13 December 2014

Adelaide 2014 - This team's moment

This moment has been a long time coming. It nearly was Lords 2014, but that proved a false dawn. Perhaps I'm wrong, and this too is only a portent of that moment yet to arrive, but there was something about the 5th day's play that was different.

This was a different Indian team. It was a team playing in the imprint of its new Captain. Kohli had been all kinds of confused from the start. Small sample size notwithstanding, I don't know how much can be gleaned of his captaincy from one single game. Objectively, he struggled with the bowling changes, with field settings and with leading the execution of team plans. Part of that blame must also fall on the bowling unit and the lack of intent and discipline from all barring Ishant Sharma was not something Kohli could do much about. It is somewhat surprising even that he didn't yell and shout and jump up and down a little more in frustration while India was bowling in both innings. The other major tactical mis-step was made before the test even began, and was the picking of Karn Sharma to debut over either of Ashwin or Jadeja. My preference would have been for Ashwin, but either of those two would have offered more bite and attack, especially with the rough, and could have applied pressure during Australia's 2nd innings on the 4th day, over and above their batting abilities of course.

Nonetheless, where Kohli did not falter, where he tore apart the cobwebs and burst forth in fact, was his aggressive mindset and his stupendous batting. Take a moment to consider that he scored 141 in the 4th innings of the 5th day of a chase in Australia. Two batsman on 99*, in the middle of a century plus stand, challenging a total of 364 on a 5th day Aussie pitch in the 4th innings. For the Indian batting lineup, which is by no means a normal state of affairs. There were some terrible decisions - Dhawan and Rahane in point, and will hopefully move the BCCI toward accepting DRS. It is nothing but pig-headedness to continue to oppose it. DRS may not be perfect, but it certainly can have a positive role in eliminating howlers and allowing teams recourse in those instances. There were brain fades too from Rohit Sharma and Wridhimman Saha. Rohit in particular continues to disappoint, time and time again displaying a lack of forethought.

There was something about the 5th day's play that will stay etched for a while. There haven't been many of those tests over the last 4 years. Ones where India's performance has left an indelible mark over, particularly overseas. Consistently over a series perhaps the last time was the South African tour in 2011. For India's 90's era fans, overseas series have been replete with failures of multiple varieties and hues. Thrashings thrown in among sparkling individual performances, the occasional fighting draw and the heart-breaking 'nearly there, on-the-cusp, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory types of performances'. Then there was the VVS and Rahul show at Eden Gardens in 2001. That was the moment of that generation. The moment it began, and set in motion a decade of excellence, fight, redemption and glory. It was followed by Adelaide 2004.

Ten years on we are back at Adelaide. This team has struggled. While for the die-hard fan it is hard to feel completely indifferent or to lose affection and fervour, it all still goes through cyclic ebbs and flows. I've been waiting to feel about this team, the way I did about that 2001, 2004, 2011 team. That was my team. The team that coursed through my veins and kept me awake at night, making me scream obscenities at TV screens continents away. Watching the 5th day's play brought me right back. After watching some near misses and almost there moments in South Africa, New Zealand, and then to come to Lords and watch India win, made me believe this team was right there - on the cusp of becoming the team again. But they crumbled over the next three tests, faulty tactics, poor execution and out of form.

Not at Adelaide though. It has been a long time since a loss has been such cause for optimism and hope. Kohli had imprinted his fight all over the teams chase. The 4th innings was only another innings. The rampaging Nathan Lyon was swatted away. The pace battery was inconsequential. He may as well have been batting at the Kotla. This teams time has arrived. They are going to fight and challenge. They are probably going to lose some more, fight for more draws and eventually win some of these epic matches. For make no mistake, Adelaide was an epic test match, a classic for the ages.

It really does feel somewhere that this team has arrived.

Post Script - A more befitting test could not have taken place to honor the memory of a fallen cricketer. RIP Phil Hughes.

01 September 2014

Friday Night Lights - Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can't Lose.

I just finished watching 5 seasons of Friday Night Lights, and I seriously believe that it is something that will stay with me. Its funny how sometimes the words, the relationships, the actors, the dramatis personae so to speak come together to leave an imprint on you. This one did.

It woke me up just a little bit. Stirred me. It made me think about a lot of different things and ask myself many questions. At its very root, it asks what kind of person do you want to be? What kind of man do you want to be? What kind of partner and father do you want to be?

At its simplest I suppose the answer is that I want to be a good person. Is that enough though? Sometimes I think I forget that even though I'm fairly certain I'm a good person that doesn't mean I shouldn't strive to keep learning how else that can be translated. Am I really doing everything that I can? Am I at least trying? Knowing isn't enough - one has to strive to be better than good and learn, really learn, how to be loving and caring and compassionate. I know I could have used a Coach Taylor myself oftentimes when I was growing up. Sometimes its a wistful feeling that passes over me, just about making me mildly aware of what I had missed. Other times its a far heavier weight, a weight that pulls at me.

Regardless, those questions need answering. In words and in deed. Every day.

Clear eyes, full heart, can't lose, right?

02 May 2014

The Joys of Cricket in May

April was just the precursor to the main event. The month of May conjures up a great many things – the hot sticky stultifying Chennai air, the joy of the now firmly established summer vacation and mangoes. Agni nakshatram countdowns in the paper, water lorries barreling around the city causing wanton destruction, mornings stretching into afternoons stretching into the next morning. The main event in all this though was the cricket. Far before the IPL was even a nascent germ of an idea and monopolized the month of May, we’d actually go out and play cricket. In our backyards and front yards, in the streets, at our school grounds, at coaching camps, in our grandparents houses and by the beach.

We were mostly from the 6th, 7th and 8th standards, voluntarily choosing to enter our school gates during the summer. Finding and ferreting out the key to our locked up cricket equipment was the first task. We’d labor over the gargantuan coir mat struggling to carry it a couple hundred meters. The mat was replete with fraying edges and holes large enough for the most wayward of bowlers to benefit from mystery spin if they landed it right. We only really had a football ground, rectangular, hemmed in by palm trees and lantana bushes and shrubbery. Nonetheless our Sunday fiefdom was now our fortress for the month of May. Not quite nailed in, but more weighed down by heavy bricks our mat would sit awkwardly on a bed of sand, gravel and stones. Batting was only possible from one end, the leg-side boundary a fence, hitting the ball over which resulted in comical delays in ball retrieval featuring cows, irate neighbors, pedestrians, cyclists and the occasional car.

We’d kit ourselves out, the same sweat-ridden, grimy pads and gloves we’d used all year which now took on a sheen anew. Some had new bats for the summer – Sunny Tonny’s, BDM’s and Gunn and Moore’s among the special ones. There were no coaches or supervising adults, we just played.  Twelve year olds umpiring their own games often resulted in hilarity – the square leg umpire for instance was not averse to throwing pebbles at the batsman after he’d taken his stance, an action prone to resulting in Inzamam-in-Toronto like bat waving. We’d score the game in our own fashion – a page in a notebook or writing in the sand with sticks. We had all types of players – the dashing batsman a la Azhar of the silken leg glances, the pacy leg spinner with an odd jump in his run up a la Anil Kumble, the flashy left hander in the Lara mold and express level poetry a la Alan Donald.  I liked to think of myself as a combination of Javagal Srinath’s bowling and Ajay Jadeja’s batting, although thanks to my name and somewhat larger frame was often simply called Ranatunga. We played with the intensity only 12 year olds and professional athletes can muster. Every ball delivered, every forward defensive stroke, every skied ball waiting to be pouched was pregnant with importance. Nothing gave me more pleasure than bowling fast, or trying to at least, and hitting the stumps. Always it was hitting the stumps. Sheer absolute exhilaration. No one had the temerity to think themselves Sachin though, simply because in our adolescent minds the adoration of Sachin had already made him our champion, our greatest, the one whom we were content to watch and talk and dream about.

We’d play for hours, the sun beating down, the red cherry whistling, the stumps flying, an average of an altercation per game and two near altercations to go with them. Sometimes we’d have pestered our mothers to pack lunch – we had to play past ‘lunch’ into the ‘afternoon’ session, even if we didn’t quite make it past the ‘tea’ break. Stretching our 30 over games until ‘visibility’ was an issue and play was called off. We’d end the day at the juice shop down the road, drinking ice cold lemon juice or mosambi, maybe with some bread omelet thrown in, fifteen of use wedged into 2 or 3 benches.

There were other games at other venues too. The grounds of the Theosophical Society for instance – lucky that one of our classmates lived inside, providing us a gateway to entry. Laden with stumps and rubber balls we’d stake out the ground. It was always a somewhat surreal experience playing there. It felt sepulchral in a way – quiet and meditative, just the trees, the birds, a few people and us. Visions of Swami and Friends playing for the Malgudi CC, but not quite of course. Split into teams, hills or plains for the toss, setting fields with silly points and leg slips and forward short legs that had no basis in reality. The rubber ball thudding uncomfortably into us when we misread the line, or I should say, when we simply didn’t know how to play down a particular line. We’d go back to our friend’s house and be provided with more ice cold lime juice and snacks. And then we’d repeat it the next day, all over again. All summer long.

The KNAV Pacers Bowling Attack
I kept track of my figures, calculating averages and strike rates, stored away in some long forgotten excel file on a by now decomposing floppy disk. I have thankfully been lucky to continue playing cricket through the years – there is little that I enjoy more. When I moved to the US I wondered if I’d be able to keep playing – lo and behold Atlanta, where I first moved, provided me with many opportunities (shout-out to the KNAV Pacers!). Great friends, lively games, nearly 50 teams playing a hard tennis ball league running from February through to October. Three glorious years spent playing cricket virtually every weekend. The best of the season though always, always came in May. 

24 November 2013

The Tendulkar-Kambli Axis: Mentorship and the lack thereof

I've been wondering for a while about the nature of mentorship. The role that it plays in shaping us, in crafting the clay. Sachin, in his eloquent farewell speech at the Wankhede, spoke graciously and with deep gratitude of the different mentors he has had over the course of his career.His father, who told him to never take short-cuts, to aspire, work hard and dream big. His brother and their shared dreams; of how his older brother took care of the prodigy with precocious talent and unimaginable potential, and helped focus him. Of Mark Mascrenhas and how his infectious enthusiasm enabled Sachin to go about perfecting his art without the added burden of also constantly keeping in mind having to provide for his family.Lastly of his coach, Ramakant Achrekar and how he kept the young Sachin grounded, never letting him get beyond himself and loose sight of the fact that even the greatest must keep working, practising and honing their craft. Together, these are all reasons attributable for Tendulkar's incredible career and his stupendous achievements over the course of a quarter century.

I've read two pieces recently that put into perspective the mentorship structure that existed around Tendulkar. One each about two of his contemporaries - his best friend and school chum Vinod Kambli and Anil Gurav. The Gurav story is scarcely believable, sounding almost as though it were lifted from the pages of some bollywood potboiler. In fact, it reminded me of J.R.Moehringer's prize winning piece about the boxer Bob Satterfield. Gurav was a club cricketer known for his explosive game who slipped through not just one, but seemingly every crack that opened up beneath him. Both men talk about tough times growing up - evidently Gurav has had an even more of a rough and tumble existence than Kambli, one that was lived on the margins of society. Kambli's tale is much better known - another teenage prodigy alongside the little master, forever twinned to Sachin through their school boy exploits. Two test double centuries, a career average of 54 and washed up at the age of 23. There is a part of the Kambli story which is essentially his own failure to perform (he was in and out of India's one day team till 2000) and his inability to own his failures and be accountable. In his article, Dileep Premachandran is rightly exasperated with Vinod Kambli, who often threw it all away with the end in sight,  simply unable to put his head down and deliver on a fraction of what his potential merited. Kambli seems to complain, often and loudly, that someone else, somewhere else took something away from him, prevented him from achieving his goals, forgot about him and didn't treat him right. This is not an unfamiliar lament.

That this is an issue far beyond cricket or sport for is the thing we miss out on. Everyone needs a mentor. A parent, a coach, a teacher, a friend. Someone who stands guard, instructing you, helping you plan your path, helping to know your own mind and your own actions; not just leaving you to your own devices to figure out which way the wind blows. Mentoring is about teaching kids how to succeed, and not just succeed in a sport or in a given endeavour, but to have the skills and abilities to face life. Some people acquire them on their own without the aid of a mentor, others develop them organically over time, some quicker than others. At the the end of the day, those who have had someone take an interest or ask a question are the ones who don't seem to fumble quite as much. Fumbling isn't necessarily a bad thing. The problem is though, that when one does fumble, recovery doesn't always follow. Some fumbles are just the first stopping off point on continuous downward spirals.

There is something poignant about the player who overcomes the odds, triumphing against adversity and defying all expectations in punching above his weight. Someone like Allen Iverson. That skinny short kid whose skills both on and off the ball drove through the NBA like the sharpest of nails shattering a glass pane, his screaming drives to the hoop a thing of beauty. That Allen Iverson took the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA finals. That Allen Iverson won the rookie of the year award, was an 11 time all star, league MVP and four time scoring champion. That same Allen Iverson also managed to spend the last 4 years of his career bouncing around, broken to less than a shell of his former self before finally officially retiring earlier this year. We say, 'see where he came from and what he was up against'. We say 'look how he achieved everything he did in spite of himself and his surroundings'. And then when he fails, and he falls, we roundly lambaste how he couldn't handle success and he he ruined his life and belied our rose-tinted narrative of a troubled sporting phoenix rising from the ashes.

We use family values as code-speak in India. It means a lot of things. Commentators, writers and the public alike speak about how Sachin's 'family values' enabled him to succeed in life and sport. What are those exactly? Andre Agassi in his brilliant autobiography (ghosted by the same J.R.Moehringer) speaks of the tortuous and tormented relationship he had with his father growing up. His angry, ready to bust a gasket and shoot a bad driver dad, was tennis, and tennis was him. Agassi played it for pleasure and for punishment both, it was simultaneously his reward and punishment. He found his mentor when he met his long time trainer and lifelong friend Gil Reyes, until which time Agassi contends his life could have unraveled at any given moment. Now Sachin has seemed to have had all the right support from the moment he set off, loving and supportive eyes to watch him and hands to shield him. Did Vinod Kambli have the same? I'm not quite sure. Shamya Dasgupta persuasively argues for the need to provide guidance to young players across the board regardless of background and class. Perhaps it can be different for the next lot of Vinod Kamblis and Anil Guravs. Maybe Kambli would never have been as good as Sachin, or as good as Dravid and VVS and Saurav. Many maybes and we'll never really know. He's stuck there. Still the fastest to a 1000 runs. Two double centuries and an A+ average of 54. Maybe they would have been the second coming of Vishy and Sunny, but who is to know (and having our golden generation certainly helped us in forgetting).

15 November 2013

Sachin's final moments with bat in hand (and my desperate scrambling at 4 am to fix the Internet)

The travails of a fan, the things one does just to make sure you get to watch, get to listen and feel and be awash in the glory of the great game. There are endless, boundless, and usually exaggerated stories; more often than not completely uninteresting to the non-fan. This was a singular moment though, and I wasn't about to miss any of it. Watching cricket in America has been both a journey and an experience. A true test of my fan-hood, an examination of the depth of my love for the game. It has been simultaneously lonely and gratifying being a fan here. Lonely in the 5 am grainy illegal streaming days and gratifying when you suddenly find yourself sitting in the midst of a vociferous group of Pakistani fans in a Bangladeshi restaurant in an Atlanta suburb (also at 5 am) drinking chai and eating samosas watching India and Pakistan in the 2011 World Cup semifinal game. But that is a story for another time.

Stating the obvious, two nights ago was the first day of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar’s last test. Enough and more has been written, said, tweeted, texted, and farted. The hype and the hoopla unbefitting of a champion cricketer who for the last 24 years has simply gone about his business. Regardless of the noise, regardless of the distractions, regardless of the morons and imbeciles, the cheats and the lesser mortals. It was just past 11 pm. I checked my phone first – figure out who won the toss and who is batting I told myself. Saw that it was the West Indies and instinctively decided that I could turn on the cricket a little while later.When I did eventually turn it on of course, the Windies were a wicket down. I hunkered down in my multiple layers of warm clothing and blankets – it seems as though the DC winter has set in and is was getting far too cold for the likes of me. I fall asleep soon enough, maybe it was soon after they’d lost another wicket or two, I couldn't tell. 

The wife keeps telling me to get up off the couch and come to bed. She tries all her tricks – switches all the lights on, pulls my nice little porvai off. To no avail though, I’m convinced there’s a chance I’ll be watching Sachin bat tonight, and in the event the Windies suddenly collapse at 2 am, there isn’t a chance in hell I’m missing it. Admittedly that is exactly what happened. Momentarily wakeful every half an hour or so, I cast my eye to the blaring television to check the score. Another wicket here or there, can’t really tell through my sleep addled brain knows that it is still the Windies who are batting. I wake up at 2.30 am in a cold sweat. Absolutely panicked and mortified. Did I miss it? Could I have possibly been more of an idiot? This just could not be happening to me, I was beside myself with anger. Willow TV is not working, my Roku acts like its on crack. Seriously? How the hell am I supposed to tell the score? I try my laptop, still in a somnambulist stupor. No luck there either (and it still hasn’t hit my rather slow brain at the moment that the internet is down). My phone, my phone! But where is it? Buried deep somewhere between the sheets or in my pajama pocket perhaps ? Finally find it wedged in the sofa. Cricinfo to the rescue. India is batting! We’ve bowled them out – good job boys! Now it’s on for sure! Then a rather strange thing happens. I fall back asleep.Curses.

This time it is nothing short of providence. Some invisible hand shakes me awake. The fist of destiny acting to save Sachin's uber fan from missing his final moments regardless of how bleary eyed he may be. It’s probably 4.15 or 4.30 perhaps. Shikhar Dhawan just got out. Holy shit, this is it, I tell myself. Must actually wake myself up proper now. Put on the kettle, wash face and sit back down to stare at my little 5 inch phone screen. Wait, what just happened? Murali Vijay is out too? Hang on, that’s him, its Sachin and Sachin is at the crease. Must get internet to work! Bloody hell. Get up, switch modem off and then on, unplug, re-plug, restart. Hit, throw,smash against wall. Cajole, coddle and tickle. All to no avail. Note to self to one day sue Comcast for potentially depriving me of the greatest pleasure in life and ruining it entirely from that moment on. Nonetheless, my trusty phone will do just fine. Headphones on, crouched at my dining table, sweatshirt check, cup of tea check, phone plugged in to charger check. I’m ready Sachin. I’m ready now, you can walk out onto the field. Give us your best, give us your worst, give us your last minutes. We’ll take anything, we really will.

Did I just wake up at exactly the right moment, thousands of miles away in the frigidity of Washington DC, without my streaming HD internet cricket channel working and still manage to be awake to see my idol, my hero, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar stride to the crease in what is certainly his last test and almost just as certainly his last innings? I did indeed. Can die happy now. Every ball was sheer joy. Every moment on the field, every little adjustment of his gear, every poke, prod, defensive flat bat and booming drive. It was the Sachin of old. Nimble, playing with the bowlers. Not overpowering them like in his youth, but toying with them nonetheless. Granted it’s a rather toothless West Indian attack. Still. Then he unleashes them. First a back foot punch. Then a sublime cover drive. Caresses both. A little nudge of the legs, a glance through mid-wicket. Sheer fluid poetry. To top it all comes the on drive. A last minute adjustment and the ball races away, calling to mid-on to catch it, calling to every spectator in the stadium and on television to stare agape. 

I didn't miss a moment, and it was perfection.

07 November 2013

Sachin's Last Gasp

I was thinking about Sachin's actual performances, especially in terms of the numbers, after reading this great piece by Vaibhav Vats . As an aside, I've been dying to get my hands on his book and look forward to picking it up once I'm in India over December. I looked up Sachin's last 5 series on statsguru and came across some pretty interesting numbers, just breaking down his averages per series. This is what it look like (and keep in mind this is the last six series, right after that phenomenal one versus South Africa in South Africa where his pitched battles against Steyn and Co. were the stuff of legend).

34.12 versus England, in England
43.16 versus West Indies at home
35.87 versus Australia in Australia

21 versus New Zealand at home
18.66 versus England at home

32 versus Australia

There a couple of things of interest. First his average and form really only dip from the 2012 home series versus New Zealand onward. Objectively speaking, Sachin's had two extremely poor series out of his last 6, basically the year 2012 and the home series versus New Zealand and England were just horrendous. Outside of that his average, while almost 20 runs below his career average, is more indicative of a loss of form and a bad patch than being in the career-ending category. In fact, if this had been any other player, particularly a developing one, we would call these performances promising (oh, the delicious irony). There is an argument to be made that this dip in form was further compounded by India's miserable overall team performance and the double 4-0 losses to England and Australia respectively, where basically everyone more or less performed poorly as individuals coupled with terrible team performances.

This may only be wishful thinking, but there is no doubting that a player of Sachin's caliber, class and ability couldn't have pulled himself out of the slump that his last year in particular has been. During these past 6 series, Sachin has had six scores over 70 and eight 50's in total. The entire discourse surrounding Sachin and retirement would be vastly different, in my opinion, if he had only managed to convert at least half those fifties into centuries, or for that matter at least 3 of those 70+ scores, in particular the 90 odd at The Oval and the 70 odd versus Australia at the MCG. There's no question of an overall decline in SRT's performance, but nothing still to seriously alter the fact that he could have ridden it out and comeback on top.

The child-dreamer in me wishes that Sachin had raged just a little more, had hit a century or two among all those knocks. Maybe given us a solitary win or two (just like the old days when he was the only one raging) amid those drubbings. But it was not to be. Commentators talk about the manner of his dismissals, the way he was losing touch and scratching around, doing a disservice to our memory of him as a great batsman and virtuoso. Perhaps it is for the best that it is ending now - that we now have batsman and a batting order capable of at least attempting to reach the heights of the golden ones who've passed just before them. Still, I can't shake the feeling that I wish he were heading to South Africa. To do battle one last time against the pace and hostility of a top class attack, evading capture and taking India to victory in a country where we're yet to win a series. That was the send-off he deserved, maybe just not the send-off he wanted. As fans we spend hours and hours wishing, wanting and attempting to fashion the outcomes of our favorite players and favorite teams through our words and desires forgetting all along that our sporting heroes must make some calls for themselves, must call time when they are ready, when they want to.

On that note, I'm linking to this other great piece I just read likening Sachin's preparation and personality to that of Pete Sampras. A zen master indeed.

31 October 2013

The Red Sox, John Lackey and those Transcendental sporting moments

It was that steely determination in his eyes that hooked me. I'd seen it so many times before - in a different sport from a different hemisphere. One man with ball in hand facing off against another ready to smash the smithereens out of it with fielders all around in crouched anticipation.

I didn't know who John Lackey was until last night. I can't say that I know much more about him this morning. But that look in his eyes during the 7th innings of last night's Game 6 of the World Series was one that I will remember. Baseball isn't a sport that I've been all that interested in - its hard for a sports fan who hasn't quite grown up with it, to worship at its altar. I've watched one game - a Memorial Day snooze-fest between the Atlanta Braves and I can't remember who. There are an interminable number of games, the game itself could go on for hours, all fans are stat-geeks and many fill-in scorecards as though their lives depended on it, and most players aren't exactly the planet's greatest athletes. Sounds like cricket wouldn't you say?

You'd think it was a natural progression for a cricket fan in America though. A bat and ball game that shared some murky common origin before taking radically divergent paths. My only personal experiences on a baseball diamond have been while using it as the venue for all of our tennis-ball cricket league games in Atlanta's suburbs over the last couple of years. Still, cricket shares so many commonalities. From the roles of a team's players to the statistical obsessions of fervent fans and the more nuanced and gentle rhythms of a game played out in the field but also in every street corner, every park and every little white-picket fenced suburb. America's national pastime, India's religion. This isn't about cricket and baseball though. This is about what the Red Sox did to win the 2013 World Series.

I've heard about the 'Curse of the Bambino' and the sufferings of the Red Sox ever since. I've heard about the crazy, obsessed fans to whom the Red Sox were family, spouse, unrequited love and best friend all rolled in to one. I can't say what it must have felt like to wait 95 years to watch them win at home (is there a living soul who remembers that day in 1918 I wonder?). But I sure can say what it feels like to be wedded to a team like the Red Sox. The Indian cricket team has ranged from being one of no-hopers where individuals of exceptional brilliance were surrounded by mediocrity, to a team that punched above their weight and were gritty, determined and showed occasional glimpses of greatness. Throughout all this, there were numerous false dawns and moments of brilliance. Moments that nutty fans held on to, plastered on their walls as kids and filed away in their sporting scrapbooks. I realize that at this point, I could well be a talking about the Red Sox.

It gets better though - in the last 10 years the Indian team has ascended heights never before known and especially over the last 5 breathed a rarefied air that was once reserved for pretty much any team except India. I wasn't born when India had won their first cricket World Cup in 1983. That of course, didn't quite herald new beginnings for the team, although that generation that won it also took us to remarkable triumphs hitherto thought impossible - winning the World Series Cup in Australia and test series in England. What makes the Red Sox tale even more bittersweet than Team India's of course, is their string of victories in the 1910's, winning the World Series on four different occasions in that decade leading up to their last home victory in 1918. They came closest about once a decade or so, 1946, 1967 and 1975 being the years the Red Sox made it to the World Series Finals. It wasn't until 29 years later, in 2004 that they were finally crowned champs again. Once again this sounds familiar to me, India were beaten semi-finalists in 1987, performed abysmally in 1992, were once again humiliated in the Semi-finals in '96. The see-saw graph continued, as everyone knows, with an early exit in '99, a thrashing in the 2003 final and another early exit in 2007. Only to finally be crowned champions, at home, in 2011, an entire 28 years after that first taste of world-beating-ness.

There are those moments that transcend sporting boundaries, moments which are undeniable lessons in humanity. The heaving behemoth that is Fenway Park, shouting their lungs out, willing Lackey on, to deliver one more searing pitch, to seal the Cardinals demise with the ball thudding into the catcher's mitt. You could see the struggle, in his eyes, in his shoulders, in his pitches. He still wanted it though, he wanted to finish it and his entire body spoke to that desire. The crowd fed off of him, knowing all along that he was their hero for this moment. And then he gets taken off! This confused me, but it also simultaneously affirmed for me the inherent drama of the moment. He walks off forlorn, knowing that a job well done until that moment, of taking the Red Sox to the very doorstep of victory, could potentially be undone by the loaded bases. Thankfully that didn't happen. John Lackey got to celebrate, got to enshrine his struggle in the Red Sox's victory. He doffed his cap, grateful for the crowds cheering his name, acknowledging his sweat and toil and his ringing shoulders. All the more poignant for his comeback, for his on-off relationship with Red Sox fans. He was one of their own now, and both the crowds and Lackey knew it.

I still can't say I know very much about baseball. I do think though that there is a narrative in there, multiple in fact, that I haven't paid heed to until now. A sport whose hoary origins began more than century ago, with teams who last won an entire 95 years ago! That's some history. From a die-hard cricket fan, and moreover one to whom baseball never quite appealed, I have to admit, there's more to it than I thought. Here's to you Red Sox fans. For the ups and downs, for the years of shittiness, mediocrity and uselessness. Here's to remaining steadfast and standing by your team. Here's to celebrating your third World Series crown in the last 9 years. Here's to being a Red Sox fan.