Many things have changed in the past 18 months or so. Many haven’t. Team India has been its old, unpredictable self. Politicians have been politicking. People, some famous and some not so famous, have moved on. All this, albeit, in altered circumstances. Here are some of the things that made headlines in June.
Team India falters in Ultimate Test, Kiwis fly to the top
In a scene from the talk-of-the-town HBO miniseries and crime drama Mare of Easttown, Kate Winslet’s Mare Sheehan tells fellow detective Evan Peters’s Colin Zabel on a work-date, “Doing something great is overrated. Because then people expect that from you all the time. What they don’t realise is you’re just as screwed up as they are.”
Greatness could well be more a burden than a guarantee for success. Who knows this better than Virat Kohli as India lost to New Zealand in the World Test Championship final at Southampton, England.
Post Gabba, the Aussie great Greg Chappell had written in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Don’t worry about India becoming the best team — they are already capable of producing the best five teams in world cricket!” Such is the aura of India’s powerhouse bench strength. But at Southampton, Kohli’s fabled top order failed to fire and bowlers couldn’t deliver the lethal blow. Kohli’s men fought till the end to ensure a great contest but it wasn’t enough. For once, this is a loss the Indian fans didn’t seem to mind much and instead celebrated the nice guys of cricket.
Could India have done better? Of course. Should India have included another seamer? Perhaps, yes. But at the end of the day, any team can lose no matter how great it is. Who thought Brazil would be thrashed 7-1 by Germany on home ground in the 2014 World Cup semi-final? No taking away from what India has achieved under Kohli in the last few years. But Kohli has no option but to wait to lay his hands on that elusive ICC trophy like New Zealand had to.
New Zealand kept at it in their hard, long race to the top. They were runners-up in the 2015, 2019 World Cup, and were semi-finalists twice in the T20 World Cup but could never clear the finishing line. Despite having two greats, Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe, followed by the flamboyance of Brendon McCullum, the Kiwis have only been the second-best. But they never gave up. They picked up the pieces from the humiliating low of 45 all out against South Africa in Cape Town in 2013 and quietly went about their job. This is not only a win for the gentle giant Williamson who finished the task without any fanfare, like his Prime Minister Jacinda Arden. It’s a victory for New Zealand’s cricket culture as explained beautifully by cricket writer Jarod Kimber: “They just fought and fought against bigger and better teams… 26 years to win a Test, 39 years to win a series and 81 years to win a world championship.” And yes, nice guys do finish first.
Delta strain queers Covid-19 pitch
India’s coronavirus infections dipped and immunisation reached a record high after the Centre took over the process of acquiring and distributing vaccines on June 21. At the current rate, if all goes well, India could be on course to vaccinate its entire population by the year’s end.
Rich countries like the US, UK and Israel have stolen a march over the rest of the world with their startling vaccination success. But little did anyone know that the Delta variant would push the world back into lockdowns. Even as the Delta strain spreads at an alarming rate in over 90 countries, the US thought it was time to focus on the origin of the coronavirus – if it jumped naturally from animals to human or accidentally escaped the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s research lab headed by celebrated Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli. Having ignored the lab leak theory for over a year, the scientific community woke up to pin the blame on China, after DRASTIC, an independent, assorted group of science enthusiasts and researchers, combed through the darknet and came up with startling revelations questioning the natural transmission theory. But new revelations came to light that the US may have funded tens of millions of dollars to Zhengli’s research that was genetically manipulating coronaviruses to see how dangerous it could become. America’s top doctor, the venerable Anthony Fauci faced some of the toughest questions in his career over US funding to the Wuhan lab.
Did science trigger a pandemic while trying to prepare for a pandemic? We may never know the truth since China continues to stonewall any probe. The big question is how it helps to know the origin of the virus after more than a year. Instead of chasing the mirage of truth, won’t it be better to focus on vaccine production and equitable distribution since no one is safe till everyone is safe?
Amid a raging controversy over slow vaccination, some top doctors in India who didn’t see the second wave coming, warned, without providing any credible reasoning, of a third wave that would most likely hit the children hard. Then came clarifications and more clarifications. Alarmed state governments have since hit the panic button and have started making paediatric wards. Maybe overpreparation is the need of the hour after we saw how oxygen shortage snuffed out many lives and shattered innumerable families during the devastating second wave.
Pawar meeting: A storm in the evening teacup?
Two meetings in two weeks between political strategist Prashant Kishor and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar in June set the tongues wagging in Delhi durbar about a Congress-mukt opposition alliance to challenge Narendra Modi in 2024. Both Kishor and Pawar issued clarifications later saying it would be difficult to form any opposition alliance without the Congress. Assuming that the TMC, DMK and the Left parties join any opposition alliance and win all the Lok Sabha seats in Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala polls, then they will bag a total of around 100 seats. Where will the rest of the seats come from? It’s highly doubtful that Naveen Patnaik, Jagan Reddy or KCR will take part in any anti-BJP alliance.
Moreover, why would Mamata or Stalin hand over the PM chair to Pawar when the NCP’s best Lok Sabha performance so far has been a mere nine seats? It’s not the first and won’t be the last time for the opposition parties to embark on such an adventure. Mamata, KCR have both tried and failed before. But without an active Congress role, it’s a futile exercise as the numbers would never add up. Also, the idea of a third, fourth or federal front is past its expiry date and there are hardly any takers. Therefore, the opposition meeting at Pawar residence was nothing but a storm in the evening teacup.
What’s behind Modi govt’s Gupkar outreach?
Dubbed by nationalists as the Gupkar Gang after their incarceration, Kashmir politicians were invited to New Delhi to attend a meeting chaired by PM Modi to discuss the roadmap for the region. What prompted the change of heart is difficult to ascertain — if the policy shift was ‘insaniyat’ as envisioned by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, or reduction in terror incidents making it conducive for engagement, or the geopolitical situation arising out of the US pulling out of Afghanistan that would see Taliban back in the saddle in Kabul. Knowing fully well that no way will the Modi government restore Article 370 provisions, some of the Kashmir leaders are now demanding special rights under Article 371 that have been granted to northeastern states like Nagaland. One thing is evident, there are no shortcuts or simple answers to the Kashmir issue when India is waging a two-front war against China and Pakistan. How much India will concede beyond delimitation and restoration of statehood will be eagerly watched both within and outside the country.
End of a sporting era
Milkha Singh’s passing at the ripe old age of 91 was truly the end of a sporting era in India. Arguably the biggest sporting icon in India, Milkha was conferred the Padma Shri and his name was included in the list of Arjuna Awards for lifetime achievement as late as 2001, which he had rightly refused. He will be forever remembered for the 1960 Rome Olympics heartbreak that fired up generations of Indian athletes.