Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cricket Lessons from 1978

My thoughts after today’s loss were drawn to some of the comments the famous cricket journalist and Radio commentator Dicky Rutnagar made 23years ago as he summed up India’s disastrous 1976-77 series loss at home against Tony Grieg’s MCC ( England).

He had then pointed to the poor domestic system where there was so much emphasis on first innings points that teams focused on draw than a win. Look at table topper Tamil Nadu’s performance this season in the league and you would know what Dicky meant all those years ago.

Teams must be provided the incentive to win four day games and that rewards should be less for draws (first innings points). To this day, rewards continue to be high for minor achievements (first innings lead).

It may be relevant to point out here that having already qualified for the knock out, Tamil Nadu think tank chose to bat a 2nd time in its match against Madhya Pradesh ( who had also qualified) last week and opted for batting practice on the pretext that the TN bowlers needed rest.

TN bowling unit for the match comprising of Yo Mahesh (who has possibly had his best season to date), Malolan Rangarajan, Rahil Shah and J. Kaushik (the last three in their first season of Ranji) in addition to its captain L. Balaji (who is just making a full season comeback) should have been raring to go a 2nd time to further build their confidence for the knock out matches. Instead, they wanted rest from bowling another 20overs each in the 2nd innings. And this team has been yearning to win the Ranji Trophy for the last many years!!!

On four occasions this season, Tamil Nadu stood a chance to win outright and yet they ended the league phase with just one win.

Good Fast Pitches
But more importantly, Dicky had said then that ‘Good pitches are the very essence of cricket’ (no brainer you would think!!). He suggested in 1978 that domestic Ranji and Duleep Trophy matches should be played on good, fast wickets with high points for outright wins and the very minimal for a draw. He had made a very important point then that should have just sat up begging to be immediately implemented. 2½ decades later, we still have ‘batting’ pitches across the country.

Playing on docile pitches in India and making runs by the hundreds does not augur well for a country that wants to be on top of the world in Test Cricket. You need to be tested domestically in the most difficult of conditions so you are prepared when you face tough situations internationally.

( Typical score in a TNCA first division league this year read: Team X 650/4 draws with Team Y 500/5. And the reasoning for docile pitches being that there are far too many matches for the groundsmen to have time to work on the pitch)
Clearly, India (and for that matter Australia as well) was found wanting at the MCG. An over dose of one day and T20cricket has meant that there is very minimal footwork these days - an indication of this was the number of catches behind the wicket and the ‘played-ons’ during the first test. The feet aren’t just moving forward alongside the bat!!! Once upon a time, the most heard phrase on the commentary was ‘bat and pad close together’. You rarely see that these days.

Administration of Cricket
Dicky Rutnagar was also of the view that the game needed an altruistic, imaginative and knowledgeable administration formed from a younger set of men who have just finished playing the game at the highest level and who are well versed with the modern game. AT that time, names that came to his mind included MAK Pataudi, ML Jaisimha and Hanumant Singh. Two and a half decades later, we continue to ask that same question. Administrators continue to be politicians or corporate bigwigs. The one or two occasions when there has been talk of past cricketers taking up administrative positions, it has been surrounded by controversies centering around 'Conflict of Interest'.

He spoke of reconstruction of Indian cricket after that heart breaking crushing in the five test series by a non - too fancied English side.

We may as well talk that language once again after today’s crushing defeat at the MCG. The Indian team may need a reconstruction with a long term vision built around Test Cricket and not hype T20 and One day victories.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

M. Vijay back in runs in the Ranji Trophy

Earlier this year, for the first time ever, two openers from Tamil Nadu opened for India. M. Abhinav went on to play the test series in England while for M. Vijay, who opened alongside Abhinav in West Indies, it has been downhill since then. Having missed the England tour, he would have hoped to make his claims for an India recall with a strong performance in the domestic tournament alongside his India partner Abhinav.

But while Abhinav has smashed his way back into the reckoning with over 600runs in just 5matches- (one match was washed out) including two double hundreds, M. Vijay has been struggling for runs except for two rapid second innings performances. In fact, he has been the odd man out for TN in the top order with most of the others getting a decent hit in the first half of the season with Badrinath, Karthik and Vasudeva Das scoring a century each.

The worrying sign has been that he has not even stayed for a reasonable length of time in the middle having got out pretty early in most of the knocks. In the two 2nd innings bursts, he scored 40odd batting in the middle order when TN came close to chasing 140 in 13overs and in the last match he put a 100run partnership in 14overs with Abhinav on the final evening against Gujarat.

Finally, on a grassy pitch at Chepauk in the final league encounter of the season and with pressure on him to perform ahead of the knock out stage, Vijay put his head down and came good on the first morning showing he has a classy touch to his game.

Playing some sweet strokes including his trade mark cover drives and delectable late cuts ( at least three of them stood out) against a pretty fired up MP new ball attack and running hard between the wickets picking several twos (not necessarily a trade mark with TN batsmen in the past) in the first session of play, he raced to 70 by lunch. There were very few across the line strokes, not too many wristy flicks to the leg and one also did not find him playing wide of mid on as he so often has tended to do in the recent past.

It was particularly pleasing to find Vijay letting many balls go to the keeper, another indication that he was determined to get some runs and not be totally left behind by Abhinav for the contention for the reserve opener’s slot in the Indian team (which any way currently is with Rahane).

This was the kind of commitment one would have expected from Vijay right from the start of the season after having come back from a poor series in West Indies and given that Tamil Nadu has been going for the big one- the Ranji Trophy- that has been elusive for a long time now.

This knock of Vijay will give him a lot of confidence and will mean that Tamil Nadu will go into the knock out phase with both the openers ‘amongst runs’.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Vasudevan - Hats off to you!!

I was returning to Chennai by Pallavan Express on 7th December (last Wednesday) after a trip to Srirangam for Kaisika Ekadesi. I got down at Mambalam and boarded a crowded 12G bus at 12.30pm. 10minutes later, I was shocked (and could not believe my eyes) to find the 1988Ranji Trophy winning captain S. Vasudevan getting on to the crowded bus at the SIET signal and making a bus trip standing a few yards in front of me. He did not see me and I let it be. I wondered as to what the Ranji Captain of Tamil Nadu was up to going by a local MTC bus and standing, at that.

Only a few days earlier, I had read the interview of Sunil Subramaniam in The Hindu and his comments about Vasudevan being a simple man.


What better example to signify that comment of Sunil than Tamil Nadu’s former Ranji captain taking a crowded bus, standing without anyone noticing him and quietly getting down a few stops later and carrying on with his work. And this just a week after I had written about Abhinav and his lifestyle interview (Sorry Abhinav to pull you in again).

Current crop of players are proud to display their gadgets at the drop of a hat.

Former greats like Vasudevan lead a simple life, almost unnoticed, despite significant achievements over a long period of time in the cricketing arena (every time you bring their achievements to a discussion, they almost shy away asking what this fuss is all about). That’s the yesteryear greats for you.

Vasudevan has been at the Mylapore Club almost every day for the last many months with very few realising that here was a Ranji Trophy captain - one who had taken over 200wickets partnering a large part of the late 70s - mid 80s with Venkataraghavan as TN’s spin twin of that decade standing a few yards away from them.

Hundreds of kids who come to the VB Academy (and then eat pizzas at the club canteen!!!) pass by him day in day out with almost none recognising the legendary TN Captain and left arm spinner.

Since they do not know his greatness, what point in me asking the question ‘what a great opportunity they are missing of taking advise from him not just on cricket and bowling but also on values of life and building strong character. For did Vasudevan not make way for Sunil Subramaniam in the TN side a year after he had lifted the Ranji Trophy with a tremendous personal performance that year so the then promising Sunil could blossom.

Co- incidentally, exactly a week earlier to this Vasudevan incident, I was witness to S. Venkataraghavan standing by the road side on RK Salai near the USIS under the shade of a tree as I made my way from the Gemini Fly over. After having crossed him, a thought struck me if I should check if he needed any help. And in his characteristic style and without any fuss at all, he asked me to carry on!!!

Former Ranji Captain, at 56, takes a bus home and a cricketer in his first year for India is already talking about the fancy car he drives!!!

And earlier this evening, as I watched Vasudevan share his cricketing insights with a 11year old (who I was talking to as Vasudevan walked in) at the VB academy, I wondered if that kid understood that this was probably his best moment to-date in cricket- that of a TN cricketing great walking up to him on his own and providing him with invaluable cricketing and life inputs.

Those few minutes that Vasudevan spent with this 11year old would easily have been a great learning for anyone who listened to him!!! Vasudevan asked him about his stance ( and immediately spotted an error!!!), his cricketing ambitions and what made him come thrice a week to practice cricket and where he wanted to go, his studies and the marks he got there in his class 7 exams, his school and the cricket team, his highest score to date, his daily schedule as a cricketer and what he was learning every day as a cricketer which I am sure the academy he is at would not even thought of as a relevant subject to dwell into!!!

Are these not questions that VB should be asking every kid who wants to sign up at the academy!! or at least the parents should be asking themselves and the kid. I almost felt sorry for Vasudevan for the kid's mother stood there at the Mylapore Club gate listening to these insightful comments from the great but not being to grasp the finer points of what he was trying to make and not knowing that her son had just had the moment of his life one that he should be going to school tomorrow and boasting about- he had just got Free Cricketing and Life lessons from Tamil Nadu's former Ranji Captain, the kind of time that coaches normally monetise!!!

Vasudevan summed it up all to the kid in a single sentence – Cricket is an Education and provides Life Learning opportunities just as you learn different subjects at School. ‘Very few realise that’ he told the kid and walked away after wishing the kid well.

VB Academy would do well to utilise the services of Vasudevan as a guide for the students at least once in a while, if not on a regular basis. Let alone cricket, these young 10year olds would learn 'Lessons of Life' from Vasudevan.

Is VB listening or has his focus completely turned to Cricket Commentary!!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Tri Murthy Utsavam in Uthamar Koil

Brahmma,Vishnu and Shiva present a joint darshan on the occassion of Thiru Karthigai

In a festival to celebrate the presence of the ‘Tri Murthies’ in a single Divya Desam, one witnessed this evening (Dec 9), on the occasion of Thiru Karthigai, Brahmma, Shiva and Vishnu coming out together on a procession providing a joint darshan for almost an hour to devotees around the four Mada Streets of Uthamar Koil in Thiru Karambanur on the Northern banks of Coloroon near Srirangam, the only such combined display of the Tri Murthies at a Divya Desam.

The Story

Once upon a time, both Shiva and Brahmma had 5 heads. Parvati (Shiva’s wife) once mistook Brahmma (because of his 5 heads) for her husband and began serving him by washing his legs.

Reasoning that this confusion arose because Brahmma too had five heads, Shiva, in a fit of rage, took off the middle head of Brahmma with his hand. Unfortunately for Shiva, the fifth head of Brahmma stuck to his hand. To find salvation from the curse, Shiva went on a pilgrimage begging for food, with Brahmma’s skull as the begging vessel. However, much to Shiva’s horror, every time someone filled the vessel with food, it vanished immediately.

Finally, it was here at Uthamar Koil that Goddess Lakshmi herself filled the vessel with food thus ending Shiva’s hunger. But with the skull still stuck on his hand, Shiva undertook prayers here at Uthamar Koil and as directed by Vishnu later went to Kandiyur (a Divya Desam near Thiruvayaru), where he was finally provided salvation from his curse by Lord Kamalanathan. As Shiva came to Uthamar Koil with a begging bowl searching for liberation from a curse, this place is called Pichandar (Bikshandar) Koil. Shiva is seen here as ‘Bikshandar Murthy’. A unique feature at this Divya Desam is that Lord Brahmma is seen facing South.

Blend of Vaishnavism and Saivism

At Uthamar Koil, one is a witness to the blending of Vaishnavism and Saivism. While as per Vaishnavism legend, Shiva came as a beggar to get liberated from his curse, as per the Saivaite belief, Shiva was born here as a beggar to get rid of the arrogance of the rishis (Shiva has 63 avatars).

Thiru Mangai’s Ultimate Praise

At many a Divya Desam, Thiru Mangai Azhwar has showered several verses of praise, referring to the location, describing the Lord, referring to his postures and comparing him with Lords he has seen elsewhere.

However, there are temples where he has made a reference only in passing. Thiru Karambanur Divya Desam near Srirangam is one such temple where he makes only a passing mention. But the lack of verses (quantity) is made up by the quality of reference.

“Peraanai, Kurugkudiyum Perumaanai, Thiruthankal Ooraanai, Karamabanur Uthamana…”

Thiru Mangai Azhwar has showered the Karambanur Lord with the ultimate praise referring to him as Uthamar, the perfect Lord. This is the only Divya Desam out of over 85 that Thiru Mangai has sung praise of where he has referred to the Lord as 'Uthamar'. Thus, with just one word, he positioned the Karambanur Lord as the Ultimate one to visit for us to see the 'Perfect One'. With Thirumangai referring to the Lord as ‘Uthamar’, the temple itself has come to be called ‘Uthamar Koil’.

Prarthana Sthala

Belief is that childless couple who pray here with sincerity will be blessed with children. Dasharatha himself performed a yagna here before Rama was born. Legend has it that Vishnu ordered Brahmma not to refuse anything to devotees who come here to pray to him.

Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam comes here once a year crossing the Coloroon
Purshottam Perumal’s Chariot Utsavam in Chitrai
Lord Shiva’s Chariot Utsavam in Vaikasi

Kaisika Ekadesi 2011 in Srirangam

Parasara Bhattar took the story of a complex Kaisika Purana (in Sanskrit), dissected it and composed and created the Vyakyaana in a simple and easily understandable language, which was hitherto non-existent. He made it more interesting by analysing the different Avataras of Lord Vishnu and showcasing Varaha Avatara as the best and the purest, despite the Lord taking the form of a pig. Kaisika Purana is a part of Varaha Puraana and comprises several hundred songs- all in small stanzas- showing Lord Narayana as the ultimate supreme force

The Story of Kaisika Purana
Kaisika Purana is the story of Nambaduvan, a low caste person and his love for the Lord Nambi of Thiru Kurungudi. Nambaduvan was a ‘Jaagrutha Vrathan’, one who came out when all others were sleeping. Embarrassed to enter the temple during the day, he would walk several miles every night and stand outside the Thiru Kurungudi temple and sing praise of Lord Nambi.

On the Kaisika Ekadesi night, Nambaduvan made 18 promises to a Brahmma Raakshash who wanted to consume him while he was making his daily night trip to sing praise of Lord Nambi, requesting the Rakshash to allow him to visit the Nambi temple one last time.

In the 18th promise, which is the essence of the Kaisika Purana and the reason why Kaisika Ekadesi and Kaisika Purana are most important to a Vaishnavite, Nambaaduvan says “If one ever tries equating Lord Narayana to anyone else in this world, I will be a party to the biggest sin in the world. And I will never get Moksham from the cycle of births.”

Through these 18 promises narrated in the Kaisika Purana, we are made aware of the different sins we commit every day in our lives as a result of not fulfilling some of the basic things we should do.

Nambaduvan made his way back as promised to the hungry Rakshasha after singing praise of Lord Nambi. His philosophy was that he would rather give up his life than going back on a promise even if it meant that he would be prey of the Rakshash. Stunned at the sincerity of Nambaduvan, Brahmma Rakshash requested him to share the Kaisika Ekadesi night’s praise of Lord Nambi so the Rakshash could be relieved of his previous birth’s curse and secure Vaikunta Moksham.

Namperumal’s procession to Arjuna Mandapa

This Tuesday (6 December) evening, on the occasion of Kaisika Ekadesi Celebrations at the Lord Ranganatha Swamy temple in Srirangam, a beautifully decorated Namperumal, the utsava deity, came out on a palanquin at 830pm on his second procession of the day, having made one earlier in the morning. Making his way through the Kili Mandapa, he positioned himself at Arjuna Mandapa.

365dresses for Namperumal
To start the celebration, 365 dresses were draped around NamPerumal (one for each day of the year) to make up for not giving him enough new dresses throughout the year.

Araiyar’s Periya Thirumozhi and Thiruvoimozhi presentation

Beginning 10pm for almost two hours, Namperumal, along with several hundreds of his devotees, watched Six Araiyars of Srirangam led by Araiyar Ramanujacharya and Araiyar Sampath Kumar present 20verses in praise of Thirukurungudi Nambi from the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham including Vyakyanam and Abhinaya of Thirumangai Azhwar’s Periya Thirumozhi verse Akkum Puliyin and NamAzhwar’s Thiruvoimozhi verse Enganeyo Annaimeerkal through their song and dance enactment. While one Araiyar narrated a verse, another explained its meaning and one other Araiyar enacted the story through the Abhinaya, a unique art/dance performance with their hands and legs.

Throughout his passionate presentation, Araiyar Sampath Kumar had tears rolling down as he sung praise of Lord Nambi of Thiru Kurungudi.

Kaisika Purana Recital and Vaikunta Moksham

Following the Araiyar Sevai and well after mid night, 62 year Parasara Rangaraja Bhattar standing in front of Namperumal at the Arjuna Mandapa presented a non-stop two hour recital without any pause. His presentation of over a 100 verses from the Kaisika Purana with his brother Parasara Azhagiya Singa Bhatter holding the Kaisika Purana scriptures in his hand, through a narration of the entire discussion that panned out between Nambaduvan and Brahmma Rakshash brought out the significance of this simple yet great composition and why it is relevant even today, thousand years after it was composed.

It is believed that anyone who recites/reads or listens to the Kaisika Purana will get Vaikunta Moksham in this birth just in the way Brahmma Rakshasha secured listening to Nambaduvan’s verses.

Karpoora Padi Etra Seva
After a long and eventful night, NamPerumal was allowed only a couple of hours of rest as he was woken up at 5am on Kaisika Dwadasi (Wednesday) morning for his alankara. Having spent over 8hours at the Arjuna Mandapa providing night long darshan to his devotees, Namperumal started on his return trip at 5.15am with two Araiyars leading him all the way to the Santanu Mandapa.

As a thanking gesture for having stayed up late into the night watching the enactment of the Kaisika Ekadesi celebrations, Namperumal was showered with camphor powder, as he made his entry up the steps into the Santanu Mandapa, an event that spread a special fragrance around Him. This special seva is referred to as ‘Karpoora Padi Etra Seva’. With this, Namperumal made his way back to his abode at 545am bringing to end the Kaisika Ekadesi Celebrations.

Historical Event at Srirangam
The Telugu ruler Vijayaranga Sokka Nathan was eager to witness the Kaisika Ekadesi Celebrations in Srirangam, especially this morning event of ‘Karpoora Padi Etra Seva’ (showering of camphor powder). Unfortunately, when he reached the temple with his family, the Lord had already entered the Santanu Mandapa. Having come from far just to witness this event, the king requested the Lord to provide a replay as he could not go back without being part of the event. However, the Lord refused to accept this request stating that he was always on time and does not wait for anyone.

NamPerumal asked the king to be back on the same day next year. But so upset was the king that he decided to stay put outside the Sannidhi for one more year. In memory of this event and to mark the King Vijaya Ranga Sokka Nathan’s unflinching devotion, the idol of the king along with his family can be seen even today outside the Sannidhi on the Western side.

( A version of this story featured today in The Hindu Friday Review)