Thursday, March 31, 2011


There’s no joy in being a killjoy so forgive me for what I’m about to say, but say it I must. So tell the trumpets to trumpet no more, if at least for a while. Pull down the streamers from the walls and stop not to mourn for the king, for his naked corpse still lies in the forest, and his crown and skin and bones in a bag, waiting to be traded.

Perhaps we are celebrating the return of the tiger a little too soon.

Tuesday morning saw us waking up to some very good news in a very long time. Newspaper stories about the environment in the last decade or so have only perpetuated a sense of gloom and doom. But this Tuesday was different. Tiger numbers across the country, claimed the NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority which replaced the much maligned Project Tiger), have gone up by a robust 12 per cent. On the face of it, this is definitely good news and perhaps the nation ought to congratulate one of our most involved environment ministers in a long time.

And yet there are a few questions that need to be asked. Firstly, in the absence of absolute transparency with respect to the census methodology, can one really be sure that the suggested numbers are truly indicative of stability and growth or are the new numbers a result of statistical extrapolations and manipulations?

Secondly, it is an undeniable fact that camera traps are an improvement over the traditional method of counting pug-marks. But have these new methods undergone tamper-proofing checks? Thirdly, how credible is the assumption that tiger numbers have gone up almost across the board when these same tigers have in fact lost almost two million hectares of prime habitat over the same four year period?

And with investigative and enforcement agencies all along the tiger range countries insisting that there has been an increase in cases of tigers being poached, of tiger bones and skins being smuggled and the like, the head seems reluctant to go along with the heart and joining in the celebrations.

All this cynicism might even be a little unfair to Minister Jairam Ramesh but faith in the claims of the government agencies in this country has been reduced to a bad habit kicked long and hard for most Indians. Credibility can only be earned back if occasions like the census are an annual affair instead of the ‘once in four’ affair of Olympic proportions that it currently happens to be. And the ministry’s methods have to be open to scrutiny and should be endorsed by non-governmental experts and agencies.

But my concerns don’t stop at that…

I was driving through a small forest just outside the Ranthambhore National Park some months ago with a local Meena guide and he told me a startling story. He said that villagers around Ranthambhore oft en supplement their diet and garnish their celebrations with wild venison and wild pork. Instead of hunting down deer and wild boar with their traditional bows and arrows, these poachers prepare food-baits with grains and molasses and then place small home-made bombs in them. When the poor animal bites the bait, the bomb goes off and in most cases kills the animal instantaneously. However, if the animal is unlucky, it might only lose a jaw or the muzzle. A slow painful death through blood loss and starvation would follow.

And this happens within the precincts of one of India’s most popular wildlife parks, which gets more attention than most from tourists and conservationists from all over the world as well as from the media and for these reasons is a priority even for enforcement and conservation agencies. And yet, the impunity with which these animals are poached underscores how vulnerable the forests and its denizens are and how toothless and impotent the protection mechanism.

After the fall of Sariska, India’s rusty conservation machinery creaked into motion yet again and with some degree of concerted and focused effort, has hopefully pulled back the tiger from its descent into the abyss, but we cannot afford to focus on the tiger at the cost of being oblivious to the plight of others. Following is a shortlist of endangered animals that have been forgotten in the din of the battle to save India’s tigers…

The Common Leopard

The leopard’s hardly common anymore. When the smuggling of tiger parts became a little more difficult than it used to be, poachers and traders started hunting down leopards. Leopard bones and organs are a steady substitute for the tiger in most markets. Reports say that for each tiger killed, six leopards have been skinned to keep up with the demand.

The Tibetan Antelope

The Tibetan Antelope or Chiru is an extremely endangered animal that wanders the frozen slopes in North Kashmir. The fine pelt of this graceful animal is woven into the finest shahtoosh shawls and scarves. And three to four chiru have to be slaughtered to make one shawl.

Once upon a time, Kashmiri weavers were renowned for their skill in weaving the most exquisite shahtoosh shawls. Aft er the ban on shahtoosh, the same weavers shift ed their focus toward pashmina. But in the volatile powder keg of Kashmiri politics, a former chief minister attempted to throw the fat in the fire by suggesting that the government ought to lift the ban on shahtoosh because it was essential for the economy of the state. But it did not occur to the good minister that with less than a 100 of these antelopes left in the state, the economy couldn’t hope to go too far on the back of 24 shahtoosh shawls.

The Sloth Bear

The famous dancing bears of India have been freed from the noose that forced them to dance but there’s a new threat that looms. The demand for bear bile and fat for traditional medicines in South- East Asia has led to widespread poaching of Sloth bears in the country. And tiny bear-cubs are battered to death because their paws are a vital ingredient in exotic soups in the same region.

The list goes on and on and on. Water Buffalo, Asiatic Lions, Elephants, The Great Indian Bustard, The Gangetic River Dolphin, The Rock Python and the Barasingha are all as highly endangered animals that are still hunted down for greed and sport. The state has pledged to protect them and owes them as much protection as the tiger but we are reluctant to learn our lessons until it is too late.

Sariska was a wake up call for the tiger. But most other species can’t afford a Sariska.

If the tiger indeed has returned then celebrations are surely in order, but as we cheer the big cat on, let us not leave the rest of them feeling like street urchins waiting for hand-outs at the end of the party.


Thursday, March 24, 2011


The suitors have started reaching for the bride. Hands, sweaty and dirty after a long hard day of battle have begun to dream of what it would be like to touch and kiss the one they are fighting for. The mind flits between savouring the tantalising ecstasy of imagining your arms around her and wincing at the thought of the excruciating agony you would suffer if you had to see her leave, cradled in the arms of a bitter rival. The hard brown earth of the subcontinent has been soaked in a lot of sweat and not a little blood. The pretenders have been ground to dust and they have dragged the corpses of their aspirations back home with a lot of deep open wounds and a few honourable scars to show for their ardour. But move aside world, the contenders are here… It’s KO time at the World Cup.

But for just a brief moment, let me take you away from the heat and dust of battle between wood and leather and take you up the Himalayas into a realm where on both sides of the cloud-spearing mountains brew legends about seven ancient sages. These sages are called by different names on different sides of the mountains. They might perhaps be different people too but what is common between the legend of the seven immortals from Bombay to Beijing is that they started out more or less together and since then have shaped and impacted their world and time in a way that has changed it forever. Centuries have passed and yet even today, it is said that the immortal masters are still around, subtly inspiring and guiding the wheels of life along the dirt-tracks of time. Some say they have seen them while others will tell you that it is their ideas that go on forever, showing generations and epochs the light and the way.

Well cricket, especially limited overs cricket, has its own list of seven immortals. And this page is an ode in praise of these seven masters who revolutionised the game within the span of their careers. Every player playing for the cup today, be it captain, batter, fielder or bowler fast and slow thinks of at least one of these seven immortals during the course of a game even today for it is on the shoulders of these giants on which rests the game as we know it today. So doff your hats, pinch your skirts and bow just a touch… for you are about to meet the ‘Immortals’.

Let’s start at the top of the order. Opening the batting in the 70s and 80s in ODI cricket was all about seeing off the new ball. Tough, dour and gutsy men would pad up to the prospect of surviving ten overs of pace and bounce and swing and seam in order to protect the stroke-players in the middle from the fast bowlers. And it was the golden age of fast bowling too. Almost every team had one or two (or four if you happened to be the West Indies) who could put the fear of death, defeat or worse in the minds of the opposition.

Then, in the mid 90s a short stocky man from Sri Lanka with forearms that look like knotted baseball clubs went to Australia to try and prop up a floundering career as a middle order batsman and spinner and changed all that. Promoted to open the innings with a license to kill, Sanath reinvented his own career as well as the first 15 overs in every game of limited overs cricket that was to follow with his first few murderous strokes – vicious pulls and cuts that sent the ball soaring into the stands. Sanath’s heavy hitting at the top of the order on that Australian tour was followed by lots more of the same during the 1996 World Cup in the subcontinent which knocked every opponent out on their way to a cup triumph. Today, every time a Virender Sehwag or a Chris Gayle goes out to open, somewhere in their minds lurks Sanath’s shadow, egging them on…

The next Immortal was a difficult pick. I had to pick a slow bowler with the greatest impact on the game and had to choose between a cricketer who is widely regarded as perhaps the greatest of his era with a train load of wickets – Shane Warne, and another who transformed the traditional whipping boy of ODI cricket, the off-spinner, into an attacking option with a secret weapon. After much deliberation, I thought of batting for the latter. His pile of wickets wouldn’t even keep you warm through the night while Shane Warne’s must’ve cost a few forests and yet you can’t help but pick the man who invented the ball which finally made ever off-spinner feel like a man.

Before he came up with the doosra, off spinners were usually cannon fodder. And today, if the world is wary of Muralidharan and Harbhajan, it is because they owe more than a wee bit to this man who once played for Pakistan but you could find him today rolling his arm over on the English greens. Say hello to Saqlain Mushtaq. The third one might be a bit of a surprise. He was a brilliantly gift ed batsman and decent slow-medium bowler but plagued by a bad knee condition, he never quite realised his greatness in the middle order. But it is as a imaginative tactician that he makes it to this list. Martin Crowe captained New Zealand during the 1992 World Cup and took them within touching distance of the trophy. Although they lost in the semi-finals to eventual champions Pakistan, his innovations left their mark on the game. Four years before Arjuna Ranatunga took a leaf out of the Crowe manual for out-of-the-box tactics and promoted dashers and pinch hitters like Sanath and Romesh Kaluwitharana to open the innings and take advantage of the field restrictions, Martin had pushed a big beefy out-of-form and out-of-sorts batsman called Mark Greatbatch and told him to ‘have a go’ at the bowlers. As it turned out, it was a stroke of genius and Greatbatch and Crowe had started what Sanath then refined, nay forged, into a deadly art. At the same World Cup, Crowe startled a few opening batsmen by opening the bowling with Dipak Patel, an off-break bowler and started a trend that is still being employed by captains to good effect in the current WC.

The next two are my personal favourites but you don’t need me to tell you anything about them. The twin Ws, Wasim (Akram) and Waqar (Younis) are all time greats whose pace, swing and creativity at the bowling crease left a whole generation of batsmen wishing they had been born in a different time. And yet the craft for which they are remembered most today was one for which they were reviled and persecuted by many who lost to them in the early 90s. Reverse swing was an unknown art in those days and when the two of them would move the old-ball around like a yo-yo at speeds beyond 90 mph, many a batsman tried to calling them cheats. But they usually ended up losing both their case and their wicket. Today, no new ball bowler can claim to be worth his IPL cheque if he can’t ‘reverse’ the ball.

Speaking of bowlers, there is one who taught the world how to bowl at the death and won the World Cup for his country while he was at it. Unlike the fast bowlers who traditionally bowled the end overs, he wasn’t lightning fast. Instead of trying to bowl the ball as fast as he could, he tried to bowl it slower than usual, thus foxing the batsman as he wound up for the slog. Steve Waugh used to be an all-rounder in the mid-80s and his calm and subtle changes of pace in the end overs helped Australia win a few tight ones including the final during the 1987 World Cup. Steve’s back injuries might have stopped him from bowling halfway through his career but it was he who set the tone for ‘deathbowling’ with his slow leg-cutters.

And last but not the least stands that immortal little genius who transformed what had always been a chore, for weekend and perhaps even international cricketers, into a glamorous statement in athleticism. A good but not an exceptionally great batsman, Jonty Rhodes never set hearts racing with his bowling and never really captained an international side but standing there at backward point, this great athlete would bounce and pounce on anything within reach, saving hundreds of runs and pouching catches like falcon plucking pigeons in mid-air. The history of fielding can be divided into two eras – there was once a ‘before Jonty’ era and now there is one ‘after Jonty’ where coaches around the world hold him up as an example for their teams.

It doesn’t matter where or who you are watching on a cricket field today for if the cricket you watch and enjoy on your television screens today is so much more enjoyable a spectacle than it ever was, it is because of these seven immortals. We all owe them a standing ovation, and a word of thanks…


Thursday, March 17, 2011


It was a strange photograph. It was neither depressing nor grisly. In fact it reminded me of a Van Gogh painting. There was something about the coarse ordinariness on its surface and the overwhelming power of the emotional undercurrents of the moment that reminded me of The Potato Eaters.

But I had had enough. I turned away from that page and flipped to the sports section. But halfway through a story about Chelsea’s prospects in the Champion’s League this season, I stopped, and went back to the photograph.

Half of a flight of wooden stairs dropped down from the top left hand corner of the picture. Next to the stairs, to its right, lay broken shards of glass and a twisted and bent cabinet. At the foot of the stairs sat an old man, his left hand clutching a bundle to his chest with his head resting on the broken steps. He was dressed in a dark blue sweater and light blue track pants and leaves and dirt and splotches of dried mud clung to them. But it was his face that was the canvas, for it was etched with lines of exhaustion and despair and the furrowed brow seemed to suggest a dull nagging ache or thought that seemed to be bothering him even as he slept. And something about the man reminded me of a child who had woken up but pretended to be asleep because he didn’t want to go to school… of a soul desperate to escape the inevitable unhappy truths of a sad new day.

I didn’t know the man. I didn’t know his name or who or what he had lost during the night. I didn’t even know if the house that the picture found him in was his own or one that he had run into in a moment of desperation and I did not even know if he would have been happy to wake up at all that morning, but it really didn’t matter. That man had been dead for more than a day when the photographer found his body in a house destroyed by the tsunami in Sendai in north-eastern Japan.

What must have been going on in his mind when he saw that wall of water rushing towards him like a giant muddy monster slithering through town swallowing up all that lay before it. “High ground!” he must’ve thought, “I have to make it to higher ground!” He would’ve rushed inside the nearest house, perhaps his own, but the water would’ve reached him even as he turned. By the time he reached the stairs the water would have flooded the floor. Gasping, panting and struggling through the thick cascading slush, he must’ve tried to clamber up the stairs, but his strength failed him. Weakened by age, exhaustion and adrenaline, the man must have held on to whatever he couldfind as he slid back into the rising waters as they closed above him even as his last breath ebbed away into a stream of bubbles lost in the raging waters of that dark day.

But is this the inevitable scenario during a tsunami? When the big wave strikes (and it oft en strikes so hard that it actually moves a nation, literally) are we all doomed to drift with the waves of fate, to live, or more likely die, on a raft or a prayer? Or is there something we can actually do during a fit of Poseidonic rage that can actually ensure (or at the very least increase the odds of) our survival?

The more survivor stories I read, the more I’m inclined to believe that no matter how wrathful the waves maybe, they perhaps always give us a chance, or at the very least, a sign. From the shores of Chile and the Maldives to Japan and Hawai, every soul to have survived the apocalypse will tell you that if you stick to the following principles, you give yourself a very good chance of surviving a tsunami. Here they are in fairly random order but the first one is the one that saved the most lives so even if you forget the others, when the sirens go off or you see the ocean reaching for the sky before it reaches for you, remember to…

Run… run to higher ground!

I know it’s fairly logical that when the waves come calling, you should reach for higher ground but how high is high enough? A good stout hill, high enough to keep you high and dry and yet not too steep or difficult to climb, especially for the old or the weak, is ideal. But what if there are no hills to climb? Well big tall buildings with strong foundations and quite a few floors also give you a good chance. And if the building’s not too tall, go straight to the roof. That’s your best chance.

Cars off er little protection unless you’re using them to drive inland if you get stuck in the flood but Koichi Takarain, a truck driver who was stranded in his tall four-tonne behemoth was able to survive the tsunami even as the waters swirled around him and carried away smaller vehicles.

And what do you do if you are stuck without tall buildings, hills or trucks to climb and there’s a tidal wave chasing you down? You look for a tree. Hopefully one that is at least 50 feet tall. Smaller ones in all probability will get washed away.

And if you do get washed away, grab some floating debris. It could be your last chance.

But even before you run to higher ground, teach yourself how to read the signs of the sea. Tremors on the beach are a sign for you to head for the hills. And if there’s a sudden drop in the water level or the sea recedes, leaving a bare bed in its wake you better brace yourself for it’s a sign that the ocean’s about to spit far and long.

Never delay an evacuation for anything. For ‘anyone’, maybe its worth the risk, but for nothing else. Abandon all thoughts of retrieving your valuables until the danger has passed.

And lastly, heed all warnings and do not take them lightly until you get an all clear from local authorities. In May 1960, when a tsunami hit Hawai, the first waves aft er the warnings were rather small and expecting the worst to be over, a teenaged Carol Brown returned to her house by the beach a little too soon only for huge wave to sweep her and her house away. Carol survived and learnt a terrible lesson.

Whether you live by the coast or happen to find yourself on a beach during one of your holidays, and God forbid but if the big wave strikes, hope these lessons from those who have been to death’s door and back will hold you and me and those we love in good stead. And with a prayer on my lips for those who are still battling their terrible fate in the land of the rising sun, I hope and wish that such battles are few and far between in the days of our future.


Thursday, March 10, 2011


On International Women's Day, I woke up to the story of a forgotten woman hitting the headlines. Aruna Shanbaug has spent the last 37 years trapped inside a body that is decaying bit by bit away as we speak. She is suffering for the sins of another while the world wakes up every now and then to her plight and wonders if her right to die is greater than her duty to live... But the more important question is 'Ladies, if you were in Aruna's shoes that fateful day, what would you have done? Could you have done more? I hope it is a question you never need to answer, but God forbid, if the question were to ever stare at you in a dark lonely corner, may the story that follows reveal the powers you hold in your head, your heart and your hands. Th is is an old one from the vault but one I'd like to repeat over and over again, especially on a day like this, because you need to know and believe that there is nothing fair about being the weaker sex. You can be as strong as they come and by the time you are done with this page, I hope you will know that this isn't just a comforting cliche but a palpable truth. And then every day could be a happy women's day... at least for you!

This story is not about Aruna Shanbaug, and yet, I must tell you her story before I start... Aruna is 60 years old. By all accounts, she spends her time staring at the ceiling but can’t see a thing. Her teeth are rotting away and her bones have twisted themselves into shapes of their own volition. Those who have known and loved her wish for her death, and yet her life clings on, to what hope, no one knows…

Aruna has been living her life on this municipalhospital bed for the last 35 years, semi-comatose, but whenever she hears a man’s voice, she screams, in fear, in agony and in memory of her last waking hour…

Thirty-five years ago, on a November evening, Aruna, then a 25-year-old head-strong head turner, a nurse in a hospital in Mumbai, was on top of the world… she was going on leave, she was going to marry the man of her dreams. In the hospital basement which housed the dog-lab, she changed out of her uniform and was about to leave when she felt the cold steel of a dog chain around her neck… it was Sohanlal, a ward boy sweeper she had rebuked earlier … Sohanlal assaulted her, tried to rape her… and since she was menstruating, sodomised her instead; strangled her with the dog chain and presuming her dead, left her crumpled and bleeding…

Today, Aruna’s body and spirit, ravaged and broken, lie on that lonely hospital bed while Sohanlal having served a seven year sentence, roams free. Some say he is working in a hospital in Delhi, but you wouldn’t know him if you saw him… he has a new name.

This story isn’t about Nishtha (name changed), and yet, I must tell you her story before I finish…

Not too long ago, Nishtha, in her 20s, was walking past a construction site in Delhi, on her way back home from a mall. Suddenly, a couple of guys followed her into a lane and pushed her against a brick wall… one of them held her neck, and her shoulder, pressing her face into the wall, while the other started fiddling with her clothes…

Five minutes and a few screams later, some labourers had gathered in the lane. With glazed eyes and a gash on her lower lip, Nishtha was panting, standing with her hands on her knees, and at her feet lay a man in his 30s, clutching his groin, writhing and groaning in pain. His face was bleeding from cuts under his right eye and his mouth, and his accomplice had run away… some say it was his screams that the labourers had heard. But could’ve been Nishtha’s screams, said the man who told me this story… “She’s very aggressive when she’s angry… you wouldn’t think a girl as slight as her was capable of such anger… such volume, such violence…”

Nishtha though is your everyday next door girl in every respect, save one. Every other day, for months, she’s been spending her evenings training in something called Krav Maga, but hey, this isn’t about her. This is about you, and about every woman you know and care about… This story is about the time I spent training in the same dojo which Nishtha often frequents (her peers told me about the legend that precedes her) and saw other women too, petite and bashful in repose, transformed into formidable amazons under duress.

Having spent some time studying various martial arts, I realise there are many that off er greater health benefits or cultural moorings, but there perhaps aren’t any that help you feel safer. Martial arts styles like Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai might be as deadly on the streets but they demand high levels of skill and aerobic fitness, virtues, you’ll admit, that are beyond the reach of most of the women we share our lives with. Krav Maga, on the other hand, trains the body, and far more importantly, the mind to handle attackers who are invariably bigger, stronger and fitter. Unlike other martial arts, Krav Maga is not a sport. The training focuses exclusively on real-life situations and on surviving that situation instead of scoring points. I know what you’re thinking, especially if you happen to be the elegant, gentle, feminine type (specifically referring to women here); ‘I don’t need this. I don’t use public transport. I have a driver. And there’s a guard outside, so what could possibly happen to me? Besides, I’m too much of a lady…’ Well, let me remind you ladies, Dhananjoy Chatterjee, the man who raped and murdered 14-year-old Hetal Parekh was the security guard of her housing complex. Ma’am, you’re safe only when ‘you’ can keep yourself safe.

Surveys of convicted rapists reveal that they look for a ‘soft target’, someone who wouldn’t be a lot of trouble. Aft er three months of Krav Maga, I assure you, any girl would be ‘a lot of trouble’.

What good is it for the gentlemen amongst us, you ask? I asked my instructor the same question… He said, “Remember IC 814; if I’d been on that plane with some of my students, I don’t know about us, but the hijackers wouldn’t have survived the hijacking (incidentally, sky marshals on various airlines have been trained in Krav Maga). Moral of the story – if you are a man, Krav Maga prepares you for heroism, and if you are a woman, it prepares you for life, without fear, and with dignity.


Thursday, March 3, 2011


I got late with this one. I should have started writing this afternoon but I spent the last three hours picking my way past old lovers piled on top of each other in the basement - A T-shirt with an embarrassing self-painted motif, too old and a size too small to wear but too dear to spare or share; old yellowed dog-eared issues of magazines that I know I’ll never read but would miss dearly once they’re gone; the only cricket bat with which I managed a double digit score…the handle had disappeared or disintegrated but the rest of it was all still there – chipped and moulded, but a proud piece of wood nevertheless – and last but not the least, the treasure I had come to seek – hiding in the corner, caked in a dry crust of mud from a happy day in the sun from many years ago – a pair of size nine spiked fast bowler’s boots.

An assortment of indignant spiders and millipedes and a tailless gecko scurried out of the pair as I picked up the shoes and apologetically shook them free of their lodgers. After lying forgotten for all these years, I’m sure the pair felt that their loyalties lay with the squatters but it was time to remind the boots of the purpose for which they’d been crafted – to pound the earth and coax it into releasing the forces of nature into the feet that wore them and to grip the soil with passion and power as a hand high above hurled a cricket ball towards its logical conclusion – to shatter the wickets at the other end.

We have good memories, my cricket boots and I, for let me tell you once again, if I haven’t told you already, that I’m the fast bowler this country wishes it had. And why, you ask, am I bothering you yet again with this startling insight, except for the fact that a leading news weekly happened to make the mistake of trusting me with a page all to myself? Well, because I spent the day looking at a bunch of dibbly-dobbly Irish bakers and bankers who look about as menacing with a cricket ball as Santa Claus might with a whip, tie into knots the same English batsmen who whacked our boys in blue out of the park in Bengaluru. Finally, the English did break lose and tote up a 300 plus score (which the Irish happened to chase down). But that’s really not the point. The point is that highest score for both England and Bangladesh in the World Cup so far, in spite of playing against minnows like The Netherlands and Ireland, happened in their games against India. And while I still maintain that this is meant to be India’s and Tendulkar’s World Cup, and our batting might might yet be enough to steal the Cup, but our bowling ‘attack’ has been leaking runs like a baby hippo on diuretics and there isn’t a diaper in sight.

So to cut a short story shorter, the sight of Indian bowlers disappearing into the stands faster than you could say “enough Patel” or “whoosh Chawla” on one hand and the welcome spectre of some of my… er… ahem.. peers, fellow 35-year-old pacemen Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee, still bowling fast and straight like seasoned snipers on the other, pushed me to believe that there might be a case for reviving retired dreams and pushing the selectors to have another look at yours truly, for really, how much worse could I do than returning figures of 5-0-53-0?

Am I jumping the gun? What about Zaheer? Undeniably, Zaheer Khan is a good wily bowler who nearly won us the match against England. But is he an Akram or even a Lasith Malinga? Can he single-handedly and consistently destroy batting sides irrespective of the surface? Maybe not. And in my opinion, the most potent bowling weapon on these fl at surfaces would not be spin but pace – not medium barely 130 kmph cannon fodder pace but raw red hot 145 kmph plus pace – and reverse swing.

Shaun Tait, Mitchell Johnson, big boy Bennett, Steyn, Akhtar, Kemar Roach and the man I believe would prove to be the bowler of the tournament, Lasith Malinga – they’ve all announced themselves with a big bang on the batter’s helmet at this World Cup and have proved to be the decisive difference between their teams winning or losing. On the glass top ODI wickets of the subcontinent, spinners and conventional medium paced swing and seam bowlers rarely find purchase and are the easiest to scoop, reverse hit or helicopter to the ropes and stands. Indian fans must get used to the sight of our bowlers and fielders shaking their heads, clueless about how to staunch the flow of runs. Our only bet, and it isn’t a bad one, is to hope that we bat true to form and in a batter’s game, since that’s what ODIs are, it is the best batting side rather than the most balanced team that will hopefully win.

But the bigger problem is the way the Indian cricket machinery has consistently managed to discourage and destroy every fast bowling talent the country happened to throw up. In the 90s Javagal Srinath had to sit out his best years because the selectors had too much respect for ageing seniors to give our fastest bowler a chance to inspire fans and wins at home. Another genuine quick, Prashant Vaidya was ground to dust in the dust bowls of Vidarbha and was reduced to a shadow of himself before he got to play for India. In the more recent past, a tall wiry lad from Ikhar suddenly grabbed headlines as a bowler with the potential to become one of the fastest in the world. On his debut, he made the English batsmen hop and hobble and was the toast of the nation. But just a few seasons later Munaf Patel has been reduced to a gentle trundler who is efficient at best. Useful but nothing approaching the greatness he was perhaps marked for. Poorly coached and over worked in his early years, injuries both real and imagined haunted and hounded the desire to bowl fast out of his system.

And pray where did the old Ishant Sharma go? The one who gave Ricky Ponting nightmares and ever so oft en let slip a 150 kmph thunderbolt that stunned batters? All through his tour of South Africa not once do I remember him beating the South Africans with pace. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a very good captain with brains and bravado to match his brawn but even he’s been instrumental in sending out the wrong signs to the few fast bowlers that remain in the cupboard. Umesh Yadav is perhaps the quickest bowler in the country today and gave even Sachin Tendulkar a hard time in the nets in South Africa. But he didn’t even get a game. Instead it was the gentle medium-paced swing of Jaidev Unadkat that got the nod.

In spite of his terrible outing in the first WC game, the only Indian pacer, other than Zaheer, who has the ability to take and not hope for wickets, is Sreesanth. And yet the team management has done all it can to make him feel like an outcast - rebuked in public and he has been left holding his ears in a lonely corner. I wouldn’t blame him for trying too hard in his next game, if he gets one that is.

Our spinners and batters have taken us to the top of the cricketing pyramid today in most forms of the game but irrespective of what happens during the World Cup, the sad truth is that we will fail to realise our dream of becoming a dominant cricketing power on the field like the Australians yesterday or the West Indians before them. Destiny has given Indian cricket the opportunity to have one of the greatest teams in the history of the game, perhaps the first of the ‘Invincibles’ from the subcontinent, but there’s a vital ingredient missing in the mix – a pair of genuine fast bowlers, ideally one that swings the ball and the other who hits the deck and seams it around. Somewhere amongst our billions, there are two young lads waiting to get noticed. Until then, in case the selectors can’t wait, I have just cleaned my boots…