‘Interviewing’ Sehwag

Hey, had you guys read this piece in the New Yorker’s blog?

It came apropos, in a way. I had just finished re-reading two books on tennis that take a match-eye view of the sport: L Jon Wertheim’s Strokes of Genius [sample here for those new to this book; and here’s a treasure trove of Wertheim’s classic writing for Sports Illustrated] on the 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, aka ‘the greatest tennis match ever played‘ [another excerpt], and Peter Bodo’s The Clay Ran Red.

One thing about books is how reading one inevitably prompts you to read, or in my case re-read, another, related book — thus, those two books and a brief conversation about Genius with a friend on Twitter led me back to my fairly shopworn copy of Marshall Jon Fisher’s A Terrible Splendorwhich then prompted a re-visit to John McPhee’s Levels of the Game [sample chapter], which had first appeared as a two-part essay in the New Yorker [You’ll see links in the blog post linked to at the start here].

Besides being among the finest examples of sports journalism imaginable, those books share another commonality: they look at a sport through the prism of a singular rivalry: Rafa/Fedex, Ashe/Graebner, Don Budge/Gottfriend von Cramm… [In this, the construct differs from Johnette Howard’s The Rivals, where the focus is on the rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, with the sport forming a broader canvas against which this story plays out [Sample Chapter].

Tennis with its gladiatorial, one on one action uniquely lends itself to rivalries unlike say cricket — and yet, I sometimes wish a quality journalist had attempted to interpret the sport through the prism of the clash of individual practitioners [Shane Warne versus Sachin Tendulkar down the years, anyone?].

Actually, I’d argue that in comparison with the great books on tennis and even team games like soccer, cricket just has not produced any outstanding literature down the years. You are left either with (auto)biographies of varying quality, or ‘tour diaries’ and such. Wonder why. [And while on that, two of the finest writers on cricket/sports are in the final stages of publishing their books this year. I don’t know what their books are going to be about, yet — but, can’t wait.]

So anyway, to continue this ramble, here’s the money quote from the blog post cited above:

Williams plays with a certain stern aloofness, a level of evenness that has no doubt helped her as she has won seven major championships. This is also how she talks to reporters, and as I sat listening to her and to other players answer questions one after the other, I thought about the theory that their individual styles of parrying with the media matched closely with their individual styles of play. John McPhee made a similar point when he wrote in this magazine,

A person’s tennis game begins with his nature and background and comes out through his motor mechanisms into shot patterns and characteristics of play. If he is deliberate, he is a deliberate tennis player; and if he is flamboyant, his game probably is, too.

Is that true? Can we, based on how a player behaves and how he talks, gain pointers to how he will likely play his game? Here’s a little thought experiment, in the form of an “interview” with Viru Sehwag. [Note that this interview never happened — I’m merely reversing the process, looking at what he has said at various times on Twitter, and framing probable questions that could have elicited those responses.]:

So — you don’t really like giving long interviews, do you?

Successful people always have 2 things on their lips…smile and silence..!

Right. Anyway. Of late, your career seems to be cyclical: you get into awesome form, then injury intervenes, you are off the map for a bit, then you come back and have to build up to that form all over again. After a point, doesn’t this get hard? Wouldn’t you far rather have an uninterrupted run at the top of your game?

Hard times r like washing machine,they twist,turn n knock us around,but in the end we come out cleaner,brighter n better than before

Smooth roads nvr make u gud drivers. Problem free life nve makes u strong person. So nvr ask life, WHY ME?Instead challenge it & say TRY ME!

Your mates say you are not a good one for taking advice — you’ll listen, but do your own thing anyway. Surely there is someone you listen to?

Listen2our elders advice nt bcoz thy r always right but bcoz thy’ve more xperiences of being wrong.how true but v still dn’t want2understand

So what is the best advice you ever got?

“If we play with energy poise and unselfishness, we will be playing the game the right way.”

Cricket right now is in turmoil, with corruption allegations surfacing all over again just when we thought that was a thing of the past. Your thoughts?

sea is common to all,some take pearls,some take fisheset n some out with wet legs. World is common to us.We take what we look for.

People say,”Find good people & leave bad ones.”But it should be,”Find the good in people & ignore the bad in them.”No one is perfect.

But surely all these controversies are unwanted obstacles at a time when cricket — especially traditional cricket — is struggling for survival?

Obstacles r those frightful things u see when u take ur eye off frm ur goal.

To change the topic: you missed what would have been a great century thanks to Suraj Randiv’s no-ball. Reactions?

Right effort has to do with unselfishness and working to benefit the team.

Yeah, well, with the benefit of time and distance you can be philosophical, but at the time you must have been desperately unhappy?

If u wait for happy moments,u will wait forever. But if u start believing that u r happy,u will be happy forever.

Oh come on — you’ve always been scrupulously fair in your on-field dealings so when someone cheats you out of a landmark for sheer cussedness you must have felt pissed off big time? You are human, no?

expecting from the world to be good to u coz u r good to them..is just like expecting from the lion not to eat u coz u r a vegetarian..!!

The depth of ur Personality will b revealed by the way u respond to situations u dislike…

Okay, but still — do you think such needless gamesmanship is justified?

In our real life,v know very well,what is right,true n justified. Problem is,v can’t follow it from our side,but v expect it from others.

So you never got angry at the time?

Remember, even iron becomes weak when its hot. Stay cool & u will always be strong.

Time and again, you play sublime cricket — and then your mates stuff up, give their wickets away. It is almost as if there is one set of bowlers bowling to you, and another, far better, set to them. It’s almost supernatural, the way you make it all look easy.

champions r not supernatural,they just fight one more second whn everyone else quits,sometimes one second of effort gives u the victory.

Every time we see you bat, we are left with one thought: if only you had batted longer! Have you ever thought of curbing, or at least tempering, your natural game so you can maximize the time you spend at the crease?

fight with ur strength,not with others weakness bcoz true success lies in ur efforts not in others defeat.

And so on. Here — go make up your own interviews [the media does it anyway, vide this PTI story at the height of the Suraj Randiv fracas, so why not you?]; there’s tons of good material on Viru’s Twitter stream.

By way of bonus, here’s another way of doing this — an ‘interview’ with Kanye West. Brilliant! And, tangentially related, here’s a favorite writer, Susan Orlean, on why a crowded city is just one big Twitter stream.

And just for fun — there is a weekend coming up, and I don’t intend to log on and give you guys company — here’s some related reading matter: A Chandrahas Choudhary classic, where he sat with Viru and had him talk through a seminal knock; and here’s Hash on watching Viru bat.

Enjoy your weekend; see you Monday.

Eye browse

1. The story of two Americans trying to restore a Chinese village with an eye on history.

2. Why does a two-headed snake remind you of the BJP?

3. You’ve seen Federer’s between-the-legs winner — now check out this collection of great shots, tennis and otherwise. Oh, and:

4. 2008 GOP primary candidate and 2012 hopeful Mike Huckabee, a one time bass guitarist, channels ‘anger’ in a riff on the media. Incidentally, is a rant on fact-checking, on Fox News, oxymoronic or just plain moronic?

5. The workings of the creative process, courtesy the Doing Jalsa blog.

6. Two Mafia-themed books I recently read were Selwyn Raab’s Five Families and Mischa Glenny’s McMafia. On that note, here’s a TED talk by Glenny on organized crime.

7. Are Freemasons nothing more than a social networking outfit — a bricks and mortar precursor to the Facebooks of the digital world, say, or is it a body with unplumbed power and pervading menace? With pre-release hysteria building for Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol [A Crossword outlet in Bandra had this man-high pile of dummy copies of the book on display the other day — which is far better display than the bookstore has given some genuinely high quality authors], National Geographic examines a few Freemason myths.

Oh, and while on Dan Brown, Nilanjana Roy [blog, Twitter] in a recent mail passed along this link: The Globe and Mail’s books blog raps Brown on the knuckles for shoddy writing, and suggests — with examples — that he could do with the services of a decent editor.

Nice idea. Bad execution — IMHO the edit doesn’t improve the original; at some points, it arguably makes it worse.

8. Government officials in Nepal have been asked to go on a nationwide goat-hunt. Here’s why. [Acclaimed Hindu spokesman Rajan Zed said… oh, never mind].

9. A new ‘study’ has found that it is size, not skill in foreplay, that floats a woman’s boat. See this is the thing that bugs men: just when you think you’ve gotten the funda cracked, they change the goal posts! And that’s a whole checkbook’s worth of ‘tuition fees’ and countless hours of practice in how to be a new-age man, all gone down the drain. [Link courtesy Vivek Shenoy on Twitter]

More, as and when.

The shot heard round the world

If this is the only sporting moment you see all week/month, it will still be worth it. Sheer genius [hat tip Reuben Abraham, in an email thread].

Federer thinks it is the best shot he ever hit in his life [from Tennis magazine, a piece on the sweat that goes into such genius]. If you don’t, nominate your own favorites.

The Zen of being Roger Federer

I wasn’t hugely taken with the recent Wimbledon finals between Andy Roddick and Roger Federer — the game was too error prone, too lacking in tennis of the highest quality, to qualify as a classic. That said, this New York Times oped on Federer offered up for your reading pleasure. Sample clip:

The third was the fact that Federer wore a belt — a belt — in his stylish shorts, as if he was ambling through a Calvin Klein ad rather than serving 50 nonchalant aces and putting on a record-breaking athletic display.

Perfection is always a little unworldly, the more so when it’s packaged in Switzerland, and of course perfection can be galling. I wanted Roddick to win because he may never play that well again while Federer will seldom play much less well. I wanted Roddick to win because he broke a sweat.

So is Federer real, or is he in fact the computer-simulated perfect tennis player, a science fiction hero, his body heat drawn invisibly into energy creation, switching from slice to topspin backhand on the basis of some nerd’s formula no opponent can grasp or grapple with for long?


Courtesy Vivek Shenoy [Twitter feed], this great read on how sport intersects with life.

Each year, as Wimbledon begins to dominate the sports pages, memories of my late father come forcefully to mind.

It was in 1980 that we bought a color television set. By then, I was firmly established as the family black sheep; home life was too acrimonious to take in any but the smallest doses, so I had taken to leaving early, and coming back home well after the family had gone to bed.

Then Wimbledon 1980 came along, and for its duration I returned home in time for the live relay. Dad, who went to work early each morning, cribbed constantly about how ‘useless layabouts’ with nothing better to do were disturbing his sleep; I ignored his protests.

He was reading something when the epic final began. At first, he watched with half an eye, then got increasingly intrigued. ‘What is a let?’ he asked me at one point; other questions followed till I took a sheet of paper, sketched a court, and walked him through the basic rules and scoring pattern.

By the time the epic fourth set tie-breaker came along, dad was calling the serves, arguing with the umpire and suggesting that there was a conspiracy to rob McEnroe.

That final finally ended — and so did our detente; hostilities were duly resumed. But religiously, each year for the seven remaining years that I lived in the family home, truce would be declared four times a year, each cessation of hostilities coinciding with one of the Slams.

We never really became close even after I stopped being a ‘useless layabout’ and found work as a journalist — the accumulated bitterness of a decade had created too big a chasm to bridge. And since I had moved to Bombay, there was no longer tennis to bring us together, four times each year.

And then, while I was doing live commentary of India’s tour of the Caribbean in 1997, he died. It was then that I confronted the realization of all that I owed him, and all that I had lost.

Tennis has never meant as much to me, since.