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Mussoorie Days - column for GQ India, August 2011 issue

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A shellacking, a hammering, call it what you want. It wasn't pretty, and India have much soul-searching to do. But instead of going crazy and hammer and tongs at the team, we need to accept that that India were just poor, and were beaten by a very good team. England won session after session, leaving India with very little to clutch at. They came in at them and didn't allow much room to breath or flex their muscles.

Their lower order was far superior to India's, which in the first two Tests was rolled over. On day one at Trent Bridge, England lifted themselves from 85 for 5 to 221 with the last two wickets adding 97 runs. Conversely, India capitulated from 267 for 4 to 288 in a matter of six overs. In their first three innings, India lost their last five wickets for 46, 36, and 15 runs. It was heartening to see MS Dhoni and Praveen Kumar offer some fight in both innings at Old Trafford, and for India's sake lets hope this inspires the batsmen.

Crucially, E…
Links to latest pieces for GQ India: on Dravid's ODI recall and what India can learn from the Test series. More to follow.
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There are some cricketers who manage to endear themselves to individuals for various reasons. I'm not talking of superstars or legends of the game, but of those smaller figures who, for one innings or shot or spell or catch or celebration or series, left an impression. For me, one such cricketer is Robert Croft.

Croft played only 50 one-dayers and 21 Tests for England, and will probably be remembered as an international cricketer more for his gritty unbeaten 37 scored in over three hours - and which made up for three wicketless Tests- to help seal a famous draw against South Africa in 1998 and for his decision not to tour India in 2001 because of security concerns more than for his prowess as an offspinner. For me, however, Croft will always be a cherubic fighter. 

I never saw him bowl live in a first-class game, but through telecasts of Benson & Hedges matches and clippings in newspapers and Sportstar when in school in the Himalayas, found myself drawn to his pudgy offsp…

Dravid's recall: a knee-jerk reaction

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Once again, youth has been jettisoned, the system has been done away with, journalist's Saturdays have been ruined and, quite amazingly, Rahul Dravid is back in the one-day team. The same Dravid who was dumped twice over the last four years and overlooked for the World Cup, a chance he silently pined for. WTF?

The decision, we are told, is a pragmatic, immediate one: the team is marred by injury and needs Dravid's vault of international experience - he is the seventh-highest run-scorer of all time, with 10,765 runs in 339 matches - and his innate ability to scrap and hold together an innings. 

But the man in question is 38 years and 207 days and hasn't played an ODI since September 2009, after being recalled two years from being dropped. The scenario then? India's young hopefuls had failed to cope in testing conditions in the lead-up to the Champions Trophy in 2009. The scenario now? Injury to Yuvraj Singh, Cheteshwar Pujara's absence through injury, the apparent n…
Two bad losses in a row. Bad bole toh ... BAD. Defeats by 196 and 319 runs is massive. The better side has won, and the poorer side has much to reflect on. But you win some, you lose some. India haven't looked a No. 1 side all tour, and they've been guilty of letting England off the hook several times during the past two Tests. They've got only themselves to blame because they had chances to shut England out on all of the first three days.
You have a team on the mat at 124 for 8, and then allow them to score 221. Then you get a lead of 40 with six wickets in hand and end up with a lead of 67. And on the third day, India's generosity in the field - what was Dhoni doing with his fielders? - meant they went from chasing 275 to over 478. That is poor cricket and you aren't doing yourselves any favors by ending up in such situations. Not the cricket of a No. 1 side, and the way India are shaping up means they will have to play extremely good cricket to ret…
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Better days of Test cricket are hard to come by. This is what we live for, the kind of battle we flock to the grounds to, put aside work and other daily activities and chores for, skip work for, the reason some of us become sports writers. Those of you who happened to be at Trent Bridge to day, I envy you.

The first session, to India. Dravid and Laxman, Indian cricket's third best partners of all time, but who had
never batted together in the first over of an innings before yesterday, once again seeing their side out of tricky spot. From the rigor and caution of the first evening, to the confidence and panache of the second morning. Laxman, the aggressor, cutting and driving and pulling, supple of wrist and keen of eye. Dravid, the indefatigable, pushing and leaving and tucking and dabbing and steering. Laxman, seeing the ball and judging the length early, playing late and punching through the line and on the rise. Dravid, quick to come forward and then deflect the ball with soft …
Trent Bridge, the scene of a famous draw in 2002 and an epic win in 2007. India return to the venue having lost the first Test, and look in some trouble. Virender Sehwag is still not available and Zaheer Khan is a doubtful starter. They appear shaken, though not by any means down and out. With or without Zaheer, they will have to shape up and play a lot better than they did at Lord's.

Lets back the truck up a bit. Should we be surprised India lost the first Test? Taking nothing away from what India have achieved over the past few years, they had little time to acclimatize, had rusty players returning from injuries, and were without Sehwag. They lost, but weren't steamrolled. It wasn't a crushing loss. They will pick themselves up. That's what good teams do.

India have been No. 1 in Test cricket for some time. They've beaten Australia, England, Sri Lanka at home. They drew with South Africa home and away. They won in New Zealand, drew in Sri Lanka. There have been …

The Chemistry Brothers

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A mesmerizing fifth day at Lord's awaits. England need nine wickets, India need to bat three sessions to escape. Gambhir in some doubt following a blow to the elbow, Tendulkar unable to bat until half an hour after lunch or till five wickets are down. Dravid, yet to be dismissed in this Test, and Laxman, the man for a crisis, at the crease together, both having made it to the thirties before stumps on day four. The 2000th Test is set up amazingly.

Today, Dravid and Laxman will walk out for India as they have done so creditably and so often. Both at the end of their illustrious careers; Dravid, the second-highest run-scorer in Tests ever, a legend of the modern game and indeed of all times, and India's most dependable batsman and best No 3. Laxman, who summons his inner legend when the chips are down. The pair will be up against Anderson, Tremlett, Broad and Swann, England's best attack since the summer of 2005. Yet again, a Test to be saved, a precarious situation to be t…

Rain, rain, rain ...

So, a damp squib of an opening day at Lord's. A sedate start from England's openers after Dhoni won a good toss and opted to field, and I reckon India will feel a bit let down by their performance. Zaheer aside - he really is the most important player on either side - the bowling lacked bite.

Praveen, playing for the first time in England, got the new ball to move about significantly in a nine-over first spell, but was guilty of pitching a tad short on occasion. Seeing Dhoni stand up to the stumps on the first day of a Test was a bit odd, but then Praveen has little pace to speak of. With his style of bowling - a quintessential county bowler, though he's never played in England - Praveen should have been pitching the ball up more to the batsmen. He drew thick edges off Pietersen's bat, with the batsman defending both times. Neither time did the ball carry to a fielder, and Praveen thus should have been getting them driving, so that the harder the shot, the further the …

Here's to a summer of cricket ...

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Tomorrow England will host India at Lord's, the 100th time the two countries will go at it in whites, and it will mark the occasion of the 2000th Test overall. That the match is being played at Lord's, the home of cricket - yes, that is what it is and will always remain, no matter what other countries will have you believe in this day and age - only adds to the significance of the moment. India's Lord's history is shaky, and that adds to the intrigue of this first Test of four. 

For one member of the current Indian squad, a return to Lord's is a very, very special occasion. And rightfully so. Fifteen years ago, at Lord's, began a very, very special cricket's very, very special journey. Today Rahul Dravid is 49 runs short of surpassing Ricky Ponting's Test tally and moving into second place behind Sachin Tendulkar, the only other current Indian player to have been at Lord's in 1996.

Tendulkar himself arrives in England with plenty of buzz around him…

Mussoorie in the monsoon

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This place is home. Its been home for years, but over the past ten I've hardly been here for more than a couple weeks at a time. A couple Christmases, the odd weekend or four-day trip from Bangalore, one 36-hour visit and another 48-hour visit earlier this year from Bombay. Thus, after a busy few months (the World Cup and IPL, mainly) I decided to take off six weeks or so and come up to Mussoorie, to Oakville, and do some writing and running and bicycling. It was long overdue.

The writing is going along well, the running not so well, due largely to the rain, and the bicycling ... well, that's not happening. But I do get in a good five to six kilometers of walking a day, and twice did more than that with walks into the bazaar and back, up Mullingar and on to Char Dukan, then back around the chakkar and to Oakville. Here are a few pictures from early morning walks and late afternoon/evening strolls.


Its something else to be able to walk alone through the oaks and pines and deod…

Oakville - our field of dreams

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We each have our field of dreams. The space where we first really took to cricket, where we played the game because we just loved the sound of ball (rubber, tennis, cork, whatever) on ball, where we could square-drive like our heroes (Dravid, for me) and mimic bowling actions and try our hands at legspin or left-arm pace and try to intimidate and flourish, and where we could - for an hour, a day - escape the drudgery of school and chores. Maybe it was a parking lot or a sandlot, a maidaan, an open field, a side street, a gulli, a stadium, an terrace. You know what I'm talking about.

For me, that field was a beaten up, run down former tennis court tucked away between the magnificent deodar and handsome Indian Chestnut tree and sturdy Himalayan Oak and serene maple trees. A little piece of heaven where in days of yore British, American and Canadian missionaries spent sunny summer afternoons playing tennis and rounders but which by the time my buddies and I took over had withered int…
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Haven't been able to get Harbhajan Singh's latest performance out of my mind. Yes, a good win for a new-look Indian side on a tricky surface, which that legend Rahul Dravid handled with customary determination. But watching Harbhajan return match figures of 3 for 105 against a sorry line-up when Devendra Bishoo grabbed 7 for 140 - including dismissing Laxman, Dravid and Dhoni in quick succession -  was tough to digest.

Here was a surface with bounce and turn - the two facets any offspinner will thrive on, and more so Harbhajan - but he failed to deliver. His line was all over the place: too many wide deliveries which the left-handers - and there were five of them in the West Indies side - could leave alone, and then an equal number of deliveries drifting onto the pads off a short length. The batsmen were rarely bothered. When Harbhajan switched to around the stumps, he continued to feed the batsmen on the pads. What offspinner thrives on that line? Coolly, the batsmen tucked …
The tacky tiles ache for an identity.
The upholstery screams for comfort.
The neon sign above the entrance flickers for friendship.
The waiters' smiles quiver from claustrophobia.
The upturned glasses on the cold white tables beg to be toasted.
This is so not the breakfast of champions.

Manali

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40 kilometers. Up and down. From Manali to Patlikuhl and back. On mountain bikes. Through the hills of Himachal Pradesh, breathtaking scenery on either side, the Beas flowing to the right down in the valley below, alpine trees dotting the horizon and offering shelter from the sun, the road curving like a scythe, arms outstretched, wind in the face, music in in the ear. Amazing. Seven of us biked it to Patlikuhl, and two of us decided to do the return leg as well. It was a challenge, but one overcome through determination. Coming back was a lot of uphill, and my legs were aching and burning after the first climb. The two of us kept at it, stopping once for water and then at the halfway mark, for some hot tea at a dhaba. Then it was back on our bikes, legs pumping as we scaled the terrain and managed to stay clear of buses and trucks as the light faded and day made way for night. To reach our destination, the Dragon Lodge in Old Manali, and to slap backs and hug friends and retell the j…
The rain came down. To my left, three kids laughed and splashed in a puddle of muddy water. To my right, a laborer hauled a wagon of boxes covered by blue tarp, his every muscle creaking as he struggled to lug his load through traffic and heavy rain. In front,  a man on a scooter argued with a taxi driver. The rain came down. So this is monsoon.
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"Yeh hai Bruce Lee ka bhai, Choos Lee."

"Kutte ko billi ka salaam. Meeeeowwww."

If you've heard those two hilarious lines and can't place where you did, chances are you heard someone else use them. If you've seen Peecha Karo and can automatically place the source, well then all I have to say is SALAAM ... minus the meeeeowwww.

I recently got my hands on a copy of Peecha Karo, Pankaj Parashar's 1986 laugh riot starring Farooq Sheikh, Amjad Khan, Roma Manik, Rajendra Nath, Rajesh Puri, Anupam Kher, Viju Khote and, in a comedic pairing to rival their antics in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Ravi Baswani and Satish Shah as the bumbling secret agents, Hari Giridhara and Giri Haridhara.

This movie is up there with JBDY and Andaz Apna Apna. Surely the climax of AAA would not have been possible without Peecha Karo (go see it, it's on YouTube and available on Flipkart). The film is riddled with subtle (there's a No Smoking sign in a massive haystack in the middl…
"What happened to your hands?"

The look on the taxi driver's face was one of concern.

"Huh?"

"Your hands. What are those dots on your skin? Some disease?"

"No, not at all. Its common. Many people have it."

"I've never seen it. Looks like something happened."

"No, they're called ... forget it."

How can I explain freckles to him?