Wednesday, May 28, 2008

One seat in the Cricket Theatre

All the world's a stage exclaimed the most famous playwright of all time. Ask Lalit Modi about it and he'll readily agree. This may not be the greatest show on earth but it certainly comes close to being the greatest show in the cricket world. (to me the India v Pakistan WC 96 quarterfinal will remain as the numero uno on that count ). When Brendon Muccullum swiped all those sixes on the opening night little did he realize that he had just clapped and said "action" to signal the start of what one can truly claim as a cinematic experience, complete with scantily clad cheer girls, crying stars and rebellious superstars. The theatrics on the field and off it (the forced hug and make up picture of sreesanth and harbhajan complete with Farokh Engineer desperately trying to remain in the picture, will remain among the most comical images of the IPL) would have impressed many a veteran actor. To see the same foreigners who would crib about playing in India in the heat of April queue up to get their share of the pie is possibly the best indicator that money is the overriding factor in anything and everything. Maybe its time for Master Card to change their slogan.

One wouldn want to be left out of such a historic tournament and when the chance came for me to be part of the action, albeit in the sedentary role of a spectator I grabbed it. So on the 21st , with free tickets courtesy Sunil, and Aadi for company I stepped into the ground pretty apprehensive about whether I'll get my money's worth. Considering that the Royal Challengers were playing that was a pretty tough ask . In case anyone is wondering what money I am talking about, it is the time that I was investing in the exercise and I believe in Time is money concept. At least that way with so much time in hand I can feel like a millionaire. With a live concert by Tipu going on, getting into the mood wasn't too difficult and we settled down pretty fast. As the sky darkened threatening showers and then delivering on it, anxiety set in about whether the match would happen. Almost everyone had a prayer on their lips to get the clouds to go away (though at the end of the match the same people were suggesting that a rain would have ensured a better result for the CSK)

As the rains went away and the chances of a full match became brighter so did the faces of everyone around. After all you don't pay in the hundreds and thousands to watch the rainfall. As soon as the match started the whole stadium seemed to ride on new found energy. The best part, about this game atleast, revolved around song and dance. The songs blaring from the PA system and the dance routine of the rather excessively gyrating cheer leaders of Royal Challengers. With a costume that would first send the local politicians to their graves with their heart stopping moves, and then make them turn in them protesting against such "unacceptable public behaviour", they were the ones inducing life into a game which had long been done to death through boredom, thanks to inspid batting performances by both the teams.

Two things became very apparent to me sitting there in the ground. One, Dhoni is pretty much the biggest selling celebrity in Indian cricket at the moment. Despite a string of failures, from his bat and his team, the cheers which greeted everything from the announcement of his name, to his arrival at the toss, his fielding and his batting entry were unlike anything seen before in a cricket ground (except quite obviously Sachin and maybe Dada at the Eden Gardens). The icing on the cake was the song they played on the speakers when he came into bat, "Singam Pola Nadandu Varan chella perandi.. "(translated as "My grandson has the majestic walk of a lion")" from Dhool. One is not sure about the grandson part, but he well and truly seems to have become the most loved adopted son of Chennai.

The other fact which became very clear was that IPL is the biggest cricket success story of the decade. As much as I hate to admit it, (yes I am one of those so called "tradionalists" who'd prefer watching Shivnarine Chanderpaul battling England all alone on the final day of a test match) IPL has brought in amazing entertainment value to cricket. It makes one feel he's got his money's worth at the end of the day. Maybe Lalit Modi does deserve a pat on the back. After all this is the second big he has done for Indian television, the other being the rights holder for Fashion TV in India. Not surprising then that he has figured out that scantily clad women and cricket are a heady mix in India.

P.S Talking about heady mixes, it is worth mentioning that the man has been arrested and jailed on the accusation of possesing drugs ( . That i guess just about proves that he's a seasoned campaigner when it comes to giving people a high.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Goodbye Henin

The world's best backhand has ceased to exist. If ever there was a living proof for a pocket dynamo it was Justine Henin. At just over 5 ft, she was an anomaly in the modern world of women's tennis. As teen sensation after teen sensation came out of eastern Europe, she stood still at the very top of women's tennis.

While her compatriot from Belgium, Kim Clijsters seemed to prove that nice people can't be champions, Henin set about disproving it. There has hardly been any volume raised about her behaviour on court or off it. On the other hand, she's earned plaudits for the way she has handled herself in the midst of all her personal troubles. While she was distancing herself from her husband, she got closer to her immediate family and in the meanwhile found enough strength, mental and physical to win the French Open. Later the same year she went on to win the US Open without dropping a set, a phenomenal achievement considering she had to meet both the Williams sisters en route her victory.

Watching Henin in action was a lesson in graceful motion. Her backhand was one of a kind, and it might not be an overstatement to say it was better than Federer's. The crispness of the shot and the angles she created were to be seen both to be believed and to be stared at in disbelief. At a time when brutal power ruled the courts, she proved that brain counts for more than brawn. To claim that she was this era's Hingis would only do both the legends proud.

Through her playing years Henin has endeared herself to the both the paying public and the critics alike, a sign of a great champion. Its a pity that the world will no longer be her stage and we cannot rejoice in her achievements, for in her we all see a bit of us, the person who broke all stereotypes and emerged as a much loved much admired individual. Men's tennis might have a Nadal for a Federer, but there has never been a constant second to Henin, a true indicator of her stamina and resolve .

As she began to court success on a regular basis, her many detractors maintained she was just robot like and that took some sheen away from her victories. As time progressed however, the world saw more of her human side. Perhaps, the most touching moment of her career was in the course of her French Open victory last year. During the semi-final match, present in her box was a very special invitee, her coach Carlos Rodriguez'z son. Many times before she had claimed that if he wished her she would definitely win the match. That day was no different and her wave to him at the end of the match would be one of the most poignant memories in an illustrious career. We'll miss you, Goobye Henin!