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Emergence of talent from outside traditional cricket strongholds reflects hinterland grit

first_imgS. S. DasIf you pay close attention to directions it is easy to find Srirampur. It is 90 km from Ahmadnagar, 30 km from Shirdi and about 60 km from Aurangabad in Maharashtra. Or maybe that’s 60 km from Ahmadnagar, 30 km from…Anyhow, it is one of those towns that,S. S. DasIf you pay close attention to directions it is easy to find Srirampur. It is 90 km from Ahmadnagar, 30 km from Shirdi and about 60 km from Aurangabad in Maharashtra. Or maybe that’s 60 km from Ahmadnagar, 30 km from…Anyhow, it is one of those towns that flash past the mainstream in a blur, names in train timetables, dots on a map, places with faded pasts and hardly a handle on the future. City slickers call them the boondocks, the hick towns, and use them as settings for witty post-colonial Indo-Anglian novels.S.S. Das22  BhubaneswarThe promising opener’s home state has only one turf wicket India’s newest opener learnt how to bat on the wicket in this picture. Das’ home club, Pragati Cricket Club, boasts a battered matting wicket and a bumpy outfield. Orissa has just one turf wicket, 25 km away in Cuttack, where practice is allowed only before tournaments, which are few and far between. But the retired schoolmaster’s son chooses to count his blessings. “The high and uneven bounce of this pitch has made me a better player off the backfoot.” Backfoot play is the opener’s stock-in-trade and Das plies it with great confidence for India.”This wicket has made me a better player.”One bunch of hillbillies has had enough and is not standing around waiting to be laughed at. This lot plays cricket for India. When you can cut Glenn McGrath like an offending, overgrown branch and make Mark Waugh look like he’s got feet of lead, no one, from sophisticate to street urchin, sneers.advertisementThey make idols out of you instead and sometimes even pray to them. The roll call of Indian cricketers now no longer echoes only in the metros or the other traditional centres of Indian cricket like Baroda or Hyderabad. More than half a dozen players in the running for spots on the forthcoming tours to Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and South Africa come from towns way off the Indian cricket landscape, including Srirampur.What is its claim to fame? That’s old stomping ground to left-arm strike bowler Zaheer Khan. Srirampur has a couple of colleges, but no proper cricket ground. Bhubaneswar, the Mecca of Odissi dance rather than opening batsmanship, has, like a gift from a kindly God, produced an old-style frontman in Shiv Sunder Das.Najafgarh, on the fringes of Delhi where life revolves around flour mills and seed production for the villages that skirt it, is home to allrounder Virender Sehwag. That’s the guy who a month ago won a man-of-the-match award in a one-day international against the Australians-with a broken thumb. And then there’s Jalandhar in Punjab’s industrial heartland, where hundreds flooded the station to welcome back Harbhajan “Turbanator” Singh when he had finished off the wizards of Oz.Harbhajan SinghIn the past too, some cricketers have grown from unfashionable roots and were often sneered at for their “lack of cricket culture”. But never before in the history of Indian cricket have so many from these new territories grown to maturity all at the same time. “I’ve seen cricket grow, seen it spreading in the past 10 years. These are the boys who prove that,” says Balvinder Singh Sandhu, head coach at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore.In the 1980s, hardly anyone in World Cup winner Sandhu’s village in Punjab played the game. Today, he finds children using thick wooden laundry sticks as bats. It is an image that tells the remarkable story of cricket’s journey from a sport of colonial heritage and princely patronage to emerge not just as a powerful market force but as a pan-Indian phenomenon that has swept away all the old rules and swept up humdrum hamlet and remote district towns in its undertow.Harbhajan Singh20  JalandharThe turbanator rolled pitches before rolling his arm over His rise to the big league may seem meteoric. But the off-spinner has paid heavy dues. Coach Devinder Arora remembers Harbhajan Singh bowling on the roof of his home and wearing out the ball in two hours. A reluctant schoolboy, Harbhajan would cycle off to the cricket ground three times a day, help his mates push the roller up and down the wicket, put up the nets and begin to bowl. He says, “I knew only cricket could help me achieve something in life.” A prodigy who preferred to practise with seniors, Harbhajan said he learnt early to watch a batsman’s footwork rather than his face. He spent two nights in a gurdwara in Patiala when called for selection trials, and days at an academy in Chandigarh where, homesick, he would “cry over trivial things”. But his bowling – whether to the West Indian tourists or Sachin Tendulkar in the nets in 1996 – was marked out as extraordinary. “It was the first time I felt that getting to the Indian team was within reach,” he says. “I learnt very early that cricket is a game of the mind.””I knew only cricket could help me.”Love it or loathe it, satellite television has been a caravan of this transformation, its virtual footprints reaching distant doorsteps in one long stride.advertisementNow you don’t need to go to a city to watch the Australians steal singles, the South Africans pluck catches out of thin air and Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis bowl reverse swing: at the click of your TV switch, they’ll come to you – close-up, in super-slow motion, with bars charts, graphs and diagrams and, the icing on the cake, an army of teachers.Former Test players on commentary panels give impromptu show-and-tell classes in field positions, foot work and the basics of the modern game. To the young student many miles away from the action and equally removed from a half-decent coach, cricket television was not only razzed-up entertainment but an education.Mohammed KaifWhen Harvinder Singh decided to take up pace bowling, Younis was his first coach – through the television. Harvinder would imitate the Pakistani player’s run-up and action in front of a full-length mirror and then replicate it on the field.Dilip Vengsarkar runs an academy in Mumbai which draws most of its trainees from the northern suburbs. They arrive – age 10 and above – armed with raw talent and loads of technical questions stemming from television shows like Boycs’ and Sunny’s Master Class.The quality and quantity of cricket on television has liberated small-town India from its limitations. Cricket writer and historian Ramachandra Guha says, “If by the age of seven or eight you know the basics, and if you do have real talent, you do not have to be in Bangalore or Mumbai to ‘make it’. You do not have to be somewhere where you will be taught by trained coaches at a relatively early stage.”Mohammed Kaif20  AllahabadLeft home at age 12 to join a sports hostel Never mind the infamous power cuts in Uttar Pradesh. Keetgang Mohalla in Allahabad now has its own street light. Even as Junior India captain and middle-order batsman Mohammed Kaif tries to find his way in international cricket, he has already raised the bar for his state players a little higher. “I sometimes take it to heart too much-that I must do well for Uttar Pradesh cricket,” he says. The youngest of three sons born to Uttar Pradesh Ranji Trophy player Mohammed Tarif, Kaif left home at age 12 for a sports hostel in Kanpur where he spent eight years. The coaching there was far from modern and his predecessors were easily satisfied after playing Ranji Trophy. “I tried to spend as much time on the field as I could and make the most of every opportunity.” Today the fittest cricketer in the Indian side, Kaif has grabbed every piece of advice he could get. Allahabad’s cricket is still divided by a faction fight amongst officials. The town does not have a single professional cricket coach, there is no infrastructure for coaching or a proper net. What they do have though is an ambitious young man called Mohammed Kaif and for some it’s a good enough place to start. Kaif says, “I used to wonder what we lack in Uttar Pradesh but now attitudes among youngsters are changing. They know how playing good cricket can get you respect in life.””I must do well for cricket in UP.”What distinguishes these cricketers is not their all-consuming love for their sport, which they share with their peers. Love can, equally easily, be over-valued or undermined but the men from the fringes have used it to carry them to the furthest reaches of their inner and outer worlds.advertisementTo find their way in “big cricket” they have been ready to move mountains, one boulder at a time.Khan loved pace bowling so much that when he heard he had missed out on an under-19 selection trial in the district because a friend forgot to tell him in time, he cried as though he would never stop. After he had finished devastating local batting line-ups in tennis-ball cricket, he begged his father Bakhtiyar Khan to take him to Mumbai.One summer they came to the big city looking for a guru. Every morning, father and son went from club to club and maidan to maidan until they ran into former Test player Sudhir Naik. Naik took one look at the stringy 17-year-old’s pace and said, “Don’t touch that tennis ball again.”Virender SehwagMohammed Kaif left home in genteel, never-changing Allahabad as a 12-year-old and spent eight years in a sports hostel in Kanpur. He was the youngest of three cricket-playing brothers who had to learn to do household chores and eat institutional food.Harvinder, who comes from Chheharta, an ailing industrial suburb of Amritsar, was once told that rustics could never play cricket and made to stand behind the nets. “It hit me like a bullet and since then I have always wanted to prove that somebody from the villages can also play cricket.”When he played for India in the Sahara Cup in 1997, Chheharta kept its shops open way past midnight so that even people without televisions could watch the match live from Toronto. As a precocious teenager, Harbhajan practised landing the ball until his fingers bled, asking friends to switch on scooter headlights at sundown so that he could practise some more.Virender Sehwag22  NajafgarhTravelled 84 km by bus every day for cricket Najafgarh Ka Tendulkar. It’s a presumptuous nickname bestowed upon Virender Sehwag by Delhi’s club cricket maniacs but today he is his locality’s calling card for the rest of the country. Old men stop him in the street to give him their ashirwad for making Najafgarh known as more than just an area on the fringe of Delhi where rural gangsters seek shelter. Allrounder Sehwag, son of a flour-mill owner, was known as the boy always ready to play cricket matches against any opposition. He switched schools at the age of 15 for cricket. The school coach A.K. Sharma taught him the rudiments of the game: the copybook cover drive, how to tackle a regular cricket ball. In college, he travelled 42 km by bus – one way – to Jamia Millia Islamia University as it would help him leapfrog into inter-varsity tournaments and from there into the India under-19 and the Delhi teams. After Shoaib Akhtar cleaned him up one time, he cranked bowling machines as high as they would go (160 kmph) so he could be ready for fast bowling. Before any match, for club, state or country he prepares himself mentally, sorting out the bowling in his mind – whom to respect, whom to rip apart. “I have never doubted myself. Everyone I met told me I could be a good player-whether my coach or my teammates in Delhi or India. They believe in me and I play to justify their confidence.””I have never doubted myself.”Every coach who runs into a talented cricketer spots desire as easily as a naturally correct technique. Bangalore’s V. Jagannath, who has helped cricketers from outside the city (including Sunil Joshi) find their feet for over four decades, says, “These boys have an abundance of natural talent but they’re also physically fitter than the city boys, incredibly focused and willing to work harder.”In the smaller towns, says Harbhajan, “there are no distractions like money or glamour as in the cities”. Coaches like Sandhu and Naik say that the talent pool in the heart of cities, equally attracted to the computer and the television screen, cannot quite keep up with the intensity that the players from smaller towns bring with them.Andhra’s first Test player M.S.K. Prasad, born to a chemist’s family in Guntur, believes only when grit and skill weigh in equally can a cricketer from a background with no formal system of coaching or organised facilities aspire for the highest level. While skill helps the cricketer climb the ladder, grit helps him keep his balance in a new world where social rules assault his shyness and inhibitions.Zaheer KhanSome worry about their lack of fluency in English. Others, like a group in the first batch of the NCA last year, have to deal with advice on how to eat with forks and knives and to use toilet paper. But these are survivors who quickly pick up every thing that helps them stay competitive, so what if they mix regional accents with a global slang.Harvinder, whose roots are in rural Punjab, had a bewildering first stint at the MRF Pace Foundation a few years ago, when Dennis Lillee’s bowling tips were lost in an incomprehensible stream of English – with an Aussie accent.Harbhajan has done his sums about the value of vocabulary and says with a flourish, “Now I let my cricket speak for itself.” When he works on his batting at his home ground now, he dangles a little carrot before the net bowlers – get him out and he will give you the shirt off his back. They cannot stop coming at him with everything.Zaheer Khan22  SrirampurBowled with a tennis ball till the age of 17 When left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan runs in for India, it’s easy to forget that five years ago he lived in a town deep in the Maharashtra heartland, had never bowled with a leather ball and wanted to study instrumentation engineering. But cricket always came first. “I would watch matches on TV and always wanted to play for India.” A fortuitous meeting with coach Sudhir Naik in Mumbai and Zaheer’s photographer father had committed a year of his son’s life to cricket. A completely unpolished but gifted bowler, Zaheer learnt fast bowling in stages, first with the old ball, then came the new and only after he had some control was he given the ball used by first-class players. Baroda signed him up, the MRF Pace Foundation polished his skills some more. And then one day in Nairobi, Saurav Ganguly tossed the ball over and asked him to open the bowling for India.”I always wanted to play for India.”The knock-on effect of small-town success is a powerful thing: Das knows that in his case it sparked off a revolution in his mind. When Debashis Mohanty became the first cricketer from Orissa to play for India, a “mental barrier was broken”.Says Das: “He made us believe that if we were good we could also be playing for India.” When Orissa reeled under a cyclone, Mohanty put out the word that he was organising a benefit match for a relief fund and was overwhelmed by the response.The two Oriyas are already Indian cricket’s mavericks. Sujit Mukherjee, ex-Ranji player and author of Autobiography of the Unknown Indian Cricketer, believes Mohanty and Das have “disproved every theory about small town players”.Players from weak states have always left home and switched loyalties to further their cricket and their livelihoods. But not these two. Das captains Orissa and Mohanty still steams in for his state. Last season, the two engineered an amazing maiden victory over the zonal big boy Bengal, a side which included Saurav Ganguly. Not only did Orissa go on to win the East Zone Ranji league for the first time, it also managed to reach the semi-finals of the national championships.Harvinder SinghThe more enlightened coaches today know that cricket’s growing democracy can do for the Indian game what the discovery of oil did for the Gulf. They are moving into the oilfields at a greater speed than ever before.The first floor of Jagannath’s house is always reserved for what he charmingly calls “mofussil players”. Sandhu held a week-long seminar for 60 coaches from Maharashtra districts last winter with lectures not only on technique but fitness, sports medicine and mental preparation.Last season, the Cricket Association of Bengal sent out 20 senior coaches to the Bengal hinterland to hold clinics and spot talent. Raju Mukherjee, a former Ranji player from Bengal who now coaches juniors in Kolkata, says, “Don’t wait for the child to come to you – you go to the child.”Harvinder Singh23  ChhehartaPaceman did 2,00o sit-ups a day to get tough Harvinder Singh’s hometown belongs to a slice of Punjab countryside both famous for producing Dara Singh and Asian Games medallist Praveen Kumar and once notorious for supplying local youth to terrorists. A junior at national handball, when Harvinder was chosen for under-16 district cricket, he was grateful: “I thought Amritsar’s cricket ground was meant only for rich players.” A fitness freak who once did 2,000 sit-ups a day, he has modified an Australian fitness regime to get stronger. Wickets for Punjab took him to a national camp in Bangalore in 1996. “When Sachin Tendulkar sat next to me in the bus, I was so nervous and speechless.” And then surprised to discover that in hotels where the Indian team stayed dal makhni could actually cost Rs 350!”I sat speechless next to Sachin.”The children from anonymous villages and towns will still keep coming. Jagannath reckons that today more than 60 per cent of Karnataka’s junior players are from the districts. There are a couple of fast bowlers from Kerala, a state which has never produced a national player, now training at the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai. Ranji Trophy finalist Railways off-spinner Kulamani Parida is the son of an Orissa fisherman and is, it is said, an old hand with nets of both kinds.Every day, Bakhtiyar Khan of Srirampur gets letters from as far away as Assam, with parents asking for addresses and advice on how to make India players out of their sons. Boys land up at “Viru Bhaiya’s” door in Najafgarh asking him to recommend their names to coaches of the lush, promise-laden grounds in the capital.This is a young India pushing its way through barriers of class, culture and convention, aspiring for distinction and singularity, ready to eat rusted nails and walk on water if asked to. Its latest leader Harbhajan Singh belongs to a community of hard-working artisans called the Ramgarhias, about whom there is a joke: show a Ramgarhia a spare part of a Mercedes-Benz and he can chisel out the same on his lathe.Show this new generation of Indian cricketers a glimpse of what they can be and they will carve out their destinies from the stuff of their dreams.- with Ruben Banerjee, Subhash Mishra and Amarnath K. Menonlast_img read more

Apples iPhone sales tanked Now all eyes are on whats ahead

first_img $999 The company had raised a red flag in November, when it said it would stop disclosing how many units it sells each quarter.On Tuesday, investors will get a more-detailed picture of what missed and why. More important, said analysts, will be what Apple says during its conference call about the state of the second quarter, which ends in March.”The big question is how much iPhone channel inventory Apple built in Q1,” Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Bernstein, wrote in a note to investors last week. Sacconaghi encouraged investors to listen for commentary on replacement cycles for the iPhone, reasons for the downturn in China and demand in other regions for the iPhone. “Our contention [is] that China only appears to account for half of the iPhone’s shortfall in Q1,” he wrote.UBS analyst Timothy Arcuri raised similar concerns in his investors note, writing that he’ll be paying attention to what Apple says about iPhone inventory levels, how long the company expects to be affected by demand in China, potential price reductions and iPhone upgrade cycles. Updated at 4:22 p.m. PT: To reflect the price of the MacBook Air for nonstudents.  Apple: See what’s up with the tech giant as it releases new iPhones and more.Does the Mac still matter? Apple execs explain why the MacBook Pro was over four years in the making, and why we should care. CNET may get a commission from retail offers. 48 Now playing: Watch this: Tags $999 Apple See It See All Aug 31 • Your phone screen is gross. Here’s how to clean it Phones Stock Market Preview • iPhone XS is the new $1,000 iPhone X Sprint Aug 31 • iPhone XR vs. iPhone 8 Plus: Which iPhone should you buy? Boost Mobile See It Apple’s iPhone XS didn’t sell as well as analysts had expected during the holiday season.  Angela Lang/CNET Early this month, Apple CEO Tim Cook gave us the bad news in broad strokes. On Tuesday, we’ll find out just how bad it was.In a letter shared with investors on Jan. 2, Cook revealed that revenue in the company’s fiscal first quarter, ended on Dec. 29, would miss Apple’s own forecasts by about 15 percent. He laid most of the blame on an economic slowdown in China. “In fact, most of our revenue shortfall to our guidance, and over 100 percent of our year-over-year worldwide revenue decline, occurred in Greater China across iPhone, Mac and iPad,” he wrote. Cook also blamed a decrease in carrier phone subsidies and higher prices overseas caused by a strong US dollar. Customers additionally took advantage of Apple’s $29 battery replacement offer, which lets them squeeze more life out of their older iPhones. The company now sees sales of $84 billion, well below the range of $89 billion to $94 billion it had forecast in November. The earnings warning was Apple’s first in more than 15 years. The weaker holiday season — a period when most of Apple’s iPhones are sold — fanned a growing belief that the industry as a whole, and Apple in particular, is grappling with consumer smartphone fatigue. Many people also pointed to the high price tags on Apple’s newest phones. The iPhone XS ranges from $999 to $1,349, depending on storage capacity, and the XS Max with 512 GB of storage costs as much as $1,499. By comparison, the MacBook Air starts at $999. Mentioned Above Apple iPhone XS (64GB, space gray) Aug 31 • Best places to sell your used electronics in 2019 Review • iPhone XS review, updated: A few luxury upgrades over the XR Apple Apple iPhone XS Sep 1 • iPhone 11, Apple Watch 5 and more: The final rumors See It $999 See it $999 Best Buy • Comments Share your voice Apple’s streaming service could take on Netflix 6:05 reading • Apple’s iPhone sales tanked. Now all eyes are on what’s aheadlast_img read more

Pakistan Taliban chief killed

first_imgA US drone strike in northeastern Kunar province killed Pakistan Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah, the insurgent leader who ordered the assassination ofNobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, an Afghan defense ministry spokesman said Friday.In a telephone interview, Mohammad Radmanish said Fazlullah and two other insurgents were killed early Thursday morning, just hours before Afghanistan’s Taliban began a three-day cease fire to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. The three-day holiday follows the end of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan when devout adherents fast from sunrise to sunset.However, Sakhi Mashwani, a Parliamentarian from Kunar province told the Associated Press that Fazlullah, along with five other insurgents, died when the strike slammed into the vehicle in which they were driving.Mashwani said dozens of people, including Fazlullah’s brother, Moheen Dada, gathered Friday in the Ghaziabad district of Kunar province, to offer prayers for the dead Taliban leader.According to a statement attributed to US Forces-Afghanistan spokesman Lt Col Martin O’Donnell, the US carried out a “counterterrorism strike” Thursday in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan targeting “a senior leader of a designated terrorist organization.”The statement did not say whether the strike had killed anyone and did not identify Fazlullah as the target. However, the statement did note that the drone attack did not violate a cease-fire announcement made 7 June by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. The Taliban’s promise of a temporary truce came on Monday.Radmanish said the drone attack took place in Marawara district, near the border.Pakistan’s military refused to comment on the report of Fazlullah’s death saying any information would have to come from Washington. Yet Fazlullah’s death would be welcome news in Pakistan, where the government has repeatedly complained that Fazlullah and his Tehrik-e-Taliban had found safe havens across the border in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Kabul and Washington both complain that Pakistan has for years allowed Afghanistan’s Taliban free movement as well as medical treatment for battlefield wounds.Still, the recent cease-fire announcement by Afghanistan’s Taliban is being at least partially credited to Pakistan, which some observers say has been pressing the leadership to accept President Ghani’s recent peace overtures.In his Eid greeting this week, Afghan Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhunzada repeated the Taliban demand for direct talks with the United States before opening negotiations with the Afghan government. Until now, Washington has refused.It was Yousafzai’s open call for girls’ education and criticism of the Taliban that infuriated Fazlullah. She was just 14 when she survived the assassination attempt in 2012. Her return to her hometown earlier this year seemed a particular triumph as it was also to open a school funded by a charity she established to promote girls education globally.She has often said that Fazlullah’s attempts to silence her backfired and instead he amplified her voice around the world.A ruthless leader, Fazlullah ordered the bombing and beheadings of dozens of opponents when his band of insurgents controlled Pakistan’s picturesque Swat Valley from 2007 until a massive military operation routed them in 2009.In Yousafzai’s hometown of Mingora in the Swat Valley, residents welcomed reports of Fazlullah’s death with one resident saying many feared he would return one day to re-impose his violent rule.”We witnessed the brutality of the Taliban in Swat when Fazlullah and his men were present here and we are happy to know that he has gone to hell,” said Idrees Khan, a member of a local elders peace committee. “People in Swat will feel safer after the killing of Fazlullah.”His insurgent group, the Tehrik-e-Taliban, also took responsibility for the brutal attack on an Army Public School in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar in December 2014 when more than 140 children and their teachers were slaughtered.Survivors of the attack told of insurgents roaming through the school shooting their victims, some as young as six years old, in the head.Mohammad Akhtar, whose 12-year-old son Fahad Khan died in the 2014 massacre, said he had been waiting for confirmation of “terrorist Fazlullah’s” death.”Thank God, he is dead,” he said after returning from a visit to his son’s grave.Fazlullah rose to prominence through radio broadcasts in Swat demanding the imposition of Islamic law, earning him the nickname “Mullah Radio.” His radio talks also aired the grievances of many in the northwest against the government, such as its slow-moving justice system. He also reached out to women, promising to address their complaints about not getting a fair share of their inheritance.His brutality often included public beheadings, often of police officers. His exact age is not known but he was believed to be in his late 30s.last_img read more