Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The end of a legendary era - Take a bow, Ricky Ponting.

Dear Punter,

Watching that team you led of massive figures who imposed themselves onto every team like never before, one would wonder if not a follower of cricket, if that petite little man who is their captain could be as imposing and great. Great is an understatement for you, as it seems.

Take a bow, Ricky Thomas Ponting, just take a bow! It has been 13 years of following Australian cricket now and there ain’t no better time to say what I have to say to you. It has been 9 long years today of trying to impersonate that attitude you emanated as Captain. It has been 9 years of Inspiring Leadership. It has also been 9 years of looking up to someone in times of ordeals, to stop for a minute and think of what your approach at that point might be. After 9 years of being Australia’s Captain, and your abundant achievements as one, there is just 1 word to describe it – Legendary. Respect!

You have been an asset to this Australian team at every level and have elevated Australian cricket to a different plane. The expectations from the team now are all a result of the tremendous run of victories you have stirred throughout the years and gotten your supporters accustomed to. Every time I saw you walk out onto the ground, it was overwhelming in every sense of the word; all in the eagerness to watch you score those runs and raise your bat acknowledging that feat. Every time that certain Ricky Ponting scored big, we smelt victory. You were that glue in that middle order. Watching you power that elegant, Signature cover drive or that mighty pull-shot over the fence, is a delight! Sheer Class!

That 140* against India in the World Cup 2003 final, that 164 against South Africa are only glimpses of the big occasion player that you are. I still remember on your 100th test, January 2006, against South Africa you walked out with that spark in your eye, scoring centuries in both your innings, being the only one to have done that! It is not a customary feat, that. It is not the amount of runs you score sometimes, it is scoring those runs when the team needs them the most and you have done that time and again for Australia. I have always looked up to you at every stage, not because I support Australian Cricket, but because you personify leadership and determination, like nobody else. Respect!

When I watched Tugga scored that century in the 1999, one of the greatest ‘warrior-like’ innings I’ve ever watched, I wanted to be that hero. When you were made captain after Tugga, you were gifted with a team of legends; your team was invincible! I wanted to be invincible. When you took it onto yourself to score that 140* against India in the World Cup and guide your team to victory being relatively a new captain, I wanted to make a difference like you and lead from the front. When you were criticized time and again and you silenced them all with brilliant performances, I wanted to prove myself against all odds. It is never easy to make condemnation your strength, but you did. I had a glimpse of a ‘warrior-like’ innings in your last game as captain after being the butt of criticism for the past one month relentlessly! Respect!

After top-guns like McGrath, Warnie, Gilly and Hayden retired, you made sure the younger blokes were up to the task, guided them through every loss and victory, still keeping Australia at their competitive best. Your never give up’ attitude has inspired thousands. You never give up; even if you were defending 172 in a test match with 2 days to go, even if your main players were injured and you were leading almost a second string team, guiding your team to win the series, you played the MCG test with a broken finger; you still did not give up! That is sign of a champion! It is not easy coming out of your comfort zone, but you did, time and again, team to team. You are, have been and will always be a fantastic team player. As palpable as it is, you have always put team before individuals and individual achievements. Respect!

This World Cup for you was marred with critics lashing out at you since the onset; be it about the dressing room aggravation, the Steve Smith episode, the ‘not walking’ or the deficit of runs. Personally I think it was blown way out of proportion, all of them. If you’re not allowed to vent your frustration in your dressing room with your team mates, where else are you expected to do it, on the field? The circling vultures – the media, were at it right away, pushing it to a limit where it got annoying to a mere spectator, can't imagine how you felt. The incident with Steve Smith was probably just mere irritation of the boys not having a very good day and the chance of a catch being dropped after having called for it. The not-walking, well as you said and I’m in complete agreement with that, you do not HAVE TO walk! It is not in the rule books of the game that you need to if you’re not given out. You have never claimed to be a walker and unless you want to, you don’t have to. You do not have to be compelled to do anything, Ricky! As far as I remember, I have not seen Sachin walk on numerous occasions where he knew he was out but was given not out. The comparisons are unfair and unjustified! The sheer fact that you are compared to him given that you started playing 6 years after him and are his only competition, just reflects on how mighty good you are. Surely, your last one year has not been one of your greatest in terms of runs scored, but that last innings against India showed no reflection of the past. That innings was solid; no better word to describe it. Even if we went down losing, we went down fighting! That’s what matters the most! Since it was your last ODI as captain, you went down bloodied and beaten, but not before putting up a fight. We fought through our blood and skin and you should be extremely proud! Through all the defeats you’ve endured, I have never ever seen you crushed in spirit and character, ever. That is what I love about you. Respect!

It is not about those losses you’ve endured, it is about the victories that you’ve led your team to. It is not about being buried under the ashes of criticism, it is about being reborn a stronger person like you always have done. I remember you telling Peter Siddle on his debut tour to India after a draw game, ‘We play to win or to lose, and seldom will you have such games.’ Respect!

Your achievements as a cricketer and as a captain speak volumes about your exceptionality. After having stepped down for the dawn of new era in best interests of Australian Cricket, I’d like to thank you for being the same ‘arrogant’ cricketer as the world perceives you to be. Your determination and grit were mistaken for your arrogance, but fret not, there are people who respect you, love you and support you beyond the judgments of the vultures encircling above. It doesn’t matter if you are compared to Sachin Tendulkar and are termed ‘not-as-great’ a player as he is, because if I was given two choices –

1. 32700 runs in 730 innings, 0 WCs, 0 Champions Trophies, 4/25 test victories and 23/73 ODI victories…. OR
2. 25651 runs in 608 innings, 3 WCs, having captained 2, 2 Champions Trophies being Man of the Series in the last, 16 Test match victories in a row, an Ashes whitewash, 48/77 victories as Test Captain and 163/227 ODIs captained…

I’d have blindly chosen the second one. Cricket as you have proved it time and again in all of Australia’s victories is not a game of individual performances, it is a team effort! It’s not about individual statistics, it is about the team performing as a unit and you’ve always made sure of that. Respect!

With much love and a heavy heart, Congratulations on being the BEST Captain the Cricketing world has ever seen. As legendary as a captain, you as a batsman too. There is no shame in stepping down; your achievements should make you swell with pride every time you think of them. Australian Cricket is what it is because of your contributions, most certainly. Thank you for the grace and spirit you’ve possessed throughout the years as Captain, being such an influence in my life! Thank You!

'Form is temporary, Class is permanent.'

I am privileged to have lived through the Ricky Ponting Era! Will miss the grit and the arrogance of your team and most of all, you walking the team off the ground.

Respect and lots of love!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A meeting that struck a chord!

A couple of months ago, I happened to go out for lunch with a few colleagues despite having carried lunch from home. I did not want to waste it, so I kept it with me. Just then, I spotted this, shriveled lady sitting on the footpath to the opposite side of the road. I walked up to her and asked her if she wanted some food that I could give her. She was delighted! I cannot even go onto explain just how happy she was. She handed me a little bag and I emptied my lunch into the bag. When I was giving her a 50 rupee note, she refused to take it saying that I had given her food, so she didn’t want the money. On persuasion, she took it. She thanked me with tears in her eyes, she kissed my hand and I went away, almost teary too. It’s amazing how happy you can make someone feel with just a small thing like giving them your lunch. If it could get her teared up, it must've meant a lot to her. It made her smile, that's what matters.

Today I happened to go that way and noticed her sitting right at the same place, prayerful. She saw me and recognized me at once. I knelt down to talk to her. She asked me how I was and all that. She held my hand and kissed it. I cannot comprehend what exactly I had done to earn that love from her. She ran her hand down my face and said to me, ‘Please come and see me once in a while. I do not have girls in my family, you are like my grandchild. I had that food for 3 days that you have given me last time around. God Bless you. Always be happy.’ I hugged her and left. I did not even know what to say back, but I told her I would come and see her again. It was so overwhelming! I felt bizarre! I really do not know if I even deserve that kind of love for something so little that I did. But I thought that it probably meant so much to her. Like I said in one of my earlier blogs, Human emotions astonish me. They go beyond the facets of familiarity, of relationships and distance. Sometimes, the little things you do can make people happy and maybe that kind of a reality check is all that I need; to make someone happy, to make someone around me smile, to be the source of someone’s happiness, to know that making someone happy costs nothing, it is the heart that really matters in the end.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The luck of the Irish!

Last Sunday, I had started to write a post about the India- England tie game. I almost completed it, but then it completely escaped my mind and I didn’t even bother completing it. Now I know why. It was because there was going to be a better Match to write about. Not saying the India-England was less fun, but this was a cracker,probably the best of the World Cup, unless some more beauties are yet to come.

Setting a target of 300 runs and above has become an everyday affair this World Cup. Chasing it down or getting close to it, another ordinary feat. I remember the time in ODI cricket, where if you had 300 on the board, you were pretty sure the game was yours, much to the contrary today.

Last night’s match was one of the greatest World Cup upsets I have ever witnessed. Last world cup, the Irish beat Pakistan, this year they beat the English, chasing down 328. To be honest, I was pretty surprised England got to just 327; they way they were going at one stage, I reckoned they’d get to not less than 340-350. Ireland pulled it back it well. When it was Ireland’s turn to bat, I didn’t think they’d even come close, giving England a big win; after their captain Porterfield was dismissed first ball of the innings. Stirling and Niall O’Brien took it then to the English bowlers but were dismissed soon after. All of a sudden, the Irish were 111-5 and it was pretty much over most would've thought, but then, in walked Kevin O’ Brien.

He was indeed a surprise package last night, much to the delight of plenty! Maybe his new hair-do worked well for him. He took it to every English bowler right from the onset. His partnership with Cusack proved vital in Ireland’s run-chase. Together they put on 162 runs! Kevin O’Brien got his fabulous and entertaining century in exactly 50 balls, the fastest ever in World Cup history, beating Matty Hayden to it who took 66 balls for his century in the last World Cup. If he would stay till the end, Ireland was sure to win it, but he got run-out towards the end. But some great cameos by Johnston and Mooney saw Ireland through and what a victory it was for them! By the end, they chased down the highest total ever in WC history.

Just an observation, I think Ireland took the batting powerplay at a very good time. If England would’ve taken the batting PP at that stage, around 31 overs, against India, they would’ve won that game. Maybe Ireland didn’t have much to lose at that point, but a well-picked powerplay got them 67 runs and out them in a great position from there. The batting power-play hasn’t been used too well by most teams. Australia is by far the team to have performed the best during the batting powerplay in terms of scoring runs. It is crucial, since it can be ‘make or break’ a match thereafter.

After last night’s win, I personally think Ireland should be given test status; more so to stop England importing players from Ireland, like of course Eoin Morgan. They are a very capable team and it would be nice to have them competing in test cricket. They beat the mighty English, a reason more.

No surprises as to who the man of the moment was, but it was somebody else’s ‘special’ day. In all of that one thing was forgotten; it was Andrew Strauss’s 34th birthday. It will be one he will always remember, not because he scored 34 on this 34th birthday, but because his side was beaten by the Irish who chased down 328!! Surely a day the Irish and the English will never forget, ever. Fantastic game of cricket!! Whoever on earth said ODIs weren’t fun anymore?

I would really like the ICC not tainting this match by investigating into match-fixing possibilities and all of that, not because the Irish won, but because their inspired performance will be looked up to, by heaps of teams waiting to get there.