Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Journalism is a state of mind...

By John Cheeran
It was Charles Lamb who wrote that wood has entered the soul. Well, wood makes for a good desk in contemporary journalism. A sub-editor's worst enemy is a reporter who thinks she writes like Jane Austen. And when editor asks the sub to set aside his pride and prejudice, and pray to the god of QuarkXpress and make the page, you have your morning paper.
Editors aver that journalism has changed. Yes, it has, indeed. It is for the reader to decide whether it has changed for good, or bad. In the dialectics of journalism there has always been a room for the tension between reporters and copy editors. When it worked well, well, it served the newspaper's objectives of clarity and information.
This is an age when newspaper managements wonder about what copy editors do at all in the newsroom. Do we need them at all when all these well-heeled and well-taut reporters, write?
The case for copy editors was brilliantly argued by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten, when he wrote his celebrated piece "If You Were Like I," on June 22, 2008. He showed what a copy editor worth his weight in gold could do by leaving room for 60 corrections in a column of 617 words. (optional)
The tragedy of today’s journalism, in India and elsewhere, is that reporters have been allowed to delude that they are writers. Editors have failed to tell reporters that their job is to report, not to write. There was a time when journalism was not writing fiction, but finding facts and asking irksome questions. Those days, a good copy editor could have made sense out of what was thrown at him. Now every a quote a reporter writes is fabricated, and such lazy ones, that the desk pukes at the brazen audacity of reporter retching the same gems.
Brazenness does not end there. When reporters wantonly walk away from the task of providing even basic information such as the person who was spoken to and his or her designation, the desk has been advised to Google it. If not for Internet, reporters would have been asphyxiated by now. It is important to remember that every copy must be edited, including this one. Journalism is a state of mind, and you cannot pretend that you have it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A run is a run…..

By John Cheeran
Small grounds such as Rajkot make anyone a big hitter. In that sense there is little surprise that the likes of Virender Sehwag, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara whacked around bowlers to take both India and Sri Lanka past the 400 mark.
The winner, of course, was India. But, then, you may ask, is this cricket, or a mere spectacle?
The ODI match between India and Sri Lanka had as much excitement as that of a tug-of-war contest between two rustic sides. Both sides stretched themselves to the limit of 50 overs and the tug had to be broken under the heavy load of runs. On Tuesday, that left Mahendra Singh Dhoni standing with the end of the rope.
You cannot be blamed if you were finding it difficult to tell apart whether this was a Twenty20 contest or the traditional 50 overs game. But a run is a run, wherever your pitch is.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Journalism has changed, indeed

By John Cheeran
Everyone says journalism has changed.
Yes, I should know, it has changed. Now newspapers ask readers what do they want from them.
Not so long ago, newspapers led from the front by breaking stories, bringing down skeletons from the cupboards of movers and shakers, unmasking the faces of high and mighty, and by asking irksome questions, and in the process, ferreting out information.
Are editors abdicating their responsibilities by bringing in guest editors and having conversations with people whom the paper considers as High Net Worth Individuals?
I cannot but say that when editors seek applause from the likes of Rahul Bajajs, Ratan Tatas, Nandan Nilekanis, Narayana Murthys and Prasad Bidapas, it is a dangerous trend. A trend of servility that can spell the doom of news gathering as much as the penchant for paid news.
Yes, it is important to get your ying and yang right, but not at the cost of your backbone.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Such a long journey to reach No.1 spot in Test cricket

By John Cheeran
Cricket is very close to the Indian bone, and there is no doubt that India's elevation to the No.1 spot in Test rankings calls for celebration. Statistics quite often conceal more than what they reveal, and though Indian cricketers deserve their glory, they are far from the most feared cricket side in the world.
While it is important to pay tribute to Mahendra Singh Dhoni's boys on their tryst with ICC's Test championship rankings which was introduced in 2001, it would be prudent to pray that the Men in Blue retain the top spot for a significant period of time. India’s Test schedule ahead, unfortunately, does not offer much room for improvement.
Cricket is a sport that revels in numbers. But to measure cricketing greatness in terms of points would be missing the wood for trees.
Does this Indian side led by Dhoni inspire fear among opponents in the way the mighty West Indians, under Clive Lloyd, used to in early 1980s? Even Steve Waugh's Australians were feared and respected by the cricket world much more than the current Indian side.
One thing we have to remember. Rankings mirror incremental improvement in a side's progress and do not measure a certain side's greatness.
Be that as it may, it is important that India win key series at home and abroad, and in the process, win the respect of game's followers. Winning the 2011 World Cup should be a goal, even though critics may point out that it has nothing to with supremacy in Test cricket.
But, then, fear is the key. The respect that follows from fear will separate the truly great from the fleeting number game.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Virender Sehwag, the man with no burdens

By John Cheeran
Those who have spent their adjectives a few weeks ago on Sachin Tendulkar find now themselves paupers to describe the phenomenon called Virender Sehwag.
Sehwag (284 off 239 balls) was master of all he surveyed at the Brabourne Stadium on Thursday. In Tendulkar's backyard, Sehwag has shaken the fundamentals of Test match batting to the core.
It's a brute reminder to all of us that there have been few exciting batsmen in the modern era to match Sehwag for sheer excitement at the crease. Sanath Jayasuriya and Adam Gilchrist included.
The simplicity of Sehwag's batting never ceases to surprise the onlooker. When on song, Sehwag, the destroyer, can only invoke the images of Shiva.
Sehwag, as you all know, is not your erudite cricketer who is deeply conscious of the tradition of the game. It is important to remember that while falling short of the opening stand record of Pankaj Roy during India's Pakistan tour, the guy simply asked the journalists, Pankaj who?
The biggest blessing Sehwag has faced in his career that he has played along with Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. For Sehwag there has been no reason to put on the uncomfortable role of rescuer or defender of one billion people. When Tendulkar admirably carries the burden of one billion, why should Sehwag worry?
Sehwag terrorises bowlers, and in the process, it would not be inappropriate to say that he has put Vivian Richards in the shade.
Not that Sehwag has had his moments of wretchedness in international cricket. Without the unflinching support of Rahul Dravid, Sehwag would not have been made the cut for the disastrous World Cup in 2007. People, including me, did abuse Sehwag for his unrepentant ways at the crease.
Sehwag cannot play but the way he has been made out.
So he continues to confound, exasperate, enthrall and entertain you and opposition, in the manner of a street bully.
Jab thak balla chale, we all should know.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Twists and turns at Brabourne

By John Cheeran
At the end of the first day of the third and final Test at Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, both India and Sri Lanka have reasons to be satisfied. It was an engrossing day, events doing justice to the ambiguities of Test cricket in full measure.
Of course, Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara finally won the toss. But he has an arduous task ahead of him to win the Test.
Sri Lanka has come up with an impressive first day score, amply aided by the belligerent batting of Tillakratne Dilshan (109 off 160 balls) and a sensible effort from all rounder Angelo Mathews. Sri Lankan openers gave their side an impressive start. But to India's credit, spinners Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha ensured that Sri Lankan batsmen did not think in terms of a total bordering on 500.
Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, however, will be a worried man. Odds are stacked against India. If Indian spinners can trouble the likes of Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene on Day One, the world's highest wicket-taker Muttaiah Muralitharan should be able to redeem his reputation on Indian soil. And consider that Indian batsmen will have the honour of playing the fourth innings. It is needless to say that India will have to play its first innings big, and in that opener Murali Vijay will have a huge role to play. Murali, who is filling in the leave vacancy of Gautam Gambhir just as he did in his debut Test against Australians in Nagpur earlier, has an opportunity to confound the national selectors.
For all that, twists and turns in this Test have just begun.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A well deserved Test century for Team India in Kanpur

By John Cheeran
Team India completed a century of Test wins on Friday in Kanpur. India defeated Sri Lanka by an innings and 144 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the three-Test series. The third Test will start in Mumbai on December 2.
All wins are sweet. Let's not forget that Sri Lanka is the No.2 side in ICC's Test rankings. Sri Lankans are not merely our neighbours, but a significant power in world cricket. So there is no reason to be dismissive about the victory at Green Park.
It is quite interesting to note how skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni fashioned the Kanpur win. Some of the tactics were quite traditional. Win the toss, put on a huge first innings score with a couple of centuries from the batsmen and put the opposition under pressure. Normally, then spinners take over the match.
Here in Kanpur, the significant departure was the role of pace bowling. Yes, turn did come, and Harbhajan Singh and rest of the spin gang got wickets. But it was fast bowler S Sreesanth who wrecked the Sri Lankan will and willow. That India does not have to rely on a deteriorating wicket and tweakers for the victory augur well for Indian cricket.
As Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara pointed out during the post-match briefing, the wicket was not the villain in the plot. It was some good bowling, and then the pressure of climbing the huge mountain of runs that turned things in India's favour.
Yes, Sreesanth has proved his worth by bowling India to victory. The man of the match award is just reward for the youngster.
The question, however, remains unanswered why the Indian selectors overlooked the claims of a fit fast bowler for so long.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sreesanth leads India’s march to victory

By John Cheeran
Ah, Sri Lanka is in troubled waters in Kanpur. After having made to follow-on by India, Sri Lanka has lost four wickets for 57; and those who were dismissed include captain Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena.
The end is near.
Pitch in Kanpur has played its own part in making batting difficult for Sri Lankans. You cannot deny that. But more than that one has to admit that S Sreesanth's brilliant bowling unhinged the Sri Lankan first innings.
Sreesanth, so far, has picked up six wickets (5/75 in the first innings and 1/10 in the second innings) in this Test. And what a glorious comeback this one has been.
Hunted and hounded by a string of injuries and bad PR, Sreesanth was on the verge of being shunned even by his own Kerala Cricket Association only a few weeks ago.
For a long time it remained inexplicable why national selectors were overlooking the claims of a fit Sreesanth.
But all that cloudy days now seem far away, with this iridescent display of incisive fast bowling. Sreesanth bowled with a degree of purpose and determination, qualities rarely associated with Indian bowling. A quick look at the mode of the six dismissals by Sreesanth reveals the quality of his disciplined bowling. Three batsmen were bowled while the other three were caught by wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. All a reward for bowling in the corridor of uncertainty. Throughout the day Sreesanth troubled the Sri Lankan batsmen, giving little room for them to indulge in strokeplay.
Yes, there is no doubt, Sreesanth is a changed man. And a changed bowler too. The time spent away from the Indian dressing room has had its effect on the young, inflammable man. Sreesanth not only has sharpened his outswingers at the nets, better still, he has learnt to control his aggressive urge. The fire is still there, but now he is taking care to see that he does not singe himself. Sreesanth's joy in sending back a batsman is still palpable but does not degenerate into churlishness. It's a more a prayer, for the blessing of the second chance.
For India, too, it is important that it does not let go of this natural talent. As a captain Dhoni has the responsibility to guide the youngster on and off the field. And back the man with the outswinger and outrageous temper when the times get tougher in the days ahead.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dravid and stray thoughts on luck

By John Cheeran
What's luck? Or, what's lack of luck?
When you become a victim for no action of yours, you may call yourself being unlucky. Rahul Dravid, who scored his 28th Test century (144) in Kanpur on Wednesday, is familiar with the wanton nature of luck through a career spanning 13 years.
While watching VVS Laxman playing Sri Lankan spinner Herath from non-striker's end, Dravid would have been thinking in terms of a double century to make up for those missed opportunities in his career. Dravid was batting brilliantly, often playing bold strokes, and relishing his stay at the crease with each ball. But as luck would have it, Dravid had stepped a few paces forward, and Laxman's straight drive was deflected off the hands of bowler Herath to the non-striker's stumps. Dravid was run out.
An innings cut short, and who was at fault?
Dravid, of course, should have been watchful and not have left his crease until Laxman called for the run. But, then, you cannot plan every step you take on the field.
Having said that, Dravid himself would not have felt too bad about his dismissal, for India, by that time, had crossed 500 runs. There were skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh too continue India's onslaught on Sri Lankan bowlers.
That India, eventually, fell 150 runs short of its first innings total of 642 is another matter. With the pitch expected to make batting difficult in the remaining sessions of the Test, India could have done with more. It is worth noting that all of India's wickets were taken by Sri Lanka's spin trio.
For all that Sri Lanka has picked up the gauntlet pretty well after losing opener Tillakaratne Dilshan off the very first ball of its innings. It's a long road indeed towards a result.
Let's wait for the twist in the tale.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gambhir, Sehwag and Dravid lead run riot in Kanpur

By John Cheeran
India got a few things right at Green Park in Kanpur on Tuesday. First, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the toss.
Green Park pitch looks like a treat for batsmen and what good would have come out of it had Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara won the toss and decided to bat?
Losing the toss would hurt Sangakkara all the more since he picked three spinners – Ajantha Mendis is in the XI—and Welegedara as the lone pacer.
So winning the toss and batting on a placid track were definitely to India's advantage.
And then Virender Sehwag survived the initial hour to unfurl a stream of strokes that left the opposition rattled. Meanwhile, Gautam Gambhir did his job to perfection. Sehwag scored 131 off 122 balls, an audacious effort, on the first day of the Test, after getting dropped on zero. Gambhir played a more responsible innings (167) that ensured that Indian openers put on 233 runs for the first wicket.
At the end of the first day, India had scored 417 for 2 with Rahul Dravid (85 not out) and Sachin Tendulkar (20 not out). It is India's highest score in a day in a Test in India.
Of course, the pace of Indian batsmen’s scoring and the whole positive approach was a direct result of the nature of the track. Most of the day, India scored five runs per over.
There is no doubt that now MS Dhoni would not like to declare India’s first innings but score as many runs as possible. If the rest of the famed Indian batsmen could join the run feast at Green Park, a total of 800 would not be impossible.
If one man can prevent that it is world's highest wicket taker in Tests -- Muttaih Muralitharan. It is not fortuitous
that Muralitharan dismissed both Sehwag and Gambhir. As the Test progresses, spinners are likely to play a central role in Kanpur and if anyone could exploit the conditions, think of Muralitharan first.
In conditions such as this, bowlers can get easily frustrated. Sri Lankan bowlers are going through a tough phase but sticking to the basics would be the best course of action.
It appears that Indian team management is keen to win the series and that is reflected in the changes in the bowling combination. S Sreesanth has come in place of Ishant Sharma and Prgyan Ojha pushed out Amit Mishra. But, then, it remains to be seen whether these two could pitch in India's push for victory.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Kanpur’s pitch: It’s time to rise above it

By John Cheeran
Those who overcome the conditions in which they are pitted against can lay claims to be heroes.
As the second Test between India and Sri Lanka begins in Kanpur on Tuesday the focus is neither on Sachin Tendulkar, the highest run-getter, nor on Muttaiah Muarlitharan, the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket. It's all about the nature of the pitch.
As it has been widely commented upon, Kanpur has a history of preparing dubious pitches. Well, there is nothing called a level playing field in cricket. But no cricketer would like to play on a wicket that does not honour the basic tenets of the game. That is, a decent chance to score runs, and take wickets, without risking your life and limb.
The excessive focus on the pitch in Green Park also tells a lot about the skills of our cricketers. Now, things have come to such a pass that batsmen can score runs only on sleeping beauties as was the case during the first Test in Ahmedabad. And bowlers cannot take wickets unless the pitch yields disconcerting bounce and turn. So, naturally the question arises. What do these cricketers bring to the pitch?
Hence, you should judge an innings or a haul of wickets in the context of match conditions as well as the status of the pitch.
Having said that, heroic players are those who triumph against insurmountable odds. For they do not dread the pitch. Such batsmen rely on sound technique, their own mind and the willow to tame the demons in the pitch. A batsman's best ally is not helmet, but what's inside it.
Great bowlers do not pray for pitch to crack up but make intelligent use of the ball to rattle stumps.
There is no doubt that Indian and Sri Lankan cricketers would like to have a result, other than a draw, in Kanpur. To make it happen you will have to rise above the pitch.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Who's a true Maharashtrian? Gavaskar or Tendulkar?

By John Cheeran
Now that Shiv Sena finds Sunil Manohar Gavaskar 'a true Maharashtrian' compared to Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, will the original little master, who writes anodyne columns on cricket, spell out where he stands in the Marathi Manoos controversy?
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut wrote in Saamna on Sunday that Gavaskar batted for Bombay and promoted cricketers from the city.
Raut writes: "There has been no instance of Sachin extending a helping hand to other Marathi cricketers. Forget others, he did not even support Vinod Kambli. In contrast, Gavaskar, when he captained India, had half the team drawn from Mumbai and Maharashtra. He gave Test caps to many Marathi players including Suru Naik and Zulphikar Parkar, at least for one match."
Raut adds: "In this context, Gavaskar is a genuine 'Maharashtrian' and the whole country loves him even now in the same way. Players like Sachin have become rich because of game of cricket. Sachin's wealth has crossed Rs 200-crore mark. We expect Sachin to be as 'proud' of Maharashtra as Saurav Ganguly is of Bengal. Rahul Dravid too is a Marathi player but he is loyal to Karnataka."
So was Gavaskar parochial during his career?
Did Gavaskar have the best interests of the nation when he pushed for players from Bombay and Maharashtra into the side?
I consider it is Gavaskar's responsibility to break his silence and explain whether he played his cricket as an Indian first, or a Bombaywallah.
And as for Tendulkar not helping fellow Mumbaikars, Raut is far from truth. Tendulkar, when he was captaining the side, did bring in cricketers from Bombay to Indian dressing room. Remember Abhay Kuruvila, Nilesh Kulkarni, Salil Ankola, Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Sairaj Bahutule. And even Vinod Kambli got a second look when Tendulkar was captain during 1996-98.
And unlike Bollywood, in cricket, you can only give people opportunities. Even a Tendulkar cannot script a Test and ODI. Every cricketer has to stand up and deliver. You can have quotas only up to the playing XI, but out there in the field, you got to earn runs and wickets on your own.
But coming back to the point, what’s Gavaskar’s take on this?
Gavaskar, I’m sure, will let this bouncer alone.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sachin, Gambhir shore up India

By John Cheeran
India should be happy that it managed a draw in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad. After frittering away the advantage of winning the toss in the first hour, Mahendra Singh Dhoni could not have wished for a better outcome.
Now what would you call the pitch at Ahmedabad?
It produced plenty of runs, seven centuries but held little for bowlers. May be that's not the best way to bring spectators into Test match cricket, a point one talked on the eve of the match. For cricket to remain as an exciting sport you need pitches that favour both batsmen and bowlers.
From the Indian perspective, there is not much gain.
We all know that our batsmen score big when conditions suit them. You cannot deny that Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar played sensibly in the second innings to deny Sri Lanka any undue advantage on the final day. Tendulkar, one must note that, played with admirable application and restraint, fully aware of the situation. And he truly deserved his century.
India's bowling will come for sharp criticism. But, then, even the Sri Lankans did not fare exceptionally well except on the first day. Harbhajan Singh's failure should be put along side the performance of Muttaiah Muralitharan, the world's highest wicket taker in Tests.
If anyone could afford a laugh in the Indian dressing room, that is Sreesanth. For he has received another lease of life when national selectors overlooked him while picking the XI for the Ahmedabad Test.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Test of character for Indian batting

By John Cheeran
The fifth and final day of the Ahmedabad Test will be nothing less than a Test of character for the celebrated Indian batting. Yes, Sri Lanka is getting close to its first Test win on Indian soil. You cannot blame the pitch if Mahendra Singh Dhoni's India eventually runs out of patience and wickets in its effort to deny the Sri Lankans the glory.
To avoid an innings defeat India should get 334 runs. At 190 for two India still requires 144 runs to make Sri Lankan batsmen turn up again.
After losing Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid on the fourth day, India has a much tougher task to salvage a draw. The only bright point remains the pitch, which though offering a bit of turn, is not really assisting spinners.
Indians will have to get the equation of runs and time just right to come out of the Test with their pride intact. Yes, India will wipe off the deficit, but the mastery of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni will be in leaving too little time for Sri Lankans to rattle off the required runs for victory.
Any score within the range of 150 would be an easy meat for Lankans, thirsting for an opportunity to humble the big brother.
Sri Lankans will be basically trying to get the next five wickets to win the game. And that will include Gambhir, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dhoni and Yuvraj. The rest will follow.
So India must bat deep. Dig in but never let go any opportunity to score.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bal Thackeray's open letter to Sachin Tendulkar

Editor's note: Here is the translated version of Bal Thackeray's open letter to Sachin Tendulkar (Thanks to Indian Express, Bombay)

Dear Sachin,

You have played like a king on the playground. You have got international fame, lots of money. You have not only become a lakhpati or crorepati but also an abjopati (billionaire). But nobody is complaining about it. Instead, we are proud (of you)! On the playground you are shining with a new glow. But before the Marathi mind could come to terms with your straight drive, you made a statement — “Though I am proud of being a Marathi and a Maharashtrian, I am a Hindustani first” — at a press conference, leaving cricket and venturing into politics. You have said something more: “Mumbai is not the monopoly of anyone. All people of Hindustan have an equal right over Mumbai.”
Sachin, the Marathi mind was shattered after hearing this. Was it necessary to say this when everyone is poised to grab Mumbai? Why did you take this ‘cheeky-single’ while talking about your Marathi pride? Here you are ‘run out’ on the pitch of Marathi Manoos. We don’t understand why only the Marathi Manoos get such epileptic fits? (You don’t know) how Marathi Manoos secured Mumbai, as you were not even born then. Maneater Murderji Morarji Desai had gone on a rampage. This rampage resulted in Marathi Manoos bleeding on the streets. Hundred-and-five Marathi people sacrificed their lives for Mumbai. This Mumbai can’t belong to the father of any parprantiya (people belonging to another region)
And if anyone tries to sever it from Maharashtra, the Marathi Manoos will finish him off. We are all proud of our country and one should be so and you sportsmen should play for the country. But what about every cricketer playing only for himself nowadays? The country is going through several crises. Maharashtra is worse. Farmers are committing suicides, people are groping in the dark because of power cuts, prices of vegetables have skyrocketed, and inflation is on the rampage. Drought, Mumbai’s slums and diseases are spreading. Influx of (people from) Uttar Pradesh (and) Bihar is hitting Mumbai, in which Bangladeshi Muslims have spread like a virus. Has a person like you, who thinks about the country, ever thought about it?
Mumbai may be the economic capital of the country, but don’t forget that it is the capital of Maharashtra first. Sachin, remember, when you strike fours and sixes people applaud, but if your tongue continues to bat against the nyaya, hakk (justice and rights) of Marathi Manoos, then the Marathi Manoos will not tolerate it!
Hence, I want to give you an affectionate warning for the moment that don’t lose on the political pitch whatever you have earned on the cricket pitch.
Jai Hind, Jai Maharashtra

India struggles to rein in Sri Lanka

By John Cheeran
Now, this game is slipping away from India's hands.
With 165 runs ahead and both Jayawardenes (Mahela 204 not out and Prasanna 84 not out) determined to frustrate Indian bowlers, Sri Lanka is in a position to dictate terms to Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Indian bowling, both spin and pace, stands exposed thanks to the diligent batting and a passive pitch.
On the fourth day, Sri Lanka look well set to extend their lead well beyond 250, if not to a daunting 300.
There is little doubt that India is getting cooked in the heat.
Indian batsmen will have to ensure in the second innings that they do not repeat the silly mistakes committed during the first essay.
Cockiness alone will not ensure that India will escape from Ahmedabad with an honourable draw.
And to consider that, impatience and impertinence of the top order in the first session is likely to lead to India's downfall is a humbling thought.
Skipper Dhoni cannot expect anything extraordinary from his bowlers now and the responsibility of saving India squarely rests on the shoulders of Virender Sehwag, Gautam gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. Don’t expect Rahul Dravid to fight it out one more time.
More than the pitch and Muttaiah Muralitharan, the pressure of overcoming the huge Lankan lead will test the temperament of the best among the Indian batting lineup, if they get a chance to bat on Thursday afternoon.
It’s a long road ahead.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sensible Test match cricket from Sri Lanka

By John Cheeran
It now looks certain that Sri Lanka will match India run for run in the first innings of the first Test in Ahmedabad. Indian tail did not wag enough to touch the 500 mark in the first innings, and Sri Lanka, with a sparkling century from opener Tillakaratne Dilshan (112), is playing sensible Test match cricket.
But I'm sure there will be more exciting turns in this match.
Sri Lankans will be planning to bat throughout the third day to take a lead of around 150 runs over India. If Lankans succeed in that, that should set the match up for them.
For all that, Sri Lankan batsman should be in no hurry to score those runs. For playing the fourth innings would not be an easy prospect on this pitch.
Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has a tough task ahead. He must unsettle Jayawardene and Samaraweera early on to thwart the Lankan bid of gaining a sizeable first innings lead. And that would not be easy, especially when Indian bowling lack the cut and thrust to hustle out these feisty bunch of cricketers.

The silence of cricketers

By John Cheeran
Does it surprise you that Indian cricketers, the current and former lot, have kept their distance from the simmering Bal Thackeray-Sachin Tendulkar controversy on the great divide between Mumbai and India?
I'm not. Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, who both played their cricket in Bombay and continue to live there, never uttered a word on the Saamna editorial while doing commentary for Neo Cricket in the ongoing three Test series against Sri Lanka.
No player from the current Indian squad came forward to say that though they hail from different regions of the country, for them India comes first and no one should pillory Sachin Tendulkar for saying that "he is an Indian first."
Had this bunch of players were playing for India, and not for the BCCI XI, such a reaction would have been most natural. Nor did the band of former players castigate Thackeray for taking a swipe at Tendulkar. Who are they afraid of?
It is too silly to argue that cricketers are not interested in politics and they should be allowed to remain outside the murky world of politics. All actions are political. From fixing cricket matches to planting stories against a team mate to feigning injuries to playing a cracking cover drive.
Yes, politicians did make some noise about the Thackeray statement. But I'm yet to read a remark from Sharad Pawar, the Maratha chieftain, and union minister for agriculture, who is also the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Pawar, who knows a thing or two about the Marathi Manoos, let his dummy Rajeev Shukla issue a vapid statement.
There is not even a purr from the highly political Sourav Ganguly, who the other day was showering praise on Tendulkar.
So much for the people, who can spot the tricolour fluttering on the shoulders of Sachin Tendulkar, every time he walks out to bat.
Long live India.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rahul Dravid, no God, but an ordinary man trying to achieve extraordinary feats

By John Cheeran
Almost a year ago, one wondered about the future of Rahul Dravid. It was a time when Dravid himself was wondering about what NEXT.
Sourav Ganguly had announced his retirement from international cricket, and released from the burden of expectations, was having a good run of scores against Australia.
Anil Kumble was struggling to get another wicket and eventually stepped down as captain. There was this theory gaining currency that Indian team's doors were shut on seniors. That, then, basically meant Dravid would have to search for the meaning of his life, outside of cricket.
There was no doubt that Dravid, after relinquishing captaincy in the wake of World Cup debacle and the Test series triumph in England, was struggling to reinvent himself as a batsman. The IPL experience with Bangalore Royal Challengers, too, did not make things easier.
With the BCCI firm on its decision not to consider Dravid for limited over matches, it was expected that Dravid would be left with no choice but to go the Ganguly way.
But Dravid persisted. And he succeeded. He even got a recall to the Indian one-day team for Champions Trophy in South Africa. And conveniently cast aside when the time came to select the one-day squad against Ricky Ponting’s Australians, despite a good string of scores, though India tanked in the tournament.
But there is more to Rahul Dravid, the cricketer. There are more bricks in this wall than holes as the Sri Lankans found out on Monday on the first day of the three-Test series in Motera, Ahmedabad.
On Monday yet again Dravid rescued the tottering Indian innings. Dravid played an exhilarating innings of unbeaten 177, after India frittered away the advantage of captain Mahendra Singh winning the toss, by losing the wickets of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, all for 32 runs.
Dravid, if you remember, walks in at the crucial position of No.3. It's as tough a spot to be that of an opening batsman.
With Sri Lankan seamers moving the ball around in the first hour, Dravid watched the ball keenly, tightened his defence and let his natural temperament take over.
By now, we all know, Indian batsmen have the habit of burying themselves in the pitch if the wind favours the bowler. Dravid's impeccable shot selection and ability to eschew flamboyance ensured that he remain unscathed during the difficult hour and was free to exploit the favourbale batting conditions, later on.
And silencing his critics, Dravid calmly scored his 27th Test century, an innings that India would be grateful for, for it came when the chips were down.
Yes, I acknowledge that conditions were not difficult for scoring runs, after the first session. Dravid played his strokes freely but kept the big picture in his mind, a crucial difference, compared to the Yuvraj Singhs of this world. He never let go of any opportunity to whip bowlers and his strike rate of 70.51 is something that should be lauded in the course of a long innings.
Why is it that Dravid, most often, scores runs when India needs them the most?
May be, despite playing for India for the last 13 years, often fighting against the odds, we have not yet labelled Dravid of carrying the burden of a nation of one billion people.
So, his shoulders are free to carry the burden of the moment, the burden of batting, and the burden of the moment.
Or is it because Dravid is no God, but a mere mortal, an ordinary man struggling to achieve extraordinary feats, just like you and me, praying and toiling for our daily bread, leavened in equal measure with hope and despair?

When Thackeray holds Sach ka Saamna with Sachin Tendulkar

By John Cheeran
All his life, Bal Thackeray has played only one stroke, though his brush strokes were brilliant and varied when he used to be a cartoonist with mordant wit during the great days of Free Press Journal.
Thackeray has perfected the daring hook shot of identity politics into the Marathi Manoos gallery, giving excitement to his diehard followers, and in the process, terribly fraying the many-coloured national fabric.
On the other hand, Sachin Tendulkar, one of India's finest cricketers, has dominated international cricket for the last 20 years precisely because he can play more than one stroke to any given ball. Tendulkar is a many-splendoured wonder.
So it does not come as a surprise that Bal Thackeray has censured Tendulkar for saying "I'm extremely proud to be a Marathi, but an Indian first," at a press conference last week in Bombay.
To a certain degree, the great PR exercise unleashed by Tendulkar's image consultants on the occasion of the batsman having completed 20 years of international cricket has been quite unnerving. At least, for me.
And, now comes this jarring note from his home turf. Tendulkar's spin doctors would not have expected such a googly from Thackeray when Shiv Sena is licking its electoral wounds.
Indian cricketers, though when it is convenient for them remind us that they are greatly honoured to serve the nation, always sidestep political bouncers. Remember, Sunil Gavaskar kept his mouth shut when Shiv Sainiks vandalised the Bombay office of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
The problem with Tendulkar is that he is too naive to understand the many layers of sub-nationalism in India, though Ranji Trophy matches should have been a primer in such matters.
Well, now that Tendulkar has put his Marathi Manoos behind the Idea of India, though unwittingly, I stand with him. People all over India embraced The Idea of Tendulkar, precisely because it has been pan-Indian in its appeal. And quite importantly, Tendulkar did not play for a generation that shed blood for the formation of linguistic states. Tendulkar has played his cricket for a young republic, disdainful towards chauvinism and regional boundaries.
It is important to note in this context that Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) chairman Mukesh Ambani was advised by his image consultants to brand his Indian Premier League (IPL) team as Mumbai Indians, and that was a step in the right direction.
It would be interesting to know how Tendulkar would react to Thackeray's uncalled for jibe.
Most certainly, with a forward defensive stroke.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cricket with Sri Lanka not sexy yet

By John Cheeran
So India is playing a Test series against Sri Lanka. Have you noticed?
Indian television channels and newspapers haven't taken the series seriously. The seven-match one-day series between India and Australia was dubbed as the honour series by a channel, whereas when the No:2 (Sri Lanka) and No.3 (India) in Test cricket are clashing, there is only muted interest at best.
Why? A fight against neighbourhood Sri Lankans has not become sexy yet for media mavens. Much in the manner of Sanat Jayasuriya not being sexy enough for brand promotion for Indian brands, even though the Man From Matara redefined the grammar and idiom of batting.
After all, it is only Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has had a rich tradition of cricket even before it played its first Test in Madras but India used to fancy its chances against the island nation for a long time. Not anymore.
The fact, however, remains that Sri Lanka is yet to win a Test in India, South Africa and Australia. Well, even India's Test record in Sri Lanka is not enviable. India has always struggled to beat Lankans at their own turf.
The current series, and the first Test starting on Monday at Ahmedabad, will be significant in one aspect. How many spectators will turn up to watch these games?
The series will be a barometer of the popularity of Test cricket in India. Sri Lankans are gritty cricketers and will spare no effort to win their first Test in Indian soil.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni will have an opportunity to think cricket and ensure that things do not slip from his hand while looking ahead, for 2011.
Certainly, it will be a treat to watch some of the greatest batting talent in this series. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman all are aware that they are in the last phase of their maha yatra. We will not get many chances to watch these masters in action. And the same holds true for the wily spinner Muttaiah Muralitharan.
If only Sanat Jayasuriya were there.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Why does Indian Middle Class adore Sachin Tendulkar?

By John Cheeran
Sachin Tendulkar, definitely, is a great batsman.
For any athlete to remain top of his craft for 20 years, takes enormous amounts of talent and effort. For 20 years Tendulkar has dominated international cricket, scored the most number of runs in Test cricket and one-dayers, scored the maximum number of centuries in both forms of the game.
And that, he has played all his cricket for India, a nation that has been starving for sporting glory since the times of Arjuna, makes Tendulkar's job tougher than the most.
I'm, certainly, impressed by the longevity of Tendulkar's cricket career. I'm all the more surprised that Tendulkar has kept himself motivated all through these years.
But the greatest thing about Tendulkar is not his ability to score runs. Tendulkar has not lost his moorings despite the wanton adulation that has come his way, some of which, quite unwarranted, I have felt.
Twenty years.
Why does India love Tendulkar?
Tendulkar has played the role of a middle class hero to perfection. A boy, who graduated to manhood, and remains at the pinnacle of the game, without sullying his reputation as a cricketer, or man. Although a few would recollect that bizarre charge of ball tampering against Tendulkar. Was it in South Africa?
Indian middle class adores Tendulkar.
In its hagiography, the great Indian Middle Class gratefully notes that Tendulkar has not uttered a single false line, nor has he played a single false stroke over the last two decades.
For Tendulkar could have married a Bollywood queen, or a Muslim beauty, for that matter. He could have had one-night stands with Bollywood starlets, he could have smoked pot, he could have run over the homeless and vagrant in Bombay in his Ferrari. He could have hunted Black Buck. Or he could have kept AK-47s hidden at his Bandra flat.
He was no Ian Botham, no Imran Khan if you can recall their heydays. Tendulkar lacks sexiness and flamboyance, and these have been his priceless middle class virtues.
Tendulkar only scored runs, calmed the waters when Indian ship was rocking out therein the choppy seas of international cricket.
Above all, Tendulkar's was one name that remained unsullied by the match-fixing scandal that shook India and the game.
Cricketers all over the world have accepted Tendulkar's moral and cricketing superiority.
Tendulkar, no doubt, is a genius. For, I was shocked when years ago, he told Amrit Mathur in an interview that he remembers all his dismissals. That's something incredible for me. Even in a recent interview to India Today, he has said much the same.
How could you keep all your low points in brain and still go ahead and score runs?
But in all these years India has not won the ultimate prize, the World Cup. On a personal note, a triple century remains unattainable for Tendulkar. He has broken all the batting records, but he has broken many Indian hearts too.
I was shocked when BCCI counsel Venugopal argued in the Supreme Court that BCCI selects not the Indian team but Team BCCI.
Tendulkar, being the middle class hero that he is, in his wisdom chose to rise above the politics of the argument and kept his silence.
Now could Tendulkar tell me, has he been playing over the last 20 years for the BCCI, or for India?
It does matter, after all.
In the name of the game, in the name of the land, it does matter after all.
But thanks for the runs, Tendulkar.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review: A Pack of Lies by Urmilla Deshpande

By John Cheeran
I must say I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Pack of Lies by Urmilla Deshpande. At 46, this is her first novel.
In the last 12 months I have been reading quite a few Indian authors, and I cannot say many of them have managed to impress me with their craft.
A Pack of Lies is chic-lit, but it has an appealing lad-lit approach which wins over the reader. Yes, it’s a coming-of-age novel in the backdrop of Bombay in the early 80s.
Although Urmilla calls the effort a pack of lies, the honesty that informs her writing only falls short of the brutal candour that Kamala Das brought to her poetry and fiction.
You can only read A Pack of Lies aware of the tryst that you missed with the possibilities in your life. As Urmilla’s Virginia (Ginny) calls it, a colliding with possibilities.
As you flip the pages, you are not particularly looking for any denouement. For, there is not one. Except for Urmilla’s telling punch line, “I had told the truth, for once.”
It’s another point that whether lacking a beginning, middle, and end in the conventional sense, denies A Pack of Lies a status anything better than an intimate personal history.
Urmilla’s teenage heroine Virginia lives an independent life which, even today, remains unattainable for an average Indian urban girl. In Virginia’s world she makes all her decisions for herself, and though men have a role in that, but not one that leaves her feeling strangled all the time.
Yes, I guess, Urmilla has shed the last shred of inhibition to tell it like it is, stood before the reader as a model for a nude photo-shoot, as Virginia herself enjoyed to find herself in an avatar quite different and defiant, and even it is all a pack of lies, it takes courage.
And the most redeeming aspect of A Pack of Lies is that Virgina has no need to confess to the reader. She gets a grip on her life by spending time with the shrink, aptly named as angel Gabriel, and finally paying tribute to her mother, who was at times cold and acerbic, but eventually making peace with herself and her daughter.
In the end, the kind of choices that Urmilla offers Virginia makes you realize that power has shifted from man to woman. But then, Virginia, is no ordinary woman. She lets her lovers walk free, starting from her step-father, college-kid Roy, Jihadi Jamal, photographer Kamal, and even father of her baby, without a trace of bitterness.
I’m ready to embrace such a woman, if there is anyone round the corner.

Excerpts from A Pack of Lies
“But I had never known a love, new or otherwise. All I knew, as Gabriel had told me, were ways to find a reflection of myself that I could live with. And sometimes the only way had been physical. I offered my cunt and all its accoutrements – my brain, my apartment, my cooking skill—to all who happened to glance at me, and hoped that what I offered was enough to make them love.”

And what the hell you want?
“I want to be with a man who will be my bra and tampon and credit card and cook and pedicurist and masseuse and driver and muse, vibrator, comb, gardener and pilot. And I will be everything for him.”

Urmilla Deshpande, 46, lives in Tallahassee, Florida with her family. Modelling, photography, editing and motherhood prepared her to write. She never thought she would follow in the footsteps of her mother, gauri Deshpande, and her grandmother, Irawati Karve.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Welcome home, Sreesanth

By John Cheeran
Welcome home, Sreesanth.
This could well be your last chance to play for India, and redeem yourself as a bowler and a man.
An opportunity to share the new ball with Zaheer Khan could be his, in the three-Test home series against Sri Lanka. Grab it.
By now, the slings and arrows of discipline should have chastened the mercurial fast bowler from Kerala. Strangely, Sreesanth has more detractors in Kerala, and that includes, the Kerala Cricket Association, than outside of it.
There is no denying the fact that the aggression that Sreesanth brings to his bowling unsettles batsmen. Wickets, after all, were not gifts from the rival teams.
In Indian cricket, being a bowler has many advantages. Yes, you get dumped often, but the chances to come back are many since our bowling often falls short of international standards.
Sreesanth was not the first cricketer from Kerala to play for India. Tinu Yohannan, after promising much, fizzled out from the scene. May be there is a lesson for Sreesanth. Sreesanth has the ability to irk batsmen, but it is important that he improves his PR within the dressing room, and on the field, start to enjoy his game, rather than suffer the vicissitudes of the game.
And remember, cricket always offers you a second innings. Life, often, does not.

India squad: MS Dhoni (captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, M Vijay, S Badrinath, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth, Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

India's misery in Guwahati. A tale of 170 all out vs 175

By John Cheeran
So much for India's batting strength. It caved in Guwahati (170 all out, 27 for five, 75 for six at one stage of the innings), and if not for the carefree innings of fast bowler Praveen Kumar (54 off 51 balls), Mahendra Singh Dhoni's India would not have crossed 100 runs.
This is what I call as context. On a merry batting track, anyone can score. But your character and temperament are revealed when you are tested by a surface that offers some bounce and turn to bowlers.
Virender Sehwag 6, Sachin Tendulkar 10, Gautam Gambhir 0, Yuvraj Singh 6, Suresh Raina 0 and you want to win a match and the series?
We have seen this kind of inexplicable batting displays from Indian sides over the years. And again I'm not surprised by the abject display of Indian top order. As Sachin Tendulkar himself said the other night in Hyderabad, everyone cannot score on every day.
But what, then, about consistency?
Pundits and former players who have raved about Tendulkar's 175 should have reserved their encomiums for an innings that would be played in conditions that are challenging to batsman.
You are nothing but a statistician when you cannot appreciate the context of an innings. A batsman becomes great only when he towers over adverse circumstances. And again, you have to get out of the rut of calling every second innings played by batsmen, the best.
Well, I have taken note of the fact that Kapil Dev himself has rated Sachin Tendulkar's Hyderabad 175 better than his own stupendous effort of 175 not out in the 1983 World Cup. But I have never taken Kapil's comments on cricket seriously. A natural cricketer he is, but not the best of minds that can bring in a sense of dispassionate analysis to the game.
Now look at Ricky Ponting. Full credit to him for securing the series win against heavy odds. The way Australian batsmen handled the chase of 170 runs on a tricky pitch reveals their ingrained professionalism. It was a chase that could have gone wrong, had they lost a few early wickets. Not only did they not lose wickets but Shane Watson's positive approach to run gathering ensured that the innings never got bogged down.
Winning the toss did not help India and Dhoni. May be Dhoni wanted to unleash his spinners on a track that tended to break in the afternoon. But for all that, without posting a decent total, you could not expect bowlers to run through the innings.
Now there are legions of fans who will absolve the stars of the Indian side of the responsibility of losing this match, the one before and the one before that and the series.
And that is cricket for you in India.

Friday, November 06, 2009

175 vs 175? Did Tendulkar play his finest innings (175) in Hyderabad?

By John Cheeran
India lost.
Again, the winner was Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the greatest batsman in modern era. Tendulkar not only completed 17,000 runs in One-Day internationals, but played a truly magnificent innings of 175 (141 balls) in Hyderabad against Australia.
Now that we cannot debate about the outcome of the match, we are left with discussing whether the innings Tendulkar played in Hyderabad on Thursday night was his best effort in 20 years of international cricket.
Let's look at a few things.
First, let's take Tendulkar's reaction. Last night he said the knock was one of his best innings. Yes, it was. One of his best, I agree.
There are people, including Sunil Gavaskar, who, I believe, knows a thing or two about cricket, comparing Tendulkar's 175 to his 136 against in the fourth innings of a Test against Pakistan, which India lost after the great man fell.
And then there are pundits who compare Tendulkar's 175 with Kapil Dev's 175 against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup, an innings that few have seen.
Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but while putting an innings in context you have to look at the conditions in which it was played.
Why is it that no one is talking about how weak the Australian bowling attack was in Hyderabad? Without Brett Lee, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson, this attack was far from penetrating. Clint McKay, the man who took three Indian wickets, was playing his first ODI. And over and above, pitch was perfect for batting, a fact that has been underlined by the mere fact that Aussies posted a total of 350 in the first place. When you look at the Australian scorecard, you immediately notice that each one of the batsman -- Shane Watson (93), Shaun Marsh (112), Ricky Ponting (45) and Cameron White (57) excelled with the bat.
And about the consequence of India losing this match?
The seven-match series is still alive, though India trails 2-3.
So, the impact of Tendulkar's innings, assuming that he had taken India to victory, would have been hardly unsurpassable.
But Tendulkar played his role well, though not to perfection. I would have used the word perfection, had he remained there till the end, and struck home the winning run. Yes, cricket is a team game, others too have a role to play but we venerate Tendulkar for his innate genius and for the fact that at five feet two (5ft 5in) inches, he towers above the rest.
Regrets will be a few when Tendulkar finally walks into twilight, and not having won the fifth one-dayer against Australia in Hyderabad would not be among that list.
Yes, not having scored a triple hundred in Test cricket will rankle, though having played the most number of Test innings ever. Not having won a World Cup will blot his reputation, something that Tendulkar seems to be determined to achieve in 2011, in front of his adoring home crowd.
But 175 in Hyderabad, his greatest knock?
It was, no doubt, great entertainment. But not the best of the master batsman.
And I'm outraged when Gavaskar entertains thoughts of comparing Tendulkar's 136 against Pakistan in Chennai with the 175 in Hyderabad.
You cannot compare the oranges of one-dayers with the apples of Test cricket. By now we should realise that Test cricket, one-dayers and Twenty20 are different songs requiring different timbres, though some sing all three of them with ease and elan.
And now, the question of 175 vs 175.
Kapil Dev's 175 was not just Kapil's best innings in a long career but when it was played (1983) it stretched the possibilities of counter attack in a 60-over one-day international. For sheer impact, no innings in international cricket comes closer to Kapil's 175, since that innings led to India's World Cup triumph, an achievement unparalleled in Indian cricket.
And to know that Tendulkar would have quit playing the game by now, had he lifted a World Cup to kiss!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Partnership is the big word in Hyderabad

By John Cheeran
Now Indian batsmen have a wonderful opportunity at Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Uppal, Hyderabad, to justify their star status. Australia has set India a target that would satisfy the appetite of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Sachn Tendulkar.
Batting is easy in the given conditions, and 350 is not a daunting target, when you have a deep batting lineup. Though hobbled by injuries, this Australian side has thrown down the gauntlet to the host. Pick it up, Dhoni.
Ricky Ponting did the sensible thing after winning the toss yet again. That the Indian bowlers could not get an early wicket helped a great deal in Aussies scoring seven runs per over. All batting efforts have to be measured against the nature of the wicket but Shuan Marsh (112 off 112 balls) and Shane Watson (93 off 89 balls) deserve fulsome praise for making the best use of their opportunity.
Harbhajn Singh was unlucky when skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni falied to latch onto a thick edge offered by Shane Watson when he came on to bowl. And only Harbhajan escaped unscathed from the Aussie onslaught.
But, again, India need not worry. Australia's bowling does not have its lethal edge.
It's a score that can be overcome, provided that each batsman steps out with a purpose, instead of coming up with a few cameos. Partnership is the big word. There has to be a steadying hand on Indian innings and that, ideally has to come either from Sachin Tendulkar or Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Let the chase begin.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Vande Mataram...let's write new songs for an India where nights without darkness prevail

By John Cheeran
Should an Indian sing Vande Mataram?
If you know the lyrics, please go ahead.
Like many, I know only the first two stanzas of India's national song.
Do I know Jana Gana Mana, the national anthem, better?
I doubt.
I appreciate the poetry of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay's in those early lines of Vande Mataram. As for my religious beliefs clashing with poetry, I know better.
Much of the Indian poetry in vernacular languages is a paean to Hindu gods and goddesses. You fall in love with a language, its beauty and cadences. And as for its meaning, you read between the lines.
And what about the meaning? What about it?
Do you care for your own mother? Or father? Or blood brothers?
Let's not worry about who wants to sing our songs, songs of yesteryears.
Allama Iqbal who wrote in 1904 to say that Saare Jahan Se Acha
maz'hab nahīn sikhātā āpas men bayr rakhnā
hindvi hai ham, vatan hai hindostān hamārā

changed his stanza and stand six years later in 1910 to write
chīn-o-arab hamārā, hindostān hamārā
muslim hain ham, vatan hai sārā jahān hamārā.

May be, it is time for us to write new songs for an India where nights without darkness prevail.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Should we blame Asoka de Silva for Mohali defeat?

By John Cheeran
Who defeated India in the fourth one-dayer against Australia in Mohali?
Ricky Ponting or Asoka de Silva?
If Sourav Ganguly is to be believed, Asoka de Silva was the man behind India's 24-run defeat. De Silva's LBW verdict against India's well-set batsman Sachin Tendulkar (40 off 68 balls) was unpardonable, says Ganguly while giving his exclusive thoughts to an Indian television channel.
I thought there were others in the Indian batting lineup who could have met the challenge head on.
Yes, umpire De Silva made a mistake in giving Tendulkar out. But Tendulkar himself has said recently he is not in favour of carrying on with the referral system and umpires should be left with the powers to make LBW decisions. So?
You got to live with such decisions and still make a fight out of it. After all, cricket is a team sport and you cannot bemoan the loss of a wicket beyond a point and get befuddled.
You cannot turn your gaze away from reality. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli all failed to put their head down and chase down a modest target of 250. There was not a single legitimate partnership in the Indian innings. India's top individual score was Tendulkar's 40.
What's coach Gary Kirsten up to?
But, then, nothing is lost if Team India realises its shortcomings, especially the inability of its young batsmen to play shots when wicket offers a bit of bounce.
Any match in Mohali has its own twists and turns, and Australians showed a lot of character to bounce back when it all seemed a lost cause.
Sponsors Hero Honda should be the happiest lot, since the outcome in Mohali keeps the seven-match series alive.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Where did Dhoni, Yuvraj and Harbhajan go on Sunday night?

John Cheeran
Where did Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, star batsman Yuvraj Singh and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh go out on Sunday night?
For some match practice?
May be the trio is taking Indian coach Gary Kirsten's advice seriously. To channelise their creative energies and attain the blissful state of nirvana, on the eve of the match against Australia.
May be these three were off to discuss strategy in the cover of night because these days you cannot trust anyone in the dressing room. Some of the newbies and veterans in the team are a naughty lot and may leak inside information to our rivals.
The tricky thing is that you cannot even trust the cops these days. Their knowledge of cricket tactics is poor at the best. They are nothing but irritant fleas. Since Yuvi and Bhajji know Chandigarh inside out, and know all the dark alleys of Sector 16 and 17, there is no need to inform the security personnel when they are going out.
And just consider the reputation of Yuvraj and Harbhajan. Lions of Punjab. These two cricketers can handle any security threat. Ask S Sreesanth.
Not even gun-toting Kasabs could stop them in their tracks.
After all, these days, matches are all day and night affairs.
A bit of nightout should do Team India just fine.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Ponting has to win more than mere tosses

By John Cheeran
Despite Australia's apparent lack of bowling resources what made things easier for India in the third one-dayer at Feroze Shah Kotla was Ricky Ponting's too careful an approach while batting.
Now with the tide in the series turning in favour of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's India 2-1, Ponting has to do more than merely win the toss at Mohali. With former foe Sourav Ganguly offering unsolicited advice to bat first, things are not looking pretty for the Aussie.
Yes, the wicket at Kotla did not encourage shot-making, but Australians could have taken their chances against Indian spinners to put on at least another 50-odd runs. That, they failed to do so, handing over the advantage to the Indians. But, then, though they had five wickets in hand Australia was handicapped by the absence of wicketkeeper-batsman Tim Paine.
That wicket did not turn treacherous was evident when Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni were batting together. A missed opportunity, especially for Michael Hussey, Shane Watson and Ponting. As things stand, Aussies are far from winning the game in the mind.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Does India need a wet conspiracy against Ponting?

By John Cheeran
DDCA is a four-letter word, so is BCCI.
If the Australian captain Ricky Ponting was left fuming at Feroz Shah Kotla on Friday, on the eve of Australia's third one-day match against India, he had enough reasons.
The groundsman had watered the practice pitches in the morning, though the Aussies were scheduled to have nets at 9.00 am.
How would have Sourav Ganguly reacted to such a situation in Sydney?
Well, these days India does not need watered conspiracies to humble Australia. But to consider that the host, Delhi and District Cricket Association, did not know about Australian team's practice schedule advertises only its lack of competency.
Yes, this is what happens when your president goes on a fire-fighting mission to Bangalore. Arun Jaitley, the DDCA President, was busy redrawing equations within his party's Karnataka unit.
Whatever, India should not have given Aussies any ground for complaining, if the visitors are going to lose the third ODI.

When Gavaskar knows it better…

By John Cheeran
Sunil Gavaskar, always, has an interesting take on cricket. He tells viewers of CNN-IBN that Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni's innings of 124 in Nagpur was reminiscent of Kapil Dev's 175 against Zimbabwe in 1983 World Cup in Tunbridge Wells.
To start with Kapil's knock came in a 60-over-a-side confrontation. There were plenty of overs when Kapil came in at No.6 but India had lost four wickets for a mere 9 runs as total. India had to win that match to retain its chances of advancing from the group stage.
When Dhoni began his innings in Nagpur India was comfortably placed at 97 for three in 16th over with the run rate exceeding 6 runs per over. Hardly a crisis situation. And how can you compare a World Cup encounter with a inconsequential seven-match series, even though its is against the once formidable Australians?
Yes, Gavaskar should know better since he was on the ground that day, opening the Indian innings, and during his two-ball innings he could not disturb the scoreboard.
Yes, there is no doubt that both players, as captains, had a responsibility to pull their side out of trouble.
Dhoni did a brilliant job, but for the moment let's leave it there.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

When Dhoni gets his batting in order

By John Cheeran
Yes, a brilliant innings (124 off 107 balls; 54 runs in his last 27 balls) by Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Nagpur. So what's the debate all about Dhoni's batting order?
I believe more than the batting order, it was a question of Indian skipper getting his batting in order. This, he did splendidly in Nagpur against Ricky Ponting's Aussies to level the seven-match series 1-1.
Dhoni came at No.5 in Nagpur. Suggestions were swirling around that being one of the aggressive batsmen in the side, Dhoni should promote himself in the batting order to serve Team India’s needs better.
Dhoni has proved that such suggestions are, at best, unwarranted, when you have the likes of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh in the batting lineup.
Yes, getting a century while coming in as late as No.5 in a fifty over game is not easy. But, then, the situation in Nagpur was tailor made for Dhoni on Wednesday. Dhoni had come in the 16th over of Indian innings. India had lost three wickets but there was no crisis. Runs were streaming in. Sehwag (40 off 31 balls, Tendulkar (4 off 8 balls) Gambhir and Yuvraj (23 off 24 balls) did not eat up overs but had scored quickly. That let skipper Dhoni the space to build his innings stealing singles and twos, and later explode in full glory in the final phase of the innings.
Now, should it mean that, Dhoni should be given a theoretical chance to bat the full 50 overs?
An honour that was given to Sachin Tendulkar in New Zealand? I don't think so.
At the same time you cannot expect MSD to come up with centuries and half centuries when he walks in at No.5 slot.
It would be prudent to remember that all great efforts are helped by conducive atmosphere. And very few cricketers could turn a match situation in their favour. Most of the times, you are at the mercy of the match. Yes, of course, great players are those who can redefine a game situation.
Hope Dhoni will not disappoint us.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Can technology lead to pure cricket?

By John Cheeran
Can technology lead to pure cricket? Free from flaws, free from erroneous decision-making?
We have appreciated technology over the years and that is true even in sport. With the ICC planning to widen the scope of technology, may be to assist umpires, may be to undermine the authority of umpires, it is interesting to tune into different views.
When Sachin Tendulkar, the most successful batsman of the recent times, says that he wants more technology but no referrals, it is a contradictory statement. Technology is the only reason why there are referrals. Without technology would there have been a rethink on the pending decision?
Even a schoolchild knows that LBWs invove the most subjective decision-making in cricket umpiring.
Tendulkar now wants only clean bowleds and LBWs out of the ambit of technology. Many, including Ian Chappell and Michael Holding, feel that HawkEye predictions are far removed from reality. So again, a cricketer has no choice but to respect the integrity and intelligence of the umpire.
Gone are the days of walking.
Now commentators talk, critics carp and still few are happy with the decision-making out on the field.
As a cricketer your aim is to win. You need to score runs and take wickets. Contemporary cricketer may be pardoned if he argues that he has no business to walk and a right to appeal on every ball.
But at the end of the day, technology can be no substitute for honesty and integrity on the part of cricketers. We need to have upright and intelligent umpires who can earn the respect of the players.
You cannot control weather. You cannot have a level playing field even in Twenty20, leave alone in Test matches sprawling over five days.
Poor decision making is part of sport, as much it is part of life. Diego Maradona's Hand of God goal did not make Argentina's World Cup triumph in 1986 illegitimate.
Yes, I know that bowlers have had a tough time to prise out batsman and the recent innovations in technology such as HawkEye, HotSpot and referrals would have tilted the scales in favour of them.
Does batsman deserve the benefit of doubt any longer?
May be, may be not.
But all a bowler has to do to dismiss the batsman is to bowl again. Over after over.
If we reduce cricket to disease diagnose, for the sake of certainty, the game will be poorer, for, what will be left of the glorious uncertainties?

Rogue theories must go, says TJS George

Editor's note: Almost a year ago, I had persuaded TJS George, eminent editor and author, and my journalism guru, to write a piece for the launch of DNA's Bangalore edition. The points made by TJS are still relevant.

By TJS George
The birth of a baby – any baby – is a joyous occasion. It is a journalistic duty, therefore, to say a hearty “Welcome” to DNA as it takes birth in Bangalore. Duty done, we can now turn to life as it is lived in these days of terror, economic as well as ideological.
Let no one deny that DNA has shown exemplary courage in its Bangalore opening. This is a town where there are already seven general interest dailies and six business dailies. That is thirteen newspapers every day in English alone, to say nothing of those in Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi, Urdu. This unnatural congestion is either a tribute to the reading habits of Bangaloreans or a pointer to the publishing industry’s madness. Perhaps DNA’s courage is sustained by the strong possibility of one or more of the aforementioned thirteen disappearing in the not too distant future.
Is DNA also being honourable besides being courageous? It’s no secret that it has been having a full-fledged staff for several months and that it has enlisted a not insignificant number of paid subscribers. It would have been commercially justifiable if the project were postponed for a year, the staff demobbed and the subscriptions refunded. But to fulfil its commitment to staff and subscribers is the more honourable course. It is good to believe that, considering the somersaults that have transformed the newspaper industry in its essential basics in the last couple of decades, elements of honourableness survive in some corners.
For now at any rate, we can also draw some solace from the way India is defying world trends on the publishing front. Just days before DNA’s opening in Bangalore, two of the world’s greatest newspaper legends tottered in their foundations. The Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy. This company is the owner of iconic titles in the US such as the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun and Hartford Courant besides the Chicago Tribune. The great New York Times itself announced a cut in its quarterly dividend, suffered a 60 percent fall in its share price, watched its advertising revenue nosedive by almost 14 percent and, in a final cruel blow, pledged its landmark headquarters building in New York to raise badly needed cash. Predictably, Rupert Murdoch appeared on the scene hungry to buy the ailing giant as he had bought other evocative temples of publishing like the Wall Street Journal and, much earlier, the London Times.
India has bucked the Western trend so far. But this does not put Indian newspapers for ever above the logic of economics. The global slowdown has already started hurting. The most profitable papers are engaged in a headcount audit, preparatory, no doubt, to staff cuts. The India Today Group has closed its Bengali edition “due to market conditions”. Many inflated salaries have been brought down to earth.
Sooner rather than later, a historical correction must take place in our newspaper business.
The numbers must find a natural, sustainable level. More importantly, there must be a return to the reality that running a newspaper is different from making cement or selling toilet soap. In recent decades we have seen the enthronement of the rogue theory that a newspaper company’s only responsibility is to make money for its shareholders. Milton Friedman who aired that theory for capitalism’s glory has been repudiated in his own country, in the wake of America’s economic doldrums, by erstwhile champions of capitalism. Bill Gates said pointedly that corporations cannot be blind to their social responsibility. In publishing, more than in other industries, decency must be a dominant virtue. For the news industry to play its part in human progress, the citizen must prevail over the marketeer who feeds off him.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cricket is boring....REALLY?

By John Cheeran
Suddenly, people are waking up to the fact that cricket can become boring. OPEN has done a cover story which I haven't read. On Saturday, Rahul Bhattacharya makes a similar point in Mint Lounge.
Why now?
Cricket became boring a long time ago. The flood of ODIs and the likes of Zimbabwes and UAEs, washed away much of the meaning associated with the game.
May be the Champions League Twenty20 succeeded in driving home that point. Thanks, a great deal.
By the way, who won Champions League?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

When brothers clash…

You cannot deny that as a singles player Sania Mirza has put both Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi in the shade since her coming of age in international tennis. This tennis triangle of skill, love and hate may have failed to produce feats comparable to Ramanathan Krishnan, Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan achieved in singles play. There, however, is no doubt they have managed to administer occasional jolts to our sense of expectations.
But Leander and Mahesh have succeeded in the ATP circuit, basically by accepting their limitations in the singles arena and narrowing their focus to doubles.
No doubt, doubles is the poor cousin in professional tennis. But that said what glory and drama Leander and Mahesh have served up between themselves!
Leander and Mahesh, friends-turned-foes, will clash in the finals of the US Open Men's doubles, in what could turn out to be one of the most dramatic episodes in Indian sport history. In recent years, both of them have refused to play together even for India, leave alone teaming up for Grand Slam glories.
One should admire them for having a streak of individuality and going their own separate ways, whatever the reasons that cracked the combination.
Leander, along with Lukas Dlouhy, and Mahesh, along with Mark Knowles, must have been aware of the possibility of a fratricidal clash between the Indians at the beginning of the US Open, given the draws, but never would have bet on the other progressing so far.
So if you could watch these two slug it out on Friday, please be aware that you are taking part in a most fascinating episode in terms of rivalry and clash of personalities.
And finally, whom will be you rooting for?
Both men have been scarred by break ups in relationships with women in their lives as well as with their own parting of ways.
Mostly, these two have lived in their worlds, without really establishing a connect with Indian sports fans.
May be Friday is the last chance for these two to bring out the best in them, at an unparalleled occasion such as the US Open, and remind us that their breakup, eventually, was worth the bitterness and rancour on and off the field.
Love all.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

An Advani in his prime

By John Cheeran
It's not that Bangalore did not boast of worldbeaters till
Pankaj Advani came along in the 21st century. There were men and women who came up with big breaks, be it in cricket, badminton, hockey, football, athletics and tennis.
Yet, many such stars were bogged down by the inevitable mediocrity in team games and could not aspire for the tag of world champions.
Chennai has had a Vishwanthan Anand since mid-80s.
Kolkota could gloat about Leander Paes and, sniggers apart, his bronze medal in Atlanta Olympics, should compensate for his failures in singles. Mumbai produced Wilson Jones and Michael Ferreira in billiards. Hyderabad, in recent years, has had Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal and P Gopichand.
I leave out cricketers from this list for obvious reasons.
Yes, Indians have excelled as individuals in sporting arena.
Ramanathan Krishnan, Vijay Amritraj, Prakash Padukone
Geet Sethi and Anand have excelled on their own, beating
the system in the process.
Indians can always fancy their chances in non-contact sports where physical power is not the dominant and determining factor in success. That explains our decent record in chess, badminton, billiards and snooker. Once hockey turned a brutish power game, India’s grip loosened irrevocably.
In Advani's success, one can find individual effort and family support playing critical roles. Yes, he has been lucky to be in a city where he could have a great mentor in Arvind Savur and Karnataka State Billiards Association too has helped him. But what has worked in Advani's favour is the space the sport offered for improvement as an individual.
Considering that Prakash Padukone blazed a trail in 1980 by winning the All England championship, the Wimbledon of badminton, Bangalore should have produced more world champions.
Bangalore, the city, since then has rewritten many existing codes of success, especially in entrepreneurship. Anyone could list of the names of tech czars who have put Bangalore on world map but apart from cricketers are there any sports stars who tried to reach for the pie in the sky, the way Padukone did?
That makes the recent victory of Advani in professional billiards all the more important. Advani has given youngsters in the city a moment to pause and wonder. Can we dream bigger and better than this 24-year-old? How long one can crib about venal selectors and rotten politics, lack of facilities, indifferent sponsors and callous public?
It is indeed remarkable that very few, other than the family and close friends, turned out at the Bangalore International Airport to welcome home a world champion. Apparently, we are yet to cultivate a habit of recognizing heroes, the real ones, that is.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The News Americans Need

By Dan Rather
(First published in Washington Post)

You don’t have to care about media companies or reporters to care about the state of the news, because if it’s in trouble — and it surely is — this country is in trouble. That’s why, while speaking recently at the Aspen Institute, I called upon President Obama to form a commission to address the perilous state of America’s news media.
Some might scoff at the notion that a president and a country occupied by two wars and a recession should add the woes of the news media to an already crowded plate. But the way the news is delivered, and the quality of the information the American public receives about what’s going on here and abroad, has and will continue to have a profound effect on these very issues and on the overall quality of government by, for and of the people.
I am not calling for any sort of government bailout for media companies. Nor am I encouraging any form of government control over them. I want the president to convene a nonpartisan, blue-ribbon commission to assess the state of the news as an institution and an industry and to make recommendations for improving and stabilizing both.
Why bring the president into it? Because this is the only way I could think of to generate the sort of attention this subject deserves. Academia and think tanks generate study after study, yet their findings don’t reach the people who need to be reached.
We need a real and broad public discussion of the role news is meant to play in our democratic system of government and a better public understanding of the American news infrastructure’s fragile condition. We need to know how things got this way and what we need to change.
An intense period of corporate consolidation over the past 25 years, aided and abetted by deregulation by the Federal Communications Commission, has reduced to a mere handful the sources from which most Americans get their news. While independent reporting has been winnowed and homogenized, the news organizations responsible for this reporting have largely fallen under corporate mandates to increase profits quarterly — which has meant a reduction in newsgathering personnel, the shuttering of overseas bureaus and the nearly complete subordination of a public trust to the profit motive.
Moreover, corporate values of risk aversion have increasingly filtered down to newsrooms, supplanting news values. The big conglomerates that own most of America’s news media may have, at any given moment, multiple regulatory, procurement and legislative matters before various arms of the federal government; their interests, therefore, can often run contrary to the interests of the citizens whom journalism, at its best, is meant to serve. There is little incentive to report without fear or favoritism on the same government one is trying to lobby. Increasingly, the news we get — and, significantly, the news we don’t get — reflects this conflict of interests.
The news infrastructure, weakened from within by this corrosive dynamic, is at risk of toppling altogether because of a separate, though not unrelated development: the coast-to-coast collapse of the newspaper industry, which has lost the key revenue streams of classified and local advertising to the Internet.
For radio, television and, yes, the Internet, newspapers have been and continue to be the foundation on which “hard” news rests. They provide the reporters who are our primary and often our only independent sources in places as close as city zoning hearings and as far away as Indonesia. Anyone who has worked in other media knows that, if newspapers are taken out of the equation, dwindling news resources will be stretched to the breaking point.
You will not turn on your television and hear an anchor admit this. What you will see, instead, is more opinion, commentary and marketing masquerading as news. You will get more in-studio shouting matches between partisans, moderated by openly partisan talking heads.
And so shows that can be produced on the cheap, with little to no real reporting, fan impotent citizen anger at a government whose workings, absent hard-hitting reporting, seem ever-more opaque — and at a world that, absent consistent, contextualized coverage, seems to defy comprehension.
We need news that breeds understanding, not contempt; news that fosters a healthy skepticism of the workings of power rather than a paralyzing cynicism. We need the basic information that a selfgoverning people requires. The old news model is crumbling, while the Internet, for all its immense promise, is not yet ready to rise in its place — and won’t be until it can provide the nuts-and-bolts reporting that most people so take for granted that it escapes their notice.
This is a crisis that, with no exaggeration, threatens our democratic republic at its core. But you won’t hear about it on your evening news, unless the message can be delivered in a way that corporate media have little choice but to report — such as, say, the findings of a presidential commission.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ah, Gulf News told to pay up. £1 million!

London Times reports....
AN EDINBURGH property developer has been awarded more than £1m in damages and costs against a Dubai newspaper after it wrongly said that he had deceived Middle East investors.

Mark Emlick, chairman and founder of Dunedin Independent, one of Scotland’s largest privately-owned independent financial advice businesses, won his case against the Gulf News in the High Court in London this week.

He brought the case for defamation of character after Gulf News reported in April last year that he and a partner were being sought in Dubai and in the UK by investors who claimed he had absconded with their money after a property deal that involved his company Strategic Property Investment group (SPI) went sour.

In fact, SPI had returned all the money owed to investors plus 5% interest, after it pulled out of the deal due to rising prices in the Emirate.

Emlick refused to disclose the amount he had been awarded but, along with his legal costs, it is estimated to have been more than £1m.

He said: “Anyone in business will tell you that your reputation is your most important asset, so to have that called into question was deeply concerning. I’m fortunate that I was able to bring a case to the High Court, but there are many people who would have been left high and dry, with their reputation in tatters.”

Emlick still has investments in Dubai.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Twenty20 Indian team: Is South India losing its share?

By John Cheeran
Whether India will retain Twenty20 World Cup is a question that will be answered within the next 20 days. But you don’t have to wait to read that Indian cricket is going through a significant phase.
What has happened to cricket in South of India?
The Twenty20 World Cup squad has only Pragyan Ojha from south India. You can even argue that for a change, national selectors, interestingly led by Krishnamachari Srikkanth (from Tamil Nadu), have risen above quota system and selected the best men for the job.
I do not contest that.
I cannot even recall how many south Indians were in the team that played the inaugural Twenty20 final against Pakistan. I, however, remember S Sreesanth holding on to the ball to seal India’s win.
Recently, the second edition of IPL was fought between two teams, ostensibly from south India – Deccan Chargers (Hyderabad) and Royal Challengers (Bangalore). The third team that made the cut was Chennai Super Kings.
Yes, I admit that Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad are pan-Indian or even international outfits. But, there should be something about the fact that these three nurseries of Indian cricket do not have more than one a player in the national squad.
In the 90s, Bangalore Boys dominated the national team. Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Sujith Somasundar, Vijay Bhardwaj, David Johnson and D Ganesh were in the national reckoning.
Now Bangalore has suddenly found Manish Pandey. His time and day would come.
But Robin Uthappa is fast becoming another VB Chandrashekar.
What happened to the structure and professionalism that south Indian cricket boasted of in the past?
Despite the success of ‘south’ Indian teams in the IPL, I would like to see more talent bursting forth from the region. Let’s have an Adam Gilchrist. Let’s have another Anil Kumble.
Meanwhile, let’s root for the new-look Indian team that will defend the Twenty20 World Cup.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Farewell, Madhavikutty. Life's obscure parallel is death...

Adieu, Madhavikutty.
Or what was the poet's name? Kamala Das, Madhavikutty, or Kamala Surayya?
Does it matter?
She is the one who wrote about death. "Life's obscure parallel is death."
Is that enough?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

All about cosmic coin toss....

Editor's note: What it takes to survive is a question that concerns me. I hope that may trouble you as well. Here is an extract from Ben Sherwood's new book The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life

What It Takes To Survive
By Ben Sherwood / Newsweek

Why some people walk away from a plane crash or thrive after a job loss, while others don't stand a chance. And what's luck got to do with it anyway?
The knitting needle pierced her heart. Then it saved her life. Ellin Klor savors the irony, but it wasn't always so, especially when doctors cracked open her chest in the operating room to pry out the wooden needle that had punctured her breastbone and penetrated her right ventricle. Jan. 9, 2006, was her lucky day. After dinner with her family, the 58-year-old children's librarian was anxious to show the gang in her knitting group some new patterns, so she grabbed three bags stuffed with books, yarn and needles and headed to a friend's house in Palo Alto, Calif. Already late, she could tell from the other cars that some of the knitters had arrived. She hoisted her bags from the back seat. "The scourge of a librarian," she recalls, "carrying too much stuff around." Klor climbed the first of two wide steps, stubbed her foot and suddenly fell down, landing chest first on a sack filled with unfinished knitting. Klor, 5 feet 4 with soft hazel eyes and a generous, round face, had long considered herself a bit of a klutz, so her spill wasn't exactly a surprise. When she took a breath, her chest hurt, but she figured it was nothing. Inside, the knitters were already working in the living room. Klor wanted to get started, but the ache in the middle of her chest was getting worse with each breath. It wasn't an ordinary pang. She looked down at her red Façonnable sweater and lifted it up. The next
image is ingrained in her memory. A jagged splinter of a wooden knitting needle, nearly four inches long, was jutting from her chest. It had clearly broken in half, piercing her clothing and lodging in the middle of her bra right between her breasts. "Oh, my God," she whispered. Her friends gaped at the needle and urgently calculated the options. First and foremost, should they try to pull it out? "No, don't touch it," Klor declared. It was pure instinct: she didn't want anyone to go near the injury until she was at the hospital. Doctors would say later this was the first decision that helped save her life. Plucking the spike would have been like pulling a plug or uncorking a bottle, and she might have bled out in the living room.
Klor and her friends faced the next critical question: should they jump in a car and race to the emergency room? "No," Klor decided. "Call 911 right now." Waiting for the paramedics was a second lifesaving choice. If the needle had moved even the slightest amount in transit to the ER, the injury to her heart might have proved fatal. So Klor carefully sat down on a sofa to wait for the ambulance. She felt alert and even noticed something very odd. She had been impaled and yet there wasn't a single drop of blood anywhere. How was this possible? The next string of images flew by like a strange TV drama. Paramedics. Stretcher. Sirens. IV. Oxygen. Emergency room. CT scan.
At the Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, Klor waited anxiously for the ER doctors to tell her the extent of her problems. To distract herself, she focused on her daughter, Callie. Her thoughts also turned to her husband, Hal, a rugged research engineer who once hiked two miles on a broken ankle. Sometimes he teased her lovingly that she was "a little wimpy." What would Hal say when he heard about this?
When the ER team finally briefed her on the results of her scans, she felt the first flood of fear. Their tone was urgent. The needle had penetrated her sternum, the long flat breastbone that's supposed to protect the heart, lungs and major blood vessels from trauma. Over the years, this team had extracted every imaginable object sticking from every conceivable body part, but they told her a knitting needle was unprecedented. Paparazzi style, a young doctor snapped her photo and then took mug-shot close-ups of the offending object. Then the doctors delivered the scary news: the point of the needle had grazed her heart, nicking the right ventricle. They could see internal bleeding. They needed to operate as soon as possible.
Less than an hour after her tumble, trauma surgeons would cut her open, crack her sternum, stitch up her heart, wire her breastbone back together and sew her up. They would leave a seven-inch scar from her neck to the middle of her chest. They would save her life. And then, by chance or fate, the knitting needle would save her life all over again. In fact, Klor's real struggle for survival was just beginning.
Why do some people live and others die? Why do a few stay calm and collected under extreme pressure when others panic and unravel? How do some bounce back from adversity while others collapse and surrender?
At ABC's "Good Morning America," where I worked as executive producer for two and a half years, I watched a veritable parade of survivors appear on television. The procession of death-defiers never seemed to stop, and I always wondered: How do these people endure their trials? Were they always so strong and resilient—or did these abilities suddenly materialize? And what do they know about surviving and thriving that we don't?
It's probably safe to say you're never going to end up with a knitting needle through the heart, but it's equally indisputable that eventually you will face some kind of life-changing crisis or struggle. How would you have responded if your airplane had landed on the icy Hudson River? Or what would you do if you were suddenly fired from your job or received a dire medical diagnosis? Dr. David Spain has a blunter way of putting it. He runs the trauma and critical-care department at Stanford Medical Center and sees what happens to regular people all the time. Every day, he says, some of us get dressed, kiss our families goodbye, walk out the door and get run over by cement trucks.
After two years of research, I discovered that everyone has a crisis personality—a Survivor IQ—that they marshal in a moment of adversity: a mindset and ways of thinking about a situation. The best survivors and thrivers understand that crisis is inevitable, and they anticipate adversity. Understanding that even misfortune gets tired and needs a break, they're able to hold back, identify the right moment and then do what they need to do. Psychologists have a clunky term for this: active passiveness. It means recognizing when to stop and when to go. In a critical sense, doing something can mean doing nothing. Action can be inaction, and embracing this paradox can save your life.
It was early Saturday morning, just 12 days after surgeons had delicately removed Ellin Klor's splinter and stitched her up. Klor had been home for a week, thankful for the attention of her husband and daughter, but she awoke with excruciating chest and back pain. Writhing and struggling to breathe, she had no idea what was happening, and she rushed to the emergency room.
Doctors poked and prodded her. They listened to her heart and lungs. They whispered their greatest fear: perhaps it was a pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal blood clot in her lungs. They ordered immediate scans along with enough morphine to erase the pain.
When the doctors returned, they shook their heads and seemed confused. The tests were all negative. Her lungs were clear and her heart was healing just fine. So they explained it away as some kind of fleeting discomfort from surgery and gave her more painkillers before sending her home.
The next day, Klor was home alone when the phone rang. A radiologist from Stanford wanted to see her right away. At the hospital, the doctors explained the urgency. On a CT scan, the radiologist had detected a mass under her armpit. It looked like an enlarged lymph node, a telltale sign of breast cancer.
A decade earlier, she had battled the disease on the other side. But this was a brand-new malignancy and not a recurrence of the old tumor, which has lower survival rates. This was like starting from square one, a brand-new battle. Klor felt so lucky that she let out a whoop when the doctor informed her that only one lymph node was implicated and the disease was contained.
The knitting needle through her heart had actually saved her life, her doctors said. If she hadn't gone to the ER—if she hadn't been screened with all those machines—the tumor probably wouldn't have been detected until it had grown and spread. Klor believes she's one of the luckiest people in the world. I didn't die from the knitting needle, she remembers thinking, So I'm not going to die from cancer.
Klor spent most of the year undergoing surgery, chemo and radiation. On every single trip to the doctor, she was accompanied by family or friends. During that time, she also managed to finish a quilt, knit shrugs, scarves and shawls, and watch her daughter grow up fast. Klor suffered plenty from the treatments, but she also discovered something she didn't know about herself. She had always struggled with a sensitive nature; at times, she had been vulnerable to depression. Physically, she wasn't very tough either. "I really have surprised myself," she says about her experience, adding, "I didn't think I had this kind of strength."
The blunt reality of survival is this: too many people perish when they shouldn't. They morph into marble instead of taking decisive action. Exploring this phenomenon is the main focus of Dr. John Leach, one of the world's leading experts on survival psychology. He has lived for more than 20 years in England's Lake District, where he teaches an advanced course in survival psychology at Lancaster University.
In November 1987, Leach was changing trains one night in London at the King's Cross Underground station, a sprawling hub that throbs with more than 30,000 passengers during rush hour. He noticed the "thickest, greasiest, most cloying smoke I've ever seen." At first, it didn't make sense. There were no flames—just acrid smoke like the kind that belches from a ship's funnel. Almost without thinking, he found his way up to ground level and hurried to the exit.
Today, more than 21 years later, most of the memories have faded, but Leach can still smell the foul smoke and hear the wail of a uniformed railway worker: "There are people dying down there." For some inexplicable reason, as the fire spread, trains kept on arriving in the station. Meanwhile, aboveground, officials unwittingly directed passengers onto escalators that carried them straight into the flames. Many commuters followed their routines despite the smoke and fire. They marched right into the disaster, almost oblivious to the crush of people trying to escape—some actually in flames. Thirty-one people perished in the King's Cross fire, and incredibly, the Underground staff never sprayed a single fire extinguisher or spilled a drop of water on the fire.
Leach has a name for this syndrome. It's called the "incredulity response." People simply don't believe what they're seeing. So they go about their business, engaging in what's known as "normalcy bias." They act as if everything is OK and underestimate the seriousness of danger. Some experts call this "analysis paralysis." People lose their ability to make decisions.
In any emergency, people divide into three categories, Leach says. First, there are the survivors like the 155 people on US Airways Flight 1549, who manage to save themselves in the worst situations. Second, there are unavoidable fatalities: people who never have a chance, like so many of the 200,000 people in Southeast Asia who were swept away by the tsunami of 2004. Third, there are victims who should have lived but perished unnecessarily.
After examining countless disasters and categorizing the ways people respond to life-threatening situations, Leach came up with what might be called the theory of 10-80-10. First, around 10 percent of us will handle a crisis in a relatively calm and rational state of mind. The top 10 percent are leaders, like a few passengers on the US Airways flight who took charge and guided others off the plane.
Leach says the vast majority of us—around 80 percent—fall into the second category. In a crisis, most will "quite simply be stunned and bewildered." We'll find that our "reasoning is significantly impaired and that thinking is difficult." We'll behave in "a reflexive, almost automatic or mechanical manner." We'll sweat. We'll feel sick, lethargic, numb. Our hearts may race. And we'll experience "perceptual narrowing" or tunnel vision. We'll barely hear people around us. It's OK—it's not necessarily fatal—and it doesn't last forever. The key is to recover quickly from brain lock or analysis paralysis, shake off the shock and figure out what to do.
The last group—the final 10 percent—is the one you definitely want to avoid in an emergency. Simply put, the third band does the wrong thing. They behave inappropriately and often counterproductively. In plain terms, they freak out and can't pull themselves together. And they often don't survive.
Prof. Richard Wiseman can tell if you're lucky or unlucky just by handing you a newspaper and asking you to count the number of photographs in its pages. Some folks finish the job in a few seconds while others need a couple of minutes to tally all the pictures. The reason for the difference isn't that some people are better counters than others. Rather, the secret lies on page two of the newspaper where Wiseman has inserted a huge message in one-inch letters:
Believe it or not, many people actually miss this enormous headline in the paper. They're too busy counting photos to notice. The giant message isn't a trick. There really are 43 pictures in the paper. Professor Wiseman has found that if you see the announcement right away, you tend to be a lucky person open to random opportunities. By contrast, if you don't spot it, you're usually an unlucky person more likely to miss out on fortuitous possibilities.
Psychologists call this "inattentional blindness"—we don't notice things when we don't pay real attention. One of the most famous studies of inattentional blindness was conducted by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris in the elevator lobby of the 15th floor of the Harvard psychology department. One team of players wearing white shirts and another group dressed in black tossed two orange basketballs back and forth. Subjects were asked to watch a video of this ball-passing exercise and count the number of passes made by players dressed in white. After 45 seconds in one version of the video, a woman in a full gorilla costume walks right through the scene. The hairy ape is clearly visible crossing the screen for five seconds. Remarkably, 56 percent didn't even notice the gorilla right in the middle of the action. In another video, the gorilla stops, faces the camera, pounds her chest and then marches off. The action lasts nine seconds, but again only 50 percent spotted the furry interloper.
How is it possible to miss the gorilla? And what does it tell us about survival? Professor Simons now teaches psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The main lesson and surprise of the gorilla experiment, he tells me, is how easy it is to miss something as obvious as a gorilla. "Distinctive and unusual objects do not automatically capture our attention," he says. Many other studies have demonstrated that it's difficult—if not impossible—to be aware of everything going on around you, or even right in front of you. One reason is that your eyes see in high resolution only within around two degrees of your focal point. In other words, no matter how good your eyesight, the vast majority of your surroundings are essentially out of focus. To understand, try holding your arm out in front of you and making the thumbs-up sign. The sliver of the world that you see in high resolution is only about as wide as your thumbnail. If you focus, say, on your cuticle, you'll immediately notice how the detail in your peripheral vision drops off dramatically.
The gorilla experiment is important, Simons says, because it shocks you into realizing how little of your environment you consciously perceive, especially if you're very focused on a specific task. Once you've gained this insight, Simons believes, you can start opening yourself up to all the possibilities that you may be missing. In everyday life, Simons recognizes there's no guarantee he'll notice a gorilla or cement truck coming right at him. This awareness has changed the way he interacts with the world. Especially when he's driving, he's more alert to potentially disastrous events, and he intentionally devotes attention to those dangers instead of assuming they'll immediately capture his eye.
When it comes to spotting hairy apes and red-light runners, Wiseman believes there's another important factor at work, too. Neuroticism is a personality trait of people who tend to be anxious, tense and sensitive to stress, he explains. In the gorilla experiment, people with high levels of neuroticism are very serious and intense about their assignment to count the number of basketball passes. People with low levels are calmer and less sensitive to stress. According to Wiseman, lucky people usually are more laid-back and open to life's possibilities—like giant headlines in his newspaper experiment—while unlucky people are more uptight, nervous and closed off.
If you want to test yourself, take a quick look at this domain name sometimes used by stress researchers:
What do you see? For many people, the web site seems discouraging: opportunity is nowhere. But others see the exact opposite: opportunity is now here. When it comes to hidden messages, lucky people perceive more of the world around them. "It is not that they expect to find certain opportunities, but rather that they notice them when they come across them," Wiseman writes in his book "The Luck Factor." This ability (or talent) "has a significant, and positive, effect on their lives."
Wiseman, who holds Britain's only professorship in the public understanding of psychology, at the University of Hertfordshire, has devoted a decade to exploring the secrets of serendipity. He discovered that some people actually do have all the luck, while others are a "magnet for ill fortune."

"Luck is not a magical ability or a gift from the gods," Wiseman writes. "Instead, it is a state of mind—a way of thinking and behaving." Above all, he insists that we have far more control over our lives—and our luck—than we realize. Going back to the Italian Renaissance philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, great thinkers and writers have argued that 50 percent or more of what happens in life is determined entirely by chance (or Fortuna, the Roman goddess of fortune). Wiseman says no way. He believes that only 10 percent of life is purely random. The remaining 90 percent is "actually defined by the way you think." In other words, your attitude and behavior determine nine tenths of what happens in your life. Wiseman has concluded that there are four reasons why good things happen to certain people.
First, lucky people frequently happen upon chance opportunities. "Being in the right place at the right time is actually all about being in the right state of mind," Wiseman writes. As his newspaper experiment shows, lucky people are more open and receptive to unexpected possibilities. They tend to be more relaxed about life, and they operate with a heightened awareness of the world around them. Quite simply, they spot and seize upon openings that other people simply miss. They also tend to be more social and maintain what Wiseman calls a "network of luck." Most of us know around 300 people on a first-name basis. According to Wiseman, that means you're only two handshakes away from 90,000 people who could bring chance opportunities into your life.
Second, lucky people listen to their hunches and make good decisions without really knowing why. Unlucky people, by contrast, tend to make unsuccessful decisions and trust the wrong people. "My interviews suggested that lucky people's gut feelings and hunches tended to pay off time and time again," Wiseman writes. "In contrast, unlucky people often ignore their intuition and regret their decision." In survival, this kind of instinct can make all the difference.
Third, lucky people persevere in the face of failure and have an uncanny knack for making their wishes come true. They're convinced that life's most unpredictable events will "consistently work out for them." Their world is "bright and rosy," Wiseman writes, while unlucky people expect that things will always go wrong. Their world is "bleak and black." When Wiseman gives lucky and unlucky people a puzzle that is actually impossible to solve, the reactions are very telling. "More than 60 percent of unlucky people said that they thought the puzzle was impossible, compared to just 30 percent of lucky people. As in so many areas of their lives, the unlucky people gave up before they even started."
Fourth, lucky people have a special ability to turn bad luck into good fortune. Of all four defining factors involved in luck, Wiseman believes this one plays the most important role in survival. Wiseman's conclusion echoes the work of Dr. Al Siebert, one of America's foremost authorities on survival psychology. After more than 40 years investigating what he calls "the survivor personality," Siebert believes, "life's best survivors not only cope well, they often turn potential disaster into a lucky development."
So in the end, what does it take to survive life's inevitable challenges? Clearly, no single theory can encompass every situation. No common denominator applies to every person or struggle. In some cases, the cosmic coin toss determines everything. Alzheimer's patients don't pick their DNA. Trauma victims don't choose the drunk drivers careening through the streets. Still, survival isn't entirely out of your hands. In fact, you control much more of your destiny than you may imagine. Above all, your mindset makes the difference. You can take care of yourself, pay attention to your surroundings and even count the rows to the emergency exit on an airplane. You can make your own luck in the worst situations. You can pray, too, if it suits you. There are as many ways into the Survivors Club as there are personalities.

Sherwood is a journalist, author and executive director of This article is adapted from his new book, The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life (Grand Central Publishing, January 2009).
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