The brilliant year of sport…. And???

2014 is half done and already we have had 2 World Cups, countless bilateral series and 3 Grand Slams not to mention the F1 season also being halfway towards its completion. The domestic football leagues were wrapped up and are now 5 weeks away from resuming their new season. The Hockey World Cup final in the Netherlands finished just days before the FIFA World Cup Finals started and now we are just days away from a winner being decided there as well. For sports fans out there, this year has been a smorgasbord of entertainment to choose from. (Apologies if I haven’t mentioned other sports like badminton, rugby, golf)

But while I’ve graduated and started working (not so coincidentally, as a sports content writer), earning a living (or sort of, in my case) by doing your hobby makes you investigate yourself more. During the domestic Indian T20 league, I was required to follow each match and provide regular updates along with engaging fans on social media about the match happenings. Through that, I not only discovered that I had fallen MAJORLY behind on ALL my TV shows but I had also begun to scrutinize every movement that a player does. During this World Cup, my tasks aren’t as demanding but are somewhat of a similar nature to what I had to do 2 months ago. And the results aren’t exactly the same – in one aspect, the matches are only at a fixed time and that gives me time to do other things during the day. In another aspect, actually noticing certain nuances of the game helped me to understand the game better, watching it as a sports writer and not just as a fan.

In a way, this being my first job, I should feel extremely lucky to be doing something that I truly love and enjoy. While many people have said that soon I will start to lose the love that I have for watching and enjoying sport, having to constantly watch and write about it. Well, for one, that cannot happen simply because of the diversity of sport that I watch (as those reading my blog have understood) and two, as my career progresses, each year of sport will just be bigger and better (at least for me! 

Happy New Year!

According to the Gregorian calendar that is followed mostly all over the world, 1st January of every calendar year is known as New Year’s Day which makes 31st December the previous day as New Year’s Eve. It comes like clockwork to remind us all that another year has begun and basically gives us a chance to start afresh. For many people, it is an excuse to drink a lot and simply have fun but the more serious think about all the actions that they have done in the past year and how they can change that for the better in the new year. They sort of look at it like a report card and how they are the teacher, the parent and the student, evaluating and understanding the rights and wrongs of the year.

A lot of things happened in 2013, especially for me:

1. I was VERY SURPRISED that we even came to 2013 considering I thought that the world would end in 2012 itself. Therefore in that sense itself, I feel lucky to actually be living at this time
2. This is my last year of official college education and therefore after this, it might be a very long time before I actually am present in a classroom as a student.
3. This is also the first time that I started working in an actual office and learnt the nuances of a workplace
4. It is also the year where I learnt that if you can put your mind to something, it will be successful – resulting in me receiving some job offers for after college.
5. This is also the year where I travelled to a place in Southern India called Kanyakumari, which is at the end of the peninsula of the South. According to my blog posts under the category ‘Sojourn of Tamil Nadu’, I saw the point where all the three water bodies surrounding the land and wass amazed with the fact that amidst this fast-paced world where we worry about little decisions and matters, there are some things in the world that simply don’t require us thinking about them so much.

It has been 2 weeks into the New Year and nothing feels different. Yet everything is changing very soon. In a matter of 2 months, I will be graduating and entering the work environment. My life as I know it will become very different in a matter of 5 months. But that is the spice of life – new challenges, new ideas, new directions.

Christmas Time!

The entire significance of Christmas for me was very commercial in the beginning as I would see various sales and offers in shops, screaming out good prices for the Season to be Happy and Jolly. I also had various Christian friends but as I was small, I never really bothered to ask them. Our devotional centre would organise various programmes on the occasion of Christmas and my father would dress up as Santa with his big belly and his resounding laughter. It was only when I grew up and became slightly mature that I realised that Christmas is more than receiving gifts and having turkey and cake.

The entire point of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who was the founder of Christianity and a saviour of the people. But many people nowadays seem to have forgotten the original reason for the celebration. Not that this blog post is going to be at all about preaching, it is simply going to be what I consider as Christmas. We never keep a Christmas tree in the house for the simple reason that the religion my parents follow is not Christianity. But at the same time, we celebrate all festivals in mostly equal measures.

The reason why I love Christmas because it is the one time of the year when the entire world is in celebration irrespective of which religion or community they come from. It creates a sense of happiness that isn’t present even on one’s birthday and at the same time brings people together, people who otherwise would have never associated with each other. It is truly the season to be jolly and happy. Another reason why I love this particular day is because there is an air of warmth everywhere I go. There has never been a bad Christmas for me, although for 5 years I would get sick without fail on Christmas Day.

The days before and after, Christmas Eve and Boxing Day respectively, also share their moments of enjoyment and happiness. The anticipation of Christmas Day on 24th December and remembering the fun times experienced the previous day on Boxing Day make the celebration of Christmas a 3 day affair. And what’s even more fun is that 1 week after Christmas is New Year’s!

The Ashes – Well and truly won the second time (in 2013) around

By the end of August 2013, at Durham, England had won the Ashes for the 3rd consecutive time, for some of their players, their 4th time in an Ashes winning squad. For the Australians, it was another tour ending in the most horrible circumstances. The loss at Durham had extended their win-loss ratio of Tests in 2013 to 7 Tests lost away and one drawn. This equation was not exactly expected with how close they came to winning in Old Trafford (had the weather not intervened) and how they completely weren’t able to get over the line in Trent Bridge and Chester-Le-Street. England had realized by the time they came to the Oval to try and win this summer Ashes 4-0, a scoreline never successfully achieved by any English captain, that they had huge amounts of luck and grit on their side considering their highest scorer of the series, Ian Bell, was the only man who scored centuries consistently, Joe Root being the other centurion. Australia on the other hand, had Shane Watson, Michael Clarke, Chris Rogers and even David Warner coming close to that big 100. England knew that during the Oval match, Australia will not spare them Down Under and they needed to be ready.

Australia under Darren Lehmann during the limited overs series in England looked a different side. Confident, able to handle pressure and good performances, both individual and team, they looked to be ready to handle anything that came their way. A rather unnecessary limited overs series in India where the runs flowed and they rested their main bowler, Mitchell Johnson for the deciding match in Bangalore, considering the fact that they needed him for the Ashes Down Under and the entire point of the series was to become No.1 in the ODI rankings wasn’t possible at that point. Could this have been the possible turnaround that everyone was talking about? Australian players were able to get a couple of Sheffield Shield games under their belts while the visitors had to suffice with only 1 complete tour game against Western Australia which they drew because the other two fixtures weren’t completed due to rain (in November in Australia).

There was a lot of chatter about which the better-prepared team was and retired Aussie spinner Shane Warne and Ashes winning former English captain Michael Vaughan decided to come out of retirement for this specific purpose of pre-match sledging. But both captains, Michael Clarke and Alastair Cook, were prepared to do their talking on the field. Sadly only one captain and one team turned up for the match in Brisbane and it wasn’t the one that the Barmy Army supported. England were considered favourites not only for the Brisbane Test but for the Ashes as they began their campaign in spectacular fashion with a record saving 517/1 in the second innings to end the first Test at the Gabba with a draw. Alastair Cook’s double century and Steven Finn’s 6 wicket haul set the tone for the rest of the series in 2010-11 which they ultimately won 3-1, losing the only Test in Perth. This Test however begin slightly differently.

Brisbane – 21st to 25th November, 2013

Australia won the toss and decided to bat. Stuart Broad, fresh off playing almost no cricket save for a couple of T20s, a Yorkshire Bank 40 final with Nottinghamshire and the tour matches, picked uo a 5 wicket haul as the hosts were reduced to 100/5. Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson took their team from the brinks of a collapse to a respectable total of over 260, Haddin being run out in trying to complete his century. Then was to come one of the most spectacular batting collapses of all time. Cook, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen all fell to short balls and fast, accurate bowling by Johnson with able support from Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris. In fact, the England innings wrapped up at 132 all out with Michael Carberry, making his Ashes debut and Broad being the highest scorers in their team. The second innings began awfully with David Warner and captain Clarke scoring centuries to take Australia to a lead of over 500 which the English couldn’t even score half of and Johnson did the rest, taking 3 more wickets to give Australia their first Test win since the win against Sri Lanka in December 2012 by a whopping 381 runs, a day early. England, humiliated in defeat, suffered another setback as established no.3 batsman Trott announced that he was suffering from depression and wouldn’t take any further part in either the Ashes tour or any upcoming series to try and find the reason why he loved the game. So from after the 1st game itself, England and Andy Flower needed to rebuild themselves in their batting, attitude and find a new no.3 – Ian Bell, a prolific no.5 or Joe Root, whose original position is batting at no.6 but has been tried out as an opener and done average.

Adelaide – 5th to 9th December, 2013

The site of the first win in the epic 2010-11 series for England and the site of a possible turnaround was there but not decided when they announced that they were going to play two spinners, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar. Stats had been brought out that except for the recent Ashes series and the 2012 series in Pakistan, England have always come back to win the series after losing the first Test – an example would be the series in India where they came back from the humiliating loss in Ahmedabad to come back strongly in the remaining three game, especially scripting a wonderful win at Mumbai. Again here Australia won the toss and posted a huge total of 570 with Haddin and Clarke again in the centuries while Harris, Shane Watson and Chris Rogers chipping in. The bowlers did an average job what with Chris Tremlett who was picked for the first Test being dropped for Panesar. In reply, England managed 3 double figure scores with Carberry and Bell getting half centuries and Johnson literally cutting the tail off starting with debutant all-rounder Ben Stokes. Australia, having already secured a sizeable lead, declared at 132/3, putting England in to bat with a target of 531 on the board to level the series. With two days to go and their captain out, Root and Pietersen set about defying Johnson and his army to put up a strong 50 run partnership before both were out and England ended Day 4 with Broad and an out-of-form but regaining confidence Matt Prior at stumps. No team has even won a Test being 6 wickets down and this was no different as England crossed 300 for the first time since the Lord’s Test in July where their thrashing of Australia seemed an anomaly at that time and now looked rather lucky as the hosts took an unassailable 2-0 lead beating England by 210 runs, this time.

Perth – 13th to 17th December, 2013

The one match that Australia won in the last series was to be the one that would hand over the precious urn back to the hosts after 3 successive series defeats since 2007. The Australian innings started rather shakily with a good run-out of Rogers and the quick wickets of Watson and Clarke. But Steven Smith stayed with Warner to build a good partnership and play a mature innings which saw him score his first century. It then saw an England performance that had only 2 out of the top 5 batsmen score single figures with Cook getting a gutsy half century only to get out against the run of play giving Australia a lead of only a 150 runs. This meant that when Australia came out to bat the second time, Warner and Watson both scored centuries in a manner not unlike their IPL playing days, just swinging and slogging almost every ball and Clarke declared at 369/6 giving England their 3rd consecutive 500+ total to chase, the first time it has ever happened in a Test series ever played between any two countries. This time another debutant stepped up as Ben Stokes got his first century and almost….Almost gave English fans back home some hope of atleast beginning their resurrection of this dreadful tour with good partnerships with Bell, KP and Prior. This time though, the tail again collapsed giving Australia back the Ashes with 150 runs as the winning margin. Another victim was claimed as Graeme Swann announced his retirement citing both not being able to win the Ashes again and recurring problems with his elbow for the reason. Many commented labelling this pull-out of England’s most successful spinner and most charismatic cricketer for years to come as ‘cowardly’ and ‘ungraceful’ whereas in my opinion, Swann decided to step out of the way when he gave away runs at a higher rate than he took wickets. His special ability was to take wickets or atleast stem the flow of runs when the pacers were being taken for a ride. Another interesting fact about this match was that Rogers hit James Anderson for a record 28 runs with 2 sixes and 2 fours, the only other person to do was Brian Lara.

Questions were raised by many former English cricketers including former captains Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss and prolific all-rounder Geoffrey Boycott on the lack of good fast and accurate bowling not unlike the lynchpin of Australia’s bowling attack, Johnson. Commenting on Flower and David Saker, England bowling coach, bringing 4 tall quicks that included Broad, Finn, Tremlett and Boyd Rankin but using only one consistently and one for the first Test although Finn was their most successful bowler in the 2010-11 series but not having played a Test since the hammering he took from Haddin in the first Test at Trent Bridge that almost brought Australia close to victory if it hadn’t been for Anderson’s burst. The good news was that Tim Bresnan was back to some sort of good form and would be able to pepper the cracks that would be caused by Swann’s absence. The focus for Cook and his team was to improve morale and take something away from this Test series besides voluntary retirements, burn-outs and sacking of responsible personnel. Changes had to be made and it was better that the MCG would be the site of that turnaround, albeit late in the series, at the same place where England retained the Ashes in the last series.

Melbourne – 26th to 30th December, 2013

Jonny Bairstow brought in for Prior and Panesar for the departing Swann were the only two changes made. Surprised as many were by the former, it was as drastic as Flower suggested in the post Perth press conference. England were put in to bat for the first time despite losing the toss and got themselves in a great position with KP and Bresnan batting at 222/6 at the end of Day 1 with the former looking his old self after a half century and the Yorkshireman looking defiant. It all collapsed in the first session of Day 2 but England actually won an entire day when they ended Day 2 with Australia 91 runs behind and England needing 1 wicket to wrap up the innings and possibly take a commanding position in a Test for the very first time. Unfortunately, everything went pear-shaped when the magician that was Haddin and no.11 Nathan Lyon forged a 40 run partnership that reduced the deficit to 51. England then got off to a good start with Cook getting a quick half century (by his standards) and Carberry looking unlike himself but solid. Then came the first batting collapse when Cook, Carberry, Root and Bell were all dismissed with minutes of each other, the last two wickets totally uncharacteristic of the players. It was again upto KP and his new wicketkeeper Bairstow to stave off Johnson with his fiery hand which led to some tension on the field with gusty winds blowing all over the MCG, that also saw world record attendance of over 91,000 on the first day. While KP was dealing with Mitch, Bairstow had to bear the brunt of it as he swung at a ball that edged to Haddin. Then began the second collapse of the day with the tail again going cheaply, 3 ducks all to a surprising Lyon who got his first 5 wicket haul in Test cricket and to 100 Test wickets. This meant that Australia had a target of 231 which they chased as if they were playing garden cricket with Rogers scoring a century and Watson scoring the winning runs, all for the loss of 2 wickets, creating another record of the lowest number of wickets lost in an Ashes chase. This meant that Australia had now taken a 4-0 lead and with England’s help were well on their way to a whitewash, not unlike the 2006-07 series that still haunts former all-rounder Andrew Flintoff and captain at that time Vaughan.

Disappointing as it was to see Australia win, the remarkable turnaround that they have seen under Lehmann is something to be applauded. Yes, most of their centuries have come in the second innings when they had a cushy lead to fall back on. Yes most of Mitchell Johnson’s 35 wickets in the series (before the 5th Test) have been of the tail and he has only dismissed top order batsmen 5 times in 8 innings. But the sheer confidence and fluency with which the entire team played is something that was seen by another team that won the Ashes the last time it was played in Australia in 2010-11. All that remains now for Cook and Flower is to make sure that the horrific whitewash of 2006-07 isn’t repeated.

Day 5 – The Palace again and the journey back home

The last day of our Sojourn of Tamil Nadu took us back to square one, Madurai where everyone, except me, visited the famous Meenakshi Amman temple that is located at the centre of the city. Christmas night was nothing special with a regular buffet dinner and a classic Bollywood flick on TV that my mother and I stayed up for. The next morning we decided to go visit the Thirumalai Nayaka Palace, the same palace where we had seen the Sound and Light show on Day 1.

The Palace looks completely different when it is engulfed in artificial lights and when it is bathed in natural sunlight. The architecture, most of which is part of the original design and construction in 1636 by an Italian architect, resembles (if I may be permitted to say so) some of the monuments in Rome and Venice. Very intricate designs along the balconies of the upper floors and huge, strong pillars are characteristic to this palace. There is also a sign that forbids visitors from writing on said pillars and warns of punishment if anyone is found to be committing such a crime. But sadly, the Archeological Department in the Indian government cannot allocate enough resources to suitably monitor such activities. In this process, when trying to take pictures of my mother hugging the pillars to see how wide and broad they are, most of the writing (rather silly proclamations of love) comes in the way. But while the writing disappointed me, the splendor of the palace did not.

Of course, there wasn’t much to see at the palace and so with not much delay, we were on our way back on NH7 and towards Bangalore. The short trip was partly inspired by the Bollywood movie starring Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone, “Chennai Express” where the town of Rameshwaram is beautifully shown. It was also partly inspired by my desire to go to the more unknown and unexplored parts of India (in my case specifically). Since I have seen around half of the world, and am yet to visit the continents of Africa, South America and Australasia, I realized that besides a few cities here and there, India was still very much unknown territory to me.

In a way, these holidays were a perfect reminder of how much there is still to see in this country while at the same time reminding myself the treasure trove of tourism that India has to offer. If only it could model itself on better lines.

Day 4 – To the end and back, a looong journey and back to Square 1

In an attempt to catch the sunrise that is so famed across the Kanyakumari horizon, we decided to get up early in the morning. But my mother disappointingly informed us that the clouds still blocked the sun’s view. She had gotten up every half an hour since 5:30 am in the morning. We then decided to go visit the Vivekananda Rock Memorial that required us to take a ferry to the Memorial since it was technically an island. The only problem was that the incompetent hotel was refusing to give us breakfast if we came back after 10am and we needed to be in line for the ferry by 7:30am which would mean we would come back only by 11am. We then had breakfast and went to the ferry queue only to find a line, an orderly one at that (much to my surprise), that extended for nearly a kilometer. We stood in the line for around more than an hour and were finally able to buy tickets to board the ferry.

Oddly enough, the tickets for the ferry and for the Memorial were separately charged. We boarded the ferry which was in good condition and very comfortable considering the choppy waves and gusty winds, not like the ones we experienced yesterday which forced the authorities to cancel the ferry service to the Memorial and the Thiruvallur statue. While today the Memorial was open to visitors, the statue was closed once more due to heavy under currents. And since I have no clue about the nature of the sea weather, I chose to go along with the officials and trust their judgement. We got down onto the rock which was also a sculpture garden and were awestruck.

The view from the Memorial was astonishing because of the fact that the confluence of the 3 water bodies, the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea were seen in its splendor, noticeable by the color difference. We couldn’t make out which water body was which color but it was a spectacular sight. While I didn’t go into the temple, because frankly I had seen my share of temples on this trip, it was calming and soothing to simply stand near the rocks and watch the water crash against the rocks and create that foam that is simply mesmerizing to see.

We then again stood in the line to go back to the mainland and were witness to some appalling behavior on the part of people, some of whom tried to cut the line even though it was clearly mentioned to stand in the queue for the ferry. Irritating as their behavior and manner was, it didn’t take away anything from our experience. We then went to have lunch at the nearby hotel and settled down for another long journey back to Madurai and Hotel Park Plaza. While I’m writing this post, my mother, grandmother and great aunt have gone to the Meenakshi Amman Temple, the most famous temple at the centre of the town of Madurai.

So here ends our trip and we head on back home to Bangalore tomorrow.

Day 3 – The End of the World (as Indians would know it)

An early start to the morning included a hasty breakfast and a long snooze in the Innova while on our way to the southern most town of India, Kanyakumari. The town of Kanyakumari is host to the southern most point of the country, Indira Point, which was sadly mostly washed away by the tsunami of 2004 that affected many more coastlines and their towns in the Indian Ocean. The town was over 5 hours away from Rameshwaram and the roads to the town were uneven. Sometimes the roads would be made well and smooth. Sometimes the roads would resemble the construction of said road at the halfway stage. The snooze was interrupted only to note windmill farms on both sides and the closeness of the coastline on our left. The drive to Kanyakumari was fabulous but the roads slightly dampened the effect of the view.

We reached our hotel only to find that it is currently under renovation and that the lifts weren’t working. Considering my grandmother and great aunt were travelling with us, we were wondering how to cope with this inconvenience but luckily our rooms were only a flight of stairs away. We then quickly finished our lunch and proceeded to the ferry junction, which would take us to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and the Thiruvellu Statue, which was around a couple hundred metres away from the town by boat. But to our disappointment, the gusty winds were making the waves too choppy for any catamaran or ferry to travel on and thus the service was cancelled for the day. This meant that the hundreds of tourists were left to explore the jutting out piece of land that extended right into the ocean and the nearby Bhagvathi Amman Temple. The Sunset Point was also of interest to many but the sunset time was at least a couple of hours away.

We walked around to the jutting piece of land and were almost swept away by the forceful winds, my mother and I, while clicking pictures and admiring the strength and will of the fisher folk to continue with their lives as if nothing had happened to them 9 years ago. Of course, because of no ferry service, these people were left with nothing to do for the rest of the day. We also saw a man telling people’s fortunes with a parrot, the name ‘Parrot telling Tarot’ popping into my head. I sat down and the man couldn’t understand my name. No worries because his parrot was the most adorable thing. The only problem was that he spoke only Tamil, which my grandmother translated. The gist of his fortune telling included a happy workplace, a satisfied spiritual life and a very intelligent mind. He also said that into whichever family I marry; I will have a very successful life. Now considering that he took only Rs. 20 for this nugget of destiny, he might have not even been telling the truth. For my satisfaction, I truly hope he was.

We then went to the Bhagvathi Amman temple, or rather my grandmother and my great aunt went. After that, we unsuccessfully tried to gaze into the horizon for the oncoming sunset that was unfortunately blocked by the gloomy clouds that were collecting over the skyline. The only ray of hope (literal in the sense) was a small sliver of clear sky through which we could see the magnificent change in colours. Walking so much caught up with us as we turned in early again on guess what, CHRISTMAS EVE! The journey comes to a full circle with us returning to Madurai again tomorrow.