MAD MAXES: THE FURY ROAD RUNNERS

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Valar Gelyni. Which, translated from it original High Valyrian means “All (wo)men must finish.” Ok, I just made that up. But to participate in and conquer a road race like Bangaloreans do with aplomb each year at the World 10K does require you to have the a training scheme to rival the planning acumen of Littlefinger, a contempt for laziness rivalling Cersei Lannister, a determination to overcome every weakness a la Tyrion Lannister, the adaptability to the conditions of a Jamie Lannister and the gumption and ambition of Arya Stark. And still, despite your best laid plains vetted by Lord Varys himself, the moment your shoe sole hits the tarmac, the course seems to scream back at you – ‘You know nothing, Jon Snow!’

Whether you are a seasoned runner who has been training in the punishing heat in Delhi, or a regular at Cubbon Park who decided that for a change this Sunday, let’s put on a bib with a number on it and run with 25,000 others or the casual runner who is testing waters or the hipster who was just told ‘You know what is cooler than a hipster beard? Running with a hipster beard!’ all of us have our reasons to run. I have been a part of this race since its inception in 2008 and have seen it grow tremendously. Yet, everytime I walk into the holding area before the race I get a distinct vibe that everyone is just as agog as they were during their first time. It gets me everytime, like some familiar movie trope that always makes you smile or brings a twinkle to your eye.

Last year, at the starting line Carl Lewis, the race ambassador (this year’s was Marie Jose Perec) flagged us off and waved at every Open 10K participant as we crossed the start marker. If someone had told me back in 1988 when one afternoon I strained to listen to the radio in my grandparents’ courtyard, trying to follow the Seoul Olympics 100 meters race, that I would be flagged off by Carl Lewis in a road race about a quarter of a century later I certainly would not have believed them. I had never considered running seriously until I gave it a go at this World 10K and its infectious enthusiasm brought to the course by its tireless and genial participants keeps bringing me back each year.

Raceday dawns each year with a mixture of dread and anticipation, both not great things if you like your stomach area mostly knot free. This year, given as it was Steven Gerrard’s last game at Anfield, I had stayed up past midnight to watch the match (a poor Liverpool defeat). The race was to start at 6am and we had to report at 5:30. The result was barely four hours of sleep, not the best of preparation for a task requiring physical and mental fortitude next morning. But then I remembered that even Sachin Tendulkar had not slept too well the night before the game against Pakistan at the World Cup in 2003.

I was at the venue by 5 and decided to do a limbering up walk around the stadium. And by limbering walk around the stadium I mean ‘had to walk around the stadium twice like an idiot because I reached my designated gate too early, then took a detour and entered a restricted zone and missed the location of the gate on my second approach’. Nonetheless without much further incident I had reached my designated holding area just in time for the official warm up that the Nike Run Club people were making everyone go through. It was like being back in physical education in school, the only difference was that at school we usually started at 4:30 am.

I had spent a good part of the last year and a half in the United States as a Graduate student. That meant I was mostly sedentary and had absolutely zero preparation or practice for this race. But as the warm up went on I felt better about myself by the second. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing and it was my only hope to clocking a respectable time in this race. But before I talk about timings, I would like to draw your attention back to the opening fake Valyrian phase I cooked up. A race’s beauty lies in the fact that you are essentially competing against yourself and the course, much like golf. And unlike golf there is no par score to be reached. Before you set any goals for any race, the simplest one you set is to finish the race. Regardless of your timing, the feeling that comes over you as you cross over the finish line, to the applause and encouragement of strangers around who are totally emotionally invested in seeing you leap over the line, is incredible. I would run a 100 miles for that one moment. Today, we only had to run 6.3.

The race started at exactly the designated time of 6am and as I trudged out sandwiched between other runners in a crowded corner with the DJ’s music blaring I remembered that I would be without my most important motivator this year – my playlist. I had lost my iPod and had no music on my phone; it was as if they had decided to have no water stations at the race this year, that’s how much my playlist was a part of my races. Nonetheless I labored on and in the early part was delighted with the pace I was setting, keeping right up with the pace setter who was carrying the 55 minute marker and flag. Overnight rains had meant the weather was the most pleasant I remember in all 8 races since ’08 and that meant everyone was running at a great pace. As spirits began to flag a little around the 2km mark, motivation was easy to find in the form of the tireless and selfless spectators egging us on. Or if that wasn’t enough you only had to look around at fellow runners. One had a ‘Runner for Life’ tattoo on his right calf, another was wearing the national flag across his chest where the bib usually is (his bib was pinned to the back of his t shirt). And there were tons of motivating messages – “Leave your devils behind, outrun them”, “Run like you stole it”, “Only runners have real balls, others just play with them”, “Hanes. Tag free comfort.” Ok, that last one may not have been a motivation message.

By the 4km mark I was feeling rather good as to how my feet were settling in a rhythm and I was on track to finish with a good time. I took a gulp of water and as I turned around to throw the bottle away, I saw someone diminutive with a fair complexion just whizz past me. I must have seen the guy in a movie or six. And he plays rugby too. I could barely believe it. I was keeping pace with Rahul friggin Bose! But the feeling of that high did not last long as the star of such classics like ‘Pyaar Ke Side Effects’ ‘Mr & Mrs Iyer’ left me way behind in the next half a kilometer as I began to slow down a bit in that dead zone of a 10k race just past the halfway mark. I was still going steady, but steadily slower. Around the 7km mark is when tiredness really sets in for a non regular runner like me and the temptation is greatest to just give up. (I call it the Seven Kilometer itch) But then I look around at fellow runners who are always there with a kind word and encouragement if they see you losing steam. (If we always behaved like we do during this race, the world would instantly approach utopia.) And I remember Steven Gerrard and how commentators in his Anfield farewell game pointed out that if he is to be remembered by one quality it is that he never gave up. I soldier on and receive a boost from the riffs a live band at the 7km marker is playing. I applaud them and move on crossing the 8km marker soon.

Last time there was a puddle of water just past that point and there was no way around it. We all had to run into the water like we were on commando training. Thankfully this time, it is way smoother as I round the bend that takes me into the final kilometer. The pace is just a tad behind my target of an hour thanks to my slowdown between 6 and 7 km but it’s still good. I search for a pacemaker to match my strides with and find myself side by side with a tall and hefty middle aged Australian. (Not Tom Moody.) He & I amble almost synchronized across the finish line and that high comes over again. The one that tells you that you could have given up but you didn’t. The one that tells you that in a race you should always remember Aristotle’s line ‘Don’t be afraid of going slow; be afraid of sanding still.’

At the recovery zone another Australian Shaun tells the TV interviewer this is his personal best. Then he adds with a laugh ‘Of course it’s easy to get your personal best when it’s your first race.’ You will never see grumpy faces past the finish line, everyone seemed to be smiling. That is what attracts me back to this race every time. I exchange times with another friend who is running. Both of us realize the official timing is about a couple of minutes higher than what we times ourselves at. But at this point it doesn’t really matter. As I go towards the counters to collect the refreshments and the finishers medal I help a few people capture their moment of glory as they pose for photos as finishers. The calf muscles ache and feel tight but I feel lightheaded, almost floating. As I bite into the apple in the refreshments bag I remember one banner I saw along the route. It said “In it for the banana.” In a Minion (of Despicable Me fame) sense I would completely agree. The Minions are at their productive best and happiest when they have a purpose (unfortunately their purpose involves serving an evil master). The same way running helps you focus reminding you that we are all in it for our own versions of the banana. And we are all in it together to gee each other across the finish line. And that spirit makes this Bangalore World 10K so very special.

Once again this year that spirit was on show; Bangalore ran as it always has at this race. Unbent. Unbowed. Unbroken.

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THE SPARK PLUG & THE LIGHTNING ROD

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I have been a Liverpool supporter since 1997, a year before Steven Gerrard made his debut. I have watched him every year since, often in awe, as he became the marshall of Liverpool’s midfield, keeper of the Kop’s spirit, the highest calibration on the passion and intensity meter. (He went all the way upto Eleven.)

On this day, as he says goodbye to Anfield, I am not here to write a paean to him. I don’t have the coherence of thought or the requisite vocabulary. There are millions of others who will write those. I am writing this because somewhere I had to document what Steven Gerrard meant to me as a Liverpool fan. And a football fan.

His spectacular free kicks and goals and obvious inspirational leadership apart, what I have always been in awe of is the weight on his passes. They were wickedly precise and measured – always the mark of the best schemers and midfielders in history (Cruyff, Maradona, Messi). But beyond that I know very little of football technicalities to say anything meaningful or insightful. Gerrard’s presence on the pitch was always a galvanizing moment for Liverpool when it needed that moment of inspired brilliance; he always was ready to give it his all.

From his autobiography you get the distinct impression of a proud man who was always confident about his ability and always proud about his loyalty. Those who look for the irony in that he is leaving the club that he was supposed to have retired from have to consider that this season his pride in his ability made him reconsider the loyalty side of it. Gerrard is not someone who can do this inspiring thing from behind the scenes and in the background. He needs to be in the thick of the action.

For a decade and a half he has been the spark plug that has brought to life the spluttering engine that Liverpool have often been. He loves the electricity that flows through his veins as the becomes the cynosure of home and opposition fans alike. Many think he is a media darling, overhyped as England’s greatest midfielder. Many point out his lack of Premier League accolades. Many conflate the man with the team and the team with the man. That’s how powerful a talisman he became. For opposition fans he is a lightning rod – their frustrations often directed at him not because, say, he beat their team but because of some level of resentment as to how someone could be that ridiculously good.

He is not a saint in footballing terms but despite the lows, he always will be an incredibly inspiring sight on a football field. He bleeds for football, to be able to own the stage he marches in. That has always been his driving force, that has been the secret behind inspiring his team mates. If you had ever been to Anfield during a Liverpool game and Gerrard was on the pitch you would hear his mates on the field receiving a earful from their captain for every poor tackle, for every misplaced pass. In the movie ‘Iqbal’ there is a line Naseeruddin Shah says to Shreyas Talpade “Jab dil aur dimag ek hoke khelte hain to fark nahi padta dimag kaun sa hai aur dil kaun sa” (When your heart and your head play in unison, it doesn’t matter what is driven by heart and what by your head.). Gerrard took the game to that level where the spark plug began to operate off the lightning rod.

With a player like Gerrard you do not talk about regrets, because he always did it his way with his team as the paramount consideration. He and his team fell short many times, but the intensity of the man each time he took the field never did. Adoration brings its own admonishments. Expectations sow the seeds of discontent. But here is the thing about Gerrard – even his most hard core fans will find it hard to switch clubs and loyalties once he moves to LA because as you watched him, he did not pass on to you his spirit, he passed on the team’s spirit. He is a Liverpool Legend, born, bred and forged in Liverpool. You, dear Stevie G fan, will find that you can take Steven Gerrard out of Liverpool FC but can’t take Liverpool FC out of you. And no matter whose side you are on, you will miss the spark plug. And the lightning rod.

You’ll Never Walk Alone, Stevie.

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10Y OF T20

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February 17, 2015 marked an important date in the life of cricket’s most nascent form – Twenty20 international cricket completed ten years on that day. The format has exploded and caught the public imagination thanks to the Indian victory at the inaugural T20 World Cup and the consequent invention of the IPL, now in its eighth season. But what of those more innocent times when T20 still had that new format smell and Mohammed Asif was still playing cricket? I present to you an article I had written about the format & its coming World Cup for The Sunday Indian magazine in September 2007. It is always fascinating to see what we thought then, and what came to pass.

Would You Like Fries With The Cricket? By Tareque Laskar

There was a time when getting to 300 runs in a 50 over limited overs cricket match was considered a towering task. Now, as recently as last week a Sri Lankan, Dhanuka Pathirana, smashed the last remaining reservations with a mind numbing 277 off 72 balls (29 sixes and 18 fours) helping his side Austerlands (a minor county in Lancashire’s Saddleworth league) to 366-3 in 20, yes twenty overs! That, in short, is the frenzy of the latest brand of cricket to hit the international block—the ever exciting truncated form known as Twenty20. And the frenzy builds up to a crescendo as we approach the inaugural Twenty20 world cup in South Africa, featuring 12 teams. As you read this, the excitement would have begun to unfold in the fast paced and action packed world of the brave new frontier of cricket playing itself out on the gorgeous grounds in South Africa. Coming as it does only a mere 4 and half months after the ‘real’ world cup, the tournament is whipping up rapture and resentment in equal measure. Experts are split down the middle between those who see it as indulging in excess despite a packed international calendar, and those who consider Twenty20 as the format of the future. The fans wait with an equal measure of anticipation and apathy. There are ones who can’t get enough of the big hitting and the others who feel it’s a travesty of the game. And the analogies don’t seem to stop—the McDonaldisation of cricket, they have called it. And if One Day cricket earned the nickname ‘Pajama Cricket’ Navjot Sidhu called Twenty20 ‘underwear cricket’!

At the time of writing, the number of Twenty20 internationals held stood at a mere 19 since the first match (a fun and frolic filled hit about at Eden Park in Auckland between Australia and New Zealand) back in 2005. Originally a county innovation implemented in 2003 by the England and Wales cricket board that met with rousing success (fulfilling the administrators’ mission to broaden the audience and rekindle fan interest in the county game), the format only grudgingly gained international acceptance.

But soon, it was on its way to becoming serious stuff. England took their Twenty20 match against Australia very seriously in the summer of 2005 and their win turned a remarkable summer on its head as they went on to reclaim the Ashes. India too have had a taste of Twenty20, though only once against South Africa which ended in a win. And if you take a look at the squads of the 12 teams at the competition (10 full ICC members by invitation and the associates went through a qualifying process), the youth factor is prominent. Twenty20 has become ideal grooming ground for youngsters (Zee with its proposed Indian Cricket League also envisions the same, though so far mostly retirees have signed up) both technically as well as psychologically to steel them to face the pressures of bigger games.

Although underestimated, the cerebral aspect of the game in T20 cannot be ignored. The thinking will be pushed to a whole new dimension lending new meaning to the phrase ‘thinking on your feet’. And of course, the regular cricket skills will have to be sharper (hence the youth) especially fielding which most experts reckon will be the thin line dividing the good teams from the great teams in the T20 arena. The craftsmen most under duress would be the bowlers who will be put to the sword as dashing batsmen go hell for leather. But bowlers, especially high impact ones like a Shoaib Akhtar or Mohammed Asif (who’s bowled the only T20 maiden so far) can still swing things with a quick wicket or two. Expecting the batsmen to go after the bowling with a mixture of extravagant and inventive shots would be par for the course, but those who can do it with chutzpah will emerge the batting stars at the tournament.

Whether Twenty20 becomes the new global face of cricket or remains a fad, only time will tell. We do not know as yet if this form becomes a force to reckon with or is reduced to a farce, but one thing is for sure—it’s like the quintessential Hollywood summer blockbuster; leave your intellect behind, fasten your seat belts and get ready to enjoy some blazing action!

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VOX AUREUM

"Put your brain into gear and if you can add to what's on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up."

“Put your brain into gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up.”

I first heard Richie Benaud during the 1991/92 tri series between India, West Indies and Australia in Australia. A few days later I heard him in a rerun of the 1975 World Cup final. I remember being amazed at how long he had been commentating and the fact that he sounded virtually the same seventeen years on. His voice had a mesmeric quality, a silky smoothness that wine tasters will claim only the finest vintages have. Amidst the unfolding cacophony that a cricket game could often be, his narration provided almost meditative pause, never looking to force the action at you, but always setting up context that you as a viewer sometimes wanted but did not exactly crave every ball.

Benaud was the only commentator whose silences added more to the action than his utterances because he knew how to use the pause and silence to great effect. That didn’t mean he wasn’t quick with a turn of phrase or did not possess a sharp wit. But he always, like the devoted cricket fanatic he was in all senses, deferred to the game in the middle. His measured tone and grandparently twinkle in the voice that everyone of the current generation remembers seem to run contrary to the narrative of him being a risk taking captain (Australia never lost a series under him) and cricketer (a fine legspinner, at that). But perhaps having played the game, he knew exactly the distance he had to accord to it as a chronicler to let people soak the visuals. During the 1992 World Cup final, when Wasim Akram’s scorcher cleaned up Alan Lamb, only Benaud could have come up with a line so beautiful in its banality – “Left arm round the wicket…Alan Lamb has been cleaned up and so too, perhaps, England.” Rightfully, he let the moment have its own limelight. Thankfully Rameez Raja was on the field playing, and on field cricketers would not be miked up till about 20 years later.

When he was on the mike, Richie Benaud was not watching the game to you; he was watching the game with you. That realization came to me as I was watching the 1996 World Cup. India were playing the West Indies at Gwalior and Azhar just introduced the offspinner Aashish Kapoor as Shivnaraine Chanderpaul looked threatening. The over began and as Kapoor delivered his first ball, there was silence on air. Chanderpaul was dismissed. Azhar completed the catch. Chanderpaul started his walk back. Benaud just said “And he’s got one, straightaway.” The pithiness and succinctness of it all was mind boggling to me. The moment was not the most crucial one in the game, let alone the tournament, yet it sits easily accessible in my bank of memories precisely because the commentator on air let me experience that for myself before he came in. I always marveled at how he would keep quiet during a glorious shot and then offer about four precisely measured words in praise of the shot.

My next important Benaud tryst was when I tried the videogame Brian Lara Cricket. Many things about the game did not feel cricket-y enough to impress me, except one thing – Richie Benaud’s voice. The moment he’d describe even the most ridiculous cheat-code aided six you hit, the cricket would suddenly feel brilliantly authentic.

And my most recent admiration of him comes from digging up some archival footage on YouTube of Kapil Dev’s famous running catch to dismiss Vivian Richards in the 1983 World Cup final. In a game that was seminal for India and maybe one day cricket, Kapil’s catch was the seminal moment. Benaud’s description of it was classically Benaud. “Shot…” he said as Viv ferociously pulled a short one from Madan Lal and then paused as the camera panned to midwicket and a running Kapil, who slowed down, adjusted and caught the ball just over his shoulder. Still silence. Kapil celebrates and Benaud completes his sentence with the post-hoc correction “…not so good”.

Much as the commentary box has been richer for a Bill Lawry’s enthusiasm and a Tony Grieg’s unbridled joy, nothing says warmth and fondness like Benaud’s ‘Good Morning, Everyone’. And nothing ever will.

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IN THE HEAT OF THE HOT TAKE

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In my time in the United States as a Graduate student, I became familiar with a style of American sports analysis that was called the ‘hot take’. A hot take was essentially a viewpoint idiosyncratic to a pundit or a talking head on the panoply of channels on talk radio or on television in programs like ESPN’s ‘Around The Horn’ which used to usually idly play in the background during most afternoons I was home. The ‘experts’ on these programs would talk about players, teams and coaches discussing endlessly what they thought of their latest performance or failure. Some segments specifically put the pundits in the spot to express his or her viewpoint one way or another, often right after something has happened – say a fancied team lost a playoff game – giving them no time or chance to reasonably and critically analyze the event.

The hot take is a much derided style among those who care about things like facts, data, objectivity and sanity. After India’s semifinal loss to eventual champions Australia at the World Cup last week, the hot take syndrome hit right home when one of the major Indian cable news channels, Times Now, (owned by the same group who owns The Typo Times Of India) started viciously crticizing the team in general and captain M S Dhoni on particular for the defeat and branded their bit of analysis, as is their wont with most stories they cover, with a banal and stupid Twitter hashtag. The hashtag #ShamedInSydney did not go down well with grieving fans coming to terms with a hard loss to a tough opponent.

An exit from a major tournament for a fairly talented team will always attract post mortem, some of the criticism will be justified, some just rants and hot takes. You don’t usually expect mainstream media to go the way of hot takes and that is the line Times Now crossed. Most of their criticism went ad hominem, attacking or example, Dhoni’s purported lack of emotion after the loss. But most hot takes work because they find some support among some segment of fans. In this case the uproar against the hot take was instantaneous and there was virtual consensus.

The casualty as usual was the idea of a measured and objective debate and critique of where India may have gone wrong in that game. This is a worrying trend, not because we need to eliminate armchair fans debating their team (it is one of the quirks of sport that keeps it so exciting and entertaining), but because it begins to erase the line between vendetta and critique. Lost in the hunt for TRPs, eyeballs and the need for instant incitement and ‘outrage’ is the art of actually having a debate.

I have been watching cricket for over 25 years now. Defeats still hurt. Wins still give me a heady high. I vent frustrations out at the television and social media often during games. And I am acutely aware of how they represent my failings from being an ideal cricket fan. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stand to see the same thing becoming institutionalized. I stopped watching the news almost 15 years back. Maybe you should too.

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ON THE WINGS OF ICARUS

There comes a moment in every sports fan’s life when she is faced with confronting her idol’s mortality, a moment of painful unmasking that reveals that the idol is human, after all. The moment when after floating in the clouds for an epoch on the wings of Icarus, the heat of time begins to melt the wax wings. Today, a minute or so into the second half at Anfield in the game between Manchester United and Liverpool, that moment arrived for me, a lifelong Steven Gerrard fan.

Gerrard had been a halftime substitution, meant to inspire and prop up a listless Liverpool trailing 0-1 to a determined United, but within barely 60 seconds of his introduction got entangled into a challenge with Ander Herrera, and retaliated by stamping on his foot which meant referee Martin Atkinson went straight for his red card.

This was a potentially season defining match up. A win for Liverpool would have lifted them over United into fourth place and Champions League spot contention. It was a big home game. And in one tiny moment of madness, everything came unhinged. It was always the opposite case for almost the entirety of Gerrard’s career at Liverpool, especially as captain. He was the talisman, the glue that held a rickety performance together, and often producing sublime moments of magic to rescue a win or at the least a draw. This was not to be that day. In a game that needed them to be calm, calculative and composed, Liverpool gave into the temptation of chaos and adrenalin and lost their collective minds, the epitome and the nadir of which was the Gerrard sending off.

Balotelli tried his hardest to follow suit, at one point the Anfield faithful literally intervening at the sidelines to restrain him from entering into a scuffle with Ashley Young. Martin Skrtel crossed that dangerous line between being aggressive and being malicious with a stamp on David De Gea, the United keeper at the fag end of the game, an incident the referee did not notice (but might be retrospectively reviewed by the FA).

Liverpool lost the game 2-1. As a fan, a loss always rankles. A loss to a bitter and competitive rival even more so. That is the pathos and ethos of sport and being a sports fan. But when you see your heroes puncture the notion of the game that you want them to uphold, it rankles even deeper.

Gerrard’s antics today will add an asterisk to a stellar career (and I am not here to discuss if he could, or should have won a league title etc.) not because he and his team failed, but because they seemed to be at war with themselves. There will be some amount of Schadenfreude from the fans of Manchester United and assorted clubs, but that is to be expected.

All of us have probably been in heated and competitive situations and we are biologically wired to have our blood pressures and heart beat rise as the brain senses danger or clouds out of anger and frustration. The survival instinct takes over and our primal side surfaces, metaphorically converting our Bruce Banners into the Incredible Hulk. When the dust settles, we often see our folly as Gerrard did and apologized. But for the countless number of times that I have always brushed his foibles aside because he was truly superheroic in my eyes, this time is when that cookie crumbles. I still absolutely love him of course but now with the acutely painful realization that I saw the ugly verses of his closing chapter at Liverpool begin with my very own eyes.

This is not the first time a hero of mine or for that matter any one of yours has done something stupid that has punctured his halo if not vaporized it. This will not be last either. But every time it happens, your happy bubble floating in dreamland bursts. And sport, which is meant to be a rabbit hole of escape, hurts for a bit. And then we hope to heap new memories to make that go away.

We pick ourselves up from that fall, our Icarus wax wings melted in the heat of reality, and down that rabbit hole, we go again.

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KOKABURRAS IN KABUL

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George Orwell’s metaphorical classification of sport as war minus the shooting is well known, but lost in that over quoted line is its ability to heal. For proof, look no further than today’s historic win for Afghanistan’s cricket team, their first in their debut World Cup. That they are there on cricket’s biggest stage is a fairy tale against all odds in itself but it is beyond heartening to see them competing the way they are and what it means to their countrymen back home.

I have written about the healing power of sport here before, in the context of Colombia at football’s World Cup last year. But to see folks out on the streets of Kabul celebrating a win is exactly the reason I fell in love with sports in the first place. Its ability to inspire hope amidst the bleakest of settings should never be underestimated.

Since the Taliban took over the country, Kabul, a once great world city has been under a constant stage of siege. If the Blue Tigers’ fighting spirit (they were 97/7 in a chase of 211 against Scotland before recovering to win a thriller by one wicket in the final over) provides even a fleeting moment of unadulterated joy, their long, winding and often dusty journey to the World Cup would have been worth it. For a country repressed by extremism and violence, the national cricket team is that rare opportunity for self expression without fear of retribution. And in a Shapoor Zadran’s headband it finds that expression.

Mohammed Nabi, the captain, like a lot of the others in the team used the game as an escape in the refugee camps in Pehsawar where he grew up. The motley crew got together as the Taliban allowed, in what must be a rare show of clemency, cricket when it cracked down on and banned other sports. For a proud and sport loving people it became a chance to prove themselves worthy as they set out with a mission to rub shoulders with the top rung of cricketing nations by competing in the World Cup.

From the fifth division of international cricket with barely any facilities in 2008 to the World Cup in 2015 has been a giddy rise for the Afghan Cricket Board and its players. As their former coach says in the documentary ‘Out Of The Ashes’ that the country has so many problems and the solution to those is…cricket. He may have been specific there but his larger sentiment was really hinting at sports in general and their capacity to germinate a ray of hope.

For every kid who picks up a bat in the dusty or muddy bylanes of Kabul cricket represents an escape that is not beyond the realm of possibility. If that kid dons the Blue Tigers’ shirt and imagines himself for one moment to be under the spotlight as his team beats Bangladesh in Bangladesh at the Asian Cup or gives Sri Lanka a scare at the World Cup or that magical moment when they hit the winning boundary against Scotland it provides him with that one moment of magic.

And that’s why we love sport. Because the magical realism of it can leap right out of the pages of fiction and right into our lives.

Go Blue Tigers.

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