By Anand Philar
Three Khans have made the headlines in the past 48 hours for different reasons.
Kamran Khan, still innocent but incisive who bowled Royals to a stunning victory; Shah Rukh Khan whose Knights are all set to ride into the night and Feroz Khan, a yester-year Bollywood hero who passed away in Bangalore early this morning and with whom I had interacted some two decades ago.
The news of Feroz's passing away triggered nostalgia and I am filled with memories of the days long gone by when he won the salutations for his involvement in billiards and snooker. If there is one sponsor Indian green baize sport should remember, then it is Feroz whose timely support 20 years ago took the game to the next level.
If memory serves me right, it was in the late 1980s when one night, I was hobnobbing with the officials of the Karnataka State Billiards Association about an impending crisis. The KSBA had organised a major tournament inviting the cream of Indian snooker talent. The draw was made, the players had arrived and the tournament had attracted considerable media coverage.
With less than 12 hours to go for the start of the event, came the news that the sponsor had pulled out, leaving KSBA, desperately short of funds then, in a spot. Feroz was in our group and the then KSBA secretary BV Sachidananda Murthy (Sachu for short) looked at the Bollywood star in sheer desperation.
I vividly remember the conversation.
Feroz to Sachu: What's the problem? You look very hassled.
Sachu: Feroz, we are in deep trouble. Our sponsor has just now pulled out. The players are here and we don't have money!
Feroz: Ok. So how much do you need?
Sachu: About Rs 50,000, including Rs 40,000 for the prize-money.
Feroz (without hesitation): Is that it? No problem. I will put the money. Make sure the tournament is held as scheduled. I will have the money sent across in the morning. One request. Can you rename the tournament Champion of Champions?
The spontaneity with which Feroz made the offer floored us all. Those days, 50 Grand was a huge amount and with that one generous act, Feroz became a super hero in the billiards fraternity. He went a step further and hosted a grand dinner after the final. He walked up to all of us and thanked for the coverage we had provided.
From that day, Feroz was the first choice sponsor and he did back a few tournaments until work kept him away from the game. But he made it a point to visit the KSBA when in Bangalore and on occasions, knock the balls around at the table. He was an average player, but good enough to win a round or two. Indian billiards will sure miss him.
More importantly, the Champion of Champions tournament was a forerunner for other major competitions, including the 1991 World under-21 championship where the hugely gifted and current World No.1 Ronnie O'Sullivan won his first major international as a 16-year old. In fact, thanks to Feroz, the game enjoyed unprecedented popularity and following. The sport will surely miss him.
Fast forward to IPL and South Africa where a teenaged son of a woodcutter from Azamgarh is making waves though his team, the Rajasthan Royals, is slipping. Kamran Khan with his infectious smile and nurtured by Shane Warne himself is fast rising through the ranks, though it remains to be seen whether the Indian selectors would be interested in this little fast bowler.
The fact is that Warne has dug out another gem from the dusty Indian plains. Last year, he presented us Yusuf Pathan and now, young Kamran. It was amazing to watch Warne cup Kamran's face in his hands, look deep into the eyes and speak words of encouragement, just before the final over. Kamran responded in style and went a step further in the "super over".
Never mind that Rajasthan's slip is showing, but we have a bit more to learn about Warne than just his bowling. Last year, the Aussie was a revelation as a captain and this time around, he has come up with another nugget. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Kamran would be able to sustain his enthusiasm and fire, but from what we have seen of him, there is plenty in his tank.
That brings us to the third Khan who must be a tad uncomfortable in a cricketing dressing room that is so different from the green room he is used to! It is obvious that the Knight Riders are in disarray despite the odd individual performances. No thanks to Buchanan's hare-brained theory of multiple captains leading to the unceremonious removal of Ganguly from the helm. McCullum is on a learning curve as a captain and he looks anything but at ease with the new responsibility and that is showing in his consistent failures with the bat.
Perhaps, SRK would have been better off to support continuity rather than get mixed up in matters that are alien to him. After all, we are talking about serious, competitive cricket and not some movie shoot.