For an Indian cricket fan, the 2018 Nidahas Trophy is a sweet memory.
The tournament was not exceptional. India sent a team without a couple of stars and gave Rohit Sharma the leadership role. He took India to the final where his team was on the verge of losing. But then, Dinesh Kartik happened.
When he came on to bat, India needed 34 off 12 deliveries. Kartik scored 29 of them, including a last-ball 6 to win the final against Bangladesh. One of India’s best victories.
But this is not about him or the final. This is about a young talent who wasn’t having a great time. This is about Rishabh Pant.
Rishabh Pant was 18 years old when he represented India in U-19 WC 2016 held in Bangladesh. While others were just trying to score runs, this kid was scoring them fast. He struck 24-ball-78 against Nepal and 96-ball-111…
Hanuma Vihari, now a household name in India, had two choices when he reached the crease on the 5th day of the now epic Test match in Sydney between India and Australia.
To carry on the good work done by Rishabh Pant (who shouldn’t have lost his wicket to such a shot) and give India a realistic chance of winning the test match. Or to defend and block and make sure that his team doesn’t lose and at least draw the match; even if they can’t win.
It is a very fine line. One bad shot in the quest of the former and he would have been labeled naïve and reckless and inexperienced. Too many balls defended to make sure he preserves his wicket and blame would have been laid on him that he let away a very realistic chance of winning what would have been a historic win. Twitter trolls etc.
Vihari is not known for his flamboyancy. If Pant is exciting like a yacht; Vihari is a ship- calm and stable.
After he played few balls and before he could decide how to pace his innings; his choice was made easier by his injured hamstring. He was unable to run anymore. As the runner is no more allowed; it was either bat or wait in the pavilion.
Vihara chose the gallant route and stayed on the crease. With thin batting to come next and with a half-fit Ashwin with him; he decided to block everything. As easy as it sounds; the execution of the same is extremely difficult. And that too against the world’s most potent bowling attack of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, and Josh Hazlewood. Add to that a certain Nathan Lyon and half a day, roughly 250 balls do not sound great. And there is an obvious Aussie cockiness.
Vihari faced everything. With every ball he blocked, ducked, and left alone; he made another fan of himself in the country. Aussies were rattled. Their captain decided to be a lesser gentleman and increased the chatter. Vihari was unperturbed.
At the end of the day; everyone who follows cricket had praise for Hanuma Vihari. And he richly deserved it. What is ironic is that after such an innings; he will not play the next match because of his hamstring injury. The same hamstring that made his choice easier and made him a national hero.
It does not mean that a fit Vihari couldn’t have won the match for India. But with low scores in previous 4 innings; a Rishabh Pant who is good with the bat and awful with the gloves and Wriddhiman Saha would have been the preferred 6 and 7 in the last match in Brisbane. Vihari’s failure would have certainly meant his ouster in the team and as Karun Nair can tell; it is not easy to come back into this Indian team. By the time, you sharpen those rough edges; another guy had taken your place and you are out of reckoning.
For a moment, imagine yourself being Hanuma Vihari. You have just saved a match for your country. It was one of the best bowling attacks. It was a 5th day pitch on away soil which is unpredictable in turn and bounce. But you braved everything. The batting scorecard is not great but you can’t care less. Twitter is celebrating you. National hero!!!!!
And then it sinks in. You are not playing the next match because of the injury that elevated your status. You don’t know if you will again play for India. What if somebody else claims your place as his own?
You sure don’t have an answer for that today. But that thought just can’t go away from your head.
It was 3rd Feb 2008. India vs Australia. Brisbane.
Manoj Tiwary was the latest debutant in Indian cricket. He went on to bat at no 5 with India having lost Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, and Gautam Gambhir cheaply. And Brett Lee was spitting fire among with usual suspects Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Bracken.
I still remember his 2 runs off 16 balls. Brett Lee peppered him with pace and short balls. Tiwary had no clue what to do. To play or not; to duck or pull. There was a very evident lack of confidence. His clean bowled came as no surprise.
As I said, it was early 2008. A couple of months later, IPL happened. And the cricket changed in India. Just like that.
Being a 90’s kid, I still remember my early winter mornings whenever India toured Australia. Setting up an alarm of 5.30 to see the first session of the test match before I went to school. If you get half an hour late in switching on the TV, one always feared if India will be 70/3. And most of the time they were. And Rahul Dravid was trying to bail out the team.
There was a visible lack of belief in the team and its members because they were outside their home conditions and playing the mighty Australians. Especially the batsmen. A complete generation was pampered by flat pitches and small boundaries used to scoring huge runs against local bowlers. Hence, the tours to Australia, England, South Africa became difficult even before they started.
Fast forward, today, India played Australia in a T20 International. The playing 11 had direct exports of IPL- Sanju Samson, Washington Sundar, T Natarajan.
Sanju Samson made an enterprising 20s.
Washington Sundar bowling figures were none for 16 in 4 overs.
T Natarajan took 3 wickets on his debut.
And that is what IPL has done to Indian cricket.
IPL has become a de-facto route for the Indian players to get into national reckoning. They play for their states in Syed Mushtaq Trophy when nobody is watching apart from some very keen IPL scouts. Then they get sold for crores (or bargains) in the mega auction. Then they play in IPL, locking horns with the biggest of the names. You prove yourself; you get selected. Or you go back to the drawing board.
Take the example of Sanju Samson. He first played IPL in 2013. The feedback was good but he was not a finished product. He went back to the domestic circuit, scored tons of runs, and came back to IPL. Last 2 seasons he has played magnificently. And today, against the Australians; it didn’t look as he was out of place. He was very much a part of the gang. The big grounds, (very) hostile opponent, different pitches- these things didn’t seem to faze him. And this is what IPL has done to Indian cricket.
I firmly believe IPL has done wonders for Indian cricket. Yes, it took some time but like all good things; the process was important. IPL will always be a glamorous tournament for its critics but for Indian cricket, what it has done is something that people do not acknowledge enough.
It is a pity I did not watch Rushcompletely in one go till my 6th attempt. Yes, it took me an incredible 6 sittings. And I have loved it since.
It is equally incredible that the makers managed to bring out the human aspect in this fierce rivalry film.
I will admit- my interest in Formula 1 racing is not as old as the 1970s. Nor did I read any history about either of Niki Lauda and James Hunt. The movie review was shared by a friend who knows a thing or two about Formula 1. It was a borrowed conviction that played out well.
If you have not Googled Rush yet, here is a small, concise summary. The movie portrays the rivalry between F1 drivers James Hunt (England) and Niki Lauda (Austria) in 1976 and how the former trumped the latter by 1 point in the final race of the season. Yes, these are facts- 1 point and in the final race in torrential rain in Japan. The Gods played this pretty nicely.
There are too many subplots in the movie. Niki Lauda’s accident and his sheer willpower to come out of life-threatening condition so that Hunt does not win the title. Similarly, James Hunt’s immense desire to push himself beyond his limit to defeat a warrior like Lauda. The words are not enough.
And the most astonishing fact in all- this was the only season in his F1 career which James Hunt won. He was a prodigy and he was good but apart from the 1976 season; his trophy cabinet was zero. And this is what has fantasized me that led to this piece.
Lauda and Hunt were two opposite characters. Lauda was focused, organized, calculative, and maybe, cocky. He knows when to push himself and when to step back. In a fast world of cars, he had a demeanor of a chess player. Hunt, on the other hand, was everything that Lauda wasn’t. He was brash, impulsive, and enjoyed the attention.
In any sport, there are two types of competitors. One who wins for himself and the other who wins to ensure that the second guy doesn’t win. There is a very fine difference between the two. Lauda was the former, Hunt the latter. James Hunt did not win any other championship ever because he did not find a challenger like Lauda. Hunt had in him to be great but he needed a Lauda to reach for that greatness.
The movie breezes past through you. The graphics, especially the attention to detail during race scenes are superb. A special mention for the race sequence around German Grand Prix 1976, Nuremberg. From the scene when a rainy Nuremberg comes into the picture; you know something is not right. Something’s going to give. And from there on, Rush changes the gear and gets into fast track.
The movie is, of course, about the rivalry. But it is also about how these two men came to respect each other while vying for the same reward. And I found it very satisfying. The best part is that you do not need to be an expert in F1 racing to understand Rush. You can have zilch interest in any sport and still, you will enjoy this.
Few dialogues from the movie have left an indelible impression on me-
Niki Lauda: Of course he didn’t listen to me. For James, one world title was enough. He had proved what he needed to prove. To himself and anyone who doubted him. And two years later, he retired. When I saw him next in London, seven years later, me as a champion again, him as broadcaster, he was barefoot on a bicycle with a flat tire, still living each day like his last. When I heard he died age 45 of a heart attack, I wasn’t surprised. I was just sad. People always think of us as rivals but he was among the very few I liked and even fewer that I respected. He remains the only person I envied.
James Hunt: I feel responsible for what happened.
Niki Lauda: You are… but trust me: watching you win those races, while I was fighting for my life, you were equally responsible for getting me back in the car.
Niki Lauda: Happiness is your biggest enemy. It weakens you. Puts doubts in your mind. Suddenly you have something to lose!
Both Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl were perfect in the characters they played. The brashness of James Hunt and the confident arrogance of Nikki Lauda was on full display.
And I do intend this epic movie every time I get a chance.