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Once a diplomat,now a leader,forever the cricket romantic

A cricket romantic since his days as an asthmatic child confined to bed,Shashi Tharoor would deal with sickness-induced isolation by forming combined India-Pakistan fantasy teams that took the world in book cricket contests.

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | Mumbai |
August 10, 2009 3:12:31 am

A cricket romantic since his days as an asthmatic child confined to bed,Shashi Tharoor would deal with sickness-induced isolation by forming combined India-Pakistan fantasy teams that took the world in book cricket contests.

His stint in the UN and his present schedule as Minister of State for External Affairs haven’t distanced him from the game he got hooked onto after a day at Brabourne Stadium as a seven-year-old.

Tharoor,now 53,can still reel off statistics of old players like a cricket-obsessed teen. And he has a child-like glee in his eyes when he sees his boyhood idol Ajit Wadekar in the crowd at the launch of Shadow Across the Playing Field,a book on Indo-Pak cricket that he has co-authored with Shaharyar Khan.

Yet,his love affair with the game wouldn’t translate into backing a premature opening of cricket doors to the arch-rivals next door.

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“We will be playing once again provided certain things happen in bilateral relationship. The issue is to create the right environment and it needs to be done. The Prime Minster has signalled very clearly that India is ready to do everything. What happened on 26/11 is not dealt effectively in Pakistan,” he said.

The launch,hosted by friends Mukesh and Nita Ambani,was at Hotel Taj’s Sea Lounge,which had recently been renovated after 26/11.

Tharoor used cricket metaphors to express his stance. This touched a chord with the star-studded gathering of present and past cricketers,film celebrities and politicians. When he said,“We are ready to come down the track,in case they step out of the crease,” there were several shakes of the head. And when,just before stepping down from the dais,he said India would deal with Pakistan as Sachin Tendulkar had negotiated bouncers from Wasim Akram on his debut tour,the audience gave a resounding round of applause.

Tharoor’s ‘bouncer’ reference followed Tendulkar’s trip down memory lane when he released the book along with Mukesh Ambani. Tendulkar recalled how he had taken guard with four balls to go in an Akram over. It started with a bouncer and after that Tendulkar waited for a toe-crushing yorker as a follow up. The youngster was out-guessed as Akram bowled four more bouncers. “At the end of the over I told myself,‘Welcome to Test cricket’,” said Tendulkar,who spoke also of the extreme reactions they get from fans after a loss or win against Pakistan.

Tharoor sums this up by tracing India-Pakistan cricket over the years and thus giving a synopsis of the book: the chronology of bonhomie in the stands after Partition,by dull draws with teams fearing defeat,and the recent monotony of excessive,almost everyday,cricket between the neighbours.

Tharoor says he gives a very different perceptive as a fan and outsider who has never been in the dressing room,as compared to Shaharyar’s insider view. But it is clear that his isn’t a frivolous account of someone with a surface knowledge of the game.

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