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Karimadom awaits better days

Shanavas had an inviting smile on his face. He was sitting on a bench on the verandah of the community hall with the newspaper in his hand. The 65 year old man lives in one of the flats built by the Corporation replacing the old dilapidated houses in the Karimadom colony of the Manacuad ward in the capital city of Kerala, Trivandrum.

The colony is near the famous Chalai Market which is a commercial centre in the East Fort area. Most of the people here work in the market as does Shanavas’s son in-law who lives with his wife and children in this community hall which is a temporary shelter for those whose houses are being constructed.

Shanavas, who runs a pan shop on the side of the Attukalkulangara  bypass road, seemed to be knowledgeable on the issues of the colony as he started throwing light on the history of the redevelopment project of Karimadom. In 2008, the Corporation came up with the plan to redevelop the colony under the centrally funded Basic Services for Urban Poor (BSUP) scheme. The plan was to rehabilitate about 560 families from old huts to flats built by the Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development (COSTFORD).

World famous architect Laurie Baker derived the concept for the cost effective design layout that creates several interactive community spaces in between building blocks by a staggered arrangement. There are 20 houses in one flat like structure. Each house has a hall, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. As of now, 8 flats have been completed occupied by 160 families.

Shanavas is not critical of COSTFORD’s construction methods but as a person who was part of the members of the colony who were shown the proposal before the works started, he feels that the constructed houses leave a lot to be desired when compared with the proposed plans. The lack of proper chimneys seems to be a concern to him. The Corporation had received Rs. 20,000 from each of the families beforehand according to Shanavas.

The community hall is home to about 49 families now. 30 residents live in the first floor while 19 are in the ground floor. A small room often accommodates more than one family. The rooms are divided with plywood. But the real problem are toilet facilities. A toilet block was constructed with four public toilets but often in the morning people are made to wait a lot of time to get to use them.

Last year, a community kitchen was inaugurated in the colony. It has only four stoves. The residents queue from the morning itself to use these. Frustrated by the long waits, some people have given up on this kitchen and started cooking outside the hall on their own.

After the old huts were removed, most of the families had to go out and find transit accommodation till the works of the flats were completed. This created a challenge for many as they found the rents outside for a decent living space not within their financial capacity. The lowest rent is as high as 8,000 rupees in the nearby area.

Biju, an auto-rickshaw driver explained the problem. “The main issue was finding a place where we can stay close to the city and at the same time not spend heavily for the rent.” He now lives in the outskirts of the city in a place called Pallichal which is 11 Km away, for a rent of 3000 Rs. “Most of the people who had to go far away from the city now find it difficult to come to their work places and also to get their children to schools.”

Ashok Kumar, a member of the Cluster Development Committee (CDC), formed to work along with the Corporation to improve the facilities at the colony shares his feelings. “We have no complaints with the Corporation’s project to rehabilitate us with better living conditions but the issue is with the speed of the development works. It’s been almost 7 years since the Corporation has started with the project and only a few people have been moved to new houses till now,” said Ashok showing the progress or the lack of it of the current phase of work for which even piling has not been completed.

Ashok who is a carpenter has his shop near the community hall in which he resides with his wife and two children. Though Ashok admitted that there are no issues of water supply as there is an uninterrupted supply of Corporation water, there is always a chance of the water getting contaminated. A sewage drain runs through the length of the colony. Much of the garbage dumping is done in the drains or in the Thekkenekara canal, which flows behind the colony. The rainy season is a nightmare for the people here as these canals and drains carrying a large part of the city’s garbage overflow.

It is not as if they have not presented their case to the authorities on this matter. Ashok, who was also the Secretary of the Resident’s Association, said that they had raised this issue multiple times with the Corporation and at once took their protest to the next level by blocking all the entrance points from the canal to the colony so that during last monsoon, the water overflowed to the Highway on the other side causing heavy traffic issues. This prompted the collector to call the colony residents for an emergency meeting and the collector promised them to resolve the garbage issue before the next rain season.

To tackle the health problems caused by these unhygienic surroundings, an Urban Primary Health Care Centre (UPHC) was established in October 2014 at Karimadom, the first of its kind in Kerala. It is part of a program called Urban Slum Health Upliftment Scheme (USHUS) which aims to improve the health of thousands of people living in slums in the state. Urban Slum Health Activists (USHA) are employed as per this scheme in these areas to provide medical services to the local people. The project envisages medical camps, epidemic-prevention activities, service of mobile medical groups and preventive injections. Treatment will be free and medicines will be provided free of cost.

Anumol, who is a Junior Public Health (JPH) nurse, says that the response of the colony people has been positive to the initiatives by the health centre. “As JPH nurses, we visit 20 blocks in one month and make the public aware of health issues and make them understand the need for keeping the environment clean to avoid diseases. We also make sure that vaccinations are done at the right time for children.”

Anumol says that a lot of Tuberculosis patients are there in the area. Other common ailments are Filaria and Leprosy. Anyway, the focus on healthcare seems to have a positive impact on the people’s mindset. More people are attending the medical camps and pregnant women are registering their names more than ever before. A child health care centre under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) also operates in the area. It conducts regular immunization programs for children.

Ashok who has been involved with the communication with the Corporation from the very start feels that one reason for the delay in construction is the cost escalation of building materials and labour.

As per the initial estimation, the cost for a building block consisting of 20 houses was Rs.34 lakh. But when four such blocks were completed as part of the first phase of the project in 2010, each of them cost Rs.64 lakh. By the time the second phase consisting of three blocks was completed in 2011-12, the cost had risen to Rs.78 lakh.

Palayam Rajan, who is the chairperson of the Karimadom Colony Welfare Standing Committee at the Corporation said that the third-phase costs could touch Rs.1 crore. But no change was possible to the Detailed Project Report (DPR) which was approved in 2007, and anything above Rs.34 lakh a block would have to be paid from the Corporation’s own funds.  The major item adding to the cost escalation is the rising cost of building materials.

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The Maxwell Story, so far

Australia will go into their seventh World Cup final on Sunday against the trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand and most people would agree that the two best teams have reached the decider at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). New Zealand, who have played all their matches till now in their own backyard in much smaller grounds, may need to tweak their game plans to emerge victorious against the Aussies at the colossal MCG. The #MCGsobig hashtag has come up with its fair share of jokes on the eve of the match as a response to a comment by former Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden who said that New Zealand would struggle to adapt to the MCG. Whether the Kiwis will be confounded by the sheer size of the ground or not, one definite challenge that awaits them in the final is the threat of Glenn Maxwell, the mercurial middle order batsman, who has now become a permanent fixture in an awe-inspiring Australian batting lineup.

Maxwell’s scores in the World Cup so far read 66, 1, 88, 102, 44*, 23. Except in his failure against New Zealand, in all other innings, he has scored at a strike rate of 150 or more. His scoring rate will not come as a surprise to anyone. But the consistency he is trying to achieve should cause some concerns to oppositions. It is very easy to forget that he had been criticised not so long ago for being a loose cannon and had been dropped multiple times from the playing eleven. Even with all his natural abilities to strike the ball and score at astronomical rates, his international career has been a bumpy ride till recently.

Maxwell was called up for Australia’s World T20 campaign in Sri Lanka in 2012 after an impressive debut series against Pakistan in the middle east. One year before this, he had set the record for the fastest ever half-century in Australian interstate one day cricket, reaching 50 runs off 19 balls for Victoria, and in the process, snatched a sure shot victory from a Tasmanian side led by George Bailey. Maxwell, who had already got the nickname ‘Big Show’ from his teammates for his fearless approach to the game, was supposed to make an impact in the Island nation for a team with a lot of relatively fresh players led by Bailey.

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Maxwell in his early days for Victoria. Credits: Cricbuzz

Australia’s campaign was going according to plan till they faced Pakistan in their last group stage match. They had overcome the challenges of West Indies, India and a much favoured South Africa. But against Pakistan, they failed +to chase a score of 149. It was the first time Maxwell got a proper hit in the tournament and he was out for just 4. But more crucially, earlier in the day, he had dropped Nasir Jamshed who went on to make 65 to rescue Pakistan. As expected, the under-performing Victorian was dropped for the semi-final and one of the most experienced T20 players of all time, David Hussey, was brought in. But the eventual champions West Indies were too good for the Australians as they crashed out of a campaign that had promised a lot more.

Maxwell got to play in front of his home crowds at the start of the next year. But tougher times awaited him. His only contribution of any note was inflicting two run-outs of consecutive balls in the first ODI against Sri Lanka in a five-match bilateral series. He went wicketless in the series and failed to reach double figures in the three matches that he got to bat. Former players and media were quick to brand him as a brash egoistic player who needed to rein in his natural instincts to be successful. There were even suggestions that he should try considering bowling as his first trade. The Sri Lankan visit ended with another unpleasant incident which saw Maxwell involved in an on-field brawl with the then Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene. To rub salt into wounds, he was unable to get Australia past the line in a tight chase.

Maxwell got his baggy green in Australia’s treacherous tour of India in 2013 which they went on to lose 0-4. In a series where all Aussie batsmen struggled against Indian spinners, he fared no better with 39 runs from 4 innings. He had to wait for another 19 months to play another test match.

Maxwell’s million dollar signing for the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Mumbai Indians came as a surprise to many as his records till then had not warranted such a huge amount of money. He came under much ridicule over social media and he was portrayed as a heavily paid useless cricketer. He played only three matches in the 2013 season. His biggest contribution for Mumbai Indians was his 37 off 14 balls in a high-scoring final of the Champions League T20 tournament later in the year which the team went on to win.

Maxwell was subjected to a public dressing down by coach Darren Lehmann during the ODI series against England in 2014 after he threw his wicket away in a chase at Perth. He joined Kings XI Punjab for the 2014 season of the IPL. He finished the league as the third highest run scorer with 552 runs and became an instant hit among Indian cricket followers too with his ability to clear boundary with ease.

Maxwell getting out to Pakistani spinner Zulfiqar Babar in Abu Dhabi playiing a rash shot. Credits: Sydney Morning Herald

Last October, Maxwell bowled a wicket maiden in the last over against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi to win a match under unlikely circumstances. But Maxwell’s comeback to the test side was also short-lived. Australia’s frailties against spin were exposed again and Maxwell’s brainless batting in the only test he played in that series in Abu Dhabi invited stringent criticism. After the forgettable ODI series against South Africa at home, in which he was dropped for one match as a kick in the backside, Maxwell had to win back the fans and he publicly admitted that he wanted to get rid of the tag of ‘Big Show’ and become more consistent.

The final of the Carlton Tri Series proved to be the perfect stage for him. After an initial hiccup, he guided the Australian innings in an uncharacteristic manner, scoring 95 from 98 balls, and later took 4 wickets to help the team lift the trophy ahead of the World Cup.

Maxwell had the chance to score the fastest century in World Cup history, but he slowed down when he neared the landmark against Sri Lanka in Sydney to get the monkey off his back after string of 90s earlier in his career. It is not just the runs he scores, the fear Maxwell induces in the opposition’s mind that sets him apart. They know that if they do not get him out early, he could take the game away in a matter of 30 or 40 balls. The new ODI regulations, which allow only four fielders outside the inner circle, have already pushed the average ODI scores up and with someone like Maxwell at the end, Australia back themselves to score 10-12 runs per over easily.

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Maxwell saluting the SCG crowd after his first international ton against Sri Lanka. Credits: NDTV

So far in this World Cup campaign, Maxwell has taken the Australia score to way above 300 after an initial platform was set up by the top order twice, against England and Sri Lanka. India were lucky in the semi-final to remove him early, otherwise they would have had to chase more than 350. What Maxwell does exceptionally well is playing according to the field set. He reads the field and premeditates what the bowler is going to bowl and then he uses his wonderful wrists to play around the dial.

Australia have a history of players standing up on big match days and in front of his home crowd, Maxwell could prove on Sunday that the MCG is not so big after all if he connects some from the middle of his bat. That would spell trouble for New Zealand and Australia would go a long way to their fifth World Cup win.

This post was first published on the blog The Writewatchman

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More power to Tahir, more joy for South Africa

Imran Tahir made his debut for South Africa in the 2011 World Cup. Ever since their readmission to world cricket, they had been looking for a world class spinner to complement their pace attacks which had almost always been outstanding. For a long while Paul Harris was their lone spinner in test matches. In ODIs, they depended on the slow left arm bowling of Robin Peterson and the off-breaks of Jean Paul Duminy to give the fast bowlers some breathing space. Add to that, they had the service of the great Jacques Kallis to call upon. But in the 2011 edition held in the subcontinent, South Africa genuinely believed Tahir could make a mark.

The Pakistani-born legspinner had represented Pakistan under-19 team and Pakistan A. Tahir made his first class debut for Lahore in as early as 1996 at the age of 17. But top level cricket always remained a far fetched dream for him in Pakistan. He played for Middlesex, Staffordshire, Yorkshire, Hampshire and Warwickshire in England. After marrying a South African, he moved there and played for the Titans and the Dolphins in the country’s domestic competitions and impressed the national selectors.

After a few months of drama, he finally became eligible to play for the country as he fulfilled the residence requirement in January 2011. Earlier he was selected in January 2010 to play against England, but later disqualified because he had not met the eligibility criteria by then. Though he was picked for the ODI series against India in early 2011, captain Graeme Smith was not willing to let the mystery surrounding Tahir be out just before the World Cup.

Thus Tahir, the man with the record of representing most teams (27), played his first international match in a World Cup. He justified the captain’s faith with a four wicket haul at Delhi against West Indies on his debut. Tahir kept on getting wickets in that tournament. He was the second highest wicket taker for South Africa in that tournament with 14 wickets from just five matches, behind Robin Peterson who got to play all seven matches and got 15 scalps. Tahir’s numbers read 14 wickets at an average of 10.71 and an economy rate of 3.79.

More than these mind-boggling numbers, what Tahir got noted for in that World Cup was his celebrations after picking up a wicket. He would fox with the batsman with a googly or get him bowled or get a return catch or get him caught at long-on, and then run with his arms stretched out around the field. His team mates would need to wait for him to come back for the high-fives. That was to become a template for Tahir celebrations throughout his career.

Tahir celebrating  a wicket the 'Tahir Way'.

Tahir celebrating a wicket the ‘Tahir Way.’

Though his numbers suggested enormous potential, South Africa’s ignominious exit from the World Cup meant no one really took notice of it. He made his test debut in late 2011 against Australia, but had to wait till 2013 to play his next ODI match. His test performances never inspired a recall either. In 2012, Tahir got the embarrassing record of the worst figures in a test match with his 0-260 against Australia in Adelaide.

But when he finally got to play in coloured clothing again, Tahir showed that he could be a real match winner in the 50-over game. After his recall, he has taken 50 wickets in 28 matches at an average of 21.84. He is not profligate either, giving away less than 4.5 runs an over which is excellent for spinners of this era.

So far in this World Cup, Tahir has picked up 9 wickets from three matches. His 5 for 45 against West Indies at Sydney was overshadowed by an AB deVilliers masterclass. This was only the second five wicket haul in Australia by any spinner since 2000. That shows how difficult it is for spinners to stamp their authority on an ODI game down under.

What Tahir does is he keeps it tight during the middle overs and induces mistakes from the batsmen. It was his double strike that derailed Zimbabwe in the first match after they scared South Africa for a while. Even against India, when all other main bowlers leaked runs, he kept it tight and bagged the prized scalp of Virat Kohli. Leg spinners are crucial in Australian grounds where the mishits tend to stay inside the field usually. Tahir has a deceptive googly as well. The variations that end up futile in the longer version of the game, bring rich rewards for him in ODIs.

South African fans will be hoping that they would be witnessing more over-the-top celebrations from this maverick leg spinner in the coming days. And their players would not mind running after a jubilant Tahir at the MCG on March 29.

This post was first published on the blog The Writewatchman

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Is de Villiers too good for his team?

AB de Villiers produced two mesmerising moments of fielding at the MCG on Sunday. First, he ran out Rohit Sharma who had set off for a run from the non-strikers end after a misfield by JP Duminy at covers. Shikhar Dhawan sent Rohit back. By the time, he made the despairing dive, de Villiers had come in from mid-off, picked up the ball and released it. He had only one stump to aim at, from where he was throwing. If the action was stopped at that moment and a question was posed to a mathematician with expertise on probability theory, on whether de Villiers would hit or not, he would have answered no. He would have come up with a statistic too, “Of all the 32,346 throws made from a position when a fielder has only one stump to aim at in International cricket, only 1423 have hit the target, a meagre 4.39 per cent.”

But this is de Villiers; the mathematician cares about numbers only, not personalities. If the same mathematician were to be asked whether anyone would hit a century in a 50 over match after coming in to bat in the 39th over of the innings, before this January, he would have said, “No chance, it has never happened before.” But de Villiers with his 31-ball-hundred at the Wanderers against West Indies showed that there is always a first.

Back to the action, Rohit Sharma’s bat slipped from his hand, de Villiers did not miss the stumps and India lost their first wicket. Later in the Indian innings, Ravindra Jadeja, after playing a ball to mid off, took on de Villiers’s arm. This time, he had all three stumps to aim at. No mathematician was required; the probability of Jadeja surviving was zero.  ABD is unreal, he is not human, he could hit sixes at will, score hundreds in minutes, throw down stumps eyes shut. He is from some other planet. He would chase down the target of 308 single-handedly. India were coming off the back of a spirited bowling performance against Pakistan. But everyone knew this would be different. South Africa had Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and de Villiers himself. The chase had the possibility of turning into a cakewalk if these batsmen got their eye in.

Indian seamers were disciplined like they were against Pakistan.  Soon, they were rewarded. de Cock and Amla were dismissed within the first 11 overs. People said, “The game starts now.” The half-man, half-machine ABD walked out to the middle to join du Plessis.  The singles and doubles started to come by far more frequently. He did not go for any big shots early on. Then in the 14th over, de Villiers pulled Mohit Sharma imperiously through mid wicket. The next ball, he premeditated and came down the track. But as with any de Villiers improvisations, he waited till the last moment, let the ball carve out and picked his spot through covers for a four.

MS Dhoni, from behind the wicket, knew this could go horribly wrong for his bowlers. Dhoni, the man who believes in ‘processes’, asked his bowlers to keep hitting the right areas and waited for something to happen. In test matches, his wait goes on for days, sometimes. But in coloured clothing, more often than not, things fall in place for him. It happened here too. Seven overs on, de Villiers cut Jadeja through point; he decided that there was a run on the throw from the deep. He set out for the second run; there was no confusion, no stop-start. He believed in his strong leg muscles and took for granted the frailty of that of the Indian fielder’s arm from the deep. But Mohit Sharma produced a bullet throw straight to Dhoni’s gloves, right next to the stumps, and he did the rest. de Villiers was found short of his crease and South Africa lost their captain, and their game-plan. After that,  Duminy played a reverse sweep and spooned a catch to Raina at slip. David Miller took on Umesh Yadav and was run out by a comfortable margin. South Africa imploded. They lost their last seven wickets for 44 runs.

After that,  Duminy played a reverse sweep and spooned a catch to Raina at slip. David Miller took on Umesh Yadav and was run out by a comfortable margin. South Africa imploded. They lost their last seven wickets for 44 runs. It was not the first time that the run out of de Villiers induced a panic among the South Africans during a chase. In the 2011 World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand at Mirpur, South Africa, chasing a target of 222, were bundled out for 172. That time also de Villiers was run out in mix up with du Plessis. His dismissal was part of a batting collapse that saw them losing the last seven wickets for 51 runs.

For all de Villiers’s bravado and unnatural feats, sometimes it feels that the South African team is beginning to play under the shadow of his genius. It raises a question. Are South Africa as good as so many people think?  Against India, they fielded five bowlers and batted with a tail end that started at number 7. Compare this to the line-up of hosts Australia. They bat deep with Mitchell Johnson coming in at 9. Leading upto the World Cup, Australia had comprehensively beaten South Africa in a bilateral series 4-1. de Villiers was not willing to accept the fact they were outplayed as he said that South Africa were a better unit than Australia irrespective of the result. South Africa are not that fearsome as they were considered prior to the tournament. It becomes even more evident considering the fact that they play most of their matches in Australia where the tracks for this World Cup have been absolute belters so far, in a way neutralising their pace attack. Going by the evidence of the first two matches, Imran Tahir is their best bet in these conditions, a leg spinner inducing mistakes and getting people caught at deep. 

This is not for a single moment written out of any disrespect towards South Africa or their captain.  AB de Villiers is the most versatile batsman in the world, by far. South Africa may still go on to win the World Cup, but it would for sure take a lot more than a supremely talented batsmen taking the mickey out of the opposition. de Villiers might be pushed while going for a risky second run again by another Mohit Sharma along the way. The rest of the team has to come together and get their captain’s back then. If that happens, South Africa could lift the trophy on March 29 at the same MCG. The mathematician might also agree as the law of averages catches up and makes it impossible for them to miss out again.

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This post was first published on the blog The Writewatchman

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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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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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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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Let The Cheers Never Stop

ImageIf I am honest, I must say that I now take some pride in adding some ‘I was there’ moments to my live cricket viewing experience. And so there I was at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi for the second one day International between India and England. For a start, the name of the venue doesn’t evoke the same feeling as an Eden Gardens or a Wankhede does, there must be a dozen or even more Jawaharlal Nehru Stadiums across the country, as in the case of Mahatma Gandhi Roads in India. And secondly, It wasn’t a match where somebody made a record or some incredible batting or bowling performance was seen. Usually we associate ‘I was there’ with matches like these. So what was so special about the day ?  I would like to call it this way. ‘I was there’ when the Indian cricket fans made it clear that they are not detached from the game as some point out and that they don’t need the cosmetic tweaks that some T20 league offers to a viewer’s experience to bring them to the ground. ‘I was there’ when the Indian fans made their voices heard and that too in a big way. ‘I was there’ when the noise levels for a match inside a stadium reached its maximum. If only they had a device to measure the decibel levels like the speed guns.

Frankly, when I decided to go for the match, I never thought that it would become a sell out like this. It was a weekday and Sachin Tendulkar had retired from ODIs. So I thought only nuts like myself would bunk their work and be there at the stadium. How wrong I was. I went with my cousins for the match and we got into the stadium a good two hours before the game and the crowd was filling up quickly even by then. We took our seats. One of the most enjoyable parts of reaching early is that you get to see the players doing their warm ups and the cheers they get when they first come out indicate how popular each of them are. People were ready with ‘Miss You Sachin’ placards and those with out that were too missing him, just like us. We were left to ponder how it would have felt if Sachin too was there playing.

So India won the toss, and they were batting. The English bowlers started with some short stuff and  the openers were forced to the back foot and then two fuller deliveries accounted for them, clean bowled, both of them. Yuvraj Singh looked in supreme touch square driving, half pulling, cutting and scoring nearly a run a ball. At the other end was Kohli. He came into this match with some poor form and struggled through most of his innings. The spinner Tredwell got Yuvraj LBW and it was a poor decision from the umpire. As he was coming back we could see how disappointed he was at that decision. He was fuming with a mouth full of foul language. But Kohli was not to be left behind in that respect. After a delivery where England had only 4 fielders inside the circle, Kohli asked  the umpire to call that ‘no ball’ and the umpire was having none of it. Kohli looked really angry and the next ball he faced from Samit Patel, he hit a six over extra cover inside out and I thought, yeah, finally he is back in track, but that was not to be. Chris Woakes got Kohli caught at deep point after an unnecessary attempt to charge the bowler.

We were left with the Captain and his trusted partner. Dhoni must have spend more time with Raina than with his wife Sakshi, oh no, why am I trying to sneak in these unwanted jokes here. Anyway Raina was playing cleanly if I have to use a word for his batting. Hitting boundaries from time to time and running well between the wickets, he made sure that the run rate was not dropped down drastically. As expected, the batting powerplay did India no good and they lost the wicket of Raina while it was on. Jadeja joined Dhoni and India was still not getting a move on. Their run rate never took that big leap during those overs and it was always around the 4.5 mark. After 42 overs India were 192 for 5.

Dhoni

Dhoni Going for a Six

Then came the moments that made this match memorable. It was not that surprising that India got 94 tuns in the last 8 overs considering MS Dhoni’s pedigree as a finisher. There is a template to a Dhoni innings in one dayers now. He just waits and waits and unleashes in the last few overs. He may play a lot of dot balls but he hardly hits a skier too early in his innings and get out leaving his side with no one to finish off the innings. Even though the crowd were cursing him while he was struggling to hit the boundaries at the beginning, at the end it was only ‘Dhoni Dhoni’  ringing around the place. At the other end, Jadeja in the initial parts struggled to get the ball off the square for even singles and then some loose deliveries by the English bowlers let him off the hook and that was it. He finished the Indian innings with 4, 4, 6 and India reached 286, which was a lot more than we expected half way through the innings.

The English innings virtually got over in the first 15 overs. After threatening to take the game away from India, Cook and Pietrersen got out. Cook was a bit unlucky with LBW decision though. England were 4 down after 15 overs and with no batsman of the class needed to pull of this chase, all of us were assured of an Indian victory by then. We were feeling a bit disappointed because the edge was taken away from the game. Even though we wanted Pietersen to get out it would have been far better if that had happened after him hitting a few sixes to where we were seated. In the end it was a bit of an anti climax as England folded up in 36 overs and that was that. Our day at this theater was coming to an end, a premature one we felt. To be fair to the English, the pitch started turning in the latter half of the match and batting looked tougher as the match progressed.

As I pointed out at the beginning, what made this match special was the crowd. They or rather ‘We’ were having a party out there.We must have done countless Mexican Waves and it was a sight to behold every time. Kevin Pietersen tweeted the next day ” For the record – last night was the best atmosphere I have ever played in front of.. Deafening! Thanks Kochi.. Love KP x “. I often fantasize about getting to watch a test match at Lord’s or at MCG. These traditional venues carry such an aura and romance that makes them a cricket tragic’s destination in dreams. But last Tuesday, even a free trip to these places would not have taken me away. The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was my place, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at Kochi, Kerala, my own state was my place. 2012 was a frustrating year for Indian cricket supporters. With this win at Kochi, let us hope that 2013 will see a turn around in fortunes for our team.

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The tea had been sweeter for a while

They say that the North Stand at the Wankhede offers the best view for watching Cricket. Not that it mattered much to me, I decided to make sure that I get one of the best seats in the North Stand to enjoy a day of Test match cricket. November 25, 2012, the third day of the India England test match is the setting. Ever since the fixtures came out for the series, It was pretty apparent to me that I would be there or rather I must be there for any one day of this match. I had already booked the tickets for the match online, but I had to collect my ticket from the counter outside the venue. So I missed the first 20 to 30 minutes of the day’s play. England had got off to a decent start to the day by then, but I was not at all thinking about the match situation. I was too busy getting myself seated properly and getting a feel of the atmosphere.

13 cricketers all in whites were doing their stuff in the middle. All kinds of them were there. Heroes and flops, Those who delighted us and those who disappointed us, Those on whose abilities we believed and those whom we doubted. But my mind was wandering. It took me some good 10 or 15 minutes to really come to terms with the fact that I was having a taste of International cricket.

Pietersen and co. during a drinks break

Pietersen and co. during a drinks break

Coming to the match itself, now it is already well documented that what Kevin Pietersen did that day was something outrageous. He stood tall, defended calmly, played with the spin to the offside, slog swept, and lifted the ball straight back past helpless spinners. When a batsman goes like this it is always intimidating, but when Pietersen does it it looks a bit more, just because of the frame of the man.

When Cook and Pietersen were going great guns I was like this: “Yeah, I am here to see cricket, why bother about not being able to see India’s batting ? “. But India had a dream session after lunch, England lost 6 wickets during the post lunch session, and there I was, or rather us, the whole crowd, after all, our sunday was not to be spent for those Poms batting. We desperately wanted our Rockstars to wield their willows in front of us. There was an overwhelming sense of relief on the face of everyone.

Sourv Ganguly coming out to do some pitch side analysis during lunch break

Sourv Ganguly coming out to do some pitch side analysis during lunch break

So there were to be had 33 overs of the famous wristy, elegant Indian batting. The noise level at the Wankhede just went some notches up. But if the previous session was dreamy for India, this was nightmarish. Sehwag was the first to go. Chetheshwer Pujara was greeted with “Pujara, Pujara” chants, but poor man, his dismissal was accompanied with the loudest cheer for the entire match. He must have felt like he was given a false reception earlier, but it has been happening to every Indian second wicket for years. I was ready with my camera then for the occasion. Sure, no other sporting arena in the world would ever witness what took place at the Wankhede for the next one or two minutes. The video can be seen here

A shot from the Indian Innings


A shot from the Indian Innings

Tendulkar was beaten by Panesar a couple of times. The stumping claim which went upwards produced the most nervous moments of the day, The big screen read ‘Third Umpire Decision Pending’ for about a minute, but finally he was given Not Out. He scored two boundaries of Panesar too. He was stretching himself forward and smothering the spin well, it looked from the stands. But then the quicker straighter delivery did the trick, the finger went up instantly and that was it. Sachin was walking back. I was not opportunistic enough to be able to pick myself up to capture that moment of silence, which would have complimented nicely, the earlier video of the reception given to him.

Some started leaving then. With a tinge of disappointment, I stayed back to see the day coming to a close. India lost 7 wickets in that single session and the match was almost lost. It is not everyday that you get to see live cricket from the ground. So regardless of the match situation I was feeling great as I came out. I was seated near the press box where there were some familiar English faces like Michael Atherton and Lawrence Booth. I often looked at them, were they chuckling ? no, it was just my fickle mind. One thing about the hospitality at the Wankhede must be said. I have not been to many venues, but this renovated Wankhede has to be one of the most spectator friendly venues atleast in India. The security arrangements never came in the way of the viewer experience.

The Media Box

In 2002, as Sachin Tendukar was about to play his 100th test match, Tom Alter, the actor wrote a piece for Rediff. In which, he summed up a cricket fan’s emotion beautifully :
“Let us celebrate all the mornings he also has gifted us — the mornings when we wake and know he will bat today; the mornings when tea is especially good and hot, and the air clearer and crisper — only because we feel blessed inside, waiting to see him play”. Since the day I had decided to go for the match, I too was feeling blessed inside waiting to see not just Sachin, but this grand old stage of a Test match and its nuances and the twists and turns. Well, my tea had also been especially good and hot and sweeter.

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IPL and the soul of cricket

Writing about a topic that gets discussed often is a challenge as you are always bringing up points already said. Well, it’s the IPL that I want to talk about. That makes the task even more demanding. IPL, the great Indian Premier League, Within 5 years of its arrival on the scene, It has been discussed and written about more than even the English Premier League at least in the media. We can say that it polarizes opinion like anything. I recently had a discussion with a friend who lives in Bangalore about the IPL. On a casual note, I just asked him whether he had been to any of the IPL matches in the city. The fourth-right friend of mine responded strongly saying that he hates the whole system of the IPL and its structure or the lack of it.He spoke about how the people of this country are cheated by some greedy corporates who are willing to milk the game to the maximum for their own benefits. He is a guy who always has a straight forward opinion on things and when it is about nationalistic issues he leaves nothing untold. So it was not surprising for me to hear that from him. In his opinion, the IPL is a money making machine which runs for up to 2 months in the hot Indian summer and just makes a fool of ordinary Indians. Then I had to mention about the kind of support this year’s IPL had received all over India. That’s the most important factor in this business of IPL, the support from the public, the masses.

The way the Indian public received this year’s tournament was heart warming to see or heart breaking depending on which side you are. Crowds packed the grounds and they cheered for their stars wearing the coloured clothing of the franchises. The commentators and the broadcasters too were on a no holds barred mission to make the IPL the flavour of the season. They roared to the maximum decibel levels and the DLF maximums and the Karbon kamaals were made sure to be heard at regular intervals. Yet, I believe that IPL on TV is not appreciated the way it is at the grounds by the public. But at the end of the day, all is well with the IPL, yes indeed all is well with the IPL, the business, the money making entity, the extra innings’ played by Bollywood stars on cricket fields, everything falls in place and it is here to stay.

I had my reservations about the long term success of the IPL from the beginning. But this year even after two of the most disastrous tours of Indian national team, people are ready to spend their evening watching this unscripted drama that takes place in their city centers. They took their children to the grounds and cheered for Chris Gayle and co. If their team won, they were happy, if not they were not dispirited and just took pleasure in uploading the pictures taken from ground zero on Facebook and lived the next day as any other. What people wanted was some entertainment and the IPL did indeed provide it. We Indians do love to party and when a Cricket match near your home town provides it, why give it a miss. Going back to my dear friend, this is where the cheating happens according to him. To him the whole business is a murky deal. Another way of making black money white and we are the falling preys of this extravaganza. Now, this is not the first time these sort of allegations or doubts of credibility are expressed by people and you must be wondering where I am going with this. I nodded to all of the things said by my friend but the thing that hurts me about the IPL or cricket in general has a far different context to it than its internal corruption and politics. My biggest worry is best described by these 3 contrasting images.

Eden Gardens for the 1998 test match between India and Australia

Eden Gardens for the 2011 test match between India and West Indies

Eden Gardens for the celebration of the IPL 2012 victory by the Knight Riders

Now, these images do tell a lot about how the Indian cricket fans have evolved over the last decade or so. Eden Gardens once used to be this theater where around 90,000 thousand people turn up for a test match in a day. For someone who familiarized with the game in the 1990’s watching a match played at Eden Gardens even on television used to give goosebumps. I again have to go back to the lines by Rahul Dravid during the scarcely attended test match in 2011. “I remember coming here in the 90s…. it was 100,000 people, 80,000 people watching a game of cricket. In some ways, it is little sad. There was a magic about this ground when the atmosphere was electrifying with 80-100,000 people cheering”.

When I read this there were a lot of mixed emotions bubbling inside. It was so nostalgic that it brought a smile within me. But suddenly I realized that there was a kind of admission in his words that this place will never be anything like it was in the 90s. Now that was the order of the times that we live but it is painful for all who have that emotional attachment to the game. If anyone happens to read this piece and starts to wonder what this emotional attachment is, then I’m sorry for ruining your valuable time.

The large turn up at Eden Gardens for the welcome party of the victorious Knight Riders team proved one point. Indian fans are not detached from the game of cricket. They will go to watch a game, but they would rather have it as short as possible. I only hope that nobody comes up with a Hong-Kong 6’s style tournament in India with all the international stars. The IPL provides a chance to see the best of the International stars giving their very best and it all happens inside 3 hours. So why should you waste your time and money on Test matches. There is no definitive answer to this question that I can give. This is no place for a Test vs T20 dissection. This is just a portrayal of how times have changed in our country with regards to the fascination to the game of cricket. I do watch the IPL because it still cricket but does it have the soul of cricket, I doubt so. I would rather not have the IPL if that leads to a change in attitude to Test cricket from the people and the administrators and larger attendances for test matches. Hoping to go to watch India’s next test match and without offering any real solutions to the problems that the game faces in our country that ends another post on cricket.

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