The breaking moment!

imageIt was concentration, just before half time. Perhaps perpetrated by frustration or by a needless desire for Liverpool to score a goal. The 33 year old, took his eyes off the ball and it slipped under his foot. Next thing you know, there is a goal forty yards away and the goal keeper is picking the ball out of the net. Liverpool are one down and lose that day.

On such fine margins are fates decided. Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool manager would say, “hey, the slip was not even mine”. True you cannot legislate for such things. Especially, if it is your most reliable player. But stuff happens. Fact is that the Steven Gerrard slip cost Liverpool the Premier League title. Something broke that day, in the hearts and mind of the Anfield dressing room. It was never the same again.

I have seen this before. There are times when you give your all, you believe intensely and you are actually good enough. Its the real thing and the world believes also. You have your hand on the prize and everything in fate is going for you. But fate has something else planned for you, just before the final line. When it happens, the final last moment failure is too big to handle. It breaks you.

Back in 1982, Brazil had the World Cup in their hand. There were no equivalents in the history of football, barring Puskas and his Hungarians of the 1950s. Tele Santana and his team seemed in-human. They floated on the ground and created magic, which I have not seen again in these forty plus years of watching football. Never will, because football has become too safety first and structured. Watching them quietly was Enzo Bearzot, grizzled professional and a knowing Italian. He saw things which no one else saw. On that fateful afternoon in Barcelona, Paolo Rossi, rose out of a disastrous World Cup, to score the most famous hat-trick in football. Brazil lost, just! It broke all of us. I saw many friends cry that afternoon. But it definitely broke Brazil and Tele Santana and they were never the same again.

Coming into the 1999 final, Pakistan looked the real deal. We had beaten the Aussies at Headingly, a couple of weeks before and we looked like champions. The fastest bowler, the wiliest left armer, the best spinner and two of the best all rounders. Then we had very good batsmen. That was the team. It was a mature team, with a combination to fit. One just felt right. When I arrived at Lords that morning, the only misgiving was a fresh looking pitch. It looked like a Brisbane pitch on the first day. It was. Our team, on a high and expecting things to role their way, collapsed that day. It was built on a belief, which was based on the normal English summer conditions. We lost badly and for me its the turning point of Pakistan cricket. We lost a lot more that day. It broke us and over the next decade and a half we have never fully pieced it together again.

So to Brendan Rodgers. Liverpool manager. For twenty plus matches, he created a sublime attacking machine. Its philosophy steeped in offence, it simply scored more than it let in. It was exhilarating to watch and for a few months we all believed in the magic. Then it happened and we came down to earth. It broke him and I think, he did not have the wherewithal to repair the heart. In todays world of commerce, even sports is subservient. Success is the only answer. BR found that out. He has been dismissed as Liverpool’s manager.

For Liverpool I will say, what I have said these forty four years. You Will Never Walk Alone. For Brendan Rodgers, a thank you for the 2014 season. Good luck for the future. There may be other pastures, where this wound may heal.

*picture courtesy Premierleague.com

Why Write?

imageA recent chat with a friend on the subject of writing made me dive deep. The question raised in the discussion was, why am I inclined towards writing at all. And if I am, then what is the form it should take.

In anything we do in life, the first question to be asked is “Why”. Without knowing the purpose, how will we proceed? The bigger the subject on which we raise a “Why” the bigger the need for an answer. So for instance, when the Quaid-e-Azam, in 1934, considered returning to India to lead the Muslim League, his “Why” would have probably been the most important “Muslim Why” of the 20th century. The implications of the answer would reverberate into the lives of a few hundred million people.

Only when the “Why” is decided, can we proceed on to secondary questions. The “What” question first. If our purpose is X, then “What” are we going to do to achieve that purpose. And then only when we have decided the “What” question and know our domain, will we descend into the final question. The “How” question. “How” are we going to achieve that purpose. This is a perennial life and management system and has always been applied by us in managerial roles.

Unfortunately there is a tendency to lose this structure, when taking a personal decision. Perhaps emotions get in the way. So when I suddenly started writing some four years ago, there were no real thoughts behind it. I wrote because I felt the urge to write. Which is fine on its own. But then I went onto a blog and put it up for public consumption. Never did it occur to me to analyse this action and to rationalise it. I was mingling two thoughts. One was a personal need to put it on paper and get that inner morsel out. The second was an aspiration to actually have it read and perhaps acknowledged, appreciated and critiqued also.

This is very different from the person I had known all my life. In the past I had no need for public acknowledgement or recognition. During my Pepsi days, it was part of my job to go to Pakistan cricket matches and give out awards. This momentary flash on television was a problem for me. Therefore, I would always delegate this particular role to some subordinate. Even going on television in business or environment related programs was a problem. My job required me to do it, but I disliked it. So finally five years ago, I consigned it to the rubbish heap and have studiously avoided television exposure since.

Therefore belatedly, today, a Saturday afternoon, I sat down, some four years late (a meh smiley here is appropriate), to decide on the “Why”. The answers I have come to are fairly simple.

I want to write because:-

I feel an urge and in some form I can express myself. This urge is built partially out of frustration on what is going on out there. Its venting! Its a reform wish.

There is a secondary part of me which wants to write on sports. That is driven by a passion for sports and a feeling of self satisfaction that I know so much – a bit smug I think.

These two are the only specific personal reasons to write.

Then why run a blog? Is that not some internal desire for acknowledgement. In the case of sports writing, I suppose, acknowledgement would feed my smugness. But its fairly vague, unformed and not so much of a drive. I am quite happy with the self-knowledge, that I know so much about sports.

Related to the venting part. An out pouring of frustration and it all boils onto paper. At the same time I do not feel I have the authority to reform people. So then, am I seeking acknowledgement? In the end I finally worked out, that I really do want to fulfil a responsibility. But that responsibility only extends to the people “I Know“. It does not go beyond. I want my writing read by these people only, hence a personal blog, which is on my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn account also. But I definitely shy away from being put on a public forum. So I do not want to be on a newspaper, television or a public blog.

Now what do I do with this information? I guess I have to find a method of delivery of my thoughts which satisfies my inner self and also satisfies the audience (small in numbers) who I reach out to.

THE NAQSH OF AN AFTERNOON IN EDGBASTON

imagePakistan arrived in Birmingham in 1982, a rag tag bunch and inexperienced Imran in lead. I had been away from Pakistan for some years and recently only seen Pakistani players in the county games. To watch Imran make England hop, skip and jump made one salivate at the mouth. But, 32 years later, the memories of Edgbaston, revolve around the image of that Saturday afternoon, when a miracle transpired. But, more on this story later.

A new captain after a rebellion against the previous one (Miandad), made us apprehensive. Not much has changed in Pakistan cricket in the ensuing 32 years. At the time our worry was whether the team will knit. A vague recall of the first day is of Tavare and Gower pulling England out of a hole. By the time I found a TV to watch, the match hung in balance with England at 250/6. I should have sat down earlier, as Imran coming back for a spell demolished England at 272. The jubilation was slightly tempered, as Mudassir was given LBW for 0 – a rather questionable decision in pre DRS days.

Next day Pakistan threatened, but never got away. Mansoor Akhtar with a fifty, Zaheer forty and Miandad thirty, eventually brought the score within reach at 251. But our bowling was strangely innocuous late in the day and England passed 50 without loss.

That Friday evening, we collected together for the next day- Saturday being crucial. We were all rather apprehensive and on edge. You have to be a Pakistani, living in England, to realise the pain and loss of face in a defeat.

Saturday dawned! Little did we know that the image of July 31st 1982 will be permanently etched on our minds. The match meandered along. Strangely, England were reticent to press their advantage. But, Randall was resolute at one end. That chord of tension, with two Goliaths facing a fight to death, was in the air and in the stands. England was close to reaching 100, Imran and Sikander Bakht had been resisted. Then the ball was tossed to little known Tahir Naqqash. Slim, tallish, a mop of hair and a nice run up, that is what I remember. He did the trick and Lambs resistance was ended. England passed 100 with 3 down. We were left biting our nails. Will we restrict England below 250?

Our miracle hour finally arrived after lunch. In the most exhilarating and, definitely, surprising post Lunch session I can remember, unknown Tahir Naqqash went down in our memory forever. The same run-up and bowling, by magic, became a couple of yards faster and his in-swing (probably reverse, though we did not know it at the time) just rolled over England. Gower, Gatting, Miller and especially Bothee (aka Botham) were disposed off in an incredible hour – 5 for 40 to TN.

The Pakistani crowd section had gone berserk and cries of Allah-u-Akbar were ripping across the field with flags waving. You had to be with us to realise what had happened. For the first time in 28 years, Pakistan had stood, looked England in the eye and driven them back. It had taken a slip of a young man to do a David.

Later events were a bit of a downer. Having got them against the wall at +200/9, we let it slip. Imran, Tahir, Qadir tired, Sikander off length, Wasim Raja might have been an answer. Only Imran error prone and inexperienced realised it too late. Raja finally got the last wicket at 291. I think it was a record stand between Taylor/Willis for England v Pakistan. We knew the match was lost.

Next day, the pressure told and we were 77/6 before Imran and Tahir carried us to 199. We lost by 113. A match much closer than the end result and a harbinger of a great series ahead. And it was a great series! On the final day of the series at Headingly Leeds, late in August, England sneaked across by a couple of wickets in the last test match. We might have lost 2-1, but the Englishmen acknowledged they were lucky to win.

This series under Imran, commenced a 10 year period of dominating cricket, culminating in the World Cup 92. Imran was destined never again to lose another test to England. The next English test victory was at Leeds, against Miandad’s Pakistan in 1992.

What of our hero of the Saturday in July 82? Alas, whatever magic woven into him on that day, never returned and his day was done. His career ended in 1985 and he never made future headlines or achieved a 5 wicket haul again. A sad end to a great afternoons work.

Nevertheless, some of us will remember Tahir and the naqsh of that warm July afternoon 32 years ago will always belong to him.

Tahir Naqqash wherever you are, salaam to a former hero of Pakistan.

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