The Development Conundrum of Aranmula Airport

Kerala’s development always poses a dichotomy. Kerala is traditionally assumed to be not such a friendly state to investors. Labour strikes, politically supported trade unions and a skepticism towards large businesses have all made industries turn their face away from Kerala. But even with all these presumable challenges to growth, Kerala is one of the most developed states in India. It has over the time fashioned out an economic model of a unique kind. In fact there is a Wikipedia page called ‘Kerala Model’. The high literacy rate of Kerala can be attributed as one of the main reasons for this success. It leads to high levels of political participation from people of every class and thus Kerala has managed to bring in so much of developments keeping in mind the welfare of the public.

A new project which has created a lot of controversy in Kerala is the proposed Aranmula International Airport. It is a private airport planned to be built by the KGS group at Aranmula, a heritage village in Pathanmathitta district. Aranmula is a famous pilgrimage centre with the Parthasarathy Temple being one of the prominent Vaishnava temples in Kerala.

The proposed airport at Aranmula is a private airport, which if it comes to existence will be the fourth international airport in Kerala adding to the ones at Trivandrum, Kochi and Calicut. But it will be the first private airport in the state. Ever since the project was announced, there has been a massive protest from environmentalists and social workers citing that it is supposed to serve vested interests of private parties rather than the public. Now let us have a look at the arguments for and against the airport.

The main arguments for the airport are:

Demand from NRIs

It is a well known fact that Kerala has a healthy NRI population. Over the last eight years air traffic in Kerala has increased five times. The supporters of the project says that an Airport in Pathanamthitta is an aspiration of millions of people from this part of the world who are working outside the country and who are instrumental in supporting the Government exchequer with the much needed supply of foreign currency.  Also some studies have shown that 40 %  Kerala’s air traffic is hailing from the influential zone of this airport.

Influential Zone

The airport is expected to serve four districts in Kerala namely Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Idukki and Alappuzha.  Out of the foreign and domestic tourists arrival to Kerala, these four districts together accounts for about 21 percent of foreign tourists and 14 percent of domestic tourists.

Employment Potential

There is also a  huge employment potential that a project like this generates. Some estimates have shown that around 1500 direct and 6000 indirect employment opportunities may arise as as a result of this project. Also there are plans to have a Special Economic Zone, a multi-specialty hospital, a shopping mall, a luxury hotel and an international school within the airport complex.

The main arguments against the airport are:

Environmental Challenges

The conversion of paddy fields for setting up big industrial purposes is a not a new thing in Kerala. The Kerala State Bio Diversity Board observed that 80% of the 500 acres of land taken over for the project were paddy fields. In April 2013, the National Green Tribunal stayed any constructions at the proposed site. But the airport project was given environmental clearance by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in November 2013.

In January 2014 , in a report filed to the Kerala High Court, S. Subash Chand, Advocate Commissioner, said that indiscriminate reclamation of paddy fields and blocking of the tributary of the Pampa river would endanger valuable plant species, fish, and microorganism. The report also added that such large-scale conversion of paddy fields would have an adverse effect on the food chain and would accelerate the depletion of fish resources and other flora and fauna in the Pampa river. The reclamation would deprive fish species of its breeding grounds. Also biodiversity loss and water shortage would be caused due to razing of hills in the nearby areas.

Proximity to the temple

The proximity of the airport to the Parthsarathy Temple has been a major cause of concern among its detractors and the local people. Aranmula has been declared as a heritage village by UNESCO and the temple is an iconic and integral part of the cultural fabric of the place. As per studies by the Project Planning Report of Airport Authority of India, the flag post (Kodimaram) of the temple is to be shortened for the airport project. Apart from that the report also calls for a change of the temple’s entrance from it’s current position.

Land Acquisition and Eviction of people 

The biggest concern for people would be the eviction of people. Around 3000 families face the prospect of being deprived of their land for the project.

Destruction of Heritage 

Supposedly, the new airport would bring in more tourists. But it would destroy much of what is attractive to visitors. Aranmula has been declared a global heritage village by UNESCO. The place is renowned for metal mirrors made from unique clay and the annual snake boat regatta along the Pampa river. The runway would be less than 1 kilometre from Aranmula’s famous temple, visited by pilgrims from far and wide. Aircraft noise would not be conducive to peaceful contemplation.

Right from the very start, the airport project has come under a lot of scrutiny from  the public. The agitations against it have been led by the Aranmula  Paithruka Grama Karmasamithy (Heritage Village Action Council) with the support of eminent personalities like poet cum environmentalist Sugathakumari, social worker Kummanam Rajashekharan, a politician of an unblemished track history,V.M Sudheeran,  political activist and writer C.R Neelakandan and many others. There have been a lot of protests going on in Aranmula for the last three years. Rallies, fasting and human chains have all been conducted as means of conveying the public’s dissent.

The question now remains. How long can the people of Aranmula protect their heritage. How long can they hold on to the soil under their feet ? The airport may fulfill the flying aspirations of many people, but will it be at the cost of cutting the wings off a lot of other people.

 

 

This post first appeared on ‘The Alternative’

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A better polity begins with better citizens

Meera is a very good student. She has just completed her secondary school education and she has a very good percentage of 78. The whole world had been grilling it into her head that 10th is the most important juncture in her life. “If you put the hard yards in now, the rest of your life will be secured”.

But just like everyone else, Meera now realizes that the battle has only started. The immediate challenge now is to get an admission in a reputed school. The school she has been studying gives admission to only those students with 90 percent or more. The next best school in the locality is a bit more generous with the benchmarks. They have set their bars down to 80 percent. But she would miss out still. “That essay question with 15 marks. Why on earth did I leave it for the last”. She is cursing her luck now.

Meera’s father works in a bank. He has never taken advantage of his social contacts to achieve anything in his life thus far. But now he may be forced to do so. He is acquainted with the MLA from his place who has some stakes in the school’s management. Approach him or not ? He is in a bit of conundrum. But as days pass by, the uncertainty over his daughter’s admission grows. His wife’s face is becoming grumpier by day.

Finally, he decides to let go of his moral obligations for a good cause, his daughter’s future. After all, it’s not bribing, he thinks. Sure enough, he doesn’t have to give any money or do any other favours to the MLA. It’s only a matter of couple of phone calls and the seat is secured for Meera, but at the same time a seat is lost for another Meera who has more than 80 % and is eligible for admission under normal circumstances.

But for now,  Meera and her family don’t have to bother about that. They can go on blaming the system comfortable in the knowledge that they are outside the realms of these deceitful practices that have engulfed our society.

*****

Rohit is thrilled. He is over the moon. From a very young age, he has been fantasizing  about going to the U.S. Now, it has become a reality. He finds wrong in most of the things in India.  Even though he had been born and brought up in India, he hates the dirty streets, the crowded buses, the corrupted officials and everything that have had become to characterize our country. But he no longer has to be content with any of these quirks.

He is now faced with a small problem. The procedures for his visa would require him to submit his birth certificate. But poor man, he doesn’t have a birth certificate. He now has to go to the Corporation to fetch it, but he doesn’t have much time left to finish all the paper works.  If he applies for the document now, it will take at least two weeks to get it. One of his friends comes up with the idea that if  Rohit pays the clerk dealing with applications of these kind at the Corporation office some money, he would make sure everything is done faster.

Rohit doesn’t have to think twice about it. With his friend, he goes to the corporation office and tells the clerk how urgent it is for him to get that certificate and they also fix an amount for the clerk’s assistance. The rest is easy. The clerk makes sure that the files are moved smoothly from one table to another. Rohit gets his birth certificate within three days and the packing for U.S can be started now.

*****

These are just made up stories, but not unfamiliar to us. At various times, we might have encountered circumstances like this in our lives as well or have seen them in the life of people close to us. Times when we are caught in a dilemma. What’s the right thing to do ? Will doing the right thing be of any help now ? Is it no big a deal if I just bypass the rules for this one instance ? We often end up doing wrong things knowing that we are doing it wrong, but we tend to console ourselves by leaning on the fact that it’s fair to do such small malpractices in a society which is stained with corruption all over.

Our nation has been going through turbulent times. Public has been crying out for justice and better governance. But there are some questions that we need to answer as citizens of this country. We have always been aware of our rights and been fighting for it. Be it better roads, infrastructure, education, health and anything that the state offers, we need it better. These are all justified demands as well because a progressive society should always be getting better on these fronts. But are we concerned about our responsibilities as much as we care about our rights ? Are we playing victims of our system far too  much ? Is our indignation always valid ?

One disconcerting attitude from the public has been the ‘Us vs Them’ way of thinking. For us, politics has always been some sort of dirty game played by corrupt people who are taking advantage of their powers and are looting us. Sure enough, there are spoiled brats in politics. But not all of them are there to make personal gains. Extremely cynic public is not a healthy sign for a well-functioning democratic set up. We have to develop our conscience so as to decide what’s the right thing to do for the overall progress of our country.

The recent success of Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi elections has given rise to rejuvenated hopes for people. On a closer analysis, this success owes a lot to the anti-incumbency mindset and the political uncertainty of the public. But in the longer run for a movement like the AAP’s to gain traction and make visible changes in the society, people have to shed this kind of apolitical and skeptic outlook and become model citizens themselves. In democracy it’s the people or the Aam Aadmi who have the real powers. So it’s the right time to start the clean up from the bottom itself and we, the people of this country are all responsible for it.

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A Year of Fresh Hopes

Indian cricket team is about to start its first overseas tour after Sachin Tendulkar‘s retirement. The team has been playing a lot of cricket without Tendulkar over the past few years, but now it is official that Tendulkar is a former Indian cricketer. As India prepare for a challenging and at the same time exciting tour in South Africa, let us look at the year 2013, that has given fresh hopes for Indian cricket.

2013 has been an outstanding year for India. They have won everything, not only virtually, but in reality too. The ODI series against England, the test series against Australia, both at home, the Champions Trophy in England, the tri-series in West Indies, the one day series against Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe, the one day series against Australia at home, and the test and one day series against West Indies also at home.

It’s a remarkable achievement and a run that could be classified as the stuff of champions. But one diminishing factor about this is that most of the times India have played at home this year. All the six test match victories have been in India, that too against oppositions who were clearly not well equipped to handle sub-continental conditions.

One unquestionable aspect of India’s performance is that they have become a better ODI side over the years. They now play this format better than most teams and are rightly placed as the number one team in ODI cricket at the moment. A lot of the credit for this success goes to the batting firepower that India have at their disposal.

It  has often come to the team’s rescue even when the bowling has been abysmal at times. In fact, India under MS Dhoni’s captaincy have started to win the big moments in a match and they have learnt  to cope with pressure situations and to come out victorious, a trait exhibited by the Australian teams of the early 2000s.

If we look at India’s ODI record from the year 2000, it is in 2013 that India have won most matches in a calendar year, 22 wins from 31 matches.  In fact, even if the list is extended back to India’s introduction to ODI cricket, there is only one year, 1998, when India had won more matches in a calendar year than in 2013,  24 wins from 40 matches.

India in ODIs from 2000

India in ODIs from 2000

Even though, all the test match victories this year have  been in India, it is a significant step in the right direction as far as Indian cricket is concerned. After the much talked about overseas debacles in England and Australia and the home series defeat to England, the team really needed to get its act together in the test match arena.

Post the retirements of stalwarts like Dravid and Laxman, the young batsmen have shown no stage fear and lent stability to the batting order. People have already started calling out Dhawan, Pujara, Kohi and Rohit as the new Fab Four. Whether or not that’s fair, it must be acknowledged that they look every inch, the men to carry forward, India’s batting legacy in test cricket.

India in Tests from 2000

India in Tests from 2000

Apart from the blotch in 2011- 2012,  India have had a decent run in test match cricket too over the past decade. All the captains who skippered during this period valued overseas performance and the results were there to show for.

India had won test series in Pakistan, West Indies,England and New Zeland. Drawn series in Sri Lanka, Australia and South Africa. At home, they have lost only three series during this period, one against South Africa in 2000, one against the mighty Australia in 2004 and the other against a resolute and clinical England in 2012.

If India manages to win both the test matches in South Africa, it will be a new record as it will be the first time in their cricket history, they win all the matches in a calendar year. That looks like a far cry considering they have to beat the world’s best test side at their own backyard.

All the fans will be hoping for is a decent fight from a young team, and if they can provide that, India can cap off this wonderful year of 2013, one that may well go on to be known as the year which saw a new a dawn in Indian cricket.

Stats Courtesy : ESPNCricinfo Statsguru

This post first appeared on Sportskeeda

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December 5, 2013 · 10:57 am

Tendulkar Time

Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. Nov 14, 2013, the first day of the second test match.  It’s the evening session. After West Indies were bundled out for a measly 182 in their first innings,  India begin their innings rather smoothly and briskly. The West Indies bowlers are delivering on a plate for the Indian openers and they are taking full toll of it. Murali Vijay drives one past the bowler, a picture perfect on drive. No, not quite though, everything is perfect except for the fact that it is played by the wrong batsman. We wish if it had been played by the number 4 batsman, the man who is assumed to have patented that shot.

We personally don’t want to see him coming out to bat today. What if  he gets out today itself ? We don’t want the main act to be finished, done and dusted, within the first day. There should be something to look forward to on day 2. We want to feel the anxiety and thrill over a Tendulkar-to-bat day overnight. We want to be a part of an early morning crowd thronging into the Wankhede stadium anticipating something special. 

Shikhar Dhawan pulls out his favourite sweep shot against Shillingford and top edges it. That is very much against the run of play, we think.  Chetheshwar Pujara joins Vijay, the duo which knows how to string together big partnerships. Surely they will play nightwatchmen to Tendulkar, we hope. But after two balls, Vijay gets an inside edge to backward short leg. He looks disappointed, rightly so because he has been batting beautifully. The umpire consults with the Third Umpire for the no-ball, but everyone knows that it’s only a formality.

Vijay walks back and we can now see ‘The Man’ coming down the stairs. It’s not clear from our end. We are at the North Stand exactly opposite to the players pavilion, but we can see it in our mind, Tendulkar putting on his gloves through the steps. We can hear the decibel levels going several notches up as he takes each step towards the middle. In fact we are contributing to the noise even though we are tensed. The guard of honour from the West Indies players is already in place. The umpires also join in. Tendulkar reaches the middle now. 

The grand entry

The grand entry

It’s 3.30 only now. The play can be extended to 5 pm if 20 more overs are not bowled within the scheduled close of play. That’s a lot of time and overs. I am trying to tell myself to concede the fact that I might have to leave the stadium disappointed today. The fun might well be over by stumps. But there’s Virat Kohli anyway. What a treat watching him has been of late. What about a swashbuckling knock from Dhoni tomorrow. It’s going to be entertaining in any case. But even then we badly want him to stay not out at the close of play.

What can be done to make sure that Sachin doesn’t get out. The first and the easiest step is not to sit. Nobody is sitting in the crowd anyway.  The first ball, he survives, bounces short of  the short -leg fielder. There is real tension in the air. You can cut it with a knife, but you can never make it subside. My friend is urging people to keep quiet and not to put the master under pressure with the Sachin- Sachin chants that have been resonating around  Wankhede. What an absurd request by him !

An over later, it’s Shillingford again to Tendulkar, his nemesis from Kolkata. In fact, off spinners have been fancying a bowl at Tendulkar for a while now. He needs to get off the mark. He plays an ugly hoick across the line and manages to pick up a single. It’s felt as if it is a release shot.  He won’t be emulating Bradman in his last test, after all.  I am trying to make sure that I stay in the perfect position. I don’t want to jinx him in anyway possible. If  Tendulkar’s quest at the crease is for balance, ours is also for balance of a different kind. A balanced state from where we can let him play without getting out, simple. If that means keeping even the tiniest piece of paper around us in the exact same position as it was for the previous delivery, then so be it. It’s an esoteric superstition that only cricket fans can understand.

Tendulkar is beginning to hit his stride. He has already hit Shillingford for a couple of boundaries. The crowd is beginning to loosen up. But I can’t do that just yet I feel. I am ready to stand up for the whole innings if needed, I am ready to repeat the routines if that keeps him going out there in the middle. Shillingford is the main danger, I feel. My friend is telling me that Shillingford hasn’t yet hit the right length to trouble Tendulkar. I understand that, but I reply to him saying that he will hit his length the very next ball. I often try this counter jinxing technique with Tendulkar, where I think or speak about all the possible harmful things that can happen to him while batting.  It can be a ball that keeps low all of a sudden, I picture him squatting and getting bowled. It can be a ripper of an off break going through the gates. It can be him trying to play a cute paddle and missing the ball and finding himself dead in front of the stumps or it can be an umpire trying to show his ability to not be swayed by emotions and thus giving a marginal decision against Tendulkar. I have gone through all such scenarios in my mind. Hopefully I have counter jinxed them all for Sachin.

Pujara is turning over the strike at will and Tendulkar is looking more and more assured at the crease. But all the setting up work could come to nothing in the next three overs. Darren Sammy bowls a loosener, or is that the best he offers. The straight bat meets the ball, not much of a  follow through. Mid on fielder can fetch the ball from the boundary. Now that is a perfect on-drive. Everyone around knows that this is special. We are high-fiving with people we don’t even know. There is a genuine sense of satisfaction on everyone’s face. We are no longer clapping and praying for a toothless old master, we are cheering on and witnessing the real master who has just produced his trademark shot. There are people who have spent the same X as us or less than X or more than X for their tickets. But everyone now feels as if whatever has been spent is well worth it.

The day is over. Sachin is batting on 38. The perfect scenario. Next day will turn out to be a full house. Pujara’s score and  India’s total score ? Most people don’t know and they don’t care about it too. To be fair, we too are not aware of the overall picture. We are walking by a maidan after play and someone asks us what the state of the match is. “Sachin not out on 38″ . He asks for nothing more too and goes away. Has he smiled hearing the news ? We want to tell it to everyone, spread smiles all around and just basically cherish those moments.

******

Day 2 arrives. The moving day of a test match these days, except that for this match, the game has moved forward a lot on the first day itself. We are sitting on seats that offer the best view from the North Stand, upper level. We know that today someone will come demanding our seats (theirs in fact) showing the seat number. We reach two hours prior to the game. But that is of no use now as more and people come saying “yeh, mera seat hai, please move”. 

Thus we are now sitting on our original seats. The view is not as perfect as it was before. But why bother about that, we never thought we would be able to get in and there were days when we might have had wished to become a fly on the walls of Wankhede for this match to get a piece of the action. So let’s settle and enjoy Sachin or get really nervous for him. Sachin looks relaxed today morning. This is not a fresh start for him it feels. He is trying to dazzle the crowd one last time.

He goes for that favourite upper cut despite a third man fielder is being stationed. For a moment, I think it’s over. No, the umpire hasn’t heard anything and he is safe for now. May be it’s time to become more careful now as a spectator. We shouldn’t be betraying him in this last hurray. I start to follow a pattern of pre-ball routines that will serve Tendulkar well in the middle. I look to the scoreboards to my right and left one after another before every delivery that Sachin faces.

It seems to be working wonders. Sachin drives Tino Best past mid off for a four to reach his half century. ‘Sachin, Sachin’  gets louder and more importantly happier by the minute. Our throats are working overtime, but not everyday they have to do this. We are talking among ourselves that Tendulkar seems to be in that zone. Moreover he is determined to show off. He is happy to go for shots and risk his wicket in the process. Tino Best has been following through on the pitch and coming very close to Tendulkar at the strikers end, trying to upset his concentration with some words and stern looks. After the end of an over, Sachin goes past Best who is on his haunches and seems to have gently tapped on his head. This is a master of 24 years of experience cherishing every moment of this grand finale.

First over after the drinks break, fifth ball. Has he caught it ? We know it’s over. Tendulkar is gone for 74. How did it happen ? Have I violated my balance ?  Have I been sitting when the ball was bowled ?  More importantly, what should we do now ? Stay silent and analyze that dismissal ?  But before that we have to  give that rousing applause for one last time for Sachin seems to be in no mood to hang around. He walks back pretty quickly and takes off his helmet within the field itself. That’s so rare, I’m thinking. He turns around and raises his bat acknowledging all sections of the crowd.

Not again!!!

Not again!!!

We are pretty sure that we have seen the last of  Tendulkar with a bat in hand and while it lasted,  those 2.5 hours in all, they epitomized our life thus far. It’s one big emotional roller-coaster that we are parting with, one that has been enjoyable all the way even through the tensions and the apprehensions, one that has made us do all sorts of weird things, and one that has made us look forward to another day in life.

Our message to Sachin!!!

Our message to Sachin!!!

*****

P.S : I miss those days, those days from two weeks back when we were on a massive mission, a challenge indeed where we had to be single minded and give all our attention to the task at hand to succeed. That was the biggest hunt for tickets for a cricket match we ever had to do and for sure will remain the biggest in the future too. The group we had created for conversation on the topic was buzzing always. In fact, it was the only group with so much activity that I have ever been a part of.

“Hey, I  found a guy on Twitter, he has tickets for North Stand”. “I got the number of a guy from Internet, who seems to be an MCA member or he seems to know someone from the MCA”.  “Good, keep in touch with him”, “I think  X  is a decent buy, but try to bring it down to X- Y “. It went on like that for two weeks and finally we got our tickets for an amount that we still thought was too high, but after all, this was no ordinary occasion. This was the curtains coming down to our childhood, or more clearly our life thus far. We just had to be there at Wankhede for the farewell and we managed it. Thank You Almighty for making it happen.

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That On-Drive

A report from the first day of the historic final test match of Sachin Tendulkar played at the Wankhede, Mumbai on Nov 14, 2013.

This post first appeared on Manorma Online on Nov 14, 2013.

*****

So much has happened over the course of the day. But in the end, what remains in my mind is only the deafening noise accompanying a short man to the field, the sacred turf where he was identified as a child prodigy. Since then he has gone on to conquer the world, moreover conquer our hearts. Our relationship with Sachin Tendulkar has always been about urging him to make us feel good, make us sleep better. It was no different today as well, when he came out to bat.

Mathew Hayden describes the Indian worship towards Sachin as a frantic appeal by a nation. Today, that frantic appeal had a demanding tone to it, a demand arisen purely out of the understanding of the fact that this would probably be the last chance for us to take solace in Tendulkar. Tendulkar came out to bat when India lost their second wicket, that of Murali Vijay with the score on 77. But the whole day, it has been about Tendulkar only.

The morning when I reached the Wankhede, an hour before the start of the match, there were long queues already in place with people wanting to get in and be a part of this historic occasion right from the very first ball. India won the toss and put West Indies into bat on a pitch which had good carry for the bowlers and a bit of sideways movement. Whether it’s his last match or not, whether he is actively involved in the play or not, one cannot escape the ‘Sachiiin Sachiiin’ chants in a ground in India. At once, Sachin himself gestured towards the crowd suggesting that it should not be all about him and that the bowler is the one in need of all the backing when he is charging into bowl.

West Indies lost Chris Gayle to a sharp and well directed short delivery from Mohammed Shami who seemed to be carrying his form from the Kolkata victory to here also. Darren Bravo played some attacking shots against Ashwin but fell prey to him just before lunch. West Indies finished the first session with the score on 93 for 2. Indian captain MS Dhoni must have thought about giving Tendulkar a bowl at some stage in the match, because the crowd was constantly in his hear with “We want Sachin, We want Sachin” .

Dhoni resisted that temptation and the main bowlers were more than par for the course as the second session saw a collapse from the West Indies team that has become a characteristic of their test performances in the recent years. The middle and late order batsmen were sorted out by the Indian spinners with sharp turn and bounce. Once Shivnarine Chanderpaul was caught behind off the bowling of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, a procession of wickets ensued. Pragyan Ojha bagged a five wicket haul and Ashwin picked up three. West Indies were bowled out for 182 just on stroke of tea.

One interesting passage of play was when Sachin was employed to field at fine leg for a while. At first, there were only a couple of ball boys patrolling that area. They found a cute idea to get closer to the master. They picked up some bottles of water and went near him and offered that to him without him even asking for it. After a few minutes, when I looked towards the fine leg region, the ball boys multiplied in number there. Surely, the West Indies batsmen weren’t playing neat leg glances one after another for that area to be taken care of by so many kids. They were fulfilling their dreams, a dream most Indians would never be able to fulfill, be that close to their idol.

The third session started brightly for India with a solid and quick fire partnership between Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay. they scored at nearly a run a ball before Dhawan was out caught at deep square leg trying to sweep. By then people realized that Tendulkar batting today itself was a strong possibility and the collective wish of the crowd undid Murali Vijay who had been playing beautifully till then. Both the openers were snapped by Shillingford.

So the moment arrived, the moment everyone had been waiting for, but not expecting to come that soon. But that didn’t mean the crowd were any less pumped up in their reception for their hero. We all bowed down saluting the master. Once, twice, thrice and many more. The West Indies team members arranged themselves to give Tendulkar a guard of honour. He nodded to all the appreciations he was getting and took strike, not in any haste. He wanted the noise to subside so that he could focus better. The noise never went meeker. But this was Sachin, he had been to all the rigorous examination by his loyal fans. He knew he couldn’t afford to disappoint his people, both the screaming ones in the crowd at the Wankhede and the millions tuning in from all over the world.

He brought out his A game in place for the biggest of farewells ever known in sporting history. There was a certainty in his footwork today. He went back and forward with clockwork precision and smothered the off spin of Shillingford who had troubled him at the Eden Gardens. He was adamant in punishing any loose delivery that came his way.  Then late in the day, when West Indies captain Darren Sammy brought himself to bowl, Tendulkar came up with his signature shot, that on drive, that head going towards the offside and that bat coming down in perfect perpendicular and meeting the ball dead center. The ball raced away to the boundary and that was relieving for everyone. All is well with the Tendulkar world. He finished on 38 not out at the end of the day. The fans can now have a good night’s sleep and come back hoping for more vintage mastery. But most will concede that that on-drive has already given them the value for their money.

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November 19, 2013 · 7:38 am

Grand Farewell – On the Eve

30 hours on a train. I have never been a complete a rail junkie to enjoy a trip like this without any boredom. What if at the other side of the journey awaits you the daily routines. That’s not something to look forward to. But one thing that  kept me going without any desperation was the fact that I had a lot to look forward. I reached Mumbai very late tonight, the city every cricket fan would want to be in at the moment. A cricket match is about to be played between India and West Indies. Yes, West Indies is playing in this series if anyone needs a reminder. But here, it has all been about one man and his farewell to the game he cherished more than anyone ever did.

The grand farewell party is upon us or it has been going on ever since Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement on October 10. I can remember the days when I used to wait and watch the post match analysis of matches in which Sachin had performed well  to hear all the praises showered on him by the experts. Every word on him or by him, said or written was a treasure. I somehow found them quite reassuring that my love for him is justified after all.

But these days, it has become very hard to keep track of all the Sachin articles and T.V. shows since there are too many. In fact we were too busy with our herculean efforts for getting tickets for the match so that there was simply no time to keep abreast of all the side shows accompanying this massive retirement celebration program. Finally we managed to get three tickets for prices that are undisclosed (Like they do in Football transfers). The mechanism of ticket purchasing itself is worth for a novel,  I believe.

We are staying at an Uncle’s place in Mumbai and he told us that in 1976, he purchased his flat for the same amount as the cost of our three tickets combined. The flat still serves him well. We only hope that the memories from here over the next five days will go on to serve us through out our lives.

Come on Day 1, enchant us.

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What Next for Kochi

The new cricket season in India started with a bang. There were matched being played across the length and breadth of the country. All professional players were playing at least one tournament or other. New Zeland A and West Indies A toured India for unofficial test matches and one-dayers. There was the season opening one day tournament, the Challenger Trophy, which itself has lost its gloss over the years. Then there was the Duleep Trophy, featuring zonal wise matches to kick off the domestic first class season.  A lot of discussions have been going around regarding the relevance of the Duleep Trophy in this crowded domestic calendar.

Regardless of that I was excited when the fixtures were announced for the Duleep Trophy. Kochi, in my home state was given the nod to host one semi final and the final for the tournament. It may be a low profile tournament, but still boasts the presence of some of the top level players trying to stake their claims ahead of a busy season. My idea was to see at least two days of the final match from the ground.

The semi final match held at Kochi between North Zone and West Zone produced a run fest and it was extended to a reserve day as the first innings were not completed within four days. Rain played spoilsport for most of the match and no play was possible on the fifth day as well. So in a bizarre way, a coin toss was used to decide the winner and it turned up to the delight of Harbhajan Singh and his North Zone team.

Within three days time, the final between North Zone and South Zone was to be played in the same ground and there were genuine concerns regarding the weather building up to the match. But I was hopeful thinking that two matches in succession won’t be affected by rain in Kochi. This time of the year in Kerala, we don’t get torrential rains. It rains every now and then, but definitely not enough to wash out cricket matches. But sadly, the rain gods had different ideas, or were they functioning as usual. There were some overnight rains leading up to the final. That was quite common and under normal circumstances the match should have started be a bit delayed in case of a wet outfield.  But the umpires confirmed by noon that no play was possible on the first day as they concluded that the outfield was not conducive for competitive cricket.

Second day, the day I planned to watch the match live had arrived. But by then I was somehow exhausted with the uncertainty over the game. A friend from Kochi told me that it was raining the night before the second day too.  So going by the trend, it could become another frustrating day, I thought.  I decided to cancel the idea of a going to the ground but I was regularly checking the score updates, more accurately the outfield updates. They were pretty gloomy too. But play did begin late afternoon that day with South Zone winning the toss and electing to bat. They finished on 33 for 2 at the close of play for the day. Sadly, that was to be that for the match.

No more play was possible on the third day as the outfield was dampened further by the overnight rain. By then, I had sort of given up on the match. The only real stat of interest left was the time at which the play would be called off on the remaining days. A 15 minutes early start for the fifth day was announced, but by the time, no one really cared.  Credit must go to the administrators for not extending the match into a reserve sixth day and saving the players and fans from more frustration as they had suffered enough over the past week. So the match was called off very early on the fifth day and the trophy was shared between the two teams.  Game, Set and Match for a future test venue.

Yes, Kochi has been actively pushing its case for test status. The Kerala Cricket Association thought that these two first class matches could pave way to hosting test matches in the future. But they were ill prepared to say the least. If the sun is beating down and you can’t play cricket, then it shows how deficient the drainage facilities at the ground are. Shashi Tharoor, the Union Minister from Kerala came down hard on KCA saying that they owe an explanation to the fans of the game on this matter. He said via a tweet that the KCA had brought disgrace to the state and that they had benefited from an amount to the tune of 8 crores spent on the drainage works. To this argument, the KCA president, T.C Mathews, who is now also the National Cricket Academy (NCA) chairman riposted by saying that no funding was received by the KCA for drainage from the government.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at the heart of Kochi has a rich sporting history. But this stadium is not actually owned by the KCA, but by the GCDA (Greater Cochin Development Authority).  The stadium was initially constructed as a Football stadium but has hosted 8 ODI matches so far and has produced some enthralling cricket over the years.  In early 2013, I was fortunate enough to witness an ODI between India and England played at this venue. It was also the first day-night ODI played at Kochi. People flocked into the ground that day and provided an atmosphere befitting the cricket crazy nation that India is. As far as attendances go, there were reports of over 70,000 people attending that match and if those are true, then the  Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium has left behind the Eden Gardens, Kolkata as the largest cricket stadium in India.

The GCDA has in fact opened an online referendum on its website (http://www.gcdaonline.com/)  to assess public opinion on leasing the Nehru Stadium owned by it to the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) for 30 years. It is one of the preconditions for considering the KCA’s claim to be allotted test match cricket. Depending on the public opinion, the authority will take a decision on the matter. If the love for the game that the people of Kerala have shown over the years, then the results of the voting could go only way.

Kerala cricket is going through a lot of radical changes. A lot of young players are coming into national recognition. Their domestic performances have been steadily improving all the time and the taste of test cricket in their own backyard can come at no better time. But before that they have to make sure that the issues with the drainage facilities at the ground are taken care of properly. A farce of the kind happened in the Duleep Trophy cannot be afforded at test level. The chance for redemption couldn’t have come any quicker for the KCA as Kochi is scheduled to host the first ODI between India and West Indies to be played on November 21st.  What makes the game unique is that it will be the first International match India plays after the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar. If Kochi can come up with a spectacle following the hang over of such a massive occasion, then that could help to go a long way in not only mitigating the damage in reputation as an International venue, but also to push their case as a future test centre.

 

This post first appeared on the website CricketCountry

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Meeting the Payyoli Express

Today I met an Olympian. To articulate more, I have breathed the same air as an Olympian (yeah, Shahrukh Khan has hit the ceiling, so better borrow his words). Well, is there a big deal in that ? Kerala has a rich history of producing athletes who go on to represent India at the biggest sporting event in the world.  But what if the person I met is one of country’s finest athlete ever. P.T Usha, the Payyoli Express was in town associated with an exhibition called the Usha Ex-2013. The event portrays the life and times of P.T Usha through pictures, news reports, articles and caricatures. The aim of the event is to let the new generation know more about our proud asset and inspire them by spreading the message of determination and hard work Usha had shown to achieve whatever she did.

I am writing this not out of a sudden influx of love towards athletics, like the way some people all of a sudden take a liking to Hockey once the Indian cricket team fails. I can’t recall whether I have watched  live telecast of P.T Usha running at least once. But from a very young age, I knew that she was the best athlete we have had in track and field events. I often think that our generation of Keralites were somewhat blessed that they knew who was the best on each front. Yesudas, the best singer. I.M Vijayan, the best footballer, Ananthapadmanabhan, the best cricketer, Kanai the best sculptor, Nampoothiri, the best painter, M.T Vasudevan Nair, the best writer (debatable), but what about the next, the best actor ? I’m not even going there !!!

A beautiful caricature depicting Usha's childhood.

A beautiful caricature depicting Usha’s childhood.

I went to the exhibition without any expectation that P.T.Usha, herself would be there. But she was there, crowded by a small group of people, she was standing near the entrance of the exhibition hall. I also wanted to greet her, but decided to bide time going around the wonderful collection of articles and pictures. Right from her birth all the interesting anecdotes were there. The highs and the lows, the struggles and the triumphs all were depicted nicely.  When she was born, the astronomer who had read her horoscope said that she would be going on to make her parents proud. The most talked about coach of Usha is O.M Nambiar. But before him people like Balakrishnan Master and G.V Raja played crucial roles in identifying her potential and bringing her up through the school games.

1984 Olympics 400 m hurdles finals.

1984 Olympics 400 m hurdles finals.

Under Nambiar’s guidance, she went on to become India’s brightest athlete. The exhibition had a detailed description of the 1984 Los Angels Olympics disappointment. She went into the event with a nation genuinely believing in her abilities. She had qualified into the finals of the 400 hurdles very easily by winning the semi final in a commonwealth record time of 55.54 seconds. But in the final she was not off the block quickly enough and had a  lot of catch up to do at the end. However, she did manage to come back strongly and finish third, almost. But she lost it by a whisker, 1/100th of a second, to  Christina Cojocarau of Romania. A medal at the Olympics remained elusive for her.  They were also playing that epic race on a T.V screen in loop but the pictures were not that sharp.

Usha With Nambiar

Usha With Nambiar

But the defeat didn’t deter her commitment to the sport as she practiced even harder and went on to win 4 gold medals at the 1986 Seoul Asian games. She earned another nickname, Golden Girl. She married V. Srinivasan in 1991 and took  a break from sports. But she came back to participate in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  Even after retiring as a professional, she did not stay away from the sport. She opened the Usha School of Athletics in Koyilandi, near Calicut. The school is the breeding ground  for many of India’s current and future Olympians. One of Usha’s favourite disciple was there at the exhibition venue itself, Tintu Luka, the national record holder for 800 metre race and a medal contender for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

It took me a while to go around and see all that was on display. When I came back to the entrance, there was no P.T. Usha there. Has she gone ? I took a walk to the other side of the hall and there she was interviewed by a small T.V crew. I felt relieved.  I waited for about 5 minutes as they went through their list of stock questions one by one and she was answering them in that familiar,  slightly male kind of voice. Then as she was passing by me, I smiled and managed to grab her attention. I said something along the lines “Great to see you, Madam”. She also smiled and asked me whether I had gone around and seen everything on display.  That moment was too big for me to let it pass by without a click (I’m not a click-aware person, if that adjective holds). So I duly asked her for a photograph with her and she was more than happy to oblige. There were not many people there at that time. But that somehow started a chain reaction and everyone wanted a click with her.

Well, not statues at the exhibition !!!

The exhibition started on the 30th of October and will end on November 3.  If anyone near Trivandrum happens to read this, do make sure that you visit the Chandrasekharan Nair Stadium to relive the great moments produced by a quintessential athlete that has given the sport her life and soul.

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From the ODI Corner

Cricket is a unique game in many ways. What makes it all the more trickier for a newcomer to understand the whole game is the simultaneous existence of three formats of the game. The traditional, the much revered and the most classical form, test cricket played over five grueling days with two innings per side, the one day game, with only one innings of 50 overs per side and then the newest baby on board, the twenty-twenty or T20 as it is called more fashionably.

One Day Internationals have been around from 1971. But they have been questioned for their relevance for a long time now. With the advent of T20 leagues around the world and the crowded calendar, nowadays it’s the 50 over format that is under the scanner. The administrators have also been not helping the case with the scheduling and the constant tinkering of rules in ODI cricket. In the last decade itself, ODI cricket has gone through a handful of rule changes designed to make the  game more interesting for the spectators and to sustain the format in an environment where T20 cricket is attracting more eyeballs.

From it’s very inception, one day cricket has been seen as a format to try out new things and experiment with. When they first began in 1971, ODIs comprised 60 overs to be bowled by a side with each bowler allotted a quota of maximum 12 overs. Subsequently, considering time constraints the ICC experimented with a quota of 55 overs and then  later 50. The first three World Cups 1975, 1979 and 1983 were played in the 60-over format.

In the 1983 World Cup, itself, the field restriction rules emerged. 30 yard circle was introduced to cricket. Back then the rule was that a minimum of 4 fielders must always be inside the 30 yard circle. But the biggest game changer was the rule allowing not more than 2 fielders outside the inner circle for the first 15 overs of an ODI innings implemented from 1992. Hard hitting opening batsmen became a norm and batsmen who could score quickly by going over the top initially started to win matches for their teams.

In 2005, the ICC introduced two new major additions to the ODI playing rules, the Powerplays  and the Supersub. The Supersub rule allowed teams to replace a player in the playing eleven with a substitute player at any stage of the match. But the problem with it was that the rule heavily favoured the team winning the toss as they could take a decision best suiting to make full use of their super sub.  This rule was withdrawn within a season but they persisted with the Powerplays rules. Powerplays are basically an extension of the field restriction rules. More overs with field restrictions were introduced allowing teams to choose blocks of powerplay overs. This rule has gone through a cycle of frequent facelifts over the years. With each such revision, teams have been asked to constantly reassess their game plans in ODI matches.

A lot has been tinkered with the number of bouncers that are allowed in an over. Now it is fixed at two-bouncers per over. Another major change has been the use of two new balls from each end to start an ODI innings. But still the question remains despite all these wholesome changes. Has all this tinkering made the ODI game any better as a spectacle ?  One has to doubt that. The reality is that ODIs are a massive revenue generating tool for cricket boards through T.V rights and as a result so many pointless matches are being played across the globe. When nothing is at stake, teams do tend to field weaker teams on the park and that doesn’t bode well for the health of the format.

That leads to the other bruising issue, the scheduling. The administrators could try to give some context to ODI matches by giving a proper thought to scheduling. The marquee series this season has been the Ashes between England and Australia. In both England and Australia, test matches are still well received and they attract crowds who would flock into the grounds. Also the media coverage surrounding the Ashes test matches are surreal. So it was not really surprising that the ODI matches that followed the test matches failed to grab the public’s attention.

A straightforward solution to this is to schedule the ODI matches before the test matches in a tour. What many people call as the greatest test series of all time was the 2005 Ashes. That series was preceded by a highly entertaining ODI triangular tournament involving England, Australia and Bangladesh. For a big test series, the ODIs could act as a build up that could help the players get into the groove and the fans could get into the mood of the series.

In a column published on ESPNCricinfo, Samir Chopra puts forward a slightly more innovative way to take forward ODI cricket. In this, he ponders over a qualification system for World Cup of cricket. He suggests each and every ODI match should practically act as a qualification match for the big event with points to be won and lost.

One day cricket has given us some memorable moments and heroes. It still has its relevance in this ever changing world of cricket. After all, the 50 over World Cup still remains the biggest tournament in the game. So it is upto the decision makers in the game to make sure that the ODIs rediscover the lost mojo by showing some intelligence and commitment to improve the quality of the game.

This article first appeared on the website CricketCountry

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Everyone’s Ashes

Is cricket is a world game ?  If we consider the number of countries that play test cricket(10), then surely it is noway near a world game. if we start counting in the associate (37) and other affiliate members (60) of the International Cricket Council (ICC), cricket can boast of a wider reach. But still, it is a stretch if we go by the numbers. People who are calling cricket a world game are from the cricket playing nations and even not all of them regard cricket as their first choice sport. But in sports it should never be a case of either or. You can love and follow any number of sports if you have the interest and more importantly the time for it. So irrespective of the stature of the game on the world map and its appeal to nations far and wide, cricket is important to us.

Every sport is characterized by some celebrated rivalries carrying a weight of history. In Football, these rivalries are primarily between clubs playing in domestic leagues. Be it in Europe, Asia, or Latin America, every league has some marquee contests for the fans to look forward to. Often the biggest of these matches are between teams from the same cities (local derbies).  In cricket too, there are some interesting domestic match ups of great tradition and rivalry. But cricket being this game of nation against nation, its greatest duel is quite naturally between the two teams who started playing it. England and Australia.

All that matters

All that matters

We often hear or read about which is the biggest rivalry in world cricket and the only real competition for the Ashes in this battle is the nameless India Pakistan contest. Yes, that’s right, India and Pakistan may play one series as Samsung cup and the next as Pepsi series. But England and Australia always play for the Ashes. They have been doing it from as far back as 1882, five years after the first ever test match between the same countries. The legend of the ashes urn gives the contest the much needed context. Decades and centuries have gone by,  legendary players have come and gone. They all helped to add to the aura.

When comparisons are made between the Ashes and the India Pakistan cricket, people often tend to conveniently call one better and bigger than the other depending on which series is the impending one. But one thing that goes for the Ashes is it’s fixed calendar. Every 4 years, they will be played on both English and Australian shores once, whereas India and Pakistan play cricket depending on what is happening in our political fronts. cricket is often used as a tool to prove a point. Sometimes as a diplomatic means to show friendship by playing and most other times as an expression of eroding relationships by not playing.

Another aspect to be taken into consideration is the support for test cricket in these nations. In both England and Australia, they play their summer season test matches every year. This has been one of the strong reasons behind these countries being able to sustain a cricket culture that places the premier format of the game on a pedestal.  For long, India don’t have a fixed home leg in a cricket season. For Pakistan, international cricket has been deported from their land for a while now.  Before that too, test cricket has never been that appetizing for fans over there. In his book, ‘Pundits from Pakistan’, author Rahul Bhattacharya points out this partial treatment from the fans towards the longer format. They flocked in many a thousand for the ODIs and then after that just didn’t care about the test matches that followed. In fact, it was India’s first visit to Pakistan for a full tour after 15 long years. So the occasion was certainly not lacking in magnitude.

So now, I think I have clearly conveyed where my loyalties lie in this debate of cricketing rivalries. As an Indian, I often think, what is the one thing that helped me appreciate the enormity and importance of an Ashes series. It has to be ‘2005’.  That series had it all. Pace, seam, swing, spin, attack, counter attack, blunders, abuses, rain, draws and all. With every passing day, we knew then itself that it was reaching epic proportions. Under Michael Vaughan’s captaincy, England regained the urn after 18 years, inspired by Andrew Flintoff’s tour de force. Shane Warne came into the series as a legend and left it as a gladiator. Before that too, I used to watch the Ashes, but 2005 gave me a new perspective. I came to know that this is not just another series. And now after an Australian whitewash in 2006-07 and two English wins in 2009 and 2010-11, the services resume. The onus is on the Aussies to regain the coveted prize and also thereby regain their lost pride in world cricket. England do start as strong favourites with a balanced and experienced side and it would be a surprise if they don’t win this and the brought forward series in Australia later this year.

Australia under new coach Darren Lehmann and their talismanic captain Michael Clarke are trying to start a new chapter in their history. For England, Alastair Cook is nicely warming up to the captaincy and he is batting the best in his life. A lot will depend on Kevin Pietersen because he is the one player who could swing a game’s flow very quickly. Bowling is the most bankable one in the world with James Anderson and Graeme Swann leading the pack. Australia do have an array of sharp fast bowlers, and they could trouble the English on any given day. It is the fragile batting order that would concern Clarke going into the series.

If both teams get their act together, we could be in for some thrilling cricket within the next two months. May be it can be said that this series doesn’t showcase the kind of star players it did in the past, but still it’s the Ashes, where legends are unearthed. We will all be glued to it, that’s for sure.

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