Boys Do Cry

The Australian Open tennis championship just concluded over the weekend with Roger Federer claiming his 18th grand slam title, adding to his tally after a wait for five long years, when he made to a handful of finals. Incidentally this was his first victory over Nadal since 2007 in a grand slam. A match loaded with memories of 2009 epic which anti-climaxed in the fifth set, which Nadal won 6-2, ending Federer’s hard court dominance. Till then, except for the 2008 Wimbledon, Federer was the king of everything but the clay. After losing Wimbledon 2008 in 5 epic sets, and then again Australian in similar fashion, Federer was distraught. He cried uncontrollably during the presentation.

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Roger “Crying” Federer

In a career that has spanned twenty years, and as illustrious as any in any contemporary sports, this is still seen as a blemish.

He cried! Cry baby. Rotlu …

Cut back to previous era. 1993. Wimbledon Ladies Finals. Steffi Graf was struggling in the final set, down 1-4, and Jana Novotna, who had yet to taste Grand Slam success, playing the finest grass court game, dominating the multiple times Wimbledon champion like never seen on that Center Court, one points away from cementing a double break, and going up 5-1 in the decider.  She double faulted. Missed another two relatively simple shots she was making all day long. And she lost it 6-4 in the end. Never winning a game there after. In the post match ceremony, she couldn’t hold back the tears and found the shoulders of the Duchess of Kent to comfort her. They called her choker. No one ever questioned her crying.

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A Royal Shoulder to Cry On

Girls cry. Boys don’t cry. Especially not the sportsmen.

Another time jump.  Two years ahead. Another Australian Open. Not a final though, a quarter final. Pete Sampras Vs Jim Courier. Courier had taken first two sets on tie-breaks, and Sampras had equalized by taking the next two. The fifth set, at a changeover at 1-0, we watched with disbelief, as Sampras started crying out of the blue. He just sat their and cried. A guy, known for his emotionless, precise, almost mechanical game play, who’d shrug off breaks, and lost sets, and restart the machine the next point. Sampras, it transpired later (this wasn’t the twitter/facebook era, after all, with access to all information) had a mini breakdown, thinking about his ailing coach Tim Gullikson. It was a surreal moment. Almost proving to the rest of the world that Sampras was, after all, a human being.

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The Human Touch: Crying for the Couch

Another jump. Wimbledon again. 2012. Final. Federer,  who had just joined the 30 something club, was struggling to find answer to an in form, local hope, Andy Murray, who was still looking for his first Grand Slam title. Murray took the first set and was going strong in second, when the roof closed due to the rains, and Federer  found that something extra that champions seem to snatch from thin air, and took the first half opportunity to equalize the set score, and then pressed and pressed the now hapless Murray and never really look back to claim his 17th at his favorite venue. In the post match presentations, Murray cried. A scot, too.

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Even the Scots Cry

He cried!

And of course, two years down the line, Warwinka defeated Nadal in Australian Open. 2014. Men’s final. Rafa, the gladiator, was struggling with injury. It looked liked he was going to forfeit that match sometime during second set. But he hung around. Even got a set out of Wawrinka, who was unsure what to do with an opponent on the verge of passing out on court. It was then, post match, that Rafa — the guy whose career is a symphony of pain and grit, a tribute to what mind can do even when body is not willing, even capable by all estimates; the guy who on court personifies the male aggression, control, power, strength, stamina — let out a few tears.

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Rare Tears of a Modern Day Gladiator

Yes. Boys do cry.

Even some of the toughest and strongest do. Those tears are the dues that need to be paid, sometimes. After bottling it all in. Playing a match, and a persona at the same time.

Incidentally, each and every story here has a part two.

  • Sampras did win that match. He lost to Agassi in the final, but went on the win Wimbledon and US Open that year. And more after that.
  • Novotna came back to Wimbledon finals in 1997 to lose to another star, Martina Hingis. But came back again in 1998 to win on the same ground where she mysteriously self-destructed five years back.
  • Murray went on to break his finals jinx in the US Open the same year, defeated Federer on the same home court, in a five setter, for Olympics Gold, and came back to win two more titles there.
  • Nadal went on to win French Open the very next grand slam the same year.
  • Federer went on to complete his career grand slam, and get multiple slams. Even defeat Nadal on the same ground full eight years later.

No the moral of the story isn’t that crying guarantees success. Or anything that simplistic. But I want to underline the fact that these are champions, before and after those tears. Those moments just took their dues.

Buy why just sportsmen? Crying is such a human activity that to keep half of humanity away from it through strong social conditioning seems harsh. A culture that calls boys sissy for crying (not that anything is wrong with being a girl, but why can’t one be a boy who cried?). A culture that frowns on grown up men crying. A culture, where even the ladies frown on men crying. Maybe, back in the days of hunter-gatherers and warriors, it made sense. But in the post-feminist, post-modern age, where we see equality being rightfully promoted everywhere, men still aren’t allowed to cry in public.

I am no stranger to tears. And yet, when I’m watching a movie in a theater, and something moves me to tears, the next moment, my inner thoughts are, can someone see me cry? Will there be an interval now, and it will be too short a time to wipe my tears, and hope for the redness in the eyes to go away? And I lose the moment, the beautiful moment, when the filmmaker had managed to connect to the innermost me, and move me. From there, I’m suddenly in another world, of cultural stereotypes, and mass bullying. Still, I routinely cry at the movies. And risk the red eyes, and stuffy nose at interval or the curtains. Even otherwise, sometimes. It’s not easy, but then years of conditioning is always harder to fight.

So boys (and men), do cry (yes, notice the comma). Rebel. Claim the territory that has been kept away from you purposefully. Making you a little less human, for the sake of a gender stereotype. Let it out sometimes. Some moments deserve the tears. You don’t become bigger by denying them those dues.

 

 

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World Cup, My Foot!

Football: A Comparative Analysis vis-à-vis World Sports

The much hyped sporting spectacle called the Football (actually FIFA) World Cup is finally over (Ed: this is a dated article, was in peer review for a while), and thankfully we all are spared of the ball by ball (err, but then there is just one ball in football, and one can’t even say goal by goal, because, many a times there are no goals in whole matches, so what — offside by offside? we will get to that later) updates by otherwise sane people. While those who were mired in the temporary insanity come back to their senses, and others who are still ruing the loss of their favorite teams, and their fallen heroes, I decided to give some serious thought to the entirely useless subject of football, and sports in general. Why?

Soccer, or the more literary name football, has always been trumpeted as the true “world sports”, and the football world cup, by extension, the real World Cup. Like any Orwellian truth, the only validation of the claim is that it’s been said umpteen times. In two words, my defense would be: my foot! But, unfortunately, scholarly treatment needs more formal approach. And  after my scholarly analysis on Cricket and Indian-ness, people expect nothing less than a well reasoned, in depth, argument. So while I still insist: world cup, my foot, lets play ball.
Continue reading

Sports and Indian-ness

Every once in a while some blogger asks other bloggers to comment on “Who is the real Indian”. Misplaced though the question is, in that it betrays too much of quasi-Freudian complex (isn’t every complex Freudian, or is it not that simple?) — of either varieties — what is most surprising about it is the lack of any convincing answers. I suspect it is because of this: people don’t know where to look for the answers. Good news is: I do, and soon, you will too.

Here, then, is the short answer: an Indian is a person who follows cricket, and no other game. Continue reading

Serb(i)an Malady?

Djokovic, the wolrd number 3 had this to say before Wimbledon begun:

“New names are coming, fresh talented players who believe more they can win against him and I am one of them. Suddenly he is worried a little bit.”

If only he had worried about his own game instead! Packed in 3 sets by the mercurial Safin, of all people. No shame, I know, but just goes to show the enormity of what Federer has done in the last few year — all surfaces. It’s the kind of dominance, even if on decline, that seems unlikely to be repeated anytime in the near future.

The Djoker, however much I like his game, has a learn that a couple of upsets here and there surely isn’t the end of the era. There is still some steam left. Federer, when he’s not playing Nadal, is still fighting just with himself.

Two Is a Company

Maybe, now, Chetan Sharma will feel less lonely?

49.6 Vaas to Chanderpaul, SIX, This is the stuff of dreams! Off all times Vaas has to bowl a full toss! Chanderpaul waits for the gift, clubs that across the line and the ball just goes sailing over Jayawardene at deep midwicket. He waits and waits for the ball to clear the rope, a rather long and agonising one, he breaks out in celebration and the entire troupe from the dressing room rush onto the field and crowd around him

[From cricinfo.com]

He has a good company, in the name of Mr. Chaminda Vaas :). There is of course, one Mr. Mashrafe Mortaza, but that hardly is a company you count in international cricket. And then, in principle, you could count Steve Waugh, who conceded a six on last ball for a Tie].

What’s more this lad (you can’t really call Vaas a lad, but still!) gave 10 in last 2 deliveries.

Of course, this wasn’t a final, and it wasn’t a rivalry people kill for. Still, it’s a reminder, if ever needed, that cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties, to repeat a cliche.

Even today, after all these years, when I watch that Javed Miandad six, I feel the pain ;). Poor Chetan Sharma — his whole career achievements were wiped out in that one delivery. Even the joy of being the first Indian to take a hat-trick wouldn’t have helped. Curiously, I found the reference of this “six” when I was reading Kamila Shamsie‘s Kartography. The narrator of the novel (my review is due, for a while) talks about it fondly, being from the other side of the border. It took me a moment to digest that someone could be happy about that! Lol! Those unlucky few who were born after the rivalry fizzled out, wouldn’t get the pain or euphoria, sigh!

Oops! We did it again

Yes, the resurgent Team India has stopped the Aussie juggernaut once again. After SCG, Australia didn’t deserve the record, yet, they were given a chance at glory, with 413 to chase on a fairly firm Perth pitch. But Indians, in a heartening display of good, disciplined bowling, managed to hold on to their chances, and broke Aussie dream in their own backyard — the ground that’s been graveyard of the sub-continental teams for years.

While this was a complete team effort where almost everyone – Sachin, Dravid, Laxman, RP, Pathan, Dhoni, Kumble, Sehwag – played their part in this famous win, the revelation has to be Ishant Sharma (Sehwag and Pathan’s return cannot be underplayed either). He set the tone for the final day with a spell that would have made a veteran fast bowler proud. But that it came from a rookie, just 19 years old, is sensational. He foxed Ponting — one of the most prolific second-innings run scorer (and world’s best batsman at the present, according to many — though I beg to differ) , and a key man in the Australian run chase — over after over. Ponting was lucky survive the lenght that he survived, and even that wasn’t enough.

What was most amazing about Ishant Sharma’s spell, was the immaculate line and length to the right-handed batsman; he wasn’t afraid to pitch it up, and he never, ever gave width. Ponting, who must have been breathing a little easy coming to this test, as Harbhajan, his current nemesis, was not picked up for this match, was never allowed to settle down, forget dominating – which his usual style. And that really set the tone. With Hussey choosing to play the watchful, un-australian way, breaking Ponting gave India an immense psychological edge, despite getting just one wicket in the whole session.

I had watched Ishant in his game against Pakistan and wasn’t at all impressed with the way he was spraying the ball all over, but first in Sydney and now in Perth, he’s shown that he’s a quick learner. Hopefully Indian administration will take a clue and start putting up some lively pitches back home. In South-Africa, England and now in Australia, our bowlers have shown that they can dominate when given a nice strip. Enough kid-gloving of our famed batting lineup!

That said, I’m not too hopeful about Adelaide test. This match was a matter of pride for the team, and they’ve shown exceptional tenacity at times, but they need to watch out for our traditional complacency. Aussies are going to come at us like wild boars (nothing racist, I hope?).

Today, however, is not the time to think of that. It’s time to celebrate. This is a huge huge victory, much bigger than the Twenty20.

Congratulations, Team India!

Pahile Padhe Panchavan

That’s a Marathi proverb. Something like “back to square one”, or “there we go again!”. Well, that sums up day one of the Perth test, after all the “hulla bol” by BCCI, and subsequent drama that saw off Bucknor in style, India seemed to have started with purpose.

But in the last session, all the purpose was lost, and with that, was lost the advantage! And if last time it was poor umpiring, this time, it was poor shot-selection, and poor timing for that poor shot selection. Sigh! The bright side is, it has got me started on my cartooning career 😉 of sorts.

There is always a silver lining!

Sledging and Cultural Assymetry (Old Blog)

My last blog has a few comments from Australian friends (which is an excellent thing, we need more cross-communication for sure), and in the absence of a coherent Indian POV, the discussion will go nowhere. Not that this old-blog of mine is too coherent, but at least it tries to investigate the issues a little less angrily (?):

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Language is probably the best barometer of cultural power-symmetry. For example, crusade is now something noble while jihad something evil. It wasn’t so always. But the dominant culture gradually redefines words from the dominated cultures. Not that this is my original discovery, realms have been written about it in post-colonial studies, in various parts of the world. But studying the cricketing world through the lens of cultural anthropology is a very illuminating exercise.

Not that I do it for a living! Nor does it happen out of the blue. The following article on Rediff triggered a chain of thoughts.

The Indian resistance on the fourth day of the third cricket Test in Melbourne was so frustrating for the Australians that they resorted to sledging to unsettle the batsmen at the crease.

Just like that, matter of fact. Afterall, it’s the Indian media, writing about the Australians (or the English…). Cricket, afterall, is a game with a colonial legacy. It’s the gentleman’s game! It’s the game where, the colonial powers decided all the rules, and the natives played the game by following those rules. Even till date, although most of the revenue for the governing bodies is generated thanks to the sub-continent, it’s predominantly ruled by the whites! More so, off the ground (one Jagmohan Dalmia notwithstanding).

Let’s ask ourselves a basic question: what is more detrimental to the spirit of cricket — excessive appealing or sledging? If you ask me, I’d say the latter. Why? Because, excessive is a relative term — and in the heat of the things, it’s easy to cross the line between correct and frivolous appealing (you believe it’s out!). But consider sledging — you’re standing in the sleep cordon, and you deliberately provoke a batsmen by saying dirty things about his family and things like that. That’s cold-blooded killing of the spirit of the game.

In reality, however, Indian players have been penalized for excessive appealing, while most AES (Aus-Eng-SA) players have gone absolutely scot free for graver crimes — abusing batsmen and even umpires! And what a nice name they have coined for their crimes – gamesmanship!

With respect to the alleged sledging in the third test, see what Allan Border has to say:

Former Australia captain and now national selector Allan Border termed Williams’s aggression as one of a young, eager fast bowler.”I am sure if anything was big enough, he would have been dealt with by the match referee and umpires,” said Border.

Clear and simple! And since not many umpires have dealt with Australian players like McGrath, by the same reasoning, there is really no no sledging going on! Like, Steve Waugh said sometime back:

I don’t think there is that much sledging going on. I think it is overstated. There is a bit of it, but I think the present lot of cricketers is definitely better behaved. Much was made of the sledging incident involving Glenn McGrath during our tour of the West Indies. But I can tell you that we played the game in the right spirit. We encourage each other as teammates and together try to put pressure on the opposition. That is important.

That’s what happens when the rule makers, judges and the accused belong to the same culture! What’s more, it becomes an almost acceptable behaviour. For instance: (from the same news-item)

The Indian team management has not filed any official complaint on the matter and Ganguly said it was “nothing unusual” though he admitted being the focus of special attention from the hosts in the edge-of-the-seat contest on the penultimate day of the Test.

Maybe Ganguly knows the futility of complaining about this, but this does send a wrong message — that it’s okay to sledge. A formal complaint wouldn’t solve things, but it would make the respective board to take notice of the incidence. Afterall, in a skewed contest, it becomes more important to use every ethical way that you have — it’s almost imperative.Those who think cultural anthropology is an ivory-tower discipline, should have a look at Cricket. There are too many practical examples of the cultural power-asymmetry to miss. It might even be an interesting little exercise.

The Mole In the Eye

Sigh! After all the hell is let loose, even the former cricketing greats of Australia still don’t understand where the problem lies. No, sacking Ponting wouldn’t make a zilch difference. It’s the myopia of a whole culture, call me racist, if you will.

Take this comment from Waugh (from Cricinfo):

Nevertheless, [Waugh] doesn’t believe Australia should apologise for their attitude. “Teams playing against Australia fail to understand that banter, gamesmanship, sledging or whatever anyone would like to call it is just the way Australian kids joust and play in the schoolyard and backyards. On the other hand, Australian teams can’t stomach time-wasting and perceived manipulation of the rules, including calling for runners, over-appealing and the alleged altering of the condition of the ball.”

Maybe, if he weren’t blind, he could have seen the dramatic increase in Australian over-rate from about 12 an hour to 15 an hour, from 2/3rd to 5th day. Yes, 12 with spinners with the shortest of run ups, and batsmen who are not known for rotating the strike! So what were the Aussies doing on day 2/3 that was different

And then of course, they don’t like excessive appealing! Surely, Steve, you’re kidding. Only you are not kidding anyone but yourself. Bugger off.

So here, for the benefit of these dimwits: that’s the problem – these Australian kids never growing up to the realities of a world where other people exist. It’s they, not the others, who need schoolmasters.

PS: Here is another example (if at all needed) of the Australian gamesmanship: http://www.rediff.com/cricket/2001/jul/31maha.htm