Dhoni’s Final Fall and a Semi-Final Loss 23 Years Earlier … (with due apologies to Salim-Javed).

(This was written in July 2019, after India lost the World Cup semi-final to New Zealand. Reposting with a few updates).

It was around 6.30pm in the evening and I was sitting at Kharbucks (as the Santa Cruz Starbucks on the ground floor of Shah Rukh Khan’s office in Mumbai, is more commonly known as), waiting for Amit.

Those were days when you could go out for a cup of coffee, unlike now.

While I waited for Amit, I was watching the World Cup semi-final between India and New Zealand, on my phone. To be honest, by then I had given up any hope of on an Indian win, but like a true Indian fan I was watching for what I call nirmal anand.

In the kaali peeli ride to Santa Cruz, the driver had put on All India Radio, and the commentary, though torturous to listen to, had given me a bit of hope of India winning. Of course, with Dhoni at the crease and the Ranchi connection, I had to watch.

And so, I kept watching, until we lost.

I am not going to write yet another counterfactual trying to envision what would have happened if Dhoni had batted at 5 and not 7. Or that Dhoni shouldn’t have been in the team in the first place. Everything is obvious once we know the answer.

Immediately, after the match ended, I went to record a two-hour podcast with Amit. That was followed by an Italian dinner, where both of us avoided discussing cricket, for very obvious reasons. Dinner done, we went back to Kharbucks to have more coffee.

By the time I got back home, it was close to 1AM, and time to sleep. In the four days since, multiple writing assignments have kept me busy. In that sense, I have not been able to properly process the Indian loss (Yes the Indian male needs to process this sa well).

It’s around half past six in the evening on Saturday evening. I have managed to finish my writing for the week. And am finally in a position to sit and think about the loss. I am also in a position to think of counterfactuals which will perhaps make me feel better. Right from India playing three fast bowlers to Dhoni batting at number five and Karthik providing the finishing touch. I am also thinking about how some of the players in the team will probably never play for India again (turns out Dhoni will be one of them).

But what I am really thinking about is that evening in March 1996, when India lost in a World Cup semi-final to Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens in what was perhaps still Calcutta.

This was Eden Gardens before the stands were broken down and could seat more than 90,000 people (or perhaps even a lakh on a good day). There was no bigger stage in world cricket than this, at least back then.

And India lost.

This after we had given Pakistan a proper bashing in Bengaluru a few days earlier, in the quarter-final match. The thing to remember is that those weren’t days that India beat Pakistan frequently. So, the thinking among many was that if we could beat Pakistan, Sri Lanka would hardly be a problem. It would be a cakewalk.

The trouble was that Sri Lanka had beaten us comprehensively in the league stage. This was the World Cup where Sanath J and Romesh K had come out all guns blazing smashing bowlers in the first few overs.

In the league match in Delhi, Sri Lanka had managed to reach a scrore of fifty in three and a half overs. (One match that destroyed Manoj Prabhakar’s career, a rare all-rounder in Indian cricket, who could open the batting and the bowling. At least, I haven’t seen anyone else do that at the national stage, after him). This meant that the Lankans weren’t to be taken lightly.

As things turned out, Srinath had sent both Jayasuria and the little Kalu back to the pavilion in the first over. But then Aravinda D’Silva came out all guns blazing scoring a 47 ball 66.

While, such a score maybe par for the course these days, back then it wasn’t. Sri Lanka ended up at 251 after fifty overs and given India’s batting line-up (a long phrase for the fact that we had Tendulkar on our side), it looked India would chase down the runs.

India started slow. But were at 98 for 1 with Sachin still batting at 65. And then Sachin got out and the team soon collapsed to 120 for 8, when the match had to abandoned because of bad crowd behaviour (Eden Gardens did this quite a few times in that era) and Sri Lanka declared winners

The pitch suddenly broke down and the ball was turning like a top. The last scene I remember is that of a teary-eyed Vinod Kambli who was not out on a score of ten, walking away from the ground. And that made me teary eyed as well. But in our society, the male of the species are not supposed to cry. At least not in public.

I just couldn’t take this. How had just one hour changed the fate of the Indian cricket team? I walked out of the C/5 flat and walked around aimlessly all over the colony, trying to make sense of what had just happened.

How could India lose? Weren’t we supposed to win the 1996 World Cup? Wasn’t it destined to happen? The agony made me want to smash a few things. But that wasn’t how I was brought up. After aimlessly roaming around for an hour or two, I came back home.

I have no memory of what I did in the days that followed. Of course, life continued, and things gradually got back to normal.

We lost the World Cup final in 2003 and crashed out in the 2007 World Cup before reaching the semi-final. We crashed out of the semi-finals in 2015 as well, like we did a few days back. In between we won the World Cup in 2011.

But the intensity of grief that I felt on that evening in March 1996, as a teenager, I have never felt since. What explains this?

Given the life I have lived (being in academics, media and now freelancing), I have always had the time to watch all the cricket in the world that I wanted to, and I have made good of this opportunity. And I have seen more than a fair share of India losses. But I have never grieved like the way I did that evening in 1996.

I think the answer lies in the fact that between then and now, life happened.

In March 1996, I was 18, going on to 19. I had lived almost all of my life in a public sector colony and gone to a missionary school, and then college. Life was sheltered and good.

There were no real challenges and hardly any disappointments. One usually got what one asked for (like a Hindi film cassette) and one usually did what one wanted to (like play cricket in a tennis court in the evenings).

As I left my teenage and life happened, the disappointments mounted (And I was a huge disappointment in the conventional sense of the term, on multiple fronts, from not getting into an engineering college to completing a three-year graduation in four years to completing an MBA which I had lost interest in midway to trying to do a PhD, which got lost in all the politics that came with it).

And as that happened, I guess the mind came to the realisation that everything that one wants to happen, doesn’t necessarily happen.

If one has no control over one’s life, what control can one have over the Indian cricket team?

You win some.

You lose many.

And life goes on, because Basanti No Dance In front of These Dogs.


MS Dhoni — Where Will I Get That Adrenaline Rush Again?

Sometime in 2019, late at night, I was surfing through OTT media platforms, hoping to watch something interesting.

Post-midnight, I came across Dhoni-The Untold Story on Hotstar. As surprising as it might sound, given that I am a Ranchi boy, I had somehow never gotten around to watching this movie.

The reason was very simple, I just couldn’t digest the idea of Dhoni breaking into a song, and perhaps even dancing around trees. I found that quite tacky.

But somehow late that night with nothing else to do and sleep eluding me, I finally got around to watching the movie.

I guess everyone who has watched it would know that it starts with the cricket World Cup Final of 2011.

We are shown that Sushant Singh Rajput who played Dhoni in the movie, is in the dressing room at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai watching the match on TV. (And for some reason, only Ravi Shastri seems to be commentating. I told you the movie was tacky).

Two wickets had fallen. Dhoni then goes to speak to the coach, Gary Kirsten, and a conversation in which we just see the side profile of Dhoni and hear the voice of Kirsten, follows.

“Excuse me Gary, if a wicket goes down, I think I should go in,” says Dhoni.

“But Yuvi is padded up and ready,” replies Kirsten.

“No, it’s Murali, I think I should go in.”

“You sure?”

“Yes… Just tell him… I’ll… I’ll go,” replies Dhoni.

And then the third wicket falls, with Kohli driving one straight to Dilshan.

Dhoni then walks out to bat, and as soon as he steps on to the ground, the screen freezes and the movie flashes back to July 7, 1981, the day he was born.

As far as movie openings go, it was a terrific opening, the jarring music and a slight tackiness notwithstanding. It clearly establishes that everything that the lead character of the movie had been doing all through his life until that day and until that moment, was working towards walking out to bat for India in a World Cup Final and winning it. If there is something called destiny in life, Dhoni was its best example.

Nothing works in a movie like the feeling of something that is destined to happen. It’s the ultimate underdog story and we all love it.

If one were to summarise Dhoni’s story in a paragraph it would run something like this:

A pump khalasi and a homemaker’s son, who grew up in a public sector steel company colony, in a city which people often used to confuse with Karachi and who had to work as a travelling ticket examiner for the Indian Railways for nearly three years on India’s longest railway platform in Kharagpur, rose to become the captain of the Indian cricket team and hit an unbeaten 91 to win India the cricket World Cup, after a gap of 28 years.

Come what may which other story could have had a better cinematic potential than this?

Not the story of the Bandra-East Shivaji Park boy who broke all batting records, with the country chanting his name everywhere he went.

Not the story of the southpaw from Behala who taught Indian cricketers to go out there and win, even stripping off his t-shirt at the Lords.

Not the story of India’s best bowler, who managed to get an engineering degree while playing cricket, took ten wickets in a test innings and once even bowled with a broken jaw.

Not the story of India’s best test batsman who got nicknamed Jammy because his father once worked for Kisan and who could out-bat everyone at a certain point of time.

Not the story of the Nawab of Najafgarh, who played test matches like an ODI, but, whatever you might say Najafgarh is almost Delhi and not a cricketing backwater like Ranchi.

The romance of Dhoni’s meteoric rise, from being a travelling ticket examiner in 2002-2003 to leading India to a T-20 World Cup win just four years later, can simply not be matched.

The point is that you might have played 200 tests, scored a hundred 100s in international cricket, taken more than 600 wickets or taken more than 200 catches in test matches, you didn’t win a World Cup final by hitting a six, like the way Dhoni did.

You didn’t win the T20 world cup final by getting an almost unknown bowler with no track record at the international level to bowl the last over, like Dhoni did.

You rarely took any match to the last over and then won it, over and over again, like Dhoni did.

You didn’t win India a match simply by running faster and running out the opposition batsman on the last ball of the match, like Dhoni did.

And finally, your football coach wasn’t also your wicket-keeping coach.

When it comes to cricket, Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a freak, an oddball of nature and a matter of chance.

And a freak like could have up only from a city like Ranchi, which loved cricket but barely had any conventional cricket coaching available, ensuring that Dhoni kept batting the way he did. Any conventional batting coach would have ruined his batting. And India would have lost out on so much pleasure.

Of course, there were failures along the way as well. And no bigger failure than Dhoni’s last match where he got run out from a super throw by Martin Guptill and India lost the 2019 World Cup semi-final to New Zealand. It was such a heart-breaker, given that we were all used to Dhoni pulling off the unthinkable and winning the game for us.

But then what one wants doesn’t always happen.

India has had greater batsmen who have scored more runs and more centuries than Dhoni.

India has had greater batsmen who have been technically more competent than Dhoni.

In fact, India has even had wicket keepers with a better technique than Dhoni.

And India clearly has had many more better bowlers than Dhoni.

But then none of these gentlemen could hit the helicopter shot, where Dhoni got his front foot out of the way, allowing the bat to come down with great speed at the ball which would have otherwise yorked him, to whip it masterfully over the top of anywhere between long-on to deep mid-wicket, for a huge six.

Ab ye kar ke dikhao?

And when it comes to getting the adrenaline going… that rush… that feeling of ecstasy… that feeling that we are going to win… nobody can beat Dhoni. Absolutely nobody.

I am going to miss him.

(A part of this originally appeared in a Facebook post I wrote in 2019).

Why income tax is not going to be abolished anytime soon

Dr Subramanian Swamy has time and again suggested that personal income tax should be abolished. The logic is that this will put more money in the hands of people, and they will go out there and spend a lot of it, and this will benefit businesses and the overall economy.

What the government will lose out on the direct tax front, it is likely to make up from indirect taxes like goods and services tax, as people consume more. Companies will earn more and as a result pay a higher corporate income tax.

So, clearly there is economic logic to what Dr Swamy has been suggesting over the years. But the fact of the matter is that no government will have the balls to take a decision like this.

Take a look at the following chart.

Source: Author calculations on data sourced from www.cga.nic.in and www.indiabudget.nic.in

The chart plots personal income tax as a proportion of total gross taxes collected by the central government. In the last ten years, this has gone up. In 2019-20, the last financial year, the total personal income tax collected formed 23% of the overall taxes collected by the central government.

Other than personal income tax, the central government collects central goods and services tax, corporate income tax, union excise duty and customs duty, as well. These taxes form a bulk of the taxes collected by the central government.

In 2020-21, the central government hopes to collect a total of Rs 6,25,000 crore as personal income tax. This is around 26% of the total taxes that the government expects to collect in the year.

Of course, this estimate was made before covid-19 struck. Nevertheless, irrespective of that what it tells us is that the government during 2020-21 hoped to collect more personal income tax as a proportion of overall taxes than it has ever done before.

If the government does away with individual income tax as Dr Swamy has suggested over the years and as many income taxpayers have come to wholeheartedly want, it loses nearly a fourth of its tax revenue immediately.

As mentioned earlier in the piece, this will mean a windfall for individual income taxpayers. As they spend a part of this money, the government will earn taxes in other forms. At least that’s what the theory suggests. The government can also sell a lot of assets (its shares in public sector enterprises and land) that it owns to make up for the elimination of personal income tax.

And that’s where the trouble is. No government in its right mind will give up on a fourth of its tax revenues, just in the hope of making up for it through other ways.

Also, it is worth remembering that the salaried pay a major portion of individual income tax. It is easy to tax salaried income. And anything that is easy to tax, no government is going to give up on. And finally, what happens to all the taxmen if personal income tax is done away with? So, clearly there is no incentive for the government to do away with personal income tax.

Hence, hoping that the government will abolish personal income tax is at best a pipe dream. It’s not going to happen.