Euro diaries

Travel, fall in love, and never come back. How simple would life have been had reality been as uncomplicated as this axiom. However, after a journey which was, in reality, curtailed to just the first two fragments of the order, a part of you does stay behind in absolute denial to returning. And a hope lingers that someday, you would lose yourself, unabridged, somewhere in the mysteries of the world. Meeting new people, making unexpectedly profound bonds with complete strangers, getting fresher perspectives on several aspects of life, exploring the beauty and richness of the culture of a foreign land and simply being inspired by the entire of it was what my recent expedition to Europe, with two other mates from school, was all about.

As highly as I had come to think of the south-western region of the neighbouring continent after several years of watching and reading from afar, the experience with yourself actually inside all those stories sure did not disappoint. After a much touristy voyage into the heart of France which included pilgrimages to the delightful Eiffel Tower, the mind-boggling Louvre and the vivid colours of Paris along the Seine, the Iberian Peninsula came in as a fresh breath of air; engulfing one into its los limites as one of its own.

The moment I jumped on the bus towards the city from the Barcelona airport, an air full of warmth and exhilaration greeted me on my way to the youth hostel, which was to be my home for the next three days. Had it not been for these spaces of accommodation, the trip would not have been worth even half the mirth. Stepping inside my dorm introduced me to a Latvian (FCB fan) who shared with me a similar passion for football, which became the foundation of a bromance that I would cherish for all of my life. Although Barca lost to PSG the night that we met, the trip to Camp Nou on the very next day compensated for his displeasure at the defeat.

Another reason why the Catalan city intrigued me so much was the fact that I had read a book called The Shadows of the Wind while gearing myself up for the Ciudad Condal. Fortunately, the Itaca Hostel (strongly recommended if you’re visiting Barcelona) was a part of the free walking tours, one out of which mapped its route through the Gothic Circle. Walking past so many of the places that I had read about in Carlos Ruiz Zaffon’s modern classic, including the Ramblas, Plaza Reial, Cala Santa de Monica, the Columbus statue and the Marina, touched my soul like something beyond explanation in just words.

The next morning, my friend from Riga departed for the Baltic, leaving great memories behind. The solitude was short-lived as I soon discovered another interesting figure in my dorm that had arrived the previous evening and had had an adventurous last night to say the least. Glad to open his eyes in his own bed, he then joined me and my Indian friends on our way to the Barceloneta beach and with so much on his plate, the Mexican-Canadian set the mood for the rest of the day. As sorrowful as goodbyes had become, the next morning we bid adieu to our new friends and the place that had given us so much; from hysterical street artists to Gaudi’s designs, from the serene beaches to free entries in parties, from people in their 30s changing careers to the ones already doing what they love, from old friends to new.

Next morning, the sun rose for us in the capital city of Portugal. Still hungover by our amour for Barcelona, we radiated from Rua Augusta and learned about the stories of the city’s rise after the horrendous earthquake that had rocked it some centuries ago. Seeking a little peace by the closing of the evening, we climbed to the highest point of the city, Miradoros to watch the sun go down. Discussing the importance of language in understanding the culture of a place, there we accidentally struck a chord with a Brazilian philosophy student who shared similar opinions. With the understanding of as many as eight different languages, the teenager’s ideas inflicted a diverse sort of though-process as the sun disappeared behind the Tagus River.

From that point till hitting the bed, the streets around the Largo Camoes to the Bairro Alto loudly announced in my face that Lisbon could easily house the most happening scenes of nightlife in the west. Fortunately again, I met this Canadian girl during the night who probably changed the course of this trip for me. After laughing my guts out with her on the first night, I never expected it to be even better on the next.

But before that, let me tell you how a nearby town called Sintra, the summer residence of the monarchs in the 18th and 19th centuries, came in as a welcome break from the late nights throughout the week, earlier that day. With a sudden drop in temperatures from Lisbon and a coarse population, Sintra seemed like a place where you can just sit and listen to the silence. It was yet another pleasant accident when one of us Indians crashed into a Londoner. Upon having dinner with her, it came to the three of us that she was a set designer and had even worked for Coldplay’s Charlie Brown video. Blowing us over with her stories, she promised to send me tickets to Coldplay’s next concert soon which gave me a decent high for the next few hours, while on the train back to Lisbon.

I wanted to take in the eve of my departure from the last destination of this trip by spending some time with myself, until I met the girl from last night once again (and The Beatles started playing in the background all of a sudden). It was when I was with her that I learnt a surprising lot about myself; about certain choices that I have made in life and the ones that I can from here. It’s remarkable as to how this one person, enters yours life out of the blue, and triggers so much thought and emotion inside you.

Even upon flying back home, a massive part of me is still wandering somewhere on the streets of Barcelona or in Lisbon, hands in hands with the blonde damsel. Coming back to reality, I currently face perpelexingly difficult career choices. However my experiences and an influx of newfangled thoughts from the short escapade to Europe should help me get through and become a bigger, stronger person in the future.

As a great man once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the very first step.” So, why not f*ckin’ take it!

Rise of the Indian colts

My interview with India’s young chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav in today’s Lokmat Times.

Kuldeep

Text:

For the demeanour of a little man, 19-year-old Kuldeep Yadav possesses the head of a rather mature cricketer.
Yadav had caught the eyes of the critics after his impressive show at the recent Under-19 World Cup, which comprised of a hat-trick against Scotland.
And currently, with six wickets at an implausible economy of 4.6, his performance with the ball for Uttar Pradesh so far in the ongoing Syed Mushtaque Ali Trophy T20 Cricket Tournament in Nagpur, has staked claims for a position among the senior ranks as well.
The Kanpur-lad caught up with Lokmat Times in an exclusive interview after UP’s third straight win in the competition

Continue reading Rise of the Indian colts

Dreams do come true

Press conference with the legendary Indian captain, Sourav Gaguly.
Sunday, Feb. 16: During a press conference with former Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly.

Eight weeks ago, if one would have asked me where I would imagine myself in the coming half a decade or so, I would have had no clue. Currently, I stand as a sports journalist who, less than 24 hours ago, interviewed one of the most astute leaders in Indian sport, Sourav Ganguly.

The prompt decision to switch careers in order to follow my passion for sports, has initiated my wonderful journey in the world of sports journalism. In the first couple of months of my experience so far, I have been able to cover major local sports events including the recently concluded two-day National Conference on Sports Law.

On Sunday, after Boria Majumdar and Vidushpat Singhania gave interesting insights on topics related to sports law and crimes in sports, Dada joined the duo for a panel discussion on the Implications of Sports Bill 2013. As soon as the captivating discussion concluded, the house was open to put up questions to the idol of many in the crowd sitting right in front of them on the stage.

A press conference followed and there I was, sitting right across the table with the man who built the team that meant the world to me while growing up. Ganguly replied to all the questions that the media threw at him during the interaction. All this, in spite of running short on a Sunday schedule, wherein he had to rush back home to Kolkata to visit his ailing mother-in-law.

In spite of so many sports-related controversies coming into light, I realised yesterday that there are many more good things about sports. The modesty and the truth that reflected in Dada’s personality made my day. He stressed time and again on the importance of being a good human from with. ‘At the end of the day, whatever you do you have to wake up as a good person in the morning. That’s how we can collectively overcome crimes in sports, or anywhere else for that matter.’

I feel proud to be a sports fan, all the more after yesterday’s experience. And my decision to switch from a settled job (which obviously paid me better) to a profession which is much more closer to my heart has been the most crucial yet satisfying one.

I urge all the people reading this text to follow their dreams to embark on the pursuit of actual happiness and contentment. Though I have not achieved too much in life, but I say this to the readers because I’m more satisfied in life than I ever was earlier.

Two quotes, clichéd but sometimes very fitting, do sum up a lot of happy endings (or beginnings) – It’s never too late. Dreams do come true. 

“The idea is to enhance women’s cricket in the city”

Alshaar story Manikarnika

Published in Saturday’s Lokmat Times, Nagpur edition.

http://epaper.lokmat.com/lokmattimes/epapermain.aspx?queryed=76
Page No. 3 | Sports

“We don’t lag far behind”

Alshaar Khan
Nagpur, Feb. 7

If you’re looking for inspiration, you don’t need to search too far beyond the St. Ursula ground. Manikarnika, an inter school tennis-ball cricket tournament is being organised at the venue, and the astonishing fact about the event is that all its participants are girls.

The second season of the competition comprises of 16 participating schools from the city, and has certainly grown in stature from its predecessor which had far less numbers.
“The idea is to take women’s cricket in Nagpur to the next level. We have begun with a tennis-ball cricket tournament and soon we will evolve it into a leather ball tournament, and even further”, said Priyanka Acharya, member of the Vidarbha women cricket team and the brain behind Manikarnika.

Short boundaries and absence of spectators, on a rather warm afternoon, pretty much summed up the misery of women cricket when compared to its male counterpart. In spite of this, there was a positive vibe on the field displayed by the South Point School girls who were warming up for the next scheduled match, on Friday.

On interacting with a few of them, I was informed that they felt injustice when only their boys cricket team showed up in cricket events. Thus they wanted to show the entire school that girls don’t lag far behind. One of them said, “I want to prove that we can also play and win. I have always been interested in watching the game. And I have also grown-up playing cricket with my brothers.”

It was a case of inoculate irony when the answer to the who-is-your-favourite-cricketer question was Sachin Tendulkar. This simple example exhibited the lack of female idols in the world of Indian sport, and the ones who exist do not receive the credit and appreciation that they deserve.

In the days of the much mocked ‘women empowerment’ phrase, it was heartening to know that all the preparations right from flex printing to the demarcation of boundaries, were carried out by females. Priyanka also mentioned that growing up the ranks in cricket has helped her to get a job and more importantly a recognition in the society. “If you remove my surname, people will still recognise me. But if you stop associating me with cricket, people won’t know who I am”.

The heart and soul gone into this event should set an example in the times to come, and hopefully give birth to a better future of female sports in the city.

 

India’s Road to WC 2015 post the NZ disaster

A resurrected Kiwi side rampaged the visiting World Champions 4-0 on home turf; Lorde added further glory to the country with a Grammy (out of context)

Adelaide, Auckland, Brisbane, Christchurch, Canberra, Dunedin, Hamilton, Hobart, Melbourne, Napier, Nelson, Perth, Sydney, Wellington. For those who are wondering about this long index of venues, it is the list of grounds where all the ICC World Cup 2015 ties will be hosted. The reason behind bringing up these names is that India has been thoroughly humbled on four of out these 14 in the past fortnight, and that too by a side ranked seven places below them at the outset of the series.

Although, nothing should be taken away from a fresh and versatile Kiwi side which seems to have assembled several missing pieces in their inconsistent jigsaw, at least ever since the West Indies visited them. The series against the Caribbean side surfaced some shining positives for the Kiwis, Corey Anderson’s smashing batting accompanied with his all round abilities and Kane Williamson’s consistency being the top two for me. Not to forget some unbelievable fielding.

But what has gone wrong with the Indian Team which was satisfactorily successful on their previous tour to New Zealand, winning the ODIs 3-1? Is it just the transition which is taking too long to materialise into something substantial or the team management’s stubborn attitude or a combination of several factors or something totally different? After all, this is a similar team to the one that triumphed in England during the ICC Champions Trophy not too long ago.

A comparison with the 2008-09 team that was victorious in the Test Series as well as the One days could answer some of these burning questions that have sprung up after 8 consecutive overseas ODI losses for Team India. Starting with the top order, Rohit and Shihkar’s failures are hard to even compare to the dangerous Sachin-Sehwag-Gambhir trio from the last tour. Sehwag amassed one short of 300 runs in the series striking at an insane rate of 150.25. The Master could not participate in all the matches due to injury but his 163* would go down as one of his best ever limited overs’ knock.

March 8, 2009: One of the Masters Blaster’s best overseas knocks, ably supported by Yuvraj, helped India pile up a mammoth total.

Another big difference, previously, was India’s fifth bowler combination of Yuvraj and Yusuf Pathan. But this time around, not even the specialist bowlers were anywhere close to the Kiwi attack which was far more disciplined.

Harbhajan Singh, India’s No. 1 spinner back then was the leading wicket taker of the series in the 2008-09 tour. In contrast, India’s present day spinning ‘SuperKing’ was able to pick up just the solitary wicket in the entire series, in spite of bowling close to 90 overs. Ashwin’s bowling average 43.26 of since the 2011 world cup is rising alarmingly with every overseas series.

Corey Anderson with his all-round heroics inspired a Kiwi series win against an unbalanced Indian team.

On the other hand, the Kiwis appeared to produce new quicks with every passing game in this series. A 4 wicket haul for the debutant Matt Henry in the dead rubber, for which there were more orange shirts in the park than the blue ones, pretty much summed it up for the hosts. As for the Indian seemers, the less said, the better.

The biggest positive from the series for MSC & Co. has been Virat’s batting. And ideally, the team management should have been looking to build a team around him rather than expecting R Ashwin to be the all-rounder of their fantasies. Also due to unexplained negligence, the Indian middle order today is missing a solid and consistent batsman like Cheteshwar Pujara. ridiculously high scoring batsmen in the Indian domestic circuit could also bear potential answers to many batting miseries for the national team.

Too heavy a burden for Virat to carry on his shoulders all alone.

When will Dhoni allow a fast bowling/medium pace all-rounder to rise up the ranks is left to one’s imagination. Binny’s single over show in his first and only match of the series bears ample testimony to the fact.

Between now and the World Cup, India is scheduled to tour England soon after the T20 World Cup and then, another visit to the southern hemisphere will expose the Indians to a ruthless Australian attack later in the year. A few easy home series are set to be sandwiched in between the tours by the BCCI, to boost the morale (and fat income cheques) more than anything.

Thus, the road to the 2015 World Cup is a very challenging one for the defending champions and if it’s not for some quick changes in team composition or strategies, the Men in Blue are set to disappoint.

As for the Test series, MS is backing his batsmen to rise up to the challenge, and the Kiwis are preparing some more chin music to make life miserable for them.

Fail. Fail Better. Repeat. Succeed.

  • Stan’s much deserved revenge vs Nole. 
  • What awaits the Swiss after success at the first major of the year. 

It was 1.41am in Australia when the defending champion swept a cross-court backhand past his opponent at Rod Laver Arena. Moments later, an enraptured Novak Djokovic was ripping his T-Shirt apart after a grueling 5-set victory in his 2013 Australian Open Men’s Singles Fourth Round match over Stanislas Wawrinka, in what will go down as one of the most memorable matches in the tournament’s history.
Then Swiss No.2 Wawrinka, who lost the match but won several hearts during his center court display, later said, “At the end I was really, really close. For sure I’m really sad. It’s a big disappointment to lose that match, but I think there are more positives than negatives.”

The positives were enhanced and the negatives were worked upon, thereafter.  Almost exactly one year later, the world witnessed scenes of absolute redemption on the same court when Wawrinka got the better of the hard-hitting Serb in a replay of the electrifying clash. The house was packed, and the crowds were in for yet another nail-biter. The match went right down to the wire but with his share of fortune and some really strong groundstrokes, Stanislas Wawrinka outlasted Novak Djokovic in an unforgiving 5-set marathon which ended after four draining hours.

In the scorching Australian summer, Stan further went on to  defeat the number 7 seed Thomas Berdych in the Semi final, to set up a clash with the winner from one of the most  impassioned rivalries of modern tennis. Wawrinka expressed best wishes for his Olympic Doubles partner to defeat his Spanish nemesis, to make it an all Swiss Final. But it was not to be, as Nadal, in spite of playing with a big blister on his left hand managed to send Roger packing in straight sets.

The moment had arrived. The last men standing in the competition faced off in a not so competitive final, which was marred by Rafa’s unfortunate injury. He still managed to win one set with less than half of his prime fitness only to lose the match in the fourth. But nothing should be taken away from Stan who maintained his levels of intensity, strength and passion throughout the tournament to clinch his first major. With this, he has become only the second player outside of the ‘Big Four’ to win one since French Open 2005.

Stanislas Wawrinka poses with the 2014 Australian Open winner’s trophy on the bank of the Yarra River in Melbourne.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

The aforementioned are the words of an Irish poet Samuel Beckett tattooed on the left arm of the new No. 1 Swiss Tennis player and the Australian Open 2014 Champion Stanislas Wawrinka.

For the past 35 grand slam tournaments in his career, the journey of the Men’s Doubles Olympic Gold Medallist has personified the story of Beckett’s words.  His improved temperament and better levels of concentration have led him from a No. 17 ranking from January 2013 to a career-high ranking of No. 3 in January 2014. Notably, he started the 2014 tour with lifting the title in Chennai.

But how far will this momentum last? Has he really arrived in the top ranks amongst the ones on tour or is this just one of those once in a lifetime Goran Ivanisevic-esque achievements?

Assessing further, one of the pretty recent examples of the same would take you back to US Open 2009. The first player to really come of age and break the winning cliche of the Big Four post-2005, was an Argentine who defeated both Federer and Nadal en route to his solitary major title, Juan Martin del Potro. Although comparisons are hard to be made as that particular conquest was marked on the hard courts of the Flushing Meadows, and also that del Potro was in his early 20s. But the point of this entire piece is that someone like del Potro who had exceeded expectations with his performance half a decade ago, has not been able to replicate that sort of a performance in majors since then. And thus, has certainly not posed any serious threat to the quartet. His best show since then was at SW19  last year where he was ousted by Nole in the longest semi final of the Wimbledon’s Open Era history. Though it has to be mentioned that he has been quite unfortunate to have been plagued by several injuries and illnesses ever after his maiden grand slam title.

But the same questions arise with the new Swiss Numbero Uno – whether he will be able to maintain his Number 3 position and/or rise even further. Age is not on his side nor is history. But the sort of game that he showcased for 2 weeks at Melbourne Park has left a lot of doors still open.

Only time will tell how things unfold, but the inspiration drawn from the Beckett-inspired tattoo is one worth learning from, for one and all.

And perhaps for Stan, time to celebrate and get a new tattoo maybe!

Nagpur Test: David’s Army, and the Need for Goliath’s Resurrection

Riding on the success of their spin twins, England came back from behind to beat India at their home turf, after losing the first test of the series.

England’s Tour of India 2012-13

  • Nagpur Test
  • Result: Match Drawn
  • India lose 4-match series 2-1

It was a dream come true for a Test cricket fan like me to witness one LIVE in the wonderfully constructed Vidarbha Cricket Association stadium in Nagpur, but unfortunate as it may be deemed, India succumbed to the first home series loss against the English in almost 3 decades.

As the Indian bowlers toiled hard to dismiss the England batsman below an overpowering score by the first session of Day 2, it looked set to be an interesting climax to the series before yet another famous Indian middle order collapse before stumps. The Indian captain and his much acclaimed successor came to the rescue on Day 3, but the tone of the match was set when the skipper, who was so intimidated by England’s fielding tactics during a period of those particular overs that he pushed one hard to mid off and ran himself out on 99, after having worked so hard for almost 300 deliveries and 4 sessions. Talking about records, this was the first time a test captain has done this to himself in Test history. And thereafter, it was a walk in the park for Cook & co. who were playing for a draw, coming into this test leading the series already.

Bell and Trott, the 2 English batsmen who had failed to contribute too much in the series, spent some good time in the middle, each getting to 3 figures on a pitch which was more flat than my LED flat screen TV set. Many may joke that all curators have taken revenge after Dhoni’s remarks made on the Indian wickets when the series was in infancy.

Losing 10 out of the last 12 Tests played against stronger oppositions, many questions are being raised about Team India. Even I have some questions to ask – Ajit Wadekar who captained India to 2 glorious away Test series victories was sacked when India lost a home series immediately afterwards, then why not Dhoni who has done worse? Why is it that no player from Rajasthan, who have been winners of the Ranji Trophy for the past two consecutive seasons because of players like Robin Bist, Pankaj Singh, R.R Singh etc. doesn’t feature in the Indian team? How is it possible that within a fortnight of ineffective Indian bowling at Eden Gardens, Shami Ahmed picks up 10 wickets in a match for Bengal on the very same ground? Why doesn’t the board involve visionaries like Sourav Ganguly, who brought many young players up the ranks who are established names in the game today, in major decisions regarding team building and  development of young players? How long are we going to gamble with the buttery fingers and ageing body of Virendra Sehwag? And the biggest of them all, should Sachin be sacked or should he retire?

As an Indian fan, all of this would have been too painful to endure for 5 days (and more), had it not been for some really interesting company, which was the second part of my experience in the stadium. My seat was in the West Wing of the stadium, an area occupied by a considerable number of Barmy Army soldiers.

It was a battle of cricket on the field and off it, especially in my seating area, where there were almost equal number of supporters for both the teams. In fact, the off field duel proved to be the more competitive one by the end of the match. They stood and clapped at every milestone that their players go to, and we as usual, howled at every run that our men scored or every wicket they bagged. But it was really interesting to get an opportunity to chat with many Test lovers, a species that is rare to find with the increasing popularity of the shorter formats. Men and women from all age groups had traveled all the way from The Queen’s land just for this series, and some, just for the concluding test, to watch Cook lift the winners’ trophy.

I have always been curious as to what drives these people so far away from home. A couple of gentlemen landed in Nagpur on Day 2. “Joe Root is an exciting talent. It’s great to see how well our test team has done over the last half a decade or so”, one of them said. George, a Londoner, who people called WG for his W.G.Grace-like beard added, “I have a five-week vacation every year and this time around, I chose to spend it in India watching cricket”. “Many others who are here are either retired or are backpacking, some maybe travel enthusiasts”, he added.
Jim, who is a dual citizen of both Australia and England had arrived in India after the Australia-South Africa series had concluded. “It’s really cheap in India, apart from the airfares. The entire trip in your country will cost me even less than my air tickets”, he said. “I’m going to see the Tigers in Kanha after this match”, he added as he asked for directions for his destination. A young couple who were enjoying sunbathing said, “The weather is great. This time of the year, it’s snowing back home, but here its 30 degrees. Perfect!”

Mr. Martins, a 60-year-old, who was here with his friends informed me that they were here just for the Test series and are also planning to visit New Zealand when the team travels there for a series in February-March next year. “One day cricket is not my thing. I’m glad that we won the Test series. Maybe, we’ll go and visit the Team Hotel tonight and join the lads for a celebration”, he also said. One of his friends said, “It has been a lovely experience in India- Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Kolkata and Nagpur- Great places, great food and such friendly people. I had been here 20 years back, but this time around, it was a different experience altogether. We’re leaving on Sunday from Delhi and will probably get back home on time for Christmas.” And as the dawn set on the series, I struck a conversation with another Englishman from Cambridge, who showed me a tattoo that he had gotten some years back and the quote written on it could have been used to address the Indian on all that has it has been going through. It said – Be good to yourself because no one else has the power to make you happy. And as I spoke to every rival supporter, I eventually realised that people had different reasons to be in India, but deep within there was just one power that brought us all to the stadium and it was the love for cricket that we shared.

The Barmy Army is a unique troop that has been travelling with the English team throughout the globe, enjoying everything that comes their way. I wish that I get to be a part of a similar group of Indian fans someday and travel around the world watching our team fight it out hard there in the middle. But not to forget, similar was the case with my fellow countrymen who have been there with the team during their highs and lows. The support for Team India in spite of its recent failures has been unbelievable. People turned out in large numbers and flaring tricolours to see their heroes level the series but things turned out to be otherwise. Hopefully, the lessons from all the humiliation will be learned soon and the supporters get to experience their tickets’ worth in the times to come.