at the quarterfinals of the 2011 ICC World Cup being played in the Indian sub-continent. This contest was the biggest plot line of the World Cup so far. In one corner, Australia, the most dominant team in the last two decades, winning three of the last four finals they had been in, and in the other, India the country that had shown the rest of the cricketing world how to beat the once mighty West Indies in winning their only World Cup in 1983. This was, by leaps and bounds the biggest billing of the four quarterfinals matches.

The Showdown

There was one sub-plot that was almost as big as the main plot… With a combined 44 years of experience, over 1100 international caps, a total of 57000 runs and 167 centuries between them, two of the greatest players that cricket had ever seen – Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting – took  to the field. Both of them knew that this could very well be their last World Cup match. At the advanced cricketing ages of 37 and 35 respectively, both Tendulkar and Ponting knew, that at the end of this day one of them would be ecstatic, while the other would be forlorn.

While similar in experience and records, the two couldn’t be any farther apart than the north & south poles. Tendulkar is the quintessential gentleman, adored by millions of fans, humble despite the genius that oozes out of his bat, carrying, on countless occasions, the team and its fortunes. Ponting, a great, smart cricketer and captain of the most dominant cricket nation over the last two decades, is in more ways than one, the anti-Tendulkar – arrogant, bordering on cocky, big-mouth, controversial, disliked (if not hated!) by the fans of the teams he had vanquished!

Poles Apart

Nothing quite sums up the distance between these two, better than the way they were dismissed in their previous matches. Ponting, having edged a ball, without the shadow of a doubt, waited for the umpire’s review, while Tendulkar in a similar situation, simply turned and walked despite the umpire believing otherwise. Tendulkar’s instinctive decision to walk portrayed Ponting in worse light than before –  a cheat who wanted to win at any cost. I belonged to the sparsely populated camp, that believed Ponting had every right to stand his ground, well within the rules of the game, and wait for the umpires decision. I also thought that Tendulkar should have stood his ground, and let technology determine the outcome in a close situation.

India set a target of 261, largely because of a timely century by the afore mentioned Ponting, his first in 13 months, survived a few hiccups and tense moments to finally dethrone the defending champions. The pained expression on Ponting’s face was all too obvious for everyone to see as he realized that he had played what was almost certainly the last World Cup match of his splendid career.

Oh, how sweet this victory was. Not only did India put an end to a dynasty, this was payback for all the years of suffering that India had endured at the hands of the Aussies and their arrogant captain. Karma had caught up with Ponting for all those years of cheating. He was the ultimate villain who had gotten his comeuppance, with a disgraceful exit.

Now, I’m no big fan of Ricky Ponting’s, and I’d love to see him and his Australian team fail, but I draw the line at disgraceful. Sure he can be annoying with his arrogant attitude, sure he can push the boundaries of the game, sure he has been known to embellish the truth every now and then, and sure, he and his team gets into the grill of the opposition, and trash talk them at every opportunity. Does all of this warrant him being called disgraceful? No!

Ponting’s Perception Problem

As much as Ricky is responsible for digging some of the hole he is in, the fact that he is playing in the same era as Tendulkar doesn’t help his cause one bit. As a matter of fact, it magnifies every little thing that he does wrong. His waiting for the umpire to be given out wouldn’t have been too big of a deal, if it wasn’t for Tendulkar – that knight in shining armor who can do no wrong – walking  off like a gentleman, in a similar situation the next day.

Try this exercise… On a clean white board, draw a tiny little circle with a dark colored marker. Find the next person that walks by and ask them what they see. Chances are that most, if not everyone you ask would see the dark marker, not all of that white space around the dark circle. Ponting finds himself as a dark circle surrounded by all that white space that Tendulkar represents.

Sadly however, that tiny circle is nothing when you compare it to some of the real disgraces that cricket has seen. Here are a few…

  1. Australian captain Greg Chappell directing his brother Trevor to bowl underarm, the last ball of the match that New Zealand needed four to win from
  2. English captain Douglas Jardine and his “Bodyline” series against Don Bradman and the Aussies
  3. A series of match fixing by South Africa’s captain, Hansie Cronje
  4. The South African rebel tours between 1982 & 1990

There have been far more disgraceful stuff done by people in other sports…

  1. Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson breaks the world record for the fastest sprint ever, and then is stripped of his gold medal, as he tests positive for doping
  2. The sexual assault charges on basketball player Kobe Bryant
  3. NFL quarterback Michael Vick and dog fighting charges

And need I say, many more…

Can We Give The Man His Due?

The point I try to make here is that whatever may be Ricky Ponting’s failings, they pale into insignificance when compared to some of the things others have done right in the sport of cricket as well as outside of it.

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” ~ Lao Tsu

So, yes, he is arrogant, cocky even, and yes, he has been a constant pain in the ass for India, and every other team for well over a decade. No, he is nothing like Sachin, nor is he going to win a lot of fan votes outside of Australia, but you simply cannot deny Ricky Ponting what is rightfully his – due credit for having been a great player and a great captain!


Was it last weekend that the cricket teams of India & Pakistan – two of the biggest contenders for the ICC World Cup – faced the wrath of their respective fans for terrible performances? Both endured bad, very bad, losses. Sure, the results of their respective matches were the same, but one had to suspect that India likely suffered some emotional scars along the way. See, it’s much easier to recover from a complete beat down, like the one Pakistan took at the hands of New Zealand. You’ve got to chalk it up to a bad day on the field and hope you have a better day the next time around.

On the other hand, when you have a great opportunity to win against a great team like South Africa, and you squander it the way India did, that’s got to not only hurt more, but bring up questions of nerves, strategies, captaincy and everything else. So, it was no surprise that nobody on the team was spared by the fans and media alike – the bowler who bowled the ill fated last over, the captain whose instinct had let him down, the batsmen who threw away a perfectly good opportunity to put up a huge score. Heck, not even the guy who scored the century was spared, what with that pattern of losses when he does score one! More on that later.

An Exciting Weekend Ahead…

Hopefully this weekend was going to be a different for both teams, with better fortunes? While they had both qualified for the knockout stage of the tournament, the weekend’s matches had a lot at stake – better seeding and… pride. Pakistan was taking on the juggernaut that’s Australia, the three time defending champions who hadn’t lost in 33 world cup matches over a 12 year span, while India had the mercurial West Indies to deal with.

So, there I was, at 5 in the morning, Saturday, having slept less than a monk, knowing very well that I wasn’t going to get much more sleep, with a lot of coffee on the brewer, looking forward to an awesome weekend. What could make it better? Cricket AND Tennis, that’s what – it was a blockbuster of a line up at the ATP Masters 1000 at Indian Wells, CA, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro making it to the semi-finals of the ATP Masters at Indian Wells.

My immediate focus however was on the cricket, and the first match was a cracker. Despite their poor showing in their last match versus New Zealand, Pakistan were expected to put an end to Australia’s win streak. Say what? You could see why the expectations were on Pakistan to derail the Aussies, as their bowlers throttled Australia’s batting lineup, eventually getting them out for a paltry 176.

Ricky, oh, Ricky!

Ricky Ponting, Australia’s embattled captain, and one of the greatest batsmen the world has seen, has been at the helm of one of the greatest teams in history, leading Australia to numerous victories, none bigger than the last two ICC World Cups in 2003 & 2007. So, I guess he and his team are entitled to be arrogant, but there is a fine line between being arrogant and being downright cocky.

The problem with being cocky however is that the rest of the world enjoys watching you fail. You throw in some poor attitude unbecoming of a captain, like Ricky has in the last few matches, people not only enjoy watching you fail, they actually hope you do.


So, there he was, woefully out of touch, struggling to find runs, his aging reflexes letting his finely tuned batting style down, when he clearly edged one to the wicket keeper. Not very surprisingly to many however, he stood his ground until the third umpire confirmed that his bat had indeed caught the edge.

Here’s what I thought of the whole thing…

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In one of my previous posts I talked about how I’m reconnecting with the sport that I grew up with. As I do just that, I realize that the more things have changed, the more they seem to have remained the same. Sachin Tendulkar at the ripe old age of 37 carries the expectation of an entire nation, much like he did when he arrived on the international scene 22 years ago.

Since his international debut in 1989, with a maturity that far belied his 16 years, he has stood in the middle, delivering time and again for his team. A quick look at the record books will show that he has single-handedly managed to raise the stock of Indian cricket to heights unparalleled.

There have been countless occasions when he has found himself holding up the proverbial fort, while everything around him has collapsed in a heap, with nary a fight. It is a true testament to his genius and his longevity that he finds himself in exactly the same situation 22 years hence.

Sachin Tendulkar

A Gift and a Curse!

So, why is it, despite everything that he has done and still continues to do, that we still expect him to do more? “With great power comes great responsibility” says Uncle Ben to Peter Parker, a.k.a Spider-Man, who eventually realizes that his incredible gift is also his curse.

Much like Spider-Man or any other super hero for that matter, Sachin Tendulkar carries that burden of responsibility, knowing very well that his gift of genius and greatness is as much a curse as it is a gift. What defines Tendulkar’s greatness is the fact that he has come to terms with that burden of great expectations that have felled lesser men in history past.

In a culture where mythological gods are not immune to being questioned for supposed infractions, why must Sachin Tendulkar be exempt from the wrath of people when he performs below his own monumental standards? Heck, we even go to the extent of blaming him when things go wrong for the team, despite him being the lone ranger holding off the outlaws!

This past weekend, Tendulkar hit  a breathtaking 111 runs, his 48th one-day hundred and the 99th of his storied international career, ripping into South Africa’s bowlers. Not only did he score the bulk of the 296 that the team scored, you had to see it to believe it… the “old man” was throwing his body around when his turn to field came about.

India Loses, It Must Be Tendulkar’s Fault

In the end, all of that didn’t matter as South Africa scraped through to a win in the last of its 50 overs. As much as the loss hurt for true fans, it was even more hurtful that some people believed that this was somehow the great man’s fault.

Call it superstition, or call it a big pile of crap like I do, that more than a few people bring up a nonsensical stat… “India seems to lose every time Sachin scores a hundred!” Ummm, really? So, in your own convoluted way, you’ve convinced yourself that India is better off when Sachin doesn’t score a hundred? Really?

For all those people who even consider believing this garbage, I will point you to some excellent analysis on the topic here. I however, wanted to delve just a little deeper into not just the numbers, but also the human psychology that drives one to believe something to be true when it is really not.

Mind Tricks

Let’s start with the possible reason why people are inclined to believe that India loses when Sachin scores a hundred. When India wins, you are happy, and it’s conveniently lost on your mind that the great man scored a century. It’s almost like you knew that would happen and take it for granted. After all, he has scored close to a hundred hundreds (!!) for you to remember which one ended in a win, right?

On the flip side, when India loses, the one things that stands out is that Sachin scored a hundred. So you wonder why India didn’t win despite him making a hundred. Your mind starts associating bad results with hundreds from Sachin. That’s when you start believing conjecture to be the truth!

Typically, when someone makes a score of 100 or more, the likelihood of his team winning goes way higher. Just go look at the stats if you don’t believe me. You’d have to wonder how badly the rest of the team screws up to throw away that kind of advantage.

It’s a Team Sport, Isn’t it?

The match against South Africa being the perfect example! When Tendulkar left, India were sitting pretty at 267 for 2 with about 10 overs to go. Where the team should have had a total score of no less than 325, the remaining 8 wickets, representing very good batsmen no less, much to the chagrin of every Indian fan, simply collapsed for an addition of 29 (you cannot be serious!) runs, leaving South Africa with a very manageable target.

To rub salt into the wounds, the bowling (and to some extent the captaincy) came apart at the seams in the last over, when South Africa needed 17 to make off 6 balls and needed only five to get them. How could this disaster have been averted, you ask? Yeah, Tendulkar “should” have stayed at the crease longer so we could get more runs right? One of my Facebook friends had this on his wall, that just about sums it up… “It’s called a ‘team’ sport”.

The Evidence In The Numbers

Now let’s look at some tangible evidence that exposes the myth for the bull shit that it is, shall we? Here’s some research that I did to see Sachin’s impact on Indian cricket as a whole as well as their wins in one day internationals…

Wins Losses Win %
Without Tendulkar In Team 150 160 48.39
With Tendulkar In Team 226 195 53.68
When He Hits A Century 33 13 71.74
When He Scores ~ 99 11 7 61.11
When He Scores 50+ 89 48 64.96
When He Scores Between 50 & 99 56 55 50.45
When He Scores Less Than 25 87 110 44.16
When He Doesn’t Score 11 11 50.00


This must come as a complete shock to some of those detractors, but it is no surprise to me, or the true fans of Tendulkar that India has a better chance of winning by him simply being in the team. That chance of winning goes up by 11% points when he scores in the 50s through to the 90s. So, what is the best chance of India winning a ODI you ask? Not when he scores just a fifty, not when he scores in the nineties, but, that’s right… repeat after me… when Tendulkar scores a century!

So, if you are hoping for India to win the ICC world cup this time around, you’d want to throw all that superstitious garbage out the window, hope that Tendulkar scores a hundred or more, on every single occasion that he steps to the crease, and… pray that the rest of the team throws its weight behind the little master!


It’s been a few years since I watched any kind of serious international cricket, the sport I grew up around while in India. I guess I should have expected my interest in the sport to wane when I left the shores of Madras (now Chennai) for New York close to 20 years ago.

The Disconnect…

While there are so many popular sports to play or follow in the US – football (NFL), basketball, baseball, ice hockey, soccer and tennis, unfortunately cricket isn’t one of them. The primary reason why this sport hasn’t taken off here in the US is the investment of time that’s needed from a cricket fan. While almost all of the afore mentioned sports take on average 3 hours to complete, the short version of cricket – the one day international or ODI – requires an investment of 8 hours, or an entire day. Now, who has that kind of time to spend on a couch in front of a TV, huh?

Out of sight usually means out of mind, and that’s exactly what happened with me, as I got to see no cricket on TV at all. My love for sports meant I now had several sports to choose from, but my interest in cricket slowly waned, despite me being connected to the country of my birth. Sure, my Indian born friends would talk cricket every now and then, but that wasn’t enough to prevent my cricketing muscle from atrophying.

…And The Reconnect

The ICC World Cup of Cricket, the biggest event in the sport comes about once every four years, much like the FIFA World Cup of Football, is being played in the Indian subcontinent, jointly hosted by India, Sri Lanka & Bangladesh. This time around, my interest in the sport and in India’s fortunes have peaked, close to the levels that they were when I lived in Chennai.

So, what’s different this time, you ask? Quite a few things actually…

1. Social Media

Unless you live under a rock, there is no escaping the power and impact of social media. In years past, I would’ve had to go look up news and information about cricket. With social media however, I don’t have to do that. I have interesting, and just the relevant information being delivered to me, by my friends who share the same or similar interest, in this case cricket. As the event drew closer, I sensed the excitement all across the blogosphere, and my friends from around the globe via the magic to social media.

2. The Television Coverage

Despite all the excitement that Facebook and the rest of the social media was generating, I wasn’t quite sure if I would want to spend time in front of a TV for 8 hours at a stretch, especially starting off at 3.45 in the AM. My buddy (we’ll call him G for now!) however was sure as he ordered the whole event on Willow TV, and invited me over to watch one of the first matches, between India & England. Reluctantly, I joined him, albeit much later than the start time. The first thing that struck me was the great quality of the broadcast in HD, and the use of cool technologies to make cricket watching a pleasure, a far cry from years past.

3. Sachin “the God” Tendulkar

God, you ask? Yes! Really, you ask?  Yes, really! Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, the little genius – who might as well be waving a magic wand, instead of a cricket bat – is the greatest batsman the world has ever seen, period! With the adoration of millions of people, the respect of his peers, the extraordinary ability to seemingly slow down time, and most importantly the ability to create a spiritual experience in people who watch him play, it would not be sacrilegious at all to say that he is an incarnation of “God” in human form.

Sachin Tendulkar celebrates his 47th ODI century

He transcends the game of sport much like Roger Federer does in Tennis, Michael Jordan in basketball, Pele in Soccer or Wayne Gretzky in hockey. I know friends who have named their son after him, and I know people who worship him alongside the countless other mythological gods that are part of the Indian culture.

Years ago I had, much like the rest of the world seen a small, scrawny 17 year old make his debut on the international scene, after breaking all kinds of records in school cricket. With bated breath, the world watched to see if this young man had what it took to translate that success over to the major leagues. With the complete annihilation of all and every batting record known to man, I’d say he has done just that and a lot more, showing no signs of slowing down. At 37 years however, despite his youthfulness and the face that belies a veteran, you have to think that his career is closer to the end line, and I wasn’t going to pass up on an opportunity to see the great man possibly for one of the last few occasions.

4. The Nail Biting Finish

India batting first, had piled up a total of 338 runs in their 50 overs, with the afore mentioned Tendulkar blunting the English attack as he made 120, his 98th international hundred. To lend some perspective, his nearest rival is about 30 behind!

Now, 338 is a very good score, and I saw no reason to be concerned about England getting to that target. Boy, was I wrong. Between the great start, a captain’s knock from Andy Strauss, England not only survived but figured to make a match of it. With about 60 to get in 42 balls and 8 wickets still in hand, it looked like India had pretty much blown this one.

With a quick few wickets however, things changed and it looked like India would wrap this up when a flurry of sixes by the tail brought them right back into the match. A nail biter of a match fittingly came down to the last over. With 14 needed in the last over, this was anyone’s match for the taking. Whoever took it would leave the other utterly devastated. It’s cliché to say that there are no losers, but in this case it wasn’t as England managed to level the scores off the last ball, leaving them tied with India… the best possible result for both teams! What a way for me to reconnect with cricket after a long time. I was fully in now, and I have to thank my buddy for getting me to go watch it.

5. The Virtual Sports Bar

I quickly realized that I wanted to watch cricket again – who wouldn’t after that one huh? However, there was no way I could wake up at 3 in the morning, drive over to my buddy’s and watch the whole match. So I went ahead and decided to reconnect at home (sorry G!), and while I’ve caught up on some of the other matches, I’ve been focused more on India’s fortunes.

My Indian friends in the US and I have been lucky that all of India’s matches have so far been on a weekend. With nowhere to be (when there are no birthday parties to attend of course!), what better than to plop yourself on the couch, watching cricket. I’ll tell you what could be better… watching it with friends of course. It’s no fun to watch any sport alone, and cricket is no exception. Now, where the hell was I going to find company, especially in the hours before sunrise? Facebook, of course!!!

While it has been a lot of fun to reconnect and watch cricket, it’s been even more fun to do so in the company of friends, old and new. Sure they are all virtual, but the wit, the sarcasm, the bickering, the joy, the relief, the silence and the excitement in the status updates make it a blast, and for me it brings back memories from years ago of – waking up early and watching the world cup with my friends!!!

6. Hope For The Little Master

I’ve bravely predicted that India will win this edition of the World Cup, which is bound to piss off all of the other cricket fans, and oh, I’m sure I’ll hear about how Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and New Zealand are better teams and one of them is more likely to be holding the cup.

There isn’t any sound logical analysis to me picking India to win this one. Sure there is a little bit of a bias towards the nation of my birth, but call it a gut feel that makes me call this for India, much like I called the Super Bowl for the  New York Giants in 2007, and the Green Bay Packers this season.

I know the billions of Sachin Tendulkar fans would love to see this prediction come true so he could win the one thing that’s missing from his expansive resume before he rides off into the sunset!