Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ja, Ball Leke Aa...

There is a major upheaval in the cricketing pantheon of the country. More and more reports are pointing out that the latest gods of Indian cricket do not come from the metros. The Brahminism of Bombay and Delhi in the Indian cricketing scene has been usurped.
Mohammed Kaif (Lucknow), Yuvraj Singh (Chandigarh), Virendra Sehwag (Najafgarh), Harbhajan Singh (Ludhiana), Irfan Pathan (Ahmedabad) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Ranchi) are the new torch-bearers of Indian cricket.
Ever wonder why?

It is said that the real-estate crisis in Bombay is the reason behind the pristine straight drive perfected by its legendary batsmen.
If you walk around Kala Nagar in Bandra East, you will realise how Sachin Tendulkar manages to punch the ball back past the bowler about an inch away from non-striker stumps. People who started playing in this suburb (or for that matter, anywhere in Bombay) played in narrow, long lanes squeezed between apartment blocks of varying heights. If you had to score runs here, you had no option but to hit it straight down the road.
Just as Sunil Gavaskar's legendary defence is attributed to his beginnings as a batsman on the balcony of their flat - to his mother's bowling. To keep the ball from falling off through the railings, he had to ensure that the ball dies on touching the bat. The only time he hit the ball hard, it hit his mother on her nose causing profuse bleeding. So, now you know why he scored 36 in 60 overs... every time he tried to hit the ball, his mother's blood blocked his view!

It is the availability of space which has indirectly - but surely - contributed to the fluctuating fortunes of cities and regions of Indian cricket.
Karnataka - specifically Bangalore - first rose to prominence in Indian cricket in the mid-1990s. Earlier to this, Bangalore had sent quite a few legendary cricketers to the national squad but it was only around 1995 that Kumble-Srinath-Prasad-Dravid-Sunil Joshi all burst on to the national scene - for the first time, at the cost of Bombay players.
If we go back to the time all these cricketers started playing cricket, it was around the early to mid 1980s, by which time the maidans and parks of Bombay had been gobbled up by the Lokhandwalas and Makers of the world. Bangalore, on the other hand, was still a green haven and there was space for cricket to flourish enough to create a glut at the highest level.

When DLF, Unitech and other assorted builders started constructing flats on grounds that would eventually be sealed by MCD in 2006, the empty spaces were only available in the edges of Delhi, namely Najafgarh.
Jai of Kalkaji tempered down his batting because he knew his lofted pull would break Khosla Uncle's window and ground him for a week. As it turned out, he was still grounded when India was looking for a batsman who is not afraid to lift the ball. Veeru of Najafgarh passed muster because all he had done in the last 15 years was to clear the green field and find the ball which got hidden in the trees behind.

Mahi of Ranchi did similar things in the huge empty spaces all around his house. And Kaifu ran like a rabbit all round the parks of Lucknow. All this while, the budding talent of the metros were still trying to find 7 bricks to make their stumps or look for a closed shutter to draw them on!
And chances are that there will be no one in Bangalore to carry forward the legacy of Dravid. I mean, how high can you go when you are stuck in a traffic jam on Airport Road for the two hours you were supposed to be at practice?

Even in Bombay - Andheri, Malad and Goregaon have been quite unable to provide any cricketers. All the Bombay stars seem to have sprung from the precincts between Dadar and Town, which is where all the greenery is concentrated.
Lokhandwala turned Bombay into a city of gold. DLF is all set to ignite the Indian bourses. But most probably, they also took away India’s chance to win the World Cup.
Because a match-winning batsman needs to think of things other than broken windowpanes. He needs a view of the boundary he must clear. He knows that if he hits the ball too far beyond, he will have to go and fetch it. He has the guts and the cunning to do it. Now, all he needs is the practice to time his skyscraping sixer on the last ball of the match! So that nobody can turn to him and say, “Ja, ball leke aa…
Far fetched?
Okay, tell me… how did Virendra Sehwag reach his triple-century at Multan?
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