A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream

A dream about a fictitious tennis GOAT (Greatest of All Times)

This tennis season has been a stuff of dreams. The new guard has made way. The old favourites are back- ‘Fedal’ is ruling the roost. As the big two (French Open and Wimbeldon) are around the corner, there is a world of expectations- will ‘Fedal’ continue to defy age and make it a season for the ‘Oldies‘? Or, will the current lot (Murray and the Djoker) get back their Mojo? Or, maybe the time for the next generation (Thiem and Zverev) to stand up and signal a change of guards?

I saw a strange dream the other night. There was a debate between us friends recently on who is the greatest male tennis player ever. Well, I saw in my dream that God was giving me a boon- of choosing talents between players across generations– and hence putting together a fictitious player who surely is the greatest ever. Interesting, isn’t it? We all have our favourites and soft corners, but how will we go about creating this ‘fictitious GOAT’? So here is my attempt…

To start with, I will choose Federer’s natural ability. Well, someone may argue that Federer just as he is, may be good enough to be the ‘GOAT’. His silk smooth game, carefree shots- such a joy to watch. 18 grand slams and counting. There are a lot of things that training and practice will give you, but Fedex’s natural ability makes him better than anyone else.

I will next pick Del Potro’s fore-hand. Here is a guy who could have reached far greater heights but for his many injuries. A game with one shot, but what a shot that is. So that booming fore-hand from ‘The Tower of Tandil’ will be a great ammunition.

When it comes to back-hands, it is mostly a second shot for most players. Not for ‘Stan the Man’. The Wawrinka back-hand is a weapon that all peers fear. Ask Djoker about his French Open 2015 experience and he will vouch for it. Waw can rip it down the line or cross court. A serious weapon, if any. And I am a purist who loves a single handed back-hand to a double handed one- any day. So Wawrinka and his back-hand is my pick.

Goran’s service is the next pick for me. In a game of rallies, he was in a way the first one who made the service a serious weapon. It was quite boring to watch Goran at times because all sets would progress to tie-breakers. In fact, when he lost to Agassi in the ‘92 Wimbledon final, he still had 37 aces in that match- just imagine! So Goran and the insurance of his terrific service would be a great weapon in the armoury.

If you serve well, the return has to match it. Who better than Agassi for his service return? Deuce court or advantage court- forehand or backhand, Agassi was the man. He even joked recently on how he used to read Becker’s tongue to know which way the serve was coming! That or otherwise, Agassi terrorized big servers during his time and made them look ordinary.

Volley is an oft ignored part of the game now. People slug it out from the base-line. They hardly ever approach the net. But if you have to rule from the net, I would choose none other than Leander Paes- yes, he is a doubles specialist. But such quicksilver touch, deft hands, and what anticipation. No wonder, Paes and his net play is ‘Umarless’.

That takes me to my favourite player of all times, Boom Boom Becker. Boris had the charisma, and the ‘rebel’ feel. He made memorable comebacks from two sets down to win multiple times in grand slams. But what made him absolutely stand out was his stupendous athleticism and dives. Who can forget that incredible dive to win that point in ‘86 vs Lendl on his way to a second Wimbledon title? Those dives and fist pumps defined Becker.

My next pick will be Nadal’s defense. In today’s break neck game of attacking tennis, Nadal wears opponents down through his magical defense. You have to hit three winners to actually win a point against Rafa. That for a man whose career was over in his first professional year due to a life threatening injury! No wonder Rafa has won nine times at Roland Garros and is a favourite for ‘La Decima’ this time around. If I have to bet my life on a tennis game, I would bet on Rafa and his defense to see my through.

Tennis these days is more than just about the strokes. So I would now have to pick Djokovic and his out-of-the-world stamina and energy. Djoker is easily the fittest of all players I have seen. He manages to look fresh even after six hour slug festslike the one vs Rafa in the 2012 Aussie Open Final. He just wears down the opponents with his energy and then jokes about them the way only he can during press conferences!

My next bet will be Sampras and his monotonous consistency. Sampras ruled the roost in the 90’s- he had such a perfect game. He would be downright boring at times but you know, in the end, he would always win. What a trait to have in my ‘GOAT’.

All players have their favourite surfaces, Nadal has nine French Open wins and Fedex has seven Big W triumphs. But if you are looking for the best adaptability– look no further than Bjorn Borg. The ice cold Swede won 6 French and 5 Wimbledon titles- in surfaces diametrically opposite to each other. I would like my player to be versatile and Borg was the epitome of adaptability.

Some players who narrowly missed out from this list were Edberg and his volleys, Courier and his fore-hand, Chang and his resilience, McEnroe and his drama, Connors and his longevity, and Lendl and his monotonous consistency.

What fun it will be if we seriously have such a player who is a ‘Jack of all Trades’? Surely he will sweep a grand slam of slams, or maybe two? ‘The GOAT’…. Care to challenge him?


Ye Dus Saal, Aapke Naam

Ten moments which best describe the IPL journey

It’s 8 pm. The IPL daily soap opera is about to start- it’s become a ritual now. It started as the pyjama version of cricket no one cared for. But the India 2007 T20 World Cup triumph, master -minded by MS Dhoni, changed it all. The world is governed by the rich and IPL is where the money is. IPL has transformed the way cricket is played and enjoyed.

As I switched on the TV channel, I saw the ‘ten years of IPL’ TV jingle. Just seems the other day, but yes, 10 years have passed by. I start reminiscing and thinking about the ten moments which best describe the IPL journey. So here you go…

The first one was the very first match of Season 1. Bangalore vs Kolkata at the Chinnaswamy. Jammy and Dada went for the toss that day but what everyone remembers is the brutal hitting of a certain Knight Rider which stunned the world- Brendon McCullum. Savour the statistics- Baz scored 158 not out. You would have been happy with that score in an ODI- well, he got it all in a 20 over match. He scored more than 70% of KKR’s score and alone beat RCB by 76 runs! 13 sixes and ten fours set the ball rolling and SRK couldn’t stop dancing!

The other memorable moment from IPL-1 was the motley crowd from Rajasthan Royal coming together under the magician- Shane Warne. Rajasthan were the pure underdogs- least favoured and not tipped to even reach the semi-finals. But Warne was the ‘Pied Piper‘ who helped them scale Mount Everest- making beasts out of seemingly average players like Shane Watson (the MVP), Sohail Tanvir (the Highest Wicket Taker), Yusuf Pathan (the Brutal Hitter). Each player had a specific role in the RR team and they performed to the brief and how! One hurdle after another they crossed, and finally won with a last ball win vs CSK in the finals.

The next one is from IPL 3 in 2010. CSK were the most consistent teams led by ‘Captain Cool– Dhoni. They finished runners up in the first season and were a semifinalist in Season 2. They were struggling to reach the semifinals in Season 3 and had a do-or-die match vs Kings XI in the picturesque Dharamsala ground. It boiled down to MSD facing up to Irfan Pathan with CSK needing 16 runs in the last over to win. What followed was 4,2,6,6. The last six was out of the world- the ball kept rising as it left the stadium- sealing the legend of MSD the finisher. MSD punched himself like a cornered boxer as CSK completed a famous win. CSK would go on to win that year and the year after.

IPL is always thought of as a batsman’s game but there are a few star bowlers who have made a big difference. None bigger than Lasith Malinga– ‘Slinga’ with his side arm slingy action, has been a constant source of delight for Mumbai Indian supporters. His yorkers are impossible to score of in the slog overs and the disguised slower ones well camouflaged in between the toe crushers. None more so than in Season 4, when Delhi Daredevils did not know what hit them- Malinga was on song that day and finished with 5/13- Mumbai winning with lots to spare.

The next one is from Season 5. My team KKR had performed abysmally in the first few seasons and re-done the entire set up with Gambhir at the helm. No one gave them a chance when two time winners CSK got to 190 in the final at their home ground at the Chepauk. What followed in the chase was shock and awe. Manvinder Bisla, a journey-man in the company of the ‘Mr. Reliable‘ Kallis, started scoring at ten an over to keep up with the asking run rate. Bisla kept taking risks and hitting in the air and would go on to score an invaluable 89. With the last over starting, KKR still needed 11 and it was anybody’s game. But Manoj Tiwary hit the two most important fours he will ever hit as KKR did it. It was a famous win, when the Kings were reined in at their home ground and the ‘City of Joy’ celebrated unabashedly.

IPL is all about brutal hitting and there is no one better than the ‘Universe Boss’Chris Gayle. After having mediocre seasons with KKR, and initially going unsold in the auctions, Gayle moved to RCB in Season 4. What a buy this was for Vijay Mallya! Gayle has been the face of RCB and IPL and has regaled us all with his murderous batting. None more so than in Season 6 vs Pune. Even the ‘Boss’ went on over-drive that day. A hundred in 30 balls, highest ever individual score of 175* and a small matter of 17 sixes- Gayle took the world by storm.

IPL is also about nail biting finishes- most matches go right down to the wire. None better than a close one in Season 6- CSK played RCB and Jadeja needed two to win facing up to RP Singh. Amma Chennai prayed and hoped! As RP roared in, Jaddu swung hard- it took an almighty edge and went all the way to third-man for a catch. Kohli roared and RCB had won by a run. Or, did they? In a Lagaan type sequence of events, no one realized that RP had overstepped and the umpire had signaled a no ball. So, Sir Jadeja had got out of the last ball but still managed to win the match for his team- talk of nail biting finishes and comedy!

The next one is another Purple moment- the Knight Riders had turned around from strugglers in the first three seasons to a top team under Gambhir. In Season 7, they banked on the mystery spinner Sunil Narine to bamboozle all and sundry. The final vs Kings XI started with KKR as strong favourites. But Kings XI had a plan of their own. Led by Wriddhiman Saha’s 115, Kings set KKR a humongous 200 as a target. Not much of a chance for KKR. But ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man‘. Manish Pandey was the knight who stepped up- a masterful 94 with sixes at the right moments took us to the doorsteps of victory, and when Piyush Chawla hit the winning runs, Kolkata went wild again.

IPL is also about superb fielding- gone are the days where poor fielders are hidden. Close finishes mean that every run is crucial. And there has been an advent of super-human catches. Chris Lynn has set IPL 10 alive with great pinch hitting but what gave him identity was the out-of-the-world catch he took off ABD in Bangalore when RCB was knocking on victory’s door. ABD heaved when a six would have won it. Lynn at deep square leg slipped, and everyone thought that it would be a six. But he kept his eyes on the ball and jumped up to take a memorable catch, at the same time keeping his balance to ensure that he didn’t go out of the boundary ropes. A nail biting win through a wondrous catch- that’s IPL.

IPL is also such a fast game that consistency is impossible. You score some, you get out at times- as you try to up the pace. Right? Not everyone, Kohli in Season 9, was at a different level. After a poor start by RCB, Kohli upped his game to a different stratosphere- four centuries, almost 1000 runs and an average close to 100- Don Kohli bettered the ‘Law of Averages’. Sad that he couldn’t put the finishing touch as RCB faltered in the finals, losing to Warner’s Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Rip roaring batting, inspirational captaincy, nail biting finishes, super human catches, toe crushing yorkers and memorable finals- the IPL has seen it all. But what it has done even better is to unite India for two months of the year and becoming India’s most enjoyable soap opera.

No wonder it’s our favourite fruit (after mango) in the summer season.

Ye dus saal aapke naam!

When Blues stumped Purple- MI vs KKR, IPL 10