Monday, November 30, 2009

The Departure of the Prodigal Son

In his very first test, he managed what few batsmen get to list on their resume in a career span – be at the crease in the fourth innings of a test match in a winning cause. In his next six innings he scored two doubles, two centuries and one half century.

As seventh grade students, our most enduring memory of that dream run used to be that while we never knew what the day’s score was till we got home, we used to invariably find Vinod Kambli batting on one end. This began in his very third test when he ended the second day at 20 not out and was still batting at the end of the third day on 164 not out. The run-fest continued for a few more tests.

Meanwhile in school, if anyone batted well those days, we would call him Kambli regardless of whether the batsman was right or left-handed. We also stopped asking or caring how much Sachin scored. The question was more on the lines of “Is Kambli around?”, “How much did he score?”, “How did he get out?” To put in perspective, in the last twenty years such a phase has occurred only one other time – when a certain Virendra Sehwag relegated Sachin briefly to the status of an afterthought of a second question. The new question in mid-2000’s was “How much has Sehwag scored? And Sachin? ” I suspect that will remain the case for sometime now but nevertheless coming back to seventh grade.

Ah ! The summer of ’93! We had a new spin trio already being compared to the spin quartet, our captain was again beginning to flick the deliveries from outside off-stump to the square leg boundary, Sachin kept reminding us of his greatness every other test and just then, we thought, we had also unearthed our Bradman.

But the start was too good to true. Barely two years down the line, we saw the man weeping in front of a packed house in Eden Gardens. We felt for him but we didn’t know what was happening. It was beginning to sink in that unlike what we would’ve wished, the man had delivered his best so early in his career that he was struggling to cope with expectations, form, media and luck, all at the same time. His leg stump would go flying now more often than Batmobile. We started seeing what seemed odd to us first- him ducking awkwardly and scooping tame catches. And then we realized we had never seen him deal with bouncers before Walsh and company came to India. Reports of him being wayward with his after-cricket hours weren’t helping his case either. To top it off, he ran himself into what effectively was the worst ankle twist ever seen on television. Not to forget that he was the 12th man in that match and it took an entire year for him to get back to normal. No wonder, they say sometimes luck can be cruel but more importantly the cookie had crumbled sooner that we would’ve liked.

We can’t look back and find out if he really deserved another shot in the test side after nine comebacks to the ODI team. For a man who played his last test at 24, he probably did. We’ll also never know if he could’ve been more disciplined and would that have helped him prolong his career. We also don’t know whether his temperament itself was just not good enough for the highest levels. But what we do know that at one point of time, he was our childhood hero.

That’s why it hurts sometimes to know the man we loved seeing at the crease at one time, has been reduced to a contestant on reality shows. But what we still see in him is his zest for life and maybe if he is happy doing all that he is doing now, we just ought to be happy for him.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Accomplishment

Monday: Familiar with numerous stories of failed attempts before, Rohan was a bit skeptical of whether he would really be able to make it. He knew this was the fastest route. Quick, yes but would it be smooth? He was soon going to find out.He had done his homework. He punched his coupons and with steady steps began the climb. But this is exactly when it was all beginning to hit him.

As he began the climb to get to Platform Number 2, he felt he had migrated to another planet altogether. It felt like being in a circus- you just didn't know where the next big trick was going to come from or from whom. Men with their bags & newspapers speeding by, cobblers with that rhythmic sales pitch of knocking their brush with on the ground and suddenly out of nowhere, the clamor of bells and sounds of people singing bhajans on a train that just zipped by- all of it seemed like perfectly oiled parts of the biggest automated machine in the world.

He stood there on the platform with nervous eyes. He clutched his laptop as the train approached. He was told he just had to follow the crowd. The train slowed and suddenly in the midst of a hundred armpits bang under his nose, he got where very few mortals manage on the very first day of taking a train- his left foot was on the train. He balanced himself and held the pole with one hand. His right foot was in the air but he was there. Until this one pull came so hard at him, that in a split second he found himself with both his feet, back on the platform !

The train was a distant sight by now.

Tuesday: He still couldn't get in.

Unlike yesterday, he went to Jogeshwari by rickshaw and tried getting into the fast local from there. Goregaon, he was told that day by his colleagues at work, was near impossible unless he travelled back to Borivali. Today again though, he didn't have a chance.They had said Jogeshwari might be 'relatively' easier to get in.The train was gone in the blink of an eye. Relatively speaking, he couldn't even figure today if this better or worse.

He waited for one more train to come into the station. The next one was even worse.He didn't even want to attempt it. Yesterday, it had taken him over two hours to get to Nariman Point by road but he had no choice.He stepped out of the station in a hurry and asked for a rick to Bandra.

Wednesday: He started off early and reached the Goregaon station at 7:20 a.m. He knew the odds that he had to beat by now.Something told him, he would beat the odds today. He felt in good nick. There were not as many people at the station today as at 8:20. This was a good enough reason. To make things easier, he had left his laptop at office too. Things seemed to click- he felt like a part of the crowd. He saw the old electronic sign right above his head. "F" , "7:29", it read. If the previous 2 days seemed like a bitter struggle, today seemed a struggle alright but a sweeter one. He floated through the crowd and no sooner than he realised, he was IN !

"We are the champions"- the song ran through this head. He smiled. He almost giggled to himself. Sweet !

Fifteen minutes later, a radio set crackled far away in Dahisar: " Abhi abhi khabar mili hain ki aaj savere kareeben saade saat baje, Mumbai mein, paanch trainon mein..."