Thursday, December 28, 2006

Short-term memory

Steve Waugh is at it again. A few weeks ago he was talking about Ponting and Bradman in the same breath, as I mentioned here. Now he is according a similar status to another Australian - Shane Warne.
It's very hard to judge across eras but Shane Warne would sit pretty comfortably as Australia's second best player ever. The great Sir Don Bradman was the best but after that I believe Shane Warne would slot in pretty nicely at number two.

True Blue

Why do I love Test cricket more than one-dayers?

The second Test between India and South Africa is very intriguingly poised at the end of the third day's play. South Africa are ahead by 152 runs, 10 wickets in hand. They have a maximum of 180 overs to force a result in the Test. But everyday, on an average, about 24 overs have been lost to bad light. So, realistically speaking, they have only about 130 overs to force a result. In their minds anything less than 350 will be too inviting a target. Let's say they average 4 runs per over from the outset on the 4th day. That will leave India about 80 overs to get 350. I think that will be SA's goal today.

But the X factor is the light. No one can really count on it being good or bad, so Graeme Smith has decisions to make about when to declare. The flip side is that India could very well dismiss them within the next 200 runs and, themselves, have to face about 80-100 overs to get a target (350-plus) that very few teams have ever achieved.

All in all I expect it to be riveting stuff. The fact that a draw is also an option makes it even more intriguing. If South Africa tries to force a result and loses the Test, they will lose the series. If they are conservative and do not give themselves enough time to bowl India out, they will not be able to win the series.

So many scenarios, so much to think about. No matter what happens, rest assured, the second-guessers will be out in full force after the action takes place. I shall pre-empt that by putting forward my opinions on what should have been each team's approach before the day's play begins.

So if I were Graeme Smith this is what I would do: Look to score 200-250 runs in the next 50 overs and declare immediately, even if it means that India has the full quota of 130 overs to get them in. Let's review India's batting performance on this current tour:
85 overs 316 for 7 (69 for 5) Tour match 1 - 1st innings
53.4 overs 142 all out (55 for 5) Tour match 1 - 2nd innings
79.5 overs 249 all out (156 for 5) First Test match - 1st innings
64.4 overs 236 all out (119 for 5) First Test match - 2nd innings
77 overs 270 for 7 (205 for 5) Tour match 2 - with 11 batsmen available to bat
77.5 overs 240 all out (125 for 5) Second Test match - 1st innings

A target of 350+ (even if they have 130 overs) would mean that the Indian batting line-up would have to score more, bat longer, and at a faster rate, than it has managed to do during this tour. If they have to achieve it, they will have to take chances and bat more aggressively, therefore giving Smith more opportunities to take wickets and win the match.

If I were Dravid and was given a target of 350 in 130 overs, this is what I would do. I would go for the win not try to settle for a draw (or hope for bad light to help). Expecting to bat out 780 balls (more realistically, about 500 balls) is probably beyond either team on a wicket this helpful to bowlers. Therefore, the prudent thing is to attack. By attacking, the South Africans will be forced to spread the field in order to prevent runs, and thereby, the pressure points will be reduced. If Dravid is really serious about winning the batting line-up should read -
Sehwag, Ganguly, Dhoni, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Jaffer, and then the tail.

But then I have always felt attack is the best form of defence. I think India needs to go out there primarily looking to win the match and then, only if that does not seem to be happening, think of a draw. If they go in looking to draw, they will lose the match, mark my words. The memories of Bangalore and Mumbai should be too fresh in their minds for them to get defensive.

I cannot imagine a one-day match offering up so many possibilities and chances for changes in fortunes. And that is why I love Test cricket!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Entertainment by stream lapidation

Continuing on the theme of skipping stones, here is a recent addition to my photo album. We were the only persons at a nearby scenic spot and spent almost an hour simply skipping stones.

The undisputed skipping stones champion was BRI, who was able to skip the stones, in some instances, more than 10 times!


The wizard of Oz

What do I remember of Shane Warne?

A ten to fifteen step run-up, more like a walk-up, before a whirl of action slung the ball about 18 yards in the air, seemingly on a string, dipping, drifting, spinning, and usually drawing batsmen out of their shell and onto their doom (well, almost all batsmen).

Once the ball was bowled the real Warne emerged. If the batsman defended successfully Warne's left hand would circle his belly, the right hand would fold at the elbow while he grazed his chin reflectively with his thumb and index finger, his lips circling in a barely suppressed “ooh”. If the batsman was beaten, but not out, the “ooh” was more pronounced, sometimes followed by a brushback of the hair from his forehead. If the ball was convincingly hit away for runs the look stayed but was followed by a glare, as if to say that the batsman was lucky, just barely at that, to get the middle of his bat in the way.

Only rarely, very rarely, did the façade crumble. Such is the aura of the man that the opponents who got the better of him – Tendulkar, Laxman, Pietersen – are remembered for what they did to him and not for what Warne could not do to them.

To me, Warne’s greatness is just this – for 15 years he convinced people into thinking that he was the one in command and not the batsman. You can count on one hand the batsmen who are said to have had the better of him. In spite of all that, no one ever felt that they had completely mastered him

I will not miss his blatant over-appealing, which most other players would have been fined/suspended for. I will not miss his monotonous sledging when things did not go his way. I will certainly not miss his leg-side hoicking style of batting which got him the dubious distinction of scoring the most Test runs without ever recording a century.

What I will miss is his ability to put the ball wherever he wanted to. (His mystique is such that even when he bowled bad balls, people were convinced that it was by design). I will miss his (under-rated) slip catching. But most of all, I will miss the fact that when he was at the top of his bowling mark I held my breath because the next ball could be the wicket-taking one, irrespective of how badly he had bowled the previous one.

If the Aussie team since the early ‘90’s has had an unparalleled run of success it is in large part because Warne never felt that he couldn’t win. Warne is one of the few people I have seen who, even when bereft of ideas, did not concede that the cause was lost until it was undeniably so.

Having said that, I wish I could have seen Warne one more time against the Indians, in the very rare, and unfamiliar, defeated pose of his – bent over at the waist, hands on his knees, following the path of the ball as it thudded into the boundary boards. Instead I shall have to settle for watching him gorge on the deer-eyed English batsmen at Melbourne and Sydney.

Thanks for the memories, Warne.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Exercise in futility

JK Rowling likes to leave clues on her website for her young fans to figure out questions they may have about her books. The question whose answer was most eagerly anticipated, of late, was the name of the 7th book in the Harry Potter series. The answer has been revealed. Fans had a chance to figure it out by going to the webpage.

I tried to find out the title before I read about it, but it is a puzzle only in name. There is no rhyme of reason to all the clues, is there? How is a person supposed to decipher how to open the door except to blindly click all over the place until some combination of lucky clicks gets them in? This particular puzzle is not even a test, it is just an exercise in random luck. (If there is a pattern to the clues, please do elucidate).

Anyway, for those that are still flummoxed, here are the instructions:

If you go to her home page, click on the eraser and you will be taken to a room -- you'll see a window, a door and a mirror. In the mirror, you'll see a hallway. Click on the farthest doorknob and look for the Christmas tree. Then click on the center of the door next to the mirror and a wreath appears. Then click on the top of the mirror and you'll see a garland. Look for a cobweb next to the door. Click on it, and it will disappear. Now, look at the chimes in the window. Click on the second chime to the right, and hold it down. The chime will turn into the key, which opens the door. Click on the wrapped gift behind the door, then click on it again and figure out the title yourself by playing a game of hangman.

Viewing displeasure

In the past few weeks I have had the pleasure of listening to the Channel 9 commentary team in action. A few days into the Ashes, the India-SA series began, and the stark contrast in the abilities of the two sets of commentators was on full display.

I had written a fairly sizable diatribe about the banal and cliched phrases that get bandied about in the name of commentary when I ran into this article, that says all I want to say, and more.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Sleepy but happy

After the events of the past few days, I am going to now take a long nap and will be back soon.

Needless to say, I have been smiling ever since about 5:30am this morning.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Maggie noodle Review: Casino Royale

Shaken and stirred



Casino Royale has been widely publicized as a Bond movie that harks back to the way Ian Fleming envisoned the super-spy to be. Actually, what the producers want to say is that this story retains the basic premise of the original novel. The rest of the flesh is cut from a more modern beast, a beast that Fleming would have been astounded by.

First up, the story is set in present time, allowing Bond to jet-set around the globe and go through one muscular chase sequence after another till they all blur together. (I am not a big fan of chase sequences, except in Jackie Chan movies where the stunts make up for it). Bond free-running in Madagascar could have been filmed in Tatooine and it would not have mattered one bit to the movie. By the end of the movie I lost count of the number of times he chases after someone. We know that Bond will not die, therefore, scenes where he is imperiled do not matter any more.

Secondly, this Bond is not the polished uber-spy of the Roger Moore/Pierce Brosnan era. Instead he is endearingly rough and is slowly settling into the cool exterior that characterized the latter-day Bond versions.

Thirdly, this Bond hurts, sweats, bleeds, grunts, groans, and loses. Yes, Bond loses at cards to the bad guy, until a deux et machina is invoked to let him get back into the game. And if IMDB.com is to be believed, this is the first Bond movie in which it rains, which is an odd factoid in itself.

Fourth, in between the action sequences the characters actually converse with each other. Bond and Vesper play verbal volleyball that is heartening because the woman has the more polished lines.

Fifth, this is the longest Bond movie ever. Many of my friends who have seen the movie complained about the length, adding that there wasn't enough action. To them I suggest that they go and see every Bond movie since the mid-70's to get their action fix.

Sixth, the bad guy is not interested in dominating the world, does not have a super-secret lair that could not ever be built in this day and age, or have a henchman who can kick the living bejeesus out of Bond. This is a good thing, and ironic, since if ever there was an actor playing Bond who could duke it out with the baddies, it is the buff Daniel Craig.

What the filmakers have attempted is to reinvent the Bond franchise by starting at the beginning, before Bond even became a full-time OO agent in MI-6. Consequently, Brosnan could not have played this role. It needed a newcomer and it is a clever launch vehicle for Craig. In the third act the movie meanders a little bit as Bond recovers from the trauma of his last encounter with the bad guys. Then there is a twist, and from the wreckage emerges a more definitive Bond. At the very end he walks past a fallen bad guy, the iconic Bond music playing for the first time in the movie, and then he looks into the screen and identifies himself. I do not get goosebumps often enough in a movie theatre these days, but after this scene I was tingling.

James Bond is back, and how!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

No mas

Until the 15th of December I shall not have any more cricket-related blog items. My non-cricketing friends are seriously considering boycotting this space if I persist.

So there, here's the first non-cricket entry:

Will they find the remains of the Ancient Mariner nearby, too?

GOAT or goat?

Steve Waught recently proclaimed that Ricky Ponting was the greatest Aussie batsman since Don Bradman.

Four years ago, the very same Steve Waugh was proclaiming that Matthew Hayden was the greatest batsman, barring Don Bradman.

Hmmm, how long will it be before Michael Hussey is annointed the next king by the quote-happy Waugh? Well, it looks like some others are already jumping on that bandwagon.

Yesterday once more

Check out these two scorecards:

The first Test match took place recently, very recently.

The second Test match took place three years ago.

Spooky how similar the two Tests turned out (at the same ground, no less). I'm just glad we were on the winning side on that day.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The crumbling edifice

Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid had a plan when they got together. Accordingly, they worked on systems to identify the best personnel for their plan, thereby jettisoning some established veterans and placing faith in upcoming players.

I first wrote about it early this year (you can see it here).

A brief synopsis of what I think is their base strategy is reproduced below:
The batting line-up is divided into the accelerators (Sehwag, Yuvraj, Pathan, Dhoni) and the anchors (Tendulkar, Dravid, Kaif). These 7 form the central core of their batting lineup.

The manipulation of the batting line-up is based on pairing an accelerator with an anchor as much as possible. Which role-players will go in to bat depends upon the state of the match:

The generic formula:
Sehwag and Tendulkar will open. Sehwag's mandate is to accelerate, while Tendulkar's is to consolidate. If Sehwag gets out early - either Pathan/Yuvraj/Dhoni will go in. If Tendulkar gets out first - either Kaif/Dravid will go in.

I also added:

      Naturally, the personnel will change due to injury/selectorial whims but I think the basic principles are in place.

      Unfortunately for the think-tank, the worst possible thing happened. Sehwag's ODI form hit rock bottom and, soon, Pathan joined him there. Yuvraj Singh hit a purple patch of form and India rode the crest of his, Dhoni's, and (for some time) Pathan's feats to the tune of 18 straight successful chases (oh, how easily the media forgets this astounding feat). But then Yuvraj, a vital cog in the scheme, was rendered hors de combat, and Raina/Mongia could not fill his void. Eventually the scheme was adjusted to try to fit the personnel available and this coincided with the clamouring for all experimentation to stop. (Ironically, this is the time when they needed to experiment the most to find the pieces to replace the cogs that had begun to malfunction).

      Anyway, with 8 ODI's to go before the World Cup it is back to the drawing board. Though with the off-field pressures showing no signs of abating and the controversy-hungry media waiting for the chosen ones to falter, I fear that we may be in for some more strife.

      My 90.6 paise

      Amidst the gloom and doom that follows every Indian loss in the cricket arena a simple truth is often forgotten - The players aren't all world-beaters.

      Years ago Daniel Laidlaw made an observation that still rings true: The Indian team is not a great team that frequently underachieves. Rather it is a merely good team that occasionally overachieves.

      When you keep that hypothesis in mind, it becomes clear why the team plays the way it does. So trying to deify the players for skills that they only occasionally exhibit is the big blunder of the fan. Its no mystery really. The same point is made here, albeit more directly and differently.

      The Brook

      Many years ago, so long ago that it seems like just yesterday, my best friend moved to a different town. While the move was just physical in nature, and our friendship was no less stronger or weaker for it, I felt like a piece of me had gone away for good. On the drive back from the airport I cried all the way home. I do not really know the exact reason for the flood, but it ran its course and more. A friend, riding shotgun, tried to console me telling me that as the tears shed I would feel better.

      Years have gone by but it has not gotten any better. I miss not being able to turn around and speak my innermost thoughts as they occur to me. There is something artificial about reaching out to someone through a telephone. Something indelible was inexplicably erased that day but it had nothing to do with our friendship. In this instance, out of sight is definitely not out of mind, but it is a whole lot worse than being in the person's presence.

      I have been in one place for a long time, surrounded by a transient group of friends who have acquired skills needed to join the work force and move on. Repeatedly I am reminded of Lord Tennyson's words:

      For men may come and men may go,
      But I go on forever.

      Thursday, November 23, 2006

      Falling behind or staying ahead?

      Brian Lara is 37 years old and Ricky Ponting 31. And they are in the midst of a purple patch of frightening proportions. Lara scored his 34th century and Ponting his 32nd, within a day of each other. They are fast approaching Tendulkar (33 years old) who is atop the list with 35 centuries.

      Do Ponting and Lara represent two peaks with Tendulkar the valley in between, age and hunger-wise? Or is Tendulkar at a point just as high as the other two? The three Tests that India play in December will tell us a lot about it.

      What do I think? After watching the Aussies beat his bat repeatedly in the Champions Trophy I had my doubts. But after watching the tiny adjustments he made on the bouncy track at Kingsmead and the ease with which he handled the pace attack, I think the man is ready. His cover drives were of the top-shelf, vintage Tendulkar category.

      Ponting will eventually be the leader, but he has a lot more work to do than he probably thinks he has to. Hopefully, Tendulkar will see Lara's productivity at 37 and continue to keep playing as long as he can.

      We are in for a treat in the coming months. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride as the three of the batting titans of the game today launch an assault on the record-books.

      Will IT repeat itself?

      Not to belabour a point, but after the Indian 91-run debacle yesterday against South Africa, I find it ironic that today is the 10-year anniversary of a famous Indian triumph over the very same opponents.

      Check out the scorecard and notice the irony in light of yesterday's meltdown. 22 batsmen came to bat in this match, and only one recognized batsman scored a 50. (The other 50 was from de Villiers, who in his entire career scored just 4 first-class 50's and was just throwing his bat around in this innings). With India tottering at 91 for 5 in the second innings, VVS Laxman shepherded the tail in his debut Test match, eventually being 8th out at 180. The margin of victory? 64 runs.

      Once again, when an early Indian wicket falls in an ODI, and the bowlers are breathing fire and lightning, would you rather see Laxman or Kaif/Rainia/Mongia? I hope we don't need a 0-4 drubbing from SA to drive home my point.

      Saturday, November 18, 2006

      Al dente

      Last night I saw Casino Royale, the latest James Bond caper. A detailed review will follow in a few weeks as I do not want to reveal plot elements just yet.

      I have seen all the Bond movies (except the original Casino Rayale) and, for now, all I will say is this - the last 15 seconds of this movie leave an indelible mark.

      Best ending for a Bond movie...ever!

      Monday, November 13, 2006

      Switching to success

      Peter Roebuck writes well, needless to say, but he also knows how to drive home his point. Here, he discusses semi-ambidexterous cricketers.

      Like all good writers, he drives home his point (pun intended) with his last paragraph. 'Nuff said.

      Wednesday, November 08, 2006

      Shouting from the rooftops

      When it comes to the the issue of selecting (or not selecting) VVS Laxman in the World Cup squad I shall scream myself hoarse.

      INDIA NEEDS LAXMAN!

      Consider the alternatives who are being tried out because they supposedly have other skills (in most cases - fielding abilities) that are markedly better. Here are Laxman's career stats:
      Laxman: 82 innings, 2338 runs, 31.17 average, 6 centuries, 10 fifties

      Compared to other incumbents (also filtered to their last 85 innings where applicable):
      Sehwag: 156 innings, 4727 runs, 31.72 average, 7 centuries, 24 fifties
      Sehwag (filtered): 85 innings, 2441 runs, 29.76 average, 2 centuries, 13 fifties

      Yuvraj: 159 innings, 4286 runs, 34.84 average, 7 centuries, 25 fifties
      Yuvraj (filtered): 85 inings, 2613 runs, 37.32 average, 6 centuries, 13 fifties

      Kaif: 122 innings, 2725 runs, 32.83 average, 2 centuries, 17 fifties
      Kaif (filtered): 85 innings, 2008 runs, 32.91 average, 1 century, 14 fifties

      Raina: 33 innings, 585 runs, 27.85 average, 0 centuries, 3 fifties
      Mongia: 53 innings, 1154 runs, 28.85 average, 1 century, 4 fifties

      The others being tried are not really that superior to him in terms of statistics, but the middle order lacks that crucial ingredient - a #3 unafraid of big moments and menacing attacks. Of ALL the players that have donned India colours over the years ONLY Laxman has multiple centuries IN Australia. And this against arguably the greatest ODI team ever.

      Hmmm, what about comparing him to "superior" contemporaries?
      Dravid: 82 innings, 2939 runs, 40.81 average, 4 centuries, 26 fifties
      Tendulkar: 85 innings, 3387 runs, 45.16 average, 9 centuries, 18 fifties
      Ganguly: 85 innings, 2465 runs, 32.86 average, 4 centuries, 14 fifties

      Well, he pales in comparison with the first two, and rightfully so, while he is fairly comparable to the third. The above-mentioned trio are among the greatest ever in ODI history and his record compared to everyone but the top duo is comparable, if not much better.

      When one of the openers gets out quickly, which of these names do you think is most likely to comfortably fend off the fast bowler breathing fire and sending down thunderbolts - Mongia, Kaif, Yuvraj, Raina or Laxman? Hmm, deep down even you know the answer to this one.

      Take a look at this snap.

      That is Laxman in ODI gear, playing a short-pitched ball with minimum fuss. The man can do it and do it better than any of the players taking up his spot in the team.

      If Laxman is not in the World Cup squad India will not win the World Cup. More crucially (for me, at least) I shall not watch the games.

      And I am not the only person who feels this way about Laxman, here is a noted columnist who shares my view. To add insult to injury, Yuvraj Singh failed a fitness test and in his stead the wise selectors have sent a back-up keeper! Grrrr.

      A state of mind

      Bob Woolmer, who has a slightly more difficult task than Greg Chappell in pure cricket-coaching terms, talks about the language (and other) boundaries that he has to cross in coaching the mercurial Pakistani side.

      Number crunching

      Whichever way you look at it, Roger Federer is having a season for the ages. And anytime Lendl's and Borg's names get mentioned in the same breath, I am happy.

      Thursday, November 02, 2006

      Double-take

      I couldn't resist stopping on the road, backing up, and taking a snap of this sign for a pizza place. The picture says it all!

      Shaking a leg or two

      Every year the end of October signals the organizing of a Diwali bash by the Indian Students Association. After the cultural programmes and dinner, the real fun begins. Chairs are removed from the ballroom, Indian music of all types blares from the speakers, and inhibitions are thrown to the wind as dancers of all skill levels converge onto the dance floor.

      Three hours go by in a blur of movement. Most of the songs are, by now, totally unknown to me but the beat, the rhythm, and the sensation are still the same. Everyone's feet and hands move on their own accord. Each of us dances to a different drummer, and semi-organized pandemonium of the best kind follows.


      Drive-by sightseeing

      Every so often I get into my car and drive. My favourite time of the year for such drives is during the Fall. The idea that trees are busily chugging along, breaking down foliar pigments, reabsorbing nutrients, getting ready for winter while still showing a pretty face, is oddly reassuring. If you haven't experienced a drive through fall foliage, a field trip should be on your travelling agenda for the future.

      Once in a while, I stop the car and walk by a lake. Leaves of all sizes, shapes, and colours peek back at me. Where will they finally end up, I wonder?

      In the evening, as the sun goes down and the world begins to settle in for the night, everything becomes calm. The sheet-like surface of the lake, transparent and unrippled, invites me to go back in time and become a child once more. Much joy is achieved by simply counting the number of times a stone skips off the surface.

      Some days are just perfect. The rest are there to let you appreciate them when they do come by.

      The Sports Guy remembers

      Bill Simmons, of ESPN.com, wrote a loving obituary-type article when Red Auerbach passed away recently. I had heard of Red but did not know much about him, except for some of the major details of his accomplishments as an NBA coach and General Manager of the Boston Celtics.

      As BD will no doubt attest, Simmons writes so well that you feel you know almost as much about Red as you would by reading a complete biography of his.

      Something to Crowe about

      Take a look at this scorecard. The opening bowler for the losing team, who also batted at #7 and was the second-highest scorer, is more famous for his exploits in another field.

      His cousins did not do too badly for themselves on the cricket field either.

      Friday, October 27, 2006

      The distant dream

      Harsha Bhogle recently wrote an article in the Indian Express wherein he argued that there were (realistically) only two batsmen who could vie for the last batting spot in India's World Cup roster, a position currently occupied by Dinesh Mongia.

      He wrote: Match it with your own but I had Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Mongia, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Ramesh Powar, Anil Kumble, Ajit Agarkar, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, RP Singh, Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra. That is seven batsmen, a wicket keeper and ten bowlers. It means there are a few options going around with the bowlers but we have very few degrees of freedom with the batsmen.

      He then ends on this note (which, as my regular readers will know, I concur with thoroughly): For India to be serious World Cup contenders they need runs and I’m afraid by the look of it they will have to hope that these very batsmen do it for them by playing the way they did 12 months ago. The only player who can complete that short list, as of now, will therefore have to be VVS Laxman.

      But I doubt that the selectors will go that way. I write this blog the evening after India lost a game to West Indies because no one in the much-vaunted batting line-up withstood the tight bowling they came up against. The current incumbents for the middle-order batting spots are Raina, Kaif and Mongia (in that pecking order, it appears). The biggest negative against Laxman is his perceived weakness as a fielder. But since Dravid has become skipper, he almost always operates with a slip. Surely Laxman, one of the best Indian second slip fielder ever, can cover that slot that people like Sehwag and Tendulkar have filled in the recent past.

      A point that I have been trying to make, in vain, was lucidly pointed out by Dileep Premachandran of Cricinfo, while delivering his verdict on the India-WI match: The cameo is something that comes naturally to Suresh Raina as well these days. If he wasn't making a run, you could just write it off as bad form, or bad luck. But when a batsman manages to get a start, and then throws it away in a variety of ways, it reveals a deeper malaise (. . .) A batsman of the calibre of VVS Laxman has been excluded on the grounds that his fielding isn't up to scratch, but when those that replace him aren't worth more than 15 or 20 runs with the bat, it makes you wonder about the wisdom of sidelining a man who has one-day hundreds against Australia and Pakistan.

      Will common sense prevail or will Laxman once again have to bear the ignominy of being excluded from the World Cup?

      Thursday, October 26, 2006

      66% of the truth

      JO recently showed me this snap of what appeared to be a mutant leaf that had begun changing colours. (Yes, it is one leaf). We spent a great deal of time looking at this interesting leaf and marvelling about it.

      I then showed this photo to SM and she burst my bubble in about 2 seconds when she pointed out that it was just a sugar maple leaf that had lost its right lobe! Oh well, so much for that, but it still is a pretty picture.

      (Here is an image of what a complete sugar maple leaf looks like).

      Tête - à - tête

      During his heyday as the world's best golfer, Nick Faldo was known for his dour personality. Faldo's sense of humour has become more visible in the recent past, especially since he took to his role as a TV analyst as easily as a duck takes to water. Here in an interview with Sports Illustrated's Michael Bamberger, Nick reveals a little more of his persona.

      Subtle humour - just the way I like it.

      Take me home...

      I spent a major part of this summer on the road. Or so it seemed to me. Driving on the interstates in and around the state of West Virginia is not as taxing as driving elsewhere because of the sights you get to see.

      Sometimes, however, an act as simple as overtaking a truck can become a beautiful experience. Luckily I had my camera with me, and as the traffic was light, I was able to capture this nice shot of the sun rising on the highway.

      Monday, October 09, 2006

      The Drifter

      When you read books of all shapes, sizes and genre's, as I do, you come across a multitude of characters, most of whom inhabit the pages and then pass from your memory. Once in a while, a rare character comes along - one who may not be what you are or what you want to be, or even what you stand for - but when you read about this character you want to know more and understand what drives him/her.

      A few weeks ago, while sifting through the thriller section at a bookstore, I saw a book that featured a character named Jack Reacher. The book (Persuader) was the 7th in the series. I confess that I am a big fan of mindless action thrillers, but I was stumped as I had never heard of either the character or the author - Lee Child. The only reason I picked it up was because it was the 7th in the Jack Reacher series, and I am a sucker for recurring characters.

      Just one sentence into the novel, I was hooked. So much so that I then bought 8 other Jack Reacher novels the next day (there are a total of 10 in the series so far). The latest book - The Hard Way - has not yet been released in paperback and I could not get myself to pony up the big bucks for the hardcover version.

      With each story, Reacher gets some more layers, his compulsions get more clearly defined and, oddly, he gets more intriguing. I think, somewhere deep down, I have a latent wish to be like Reacher (without the guns, the guts, the girls, and the gory mayhem he usually find himself in). Reacher is as independent a character as you'll probably get and, in many ways, reminds me of Howard Roark, another drummer who marched to his own beat.

      In the end, maybe it is all about wanting to be independent, isn't it?

      Monday, October 02, 2006

      Just a little bit longer

      JAN complained today that my blogging has become very infrequent of late, and that he rarely visits my site as he doubts he will see anything new.

      Mea culpa.

      On the weekends, I have been playing cricket in Pittsburgh for a few months now. Wait, let me rephrase that. On the weekends, I have been a member of a cricket team that is participating in the Pittsburgh Cricket League. Yes, yes, I do play, but it would be exaggerating if I said that the team would do worse without me in it.

      Our regular season ended yesterday and we stormed through to the playoffs, which will held in less than a fortnight. I do not want to jinx our team, so I shall refrain from talking about it, but as soon as the season is done I shall give you a long re-cap (with pictures, of course) of what has kept me occupied these past few weeks.

      As Jack Bauer would say, "I promise you."

      Hurting in the shadows

      Regular readers of my blog would know by now who my favourite baseball player is. I shall write more about him in a couple of days.

      Today I want to focus on the person who is second in my esteem. The Big Hurt, as Frank Thomas is also known, had the misfortune of having his best years overlap with another Chicago sports figure (Michael Jordan). Now many years later, in the autumn of his career, Thomas is having a resurgence that is bringing him back into the limelight.

      In the late 1990's I watched him play at Comiskey Park (as it was then called) and even from a distance his size (6'5", 250+ pounds) stood out. For years he has been a vocal presence in asking for rigorous steroid testing in baseball. Many of his exceptional deeds on the baseball diamond have been overlooked because they paled in comparison to the behemoth numbers put up by suspiciously large individuals.

      Breaking down his many accomplishments, Andy Behrens of ESPN.com makes a case that Thomas's fans have had the previlege of watching, arguably, one of the (if not the) greatest hitters the game of baseball has ever seen.

      Thursday, September 21, 2006

      Elimination by alteration of definition

      It appears that it is not just human beings who are being targeted for downsizing. Hard-working bodies of aggregated matter are being relegated to secondary status, too.

      As most of you are probably aware of by now, instead of increasing the number of planets in our solar system as I had written about in an earlier blog entry, the total number has been reduced to 8, with Pluto ending its 76 year run with the big boys this year.

      But the decision is not set in stone, as only a small proportion of astronomers actually voted on it. Pluto has its followers and they do not intend to go down without a fight.

      So don't rewrite your high school astronomy notes just yet. As far as I know, Pluto is still merrily spinning away in the outer reaches of the solar system, oblivious to all the discussion ocurring on a planet far, far away.

      For better or verse

      Running, jumping, sprinting
      Shuffling, walking, striding
      Trotting, cantering, galloping
      Slipping, sliding, falling.
      Is this
      Poetry in motion?

      Wednesday, September 13, 2006

      Why Irfan Pathan has lost pace

      Swing bowling has come under intense scrutiny in the recent past due to the expertise of the Pakistani bowlers. Rabindra Mehta, a NASA scientist and former club fast bowler, has done a fair bit of research over the years to understand what it is that affects the movement of the cricket ball.

      His findings are presented in a simplified manner in this very engrossing article, in which everything you wanted to know about swing bowling is explained. For instance, I found out that there are three types of swing bowling - conventional, reverse and contrast!

      To me, the most interesting aspect of his findings is presented in the following paragraph, quoted verbatim from the article, which may help explain why Irfan Pathan has "lost" pace, and Mohammad Sami is only able to reverse-swing the ball and has to rely on seam movement when the ball is new!! (The emphasis on some phrases using bold type below is all mine).
      So what happens at speeds above 70 mph? The boundary layer on the bottom side....begins towards transition, the asymmetry is reduced and so is the swing such that at around 80 mph there is no swing. So if you are unfortunate enough to bowl at around this critical speed, the ball will not swing, no matter how perfectly the ball is released. In a recent conversation with Mike Hendrick, the former England fast bowler, he revealed to me that he always found it very difficult to swing the ball and after all these years, he finally figured out why when he saw our data. Of course one solution is to slow down a bit.

      I bet you did not know..

      I have followed Andre Agassi for years. When he retired, a long-forgotten nugget surfaced in my brain when people started talking about his career. It took me some time, and lots of digging around, but my memory did not fail me.

      In his first tournament, Agassi lost to Mats Wilander, then ranked #3 in the world. However, in his very next tournament in Schenectady (New York), he reached the finals where he lost to the #33rd ranked player in the world.

      The person who defeated Agassi in his very first tournament final was none other than Ramesh Krishnan! If you do not believe me, check out this link!

      So long, farewell...

      At the US Open, minutes after losing the final professional tennis match of his career, Andre Agassi spoke to the crowd. For a man who never completed high school, the guy is pretty articulate. Journalists around the world came to appreciate him because he responded with more than just the generic soundbyte when he was asked a question. In the wake of his retirement, many people wrote articles of the times when they crossed paths with Double A, one of the best ones I read was written by his former roommate.

      Here is the full text of his final speech, which brought a lump to my throat, and a tear (or two) to my eye when I heard it during a highlights show.

      The scoreboard said I lost today, but what the scoreboard doesn't say is what it is I have found. And over the last 21 years, I have found loyalty.

      You have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I've found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed sometimes even in my lowest moments. And I've found generosity.

      You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I could have never reached without you. Over the last 21 years, I have found you. And I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life.
      Thank you.

      Dying on the job

      Steve Irwin, more famously known as the Crocodile Hunter, was an energetic pursuer of exotic animals and interesting organisms, both on land and in water. He died a few days ago, aged 44, while filming in the Great Barrier Reef.

      The highly energetic Aussie, with a penchant for chasing after dangerous animals, perished while doing what he did best. In a way, I guess, if he had to choose a way to go, this would have been it.

      Agassi Unplugged

      Gary Smith, of Sports Illustrated, recently wrote an in-depth, revealing article on Andre Agassi, touching upon the various forces that drove the man and, in turn, were driven by him.

      It is a long article, at times rambling, but in the end it is a touching portrait of the man. A must-read, especially for those that want to know more about how he pursued and wooed one of the most dominating tennis players of all-time - Steffi Graf.

      Tuesday, September 12, 2006

      A night to remember

      On Monday, the 4th of September, I took the subway (#7) to Flushing Meadows. The subway was on a local schedule, meaning it stopped at every station, and it kept getting fuller at each stop. People of all ages and sizes - some in tennis gear, some just carrying tennis paraphernalia, others carrying just cameras (like me) - rubbed shoulders with baseball fans (the NY Mets were also playing a night game at Shea Stadium which is located by the same station as the USTA National Tennis Center…I mean …the newly re-named United States Tennis Association Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (try saying that rapidly three times in a row!)).

      The excitement in the air was palpable and as my friends and I got off the train station onto an elevated walkway we could clearly see in the distance the entire tennis facility. As we approached the center the crowd seemed to be in no particular hurry to get anywhere.

      The reason is that while about 20-odd thousand get to see the games inside Arthur Ashe Stadium (the biggest tennis arena in the world) the rest of the folks just hand around the sprawling complex taking in the sights, having an extended picnic and catching all the show-court games on big screens located at strategic points. We did not get a chance to see the famous globe, up close and personal, but we did get a good look at it while taking the escalator to the upper-deck. (Those of you that watched "Men In Black" will remember these structures from the fight sequence at the end of the movie).

      Having paid big bucks for our tickets we ventured into the arena and climbed all the way to the top – our seats were in Row Z in the upper-most tier of the stadium! The view from there was quite awe-inspiring.

      While you can easily follow the progress of the ball and the players themselves can be seen clearly, you cannot discern their faces all too well. Not to worry, two giant screens located at opposite ends let you follow the action as it unfolds, and also shows replays of the exciting points.

      The first match, at 7pm, was between Serena Williams and Amelie Mauresmo. With fake French accents, my friends and I lustily cheered on Amelie as she shrugged off a 6-0 shellacking in the second set to prevail over the visibly out-of-breath younger Williams sister. Around this point in time the stadium was filled to the brim and sometimes the view could get obstructed (but with so many lovely ladies to look at instead, it did not matter one bit!).

      The second match of the day featured Lleyton Hewitt and Richard Gasquet, the 19 year-old Frenchman (Frenchboy does not roll off the tongue as easily). For the first two sets Hewitt’s quickness was just too much for Gasquet and he easily won 6-4, 6-4. Anticipating a quick finish, many members of the crowd began to leave and something magical happened. The noise level increased as the audience that was left behind was interested in watching more tennis.

      Gasquet looked a different man with the crowd thoroughly behind him and began to display some of the magic that have people talking about him as the next big thing to hit tennis. The USTA prides itself on being “fan-friendly”, a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but I think in this case they actually mean it. As the crowd dwindled with each passing set, the officials started letting people in the upper reaches of the stadium move down and occupy the lower levels (more likely to ensure that the television coverage did not show too many empty seats in the crowd). So we bid adieu to our lofty perch, and moved down to the second tier of seats and got more engrossed in the match.

      Gasquet continued his resurgence and forced a fifth-set. More people left probably as it was approaching midnight, and they had to go to work the next day. We moved further down and sat really close to the action. The intensity in the player’s faces was clear and sitting this close to the action one thing stood out more than anything else – the speed. I have watched tennis on TV for years, played off and on for decades, but none of that prepared me for the pace at which the ball goes back and forth and the speed with which the players cover the court.

      Hewitt glides across the court, retrieving balls that would have been winners with most other players. I have read reports that talk about his counterpunching prowess, alluding to a lack of attacking ability. Those reports do not do justice to the guy. He hits winners just as frequently as the other players. It is just that in his case he has to play a long point to set it up, as he does not have the variety some of the other players do. When he sees an opening he is quick to pounce on it and pound a winner.

      But this day Hewitt had his hands full. If Gasquet can have a long career he will definitely win majors, and if he has an upper-echelon career graph, his backhand will be admired for decades. His backhand, for want of a better word is exquisite. He has three variations – the traditional slice when the ball keeps low, a top-spin thrust when the ball bounces above the waist and a flat slap-like hit when the ball is at waist-height, reminiscent of the fierce square-cuts that Sehwag likes to hit. At one point I was involuntarily yelled, “C’est magnifique” after a stunning on-the-run top spin backhand winner from off the court. The Aussie fans in the row ahead of me turned around and agreed, saying, “Oui”!

      In the end, as would be expected, the superior conditioning of Hewitt won over. Gasquet started cramping and his mobility was severely hampered. He gamely fought on but the writing was on the wall. He still found the reserves to pull off some desperate winners but in the end Hewitt prevailed, closing out the match after losing some match points.

      It was close to 1am in the morning when we trudged out of the stadium, but on our way out we stopped to soak in the sights, taking pictures of past champions, paying tribute to the Center. By the time I reached my friend’s house the sun was beginning to rise but it was worth the lack of sleep.

      I shall return to the US Open next year and spend at least a whole day at the complex, not just a few hours. I look forward to that experience.

      The long goodbye

      At Wimbledon this year Andre Agassi announced that he would retire from professional tennis at the US Open. Soon after I heard this I booked tickets to watch the US Open on September 4th, the second Monday of the tournament. If Agassi survived 3 rounds he would be playing a fourth-round match that day. Agassi survived just two but gave enough glimpses of his skills to keep his admirers happy and hopeful. In then end, his back could not hold up much longer and he lost to an unranked German named B Becker. It was an oddly fitting way for him to go.

      I missed seeing him in person by a day, but that did not stop me from paying tribute when I came across a life-size photo of his!

      Flying high

      Televised sporting events and live webstreams have allowed me to watch some of the greatest players to have ever played in sports arenas – people who do not need full names to be identified. People like Gretsky, Montana, Tendulkar, Woods, and Federer. But the very first person to capture my imagination after I crossed the proverbial seven seas, is simply known as MJ – a man whose silhouette is just as famous as his face.

      When I moved to Chicago, one of the primary motivating factors was that I would be able to watch Michael Jordan weave his magic on the basketball court. Two months after I arrived, he announced his retirement from the NBA at the young age of 31. A few weeks later, Michael was honoured by his organization by having his number retired and a life-size statue placed in front of the United Center (a building that was made affordable by the money that had poured into the city because of Jordan’s influence).

      Seventeen months later, the Chicago Tribune received a two-word fax – “I’m back” and NBA was back to being Jordan’s turf. Three glorious seasons followed and the man actually played in an arena that had his life-size statue right outside it!!

      He no longer plays in the NBA but his statue is still there, along with a listing of some of the stellar accomplishments of his glittering career. This time, during my Chicago visit, I took some time out to pay homage.

      The City of Big Shoulders

      Of the cities I have visited around the globe, the one I like most is Chicago. It has its share of everything (as most cities do) – tall buildings, famous landmarks, historical sites, museums, shopping districts, theatre, playing fields, zoos, parks - and an awesome lakefront setting (not common fare in most other cities). The best part is the fact that the metropolis is not squeezed into a tight spot (say, like Manhattan Island) but is spread out. When you walk between the buildings, the space between them allows you to appreciate how majestic and tall these structures really are; imposing feats of architecture as dreamed of by their designers.

      The views from the upper floors of these tall buildings are just as spectacular to behold.

      Ironically, the best view of the entire city is not from Sears Tower, the tallest building, but from the observation deck of the John Hancock Building on the north-side of the city. Not only do you get to see the cityscape but you also get some nice views over Lake Michigan. I was fortunate to go there on a gloriously sunny day as the pictures will attest.

      Saturday, September 09, 2006

      In his footsteps

      I thought my days of watching a willowy Hyderabadi elegantly flick bowlers to the fence were in the past. But, as a profile by my namesake reveals, there is still hope for me as a son steps into the huge void left behind by his father. I hope the boy succeeds where so many other famous sons have failed.

      Sunday, August 27, 2006

      Hyperbole about a superlative athlete

      More often than not, sportswriters go overboard in their praise of athletes. No matter how fleeting a person's claim to fame may be, the norm these days is to refer to them as "stars", though they are probably more suited to be slotted in the "shooting" kind. Sometimes, however, the article can be informative while still having an adulatory tone.

      Roger Federer is an exceptionally talented athlete and tennis player. My admiration for his game goes up everytime I watch him. And it appears that this view is shared by many. One among them is David Foster Wallace, of the New York Times, who wrote a detailed and elaborate piece on Federer. However, unlike most other fluff pieces, if you sift away the gushing words, there is still a lot of enlightening stuff about the man nicknamed the Federer-express.

      And additionally informative are the footnotes of the article, which in itself have little nuggets that are interesting to read.

      Friday, August 18, 2006

      The efficient engine that could

      Greg Maddux has had a resurgence in his pitching since he was traded to the LA Dodgers. Here is an article that dissects his most recent performance - an 8 inning, 68 pitch, no result mini-masterpiece - and checks how it stacks up with the best of them, and finds that it comes out quite favourable, actually.

      (Cautionary note: if you do not follow baseball, the article is not for you).

      Stalking by any other name

      Here is a semi tongue-in-cheek article about that diffident and reticent hero of mine - Graeme Hick. Just like Greg Maddux, a mid-season slump has been replaced a little more authority in his recent performances, giving all of us fans of both players hope that there is still some life left in their sporting careers.

      And then there were 12

      When humans set their mind to it, they can do almost anything. For decades we have been informed that there are 9 planets in our solar system, with Pluto occupying a very special place, inspite of its highly elliptical and off-plane orbit. But if you thought it was set in stone, you were dead wrong. With one meeting of many minds, the International Astronomical Union's specially appointed Planet Definition Committee has decreed that the definition of a planet needs to be revised. Actually, it appears that a planet has never been properly (scientifically) defined and the PDC has put together a proper definition. This definition is also just as arbitrary, but who are we to comment on this? Anyway, this is the gist of the new definition:
      (A planet is ) an object...massive enough that gravity has formed it into a sphere and that it circles a star and not some other planet.
      With that one decision we now have 12 planets in our solar system. I wouldn't rush to re-write the astronomy books, if I were you. I doubt that this change will be accepted without a little bit of discussion and a vote scheduled for August 24th. In the end, honestly, who cares if we have 9 or 12 planets, except for astronomers and astrologers, of which I am neither.

      Window dressing or sneak preview

      The BCCI announced the 30 probables for the Champions Trophy to be held later this year in India. Some former ODI stars have been named - principally Ganguly, Kumble, and Laxman.

      The feeling I get is that of these three, only Kumble has a realistic shot of playing the Champions Trophy or the World Cup next year. The selectors have quietly avoided controversy by keeping these players in the frame, but are unlikely to pull them back into the actual team.

      This does not stop the players from dreaming. Not surprisingly, a reporter was assigned to find out what VVS Laxman thinks of his chances and, once again not surprisingly, Laxman gives the expected responses. In my opinion he can have a strong influence on India's fate in the World Cup and should not be dropped any further.

      (If you disagree with my opinion, please just skip this and go on to the next post. I know all the objections that can be raised and I believe his ability to win matches surpass all those negatives).

      Tuesday, August 08, 2006

      Two sides of a coin

      My favourite gridiron football player (National Football League) has always been Troy Aikman. Others like Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Kurt Warner, Randy Moss, and Marc Bulger have occupied my interest but I still rate Aikman as being higher than any of the others. He was the reason I started watching the NFL during the mid-90's.

      This past weekend, at the early age of 39, Aikman was voted into the NFL Hall of Fame on his first attempt. While his numbers are not as gaudy as John Elway, Brett Favre or Dan Marino, I have no doubt that he belongs there with them. He was known for his clutch play (not as impressive as Joe Montana or Tom Brady but close enough) and ability to stay calm under the most intense of rushes.

      Here is a nice piece about the man, his main accomplishments, and how he got to where he is today.

      Not surprisingly, there is a set of individuals who feel that Aikman benefited from the system he was in, the players he was surrounded with, and most crucially, good fortune. Here is a typical article that espouses this point of view, this time by Skip Bayless.

      I don't mind the other point of view, actually. Those folks are entitled to their opinion as much as I am entitled to mine, especially as they make some very relevant points along the way.

      What I find interesting is the cause-and-effect aspect of all this. Was Aikman lucky that he was surrounded by talent? Or was his presence the glue that made the talent stand out? If he had played on another team, would he have won so many games? Or conversely, would he have been touted as the hero who turned the fortunes of a different franchise by his play? We can never separate the two entities and discussion like this will go on forever.

      Either way, Aikman is rightly in the Hall of Fame and I am glad I got to see over half of his glory years at the helm of the dominant Cowboy team.

      Not-so-different strokes

      Virender Sehwag's batting is not from the coaching manual. He hardly moves his feet and relies mostly on a still head and amazing hand-eye coordination. Yet, he has forged an already impressive record in Test cricket.

      Ironically, the very characterisitics that define his batting style, while defying the purist's views, are what holds him in good stead in a different sport. A sport where yelling four (fore, actually) is NOT a good thing. Yes, Virender Sehwag likes to golf, and better yet, the man is supposedly quite good at it, too.

      I enjoy watching him bat, but this little nugget has just nudged him a little higher in my esteeem. After all a man who understands what golf is about has to have some substance in him!!

      To sell a few copies more

      Stoking fires where even embers do not exist appears to be the way to sell news stories these days.

      Sanjay Manjrekar, in his capacity as a member of the media, wrote an article wherein he wondered whether Tendulkar's recent dip in fortunes had to do with his fear of failing. The criticism leveled at Manjrekar for writing this was appalling, to say the least. Rather than questioning his statements, most of the critics attacked the man and mocked his authority to raise the issue.

      Similarly John Wright, in his soon-to-be-released autobiography, raised a few pertinent points about the policies and motives of some of the selectors of the Indian cricket team. Not surprisingly, he has raised the ire of quite a few folks. Though, in the case of Ashok Malhotra, the lady doth protest too much, methinks.

      Sambit Bal wrote a must-read article that puts all this hoopla into the right perspective and shows us what this is all about - the need to create controversy where none exists simply because bland statements do not generate revenue these days.

      So long and thank you

      There are just a few weeks left in the professional tennis career of Andre Agassi. To honour the man and what he has meant to the sport, especially in the recent past, the official website of the ATP Tour pays a very generous tribute to him.

      While on this, most news stations are reporting that Andre is retiring from tennis, which is an absurd statement to make. In reality he is retiring from his life as a professional tennis player. I sincerely doubt that he will never pick up a racquet again, as the reported term implies.

      And yes, I have already purchased tickets to watch tennis at the Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday, September 4th. I trust that Agassi survives the first week of the US Open. For if he does he is definitely going be the featured singles match that night and I hope to be able to tell my grandchildren about the experience some day.

      Thursday, July 27, 2006

      The Warrior Princess and her sidekick

      Not satisfied with announcing that the discovery of a tenth planet in the solar system, astronomers led by Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology have found that it even has a moon circling it. Since the planet has been named Xena the moon has, but of course, been named Gabrielle.

      But whether Xena remains a planet and Gabrielle her faithful moon remains to be resolved. We shall know in a few months from now when the International Astronomical Union (yes, such an organization does exist) will decide upon this matter. Until then the definiton of a planet shall be up in the air, pardon the pun.

      Wednesday, July 26, 2006

      My favourite movie

      We all have movies that we treasure, ones that we reminisce about fondly, and if necessary, will argue for vehemently if opposing views are put forward.

      In general, my favourite movies of all time transcend genres and are not exactly in tune with most movie critic's choices. Sometimes I agree with them, but in most cases, I find that critics are fairly snobbish. Action and comedy movies are automatically downgraded in their opinions and rarely does a "non-art" movie meet their lofty standards. One critic I like, Roger Ebert, at least attempts to tell you why he liked or did not like the movie and leaves it to us, the review reader, to decide what we think of it.

      So what are my favourite movies? I'll try to break them down by genre based upon the movies that made a deep impression when I watched them (all of them are in no particular order).

      Comedy: Chupke Chupke, Golmaal, A Fish Called Wanda, My Cousin Vinny, and Midnight Run.

      Action: Die Hard, Speed, Predator (yes, I know!), The Empire Strikes Back, and Sholay.

      Romance: When Harry Met Sally, Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Gitanjali, Titanic (!!), and Roman Holiday.

      Other: Forrest Gump, Casablanca, The Sound of Music, 12 Angry Men, and Mughal-E-Azam.

      But there is one movie that encompasses all the above genre's and has a legendary cast of personalities who were involved in the making of the film - Spielberg, Ford, Lucas, and Williams. That movie is my #1 favourite movie of all-time. The acting is superb, the direction is slick, the plot is intriguing and has many twists, the music is rousing, and the action sequences are breath-taking. This year marks the 25th anniversary of its release. (Ebert has a re-review of the movie from his "Great Movies" section, at this link).

      The movie? Raiders of the Lost Ark.

      Wednesday, July 19, 2006

      A thousand words and more

      Here's a view of Edgebrook Field in Pittsburgh where our team participates in the PCA cricket league. The setting more than makes up for the long-ish drive that we have to make to get to the ground.

      The last dance

      Nick Faldo is currently better known as one of the best TV golf analysts. In the '80's and '90's, he was the world's best golfer and a feared one-on-one competitor (one of the best ever in Ryder Cup history). A couple of years ago, in his role as an analyst, Faldo criticized Tiger Wood's swing at the Buick Invitational golf tournament. Tiger Woods, who apparently never forgets an insult, hasn't communicated with Nick since then (not that Faldo has tried very hard to clear the air either).

      This year at the British Open, which is set to begin in a few hours from now, the two will be teeing off together for at least the first two rounds. For the 49 year-old Faldo it is one last chance to relive some magic (he has won the British Open 3 times) before he joins the ranks of the senior golf tour. Faldo was always known for his focus and fierce determination to not let anything get in the way of his game. As the years have gone by he has mellowed a lot and has quite a bit to say on a variety of topics, both personal and professional.

      For Tiger it is a chance to leave behind the mess that was the US Open and continue his assault on Jack Nicklaus's spot in history as the best golfer ever.

      Wednesday, July 12, 2006

      The last straw

      By now, the whole world knows about Zinedine Zidane's ignominious exit from the world stage. I was going to write a long diatribe about how I felt he was being treated too harshly until I ran into this piece by Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated. Read it and you'll know how I feel about that incident.

      And while on this topic, watching the Italians moan and roll around in agony every time a French defender even breathed near them was nauseating. It was sickening to watch them roll around as if their very life was at risk and then, miraculously, get up a few minutes later.

      I propose a simple solution to this acting. Keep 6 stretchers within 10 yards of the field - at the 4 corners and on either side of the halfline. As soon as a player starts rolling around, send in the stretcher. The player has until the stretcher reaches him to recover. If he does not, then he HAS to be carried off the field no matter how fit he suddenly feels and cannot come back in until 5 minutes have elapsed. His team will play on with 10 members for that duration. If this is strictly enforced it will be interesting to see how many cry-babies will still roll around in feigned agony.

      I have lost interest in football (with apologies to SM the Elder) and will continue to avidly follow the American version (gridiron football) where sometimes even broken bones do not stop a player from continuing to play (just ask Gary Stills and Bryan Cox, who continued to play with multiple fractures without crying about it). At least, there, when a player is hurt there is some justification for halting the game.

      El Matador y El Toro

      Watching Roger Federer play Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon final was one of the highlights of last weekend.

      Nadal impresses with his never-say-die, in-your-face, abrasive attitude that rattles opponents who are unable to match his ferocity and single-minded determination to chase after the ball. Almost at the opposite end of the spectrum is Federer. Cool almost to the point of being casual, he oozes talent and grace. Watching him play is like watching a composer lead an orchestra. Very rarely is he flustered or thrown off his game. The only player who manages to shake his confidence is Nadal. After a sublime first set (6-0), Federer let Nadal wake up and it took three well-fought sets for him to finally tame the beast...barely for now.

      Watching the two contrasting, yet highly riveting, players is like watching a bullfight, as a friend so aptly pointed out. No prizes for guessing who represents the Bull and who the Matador in this rivalry.

      A very interesting hardcourt season looms ahead of us. I can hardly wait for them to resume their battles.

      Friday, July 07, 2006

      Jumping the gun

      (This was brought to my attention by fellow blogger Buck).

      On July 5th, samachar.com reported that Leander Paes had lost in the men's doubles quarterfinals at Wimbledon this year. Actually they had assumed that men's doubles were decided in three sets and had taken the score after 3 sets and run with the story. (See screen capture below).


      A few minutes later, they appeared to have realized their mistake and as soon as the match was completed they put up the corrected storyline, without remotely acknowledging their previous error. (See screen capture below).


      While not as monumental a gaffe as the "Dewey defeats Truman" newspaper fiasco, it is interesting that in this age of super-competition between internet-based news providers, the urge to report breaking news can cause such mistakes to happen.

      Tuesday, July 04, 2006

      Home of the Mountaineers

      The WVU Cricket Club has not had a proper field to practice/play on for many years now. Eons ago, WVUCC played at what is now known as the Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium. After migrating around for a few years, we have now been given access to St. Francis Field (it is named for the school that used to own the ground before WVU bought it). The ground, before we set foot on it looks like this.


      After "prepping" the pitch using some compressed board planks and astro-turf that used to be part of Mountaineer Field, we have a fairly decent ground to play on.


      Monday, July 03, 2006

      Indian cricket's talisman

      In the last 5 years India has won more Test matches abroad (13) than in any other 5 (or even 10) year period. To put it into perspective, in the 15 years prior to 2000-2001, India won just ONE Test match on foreign soil. The backbone of the Indian batting order has become Rahul Dravid, whose effort in the most recent victory, the crashing of the West Indian citadel at Sabina Park, will be remembered for a long, long time.

      They say the proof is in the pudding. Rahul Dravid's career average currently stands at over 58 runs per innings. Yet, in Indian victories abroad, the number bulges to a Bradman-esque 94.93, with over 1500 runs, inclusive of 4 centuries and 7 fifties in 13 Tests. Almost every major Indian win abroad has featured the calm presence of Dravid for long periods of time at the crease. The epochal wins at Headingly in 2002, Adelaide in 2003-4, Rawalpinidi in 2003-4, and Kingston in 2006 would not have been possible without his contributions and, fittingly, he was the man of the match in ALL four of them. In fact, the only major abroad victory that has not featured Dravid prominently (I am excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe from this) is Multan in 2003-04 when Virender Sehwag (309) and Sachin Tendulkar (194*) led India to a famous victory.

      As a parting shot, ponder this - if you thought Dravid's average is mind-boggling, Sachin Tendulkar averages 108.70 in Indian victories abroad!

      Maggi Noodle Review: Superman Returns

      I give unto thee, my only son...


      In a time of turmoil, when the world order is disintegrating and mankind is in dire need of a saviour, a father sends his son to Earth. In spite of his special powers, the son grows up amongst men, slowly revealing his special talents and saving many lives as he discovers his purpose in life. In return, power-hungry citizens loathe him for what he means to the people and do anything they can to destroy him and what he stands for. Eventually they even succeed in killing him. Yet, a few days later, he is resurrected and comes back to life, once more ready to don the mantle of saviour and fight for "truth, justice and...all of that stuff".

      The above paragraph is not a simplistic synopsis of the best-selling book in history. It is, in fact, the story outline of the highest grossing movie at the US box office this July 4th weekend. "Superman Returns" is a pleasing visual spectacle and, at times, is worth the money paid to watch it on the big screen.

      I do not think that the biblical similarities are entirely accidental either.

      Saturday, June 24, 2006

      Once more unto the breach

      Andre Agassi, one of my favourite tennis players of all-time (Ivan Lendl is still numero uno, Stefan Edberg, Martina Navratilova and Leander Paes round up my top 5) is going to end his tennis career at the US Open this year.

      The only man to have won all 4 Grand Slam events and an Olympic gold medal (incidentally his wife, Steffi Graf, is the only person on the distaff side to have done so) Andre has fought hard against the power-serving brigade for almost two decades and done it (for the most part) with grace and class. I will miss watching him very much when he retires.

      I hope he has a couple of deep runs left in his legs at the two remaining Grand Slams.

      Thursday, June 22, 2006

      A spherical world

      My good friend, SM (the elder), recently spoke to me about the ongoing football World Cup in Germany. He made an impassioned plea to me about the beauty of the game and the greatness of the event. It is the only global event that non-participating countries seem to follow as much as the participating ones. The Olympics involve more nations but people do not watch it with as much enthusiasm.

      Everyday I hear about the games being played from people around me. I am in the US of A, and while football (soccer to Americans) is not even close to being in their mind most of the time, the extensive coverage of the game has gained considerable audience, fueled mostly by expatriate followers of the sport.

      The fact that the games are played during the daytime is an added bonus. Sadly, I have not been able to watch much. During the weekdays I am at work and every Sunday I have been playing cricket in Pittsburgh. I did get to watch some matches last week and I was enthralled by the spectacle.

      I wanted to catch some of it this weekend, but then the Indian cricket team is locked in a run-scoring battle with the Windies and that beckons. I shall catch the World Cup as the teams get fewer and the battles gets tighter.

      The strength of a bond

      I recently got into an argument with a close friend. Being of similar personalities, we have butted heads and neither of us is budging from our stance. I was in the wrong, but not totally. She was in the wrong, but not totally. Somewhere in between is the issue and neither is willing to step forward and admit our fault.

      The strength of a bond is tested only during periods of duress. How strong is our bond? We shall see.....

      Flames finally flickering

      Continuing on my previous post, it appears now that Graeme Hick has hit a rich vein of good fortune and form. He scored his second consecutive century and jumped up the list of all-time century makers. At 40 (yes DSC, another person for your 40 brigade), Hick is showing that he is not totally washed up and me-saah is pleased!

      Wednesday, June 14, 2006

      Final flickers or finally flickering?

      Graeme Hick has been having a very poor English County season so far and I am not the only one worried about an ignominous exit from cricket for him. However, at the site of his greatest first class innings, Hick turned back the years and gave himself some wiggle room for the next few games with a thunderous 182.

      Hopefully, this will spur him onto some more big scores the rest of the year.

      Are you geeky or gawky?

      PC World recently announced "The 100 Best Products of the Year". I use 4 (yes, just 4) out of the 100. And since some of you will be curious, the four I use are: 6, 17, 33, and 81

      How many do you use?

      Sadly, I have used 4 products on the "The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time" list, too!!