As a year, 2008 was not a bore. It had its highs and it had its lows, as every year must. But, extremely eventful it certainly was. Be it a financial catastrophe, a terror episode unrivalled by any other in terms of implications or the historic election of USA's first black President, this year had it all - the good, the bad and the ugly. However, here is my pick of 10 big events, people or whatever that affected or amused me this year.
10. Roger is human - Yes, it had to happen sometime but 2008 will be remembered by the tennis world as the year Roger Federer showed his human side. Stripped off his superman outfit by heir apparent Rafael Nadal, Federer's Grand Slam performances of a victory, two final defeats and a semi final loss were a huge letdown for his fans, so accustomed to better. Personally, I feel Federer did not perform at his best on a number of big occasions this season and looking at the way Nadal has improved, anything but his A-game will not be enough to stop the Spanish Armada that is Rafael Nadal next season as well. But, a hungrier and meaner Federer in 2009 might just be too hot to handle, even for a young again Pete Sampras.
9. America and Obama create history - A 47 year old African-American Black was elected President by the people of USA. To somebody disillusioned with the Indian polity, this did not seem a natural or even obvious choice. Firstly, an outsider was elected by his party against much more experienced and senior native Americans. And after winning the right to stand for President, he went on to win the hearts of the people of America. True merit and credentials were recognised, and it says a lot about the country. True, the spending habits of their people (ridiculous, at times) has come under the scanner nowadays but there is no doubting the fact that the United States are the world leaders for a reason - fantastic attitude. The election of Obama will not only make most history textbooks, but it should also be a lesson for many other countries still wrapped in mediocrity (if at all that) owing to an attitudinal problem towards true merit. How many posts in India, for that matter, are held by the right people?
8. Popcorn cricket - As a huge fan of the English Premier League (am speaking football- for the uninitiated), I really looked forward to the IPL. Its auctions, biddings and format ensured that even if you thought India could do without cricket (quite a prevalent notion in some circles), you could be hooked. The cricket on offer was of the highest quality. Afterall, which international star would choose not to turn up for a 3 hour game for millions of dollars? As a tournament too, the IPL had its moments. However, it wasn't the blockbuster magnum opus some people (yours truly included) were expecting. It dragged after a point, and the monotony of the shortest version of the game was scorned at by several cricket pundits. As a carnival event however, Lalit Modi will be a pleased man. With a little tinkering and modifying, this could be just the boost cricket needed. But then again, too much commercialisation always has its pitfalls and the IPL is no different.
7. The Baltimore Bullet - As a sports fan, nothing can give you greater joy than watching a real champion at work. The 2008 Olympics gave us many such opportunities, but none greater and bigger than that of watching Michael Phelps wade into a pool of water and then walk onto the centre of the podium. Eight times. Even for someone totally ignorant of the finer aspects of swimming, like myself, the feat itself demanded awe. In an age of cut-throat competition, Phelps was already under the weight of incredulous expectations. Making the incredulous come true is what champions are all about. The more incredulous the expectations, the greater the champion. And Michael Phelps is about as great a champion sports has, or will ever see.
6. The Fall of the Oz empire - As a generation brought up on Aussie dominance, it felt great (let's be honest about it) to watch them stutter. If Roger Federer is one of the more loved champions of the era, then the men in yellow belong to The other side. Brash, arrogant and relentless- the Australian cricket team was as different from Clive Lyold's West Indies as they were similar. Resolve when their backs were to the wall, supreme confidence in their own abilities and a very fine, professional system had ensured that world cricket had been split into Australia and the Rest of the world, atleast where cricketing superiority was concerned. Not any more. Because, as India first and South Africa next proved, not even the Aussies can fill the boots of players like McGrath, Warne and Gilchrist. With the sudden departure of a number of the greatest of contemporary cricketers, Australia needed to scratch around and win ugly. Not something which these headstrong crickters were used to, and two greatly inspired sides under enigmatic captains ensured that, after a long time, Cricket Australia will have more questions than answers at the turn of the year.
5. Rock On - Yes, I was oblivious about all music tending towards the rock side (whatever that means) at the turn of 2008. No longer the case. In a fantastic exhibition of commercial cum theme-based cinema, Rock On stirred me from within. And quite a few people, unsurprisingly, agree with me. An inspiring depiction of a bunch of 4 rock enthusiasts with the 'right' amount of masala thrown in - everything that was there about Rock on was good. Its actors lived their roles, the direction and editing was right out of the top drawer, the screenplay lapped up by the multiplex audience and ofcourse, some really rocking music. Maybe, if I were a fan of Rock, I wouldn't have appreciated this movie as much. Because, this film introduced me to the Rock world, and how! Even a dancer as miserable as me (no, don't mistake the wrong things for modesty) was spotted tapping his feet to glory.
4. Glory Glory Man United - For a team as widely supported as Manchester United, underperformance in Europe has been a perennial talking point. Not any more. If Cristiano Ronaldo walked away with the Ballon D'Or this year, then it was as much due to his sublime skills as due to the well roundedness of a squad which Sir Alex Fergusson describes as his best ever. And that, I guess, sums it all up. Though a harsh red card to their stand-in goalkeeper denied the side from matching the 'Class of 99', there is no doubt at all that Sir Alex will treasure this season just as much. Overcoming a sluggish start to their League campaign, United defended their title in style, a last day finish notwithstanding. However, it was that glorious night at Moscow when John Terry slipped and Van der Sar became a hero, that United will truly remember 2008 by. To add to that, they went on to add the Community Shield and the Club World cup to a burgeoning trophy cabinet. A hard year to repeat, but if any side in the world can do it, then you suspect it would be the Red devils.
3. Team Dhoni - Probably the best advertisement for young India this year would be our cricket team, led by a 27 year old daredevil who answers to the call 'Mahi'. If Dhoni had the confidence in a young side minus stalwarts like Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid in it to take on the might of Australia down under, then the majority of the cricketing fraternity had scorn. Ultimately, as it so often happens in fairy tales, India didn't even need the 3rd of a best of 3 finals to clinch the trophy. From then, there was no looking back. Be it giving Rahul Dravid ample time to play his way back into form in test cricket, or the gesture to allow Ganguly to lead the side for his last few minutes on a Test field, or himself batting with the maturity and guile of a pro, it is no secret that MSD has played most of his cards right. Few would question India's claim of being the best ODI team of the year, and its captain deserves all the plaudits he is receiving. Armed now with some of the finest talents in the world, both discovered and rediscovered, Team Dhoni enters 2009 with only one mission - to be number one by the turn of the year. And judging by their show so far, few people remain now to scorn at it.
2. Mumbai shaken, India moved - '26/11 is India's 9/11', screamed the headlines of a leading daily. However you react to that, the fact remains that this time, the god damned terrorists had gone too far. The death toll barely reveals the extent to which this incident has affected the Indian psyche, and more than just mournings and tributes are needed now. Yes, it is now time for finding solutions to long-standing problems. Why does a wannabe superpower still have an intelligence whose sophistication, or rather the lack of it, has become the butt of jokes aplenty? And now, it has cost us dearly too. If I was touched and sad by the whole incident, then I was angrier and incensed by its very occurence. Just as bashing Pakistan for their utter insensitivity is a correct step, it is even more important us to address some internal issues which have become a part of our lives. If we fail to do so this time, then I really wonder what on earth will wake up this sleeping giant that is India, Bharat and Hindustan.
1. The Man from Mumbai - A reputed global research firm 'Synovate' conducted a survey to identify India's best role model. The result: Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. 2008, to Sachin and his fans, will always be a very special year due to the way he reverted to his old habit of enthralling a nation with his mere presence. At 35, his body wasn't getting any younger for sure, but whenever a big moment appeared (excepting the blip in Srilanka) the man often criticised for going missing in those moments, grabbed them with both hands. In the aftermath of the Sydney Test (probably cricket's ugliest moment), India looked up to its best batsman to shine in the, now all-important Perth test. He did, with a cracking century on the world's bounciest track. Not too long later, when India looked up to him for inspiration in the CB Series Finals against a confident Australia, the home side ran into a familiar nemesis again. Sachin stroked 2 gems in back to back matches to give India a famous victory and a much needed confidence booster. Throughout the home test series labelled 'Clash of the titans', Sachin came up with telling contributions in every Test match. And finally, to top it all - chasing a mammoth total against England in a landmark Test series, when the pressure on favourites India was extremely high, Sachin came up with a composed century on a 5th day pitch to see his team through. Exactly what he had been criticised for not doing on several previous occasions. Post a terrible terror attack, with the nation at an all-time low, it was a familiar figure leading the way in terms of expressing solidarity. In paying tribute and condolences for the affected, Sachin Tendulkar showed once again why he is so special to a volatile, passionate and colourful country that is India. With due credit to a lot of people, it is Sachin who was India's standout performer of 2008, yet again- consistent and reliable, yet magical and talismanic. Showing signs of quite some fuel left in the tank, who knows if 2009 will be any different. I, for one, would hope not!
************ HAPPY NEW YEAR 2009 ************