Thursday, March 29, 2012


Tigers aren’t on Facebook. It’s a pity though, for then they would’ve known how much we care. After all, there’s a new ‘save the tiger’ campaign in town. Television channels and matinee idols can’t stop gushing about it and the social network is simmering with hope and consternation. But the problem is, bloggers aren’t loggers and the guys busy hacking down forests and tigers just don’t have the mood or the means to ‘roar for the tiger’ on Facebook, or the patience for conservation documentaries and signature campaigns. If the tigers, our forests, our conscience and our future are to be saved, it would require concrete, consistent and sustainable steps from you and me and everybody who cares. We would need to change lives and perspectives for a whole lot of people before we can even begin to make a difference to a tiger’s today and tomorrow... The idea of conserving a species or an eco-system is dysfunctional and is doomed because it hopes to stop time, and time would have none of it. Instead of seeking to preserve tigers in reserves, like pickled residues of the past, we need to assertively reclaim lost ground for our forests, its denizens and us, and carve out a progressive and dynamic future for our world, one that we share with the tiger... But more of that later. Th is issue, while the campaign picks up steam on our screens at home and work, allow me to set the tone for future discussions with a reaction to the previous ‘save the tiger campaign’. In the next few issues I will try and focus on each aspect of tiger conservation - protection from poaching and habitat destruction, conservation incentives for stakeholders and reduction of man-animal conflicts, and lay out concrete steps for both state and non-state actors as well as for us key-pad pushers. Until then, tigers and us, let’s all hang in there...

So you want to save the tiger? You’ve seen the Save Our Tigers campaign and that cute little tiger cub, all scared and lonely in the big bad world, waiting for a mother who’ll never return. Your heart goes out to that cub… you want to cradle it in your arms, and protect it from all the evil in the world. So what do you do? You go on Facebook and post a comment. Something inane like “We must save tigers… little cub’s cho chweet. Spread the message….” or something shockingly stupid like “I’d do anything for the tiger and this is the best way”.

Other well meaning fools, nearly 100,000 strong and counting, have gone on to Aircel’s campaign website and ‘joined the roar’. Forgive me folks, I know you are well-intentioned people but what good is your name on a tiger’s picture that says ‘you’re roaring for the tiger’ for a tigress roaring in agony in the forest. Her bleeding paw is caught in a steel-jawed trap. Footsteps hurry towards her. They don’t bode well. She tries to shake her paw free but the steel-jaws bite deeper. She struggles some more. In desperation, she gnaws through her trapped front paw… her anguished roars seem to draw blood from the hills that surround her. But alas, it’s too late... the poachers, bedraggled men with a hungry look in their eyes surround her and spear her with crude lances… she turns around to fight, snarling and swiping with her free paw, but in vain. Her strength ebbs… the roaring shudders to a muffled groan and a once magnificent beast is reduced to a lacerated lifeless body. Her beautiful skin is cut open by the men, its organs and bones removed with an efficiency that tells you that these men have done this earlier… and will do it again.

What will stop them? Your Facebook posts? And what good is your post for that starving cub, pining for the tigress’ return until it is too weak to breathe. Far too emaciated now to look ‘chweet’, its dull skin clings to the bones. Th ose baby eyes no longer look upon the world with wonder for the light’s gone out of them.

Soon, it too will be food for worms, yet another statistic that should tell you that mere words don’t matter. They can’t feed nor protect tigers. Somewhere right now, as you read this, a tiger lies dying. The pen might have been mightier than the sword, but what good is it against hunger and greed, against poverty and stupidity, against corruption and insecurity?

Let me break the problem down for you…

One post said “We must stop buying tiger products and the killing would stop too”. Now, who do you know who buys tiger products? No one! The market for tiger parts is China, where limp egos hope to find a peg to hang their insecurities on by borrowing a tiger’s virility. So they drink tiger-penis soup and use its bones for its perceived medicinal properties, though there isn’t a shred of scientific evidence to support it. But sexual insecurity is perhaps the world’s greatest motivator (Hitler, it’s rumoured, had only one testicle) and many Chinese are willing to pay huge sums for a piece of the tiger. Th is demand triggers the network which, through vile middlemen, reaches the poor tribal whose desperate poverty makes a poacher out of him.

Here’s what to we can do…

1. Reach out to the Chinese. Share our perspective and help them understand that tiger parts won’t ‘give them a lift ’. There’s a growing movement amongst Chinese TCM practitioners who’re offering vegetarian alternatives while wildlife activists are spreading awareness about tiger conservation. Partner them in their mission and spread the message across China, without irresponsible jingoism, and appeal to a neighbour’s better judgement, pledging help and seeking empathy. And Aircel, your charming campaign’s tugging at the wrong hearts, but the right customers. Question is, what will you do about it?

2. Lobby and urge the government to recruit forest guards from local communities and fill up vacancies. Positions have remained vacant for nearly two decades. These units are understaffed, under paid, untrained and too old to be any good in the field. Start a fund to pay and train them or donate to an NGO that does.

3. Lastly, urge companies that benefit from eco-tourism, and receive your business (hotels, travel companies etc) to employ people from local forest communities and start welfare initiatives within the community. It’s in their best interests to share the spoils for it is an investment, for when the tiger disappears, so would their businesses. Also, through employment etc, the communities will realise that the tiger is worth more alive than dead, and therefore involve themselves in the conservation process, becoming informants, guardians and willing partners in arms against poaching.

If you want to save the tiger, only this will help and little else would… You can make a difference, but whether you want to make a difference and roar for the tiger or for a mobile service company is up to you.


Thursday, March 22, 2012


I spent an entire childhood wishing I had been a Muslim and a pathan like my idol was, and wished I could bowl like him, bat like him, and above all, inspire pride, unite and lead like him. From the Australasia Cup in 1986 till about that World Cup game in 1996, India would habitually lose to Pakistan or any other team with teeth, while Imran and his team, bristling with passion and pride, would bring the world to its cricketing knees. As a South Asian who wanted to bowl fast and hit hard, I couldn’t find role models who could inspire me within the Indian team. But right across the border, Imran rose like a colossus. He bowled faster than the West Indians and swatted away their short pitched angst with the grace and power of an immortal Achilles.

In those days while the Indian team was a fractured unit, picking at its own regional seam, under Imran’s flag the Pakistanis played, for their king and country, and immortal glory and so was I wrong to find my hero in the land my country had come to hate.

I had always believed in the articulate intelligence of the man off the field as much as I believed in his abilities on it and when he entered politics, I was convinced that he would make Pakistan a better nation and a better neighbour. My friends would remind me that Imran had allegedly remarked during the 1987 India tour, that let India and Pakistan, instead of going to war over Kashmir, fight it out on the pitch instead. So what, I say? If disputes really could be settled over a game instead of a blood bath, is it really such a bad deal?

Some might say that Imran said so, if he did, because in spite of his Oxford education, Imran is a tribal at heart. And like his brothers from the gun-toting badlands around the Khyber often settle clan disputes by pitting two fighting mountain mastiffs from each clan against each other, instead of shedding human blood, Imran too might have thought it a fair, if impractical idea.

I stood by him, defending my idol when my mother who had hitherto admired him, said she was disappointed to learn of the Sita White episode (Imran and Ms. White had a love child who he was initially reluctant to accept as his own), defending him from my own conscience when I learnt he loved hunting grouse and partridge. I realised he was only a man, and not a god, and yet what a man he was, and is…

So when I first heard that Imran, the bold, Imran, the fearless, Imran, that lion who couldn’t be cowed, had refused to come and speak at the India Today conclave because it also had a certain Salman Rushdie amongst the list of invitees, like many others, I too was disappointed. It isn’t about Mr Rushdie’s book which I haven’t read, but would definitely like to, if only to know why it irked so many so much. It is about a man reneging on an unspoken promise that he made to those who believed in him and believed he was going to take Pakistan beyond religious and cultural bigotry and help it become a modern functional democracy whose people have the right to both express and reject ideas without fearing death and mob hysteria. If he wilted so soon, in the face of so little, would Imran Khan have the courage to finish this battle with his values intact?

“Oh come on! You expect him to stand up and share the lectern with Salman Rushdie and still hope to win elections in Pakistan? The poor man has no choice!” she said. ‘She’, is a colleague of mine and a fan. And I was inclined to agree, but since she is a woman and most of you would fall victim to the usual sexist and chauvinistic assumptions about how little women might understand of either cricket or politics, I went to the library and picked out a few books about the great Khan, one of them in his own hand and titled ‘Pakistan: A personal history’.

As I flipped the pages, I got to know the man beyond the game. The shy playboy, the philandering philanthrophist, the urbane tribal and other such enigmas leaped out of the pages and then faded away behind the tragic sometimes towering-but often ridiculed figure of a king without a kingdom. In the last half decade, Imran Khan, the greatest modern icon, sporting or otherwise, of his country has endured being roughed up by politically radicalised mobs, arrested, jailed and threatened with death and worse. He has seen the women in his family being humiliated by those in power, in a manner which in his ancestral pashtun villages would have led to blood feuds. He has been called ‘a political non-entity’, a politically motivated (or frustrated) born again Muslim.

And then to add insult to injury, he gets called ‘Im, the dim!’ by arguably one of the greatest writers of our times. Salman Rushdie’s upset about being treated like a socio-religious pariah by a man who by virtue of his education and stature should have had the courage to accept, if not celebrate the presence of the man who wrote the ‘Satanic Verses’. Or so we think, for sitting right next to him, moderating the discussion was Aatish Taseer, the man who should have told the world that “it isn’t easy.”

Aatish Taseer’s father, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by his own security officer for opposing Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law, as was Clement Shahzad Butti (a minorities minister with the PPP government in Pakistan). Religious radicals operate with impunity in a country reduced to anarchy. Anybody who stands up to them has to be prepared for death, injury or worse. Families of those who oppose these radicals have to run away or go underground or put up with insults and a mob hysteria that could lead to damaged property, public lynching and even gruesome murders.

To expect a man seeking public office, having already sampled a slice of politically motivated mob justice, to jeopardise his whole future, both political and personal, for a cause he didn’t believe in, is more than merely naïve. And I say it’s a cause Imran didn’t believe in because in 1989, when the book first came out, Imran couldn’t give two hoots either way about the controversy surrounding the verses. But when large sections of the Muslim world boiled over, leading to death and destruction affecting countries as far apart as Japan and Norway, Imran Khan and other moderate Muslims living in the West became victims of the reverse fundamentalism of the ‘liberal West’. And Imran Khan resented that. Interviews he gave more than two decades ago, when he was a mere cricketer and as some say, a celebrity play-boy, would say so.

Imran Khan wasn’t being a hypocrite when he said Salman Rushdie had caused “immeasureable hurt” to all Muslims. For right or wrong, Imran Khan believed what he said. He didn’t bay for Rushdie’s head. He just said he chose not to share a platform with him. What’s wrong with that?

In exchange he got called ‘Im, the dim.’ Th at’s not fair. It’s easy to ridicule a man not present. I can think of a dozen ‘Sal-man?’ and ‘Rush-die’ jokes. Th at’s in poor taste, I agree, and my sincerest apologies to a man I salute for his prowess with the pen, as much as for his wit and wisdom. But the point is why pick on the poor guy when there were bigger fish in the pot to fry. Pranab Mukherjee, Akhilesh Yadav and Omar Abdullah stayed away from the conclave and all Rushdie could say was he was disappointed. All his indignation was spent on a ‘political minnow’ from across the border who is too dignified to cuss and too civilised to kill.

You are my hero too, O teller of tales of magic and meaning. I hold you too high to see you stoop even a little low. Your erudition ought to pick on those more deserving of your ire.

As for Imran, remember the 1992 World Cup, when he batted with uncharacteristic restraint to protect an injured shoulder and a fragile batting line up. He bided his time till the pitch was flat and the sun shone bright, and then he let loose all his might. Inspired by his example, young turks like Inzamam-ul-Haque and Waseem Akram put their weight behind him and lo and behold, the Cup came home.

The Imran of today is doing much the same. He gathers strength as he waits, when he knows its time, he will flood the gates and for that day, his country waits...


Thursday, March 15, 2012


If you trust certain quarters, they would tell you that Russia owes its greatness not to Communism or the Kalashnikov but to an unassuming hunk of iron that now lay at my feet.

So this was the secret weapon that had forged the men who won wars, medals and pride for Mother Russia? This was the ‘heavy artillery’ that made Supermen out of mere mortals and supposedly built nations, character and muscles, all with one ‘heave ho’? For something as awesome as all the literature around it proclaims, the kettlebell (that’s what it’s called, for it looks like an iron kettle without a spout), is a rather elusive and little known fitness apparatus. In fact, most sports and fitness stores in the country, and in most countries outside Eastern Europe and the United States wouldn’t know a kettlebell from George Orwell. So how good is a kettlebell at doing what it does, which is transforming the merely ordinary into the truly exceptional, be it people or countries? Well, posterity can decide about the latter, I was keen to know about the former... in other words, could this hunk of iron make an extraordinary hunk of a very ordinary me too?

History would seem to suggest so… In Russia, everyone, from weak and unhealthy teenagers who could barely lift a ‘bell’ - kettlebells, unlike dumbbells, have fixed weights that jump from 8kgs (half pood) to 16kgs (one pood) all the way to 48 kgs (three poods)- right up to old time champion wrestlers like Ivan Poddubny, was lift ing giryas (that’s what they call a kettlebell in the fatherland) and becoming stronger and fitter and healthier than they had ever been.

American and English circus strongmen, the kinds who you might come across in sepia toned pictures, standing in breeches, fire hose arms folded across a massive chest, hair and moustache waxed shiny, with a far away look in the eyes, would use kettlebells to develop the ‘flexible strength’ they needed for their strong man acts. Arthur Saxon and Eugene Sandow swore by them too.

Eventually, the strong man acts went the way of the vaudeville theatre and disappeared. With them, the kettlebell too fell from grace and public memory and was lost to the rest of the world for almost a century. But back home in Russia, it became the architect of a new nation. From school children and littérateurs to soldiers and leaders, everybody ‘played’ with the girya to build strength and character – a fixed weight, fixed ‘target repetitions’ and an ungainly weight necessitated the development of correct lift ing technique and a tenacious resolve to not give up until the goal was reached.

Behind the iron curtain, the girya remained a closely guarded secret that powered Russian soldiers at the frontline, behind enemy lines and athletes beyond the finish line. And then the wall came down and a Spetznaz trainer named Pavel Tsatsouline, a hard nosed Russian with something very Jason Statham-ish about him, showed up in the land of milk and honey, his trusted kettlbell tucked in his armpit.

As soon as gym-going Americans and martial artists found out that it was the girya that gave the Spetznaz their wiry strength, it resurrected the girya and triggered a kettlebell revolution of sorts. Today, kettlebells are the deity of choice for a multitude of athletes, special ops warriors and mixed martial artistes. So without much ado, I picked one up and huffed and puffed and waddled my way out of the store.

I began training in earnest and…. Wait! I’m too new to this so no, I don’t quite feel ready just yet to pull my underpants on top of my pants (erase that picture in your head, I know what you’re thinking) and go “Up! Up! And away”. But I do know someone who would look rather nift y if he did choose to wear his underpants like the original man of steel. His name is Steve Cotter, kettlebeller extraordinaire and popular strength training instructor. Pavel describes him as a mutant of a man who performs incredible feats of strength, like lift ing enormous weights hundreds of times, feats that strong men twice his size would find impossible to contemplate.

Steve was in town for a kettlebell workshop for a group of Indian personal trainers and that’s where I met up with him. He took the group through a list of challenging calisthenics like the pistol –one legged squats, lunges and pushups and some kettlebell drills and then he took a short break. The trainees surrounded him and asked for questions and autographs while I waited my turn. Steve noticed, smiled and waved. I smiled and waved back. Once he had patiently answered every question and posed for a few pictures, he came up to me and extended his hand. We shook hands and I asked him if he had a little time. He pulled a chair, smiled and said he had all the time I needed. Such graciousness in most cases is a welcome virtue but in a man so densely muscled, it was almost a relief.

It has been said that pound for pound, Steve Cotter is amongst the strongest athletes in the world. Steve would crank out more squats on one leg in five minutes than the total combined pushups you and I could manage in the same given time. To give you a perspective, 70% of the world’s recreational athletes and gym goers would find it difficult to complete even one pistol, or one-legged squat.

Besides setting kettlebell records, Steve Cotter has spent years learning and teaching Hsing Yi Chuan, an internal martial art similar to Tai Chi Chuan and has training videos that cover body weight training and weight training. So now that you have a measure of the man, here’s what he had to say when I asked him if a kettlebell really was king of the gym heap…

“Kettlebells are tough to beat when it comes to all round fitness. Powerlift ing is best at building low gear strength while running is great for cardiovascular fitness. Yoga will make you more flexible and something else would be great for (developing) agility but kettlebells develop everything, functional strength, muscular endurance, stamina and cardiovascular fitness and a degree of flexibility and agility… they are unique for the way in which they develop all-round fitness.”

Steve and I spoke some more about the fitness industry, his peers, about how he approaches his work as a fitness trainer as an act of service and how he would love to act in Bollywood movies, “preferably as a villain since they seem to have all the fun”, but I will save that for another time.

For now, let this sublime truth sink in that if one wants to acquire extreme all-round fitness in a hurry the kettlebell is tough to beat.

And since I did mention that I had begun training with kettlebells a few weeks ago, in case you are curious to know how far am I from, wearing my underpants on top of my pants, I must confess that I’m still hobbling around with them around my ankles but with perseverance and patience, who knows… I might fly by your window someday… P.S. I must say though that a chronic shoulder injury I picked up while punching a heavy bag, and one that refused to go away no matter what I tried disappeared after a few weeks of kettlebell snatches and presses. So while I can’t vouch for its ability to build super strength just yet, the kettlebell has definitely had a hitherto unclaimed, therapeutic effect on my shoulder.


Thursday, March 8, 2012


A few weeks ago watching television was a bit like being on Channel One during the Cold War. Every channel worth watching was showcasing some aspect of Russian ingenuity. Take the History Channel for instance. They have this series called Deadliest Warrior which throws warriors from different cultures and civilisations against each other. They compare weapons and tactical trends and physical skills and strengths through statistical data analysis. Then the warriors are pitted against each other through computer generated simulations and a final dramatised battle that decides the winner. Spartan versus Ninja, Shaolin Monk versus Maori Warrior and so on… you get the idea. But that day, they had two cold war buddies locked in battle - The celebrated Green Berets who fought under the star spangled banner and inspired Hollywood hits by the dozen and score took aim in the red corner while the Spetsnaz, the secretive special forces of the erstwhile Soviet Union and the current Russian Federation, spat out a matchstick at them; Special ops speak for throwing down the gauntlet, I guess.

These cold hard men must have fought many a secret battle behind the high walls of the iron curtain in the past but here on television, all those decades of training and planning and fighting came under the microscope and the battle began in earnest. And who do you think won the day? Well, the Russian Special Forces licked the Green Berets like a Russian bear might a honey comb. Never mind the stings, the Americans had been chewed up, their remains spat out, while the victorious Spetsnaz lumbered away into the horizon.

Switch back to National Geographic, and what do they have to tell you? Ah well, they are rerunning an old story… It’s a feature about the Dubrovka Theatre Hostage crisis in Moscow in 2002.

23rd October 2002. A cold autumnal night and the warm insides of the Dubrovka theatre fills up with an expectant crowd that has gathered to see Nord-Ost, a Russian musical production celebrating the Russian soldiers and their gallantry during second World War. Around 2100 hours, Chechen terrorists enter the building and take the audience, nearly a thousand strong, hostage. The terrorists want Russian forces out of Chechnya. Unless the government agrees, the Chechens say they would execute the hostages.

Terrorists, hostages and negotiators trade demands and concessional options. The terrorists release a few hostages but as three days go by, many hundreds are still held captive. On the 26th, Russian counter terrorist operatives pump nerve gas into the building and storm the theatre. They lose about a hundred hostages, most of them to the nerve gas, but they successfully take out all the terrorists. More than 700 hostages make it out alive.

But that’s what this is about. What I wanted to mention here was this eye witness report that stayed with me long after the show. This woman, a bystander who saw these commandoes storm the building spoke about this amazing feat of strength. These men, battle hardened counter terrorist operatives, were running around with nearly 20 kgs on their backs and Kalashnikov carbines in their hands and seemed to have the endurance of a Duracell bunny. But that’s not what shocked her and other bystanders. It was the way in which these wiry soldiers bent over and single handedly picked up and hurled aside cast iron man-hole covers that two grown men would find difficult to lift . And it wasn’t just one exceptional soldier. She saw three random commandoes pick and pull aside three separate covers that weigh in excess of a hundred kilograms with the kind of ease that suggested that such feats of strength were all in a day’s work for these exceptional soldiers.

This meant that the training these men underwent ensured that not just a few amongst them but each one of these warriors was a superman in his own right. I did a little bit of research and found out that the Spetsnaz are perhaps the greatest elite force in the world. Their training is the most brutal and only three or some other ridiculously low percent of trainees make it to the elite units. Their training lasts for nearly two years and they emerge as the best, most well trained war machines on the planet.

Now there are a lot of things these supermen do which you and I would rather not in our bed rooms, like fighting a rabid dog with just a knife or even bare-handed or swimming through a pool of blood for instance but there’s one secret of theirs that a renegade Soviet has revealed to the world… a secret weapon no less potent than a nuclear warhead; a weapon that shapes and builds the pride of the Russian military, those lethal warriors called the Spetsnaz.

Pavel Tsatsouline, is a lean mean former comrade who had been entrusted by the Russians to men, super men, out of their boys in uniform. He was an instructor with the Russian Special Forces and then he crossed the Beringstrait and entered the United States of America, his secret weapon in tow…

This thing can make you the man, or woman, you always wanted but never hoped to be… His words not mine. And I tell you what, I’m going try out this secret weapon and meet up with one of its greatest exponents while you are busy reading this, just so I could tell you, dear reader, if all those legends about the secret weapon and the feats of strength was mere Communist propaganda drummed up by the comrades or if there is some bold red truth to it all… So hold your breath and watch this space…


Thursday, March 1, 2012


When I began writing this story, the Indian bowlers were being slapped around the Bellerive Oval by the Sri Lankans and it looked like we were heading towards yet another day of having our noses dragged through the turf and getting our blue bottoms spanked bluer still… Less than 40 overs later, the Sri Lankans are still cowering while Virat Kohli punches the air and announces to the world that he has truly arrived. Eulogies would be written, heroes would be resurrected and Suresh Raina’s Icarian fall would be forgotten. India’s victory in a crunch game against seemingly insurmountable odds is definitely worth a Homeric epic, especially since its heroes are blessed as much with a tragic flaw each, just as much as they are endowed with the prowess of titans and the halo of past glories.

My point is, this victory is not just another win. It is a truly great (and I do not throw this word around frivolously) victory, achieved by a truly great team, albeit on a wicket that suits its game. It’s a sign of power and panache and the limitless potential of this team.

So here’s what will happen next (I would like to gloatingly remind readers that the last time I made a prediction was when India tied their game with England during the World Cup, and I had said that we would reach the finals, bat second and win the cup. The rest, as they say, is hallowed history)… Sri Lanka will lose to Australia in the final game against the hosts. Why would that happen? It’s elementary, dear Watson. Sri Lanka beat Australia on eventual featherbeds in Sydney (where heavy clouds ensured Australia got the short end of the stick in a rain affected match) and Hobart, which suited Sri Lanka to the hilt while the sporting wicket at Melbourne will ensure that Aussie athleticism and seam bowling will win the day. Also, that howitzer called David Warner is due for a big one. India and Australia will face off in the finals. And yet again, like they had done four years ago, a galvanised India with three in-form batsmen, that’s Gautam Gambhir, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the devastatingly brilliant Hectorian hero of India’s Oz campaign, Virat Kohli, should win the day. It doesn’t matter what number the Aussies pile up against our now-ragged-now-raging attack, ODI cricket is a batsman’s game and the better batting side will usually win games more often. Also, signs would suggest that Virender Sehwag is just about getting his whack back and Tendulkar seems destined to score his most elusive hundred yet on this tour. So it really might not matter what Ravindra Jadeja and Vinay Kumar do or don’t. When this line-up starts firing on all cylinders, little can stand in its way.

So we salvage our tattered reputation; so what if we lost the Tests, we won the CB triangular. We are still the World Champions and Sachin, Sehwag and co. are back in business, so why worry, right? There’s the small matter of looking into the future as far as VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid are concerned, but hey, it’s all good now. Maybe we will give them a home series or two and then take a fresh look at things. As for Ravindra Jadeja and Suresh Raina, why fix what ain’t broke too bad. The captain has faith in them and what’s an Asia Cup or two between friends. Conversely, if India were not to make it to the finals, scapegoats would’ve been sought and slaughtered and a holy cow or two would’ve ended up in the tannery as well.

So as an armchair expert, for whatever my two bit’s worth, here’s what I say we should do from here whether we play, win or lose in the next few matches in Australia...

  • First up, Gautam Gambhir to shut up and let his bat do the talking, which it does rather eloquently when he has his mind on the job. World-beaters, and tough as nails champions like him needn’t whine about pitches when the going gets tough. It’s embarrassing… Clive Lloyd’s West Indians, the Aussies of the last decade, even Imran Khan’s and Sourav Ganguly’s boys from the subcontinent, why even this very team until a year ago would just pick themselves up after they got knocked down and come swinging hard, irrespective of the pitch and the weather.

    Some pitches will seam, some will spin and some will bounce… Just go with it Gauti! So play late, dance down or hook, with your mouth closed.
  • Kapil Dev, Ian Chappell, Dean Jones, Prashanto Banerji, Tom, Harry and the other one, please let Sachin Tendulkar be… That man has scored more, played more, won more, understands more and done more for the game than all of us put together. So let’s all join Gautam Gambhir and shut up about what we would have done if we were Tendulkar. We are not! And that monkey of a 100th hundred is hopping harder on our backs, not his, so let the champ be. He just won us the World Cup, remember…

  • BCCI, listen up. Create a succession plan with shortlisted understudies the way Cricket Australia does. Michael Clarke, Adam Gilchrist, Brad Haddin were all part of this succession plan. Australia’s crop of young guns, Mitchells Starc and Johnson, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins are all being harvested for the future. From this bunch will emerge the Brett Lees and Glen McGraths of the next decade.

  • The Indian team is also in a state of transition, but unlike the Aussies who keep rotating the young hopefuls, until class tells, India persists with one till he fails and then is forgotten in the dust of domestic cricket. Or we wait way too long before giving them a chance by when the fire within has been reduced to a flicker. Remember Prashant Vaidya? Of course you don’t. This Vidarbha paceman was India’s quickest bowler through the late 80s and early 90s. When did he get his break? In 1995, when he was nearly thirty and had become a medium paced trundle.

  • Today, we are doing the same thing with Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary and Ashok Dinda. Instead of keeping them on the sidelines, Tiwary, Raina and Rohit need to be rotated. The same way, Dinda and Vinay Kumar need to be rotated so that the team has more options and an opportunity to judge who to persist with in the long run. And hey, what happened to Jaidev Unadkat, the great bowling hope from last year? One bad debut and he’s forgotten? He is the left -armer who would replace Zaheer, so give the guy a pat on the back and let him know he is in the mix, will you?

    If a Rohit Sharma is supposed to grow into the shoes of a Laxman or a Ganguly, then let him know that and let him bat consistently at that number. The poor guy keeps floating in and out anywhere from number three to number seven between tours. This is not how you rebuild a team. This is how you squander your riches, ruin your future and end up a pauper.

  • India rose to the top of the Test and ODI ladder to a great extent because it finally found a strong, solid and aggressive opening pair. Every great team had them. Greenidge and Haynes, Hayden and Langer/Gilchrist and now Sehwag and Gambhir.

  • Now Sehwag is in his mid 30s and Gambhir in his early 30s. Who is next in line? Murali Vijay? Abhinav Mukund? Robin Uthappa? I say, it has got to be Robin. He might have chinks in his temperament and his technique but there’s a fire in his heart that is rare to see. I remember this ODI when he was facing up against Brett Lee and ala Mathew Hayden, ‘walked’ into Lee and smashed him over the sight screen for a monstrous six. That attitude can’t be coached, and nor that kind of eye-hand coordination.

  • Both in England and Australia, India lost not because of lack of skill, but a lack of planning. Duncan Fletcher is a good man but he really hasn’t got it in him to coach an Indian team. In fact any man who is works well with a team like England is bound to not succeed with a sub-continental team. The values, the culture, the sense of structure is all so different. What works for one is sure to fail with the other. We need a coach who has found success with teams with similar culture. Which is why the controversial Dave Whatmore might have been a good pick. I think Wasim Akram would make a great pick too and imagine what it could do for Indo-Pak relations. More good than bad, I assure you.

  • Lastly, our captain of the future isn’t Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir or Suresh Raina. It’s Virat Kohli. Kohli captained India to an Under 19 World Cup win in 2008, while turning in sterling performances with the bat. He has the right pedigree to lead the team. MS Dhoni has been captaining India in all formats and could evidently do with a bit of a break.

So in my humble opinion, Virat Kohli should be made captain for the 2012 T20 World Cup in Simla with Dhoni joining the team as mentor and playing only as a batsman. Wridhiman Saha should come in as the full-time glove man in the team.

After one more season, Kohli should be made the vice-captain of the Test and ODI squads too and eventually replace Dhoni as Test captain while MSD could remain the ODI captain, a format he understands best and is most comfortable in until the next World Cup, or actually for as long as he cares.

So that is all it will take for us to regain lost pride and our rightful crown as the champions of cricketing world. Go ahead, my captain, his board and all of you who matter, give it a shot. You have nothing to lose but a fig leaf called pride. All the best!