Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Midwest Chronicles - Hefflinger Cup 2019: Staring into the abyss

The Cricket Association of Nebraska (CAN) and Simply Play Cricket (SPC) co-hosted the 2019 Invitational Hefflinger Cup in August 2019. Nine teams were divided into three groups with the top 4 teams making the knockout. Here are the exploits of the Nebraska Cricket Club (NCC).

2019 Invitational Hefflinger Cup
Group C game: Nebraska Cricket Club versus Titans
Venue: Hefflinger Park, North ground, Omaha, Nebraska

Nebraska CC Players: Anoop Reddy, Ashish Sathyan, Asif Iqbal, C S Manish (wk), Dikshant Saini, Mojib Afghan, Phillip Blake, Saumil Patel, Sriram Surapaneni, Suresh Gorantla (C), Vijay Reddy

Titans Players: Abdul Khaliq Shaik (wk), Akash Vemulapalli, Amarendra Dasari, Avinash Gurram, Hiren Tummala (C), Jithin Pavuluri, Ravi Teja Gadde, Rohit Kashyap, Sampras Manpoor, Sandeep Reddy Palle, Vishnu Gude

Overnight showers had left behind a damp carpet and the NCC captain, Suresh Gorantla, had no hesitation in asking Titans to bat first. Ashish Sathyan, trundling in off a shortened run-up took his time getting his radar organized, with 4 wides in the first 3 balls. His third legitimate ball was the stuff of which fast bowler's dreams are made, a rapidly climbing delivery that forced the batsman to flinch and turn away, resulting in a simple, loopy catch next to the square-leg umpire. Practice catches don't come easier than that and Suresh Gorantla made no mistake.

Sandeep Reddy Palle  c Suresh Gorantla b Ashish Sathyan  0 (2b, 0 Fours, 0 Sixers)
3 for 1 in 0.3 overs

In walked the titan of the Titans batting line-up - Avinash Gurram. Avinash began as if he were batting on a different pitch - unruffled, untroubled, and looking in ominous touch. Dikshant Singh Saini bowled a spell filled with impeccable outswingers that kept the batsmen quiet. At the other end, Ashish mixed in the wide balls with unhittable bumpers to keep the scoreboard and the batsmen hopping around. Dikshant was bowling a great line and length and had the batsmen reaching for his outswingers when Suresh removed the cover fielder and moved him to midwicket. Dikshant immediately lost his line and gave two wides and a four in the next 3 balls. Avinash hit a trademark boundary to extra-cover and decided to pay heed to Ravi Shastri's sensible advice by taking a single off the next ball. The only mistake he made was to hit it straight to point. Ignoring his partner's cries, Avinash raced to the non-striker end. Unfortunately, his partner did not make is safely as Anoop rifled in a throw that detonated the stumps.

Ravi Teja Gadde  run out (Anoop Reddy)   6 (9b 0 Fours, 0 Sixers)
29 for 2 in 3.5 overs

Avinash continued on while his partner, Abdul Khaliq, was less composed but still managed to pull Dikshant to the midwicket fence to bring a frown on the fielder's faces. That frown was quickly transformed into a smile when Abdul swung hard at Ashish and managed to connect only with air.

Abdul Khaliq Shaik  b Ashish Sathyan  9 (12b 1 Fours, 0 Sixers)
41 for 3 in 6.1 overs

Ashish Sathyan bowled his 4 overs in one spell (4-0-26-2) and at the other end Dikshant stopped after 3. In the 8th over, Suresh brought himself on to control the flow of the increasingly dangerous-looking Gurram. The fourth ball was pitched fuller, inviting the drive, but moved enough to take the edge for a regulation catch at first slip by Phil Blake. The Big Fish had been snared!

Avinash Gurram  c Phillip Blake b Suresh Gorantla  19 (19b 1 Fours, 0 Sixers)
48 for 4 in 7.4 overs

NCC suddenly felt like the match was in their hands. All season long the fate of the Titans was linked with Gurram's scores. A low score meant a certain defeat for the Titans. But no one seemed to have told Rohit Kashyap and Vishnu Gude that. The duo mixed defense (by Rohit) with aggressive hitting (by Vishnu) to keep scoring runs at a steady pace through the 10 over drinks break. 62 for 4 in 10 overs.

After bowling 2 overs for 11 runs and the all-important wicket of Gurram, Suresh inexplicably took himself off and gave Vijay Reddy the ball in the 12th over. The need to get the 5th bowler's overs out of the way is an over-powering one for captains at any level of the game, it seems. The first ball was a dipping full-toss that was called a no-ball, a marginal call but understandable. Unfortunately, Vishnu pulled it hard and flat into Ashish's hands at square-leg. It could have been a wicket but instead it was a free hit. The next three balls were bludgeoned for 4,4, and 6 and the momentum was back with the Titans. Asif Iqbal, threatening with every ball he bowled, brought some control back with a 3 run over.

Suresh then turned to Anoop Reddy's off-spin and, barring one 6 off an errant delivery, the off-spinnershowed he'd be a threat on the pitch. However, Suresh decided to bring himself back for his own brand of dibbly-dobblers. Those who have not played Gorantla are often fooled by his doe-like gait and short run-up. The mistake they make is to underestimate the accuracy and control that he has. With the big hits getting increasingly difficult to come by, Vishnu swung really hard and was horrified to find his stumps all over the place.

Vishnu Gude  b Suresh Gorantla  32 (20b 3 Fours, 2 Sixers)
103 for 5 in 14.4 overs

With just 32 balls left, the gameplan for both teams became simple. Rohit Kashyap had been batting sedately, content to swim along in Vishnu's wake during the 55 run partnership. But with time running out, he attempted an extravagant drive off Anoop, only to give C.S. Manish a chance to take a sharp catch standing up to the wicket.

Rohit Kashyap  c †C S Manish b Anoop Reddy  18 (29b 1 Fours, 0 Sixers)
104 for 6 in 15.1 overs

Hiren Tummala does not waste time or do anything in half-measures. The first ball he faced was bludgeoned to deep square leg, where Mojib Afghan made a valiant effort to take the catch but just missed it for a boundary. The follow up ball was short and flat coming from Anoop and short and flat going to deep square-leg for a thundering six. The next over was Gorantla's last and he got a wicket off the first ball when a mistimed hit went only as far as Phillip Blake waiting for it at the boundary. Phil turned an easy catch into an exciting one by bobbling it three times before collecting it.

Akash Vemulapalli  c Phillip Blake b Suresh Gorantla  0  (4b 0 Fours, 0 Sixers)
116 for 7 in 16.1 overs

Suresh should have had another wicket in the over but a carbon copy of the previous dismissal was botched by Phil who, this time, could not collect the rebound and Tummala survived. But not for long. In the next over, Tummala's hopes of hitting a six off Asif only cost his team a wicket.

Hiren Tummala  b Asif Iqbal  15 (8b 1 Fours, 1 Sixer)
123 for 8 in 17.2 overs

Jithin Pavuluri is a hustling, bustling batsman who hares between the wickets and converts ones into two and threes. He began to do just that when, unfortunately for the Titans, the other batsmen decided to take matters into their own hands. First Amarendra Dasari's eyes lit up when Anoop flighted one. Had the zing bails been used here they would have lit up, too.

Amarendra Dasari  b Anoop Reddy  2 (5b 0 Fours, 0 Sixers)
130 for 9 in 18.4 overs

And two balls later, Anoop completed a good day on the field by pinning Sampras LBW when the batsman went back and across and missed a straight ball.
Sampras Manpoor  lbw b Anoop R  0 (2b 0 Fours, 0 Sixers)

Jithin Pavuluri not out 8 ( b, 0 Fours, 0 Sixers)

130 all out in 19 overs

Ashish Sathyan: 4-0-26-2
Dikshant Saini: 3-0-19-0
Suresh Gorantla: 4-0-20-3
Asif Iqbal: 4-0-21-1
Vijay Reddy: 1-0-19-0
Anoop Reddy: 3-0-24-3

A good start is half the job, they say, and getting the Titans all-out for 130 definitely buoyed the NCC hopes immensely. Anoop Reddy and Vijay Reddy began in enterprising manner, thumping away good and bad balls with a straight bat and a high elbow. Jithin, Vishnu, and Avinash bowled different lines and lengths but did not trouble the two batsmen. Both of them hit boundaries over and past long-off and after 4 overs the target was brought down to double digits and the NCC bench began to relax. It appears, so did the batsmen.

Hiren Tummala is a bowler who would have been deemed aggressive no matter which era he bowled in. Coming in off a long run-up he likes to bowl really fast and focuses mainly on smashing the stumps or the batsman's head. The greater pace he bowls at, compared to Jithin or Vishnu, was accentuated by the low bounce of the pitch which made short-length balls not rise above the stumps. The pace also caused batsmen to stay on their back foot when the bounce required them to move forward. Vijay paid the price of that folly, being pinned on the thigh in front of the stumps. And the first breach had been made.

Vijay Reddy  lbw b Hiren Tummala  8 (16b 1 Fours, 0 Sixers)
33 for 1 in 4.5 overs

Mojib Afghan, on NCC debut, came in with a burgeoning reputation as the new wunderkid in the Heartland Cricket League (of Iowa). On this day, his exuberance got the better of him. Eager to make an immediate impression, he tried to launch the first ball he faced straight over the bowler's head. On a normal day, on a normal pitch, against a normal bowler, he'd probably have connected. But on this day, he was batting on the North pitch at Hefflinger Park whose much lower bounce was compounded by the damp pitch. On top of it, he was up against the faster pace of Tummala. In two balls, Hiren had changed the complexion of the match!

Mojib Afghan  b Hiren Tummala  0 (1b 0 Fours, 0 Sixers)
33 for 2 in 5 overs
98 runs needed in 15.0 overs (90 balls) with 8 wickets remaining.

The situation called for a calm and clear mind and, generally, you'd expect NCC's senior citizen - C.S. Manish - to provide plenty of both. But he went in to bat with a mind cluttered by off-field incidents of the previous week, determined to not let the opposition get the better of him. The first legitimate ball he faced from Amarendra hit him flush on the pads but was definitely missing leg stump. Unfortunately for Manish, it wasn't missing the middle stump. LBWs are rarely more clear cut than that.

C S Manish  lbw b Amarendra Dasari  0 (1b 0 Fours, 0 Sixers)
37 for 3 in 5.2 overs

The Titans had not only pried open the door to victory, they were now threatening to blow it away. The rest of the over went by without much incident as Saumil Patel calmed some nerves with a straight bat to Amarandra's increasingly pacy offerings.

 93 runs needed in 14.0 overs (84 balls) with 7 wickets remaining.

Hiren continued breathing fire at the other end and the Saumil-Anoop combine gently eased their way to 4 singles in the over. But this was just a prelude to the carnage that was to follow.

 89 runs needed in 13.0 overs (78 balls) with 7 wickets remaining.

All game long, Saumil Patel had been talking about the low bounce being generated on the pitch. Unfortunately, he appeared to have let that get into his head but did not heed his own advice, getting comprehensively bowled by Amarendra who, by this time, was bowling as fast as anyone has bowled in Omaha this year.

Saumil Patel  b Amarendra Dasari  3 (9b 0 Fours, 0 Sixers)
44 for 4 in 7.3 overs

Anoop Reddy is an enigma. As a batsman he has no discernible weakness and his preferred hitting area is the V but oddly, with a tennis forehand-like shot that is not a crossbatted slog. All through the season, he has settled in, gotten a start and then thrown it away in an effort to manufacture a boundary where none existed. Having watched Saumil perish, Anoop took the fight to Amarendra's doorstep, smashing him to the boundary when the bowler overpitched. But, in his enthusiasm to dominate, he overlooked the danger of playing loosely, and lost his stumps. The Titans were in the driver's seat and in no mood to let up.

Anoop Reddy  b Amarendra Dasari  22 (20b 2 Fours, 1 Sixers)
49 for 5 in 8 overs

 82 runs needed in 12.0 overs (72 balls) with 5 wickets remaining

The noose was tightening and the NCC batsmen were not helping matters by choking. Both teams knew that while 5 wickets were down, the Universe Boss of NCC - Phil Blake - was still at the crease. The Titans needed his wicket and needed it badly. Four balls into his third over, Hiren stuck pay dirt in the form of the Jamaican's pads. The collapse was well and truly underway. Iceberg!!

Phillip Blake  lbw b Hiren Tummala  1 (4b 0 Fours, 0 Sixers)
50 for 6 in 8.4 overs

At the end of the over, Hiren's analysis was a mind-boggling 3-0-5-3 while Amarendra's 2-0-12-3 was not too shabby either.

 81 runs needed in 11.0 overs (66 balls) with 4 wickets remaining

Suresh held back his last trumpcard, Asif Iqbal, and sent in NCC's most improved batsman -Sriram Surapaneni. Sriram and Dikshant applied the breaks and carefully played out Amarendra's thunderbolts.

80 runs needed in 10.0 overs (60 balls) with 4 wickets remaining

Hiren then took himself off to save an over of his (presumably) for Asif Iqbal. His replacement, Akash Vemulapalli needed just one ball to make an impact - castling a laden-footed Sriram.

Sriram Surapaneni  b Akash Vemulapalli  2 (5b 0 Fours, 0 Sixers)
51 for 7 in 10.1 overs

Suresh Gorantla promoted himself up the order, reminiscent of MSD's move to come on ahead of Yuvraj Singh in 2011. The end result was just a few runs different. Three balls later Suresh played outside the line of a ball that cut back into his pads and NCC was on the brink of an ignominious defeat.

Suresh Gorantla  lbw b Akash Vemulapalli  0 (3b 0 Fours, 0 Sixers)
51 for 8 in 10.4 overs

Many teams have collapsed spectacularly over the years but this one has to rank right up there with them. 18 for 8 in 6 overs in a T20 game with no fielders involved has got to be something special.

 80 runs needed in 9.0 overs (54 balls) with 2 wickets remaining

The margin for error was almost non-existent. Two mistakes by NCC and the match (and tournament hopes) were done.

What followed was a period of exceptional batting and bowling. Bowler after bowler targeted the stumps and the batsman. With around 9 runs required per over, conventional wisdom (i.e. MSD school of finishing wisdom) says you tap around for ones and twos before launching the big shots in the last couple of overs. Dikshant Singh Saini and Asif Iqbal adopted a very different template.

In the 48 balls the pair faced, they played 21 dot balls. Any ball that remotely looked like a wicket-taking one was patted back to the Titans, In the 48 balls the pair faced, they hit 3 fours and 6 sixes. In the 48 balls the pair faced, they hit 48 runs in boundaries. Aided by singles and a few wides that leaked as the Titans got increasingly desperate to get them out, the pair added 70 runs in just 8 overs for the 9th wicket.

While the previous paragraph says a lot of things it does not do justice to the counter attack launched by Asif and Dikshant. Each six that was hit would have been a six on any ground anywhere. All of them were hit with a straight bat. In fact, in both innings, this narrator is hard-pressed to recall a single slog or cross-batted hoick. But even then, the quality of the hitting by this pair was breath-taking.The arc from cover to long-on was the target, and with no room for error the duo did not miss.

When Hiren came back to try to get Asif out, the response was a straight six so long, it stopped the match on the South ground as the fielder in the other game had to scurry to fetch the ball. That shot, of all the shots hit on the day, suddenly made everyone at the ground realize that something special might be possible after all.

The progression of the scores will tell you the tale....

77 runs needed in 8.0 overs (48 balls) with 2 wickets remaining

69 runs needed in 7.0 overs (42 balls) with 2 wickets remaining

59 runs needed in 6.0 overs (36 balls) with 2 wickets remaining

49 runs needed in 5.0 overs (30 balls) with 2 wickets remaining
28 runs needed in 4.0 overs (24 balls) with 2 wickets remaining

22 runs needed in 3.0 overs (18 balls) with 2 wickets remaining

11 runs needed in 2.0 overs (12 balls) with 2 wickets remaining

***** The key over in the midst of all that was the 16th over, bowled by Avinash Gurram, that Asif took for 21 runs with 3 sixes, each one sending a deeper strike into the Titans hopes.

Suddenly, the scales had tilted in NCC's favor. Just 11 runs needed in 12 balls with the two marauders at the crease. Jithin took it upon himself to bowl the pivotal 19th over. He began with a nervous wide (1 runs in 12 balls) and then, after a couple of dot balls, got Asif adjudged caught behind off the 3rd ball of the over. The Titans were BACK!

Asif Iqbal  c †Abdul Khaliq Shaik b Jithin Pavuluri  35 (27b 1 Fours, 4 Sixers)

10 runs needed in 1.3 overs (9 balls) with 1 wicket remaining

Ashish Sathyan walked up to the crease with a thousand instructions ringing in his ears, the foremost among them being - don't get out. A nervous waft off the first ball had a hundred heartbeats being skipped on both sides. The second ball he faced deserves it own paragraph.

Players from both sides, including the batsman himself, must have imagined, wished, prayed, begged, and hoped for a particular result to happen. No one, in their wildest imagination, would have predicted what actually transpired. The North ground is the graveyard of the technically classical batsman, the tall grass and the uneven ground serving to stop any groundshot from travelling beyond the 30 yard line. Jithin bowled a slightly fuller ball just outside the off-stump - the perfect ball for any batsman from 1 to 11. Ashish Sathyan turned out to be the joker that no one accounted for in the deck of cards, unfurling the most vicious and picture-perfect extra-cover drive that I have seen in my 9 years of watching cricket on the North ground. I still find it hard to believe that the ball was hit so hard that it went all the way, all along the ground, past the (imaginary) fence for the most important four of Ashish's life so far!

6 runs needed in 1.1 overs (7 balls) with 1 wicket remaining

Jithin was rattled enough to bowl a leg-side wide next ball.

5 runs needed in 1.1 overs (7 balls) with 1 wicket remaining

The last ball beat the batsman, thudded into the keeper's gloves, resulting in a celebrappeal from Jithin that was turned down by the umpire.

5 runs needed in 1.0 overs (6 balls) with 1 wicket remaining

The other ace in the NCC deck - Dikshant Saini - was still at the crease and (unbeknownst to the audience) had decided that he would play all 6 remaining balls. After all, expecting Ashish's lightning bolts to strike twice was expecting too much of him!

The first ball from Vishnu was calmly tapped back to the bowler. 5 runs needed in 5 balls.

The next ball was short of good length, outside the off-stump and Dijshant exploded into his favorite shot - the square-drive, high over the gully fielder's head, a couple of bounces later crossing the flags that make up the boundary at Hefflinger Park! 1 run needed in 4 balls. Scores tied!

The way the tournament is set up - a tied game actually worked in the Titans favor so NCC needed a win and nothing else from the game.

Since the previous ball that pitched outside the off-stump had been thumped away, Vishnu overcompensated and bowled a wide down the leg-side and, just like that, anticlimactically, NCC had pulled off the heist!

Ashish Sathyan 4 not out (3 balls, 1 four, 0 sixers)
Dikshant Singh Saini 33 not our (27 balls, 3 fours, 2 sixers)

NCC 131 for 9 in 19.2 overs

Special mention needs to be made of the heroic bowling analyses of these Titans:

Hiren Tummala: 4-0-15-3
Amarendra Dasari: 4-0-16-3
Akash Vemulapalli: 3-1-18-2

In 11 combined overs, they took 8 for 49. In the remaining 8.2 overs (50 balls) NCC picked up 82 runs for 1 wicket. And therein lies the whole tale.

The death defying heist was pulled off by two talented all-rounders. For his spectacular hitting, and incisive bowling Asif Iqbal was adjudged the man of the match. An honor he shares with Dikshant Saini, in my opinion. Each player's contribution was just as vital to the other's success.

All season long, Asif has been searching for a defining inning - one that can launch him into the conversation about the elite of Omaha's all-rounders. Hopefully, this is that inning. It certainly has the pedigree and result to be a launch pad. Dikshant is a proven performer, having established himself as as one of the pillars of the HCL. We have high hopes of the duo for the rest of the season.

Days later the NCC players still talk about the match in hushed tones unable to believe that they actually pulled it off. A tournament that appeared to be done and dusted within just 10 overs of the chase is still well and truly alive. Next up - the second and last league match against the Riders, who are fresh off a victorious, championship winning Nebraksa Cup (T14 hard tennis ball) campaign.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Glasshouse dwellers on notice

So, Ravichandran Ashwin set the cat among the pigeons by Mankading Jos Buttler in an IPL match. Immediately, the spirit of the game was invoked (which the MCC officially shot down very quickly indicating there was no merit to that argument).

The ICC amended the rule concerning Mankading to clearly indicate that the batsman has to wait until the ball leaves the bowler's arm before venturing outside the crease. Ashwin was perfectly justified in doing what he did, legally as well as morally.

If a bowler bowls a no-ball, the umpire does not say, "Okay, that was your first offense so I'm letting you off with a warning." Then why should the batsman be accorded the favor of a first warning prior to being Mankaded?

If I were Ashwin, I would release the following statement before the next match:
From here on, EVERY opposition batsman is put on notice and warned. If you leave the crease before the ball is bowled, ANY bowler in my team WILL run you out. You have been warned so do not break the law by leaving the crease and we won't have to break the spirit of the law to fix your action.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Travel: Day 4 - The Dandenong Range

One of the advantages of teaching at a small liberal arts institution is the freedom to design and offer courses that are close to one's heart. 

In January 2011 (and 2015), I taught Tropical Ecology  and, for one of the class activities, I took a group of students on a 10 day trip to Puerto Rico . (Click here to read about the trip to Puerto Rico). 

In January 2013, I taught Ecology of Australia and, naturally, it entailed a field trip to Australia! (Click here to read about the trip to Australia).

In January 2016, I taught Tanzania: Culture, Climate, and Connections and took students to Africa.

In 2018, a group of Midland University students embarked on a learning adventure to Australia for a course titled: Ecology, Environment, and Culture of AustraliaThis is what they gained on their learning adventure.

Click here for Travel: Day 1-3 - Lack of motion sickness

Day 4: Dandenong Range 

Subject Matter Expert - Allison Buehring

The Dandenong Mountain Range is named after an Aboriginal word called, tanjenong, which translates to ‘lofty’. This word has no real origin other than the fact that it was named after the nearby Dandenong creek. 

(Allison Buehring 2018)
This range is found in Southern Victoria, which is just East of Melbourne in the Highlands. These are low mountain ranges that have several peaks exceeding 1,600 feet. Mount Dandenong is 2,077 feet high and is the highest peak in these ranges. 

(Nick Carson, Wikipedia)

This mountain range is very fertile due to the coastal rains and volcanic soils, leaving the vegetation dense in its coverings. This gets twice as much rainfall as the coastal plains receive. 

(Tianna Bertram 2018)
The ranges are mostly comprised of rolling hills, steeply weathered valleys, and gullies (a channels cut into the soil, in hillside formed by running water). The type of vegetation here is a thick temperate rainforest, which contains tall Mountain Ash trees along with dense fern-like undergrowth. 

(Erikur Arnason 2018)
Starting in 1882 lots of the parklands were protected, but intensive expansion created the Dandenong National Park in 1987. In 1997 the ranges were further expanded. These ranges receive moderate snowfall a few times a year, within the months of later winter into late spring. . The drier ridges are where the Eucalyptus regnans (Mountain Ash Forest) are exposed on the northern slopes and are covered by dry sclerophyll forest and stringy barks and box. This range experiences bush fires quite often as they are in the drier portion of the forest. There are 10 plus creeks trialing through these ranges along with two major water falls (Olinda Falls and Sherbrooke falls) along with quite a few summits. The climate is mild and wet with temperatures as low as 1 degree in the winter. Precipitation is common all year round, but peaks between April and October. Heavy fog is common within these ranges. 

Currently, the Dandenong Ranges occupy nearly 100,000 residents and allows lots of attractions with its National Parks. 

(Michael Taddonio 2018)
After reaching the Forest, all of us went for a walk on one of the many trails leading away from the Visitor Center.

(Erikur Arnason 2018)
After the walk, we had some English tea and scones before embarking on a learning tour of the forest along another, longer trail. Along the way, Manish talked about the history, geography, and ecological features of the forest.

(C.S. Manish 2018)
The mountain range is the remains of an extinct volcano that was active nearly 373 million years ago. The composition of it is mostly Devonian dacite and rhyodacite. The topography of this consists of lot of ridges dissected by deep cut streams. As mentioned already, lot of gullies are found in the southern portion of the range. These gullies are full of lots of fern. The drier ridges are where the Eucalyptus regnans (Mountain Ash Forest) are exposed on the northern slopes and are covered by dry sclerophyll forest and stringy barks and box. This range experiences bush fires quite often as they are in the drier portion of the forest. There are 10 plus creeks trialing through these ranges along with two major water falls (Olinda Falls and Sherbrooke falls) along with quite a few summits. 

We stopped briefly for the traditional "squad" picture.

(C.S. Manish 2018)

(C.S. Manish 2018)
At the Visitor Center, for a token price, guests are allowed to feed wild cockatoos that live in the mountains.

(Erikur Arnason 2018)
After a sumptuous meal, cooked on the barbeque pits provided by the facility (a feature we learned was common to most of the sites we visited) we headed back to Melboune. Some of the students went back to the ocean for another dip after which we packed our suitcases, placed them in storage, and got ready for the next adventure on our list - the drive into Australia's famed Outback.

Day 5 - To the Outback!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Travel: Day 1-3 - Lack of motion sickness

One of the advantages of teaching at a small liberal arts institution is the freedom to design and offer courses that are close to one's heart. 

In January 2011 (and 2015), I taught Tropical Ecology  and, for one of the class activities, I took a group of students on a 10 day trip to Puerto Rico . (Click here to read about the trip to Puerto Rico). 

In January 2013, I taught Ecology of Australia and, naturally, it entailed a field trip to Australia! (Click here to read about the trip to Australia).

In January 2016, I taught Tanzania: Culture, Climate, and Connections and took students to Africa.

In 2018, a group of Midland University students embarked on a learning adventure to Australia for a course titled: Ecology, Environment, and Culture of Australia. This is what they gained on their learning adventure.
Day 1-3:

The excitement of traveling abroad vastly compensated for the really long time (and changes of flights) it takes to get to Melbourne from Omaha. Luckily, all the details of the trip were very well taken care of by an Australia-based adventure travel company, Ozi Expeditions.

And away we go....
(C.S. Manish 2018)

We left Omaha in the afternoon of Day 1. A brief layover in Denver was followed by a flight to Los Angeles, where we completed all our international travel check-ups and boarded the looooooong flight to Melbourne around 10:30pm. By the time we landed in Melbourne it was 7:30am on Day 3, thanks to our crossing the International Date Line. "Day 2" was therefore spent somewhere over the Pacific on a plane and did not exist in our timelines.

Clearing Immigration in Melbourne was not much of a hassle and a relieved group assembled for the first (of many, many) group pictures.

Back row (L to R): Sean Kelley, Michael Taddonio, Tieryn Arens, Paige Kapperman, Tianna Bertram, Payton Coon, Derrick Kruetzfeldt, Allison Buehring, Logan Paasch
Front row (L to R): Erikur Arnason, Fred Wigington, Tanner Swett
(C.S. Manish 2018)

We were received by the Ozi Expedition guides - Damian, Peter, Eddie, and Barry (and the other Peter, in absentia), who also doubled up as our drivers for the trip. Since we were going to be traveling deep into the heart of the Australian Outback, we were also accompanied by a nurse (Jodi) for any emergencies, medical or otherwise.

After collecting our bags, we got into 5 vehicles and went to a youth hostel. After freshening up, we went right back to downtown Melbourne as we had an entire day ahead of us.

We began a tradition that would last for the duration of the trip . The first photograph of each day was a group photo of our shoes

For each day of the trip, a student was assigned the task of doing background research and informing the group about the sights we saw and the places we visited. The city of Melbourne was research by Derrick Kruetzfeldt. Here are some excerpts from his findings:

Settled by the British in the late 1830s, Melbourne has a population of over 4.7 million making it the second most populous city in Australia. Located on the southern most part of Australia, Melbourne is in the state of  Victoria and is a very popular tourist destination.

(C.S. Manish 2018)
Melbourne is a very walking-friendly city and usage of public transportation is encouraged by the government by not charging patrons using the trams in the Central Business District. This significantly reduces traffic since visitors can simply park on the edge of the city and then ride the extensive network of trams for free to get across town for no additional cost.

(C.S. Manish 2018)
A hidden jewel of Melbourne is the street art (graffiti) that is encouraged and supported in certain locations. One such location is opposite Federation Square, joining Flinders Lane and Flinders Street - it is a cobblestoned street closed to traffic called Hosier Lane. Almost any surface is covered with creative graffiti honoring many known and unknown artists and ideas.

Melbourne is known for three very popular sports played in iconic sporting arenas. The Australian Football League and Cricket are played at the historic Melbourne Cricket Ground (commonly referred to by the locals as the G), which can seat more than 100,000 fans.

Melbourne is located on the Southern Ocean but not many people swim in it, especially during the winter months when it can get very cold. The Melbourne’s beach/coastline stretches out for more than over 2000 kilometers and has diverse creatures such as jellyfish, bull sharks, great white sharks, and even octopuses in it.

Swimming in the ocean in the winter is not for the faint of heart but Logan Paasch was definitely not going to be denied. Having never seen the ocean in his life, Logan was determined to take a dip it it no matter what.

After dinner at the hostel, Damian took us on a leisurely walk to St. Kilda beach (a couple of blocks from the hostel), where he sprung a surprise on us - a visit with penguins! The St Kilda breakwater at the end of the St Kilda Pier is home to a colony of Little Penguins. At the end of each day, just around dusk, come penguins swim back to the breakwater, climb out of the water and waddle over the breakwater rocks to their nests among the rocks.

(Tianna Bertram 2018)

(Tianna Bertram 2018)
This was an eminently satisfactory way to end our first day in Melbourne. 

Next up: Day 4 - The Dandenong Mountains and a walk through an old growth forest

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Travel: Day 0 - Tanzania - An African adventure begins

One of the advantages of teaching at a small liberal arts institution is the freedom to design and offer courses that are close to one's heart. 

In January 2011, I taught Tropical Ecology  and, for one of the class activities, I took a group of students on a 10 day trip to Puerto Rico. (Click here to read about the trip to Puerto Rico). 

In January 2013, I taught Ecology of Australia and, naturally, it entailed a field trip to Australia! (Click here to read about the trip to Australia).

In 2016, a group of 14 Midland University students embarked on a learning adventure to Tanzania, led by Dr. Jamie Simpson and me. The course was titled - Tanzania: Culture, Climate, Connections
Here’s a note from Jamie to start us off:
3 flights, 14 students, 15 days, 1 Kilimanjaro, 4 safari nights, 2 hospitals, 3 universities, 2 schools, 1 Evangelical Church of Tanzania, 2 parishes, endless memories!
Participants: Standing L-R - Kyle Courtright, Jonah Hoshino, C.S, Manish, Rebecca Walker, Mandi Uecker, Victoria Tuttle, Jamie Simpson, Amy Aufenkamp
Kneeling L-R - Jessica Harms, Emily Wiegand, Rachael Lehr, Paige Clemmons, Jessica Nekl, Ana Guenther, Sarah Hill, Elise Hubel
Tanzania here we come! Keep reading to learn more about what we did!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Change is everything

I can put this item to rest. Virat Kohli, in his 40th Test match, led an side unchanged from the previous one!

Virat Kohli has captained India in 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 Test matches*. The most incredible fact that I can report from this is that India has never fielded the SAME playing 11 in consecutive matches under his watch. Every match has featured a change from the previous one.

Update: Sourav Ganguly once had a 29 Test streak like this as captain. That's done and dusted with now!

India has lost only 8 Tests under Kohli. I guess there is some method to his madness. His overall record sits at - 39* Tests captained, 22 wins, 8 losses, 9 draws.

For comparison:
MS. Dhoni: 60 Tests, 27 wins, 18 losses,  15 draws
Sourav Ganguly: 49 Tests, 21 wins, 13 losses, 15 draws

P.S. Yes, I know that injuries have forced his hand on multiple occasions.

* Updated as of the end of the Fifth Test match - September 2018 against England

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Linked up

1) I do not follow Major League Baseball closely any more. I'd be hard-pressed to name 5 players who are currently active. The first name that comes to mind, though, is Ichiro Suzuki. I recently wondered whether he had retired and came across this haunting, haunting piece about Ichiro - the man who has become the very thing he hated to become as a 3 year old. Very sad.

2) If a tree is falls in a forest but there is no one to hear it does it make a sound? The best bowling analysis EVER in a T20 match happened at Lal Bahadur Stadium in Hyderabad but to the cricketing it world it does not exist. Alfred Absolem took a scarcely believable  7 wickets for 15 runs but his achievement will probably never be acknowledged because it was a played between two teams in the Indian Cricket League (ICL) which was obliterated by the IPL/BCCI within a few years.

3) The only NFL player I actually wanted to watch in person was Randy Moss. I managed to do it once at Ford Field in Detroit. If you want to know why he has great, watch this: EVERY TD of his greater than 40 yards. Mind you, these are only those that were 40 yards or longer....

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The unluckiest man in the world

Some time ago, Steven Smith had a "brain fade" in India. And the first time he made the mistake, he got caught and apologized for it.
... because that was certainly the only moment that ever happened
A few days ago, Steven Smith made a "poor choice" in South Africa. And the first time he made the mistake, he got caught and apologized for it.
This is the first time it has happened under my leadership. 
Poor guy. He has the worst luck in the world. Imagine how he must feel knowing that the first time he does something wrong, he gets caught right away.

Yeah, right!!! "First time" indeed.

Hmpff...where's the sarcasm font when you need it?

The Price of Power

Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad with power
Charles A. Beard

One week ago, Steven Smith was the undisputed leader of the Australian team. Of late his batting had reached a plane occupied by only The Don himself. He led a rout of the English in the Ashes and began the tour of South Africa with a thumping win in the first Test. Life was good. 

Today, he stands on the cusp of the unknown, his Fate hanging in the balance, to be determined by others whom he has no control over. A rabid mob is baying for blood, happily throwing stones from glass houses, determined to bring down a man who was flying so high, he didn't realize he was getting perilously close to the sun.

Paradoxically, even as the sun is melting his wings it has begun to set on his playing career. Not in the physical sense. Smith will come back from this after serving whatever ban is imposed on him. He is 28 years old and, I suspect, will be given a one year ban from the game. Much like Shane Warne's one year exile in 2003 did no damage to his ultimate playing aura, Smith's year in absentia will not impede him too much.   

The sun is, however, setting on his reputation. Once someone is labeled a cheat, that sticks for life no matter how hard you try to make amends for it. Especially in today's world of instant condemnation and slow forgiveness.

I'm not sorry for Steve Smith. He decided to cheat and should pay the price for doing it. Most importantly, because it was premeditated.

Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching you.

Unfortunately, for Steve Smith, over 30 cameras were watching closely. Thank heavens they were.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The razor's edge of tomorrow

Picture this: India is batting in the third inning of a Test match. It is midway through Day 4 and the team is trailing by 125 runs. One need not know too much about Indian cricketing history to know how the rest of the story plays out. In an attempt to play for a draw, some of the most elegant and exciting batsmen in the world will will eschew every risk known to batsmankind and block every delivery that comes their way. Soon, the pressure will build, a tiny mistake will be made and a feeble lead will eventually be produced before, on Day 5, the opposing team polishes away a small target with the loss of a couple of wickets, thereby giving the Indian team "something to build on".

In the most recent Kolkata Test match between Sri Lanka and India, India began the second inning staring at a 120-odd run deficit. But this Indian team, under Virat kohli's bristling, in-your-face leadership is a different beast altogether. Soon it is 166 for no loss in 37 overs...and the match transforms.

But, there is a twist in the tail. Day 5 begins with the Indians playing a subdued game and staring at difficult times with the lead just 170 runs when the 7th wicket fell.

At that point in time, Virat Kohli was batting time, still managing to be on 58 off 93 balls. The game was in the balance and, breathtakingly, the anti-Tendulkar came to the fore. Rather than retreat into a shell, and try to shield the tail, Kohli went into ODI-mode and took the attack to the Sri Lankans. Boundary after boundary followed and the Indian captain turned the match on its head with a totally-safe but very aggressive display of walking the talk. In the next 28 balls, he scored 46 of the most risk-free but dashing runs imaginable and reached 104 not out with an inside-out six over wide mid-off that was as exciting as it was inevitable. And then India declared! Setting Sri Lanka 237 runs to get off (possibly) 40 overs. Realistically, because of the deteriorating light conditions it was closer to 30 overs and the Indian bowlers came to the party with a vengeance.

Bhuvaneshwar Kumar repaid his captain's faith (11-8-8-4) and when light finally rescued the Sri Lankans, they were tottering at 75 for 7.

A stunning turnaround orchestrated by a man who is, hastily, rewriting how the rest of the cricket world is going to view Indian cricketers. In a good way.

Virat Kohli just turned 29, scored his 50th international century, captained the 30th Test of his career, and oddly, looks like he is just now getting started.

Suddenly, away tours to South Africa, Australia, England and New Zealand don't seem as daunting any more.

Monday, July 17, 2017

High on the hills was a lonely GOAT

Only one man could bring me out of blogging semi-retirement: the Rajah himself.

The story arc of Roger Federer's resurgence has been written many times over by multiple authors around the world and I will not repeat it here. A cursory Google search will suffice. Instead I want to put down some random, disjointed thoughts that float through my brain...

a) For a long time DH and I were reconciled to the fact that he'd be stuck on one prime number - 17. When he won #18 earlier this year in Australia, DH remarked that he would HAVE to win one more to get back to a prime number because that's where he should be (by himself and one). Well, what do you know? It may be time to start thinking of 23 now. Impossible? Well, many of us thought 18 was impossible.

b) Remember this commercial from 10 years ago? It was released on July 6th, 2007, just moments after Roger had won his 10th major and was narrated by Tiger Woods who ended it with the haunting words: My name is Tiger Woods. I have 12 majors and counting. So keep up, buddy.

Yesterday, Roger did what Tiger always dreamed of - overtaking Jack Nicklaus' major count (18). For the record, Tiger has stalled at 14 for over eight years and it does not appear he is going to add to that total.

c) The Federer of 2017 is winning because he is better than the Federer of a few years ago. He is winning because he has improved. His backhand, especially, is a lot flatter and more potent. the elegant top-spin laden one has been beefed up by another version - a flattened, whiplash of a shot that singes across the court with power that is approaching Wawrinka territory.

d) The 2017 Wimbledon final was, finally, lacking in excitement or prolonged tension for Federer. But I am not complaining one bit. I'll take that any day over the 5 set gut-wrencher from earlier this year at the Australian Open where he was (gasp!) trailing 1-3 in the fifth set. Even today I sometimes break into a cold sweat thinking about what might have happened had Roger not raised his game.

Imagine this - Nadal wins the Australian Open. Suddenly the major head-to-head is 17-15 in Roger's favor with the French Open coming up where Nadal would make it 17-16. Oh dear...the GOAT narrative would have taken a drastic turn for the worse for us FedFans. Phew! Thank heavens for that atomic backhand (and Robin Soderling).

e) The loss to Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 US Open stung for a long, long time. Then came the capitulation to Marin Cilic in 2014 when all Roger had to do was take out Cilic and then Kei Nishikori (neither of whom he had ever lost to at that point in time). For years, I've wondered what those two missed US Opens would have done for his legacy. Suddenly, after what has transpired this year, the pain has eased tremendously.

f) Roger is the only man to have played at least 5 finals at each major. At the French, he has one win (in 2009, thank heavens for Soderling) and 4 losses to the clay GOAT - Rafael Nadal. One wonders what the actual count might have been if the gods had not sent Nadal to mess with us FedFans.

g) But seriously, just watch these 5 games from the 5th set of the 2017 Australia Open again and marvel at how close it was to being a completely different narrative. A matter of inches...literally, on multiple occasions.

h) In 2012 after the Olympics in London, in spite of winning a silver medal, it seemed quite inconceivable that Federer would last as long as Rio in 2016. Verily, it came to pass - Federer did not play in Rio while recovering from his myriad injuries. But if you had told me in 2012 that he would not play in Rio but would win multiple majors in 2017, I would not have believed it possible. I am still having a tough time believing it.

i) Hailing from a nation where we revere the Krishnans and Amritraj for simply making it to the quarter-final at Wimbledon, it is astonishing to think that Federer has played 70 Grand Slam events (tied for first all-time with Fabrice Santoro) and has reached the quarter-final or better in 50 of them. Yes, 50 of them!

j) For a man known for the beauty of his groundstrokes and the fluidity and grace of his foot movement, it is mind-boggling to think that he is third all-time in the list of aces hit on the ATP tour. And, if he plays the rest of the year, he's definitely going to be #2 behind Ivo Karlovic.

k) The final word has to, definitely, belong to the late, great David Foster Wallace from his famous essay: Federer as a religious experience. Mind you, this was published on August 20, 2006, almost 11 years ago, but it still resonates just as loudly today:

... Roger Federer is showing that the speed and strength of today’s pro game are merely its skeleton, not its flesh. He has, figuratively and literally, re-embodied men’s tennis, and for the first time in years the game’s future is unpredictable. (...) Genius is not replicable. Inspiration, though, is contagious, and multiform — and even just to see, close up, power and aggression made vulnerable to beauty is to feel inspired and (in a fleeting, mortal way) reconciled.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Born again

Gautam Gambhir was jettisoned from the Indian Test team after a series of failures. In true Gambhir fashion, the man worked on his game, changed his stance, put in the hours and fought his way back to the Indian squad, only to keep failing in the same fashion as he used to before his comeback. His days seem to be numbered with the (injured) incumbent KL Rahul about to make a comeback.

Many years ago, Virender Sehwag was at a crossroads - staring at an Indian middle order that read Dravid, SRT, Ganguly, Laxman. At which point he re-invented himself as an opener and set the world afire.

I think it is time for Gambhir to do the same, but in reverse. He is as fine a player of spin bowling as an opener has ever been and I think he would be better served coming in at #6 in the line-up. This way he would not be facing the new ball but could ease into his inning while the spinners were operating. And when the second new ball is due after the 80th over, he would be perfectly placed to combat its threat.

Going down the order will only make Gambhir's chances of a prolonged career go up.

For the want of a nail - part 2??

On June 17, 2015 I wrote something that I am scared may repeat it is with some modifications:

In an alternate universe somewhere Ajinkya Rahane Ravindra Jadeja does not drop Alistair Cook, Umesh Yadav 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 hosts goes to Australia buoyed by their away win,.....

Months later, I still relive that dropped catch.

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

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.