Archive for September, 2008

Heroes of the game

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Sep 21, 2008

The second season of the ICL is about to start, and the world will see Brian Lara in action again, even if it’s only in the shortest form of the game. Simultaneously, Sachin Tendulkar will be plying his trade against Australia. They are the two greatest batsmen of their generation, and two of the greatest ever. But who’s greater?

The numbers. Lara has 53 centuries in international matches, is the highest aggregate scorer in the history of Test cricket, holds the record for the highest score ever made in a Test innings, and also in a first-class innings. Other than Sir Donald Bradman and our own Virender Sehwag, he is the only batsman in Test history to have scored two triple centuries, and the only one ever to have touched 400, and in a first-class match, 500.

As far as numbers go, Tendulkar’s are simple. He has scored a jaw-dropping 81 centuries in international matches, most by any cricketer ever, holds the record for the highest aggregate runs scored in one-day cricket, and is expected to cross Lara’s record for Test runs in the forthcoming series.

Yet, drill deeper, and some interesting facts appear. In his international career, Lara has scored as much as 20 per cent of his team’s runs! This is a feat surpassed only by Bradman (23%) and George Headley (21%). What does that mean? One, that Lara has had to carry his team on his shoulders all through his career, plagued by a lack of prolific batsmen to support his efforts. This is a problem Tendulkar never had; he has never faced a dearth of excellent batsmen at the other end—Azharuddin, Dravid, Ganguly, Sehwag, Laxman and the rest of India’s good men. Two, it proves once and for all that Bradman is in a class of his own, because he too, like Tendulkar, had some pretty outstanding fellows at the non-striking end whenever he batted—Ponsford, Hassett, Barnes, Miller and their ilk. Yet he managed to score nearly a quarter of all the runs his team made when he played.

In 2001, Wisden published a list of what the magazine thought were the best 100 performances in Test cricket. Lara was the only batsman who had as many as three innings in the top 15. His 153 not out in Bridgetown in 1998-1999 was rated as the second greatest Test innings ever played. I watched it live on television, and it’s the sort of batting that can give you goosebumps. He was playing Steve Waugh’s Australia, one of the greatest cricket teams ever, and he scored nearly the half the runs West Indies scored in the fourth innings run chase and won the game. The second-highest scorer in that innings was Griffith, with 35, and only four batsmen other than Lara (and extras) reached double figures.

Not a single Tendulkar innings features in Wisden’s list. However, the batting performances selected by Wisden are all from matches that the batsman’s team won. This is unfair. Many heroic feats have been performed on the field to make sure the game is drawn, and many heroic feats have failed to save the game, because the hero’s teammates let him down. To put it simply, Laxman’s 281 would not have featured in the list if India had lost or the match had been drawn. Yet, the doubt remains. Hasn’t Tendulkar ever done something extraordinary to see India through in a tough game? This is a question that has been asked again about him through his Test career.

One-dayers, however, are another matter. Every batting record possible is firmly in Tendulkar’s possession, and other batsmen are so far behind that it seems unlikely that they will ever be broken, at least not by any one man. There can be no doubt that he has single-handedly won many matches for India, and at least one tournament, at Sharjah, where he scored devastating centuries in two consecutive games against Steve Waugh’s apparently invincible Australia and won the trophy. In one-dayers, Lara may not even figure among the top five batsmen of his generation; players like Jayasurya, Ganguly, Ponting and Gilchrist have greater achievements.

So there’s no question about who leads in the one-day format. But Tests? I don’t know whether I should say this and how it will be received, but might as well go ahead and put my foot in the mouth. In Tests, Lara has my vote over Tendulkar. That’s why it’s sad that we can see him only in the Twenty 20 format now.

Delusions of a Bengal Tigress

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

Sep 07, 2008

I was on my way home from work on Thursday evening when I got an SMS alert sent by a news channel: “Mamata Banerjee says she would rather sacrifice her life than bow down to Tatas.” And the scary part is that she might very well mean it! For, about the only positive quality this woman has is physical courage. For the last quarter of a century, she has fearlessly—almost insanely—braved police firings, lathi charges and attacks by Left Front cadre. This woman is not your normal politician. But whichever way her Singur agitation ends, in some footnote of a yet-unwritten Indian history book where she may be mentioned, Mamata will be remembered as a near-unhinged destructive force that kept on either failing, or, more importantly, failing the people she was supposed to work for.

This Singur blockade is an outrage and an act of such idiocy and such complete lack of understanding of economics, what is good for people, the big picture, the long term, indeed, of anything sensible and progressive, that it beggars belief. And she is supported by the usual bunch of development terrorists: our most well-known bleeding-heart liberals and some Naxalite losers. I am hardly an admirer of the Left, or of the Left Front, but in this case, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is correct, and Mamata is all set to do incredible damage to West Bengal and its people. She already has done significant damage.

If you were in the manufacturing sector, mulling a new project, would you now even consider West Bengal as a possible destination for your money? And every other Chief Minister in the country must be laughing their heads off at Mamata and her cohorts and rubbing their hands in glee.

Many years ago, in a small magazine I used to work for, I had hired a recent arrival in Delhi as a cut-paste artist (a job that has since become extinct with progress in publishing technology). He had been working as an electrician’s helper in his hometown, and knew nothing about our business, but I thought he was a plucky lad to have travelled to an unknown city to seek his fortune, so I should help him. The man did absolutely no work. He drank several gallons of water every day and hung around the office reading newspapers. Finally, one day, I had to call him in and speak to him. Look, I told him, you showed initiative and courage to come to the big city so far from your home and were willing to learn a new trade. There are huge economic opportunities in Delhi; if you work hard, you can see your earnings grow several times in a few years, maybe even double every year. Please try to give some attention to your work, do what you are asked to do. He thought about this a bit, then, while cleaning his right ear with a little finger, said: “Actually, sir, when I was a child, I had paratyphoid. After that, whenever people talk to me, I don’t quite understand what they are really saying.”

I sacked him immediately. The next morning, he came to collect his dues, wearing new clothes, with a smug smirk on his face, which grew smugger as he was going out of the door for the last time. “You think you bought me just because you were paying me a salary?” said the smirk. “There, I showed you people what I am, I don’t give a damn for your lousy job and your money.” He was going back to his dead-end hometown. As I read Mamata’s deranged rantings in the papers every day and see pictures of all her ignorant and deluded supporters, I am reminded of that man and what his notions of pride and victory were.

And I feel sad for West Bengal, I feel sad for Buddhadeb. If the Tatas and their ancillary units pull out of Singur, the possibility that several thousand people in that area would have jobs that would have been much better-paying than agriculture would be gone for ever. No industrial house would venture near that district ever. And some years later, looking back, even a nutcase like Mamata would perhaps realise what she had wrought. I hope she does, and I hope she lives with that knowledge and that shame every moment for the rest of her life. And I hope she lives to be a hundred.