Did GVK's Beard Turn Grey? Did END Miss It Completely?
A Topsy Turvy Week In Sports
The GVK group boasted some large infrastructure projects under its belt, including one of the world’s most beautiful airports - Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai. Today, the Adani group runs the airport. Still, the sheen and shine of this monumental piece of architecture is maintained, and the show goes on.
Indian cricket captains (along with their English counterparts), are perhaps the most scrutinised sportspersons on earth. There is great celebration when they assume office. Scores of articles profile them, and tv programs are produced. Fans and observers savour the moment and look forward to changing fortunes or a certain betterment in the quality of cricket.
K Srikkanth - is one man who perhaps had the most painful exit from captaincy. At a time when Pakistan played almost flawless cricket with Javed Miandad at his peak, Wasim Akram threatening and Waqar Younis introducing ‘toe-crushers’ to cricketing vocabulary, Srikkanth led an Indian team to play 4 Test matches, in Pakistan (1989). This was a most eagerly awaited contest. I remember as day 1 (Test 1) ended, two of the newspapers I had access to (one in Malayalam, and The Hindu) headlined it somewhat like this: “Pak 264/4; Miandad in good nick”. The fact that India managed 4 wickets was almost good, yet Miandad in good form appeared dangerous. At the end of a ferociously fought set of Test matches which saw blood oozing out onto the pitch from young Tendulkar’s nose (and following it up with an audacious stroke for ‘four’ off the deadly Waqar), the series was drawn. India, fresh from some battering in previous tests and series before this, came out strong. Pakistan had no reasons to be happy to settle for ‘draws’ on home soil.
An absolute shocker followed. Srikkanth was dropped as captain. Presumably for his not-so entertaining batting performances. The only good thing that came out of it (for a fan like me) was, Mohd. Azharuddin was named the next captain. People soon forgot the swashbuckling Srikkanth, and embraced #AzharFlicks (as he is known on Twitter).
Why was Srikkanth so (unceremoniously) axed? Was it just about his poor batting in the series? Or was there something else to it? Fortunately for India, he went on to stick around in the team for a few more years before turning to commentary (where after every ball he would just say “shot!”); and later to select the World Cup winning team in 2011.
Azhar too had to endure moments of intense scrutiny initially, before a set of ‘rank turners’ and the super exciting Sachin ensured India started winning some Test matches (I believe the real test of individual players / teams and their quality / durability can be gauged only from Test matches). Yet, under increasing pressure Azhar was shown the door.
Then GST (Great Sachin Tendulkar) came into the picture. I am reasonably sure (for the great player he was) this was a very disappointing period in Indian cricket. The theory that ‘great players don’t necessarily make great captains’ was displayed vividly. Surely, he would have shed a tear when he was removed as Captain.
This era was one where India at best tried to play for ‘draws’, rather than a victory especially when abroad. To be fair to both Azhar and Sachin, the pressure of expectation on them to perform while being Captain was so much, no report would fail to mention their ‘heavy legs’ and ‘stooping shoulders under the weight of expectations’. Every single time they had to prove their expertise, and utility to the team!
Enter POK (the Prince of Kolkata). The background was ugly - match fixing scams shook the utter foundations of Indian cricket and the faith of millions of fans. But on the ground, things began to change. India became more assertive and confident under Sourav Ganguly (who started his international career in Australia ‘1992’ as the drinks boy!). Under Ganguly, Australia was denied the ‘last frontier’. As the time of his baptism as Captain was ugly, so also was his very ouster - the monstrous Gregg Chappell doing all the dirty work.
Dravid-Sehwag-Kumble days as captains came and went in a jiffy. Just as they were beginning to settle down and fans were beginning to get used to them.
And India nestled in the safe gloves of MSD. What a fantastic time of cricket that was. Azhar and Ganguly were beaten by more than a fair distance. ‘Captain Cool’ was firmly in control of himself, his game and the overall narrative. Until one day he pulled the plug mid-way the Border-Gavaskar series in Australia (2014). After the ‘demonetisation’ shock, Mahi’s double sledge hammer stroke - resignation from Captaincy and retirement from Test Cricket - must rank as India’s biggest ever.
During his resignation speech in the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Deve Gowda was in top form castigating the Congress Party that decided to withdraw support to his government. One of the more startling and animated comments he made (against Sitaram Kesri) still rings in the mind - “… the old man… in a hurry… he is in a hurry…”! The Economist magazine even carried a story on “India’s old man in a hurry”.
Was Virat Kohli the ‘young assertive (newGen) Indian in a hurry’ to ascend to Indian Test Captaincy dislodging an older Dhoni?
The cute post by Anushka Sharma today (she mentions about the three meeting together that evening) belies any such ‘hurry’ Virat Kohli was in, at the time. Certainly there seems to have been a terrible reason for it, but to have even doubted Kohli for MSD’s sudden retirement... could have been avoided. But Mahi apparently made an interesting comment - “… how quickly your beard will start turning grey…”
Virat Kohli had by then, become an international sensation. The ‘Tendulkar 2’ India was looking for, when the great little master was beginning to wane. Who can forget the fist-pumping, excitedly screaming teenager Kohli when India’s Under-19 team won the World Cup in 2007-08? Immediately, he was seen by many as India’s ‘next Tendulkar’. Former India opener WV Raman says as much in his tweet today. Soon enough, the short man marched onto the filed donning the India Sr. cap. Immediately it was ‘Khela hobe’!
He was steel-eyed as bowlers neared the bowling crease. The wrist band tucked high on the arm was clearly visible every time he drove to the ‘off’. The ‘I am in full control’ look on this face whether after a beautiful defence shot, or an exquisite ‘on-drive’… endless are the ways to remember and cherish GVK’s talent. Who can forget that murderous batsmanship of GVK (Great Virat Kohli) at Hobart in 2012 when India played a ‘must-win’ match against Sri Lanka in order to stay alive in the Commonwealth Bank Series! India needed to chase 320 (!) in no more than 40 overs. Scoring 133 off just 86 balls, GVK led India to victory… but take a look at what he said: “To be able to chase 320 in 40 overs in a must win game, and put that sort of a batting effort together was a great team effort…”. Team. That’s what mattered to him. Many times after that too, we’ve seen teams running into GVK. (If there was ‘desert storm’ by Sachin at Sharjah, and ‘Gayle storm’ by Christ Gayle during the IPL, Virat Kohli’s ‘HobartShow’ and later his ‘Mirpur Show’ virtually put everyone out of words or superlatives to describe them).
At the end of nearly eight years at the helm of Indian Cricket (on the field), as he leaves Test Captaincy (even without conquering that last frontier), all he has in his words, is ‘Team’. In the course of this time, he firmly changed India’s from ‘playing to draw’, to ‘playing to win’. A cursory look at India’s Test match figures will prove the point. There was a time when Test matches were “getting long, boring and ‘draw’ing”, experts were scratching their heads as to how to make the game more interesting. Today, Test matches are producing results. The contribution of GVK in this change must not be unseen - he always played to win… in the bargain, some would have to be lost too.
Yes, a situation that requires one of India’s greatest sons, among the greatest 5 or 6 Indian cricketers to leave Captaincy shrouded in rumours and unconfirmed grapevine, is shameful, even painful. To attribute reasons ranging from having to stand up for a team mate, to dressing room conflicts, and other reasons only serves to diminish the startling achievements this passionate and committed man, the Great Virat Kohli has managed to show.
I think we must sit back, relax, and marvel at some of those matches GVK has won for India both single handedly with that bat, and by efficiently marshalling his resources on the field.
Much as we all would like, not everyone gets a fairy tale ending. Remember, Sachin did not get to hit a century at the Wankhade Stadium. The princely Ganguly (oh did he look like one up close!) was one short of 50 matches as Captain. As easy as Azhar’s majestic flicks were, he never got to play his 100th Test, and was just 600-odd runs short of 10K ODI runs, before the scams broke out.
To see GVK go as Captain is painful. But does anyone remember the aggressive Mohd. Azharuddin post captain? Flicks ran his game. Post captaincy, it was like he was taking ‘punga’ on someone… like the way he tore into (pulled, hooked, slammed) a hapless Lance Klusener, among others. The media attempted to pile pressure on Kohli by counting the number of matches and days since he has gone ‘hundred-less’. Maybe we will get to see ‘Kohli Returns’ headlines in sports pages soon.
Just as the Adani group took over Mumbai’s airport operations and the show continues to go on, GVK has stepped aside for the next man in line destined to get on to the bed of roses… er… thorns. Because, the show must go on.
PS> The week that just went by also showed what the other side of sportsmanship is like. An Entitled Novak Djokovic, tried far too much with a raging public health issue and a country’s rules. Djokovic is as flexible as anything on the court and seldom misses a ball. This one, he missed completely. Rarely has an Ace gone past his racket in this fashion - handing him a shameful exit from Down Under.
GVK on the other hand, gracefully stepped down with a billion hearts beating for him. Not sure if that can be said of END.