WWF Days

July 2, 2007

by Rishabh Kaul 

‘Matches 145, clash!’

‘Oh shit! I can’t believe your Undertaker beat me!’

The melee of card clutching youngsters could be seen everywhere. School buses, corners of class rooms (when the teacher wasn’t looking obviously), canteens and homes. WWE (then WWF) was truly a sensation. In an era when Playstations hadn’t quite become available (leave alone affordable, wait a second, are they affordable yet?) to the Indian market and computer games hadn’t graduated above those that required a RAM of greater than 16 MB (ah, sweet reminiscence), WWE ruled. It was a plague, every kid would clutch on to it as though it were his life savings, religiously following the sport on TV. Cheering the face, cussing the heel and becoming a theist whenever a bra and panty match would take place, WWE had taken over.

The story line would be discussed over the lunch break with enthusiasm far exceeding that of when some folks sit down and chat about which soap had the maximum number of divorces. A difference of opinion would invoke fights of the highest order and would sometimes create havoc and even destroy friendships (and forge new bonds).

I would buy thermocol once every fortnight and would make a virtual table out of it. Then we’d have the greatest of all matches- TLC. The sheer joy of lifting my 12 year old langotiya yaar and pushing him through the chasms of hell and breaking the pseudo table (and hence winning the game according to the self imposed rules) would easily overshadow another moment. Glory indeed!

We would also partially heed their advice, the famous ads where the gods would themselves ask us to “not try this at home!” No kicking, no punching at the “shame shame”. We’d share their joy, their grief during the darkest hour and cheer them, these neo-gladiators with bodies of steel.

Post 2004, I gave up on wrestling. The unbelievable solace that WWF provided couldn’t be matched by the unbelievably juvenile plots of WWE. I didn’t see myself cheering these new stars for they didn’t have the same zeal, nor did they seem loyal to the game. And the old ones didn’t seem the same as before. They seemed to have evolved into something more commercial, someone the fans couldn’t associate with.

Or maybe I grew up.

by Rishabh Kaul

Lagaan, though fictitious, with all its espionage fused magically with the British pulverizing the villagers off-field gave a very wrong impression of cricket in the nineteenth century.

In the early years it was truly a gentleman’s game.  The game was an embodiment of class and dignity coupled with sophistication and elegance. The phrase It’s not cricket was in use as much off the field as on it, and was used for events not necessarily related to the game of bat and ball.

The ideal cricketer would adhere to the spirit of the game which was sportsmanship. He would call the batsman back if a false verdict was given in his favou, he would walk off the field if he knew he was out though the rival team didn’t appeal for it and would surely beg for forgiveness for excessive appealing.

Ah, those were the days, with Victor Trumper and W.G. Grace with their technically sound drives dominating with the bat and legendary greats such as Spofforth (nicknamed the Demon, and single-handedly responsible for the Ashes as we know them today) scalping wickets.

The great Don himself, who was known for putting most bowlers to shame, respected the spirit of the game and himself would sacrifice his wicket if he noticed that a bowler was trying too hard and wasn’t meeting success (by a whisker) for a long time.

People say that the game has changed, with the spirit no longer prevailing amongst the players. It’s easy to support the argument with the numerous instances of players having rows with umpires, mutiny by team members against the captain, swearing (remember the Sarwan/Mcgrath tamasha), excessive appealing (spearheaded by Souravda).

But what were the players playing for back in the old days? Honour and Pride. Add millions of dollars, contracts, deals and all the other complexities that govern the game today. Would the scenario still have been the same? Players back then didn’t depend on the game for their bread and champagne, nor did they see the need to get their body insured. Man of the Match winners back then didn’t receive Audis and Land Rovers.

Each appeal that’s not given the finger costs the team thousands of dollars. Everything is digitized, even the slightest of remarks gets blown out of proportion (and almost immediately the Chappell Finger fiasco comes to mind).

There comes the occasional incident that brings back memories of the olden days, but for the greater part, the gentleman’s game has a huge cover of bureaucracy and hundred dollar bills resting over it.

by Aparajith Ramnath

As the World Cup inches closer, it is natural that all cricket discussion is dominated by it. Every run scored, every wicket taken, every selection made is viewed in the light of its implications for this Holy Grail of one-day cricket. While the pundits pontificate on these significant happenings and the whole cricket machinery gears up for the frenzy that will begin next month, let us sit back in our armchairs and allow our minds to wander back to earlier editions of the World Cup, pulling out those disjointed wisps of memory to see if they might not be stitched together.

 The earliest World Cup memories I have, for practical reasons, are from the fifth edition. Held in 1992 in Australia and New Zealand, it had, in many ways, all the trappings of today’s ODI culture: floodlights, coloured clothing, even a rain rule. And with just nine teams participating, it was a thorough tournament if ever there was one: each team played every other team in the league stage.

India’s opening match was against England. Subroto Banerjee was one of India’s quick bowlers in that match; aside of that I remember little of the first innings other than my father saying that India had given away a few runs too many in the final overs. In the end, India lost by nine runs. I remember distinctly that I went downstairs to play ‘compound cricket’ (i.e. cricket played in the building’s compound) with my friends, either as a reaction to the loss or towards the latter stages of the game when it seemed a lost cause.

New Zealand was, in many ways, the dark horse of that tournament. As I remember it, they played all their matches – at least in the league stage – at home, and won most of them. They were stopped by Pakistan and Inzamam’s superlative performance in the semi-finals. Enduring images from their campaign: Mark Greatbatch’s pioneering of the role of the pinch-hitter; Deepak Patel, the off-spinner, bowling at the start of the innings as a containing bowler; and the fact that the New Zealand matches would have the score on the corner of the TV screen displayed in English parlance (Runs/Wickets) as opposed to the matches in Australia, which used Aussie parlance (Wickets/Runs, which still causes much confusion for me during the early stages of an innings).

As an aside, the Australian style of reading out the score was imprinted on my mind by a typical Tony Greig passage of commentary during the Australia-South Africa league match, which I watched – partly at least – at the house of my grandmother’s neighbour: “Not a good over for [Meyrick] Pringle, nor for South Africa, Fooooiiiiive for One-Forty-One!” This was also a match in which I mused on the meaning of the term ‘breakthrough’ that the commentators seemed to keep using. I had assumed previously that this referred to the first wicket a team took in an innings; here they were using it to refer to the second wicket. The first had been a run-out, which led me to the assumption that the term referred to the first wicket taken by a bowler during the innings!

India’s campaign during that tournament was largely unsuccessful, their only victories coming against Pakistan (with a sterling performance by Tendulkar with the bat) and Zimbabwe, and another point from a rained-off match against Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, they had their bright spots. One especially was the match against Australia at, if I remember right, the ‘Gabba in Brisbane. India were chasing, and were rather unfortunate to have a tougher target set for them after rain had eaten into their innings (the rain rule – though it must be remembered that these were early days for this device – got to its most absurd point in the SA vs Eng semi-finals, when, after a rain delay, the Springboks found themselves with a target of, I think, 23 runs off 1 ball). Sanjay Manjrekar played a handy knock in the middle to late overs, and the match went down to the last ball, with, I think, four required for a win. Srinath was on strike, and clubbed the ball towards the long-on boundary. Steve Waugh – those were the days when he still fielded at the boundary – dropped the catch, but got the ball back in time to complete a run-out (was it Raju?) as the Indians scrambled for a third run. It was a good lesson for an Indian fan in the making, for such heartbreak was to become a regular feature when following the team’s fortunes.

In the end, Pakistan came from behind to win the crystal globe, with a match-winning performance from Imran Khan, who scored seventy odd and took the final wicket when Richard Illingworth skied a shot.

Those were the days before Australian supremacy, and I do not think that, before the tournament began, there was a clear favourite. None of the following World Cups could afford to have the same format, with the number of participating teams swelling; this year there will be a Super Eight stage following the league matches. Will there be parallels with the 1992 World Cup this year? With the West Indian pitches universally diagnosed as ‘slow and low’ nowadays, could this World Cup be a throwback to the days before the batting fest and the mammoth total became the defining features of the one-day match?

At the Ground

November 11, 2006

by Aparajith Ramnath

Reading about cricket always puts me in a good mood. Especially when the writing is top-notch, combining the evergreen qualities of literature with the warm glow of the sporting activity it describes.

Such are the entries in The Picador Book of Cricket, a book that I had heard much about but never read until recently, when I have been able to read some of the pieces in it.

Some of the writing about the pleasures of watching a cricket match led me to think about my own experiences of watching cricket live, in Chennai and in Pune.

The first first-class match I can remember watching was a Duleep Trophy match in Chennai (then Madras), at the MA Chidambaram Stadium at Chepauk, a ground which has been synonymous with high quality cricket for my generation (earlier generations saw some Test matches at the Corporation Stadium). I must have been younger than ten, but I remember clearly the experience of sitting in the Madras Cricket Club members’ pavilion, courtesy of a relative who is a member, and watching a Central Zone off-spinner bag a clutch of wickets against a West Zone team that featured, if I remember right, Vinod Kambli, Amol Mazumdar, and Sachin Tendulkar (though I think the last of these was not batting on the day). That off-spinner, Rajesh Chauhan, was selected to play for India soon after.

Watching Test matches was a step higher in terms of excitement. The cavernous stands at Chepauk with concrete roofs that helped to keep the sun out just a little, the colour in the stands, the chit-chat among neighbouring spectators, the Mexican waves that did the rounds every now and then – all these were new and stimulating experiences. I once saw a fellow spectator with a portable TV so they could catch the replays; years later when I saw my (so far) last Test match at the stadium, some of the stands had TVs mounted on the pillars, beaming live (well, almost live, there being a delay of about a second) action and replays. (The mammoth scoreboard at the Kumbhat Stand end of the ground, which used to have the players’ names and scores painted in bright yellow across a black background is now gone; in its stead stands an electronic replay-displaying scoreboard carted all the way from an Australian ground.) It was here also that I tasted first-hand the strange but palpable yearning of every spectator at the stadium to get his or her fifteen seconds of fame by being shown on television. There was much frantic waving of hands and witty banners whenever the cameramen turned his lens in our direction.

From there it was on to Pune. I don’t know if the Poona Club still hosts Ranji Trophy matches, but if it does, it must surely be unique in being a first-class venue with almost no seating for spectators – the only spectators being the ones in the club house. The ground itself was lush green, and its historical significance in being the venue of B.B. Nimbalkar’s famous 443 not out in years gone by made it glow a little more in my eyes. The sightscreen was a white cloth tied to a bamboo frame, quite unlike the Test match grounds where the practice of using sliding panels to use the sightscreen at the batsman’s end as an advertisement had already become established.

If Poona Club was the epitome of this dichotomous city’s ‘Camp’ or cantonment area, then Nehru Stadium was right in the middle of the more traditional ‘City’ area. This was where the one-dayers were played, and it seated thousands of people, though perhaps fewer than Chepauk. At this ground I did not have the privileged behind-the-bowler’s-arm view of the cricket, but watched the action from a shamiana-covered stand square of the wicket. The memories from here are not very detailed, except the way people rolled their paper caps into cones and shouted ‘oo-aa-oo-aa-oo-aa’ as the bowler began his run-up.

Watching the action on television just does not compare with the real thing. When you are at the ground, you can feel the speed at which the pacer hurls the ball, sense the quickness of the batsman’s reflexes, see the effort the fielder at fine leg actually makes when he sprints all the way to the square leg boundary. There is no commentary, and so you are closer to the players. You see things as they see them. You feel the heat they feel. You glance up at the scoreboard just as they do. When the twelfth man runs up with a bottle of water, you, sitting in the stands, reach for your own. Now which channel can top that?

by Ojas Sabnis 

I am not a sportomaniac. Being a decent swimmer (and a rookie badminton, table tennis, basketball, cricket and tennis player), I have a natural affection for sports. I don’t watch television and I am a lazy person, so I can’t really ‘follow’ any games. Obviously, I can’t write anything about any sport for nuts.

But then there were times when we used to follow F1, cricket, tennis and NBA like anything. Gone are those days, but some memories are still fresh! So when Goyal asked me to write a post for Pavilion Seat about something (actually, anything!), after a little apprehension in the beginning, I got myself going eventually. Old love, you see. I am not a master of F1 per se. Schumi has always been my hero. It’s something like this – whoever claims to be a music fan will love U2 – no matter what. My Schumi love is just like that. But everybody seems to know too much about him. I remember one of his strong contenders from the mid-nineties – Damon Hill. 

1994 was the time when we started following Formula 1. Those were the crazy days … all my cousins used to support Schumi. He was the master, he simply ruled. We’d watch all the races together and support Schumi. Though when we talk about it now, nobody remembers the great rival who brought immense fun in the game – Damon Hill. And I don’t understand why. 

Damon Graham Devereux Hill was an awesome driver. It takes something to bag 22 Formula1 Victories and a World Championship – and that explains why Hill was one of the greatest of his era. He became the world champion in 1996 in Japan, driving for the Williams team. Williams was the best car in those days and Hill never looked back once the season started. Nobody could stop him from qualifying for the front row in every single race he played. Not even our hero Schumi, who then raced with Ferrari, which in my opinion wasn’t as good a car as Williams. But then, a victory is a victory, and I give it to Hill for that!

I remember Hill as a good rival of Schumi. I don’t want to comment Schumi’s sportsmanship, but we enjoyed the battles between these two as much as we enjoyed the delicious fried bombeel (Bombay Ducks) that were made by my aunt and served during all of those races (with beer for my uncles – sigh)! This rivalry brought immense fun into the game. In races like 1994 Australian GP, the rivalry reached its peak. It was a battle for the World Championship, with a difference of only one point. Shumi was on 92, Hill 91. A nasty hit on the wall was about to cost Schumi his championship when he cut back, (deliberately?) brushing Hill’s car, and throwing both of them out of the race. Schumi won. Off the track. I felt genuinely bad for Hill – and I was a Schumi supporter! There were many such incidents and somehow Schumi never accepted the blame.

What a rivalry! What a game!

Even though Hill’s career ended in a very poor manner in the 1999 season, he will always remain in my heart for his sporty nature, the fighting spirit, his victories, his defeats, and the fact that he was 32 when he started his career – that too with a giant like Ayrton Senna as his team-mate in the initial stages of his career.