Wednesday 18 February 2015


It has been twenty-three years and the saga of the victory delight continues. India-Pakistan at the World Cup is not just a match, a lot more than a ODI. Ask anyone on the streets, or Indians living in different parts of the world, even a non-cricket fan will give his or her opinion on this encounter. Reactions, plenty of them has ensured the hype continues till the time India meets its neighbour next time in a World Cup. The hype, the tension and a series of creative ads, all these provide excess baggage to what is supposed to be a scheduled cricket match in a World Cup. So far, it isn't been that way and I am not sure it will be normal keeping in mind the political relations we have. On any given day, this dual on the cricket field makes headlines and nothing short of victory would suffice for the supporters. Yes, it is a sport, there will be ups and downs, etc, etc - but they all cease to exist on one's mind come match day.

Waking up at four in the morning after having slept for just three hours was my way of getting ready to join the action that took place in Adelaide last Sunday. I was never up this early to watch a India-Pakistan match! I boarded the first train of the Sunday morning to reach a place where the match was being screened live - and I was not alone in this journey. This was the sixth time India was playing Pakistan and  each of those six encounters weren't the same, expect that India managed to win in all of it. Every time India faced Pakistan in a World Cup, my definition and understanding of the game of cricket had strengthened and these six encounters also serves well for my metamorphosis as a cricket fan and life in general.

My first introduction to cricket World Cup coincided with the first ever meeting of the arch-rivals India and Pakistan. A group encounter in Sydney, the 1992 match was a day-night affair, and as a seven-year old, I watched India win by bowling Pakistan out. The match being on a weekday, I only witnessed the second innings and flashes of this first victory still remains fresh in my memory. Probably, the win was the sole consolation for India's campaign as they managed only two wins from their eight matches. Pakistan would go on to win the World Cup. I took up cricket coaching lessons post the World Cup and cricket was permanently engrained since that time.

By the time the next World Cup began, India repeatedly found it tough to get past Pakistan - remember the Friday evenings of Sharjah? However, World Cup was a different ball game and the two teams lined up to face each other in the quarterfinals stage in Bangalore, my home town. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I was not fortunate to be on the ground unlike few of my cousins and friends. Television was my solace and along with few other friends and family members (who also faced my fate), we watched every ball, absorbed all the drama that took place and cherished India's victory and with it, the passage to the semi-finals. If the defeat at the hands of Srilanka was embarrassing, the quarter-finals lose would have been unthinkable. The lose against Srilanka was puzzling to me as I repeatedly pestered my father as to what was happening! I was in tears and didn't have an idea as to why wickets fell every five minutes.

I was in class ten, and the timings of England matches suited my schedule. My classes post my summer holidays began just when the Super six round had started. After a royal defeat at the hands of Australia, the match against Pakistan in Manchester was a knock-out match for India. And outside the grounds, tensions of different sorts loomed as the two countries were engaged in a war in Kargil. While soldiers did their best, the attention and pressure were on these two teams like never before. A defeat for Pakistan was inconsequential - but the result was not just restricted to cricket. It was winning a war and trust me, I cannot imagine what might have been the reaction of fanatics if the result was anything but a victory. India didn't make it to the final four while Pakistan were humbled by the Australian team in the finals. This exit was overlooked as for most of the Indians, their world cup was to defeat Pakistan and nothing else. But, like many of the cricket fans, I was disappointed when India exited after the Super Six stage.

Four years later, World Cup moved to the African continent for the first time and by this time I was in my first year of engineering. A group of us gathered at a friend's place and lived through every over of the game. While Anwar ambled his way and scored the first century for an India-Pakistan encounter, Sachin Tendulkar breezed his way, demolishing the trio of pace men, the Pakistan's backbone with disdain. This was attacking batsmanship at its best, and people like me who witnessed it live can only explain what each stroke coming out of Tendulkar's bat felt like. That was an innings which had to be experienced as it happened, the feelings of watching it now does not provide the same essence as it did on the evening of March 1st, 2003. India won the match and thereby made Pakistan difficult to qualify for the next round. We took our bikes out and went on the streets to join the victory parade! What a thrill, what an experience!

The year 2007 was an anti-climax as both India and Pakistan, who on paper were assured of meeting in Super eights were out of the tournaments at the group stage. I must admit, I was holidaying in Goa when both the teams played their respective matches against Bangladesh (India) and Ireland (Pakistan). I was earning by this time and had plans to also visit the Caribbean islands, if India progressed further. If, only!

I chose to work in the sports industry as a result of cricket. If cricket had not fascinated me when I was about six, probably I would not have pursued further in sports. As it turns out, I was in India and in the middle of my wedding preparations when the World Cup 2011 returned to the sub-continent after 15 years.

I was in Indore on the day of the semi-finals of the 2011 ICC World Cup. By this time, I was married and had experienced my first World Cup match live on the ground. My flight back to Kochi was planned so that we could catch the start of the game. Instead, there were issues with the flight and I landed in Delhi, Hyderabad and finally in Kochi a good seven hours later. By that time, I had missed Tendulkar's awkward 85, Sehwag's five boundaries in an over and Wahab Riaz silencing the local crowd by getting Yuvraj Singh out for a golden duck. At work, we had our TV screen on and work took a back step as the entire working staff of the Kochi cricket stadium were in front of a TV. We decided to get back to our hotel and alone in my hotel room I saw the Pakistani resistance fading away. India won the match, Sachin took his third MoM for India-Pakistan encounters, and India went on to win the World Cup few days later. As a fan and a follower of Indian cricket, my dream of watching India win the World Cup came true.


Now I have just entered my 30's and I just had a long day last Sunday - a day which saw Kohli scoring a hundred, a first for an Indian (for India-Pakistan WC encounters). This match was a first without Sachin Tendulkar and that is indicator of how long these encounters have been placed. Like always, this encounter too started out as a match which both teams could win. I am not sure whether the weight of those five defeats fell heavy on Pakistani players; in my opinion after watching all the six encounters live, repeat and highlights many times over, the only conclusion is - that India always managed to be the better side come the D-day. There is no other explanation and for statistics, they do not matter when the players from both sides start fresh on a different day, at a new venue in a future tournament. This 6-0 in favour of India, I must admit has been a joy simply because of the moments that connects various stages of my life, a timeline or a milestone where I can reflect upon how cricket and my life overall has been a series of  love-hate moments; how it has given me pleasure and pain; made me accept the outcomes better; face the challenges and look forward to all those exciting things that are yet to happen. 

Thursday 5 February 2015


A road part of Monsanto Park in its current state 
Like many of the European countries in the past that have expressed interest in motorsports and have hosted Formula One races, Portugal too came up with a proposal. Since the 1950's, there were constant negotiations with the sport authorities about a race in Portugal and four years later, those negotiations bore fruit. With no stand alone race tracks, the streets of Porto first hosted a sports car race and then soon after in 1954 Lisbon hosted a race in the most unlikely part of the city, Monsanto Park.

If any one of the readers have made a visit to Lisbon, one cannot miss the name 'Monsanto Park' in many of the tourist maps. Monsanto Park was created by the local authorities in 1930's as a plan to reforest the bare lands of Monsanto Hills. With the disruption of the existing vegetation, Monsanto Park provided the right platform to replant many of the trees and create a park with roads, access, play areas and to conduct leisure activities. In this area of roughly 2,500 acres, a race track of 5.44 km was carved out of the forest park.

With the unpopular sentiments of hosting the first ever Portuguese Grand Prix at Porto, Boavista was overlooked and instead Monsanto Park stepped up to host the second Portuguese Grand Prix in 1959.

It is always a challenge to host races on public roads where temporary safety measures needs to be incorporated keeping in mind the race cars have no speed limits.

In the 1959 race, Stirling Moss, the ace driver of the 50's raced with Rob Walker's team and demonstrated the speed of Cooper-Climax outpacing the Cooper factory team to start the race in pole position. With no hopes of winning the driver's championship, the Brit had nothing to lose and his qualifying pace became the talk of the town.

The championship fight was on between the Australian Jack Brabham driving the revolutionary Cooper-Climax factory's car and leading the driver's standings by five points over Ferrari's Tony Brooks.

Sixteen cars qualified for the race and surprisingly, five of them were Americans. With the August Sunday that year being one of the hottest days of the summer in Lisbon, the race was scheduled to start at 5 pm sparing the drivers to race in that intense heat.

At the start, Moss got a poor one and quickly slipped to third position with Brabham taking the lead followed by Masten Gregory. While one championship contender was at the helm, Tony Brooks on the other hand was the last car running at the end of the first lap. Moss was quick to respond and was back in the lead on lap 2, a position which he never gave up for the rest of the race.

The first of the casualties to retire from the race happened to be on lap three when Innes Ireland ended his race with a gear box failure. Two laps later, future world champions Graham Hill and Phil Hill got tangled in a spin which severely damaged both cars.

The championship leader Jack Brabham was the next unfortunate driver to be thrown out of the race. He went off the track and hit a telegraph pole while avoiding the last placed driver Mario Cabral. This promoted his team-mate Bruce McLaren into third position with Gregory Masten taking the place behind Stirling Moss, who by now was on a race of his own. However, McLaren's luck ran out thirteen laps later and he too retired from the race owing to transmission problems.

While all this drama was on, Moss seemed unstoppable and he was on a different zone when compared to other drivers that trailed him.  By the time he started his last lap, the 62nd of the race, Stirling Moss had lapped every driver present on the circuit; such was the domination of the Brit and more importantly, the superiority of Cooper-Climax. After a disappointing season leading up to this race in Monsanto Park, Moss was finally able to win his first Grand Prix of the year and as a result moved five points behind Tony Brooks to be placed third in the driver's championships. Jack Brabham retained his lead and would go on to win his first of the three world titles. 


I have spent some time around the area of Monsanto Park and also happened to drive a passenger car around the area. It is hard to imagine an F1 race in such a backdrop with some sections having tramlines as a part of racing circuit. Unless, there are measures taken on the lines of Albert Park, Australia, there is hardly any future for such public roads. 

Post the Monsanto Park race, the future looked bleak for Lisbon  and after the 1960 Boavista race in Porto, Portugal had to wait until 1984 to host another Grand Prix. That took place not far away from the pit straights of Monsanto circuit - which serves as the autostrada to Estoril, a name which was associated with F1 for more than a decade up until the mid 90's, when it regularly hosted the F1 races. 

And unlike Estoril, which is a purpose built F1 circuit, Monsanto was a street circuit which did not step up to host more races and there by relegated to be just a one race circuit, although the place continues to be as popular as ever without Formula One. 

Courtesy: allf1.info

Monday 2 February 2015


Sir Norman Brookes - a portrait of the Wizard 
Sir Norman Brookes passed away in 1968, however his name isn't and it comes to life at the conclusion of the Australian Open, when the winner of men's singles is presented with Norman Brookes Challenge Cup. The first left-hander and the first non-Brit to win the prestigious Wimbledon title, he was at the helm of Australian Tennis and was instrumental in the development of tennis through his long stay with the Australian Lawn Tennis Association and being one of the 'brains' behind the creation of 'Australian Open' which he won once in 1911.

It was in the 1880's, the colonial game of tennis reached the shores of Australia and New Zealand. With limited transportation and geographical constraints, tennis down under was pretty much an inter-state affair. Victoria (1880) and New South Wales (1885)  rose early to embrace lawn tennis - and within few years, impressed by the success of these inter-colonial games - New Zealand (1886), Queensland (1888), South Australia (1890), Tasmania (1893) and Western Australia (1895) started to host state championships. It was in this environment, Norman Brookes began his tennis career from Victoria.

An elegant left-handed player, he made headlines when he played a five-setter (and lost) against the well-known Wilberforce Eaves (Australian who played tennis in the UK), who later went on to coach him. Under his guidance, Brookes underwent few changes in his technique and in mindset and strengthened his overall play. Together with Alf Dunlop, they formed a team which would take Australia tennis to the world - a result which helped to create the Australasia Lawn Tennis Association together with New Zealand, a crucial first step to gain an entry to play in the coveted Davis Cup.

With Australasia participating in the 1905 Davis Cup, many of the leading Australian tennis players felt the need to participate in the Wimbledon championships since the Davis Cup was held in the British Isles (Britain being the defending champions). Norman Brookes led the pack and reached the challenge round (finals) before his progress was halted by Laurence Doherty. And in the Davis Cup, Australasia were humbled by the USA in the final round (challenge round was the ultimate finals back then).

It was in 1907 when Norman Brookes would showcase some of his best tennis. Norman Brookes stunned the locals when he won the singles title 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 defeating Arthur Gore in the process becoming the first non-Brit and the first left hander to win the Wimbledon title. Soon after, partnering with Tony Wilding he would win the doubles title as well. Carrying on this momentum, the duo of Brookes and Wilding would defeat USA in the final round of Davis Cup 3-2 and by the same margin defeat the British team in the challenge round to lift their first Davis Cup title.

In 1908, the defending champions Australasia would win it again - and this time in front of the home crowd in Melbourne. He would win four more Davis Cup titles (1909, 1911, 1914 and 1919). And due to his business obligations he could not make a trip to Wimbledon to defend his title.
After having formed the national association for tennis, the Australasian championships on the lines of Wimbledon, US Open and French Open was started in 1905. Norman Brookes for many reasons (business and away trips) could not take part in the Australasia championships and finally made his maiden appearance in 1911, which he won comfortably.

Tony Wilding and Sir Norman Brookes 
Months before the war broke out in the year 1914, Norman Brookes would win the singles title at Wimbledon  defeating his mate Tony Wilding and the duo would win the doubles title and later the Davis Cup. While Tony Wilding registered with the British Army for the war, Brookes was not selected owing to his ill-condition of stomach ulcers. He was instead posted in various places in the capacity of administrator during the war. Wilding-Brookes, the name which brought many glories to Australasian tennis would no longer play a match together as Wilding became a war casualty (died in 1915). Tennis would resume post war and Brookes spearheads once again to win another Davis Cup title, this time without his friend, mate Tony Wilding. With his best years behind him, he focuses his life more on business matters and played occasional tournaments. Even during his fading years, he managed to win doubles title at US Open in 1919 and Australasian Open in 1924. 

After having a successful career which saw him many championships, it was time for Brookes to take the next step, the role of a administrator and be the necessary conduit for the continued success of Australian tennis. Personally, this is a crucial phase of any athlete's career - post his or her playing days and how relevant their contributions are towards the game. He first became the President of the Victorian Tennis - a post which he held for 12 years and then from 1926 for 28 years, he was the top man of Lawn Tennis Association of Australia. By this time, an international calendar was in place and the international governing body had recognised the four major tournaments to be exclusive - a honour which is still in place. During his reign as the administrator, Australia won the Davis Cup six more times and had helped to build a structure which enabled Australian players to dominate world tennis from the late 50's up until early 80's.

For his services to tennis, he was knighted by the British Government in 1939. A man who put Australia on the world tennis map, the best honour came from his home country. St. Kilda, a neighbourhood where he once lived his life and South Yarra where he breathed his last are all the sub-urban areas shadowed by the more popular Victorian city of 'Melbourne'. It is here at the beginning of each year, many male tennis players showcase their talents in pursuit of Norman Brookes Challenge Cup (Australian Open men's singles title) and it is here the legend of Norman Brookes comes to life year after year.