The Five Stages ..

As always there is an air of anticipation at the start of the first match of a widely billed series of the summer. Unlike the overenthusiastic former player who tries to invoke McGrath in the mental disintegration with talks of a 4-0 whitewash I am filled with trepidation. Pune has not been a happy hunting ground for India recently as the World T20 game against New Zealand proved. On a spin friendly wicket roles were reversed and tables turned.

When a similar wicket greeted viewers for this test match – most people thought the obvious. Same script seen multiple times in the past. Asian teams bullying tourists on dust bowls in the name of home advantage.
What I experienced and probably  a few other fans did too – was the five stage grieving process.

Denial was an emotion I started feeling early on the second day. At around 11 pm central with eyelids heavy with sleep I looked up and saw the scoreline – 45 for 3. Ah but all three had gone to pace – surely that could be an aberration. The pacemen will not operate for long and the spinners shouldn’t trouble the batsmen.

It can’t be happening – at about 3 am in the morning Australia is batting again. With half open eyelids I can make out 6 wickets against a bowler – he is listed second on the card so probably is Hazelwood. Still it can’t be real – am I dreaming? Hopefully the morning will change things. But sleep is elusive – what if it’s true. Now I am sitting propped up against the pillows. Let the eyelids open fully – surely I was mistaken earlier. It cannot be true can it?

Disbelief leads to sleep deprivation. A void seems to be forming in the mind – a blankness slowly taking over the senses.

Its the nature of sport. What goes around comes around. Game is a great leveller. All those aphorisms come to mind – and there is something I can feel welling up. Anger.

I am angry at myself first. For letting myself along this path again. The anger then expands its range finding new targets – the individual players, openers, Pujara, Kohli, spinners for coming second best, the curator for again succumbing to the fallacy of home field advantage, DRS for turning decisions into a lottery, the powers that be that had to go for a new venue and the list goes on.

But maybe not all is lost. Maybe there is a grander design here – a come from behind victory that will be a crowning moment of Kohli’s captaincy. It is possible still. They are still only 300 ahead. What if its a target less than 400. Maybe more than what we bargained for but it could happen. Laxman and Kolkata may be coloring my view of the world a bit but can this hope fall short of foolishness and naïveté?

Sleep does not come easy.  Lots of emotions trying to pop their head but I fight them and keep my mind clear. The eyelids open halfway at 3 am. Nervousness and an impending sense of doom take over. The fingers unlock the phone and the browser shows the scorecard. This time it does not take long to register.  The crevices begin to open up and despair and depression engulf the canvas of the mind.

I toss and turn – what if we could rewind the whole situation. Pretend it never happened and start over.

A new day. I try hard to avoid reading any reviews or news related to this event. But some news filters through. Of 12 wickets in the match by a spinner but not the one you expected. Of this being a wake-up call.

Meanwhile the kids still wake up at their usual time, the school bus comes as before, the meeting with the boss happens at its scheduled time. Life as has been defined for me seems to move along. And in that path acceptance is a given.

Time to take fresh guard.

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Oh Roscoe..

Here is another typical sport story that becomes the stuff of movies – athlete gets success, athlete gets leadership, there are differences of opinion, athlete gets marginalized, athlete battles physical infirmity, does not give up and comes back stronger. Proves to himself as well as others that he still has it in him but unfortunately Father Time does not sit still all this while. He is now considered older and not suited to every format – gradually he starts making way for others. You could have ended the movie on a high at any point in the above narrative but if you want more twists in the scripts, do not worry since the athlete refused to ride away quietly into the sunset. He is older, wiser, more experienced but just as combative.

Hagley Oval is a picturesque ground in Christchurch. It looks alluring even from small confines of the TV that beams images through the WatchESPN channel. Pitch looks slower and very unlike the seaming green tops New Zealand would produce in the first decade of 2000 – mainly to deflate a rampant India and other subcontinental teams. New Zealand are batting first and after they lost Latham, Brownlie plays a nice little cameo – with three fours in one Chris Morris over followed by a perfect straight drive an over later. He is deceived by a slower ball but to the first impression is its going down leg. In the absence of any guidance from his captain at the other end he does not review. Replays indicate the ball comfortably missing leg.

Content initially to play second fiddle to his captain – a man much younger and widely acknowledged as one of the best in the country of all time – Taylor comes into his own in the latter half of the innings. The mind keeps imagining the savage strokes that will be unfurled but Taylor is sensible. When its wide he lashes a cover drive, when Pretorius and Phehlukwayo bowl short he rolls his writs. These shots are punctuated by quiet periods characterized by purposeful running. He looks serene at the crease and even an on field review of a decision does not faze him. He seems confident of the decision which gets overruled by an umpire’s call and Taylor carries on.

In the last over of the innings with Taylor in the 90s there is a nervous moment before that when Dave Miller almost pulls off a stunner but overbalances himself. Taylor gets to three figures with a boundary off the last ball of the innings. Its exactly the kind of stuff scriptwriters get paid to conjure onscreen.
Today his innings was one of a man who was playing from memory and willing his body and hands to follow along. The mind sharp as ever seems to be ahead of the hands a couple of times. I longed for the slog to come out but the South African bowlers prove much harder to put away. I had to be content with a couple square drives off Tahir long hops.

Its hard to assess how you develop a soft corner for one player versus another. There is something you see in him that appeals to your personal nature. In many ways the understated presence of Taylor resonates with me. His signature celebration of sticking his tongue out is quirky but devoid of ostentation – almost natural.

I still remember one of his innings in 2011 World Cup against Pakistan where he tore into everyone in the last 5 overs – the shots he played are as vivid in the mind’s eyes as in the youtube footage. I believe it was his birthday and boy did he know how to party!!

Generally Kiwi cricketers seem more easy going than most others. The brand of cricket espoused by Brendon McCullum may not win approval by their harder nosed neighbors down under but it works well for them. Rosco seems like an embodiment of that spirit – go about your business and don’t take yourself too seriously.

I would be waiting to hear his version of the events around his career but I suspect I would have to wait forever for a tell-all biography like McCullum’s. Complaining and rattling old skeletons was never Rosco’s style and hopefully it stays that way.

His T20 career may be over with the coach Mike Hesson implying it without stating it in obvious terms. Taylor still seems to have hunger and ability to entertain in the longer forms of the game.

Take a bow Rosco and welcome back. You were missed.

Not quite the heist

01/30/2017

Followed the match until the most dramatic session. This was just like every other instance where you as fans give up and the game pulls a fast one on you. The Kaif and Yuvraj heist comes to mind. I gave up when the 5th wicket fell and left the live telecast only to desperately scour for the highlights later in the day.

NZ innings was reasonably decent. Guptill provided evidence of one of the reasons he wasn’t chosen at the IPL last year. He tends to give it away after getting set – and while better batsmen have been guilty of it most of them have better scores and averages to boast of. This was attractive while it lasted. So were the brief flurries by Neesham and Broom towards the end. The Aussie bowling was what I was most interested in – with a same attack coming to India in a few days. Starc and Hazelwood were threatening although not for sustained periods. Pat Cummins might be the surprise package. The pitch had bounce and seemed like he was trying too hard to make it work to his advantage. Stoinis seemed like an honest trier – one that would once in a while get you wickets in bunches. Better than Mitch Marsh at sustaining pressure but not one to cause sleepless nights to Indian batsmen.

What was surprising was the Australian top order – it was undone by decent and not great bowling it seemed. The shot that Shaun Marsh tried left Ian Smith and others in the commentary box at a loss for words. I liked the look of their new bowler Ferguson. Hopefully he can remain injury free with the action he has – it seemed a bit like Pat Cummins’ and we know the struggles he has been having.

At six down for sixty odd I thought the Aussie goose was cooked.  That’s when cricket as a game offered a punch in the face for all the doubting fans. Granted the last four could hang around but to take it to within six runs of the total – no words to describe it. Marcus Stoinis, take a bow.

Dove for the highlights as before – but while I could catch the breathtaking shots I am still ruing the fact that I could not keep awake for a little while longer. What a game and what spirit the Aussies displayed. Trans Tasman rivalry is not something to be dismissed lightly – whatever the format there will always be moments for the cricket fan to cherish.