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In the last half dozen years or so, there has been an increasing tendency for everyone and his dog to claim that a certain book/work of art/movie had derogatory references to religious, political or social leaders/dogmas etc. and instead of encouraging a debate, as you'd expect in a democracy, they go ahead with causing so much of a ruckus by destroying property or bad-mouthing the author/film maker/artist and demand the banning of the book/movie/whatever. Eventually the government, which seems to encourage extra-institutional censorship of this nature, steps in and in national interest, bans the work.
Yesterday, full-time Madhuri-Tabu fan, part-time painter and part-time film-maker Maqbool Fida Hussain announced that his just released movie Meenaxi: Tale of 3 cities will be withdrawn from theatres after a few Muslim organizations and know-it-alls had objected to the lyrics of a song which was used to describe the heroine's beauty, but in reality, according to the Quran, these lines described the Prophet's persona. The take, as usual, is that it affects the sentiments of the people/community. Who gave these people the right to decide what is right and what is wrong? MF Hussain is a Muslim himself. What is wrong with using creative verse to describe beauty, even if it interferes with someone's interpretation of religious works? Even worse, the film is a damp squib. So hardly anyone, barring the censor board [the official one] and these self-styled censors, would have even seen the movie/heard the songs. So the percentage of people whose sentiments would have been affected by seeing the movie is so ridiculously low. A few months ago, the goon Sena, attacked the Bhandarkar Institute in Pune, because there were derogatory remarks about Shivaji's parentage in a book written by James Laine. The Vanar Sena, has on earlier occasions, destroyed/threatened/forced bans on works by MF Hussain, movies by Deepa Mehta along with digging up pitches before Pakistan toured India for a cricket series.
However, it is not just artists who are affected. Around a couple of weeks ago, the various political parties got together and decided that opinion polls and exit polls, when conducted before elections, were a bad thing. They raised this issue with the Election Commission, which in its infinite wisdom, went with the parties, and agreed that opinion & exit polls affected the voters' perceptions to such a degree that the voter would either go with the tide & support the party which the opinion poll indicated to be the winner or the voters would vote en-masse for the underdog, the party which the opinion poll predicted wouldn't make it at the hustings. Thankfully, the Attorney General made it extremely clear to the Government and the EC that such a ban would be contrary to the right to freedom of speech, expression & information. The government (and Prasar Bharati) has hopefully noted the difference between this situation and the farcical situation of a month or so ago when TEN Sports was armtwisted into sharing the telecast rights with Doordarshan. Yogendra Yadav, from the Centre for Study of Developing Societies makes a wonderful statistics based case for not banning these polls. The irony is that this is in fact the second time such a request from the EC has been struck down.
This Indian team continues to improve with every series. Yesterday's win at Rawalpindi sealed India's first ever test series win in Pakistan (obviously, considering this was the first time we won a test there) and a series win abroad after 10 years (obviously you dont count the one test against Bangladesh!). To someone like me who grew up watching Miandad's six at Sharjah, Aaqib's hat-trick, Imran & Wasim toying with Indian batsmen while Anwar, Malik did the same with Indian bowlers, playing Pakistan and losing to them (except at World Cups!) seemed to instill a psychological block in Indian cricket. That bogey has now finally disappeared. Perhaps it was a good idea not to play Pakistan so frequently in the recent past.
The team building which started somewhere around 2000, when Ganguly took over as captain following the sudden resignation of Tendulkar, has resulted in a situation where there're more expectations from this team in every series. If drawing in Australia was an achievement, what was really wonderful was the fact that the team believed that they'd underachieved and that a win in Australia was in fact possible. You can put this new philosophy/attitude down to many factors: the abundance of talent (just about every youngster takes his chances - Yuvraj, Sehwag, Chopra, Harbhajan, Irfan, Balaji etc.), a very good work ethic and fitness regime enforced by Wright, Andrew Leipus, Greg King (and Le Roux earlier) and most importantly, the will to hang in there regardless of the situation and play the percentages, take care of the process rather than bother too much about the end result.
Ganguly's role in the transformation of this Indian team from perennial under-achievers to being able to compete on par with the best of the world, under any conditions, cannot be understated. When he took over, Indian cricket was pretty much at a crisis point. The match-fixing episode had just broken out and excellent players like Azhar, Jadeja & Mongia were besmirched by it. Tendulkar resigned in a huff, following a series defeat to South Africa. Ganguly had to then rebuild the side and his single biggest contribution to Indian cricket will be the way he backed talented youngsters who were willing to give it everything, rather than cast them away after a few failures. Undoubtedly Ganguly's personal experience of the 1991/92 tour to Australia, where he hardly played a game and wasn't anywhere near the national side until 1996, affected him and he didn't want this situation to occur with other youngsters. Ganguly's abrasive and aggressive nature was never going to endear himself to former cricketers or even the media. But as the results started trickling in, the attitude towards Ganguly's nature changed and he is now a cult hero all across India, not just in Calcutta. Ganguly's only weak point is that his batting is not as consistently good as it used to be. Obviously India can do without a situation like Australia faced in 1997/98 when Taylor was in the side purely for his captaincy without being much of a rungetter.
Tendulkar's metamorphosis from the perennial one-man army to finally having the pressures lifted off his shoulders has come about because of the coming together of Indian cricket's possibly all-time best middle order. Strangely though, he seems to play with even less freedom than earlier. Maybe there's a volcano waiting to explode later this year during the two big series against South Africa and Australia at home. There'd be a case for a middle-order of Amarnath, Vishwanath, Vengsarkar, Shastri or Amarnath, Azharuddin, Vengsarkar, Shastri or Manjrekar, Tendulkar, Azharuddin, Kapil also being a fearsome one to contend with. But the fact is that these lineups have come nowhere close to what Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman & Ganguly have achieved. It is similar to the situation Australia faced throughout the 1970s when they had the 2 Chappells, Marsh, Lillee & Thommo and West Indies through the 1980s when they had an awesome batting line up as well as the best ever bowling lineup. More recently, Australia's middle-order lineup of Ponting and the Waugh twins with bowlers of the quality of McGrath, Gillespie and Warne, evoked a feeling of awe amongst opponents and spectators.
Dravid's evolution from perennial second-best/bridesmaid but never the bride to being the fulcrum of the Indian team has played a huge role in taking the load off Tendulkar as well as providing the team with enough runs & solidity to think of victories abroad. In all of India's historic wins in the last 3-4 years, he has played a part, with the exception of the Multan test. His 180 at Calcutta was completely and unfairly forgotten in comparison with Laxman's 281 special but his 148 at Leeds, the 233 & 72 notout at Adelaide and the 270 at Rawalpindi finally mean that he has earned the right to be called India's best batsman. Add in his 4 centuries on a trot in 2002, his brilliant slip fielding and the fact that he is now the Indian wicket opponents covet most, there is an obvious gem we're looking at. Certainly he'd rank in India's top 4 batsmen of the last 50 years, the others being Gavaskar, Vishwanath and Tendulkar. Its difficult to compare these people with former greats like Hazare, Merchant or even CK Nayudu, so lets not even bother.
Someone like Laxman makes batting look so ridiculously easy. If Dravid has been at the epicentre of almost every Indian win in the recent past, can Laxman be far behind? These two have become twin-scourges for opposing captains and bowlers, the world over. They do the good cop-bad cop routine to perfection. One grinds the bowling down and forces them to bowl to his strengths while the other doesn't care if the ball is on/outside offstump and caresses it to midwicket or cover. He has the brilliant ability to make a pitch look far better for batting than it actually is and that is a wonderful quality to have because it instantly takes the pressure off the rest of the batsmen.
Sehwag's recent rise from unknown & risk associated quantity as an opener to being a batsman feared by opponents for the way he can set the pace in a test or onedayer (they mean the same to him anyway. In a onedayer you have 50 overs to play with, in a test there's no limit - thats the only difference). His century at Trent Bridge was a superb display of disciplined batting in the first session and then he cut loose. His knock at Melbourne was similar too but at Multan, he went for his shots from the start. His method is very straightforward - see ball, ball in the slot and begging to be hit? Ok hit and oblige. I hope his partnership with Chopra isnt sacrificed to include chaps like Yuvraj/Kaif because it has been a very successful one. Chopra is bound to start getting the big scores one day and Ganguly must persist with him, the same way he has backed so many other younger players.
India's weak link in the recent past has been the bowling. Harbhajan seems to be living in the glory of 2001 while Zaheer hardly ever seems fit, Agarkar and Nehra are either unfit or inconsistent ... or both! There's thus so much of an opportunity for Balaji and Pathan, who've improved tremendously since the Australia tour, to cement their places and question the automatic right of Zaheer, Agarkar or Nehra to be included when fit. Kumble's presence has made so much of a difference to the bowling. You cannot miss out on the experienced seen-it-all head he offers. You cannot argue with nearly 400 wickets in 84 tests. His best days are certainly not past him.
What India does need now is a better way to manage, detect and prevent the frequent injuries which're afflicting the bowling resources. If it means that bowlers will not play in every mom & pop one-day game, so be it. If it means that they can be included in a test or onedayer only after they've proved their fitness in a domestic/warm-up game, so be it. Not too many teams do well after losing their first choice bowling attack, as India did in Australia and Pakistan. Then again, not too many teams are Team India.
However, India's incident free tour of Pakistan has provided Pervez Musharraf with a great opportunity to tell everyone that Pakistan is a nice place to be in. As I mentioned in an earlier piece, the bonhomie is extremely artificial and in my opinion (the same as that expressed in September 2003), Pakistan remains a dangerous place. Now we can all look forward to Musharraf arm-twisting the new Indian government, firmly seating himself as President and army chief, continuing to deny Pakistan's hand in nuclear proliferation or terrorism, getting aid from the US for his assistance in Afghanistan, the same place where he stage manages skirmishes or attacks to make it appear as though top al-Qaeda members are nearly caught and letting Osama and al-Zawahiri escape while catching some small fry to satisfy the US. Advantage Musharraf, yet again!
Google's GMail continues to a big discussion in the tech community. Here're two views, he likes it and he finds some accessibility issues.
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