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Lord of the Rings - The Departed Part II
by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
Apr 20, 2007
It is always a point of interest to recollect and reminisce about the moments surrounding important events in history - where one was when Kapil Dev lifted the only World Cup that came India's way, how things played out when Sunil Gavaskar walked out the field for the last time. It is not so much as the actual event, or the gravity of it, that would be remembered long after the moment has passed, but its impact and the impression the moment leaves in the mind that is often cherished. As the wise Einstein once put it, it is all relative. Sure, the World Cup has seen one precious moment after another unfolding on grander stages, each one surpassing its predecessor, and each one dwarfing the impact on the populace of the proceedings just the day before. What started as an arithmetic progression, gained steam as a geometric progressions, snowballed and finally settled into a harmonic one. And the funny thing is, none of these events had anything to do with the actual game played out on the green in the middle.

The first casualty was Pakistan - Woolmer's death and Inzamam's exit; next came India - India's capitulation and Chappell's resignation; England soon followed suit - Fletcher's hanging up his boots and Vaughan's sincere mea culpa. Not to be left behind in the dramatics, the biggest of all, Lara's last campaign, a lost one. In between South Africa came close to stealing the thunder from all, following the shocking drubbing, and an all well too known, the prospect of yet another exit from the World Cup. With so much drama happening off the field, it is no wonder that the actual game has paled in history and histrionics, and its cause is certainly not helped by the length of the tournament and a simultaneous lack of serious contests. This World Cup has been a boon to the sports writers, while the statisticians sat there twiddling their thumbs, gathering dust, in anticipation of that one great match that would forever remain synonymous with 2007. As luck would have it, the drama department currently holds a large lead over the sports section with only one week left in the campaign. Unless the semi-finals and finals promise the kind of intensity, action and excitement of the '99 semifinal between Australia and South Africa (that Australia won on a technicality in a tied fixture) or the '96 upset victory of Sri Lanka over the Aussies again, this World Cup is going to go down as the most dull and drab tournament ever.

If runs, scores and wins cannot whet the fan's appetite, how about intrigue surrounding Woolmer's murder? It has all the drama of spy games back in the day of the Cold War - or if the preliminary reports are to be believed and the presence of a 'foreign' substance in his system can't be ruled out completely, it has the dramatic re-creation of the latest assassination of Litvinenko, an ex-KGB spy, poisoned by injecting a radioactive substance into his constitution, allegedly at the behest of the Russian premier, Putin. Who would have thought that the term 'cricket' could be taken in the same breath as KGB, Putin and murder? And then there was Inzamam. It is hard not to sympathize with the big man. Never a man given to the wild ways, even outside of the sport, unlike some of his more (in)famous teammates, he is cursed to always find himself amidst controversial, hairy, and if the latest incident is taken into account, even dangerous situations. Right from the tussle with the booing spectator down to the comical, and sometimes controversial, ways that he got himself, and his partners, out, right from introducing religious elements to curb rebellious tendencies in the team, down to the last ball of his one-day career, when he managed to find himself underneath a flier, off the bowling of, of all people, Mohd. Yousuf, the man found new ways of staying in the limelight, with or without his knowledge. For all the years he remained the constant fodder to columnists and critics, pundits and purists, Inzamam's exit from the one day game created a huge void, one that is hard to be filled or replaced, in years to come. The epitaph of his one day career would not only read the great victories that he single-handedly won for his country and his genial and unintentionally comical demeanor, but also would include the murder conspiratorial aspects - a rarity for any human being, leave alone a cricketer.

Greg Chappell's welcome to the Indian stage was marked by hope, promise and results. His exit from the stage was marred by back-biting, name-calling and lot of internal bickering. In between the two, transpired years of stubborn refusal to a accede to the country's culture and conditions. He tried to ram through the walls of egos that were built on years of over-adulation and hero-worship. He tried to instill the ethic that the game is bigger than the individual. An opener accustomed to a style of play and a slot in the roster is shaken up from his comfort zone to change his play to suit the conditions than to continue his style regardless of conditions. One played called it "questioning his attitude", one other "divisive policy", another so called senior labelled it "ignorance of culture". If the player whose attitude was called into question could delude himself into thinking that attitude alone can translates to runs and wins, then the world could become one big happy place, where a player could play on for eternity and not be bothered by such trivial things as form, faults, technique and mental make-up, not to mention, withstanding the onslaught of time on instincts, and having the wherewithal to stand up against mightier and smarter oppostions. It is indeed unfortunate that the said player could not understand the true meaning and real motives of the coach and instead launched his own counter measures to divert the attention from the real issues plaguing his form and thus, the team. The experimentations, the process, and the battle-readiness had little to do with the individual than it is with the team and it is really sad that the seniors weren't able to grasp this obvious fact, culminating in the public humiliation on a grand stage and a much needed return to the basics.

So what would be Chappell's legacy? That seniority wouldn't necessarily earn a tenure with the team and that everyone, junior and senior, deserves the same chance and the same rules of engagement and judgment. In a nation full of demi-gods and demagogues, this concept takes a little time to take root, but Chappell should certainly be appreciated for taking the initiative (and consequently, the blame) to lay the first seeds.

The last link to the glorious past has finally given away. Lara is the last man who bridged two generations - the generation of Richards, Richardson, Walsh, Ambrose and other heavy weights on whose broad shoulders the laurels of Carribean cricket stood upon for so long, and the current generation, that is just a sorry sad shadow of the glorious past. Every team, yes, even the now invincible Aussies, goes through the painfully terrible process of rebuilding, once its main-stays leave the stage, but it is unfortunate that it is only the only West Indian team that is either not done with the process yet, or still have to embark on it, depending on however one looks at it, long long after the stars shone brightly and the Gods smiled benevolently on the team, decades ago. And Lara found himself right in the middle of the non-existent rebuilding through major parts of his career. Cricket, as much as it is touted to be a team sport, is still a game that is stitched together with individual brilliances and personal accomplishments. Unlike in true team sport, like say basket ball, in cricket, a great player in a mediocre team can still get the team ashore purely on his individual merit more times than not. And that is exactly what Lara did for more than a decade, scoring double, triple, and even the near impossible, quadruple centuries. The results, however, cannot be anymore knee-jerk. A player who scores consistently over a certain period, automatically gets rewarded with captaincy, immaterial of his leadership mettle. And likewise, any captain leading a mediocre side, faced with a string defeats down the years, faces similar harsh judgments, again, immaterial of his individual contributions. And so come down the curtains on an era, that regaled the cricketing enthusiasts all over the world, with an array of dizzying strokes, and with the kind of patience (to accumulate scores in excess of 300s, repeatedly) that completely contrasts (and is even unheard of in) such an attacking style of play. Even till his last day on the field, Lara topped the list of batsmen, that bowlers all over revered and feared at the same time. He stood his guard representing the aggressive best of the old West Indian cricket. He cuts a sorry figure standing post to the current defunct and dilapidated institution that is the Carribean cricket. Between the two epochs, history would remember his prodigious scores and his prodigal ways.

The Cup certainly bid farewell to the best whom the world would never see them again in their current capacities. What should have been swan songs for the most of them turned into silent dirges. There is a week more game to be played out. It is too early to say the parting words.

The God of Drama may not be done yet, and once he makes his next dramatic move, it might be yet another 'Stop Press' moment, because as the wise Einstein said before, it is all relative!

 
More Views by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
  The road to rebuild
  India can win from anywhere
  No clear cut winners and no outright losers
  India's lower order works twice as hard!
  India-South Africa series have been Even-Stevens
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