No 55: Dharamsala

Small towns are rare in India (by population standards) and probably the rarest you could find an international cricket stadium located in a town with population of merely 25,000. Yes, I am talking about Dharamsala, the home of the Tibetan Government in Exile and its head Dalai Lama. The town is located in Himalayas and has an international cricketing venue – HPCA Stadium which has the capacity to fit over 80% of the town’s population. So what’s the fuss is about? Why is it one of the reasons to love cricket?

Its because of the mesmerizing backdrop you could see while watching cricket. I am not arguing that it is the most comfortable or cozy ground to watch cricket but certainly good enough to take your breadth away!! A unique venue for cricket with an altitude of 4780 ft above sea level allowing you to witness snow capped mountains in the background and feel the cold wind breezing across the stadium. No doubt, it was featured in Cricinfo’s list of top grounds to watch cricket. Add this to your to visit list NOW!!

PS: The population figures are just an estimate116258

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No 53: India vs Pakistan

If you do love sports, you must have given a thought on the most heated and greatest rivalries in international sports atleast once. And your answers would depend a lot on your love for a particular sport, your perspective, age or country. But despite all there are few rivalries in global sports which no one could deny. So, give it a thought and tell me what comes to your mind?

May be the one between the boxing legends of the 70s – “Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali”  OR may be the Spanish football clubs – “Real Madrid vs. Barcelona” OR if you lived on the east coast of the states, you would think of “Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees” OR if you love Latin American nations, your vote would go for “Argentina vs. Brazil” in soccer OR for once you could think of “USA vs. China” in Olympics. I also asked this question to one of my classmates at London Business School wearing our rugby club hoodie and he told me – “Dude, it’s obvious – Australia vs. New Zealand!”. But probably neither of this would make sense to you if you belonged to the Indian subcontinent or love the true gentlemen’s game.

People in the Indian subcontinent think that “India vs. Pakistan in Cricket” is the answer and so does the Wall Street Journal to some extent. The rivalry that has been going on for over six decades brings the Indian subcontinent to a standstill drugging it with jingoism and chauvinism. Two nations, fought three wars and are bitter rivals in every sport they play, have had one of the closest encounters in every form of cricket with many matches going down to the last over.

My childhood memories of this rivalry goes back only to the early 90s when I started understanding this game and the defining moment being the famous tussle between “Venkatesh Prasad and Aamir Sohail” during the 1996 World Cup Quarterfinal match in Bangalore. Prasad, not the quickest among the Indian pack (actually we never had quick bowlers), beautifully answered to Aamir’s sledging (see the video below) by taking his wicket on the very next ball and became an overnight Indian hero. That moments – an Indian triumph, dance on the streets, firecrackers in every corner and even sounds of firing of guns in the air are still intact in my memories. That became the defining moment for me for this IndvsPak rivalry.

When I asked my father, he cited a different example as the defining moment for this rivalry but a bitter one for him and Indian supporters. Chetan Sharma, a hat-trick guy bowler during the 1987 World Cup, became a prey to Javed Miandad when Javed hit a last ball six to take Pakistan to victory in the Australasia Cup final, Sharjah in 1986 (see the video below).

The list doesn’t end here and there are many more games and things to write about IndvsPak. The league match superover and the final of the T20 World Cup 2007, the famous Chennai TestMiandad’s mocking of Kiran More, Sidhu’s anger by showing his bat to Aamir Sohail and Sachin’s cut to Six against Rawalpindi Express (Shoaib Akhtar) are some of the ‘ugly-lovely’ moments. And trust me, this has no end!!

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No 49: 100 International Centuries

If you have any knowledge of cricket, then it is very likely that you know what exactly the above title refers too. If not, then let me elaborate in one line – its the feat achieved by Sachin Tendulkar in his career spanning over 24 years (1989-2013). Sachin is regarded as the best batsmen of modern generation and perhaps the greatest cricketer all time by many cricket pundits. He holds the title of “God of Cricket” among his millions fans and people have shown their gratitude by publishing endless articles and blogs on him. If you want to read more, even ESPN Cricinfo has a dedicated website on his retirement.

I would not even make an effort in telling you how great batsman he was for India because neither my writing skills are even 1% fluent compared to his cover drives or flicks, nor they are even close to being exquisite to his trademark straight drives (Now, I somehow feel that I did very wrong by even writing this line). But, I would care to elaborate the gravity of the landmark he achieved in international cricket.

In his international career spanning over 24 years (which is 5th on the record list), he scored 100 international centuries, 51 in Test cricket and 49 in One day matches; the second best man (Ricky Ponting) on that list is way behind at 71 and there are not many players (4 till date) with more than 50 centuries on that list. Similar to Lara’s 400, Sir Don Bradman’s 99.94 or perhaps Roger Federer’s 23, this is Sachin’s 100 and these records are meant to stand in the test of time. But, one wise man once said, “Records are meant to be broken”. Amen!

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No 34: A Broken Jaw and One Hand Batting

There have been countless moments in the cricketing history where players have shown superhero characteristics which are somewhat beyond the reach of a normal human. We have seen fielders jumping like monkeys, batsmen showing endurance and patience for hours to save matches and bowlers trying to shatter unimaginable speeds of bullets. One could argue that you could see similar or even more breathtaking events or scenes in other sports. Agreed!!

But since the purest form of cricket (known as test cricket) lasts five days, cricket fans have witnessed much more than in any other sport. Often, players get seriously injured in between the match and at several occasions, have overcome physical pain to go and perform for their country in the field during the match. Two such instances directly come to my mind and I would request all of you to comment below and expand this list.

During the India’s tour of West Indies in 2002, Anil Kumble [Ind] came and bowled with a broken jaw and successfully managed to take wicket of legendary Brian Lara. Sorry, I can’t find a video but you can see the interview here.

Anil Kumble bowling with a broken jaw

Anil Kumble bowling with a broken jaw

Second such instance I could recall instantaneously (though I wasn’t even born back then 😉 ) when Malcolm Marshall [WI] came out and batted with one arm against England in 1984 and successfully scored a boundary. Though his resistance could not last long but he showed his grit to face the fast bowlers even with a broken arm.

Come on fans out there, I request you to contribute more here…

No 20: Variety of Fans

When I first moved to London from Mumbai, I was fortunate enough to rent a place just outside Lord’s Cricket Ground in St. John’s Wood area. Every single person living in that area, having no idea of cricket, could tell when a cricket match is happening in the ground not because of the noise or sheer crowd but because of a typical ‘Old English Fan’ spotted down in that area with a blue jacket and a golden orange striped tie.

A typical English fan at the MCC

A typical English fan at the MCC

Till date, its one of the most pleasant surprises I ever had as an ardent cricket fan. Really, watching a match with a tie and a suit?? If I have an option, I would not even go to work with a suit. And even the reception to wonderful game at Lords was also the same – applauding with a generous clap on a exquisite cover drive compared to whistles, yelling and dancing seen all over the world.  On the contrary, English Cricket has also an army of fans known as Barmy Army. They yell, they shout and they do all sorts of crazy stuff which one could not imagine at the MCC. It organizes tours and arranges tickets and accommodation for English cricket lovers. 

Barmy ArmyEver heard of becoming popular only by following a team or sport? Apparently, Yes! Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary is an Indian Cricket Fan who watches every game India plays at home. He gets a free ticket provided by the BCCI and even got a chance to hold the trophy when India won the world cup in 2011. His only qualification is that he has dedicated his rest of his life to Indian Cricket.

Sudhir with Sachin & the WC Trophy

Sudhir with Sachin & the WC Trophy

The point which I am trying to make count is that Cricket has endless variety of fan doing endless crazy things. It is a unique sport with not so unique fans. Love you Cricket!!

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No 19: The Art of Perfectionism

Sports at international level require you to perform at the best of your ability and be physically fit. However, Cricket values you slightly more when you have better skills despite you not being the best athlete. For example, as a bowler – can you spun the ball or swing it both ways or as a batsman – can you bat long hours and score big?  The game wants you to be very best in your particular skill and raise the bar with time and experience.

A Perfectionist

A Perfectionist

It wants you to be a perfectionist, it wants you to be an artist with your unique collection, it wants you to be something more than just a player. Don’t agree? The video here will show you that how two best spinners of this era – Graeme Swann (ENG) and Muttiah Muralitharan (SL) compete to knock a 50p coin (Yes, a 50p coin!) kept on a glass over the off-stump without knocking the glass or wicket. This is Perfectionism, This is CRICKET!

A snapshot from the video

A snapshot from the video

No 10: Amazing Restaurants, Pubs & Food

When I first heard about a restaurant named Chinese Cricket Club, I felt that it has something to do with the ‘Insect Cricket’ and obviously ‘Chinese Food’ since its kind of tough to relate China with Cricket, though they have a national team which is an affiliate member of the ICC. But I was pleasantly surprized after reading the ‘about us’ section of the London based restaurant – “The restaurant is named in honour of the original Chinese National Cricket team, who played their first international match in 2009”. Isn’t something unusual for a cricket fan? Perhaps, No!

A collection of wines at the Chinese Cricket Club

A collection of wines at the Chinese Cricket Club

Cricket has always found a place in the heart of foodies and many restaurants, pubs and clubs have been opened to honour cricketers or cricket teams. It is very usual to find bars and pubs in the UK dedicated to the sport (though I am yet to find a one which has been named in the honour of English Cricket Team). Even a place like New York, which thinks Cricket to be a poor man’s game of Baseball (though I would argue its the other way), has plenty of places showing live cricket matches with good food even if not entirely dedicated to the sport. I would suggest trying the Australian NYC if you are in Manhattan and want to see a game of cricket.

A view of Tendulkar's Restaurant in Mumbai, India

A view of Tendulkar’s Restaurant in Mumbai, India

And the story in the subcontinent is a step ahead with legends like Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Gangular having their own brand of restaurants serving a mix of their favourite cuisines from all over the world. And if you are lucky, you might spot them and have a chance for an autograph and perhaps food on the house. Most of the sports bring you good booze to mix with the game but Cricket is slightly ahead here, it brings cuisines from all over the world. That is why it is a True Gentleman’s Game!!

Oh, btw, that Chinese Restaurant is good if you want to try..

No 9: Sports or Religion?

With India doing really well against South Africa in JoBurg and setting a daunting target of 458 after the lunch session on Day 4, I saw two fans on twitter, one Indian and another South African, arguing that who will win the match. Given India’s beyond expected performance against the mighty South Africans in their backyard, totally young and inexperienced batting attack and recent eight consecutive test losses overseas, I couldn’t stop myself diving into that twitter conversation. I replied to the South African fan saying that I really like your optimism that SA can pull of this match or would definitely be able to draw, given nobody has chased that kind of score in the history of cricket in fourth innings. And, the reply was “its not optimism, its faith”.

WI batsmen Chanderpaul kissing the pitch on accomplishing a milestone

WI batsmen Chanderpaul kissing the pitch on accomplishing a milestone

Being born and brought up in a diverse country India, I have always felt that Cricket is the only thing that binds the nation together which has over 22 spoken languages, several cultures and infinite cuisines. The Indian subcontinent consists of four test playing nations and an ODI playing nation, Afghanistan, which just qualified for the WC15 (though technically Afghanistan is not a part of Indian Subcontinent but still is heavily influenced culturally and many of its players lived in refugee camps in Pakistan). Whenever there is a big tournament in the subcontinent, you can feel it on narrow streets, you can smell it in the air and you do embrace it on TV or live in the stadium! People get crazy, break their Television sets or go wild on the streets leaving whatever they are doing. The whole nation or region comes to a standstill. This is not just only a sport, its something more. Perhaps a language which everyone speaks despite having read no books or a cuisine which everyone cherishes even with different taste buds.

A man praying Sachin as he walks out to Bat

A man praying Sachin as he walks out to Bat

My South African twitter friend made me realize that it is not just limited to the subcontinent, it is even way beyond that. Its in Africa, it is in Europe and it is also in the Americas since fifteen small Caribbean nations play as one. Yes, its not just a sport, its a Religion!!

Sachin Tendulkar touching the pitch after his last career match in Mumbai

Sachin Tendulkar touching the pitch after his last career match in Mumbai