Wednesday, June 17, 2015

For the want of a nail

In an alternate universe somewhere Ravindra Jadeja does not drop Alistair Cook, Pankaj Singh gets the first (of many) wickets, India gains ascendancy and wins the Test series against England, Alistair Cook is sacked as captain, India goes to Australia buoyed by their away win, Saha does not suffer a brain fade at Adelaide and Kohli is able to pull off a monstrously incredible Test victory and gives the perfect speech in Hughes' memory, India gains further confidence, wins the Test series, steamrolls through the World Cup semi (where Kohli does not drop Johnson), pulverizes New Zealand in the final.....

Months later, I still relive that dropped catch.

Because Ravindra Jadeja did not take a simple catch at point, a kingdom was lost.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Giving thanks - part 1

For the past few days I have been reflecting on everyone I have to be thankful to for shaping me and my life. Apart from the usual suspects (family and close friends) there are a few I need to remember while I can for the little things they showed me or did for me.

In no particular order:

BPJ: He did a lot of things for me and I cannot thank him enough for them. But the biggest thing he probably did was insisting that my PhD funding was tied directly to being able to drive the departmental truck to our field site. If I did not get the license to do so, he said my funding would be revoked. As simple as that. And it worked. And he insisted that I take official driving lessons to do so. It changed the direction my life was to take.

EP: My driving instructor. Even now when I change lanes, take an exit, brake for a traffic light, take a curve or parallel park, I apply the little tips and rules he told me during our hour-long night sessions so many years ago. All our sessions were in the dark and it rained during every one of them (which maybe one reason why I am more comfortable driving at night than in the day time, relatively speaking).

GM: I would not have taken his course if a researcher at ISU had not taken back his offer of a fully-funded PhD program. But, in hindsight, I am glad the offer was rescinded. The way I teach today is based almost entirely off the GM playbook. He had the incredible gift of being able to take a complex issue and simplify it so the students could learn it piecemeal without losing sight of the bigger picture. Someday, I hope to be half as good as he is.

RP: Bored me to death with his long-winded, one-sided conversations but he did teach me one important thing before he left for Atlanta - how to iron my clothes. Don't is not as simple as he made it look.

SM: When the temperature drops and the house gets cold I remember his tip - take a hot shower and then you'll be fine, And the bathroom also becomes the warmest room in the house in the winter.

RT: His simple policy for office hours - if the door is open, come right in - is one that I practice. Nothing gives me more joy at work than having a student walk into my office, sit down, and chat about life in general.

KDK - One week after I received my driver's license I was convinced to be the sole driver on a road trip to Alabama. A lifelong love for the open road and spending weekends in different places was born. The confidence I gained from that trip was immense and life-changing.

SKP: The most generous and giving person I have ever met. Never said no to any request for help without compromising on his ideals. I am not as good as he is but at times I have my moments.

JM: The first person in the US who took me aside and talked to me about my anxieties. He was my professor (and adviser) but I never felt a gap between us. When I wasn't sure if I was good enough to do a PhD, he took me to CEM's office and the two of them convinced me I was capable of it in just two sentences. More than half the labs I teach in my Ecology course are ones I learned from him. He passed away recently and has been in my thoughts a lot since then.

KM: Taught me how to cook dinner for two in 20 minutes or less. And also gave me his warmest winter coat when he moved back to Japan so I did not freeze as much when I walked to my classes.

CR Jr: Ice-fishing? Check. Canoeing? Check. Rafting through rapids? Check. Playing croquet? Check. Golfing? Check.  Indoor soccer? Check. Trapping coyotes for research? Check.How to throw a football in a perfect spiral? Check. Spelunking? Check. Bowling? Check. There are more "firsts" that C was able to check off my bucket list but you get the picture. He even drove me to WV and back from Illinois just so I could visit with BPJ and see the PhD program there.

JM: For teaching Biometry. The best statistics course I have ever taken and even today I can teach basic stats without referring to notes because of him.

Reading the tea leaves

When the draw for the men's singles event of the 2015 French Open tennis tournament was announced, all eyes were focused on the quarterfinal where two titans were slated to clash against each other. Learned reporters nodded their collective heads and the phrase de facto final was bandied about.

After the first four rounds, the mega-clash came to be and so it came to pass - the winner of this particular quarterfinal DID win the French Open. While most people thought it would be the Djokovic-Nadal clash, any true tennis fan knew - the de facto final was the all-Swiss clash between Wawrinka and Federer. When Federer lost, my good friend DH and I knew that the GOAT had missed a golden opportunity to pad his resume.

Either way, watching Stan Wawrinka's blistering one-handed backhand made me smile, albeit with a tinge of sadness that it wasn't the other Swiss one-handed backhand player mesmerizing the audience.

चलो कोई बात नहीं, Federer नहीं तो Wawrinka ही सही!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

They speak...I learn...or not

I have watched a few of the matches in the World Cup; bits and pieces of about 50% of them; major bits of about 25% and all the India matches except the second inning of the most recent game against Ireland.

From listening to the commentators this is what I have learned or realized:

Shane Warne: According to him - the best way to win a game at any point in time is to bowl a spinner, preferably a leg-spinner. Leg-spinners, no matter how filthy their bowling, are the best wicket-taking options in the world. Bar none. A pitch is magnificent no matter how many runs it leads to. a new word that we should all learn to use in our daily lives.

Sunil Gavaskar: If a batsman is near a milestone, our man will sniff it out in a heartbeat. You can tell a lot about his mentality from the way he appreciates milestones, game situation be damned. Also, he has a curious habit of making a joke, explaining it, and then repeating the joke again for emphasis just in case we had forgotten it.

Harsha Bhogle: He has become infuriating to listen to as he conducts each commentary session as if he is moderating a discussion. He will bring up a question and annoyingly will not offer his point of view. More annoyingly, he will straddle the fence if pushed to say something. This has crept into his writing to and only on rare occasions does he take a stand. Sad. Very sad, since he is an established journalist and will always have a column as long as he writes.

Here's something he tweeted today which is typical of the man these days (reproduced verbatim):

I say this with some hesitation, but is Dale Steyn,,,,,,you know......a little.......not quite.......

(See image below)
I say this with some hesitation, but is Dale Steyn,,,,,,you know......a little.......not quite.......

What...Does...That...Mean? A little not quite - what? Say it!! And without any follow up it is simply out there as clickbait, at worst, and a fraidy-cat statement, at best. Finish a thought and take a stand, Harsha. Please.

Sanjay Manjrekar: I actually like the guy and the insight he brings in each of his stints. He picks up a hatke point of view. Unfortunately, he will then spend the next 15 minutes beating it into the ground by repeatedly pointing it out. Glenn Maxwell was at the crease in a recent match en route to his first ODI century. Manjrekar stated early on that Maxwell is an atypical batsman in that he does not play the ball or the bowler but instead frames his batting based on the type of field being set. Brilliant point. And then, for the rest of the session this lesson was drummed into our senses with each Maxwell hit. I was hoping for further insight into how captains could counter that strategy or bowlers could plan and make Maxwell hit into areas he is less comfortable (or would take more risks) hitting to. I am still waiting for that.

Kiwi commentators:All the Kiwi commentators have been excellent so far. Treating the game with respect, discussing strategy, pointing out the good (and bad) things players are doing, and staying quiet when needed and letting the crowd shots tell the story at times. (Luckily I have not heard Danny Morrison so far).

Channel 9 commentators:Back-slapping, inside-joke telling, laughing out loud once-every-minute, Aussie propaganda stumping.  All of these are what I have (unfortunately) come to expect from them. They are rah-rah boys of the worst kind. They often don't even know who the opposing players are and sometimes will (shockingly) admit it. How can they not research the 22 players on the field before beginning their stint? How can the producers of the show let them get away with displaying such ignorance?

Mark Taylor: Special mention - he hasn't met a non-Aussie name that he hasn't mangled. I cannot fathom how he neither cares nor tries to pronounce players names correctly. That is just rude and inconsiderate and unbecoming of someone who, at times, has insightful things to say, especially related to strategy and game plans.

Rameez Raja: Like Ravi Shastri, he has about 10 stock phrases that he uses in varying patterns. Has not done much research for years and it feels as if the only cricket he watches or follows is the little bit he sees when he is commentating.

There are others, plenty of them. If you are interested shoot me their names and I will tell you what I think of them.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Grateful to a GOAT

For many years I watched sports to root for a particular team, usually the Indian cricket team. But all that changed after I lost touch with (watching) cricket in the 1990's. When I was finally able to watch cricket again, the way I watched sports had changed.

I no longer root for a team. Instead I root for individual players and, by proxy, the teams they play for. I realized this aspect the year(s) I rooted for the New England Patriots (gasp!) simply because Randy Moss was on their roster. Now that Moss has left, I am back to not caring for the Patriots.

As the years have gone by the number of sportsmen who make me turn on the TV/computer to watch them has diminished due to retirement. VVS Laxman, Randy Moss, post-2010 Sachin Tendulkar and Greg Maddux were the prominent ones on the list. There are some stragglers who I don't watch any more but used to a until a few years ago like Jeff Gordon, Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods (in his prime, El Tigre was as deadly and clutch under pressure as any sportsperson as I have ever seen).

Today, there is just ONE sportsman whom I try to watch whenever I get a chance to because I never know when he will stop playing professionally. A few days ago, it gave me great pleasure to wake up early in the morning to watch the man tick off one of the last items missing from his career resume - the Davis Cup.

Look at that concentration! He takes "watching the ball till the last moment" very seriously.

Watching Roger Federer play tennis is something else altogether. Most matches are won or lost on his terms because he is relentlessly attacking in nature, always looking for a way to end the point. The way he glides across the court, the way he manufactures shots from seemingly-impossible angles are the reasons I watch. In the future, there may be others who win more than him or have a more impressive career resume than him. But none of them will be able to convince me that Federer is not the best all-round tennis player I have ever seen. I was privileged enough to watch him once in person on Arthur Ashe stadium at the US Open and that memory is something I will always cherish. 

Roger is not my favorite tennis player ever (that would be Ivan Lendl) but he is definitely the one who has given me the most joy. Even as he fights Time and plays as well as he can, I know the light is burning fiercely but the candle is burning out soon. Yet he is out there "tarnishing" his legacy in the eyes of some, piling up the years without Grand Slam titles. But he is not going down quietly. He ended 2014 a few points shy of the #1 ranking (I predict he will return to #1 sometime before May 2015) and wowed us with the Davis Cup triumph and continues to play on.

And for that I am very grateful.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime

So, Sunil Narine's bowling action has been found to be illegal and he has been suspended from further participation until he rectifies it (in some tournaments and not others...but that is grist for another mill).

Sunil Narine in action.
(Click here for photo credit)
I have ALWAYS thought his action was dicey, so I am not surprised. In general, I do not like bowlers who have jerky actions so I am not shedding tears at the recent clampdown on illegal bowling actions.

Here is what is interesting to me in the entire Narine saga: even as various conspiracy theories are floated for the timing of the ban and many folks (including Clive Lloyd) fume about the ban itself, one thing is striking - no one is defending Narine's action as being legal. Not. One. Person.

Everyone is harping on about how he has been allowed to bowl for so long (as if that is reason enough to not suspend him now) and how it is w itch hunt bu why is no one even talking about the elephant in the room - that his action is dodgy.  That to me is more damning than any video evidence.

Raise your hand in protest, Mr. Narine, but be sure you don't bend that elbow when you do so.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Once more unto the breach

Update: Verily, my worst fears came to pass. Displaying no real conviction that they could actually hold out for an entire day, the batsmen pottered around and were bowled out before lunch on the 5th day. I do not think they had a real plan other than - bat out the day. When Moeen Ali can get 4 batsmen clean bowled on the last day, it's a sign that all the "thinking" that goes on behind the scenes as well as the wishful kind that exists on blogs like mine are useless endeavors. The sad thing is that once England batted out the first day losing just a couple of wickets, the script for the rest of the match was written and it played out exactly like that.

After 4 days of play in the third Test of the India-England series, India needs 333 runs to win with just 6 wickets in hand.

Realistically speaking...conventional wisdom says that the Indian batsmen have to survive 90 overs on Day 5. A task that is unlikely to happen. According to CricInfo:
76.3 - The most number of overs India's last six wickets have played in the fourth innings of a Test. In order to save this Test, the last six Indian wickets need to play out 99.4 overs, of which 9.4 overs have already been negotiated by Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. The most number of overs India's last six wickets have played in an away Test is 68.5, versus England at Lord's in 2002.

In the unlikely event that India can bat out that many overs, I will be very happy.

But instead, I propose something radically different. The two current batsmen - Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma - ought to bat as naturally as they can and occupy the crease, while scoring runs and not simply deadbatting everything that is flung their way. But, irrespective of how they do, I think the rest of the Indian batsmen - MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar in particular - should attack the target. Yes, we need 333 in 90 overs and it will not happen (most likely scenario) but I think we are more likely to chase down 333 than we are to survive 90 overs.

It's a simple equation, MSD - don't try to do something alien to you. Pretend this is an extended ODI and go for it! I can promise you one thing - if the English lead dwindles rapidly, Alistair Cook will get very defensive, making it much easier for you to save the Test if it comes to that.

But, I don't hold much hopes for such an endeavor. I am resigned to accepting that the Indians will offer token defensive resistance and crumble sometime between lunch and Tea. I so dearly hope not!

Go down with your guns blazing, MSD! The situation is tailor-made for your new team.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Testing times

Various articles have been written bemoaning the death of Test cricket, too many to even bother linking to. Just as many articles have been written in support of it, pointing out the most recently completed thriller as an example of how the format is awesome and must not be killed.

Test cricket is unique among the 3 forms of the game in that there is an option for an honorable draw. THAT  is what sets it apart from T20 and ODIs. And for every thumping win that a team has, there is a gut-wrenching draw or near-draw to fall back upon. This was never better illustrated than the recent two Test series between Sri Lanka and England, where Sri Lanka nearly lost the first one but held on for a draw and nearly drew the second one but hung on for a win.

Mark Nicholas said it best in the article linked above. Here's an excerpt from it (I strongly urge you to read the whole thing to get a taste of the drama):
Now if you wanted to slag off Moeen, you damn well could. I mean, fancy not nicking the strike to save Jimmy from himself (Joke.) Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. Balls 51 to 54 were superbly handled. Two remained to save the match, a task incidentally that no other team in history that had been five down going into the last day of a Test had achieved.

Eranga sprinted up the Headingley hill. He flung the leather short and hard at Anderson's throat. If only Anderson had ducked, or swayed, or slipped, or fell. But he didn't. See Moeen, Jimmy tried to play this frightening missile with his bat, or glove, or hand, or wrist or something. From his bat, it ballooned up in the air and was caught. If it had been you Moeen, no problem. You are a marvellous batsman. Whereas Jimmy, if not quite a rabbit, is no Geoff Boycott. The best nought in the history of cricket came to nothing, whichever way you look at it.