Being real cool
For Viswanathan and Susheela Iyer, their humble abode in Customs Colony, Besant Nagar is ensconced in quiet celebration yet again. Such occasions have come home quite often since their 'Baba' steered himself right into the collective consciousness of the chess fraternity more than 25 years ago and gave the nation another reason to celebrate. And as proud parents of Viswanathan Anand, they will surely soak in the soothing knowledge that their son, Viswanathan Anand is in reality the master of his own destiny. After the hypnotic stranglehold that events like the Kasab judgement, Tharoorgate, Modi and IPL, and of course India's much vaunted T20 World Cup campaign that sank without a trace in the Caribbeans, here is how the affable genius overcame the odds, without even squirming once.
A 40-hour ride from Frankfurt to Sofia isn't really the best way to warm-up for a game, even if you aren't playing the one of a physical nature. The spills of the volcanic ash meant Anand had to do just that. For a three week contest of twelve games lasting anything between two to seven hours, remaining physically fresh is an absolute must. Quite obviously, this long drive surely made a case for an appeal when the reigning world champion requested the organisers to postpone the match by three days. It was, but only by one day. And the exhausted champ walked into a well laid-out trap from Topalov to lose the first game quite easily. But two spanking wins got him back on his feet by the fourth game, and such was his tactical brilliance that it drew rare praise from the iconic Garry Kasparov who extolled Anand's remarkable form.
The 12-game rubber was being played under some inexplicably bizarre conditions too. Topalov for one, had invoked one of the strangest ever that existed in the history of this 124-year-old world championship.
For the first time since its inception, Topalov got a ban on any conversation between him and his opponent during the matches - the chess world reacted with obvious outrage, but Anand played on without a word. And the grapevine kept buzzing about the numerous problems he was having there while trying to defend his title. But when asked about it, Anand's reply to the media was "It's all fine. I didn't start those rumours."
Even if you discount the rumours, here's food for thought. The affable N Srinivasan, secretary of the cash-rich BCCI who also heads the Chess Federation, didn't even want to bid for the title match to be played here, even as sources in the Federation complained of diminishing finances. For a sports federation that boasts of perhaps one of the greatest modern exponents of the game, it surely wasn't asking for too much.
Nevertheless, Anand didn't wince, or complain, or for that matter give any indications to the quote-hungry media that he was playing to his disadvantage. Playing in Chennai would have spared him at least the 40-hour long drive to Sofia for one. Unflinching as always, he played the cool hand. The 'Cool Champion' you can surely call him bereft of any pun whatsoever.
Ironically, on the same day, the cool quotient disappeared from the 'Cool Captain's CV. The late-night IPL parties were to blame, quipped Indian captain M S Dhoni in front of a hungry Indian media contingent who were bursting at the seams, gearing up to write his obit. The heavy mileage points the members of the Indian team had clocked up during the IPL were being looked upon by Dhoni as the reasons that probably castled India's otherwise tepid campaign in the West Indies. Captaining the national side in a sport that arouses diametrically opposite reactions from 'cricket-crazy' India, Dhoni could have quite obviously squirmed at the bad press that could result out of India's virtual no-show at the T20 World Cup.
But why strum up reasons that sound just like excuses? Even three weeks ago, India's cricket fraternity was showering praises on the world's fastest growing domestic cricket competition? Barring the odd story of excesses being committed, the IPL was like everyone's game. From the current superstars of the Indian team, to well-paid commentators to even the foreign stars playing for the 'wonder' cash, literally everyone spoke in glowing terms about the IPL. So why then the benign reasons?
Dhoni is right in saying he and everyone else in the team, for that matter, play for the country. But isn't it obvious when you have the scorecard showing it to be the INDIAN team sheet instead of a Rajasthan Royals? Why state the obvious then? To paint the critics as unpatriotic?
While it is acknowledged that quite a few dissect the team and the players after only one bad performance. Captain Marvel should know better than to brand the entire media as not being lovers of the game.
While the attempt here would be not to criticise or castigate the team for the exit from the World T20, the point is to strike out what look like certain follies that set-up India's early flight back home. By scoring 163 on a pitch more familiar to the Indian team than the quick surface at Bridgetown, they had much less than what could be called a defendable score when they had to win by at least 20 runs. That they could have opted to chase in 17.4 overs was another option that was chucked away after the toss. That brings us to the second half of India's innings.
Only 73 added in the last 10 overs, when there were 8 wickets in hand. Yet again, Yusuf Pathan was held back much like Tendulkar held back Pollard in the IPL final. Dhoni did bring himself up the order, but Yuvraj at No.5 when he's obviously not having a great time out there? Scoring only 37 in the last 5 overs when our much-vaunted batting is considered to be the 'best' on paper?
Pointing fingers at the jet-setting during the IPL and its late-night parties won't help. Attending those parties wasn't compulsory, or else the BCCI would have let us know already in the aftermath of their much-publicised fallout with Lalit Modi. Surely it wasn't. Then why did the team attend it? Only to complain after exiting form the World T20?
According to the captain, our players got jaded by that. So, if I might say, according to common sense, the Nannes', Sangakkaras, Mathews' and Pietersens didn't!! Nothing affected their skills to give off their best for their teams!! Dhoni lauded the IPL for throwing up exciting talent like the Murali Vijays and the Jadejas, but will he now blame the same IPL for Vijay not being able to read the nature of the Barbados pitch?
While the IPL did provoke some interesting deviations in the name of strategy, one cannot fathom the move to play two seamers on a lightning quick Barbados strip! A Ravindra Jadeja was persisted with in crucial games while Piyush Chawla kept on warming the benches. On the funnier side, only Afridi's team could come on record to say they are happy not to have played the IPL!
Journalists have to be objective - but how to make sense of such ridiculously banal explanations? Couldn't the skipper admit that his team was found out yet again by sheer pace and bounce? The stark reality of being simply unable to play good fast bowling hangs heavy on Indian batsmen, and would take more than just football drills from coach Gary Kirsten and mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton to get our batsmen to get on to playing quality fast bowlers on such pitches as Barbados. Handling short-pitched stuff is the bane, and that MUST BE RECTIFIED.
Guess Dhoni should take a leaf out of Vishy Anand's book - the key is to be the best on the field and that's what counts.
Banning the IPL parties is purely the BCCI's prerogative, and the Board sure has its reasons to contemplate on that. But the need to reflect on the inadequacies within the players is of paramount importance. The onus is on the Board, the selectors, and of course the team management to decide on a solution. We rest our case, since we have something more important to do now - celebrate the remarkable success of Viswanathan Anand.
P.S. At the time of putting up this blog, the Chess Federation chief hasn't yet sent out a congratulatory mail for Anand!