CWC 2011

The event that was an Indian obsession for the past couple of months, called the Cricket World Cup 2011, has come to an end. It will forever be etched in desi memories, just as any Indian Cricket fan that watched the game can replay the shots of that remarkable 83 final from their memory banks. As an Indian fan, I enjoyed this tournament thoroughly, and yes, Indian team lifting the cup at the end has a good deal to do with it. Nonetheless, there are also a number of reasons why I am glad it is over, not the least of which is to stop embarrassing myself in the company of my friends.

If you watch Cricket matches with friends and family, you must be familiar with that character who is an amrchair analyst, you know the one I am talking about, the one who knows what is better for your team at all times. He knows best what the team composition should be for each game based on the pitch and the opposition, he knows what the right batting order is, he knows the type of shot each batsman should and shouldn’t play based on the situation and bowler, he knows who should bowl when and how may overs they should bowl, he knows the right line and length on every ball of every over for every batsman, and he knows the right field placement for them all. He not only knows all this, he never fails to let you know that he knows all there is to know about Cricket. He doesn’t second guess, he first guesses and lets everyone else know that he predicted the results with the greatest Cricketing knowledge any one person can possess, outside of Ian Chappell. Essentially, he is the most annoying company that you can have the misfortune to watch any sporting event with, not just a Cricket match. I hate to admit it, but I am that character. Cricket and only Cricket has that evil power to transform me into that a-hole. Looking back now, I admire my parents for their patience in resisting the temptation to kick me out of the house during Cricket matches. I would have never put up with it myself – son or no son. While my family clearly enjoyed this world cup better because of my absence, as I gathered from the phone calls during and after Indian matches, I ended up subjecting my friends here to this annoynace, the ones who had the misfortunate to watch this World Cup with me. In order to dilute their pain, I thought I will share my genius with the rest of the world with a mere sampling of my reactions during the finals.

Shankar – Ehsaan – Loy – WTF?

I like Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, I really do. I liked their music from the first time I heard them in Rockford, and their work in Mission Kashmir and Dil Chahta Hai. For the most part, they’ve managed to maitain a high quality and a different sound, but the tripe they dished out for this world cup theme song was just plain abominal. Now that it is over, I am thankful it cannot be forced down my throat again. I expected better from a really talented band for such a huge occassion.
Listen to it and tell me if you disagree.

Finals Toss Gate

CWC 2011 Finals Toss Gate

What really happened during the toss? Did Sangakkara call Heads or Tails? Dhoni thought he called Tails and told Shastri they were going to bat. Sangakkara claims he called Heads. Jeff Crowe, whose only purpose there was to listen to the call, said he couldn’t hear anything due to the noise. Michael Vaughan from BBC TMS tweeted that Sangakkara was up to some skulduggery as he, just like Dhoni, heard Sangakkara call Tails. Well, I always thought it was a good toss to lose. While the pressure of chasing a potential 250+ score in the world cup finals can be huge, with dew about to accumulate under the lights, combined with the strength of Indian batting, I was hoping they would chase, even while Dhoni would have preferred to bat if he won the toss. After this intentional Randiv no-ball to deny a Sehwag century in an inevitable Lanka loss, I wouldn’t put it past Sangakkara to commit such hera pheri, but he is the only one who knows what truly happened. You know what they say about Karma though.

Sreesanth? Seriously, Sreesanth?

Sreesanth? Seriously?

Ok, Dhoni is off the hook for finding his form in the nick of time to take India past the finish line, but seriously.. Sreesanth? What was he thinking? Sreesanth? He could have picked any decently athletic spectator from the crowd and would have done better than that selection. How can you take an off-hand gamble that somehow he is going to take 5 wickets and win the match for you in the FINALS when the only game he played was the opener in Mirpur against that powerhouse Bangladesh team that was knocked out for a grand total of 58 by West Indies, but managed to plaster his out-of-control, listless crap to a tune of 5-0-53-0! Wasn’t there one sane person in that Indian think tank who stood up against this insanity? What did poor Ashwin do to deserve this snub. He seems like an intelligent, level-headed young man with an added variety to his bowling who gives an honest effort on the field. His omission through out the tournament has been quite inexplicable and to discard him for Sreesanth, might warrant a suicide watch on him.

Zaheer.. yes, you’re the man!

Zaheer Khan, yes, you're the man!

I can’t get enough of Zaheer Khan’s reactions when he takes a wicket! For a batsman, he has the look of a man who knows he has your number and better yet, he knows that the you know he has your number. Arms out, a cocky smirk on his face, as if to ask, did you enjoy that performance? All this, while the other guy who opened the attack was being smacked around like a red-headed stepchild, no offense to any stepchildren. Yes sir Zaheer, you are the man!

Man hugs gone out of control!

Man hugs gone crazy

I understand it is a big occassion and you ought to be thrilled when you take a key wicket, but whats with Yuvraj and Raina and their excessive man hugs.. it is beginning to get just a bit ackward. What happened to a simple hand shake, a high five, or a pat on the back.. though if Yuvraj promises to take wickets like this for the rest of his career, he could plant full blooded chummas on Raina’s face for all I care.

Take a bow Jayawardane!

Jayawardane - A classy knock from a classy guy

Class shots, class innings, class game, and an all around class guy! Unlike an almost abnormal suspicion that festers within me against Sangakkara, I’ve always liked Jayawardane and his batting. A touch artist, who rarely bashes the ball, he reminds me of a John McEnroe or a Miloslav Mecir in Tennis, who sliced and diced their opponents to death with timing and placement. Alas, with the power game taking over, those days are no more, but here’s a tennis fan’s delight – Mac vs Mecir.

Not sure if Mrs. Jayawardane got enough air time.

Mrs. Jayawardane, quite a coach.

I don’t think people saw enough of Mrs. Jayawardane during her husband’s innings. Once is cute, twice is tolerable, thrice is stretching it, but you show her more than you show the players on the field, it gets to be bloody irritating. Yes, I know.. behind every successful batsman, there is a woman who coaches her husband how to be a better batsman, or like my hero Siddhu said in the post-game chat quoting Maryon Pearson – “Behind every successful man, there is a suprised woman”

What’s with Sangakkara and that Donald Duck helmet?

Sangakkara and his helmet

Alright, what is the story behind that Donald Duck helmet Sangakkara wears? Is it his fashion statement? His unique look? What is the deal? As a Cricket know-it-all, I need to know. If it is part of his smug, slick persona.. thats fine, but I’ve been watching it for a few years now, and still no one ever mentions anything about it even when it stands out like an eye sore.

Fan reaction to Sehwag wicket

Fan distress at Sehwag's wicket

No suprise that the crowd reacted to every Indian wicket like a death in the family. People covering their faces, women stuffing their mouths with sarees, Aamir Khan glaring with bloodshot eyes like he is chasing bad guys in Sarfarosh, I guess it is befitting a home crowd in a World cup final with their home team playing for all the marbles. The atmosphere was electric and you could feel the tension from the crowd seep through the TV set. Perhaps a little overboard, but this unscripted drama is what makes sports great and I’ll take this over some apathetic hand clapping in between some pretentious book reading that is a norm in some other countries.

Run Malinga run!

Malinga - jubilation after Tendulkar wicket

You are the guy your team is looking to make an impact with. You already took out the most dangerous hitter on the planet. 35,000 crazy people are screaming like there is no tomorrow because a living legend that they automatically expect to score his 100th 100 tonight is looking in sublime touch. You just shut them all up into a pin-drop silence by sending that guy back to the dressing room. You are entitled to run around the ground with your arms stretched out to see if you can fly. Lanka lost because they didn’t have enough Malingas. He was awesome as advertised. Indian strategy was simple. Survive Malinga, target the others. Kulasekara and Perera were crap. Sri Lanka evened out the dumb decision making from their counter parts, perhaps with some over-analysis of their own when they made four changes for the final, and brought in two pacemen to replace their two effective and successful spinners in Ajanta Mendis and Rangana Herath. Go figure.

Catch of the night

Dilshan - super catch.

Dilshan’s catch of Kohli was stupendous. Here’s a guy in Dilshan who was a bit unfortunate in the way he got out, but came back just to produce a breakthrough and managed to pull off a stunner to keep his team in the game. He is still young enough, has loads of talent, has a golden arm, is a great fielder and a devastating batsman. When it is all said and done, I think he will manage to surpass the great Jayasurya.

Shot of the night

Gambhir - shot of the night.

This shot from Gamhir, as he heaved a Perera pie over midwicket was the best shot of the day in my book. He charged the ball, like he does often to seamers, got into position and swung across the line and caught it flush. With the sweet sound of that perfect contact combined with the left hander’s elegance, it was a treat to watch the ball blast over the inner circle into the ropes.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Gambhir - gone

This time, he wanted to get to his 100 with an inside out swipe over cover, off Perera again and got an inside edge onto the middle stump. As much as the experts have admonished him for that shot at that time, it is a major part of Gambhir’s arsenal. In many ways, his innings was perhaps more valuable than Dhoni’s.

Aamir Khan and that ludicrous moustache

Aamir Khan and his ridiculous moustache

All I can say is, even with that ridiculous, fake-ish moustache he is sporting, I’d rather it be Aamir Khan and not that media whore, Salman Khan. It would have ruined my night to see Salman and his overacting histrionics in the middle of world cup finals.

A shot heard around India

Dhoni - blasting the winning six!

..ball from the winning hit soaring into Mumbai night

After all his curtailed flair as he dibbed and dabbed through out his winning knock, once it was all over but the shouting, Dhoni unleashed his power to send a Kulasekara ball soaring into the Mumbai night to end the game and win the cup, sendinng the lathered up crowd into utter delirium.. a perfect ending to a dream tournament for the hosts.

That somewhat creepy looking Tendulkar fan with the cup

Tendulkar sharing the cup with his "#1 fan"

I read the story where this guy, a self proclaimed #1 Tendulkar fan, goes to every India match with a free ticket from Tendulkar. I guess, it is generous of Tendulkar to recognize a fan and pay him that type of attention, but something about the guy makes me uneasy. Is he ever not in this costume? How long does it take for him to paint himself like that? What does he do for a living? Does he not have a job to go to? Does he plan to retire from this gig when Tendulkar retires? Has anyone ever dared to ask him that question or are they going to give hime free tickets for all games and let him retire at his own free will like his idol?

Coolest shot with the cup

Cool shot! Kumble sharing the cup with Sachin (cricinfo)

This is my favorite shot of the cup. Kumble holding it and Sachin whooping it up. With two of the top 3 Indian Cricketers of all time (Sachin, Kapil, Kumble, Sunny, Dravid.. in that order for me) sharing the moment, thats a rare shot of unbridled joy among two individuals whose achievements span across two decades of excellence.

This Indian team and these group of cricketers will be kings for the rest of their lives. They’ve been able to win this tournament without their esteemed batting lineup clicking on all cylinders, and their bowling that was mauled early did just enough to keep them in games, and they got timely contributions from everyone on the team. As for Dhoni, if you go by the airtime he gets being on every other ad on Indian TV, he might still be a bit overrated as a batsman, but his accomplishments as a captain speak for themselves. The T20 world championship, #1 Test ranking, IPL championship, T20 Champions league, and now the World Cup at home, he has done it all.. and chalking off everything to luck is getting to be more and more difficult. Beyond just having great players on his teams, at some point, the entire package of natural leadership, an instinct for tactical nous, a determination to succeed and a cool head at all times has to be acknowledged over mere luck behind the heights his teams have scaled. He is already the best Indian captain by miles and whether he can keep this up or not, he will forever remain up there among the top Indian sporting greats with majority of his career still ahead of him.


William F Kirk

Cricket World Cup is underway where there is not much separating the top six teams. Baseball Spring training is also underway with hope springing eternal, except in perhaps the Pittsburgh Pirate fans. Since I am a fan of both the events, and what they represent, I present this poem from William F Kirk, a baseball writer and humorist from early 1900s. The poem is among a collection of baseball ballads titled Right Off the Bat that was published in 1911 and very recently released on Proect Gutenburg, a site I am utterly addicted to. It presents a simple and humorous contrast in the spirit with which the two sports are played, or more specifically Kirk’s notion of that spirit from back then. Cricket has tried desperately to cling on to the nature of mannerly Captain Edgerton (must have been a stereotype even in 1911) while baseball managers have changed little since Manager McDuff.

Cricket And Baseball by William F Kirk

The cricket game was over and the sun was sinking low,
    The players in their blazers plodded homeward in a row.
They stopped within the clubhouse for a final cup of tea,
    When up spake Captain Edgerton to Bowler Basil Fee:

“Jolly well tried, old chap!
    You lost as the greatest can;
But whether you win or whether you lose
    You’re always a gentleman.
Have a Scotch and soda, old fellow–
    It will drive off the blooming blues;
Keep up your stride, you jolly well tried,
    And a man can’t always lose.”

The baseball game was over and the home team had been skinned,
    The players slunk across the field while sundry knockers grinned;
They hurried to the clubhouse for a bath and change of garb,
    When up spake Manager McDuff, and each word was a barb:

“Fine lot of high-priced athletes!
    Most of you ain’t alive!
I could pick a team from the Soldiers’ Home
    And beat you four out of five.
Be out here at ten to-morrow–
    That goes the way that it lays;
Any mixed-ale sport that doesn’t report
    Will squat on the bench ten days!”

Najot Singh Sidhu - man of many talents.

I have no shame in admitting that I frittered away all my year-end vacation glued to the TV watching the two Cricket Test Series that finished recently – England vs Australia and India vs S. Africa. Australia is in somewhat of a sorry state currently, and England just unleashed years of frustration on their ozzie brethren on their way to a dominating 3-1 series win. While I wish India and S. Africa played a 5 match series themselves instead of just 3, it was some of the most enthralling Cricket I ever watched. There were sessions of play when I wouldn’t dare get away for a single ball. At the risk of sounding like yet another Cricket snob, it is difficult for me to imagine how anyone who grew up watching and playing Cricket could embrace T20, but I whined about the absurd popularity of T20 before and don’t want to repeat myself.

Well, IPL is back again with their 2011 auction.. and the only redeeming aspect of this tamasha for me is the return of my hero Navjot Singh Sidhu. It gives me an opportunity to revive my ongoing series with this title capturing nuggets of wisdom from my favorite sardar.

What did I learn from Sidhu on money?
Money is like manure, it is no good until it is spread.

What did I learn from Sidhu on imagination?
Imagination resembles the wings of an ostrich, enables them to run, not to soar.

You think you can get such off-hand profundity quoting a Thomas Babington Macaulay from your Michael Athertons, David Gowers and Richie Benauds of the world? Think again.

Sachin and Kumble.. this post really has nothing to do with Sachin. This picture is here to merely attract random hits.

There was a discussion recently on Cricinfo on Anil Kumble’s election to KSCA and whether more Cricketers need to get into Administration.  I usually browse through these discussions only with passing interest. Typically, they are sensational headlines and cheap sound bytes to attract casual audience. All it takes is an occassional menton of Sachin Tendulkar or MS Dhoni with a picture of either one slapped next to the headline on the home page and that is enough to garner enough hits to make it a worthwhile “discussion” even if the content is complete crap. Such is the nature of putrid Cricket analysis in Indian media. Cricinfo is still the best Cricket site out there though their standards have fallen steeply since their amateur days when the views and opinions seemed a bit more genuine.. but then they became too popular and sold out to ESPN and the result is predictable. It still doesn’t stop me from browsing it at least once a day to get my Cricketing fix. Thats when I came across this discussion. Harsha Bhogle and Sanjay Manjrekar were discussing the role of Cricketers in admininstration following up on Anil Kumble’s recent victory in KSCA elections. Included in the discussion were the views from an experienced Cricket administrator, Prof. Ratnakar Shetty.

You can listen to the entire discussion here ->  [Should more Indian cricketers get into administration?]

Harsha Bhogle

Harsha has turned into an excellent interviewer. He is so much better at this than at writing columns. He tends to get a little too preachy for my liking in his articles and little too soft with his messages. He is still

Sanjay Manjrekar

better than most there, but I hold him to higher standards. After all, he is a fellow Hyderabadee, went to Hyderabad Public School and you expect more from your own. He is easily the best from India at commentary and one of the best in the world, but hand him a mike and put him in front of prominent personalities to interview with enough time to kill, he is really exceptional. I used to gripe at him beating around the bush in his earlier days, but he is evolved into one of those who can ask really good and tough questions while sugarcoating them just enough to ease the impact on the interviewee. This is a skill that seems to come naturally to him and now-a-days he does it effortlessly. I used to wish he asked those tough questions more often and he is doing that now. Of the current crop of Indian Cricket analysts on TV, outside of Sunny, Sanjay Manjrekar is my favorite. He is sufficiently articulate, but more importantly knows what he wants to say, is always to the point and is never afraid to say it like it is, which is a lot to expect from the rest of the lot. So, listening to this engaging discussion was pleasantly different, not dissimilar to the feeling experienced when I first heard of Anil Kumble & Co’s election to KSCA.

Anil Kumble

If you are wondering about why there is such a fuss over Kumble’s election to a State Cricket Association presidency, you have to look at it from a broader perspective.   There is a sense of hope and anticipation from Cricket lovers all over the country, not just in Karnataka, because the general perception is that Cricket administration in India is pathetic – just like any other admininstration at any level, whether it is an association or a local club or any

Kumble and his bandaged face

group activity involving a collection of individuals.  It is such a rarity to find an honest, cleanly run entity that people expect the worst from everything.  Of course, corruption is epidemic, nepotism is expected, beureaucracy tolerated, red-tape a given, and all of the ills are well and truly accepted to the point of complete apathy.  Juxtapose that with Kumble and his image on the Cricket field.  This was a guy who once had his jaw broken while batting at #7 in a Test match against West Indies.  All he did was spat out blood and continued to bat for another 20 mins before India declared its innings.  When it was time for his team to bowl subequently, he came out with a bandaged face and sent down 14 consecutive overs while taking Brian Lara’s wicket in the process.  Asked why, he just said “I didn’t want to sit around.”  For more than a decade, he was India’s work horse and calling card for home victories.  His commitment and dedication was evident on the field.  Anyone who watched him play could sense the sincerity and integrity oozing through his demeanor.  So, it is little suprise to see a sense of anticipation and hope from all the observers about what he can do as an administrator now.

Rajiv Gandhi - flattered to deceive

In a sense, that anticipation is just a small microcosm of a larger desperation among everyone hoping against hope for a sincere, dedicated leader with unquestioned integrity they can latch onto while hoping that he can rid the nation of the evil and malaise that seeped into the grass roots of its administration at every level. The attention and the reaction reminds me of the last time I personally had any kind of an anticipation for an Indian Prime Minister.. back when I was still in College and Rajiv Gandhi was elected the Prime Minister. I had a healthy dose of hatred towards politics in general, perhaps selfish and even foolish, but not unusual for educated middle class youth of my generation. I despised all political parties, and especially the Congress party that Rajiv Gandhi represented and I loathed the fact that his family is treated like some damn aristocracy where they can just stand for elections shamelessly exploiting the name of Gandhi, and raise their party-symbolic hands as if they are some Gods blessing us sufferers and lo and behold, people would accept them for saviors. But underneath that hatred, there was still a glimmer of hope and anticipation that he might be different from his predecessors that ran the country down to beggary. It was more of a hope against hope for he lacked any proven track record to go by – perhaps it was because of his youth and education and he was the first young aspirant to hit the political scene that I had been exposed to, something someone in college during that time can relate to, but that was a false hope that  faded quickly even before his premature death. In a much.. much smaller scale, whether Kumble can make a difference in Karnataka Cricket and shape a model association that he wishes to create is completely up to him, but this episode does make me wonder if and when I can ever get that feeling again in my life time, one of jubilant anticipation of that next great hope to lead India.

Najot Singh Sidhu - man of many talents!

Delhi is playing Punjab and our intrepid sardar was in full flow..

What did I learn from him today?
New brooms sweep clean
Novelty always appears handsome
There is a wolf in the belly of every youth
.. and then this piece of worldly wisdom ..
He who wants a full farm, must have an old cock and a young bull!
All in a span of mere 45 seconds, try  getting that from your Ian Chappels and Sunny Gavaskars!

IPL.. and you might get to watch some Cricket too!

So the IPL is in full swing.  I can’t seem to muster enough excitement for it due to the reasons I explained before regarding why I haven’t warmed up to T20 as much.  Still, I have been trying unsuccessfully to fake some interest to not lose touch with perhaps the biggest marketing fad ever in India and not to appear ignorant when talking to friends and family.  Yes, it is somewhat  like succumbing to peer pressure for that bottle of alcohol at a school party, you know it is no good, but you might do it anyway to avoid risking social ostracism.  Thanks to its marketing success, IPL has become this popular party that you want to be seen at even if the host and the  rest of the  guests are complete strangers.  And while you are there, you might get to watch some Cricket, loosely speaking, that is if you understand what the game is.  Otherwise, you can watch the dancers, strangely all white, gyrating to some very loud bollywood music they perhaps never heard before, managing to fake as much excitement as I have for this tournament.  That’s what IPL is all about.. nevermind the fact that other than a few money bags that own these franchises who might call the city or region of the team’s namesake their home, which in itself should mean nothing to the average fan, I don’t see a compelling reason for any fan allegiance to their local teams.

Najot Singh Sidhu - man of many talents!

I figured if I am going to watch it, it is only reasonable that I root for my Hyderabad team, but I realized the Deccan Chargers who used to call my Hyderabad home don’t even play their home games in Hyderabad this season, they play in Cuttack and are spearheaded by a couple of retired Ozzies which makes it simply impossible for me to even consider faking an interest in them.  Screw the Chargers!  So, here I am, still searching for a hook when I witnessed the TV studio show in between the innings today for the Kolkatta vs Punjab game, and there was Navjot Singh Sidhu in all his glory, eliciting his Sidhuisms just as fluently as ever while the host is barely able to keep a straight face through out the show.  Maybe he has been back on TV for a while now, but I haven’t watched enough to notice him and it was great to see Sidhu being Sidhu on TV again.  It was a considerable loss to Indian Cricket shows when he decided to enter politics after a popular stint as a TV Cricket analyst.  For my money, he is the best in India by miles with Jimmy Amarnath a distant second.  Would you rather hear another boring analyst uttering the same old trite remarks like “there’s still a lot of Cricket to be played” or a such stream of conscience nuggets as “You got to choose between tightening your belt or losing your pants” from a bubbly Sidhu delivered with unbridled energy?  I will take the latter, thank you!
If you think his quotes are all about a joke or a punchline, you are missing the hidden wisdom behind them.  To avoid such a calamity, I am starting a new series called “What did I learn from Sidhu today?” from the voice of the man himself, gleaned from his wise remarks during this IPL season.  This means, I might be watching a lot of Punjab games, so I might as well root for Yuvraj and my favorite overseas player, Sangakkara.  Besides, I always thought Preity Zinta was cute.
Here’s a clip from Sidhu today, on how Punjab needs to respond to a formidable score from Kolkatta.. what if they are headed for a huge loss when I last checked.

So, what did I learn today?

Not only strike while the Iron is hot, but make it hot by striking!

Racquetball, a good workout..

I am not a bad Racquetball player. Going back to my glory days of gully Cricket in the mean streets of Hyderabad, any sport involving hitting a moving object with a stick came somewhat naturally to me, whether it was Gilli Danda or Table Tennis or Badminton. I even have a runner-up certificate from the only Racquetball competition I ever participated in at the International Olympiad during my graduate years here in the US educational system to prove for it, granted that International Olympiad was a glorified name for a competition among a collection of semi-sporty nerds within the international student community who needed to be cajoled and coerced into participation to make it look like an event. Yes, the competition wasn’t exactly elite, but I felt no shame in vying for the throne of that one eyed king in the land of the blind. While that runner-up certificate isn’t exactly hanging on my living room wall now, it is still there somewhere among the remains of my school memorabilia to establish the fact that I am not a complete stiff when it comes to Racquet ball.

Awhile back, I had just gone through a major surgery rehabilitation, and with my natural born aversion to treadmills, free weights, exercises and workouts, I decided to revisit my local YMCA for a few pick-up games of Racquetball to get back into some reasonable pre-surgery shape. I walked into an open court and started hitting a few balls against the wall on my own. A few minutes later I heard a knock on the door and opened it to find this old white guy with a grizzled white beard wearing knee braces and a head band around an almost bald head with a sprinkling of white hair over his Racquetball goggles. He might have been at least twice my age and and the wrinkles on his face couldn’t belie that.

Are you waiting for a partner?” he asked.

No, just hitting a few balls.” I replied.

Interesed in a game?” he inquired.

Feel free to join me.” I said. I had not built up any endurance and knew I’d be gassed in a few minutes, but the guy might have been at least twice my age and it showed on his face. I figured I’d be able to manage.
He was over 6 ft tall and I noticed that he carried an expensive E-Force racquet and walked in with a noticeable limp in spite of those protective knee braces he was wearing.

He could have been just as old as this "Up" guy.. didn't stop him from humiliating me in Racquetball

We hit a few balls to warm up and started a game. I had never played with anyone this old before and didn’t know what to expect and was completely unprepared for what was in store.  He started the game with the serve and it was 3-0 before I could touch it, 6-0 before I could make a valid return and 8-0 before I could break it. Once I got a hang of his serve, I had to deal with his long reach, a deadly low shot and a drop off the side wall that he could seemingly hit in his sleep. The game was over before it started, I lost 15-1. I notched it up to my sluggishness from the layoff. I wasn’t all that tired since I hardly moved from the bludgeoning I took from him. I felt I had something left in the tank for another game. So we played a second. I was able to extend the rallys a little bit, but I did all the running and he did all the hitting without moving at all on the court. I was out of breath 5 pts into the game and lost the game 15-4. The old fart was never once in the backcourt, always in the middle, and never out of position through out the game. Leaving out the gory details, I was annihilated by a limping old man on bad knees without having to break a sweat in a sport that relies on your agility as much as your wrist strength while I was on my knees grasping for air through out the game. As I pulled myself up on my feet from my knees and dragged myself out of the court, I asked him if he’d be available to play for the next few weeks.

I felt so humiliated that I needed to redeem myself. Plus, I had an in-built excuse of someone just coming out of a major surgery rehab.
“Besides, “ I said to myself, “I am being too nice. I should stop congratulating that old goose on every winner.  Good shot this..good shot that..enough with the false modesty.  I don’t hear him encouraging me even as he is steamrolling my ass. No more Mr.Nice Guy! I have to be ready with a gameplan next week.”

“I can be here same time next week, but you are not going to just give up like you did today, are you?” he asked with no hint of a joke in his tone.
Is he freaking serious? Give up!? Does he think I gave up? Is this fucker needling me now because he beat me badly? Condescending bastard!

“I didn’t give up. I am just coming out of a rehab and ran out of gas.” I said, defensively.
“OK, same time next week.” he said as we left the courts.

Next time we met I had a plan. Old man or not, bad knees or not, I realized my only chance was to make him move. So, sportsmanship be damned, I stopped congratulating him on his shots and tried to make him move and extend the rallies instead of going for broke with winners. He was in general more aggressive in establishing position and once he got in between you and the front wall, he could dictate play easily. I didn’t allow him to get to his spots as meekly as I did before, and as you can call obstruction in Racquetball if you feel the other player is blocking your path to the ball, I called them without hesitation every time he was remotely in my way. Normally, I leave it to the other player to concede this on his own. This guy was conceding nothing, and I was never as motivated to beat anyone more.

I felt worse than Adam Sandler being beaten up by Bob Barker in Happy Gilmore..

As if this humiliation was not enough, there were steady group of spectators watching these games as these courts are open to a view from a waiting area were parents and kids meet before they leave. True or false, I disliked the the desi stereotype – the one of a semi-gangly nerd who is good at math and sucks at sports and speaks like Apu in Simpsons. I didn’t want to be the one to perpetuate this myth further with continued annihilation at the hands of a broken down old man who looked like he might need a walking cane to move in his living room. Yet, whenever the game got close, he had another gear that he could shift to and cruise to the finish. It was as if I was playing Roger Federer, except he was older than Roger Federer’s grandfather. I felt worse than Adam Sandler when he was beaten up by Bob Barker in Happy Gilmore.

We played for 3 more weeks. We didn’t speak much after the games other than confirming dates and times for the subsequent meeting. I got a bit closer each game, and if I ingored the fact that he might be as old as my dead grandfather, I was enjoying the competition, and this was serving the actual purpose of regaining some of my fitness back. The last game we played, I finally managed to beat him 15-13, and I could have sworn that the guy actually perspired a little bit.  I felt as if I had won the Wimbledon and needed to retire right away on a high, I couldn’t go any higher. Take that old man!

After the game, as we sat on the bench outside the court and packed our bags, he asked
“Do you speak Hindu also?”

I once faked to be a Mexican to a stranger I had just met when she automatically assumed I was an Indian without bothering to verify with me.  There was also a time when I would have acted like a prick and said “No I don’t speak Hindu, just as you don’t speak Christian.”
I am a more patient man now-a-days and am also used to this type of an inquiry by now.  It is not uncommon for Americans not as exposed to desis to get religion and language mixed up.  The man was merely interested, so, instead of acting like a wise-ass I corrected him politely.
“The language you are refering to is Hindi.  I am a Hindu because Hinduism is my religion.”

“Your English seems alright.”

“I have to thank my Indian educational system for that.  You have a great game by the way.” About time I admitted this to his face.
“My knees are not holding up anymore, but I’ve been playing this game for the past 25 years and I love it.  I also play regularly with other players from my church.  Do you follow your religion?”
I felt queasy talking religion with strangers.  Matters of spirituality and one’s own perception of God are of very personal nature.  You can discuss with close friends you can trust, but I prefer to stay away from these topics with near strangers.
“I do.. to some degree.” I replied with an uncomfortable smile.
“Have you committed any sins in your life?” he asked.
Oh-oh.. a red flag went up inside.  He is breaking all established rules and protocols for conversations with strangers.  First religion, now morality, what next? politics and sex?
“I don’t know, it is difficult to define what a sin is.  Unless it is a blatant act against humanity, that definition can change from person to person.” I replied.
“You should read the bible to learn about your sins.  All of God’s commandments are in it and if you break them it is a sin.” He was simplifying for me.  There was belief in his voice.
It made me squirm a bit more.  I really didn’t want to continue this conversation.  I could tell it was not going to end well.
I remained silent, but he continued, “How do you know you will go to heaven after you die?”.

“I don’t.” I replied, not the least bit interested in getting into the notion of heaven and hell with him.
“If you don’t, what is the meaning of your life?  You don’t have one.” he said with conviction.
He was being annoying now.  I wanted to put an end to this conversation.
“You are assuming I believe in everything that you believe in.  I might not.  We both can believe in whatever we want to, but it really doesn’t matter as long as you are not hurting me and I am not hurting you.” I said, hoping that might end this weird conversation.
He was in no mood to stop.
“I know I am not perfect.  I have committed a few sins in the past and I will commit more in the future.  But God will pardon me because I go to church and ask for forgiveness.  I know I am going to heaven after I am done here.”
Good for you old man, can you please stop trying to show me the path.
He was in no mood to stop.
“There is also scientific proof about Jesus’s life.  You should really come to our church this weekend.  You will find your meaning for life.”
I knew I had to put an end to this.
“No offense, ” I said, “but I am neither interested in your church nor interested in discussing religion with you.  When it comes to God, what I believe in and how I provide meaning to my life is my personal matter, and I am not interested in discussing that with you either.  You are a very good racquetball player and I did enjoy playing with you.”

“Thats fine, “ he said with a trace of bitterness in his voice, ” I have nothing to lose, but you will go to hell without any salvation.”
I had had enough.  I just stood up and left.

ah.. that alluring ticket to that mythical heaven..

I get Jevoah’s Witnesses knocking on my door every now and then, but even they were never this annoying.  On my way back home, I wondered if converting people to his religion was part and parcel of his deal to catch that bus to his Pearly Gates.  If something preached by a religion, any religion, controls your activity beyond your personal realm and influences your fellow human, there is no getting around murder and violence in the world, because none of that mayhem appears as important to those that are brainwashed on that ultimate goal of reaching that gateway to heaven.

Needless to say, that was the last time I played with that old man.  We still run into each other every now and then at the YMCA, but pass each other by like total strangers.  I suspect he is still busy finding unsuspecting strangers to join his church to buy that ticket to heaven.

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