Sunday, February 26, 2006

Cleaning day

When I woke up I had no inkling that the day would involve a lot of cleaning.

It began with my weekly trip to the Laundromat. While my clothes were spinning around in the washer, I looked out and since it was nice and sunny (but a bit chilly due to the strong wind gusts) I took my car to the car wash. After throwing my clothes in my dryer I then went to work and took care of my needy research plants (did some "cleaning" there, too). Then I picked up my clothes and, rather than go home, swung by the department. I moved back into the building late last year but never got around to unpacking all my 18 (yes 18!) boxes of books and office knick-knacks.

My office mate took one look at all the stuff I had and promptly went home, clearly realizing that the office was going to be a maelstrom of activity. Three hours later here I am, sitting at my desk and admiring my shelves that are no longer barren (photographs shall follow in a few days; keep watching this space).

And lest you think I am done for the day, I still have to go home and finish cleaning my apartment. So dear reader, the vacuum cleaner and scrubs beckon. And after all that I look forward to a long, relaxing shower.

What a way to herald a new week. Or is it the end of the last one?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Raising the roof

The Coliseum at WVU is one of the loudest college basketball arenas in the US and I experienced it first-hand a few times this year. The last time I was at the game, I glanced up and saw the roof. Maybe the pattern on the roof has something to do with the reverberations of the screaming voices. Either way, if you stare at it too long you get disoriented and dizzy. Trust me, I know from experience!

The scoreboard at most basketball arenas is a huge box-like contraption that hangs over the court (see below). From my perch in the stands, the whole thing did not instill much confidence. Imagine running around like ants on the floor, knowing that above your head is this huge gravity-defying monstrosity that is held in place by just a few cables that stretch up to the roof.

A room with a view

I live on a hillside, about 1/4th of the way down from the top of the hill. The view from my bedroom window is one of the reasons I took this place. And when it snows, the hillside is draped in a white blanket that is very soothing to the eye.

The view from my department is not too shabby either. Here is a photo of me looking out towards Woodburn Hall, one of the most majestic buildings on campus.

A brief hiatus from cricket

Okay, okay...a few of my readers (the only readers?) have told me that there is an overdose of cricket in my blog. So to ensure that I do not lose them, I shall not write about cricket for a few days.

However, England is in India for a Test/ODI series so do not expect this break to be a long one!

Little drops of water

MS Dhoni gave us a glimpse into the way the Indian team approaches a target. Chasing 286 to win, Dhoni revealed in a post-game interview that "...the coach told me the score should be around 206 at the end of the 40th over, so I focused on that and then we went on from there.”

So the huge target was broken down into simpler, easier-to-chew-on pieces. With 60 balls to go, 80 runs to get was considered reasonable (they did it with 19 balls to spare!). By giving the players smaller targets to achieve, the bigger picture is de-mystified. This may explain why the players do not appear to be fazed by a rising required run-rate and speaks volumes about the behind-the-scenes contribution of the think-tank.

Oh, by the way, after 40 overs the score was 205 for 2. Strategic planning gets another notch in it's belt.

The not-so-manic punisher

The last 13 times that India have had to chase a target in an ODI, they have emerged victors. One of the reasons for this hot streak is the cool play of the wicket-keeper/batsman - Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Quickly targeted as a basher in the mould of Shahid "boom-boom" Afridi, Dhoni has shown that he is much more than a manic pulverizer of the cricket ball.

While he can smash the ball a fair bit (and does it very frequently) he is also adept at running quick singles and twos and possesses a cool head during tense moments. Consequently, it is no surprise that he usually stays till the end to ensure that the job is not left for others to finish.

In this 13 game streak, here are the teams' score and Dhoni's contributions (DNB - did not bat; * indicates he was not out):

279/4, Dhoni: 37*(off 26 balls)
255/6, Dhoni: 67*(off 63 balls)
123/2, Dhoni: DNB
303/4, Dhoni: 183*(off 145 balls)
262/6, Dhoni: 45*(off 43 balls)
197/3, Dhoni: DNB
245/5, Dhoni: 80(off 73 balls)
171/4, Dhoni: DNB
224/5, Dhoni: 12(off 26 balls)
266/3, Dhoni: DNB
292/5. Dhoni: 72*(off 46 balls)
162/5, Dhoni: 2*(off 5 balls)
287/2, Dhoni: 77*(off 56 balls)

That is an aggregate of 575 runs in 9 innings (average: 287.5). He has been dismissed only twice - his solitary failure being when he scored 12 against South Africa; his other dismissal on 80 was caused by his attempt to end the game with a six.

May he continue to punish bowlers for years to come!!

The articulate Wall

Some cricket captains lead in an imperious manner (Imran Khan); some in an unobstrusive way (Inzamam-ul-Haq); some adopt an abrasive mode (Allan Border); some instill an us-against-the-world "siege" mentality (Ricky Ponting); some will their men into great deeds by wearing their heart on their sleeve (Sourav Ganguly).

And then there's that rare breed that leads with a steely eye and calm demeanor under duress. Rahul Dravid is turning out to be one such motivator. All his best qualities are highlighted in this very expansive interview of his. Articulate, thoughtful and smooth - Indian cricket has found its poster boy for the first decade of the 21st century.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The future is now

India have wrapped up the ODI series against Pakistan. Which means that the last ODI is a chance to find out more about our bench strength. With Sehwag and Singh having already returned to India, there are 14 players still in the squad.

In my opinion, we should "rest" Pathan, Tendulkar and Dravid. Dravid can stay on as the "Supersub", a concept that will be in play for the last time in an ODI involving India. That leaves us with the following 11 (in approximate batting order):
Gautam Gambhir
Mohammad Kaif
Yuvraj Singh (captain)
Suresh Raina
MS Dhoni
Ramesh Powar
Ajit Agarkar
Zaheer Khan
Murali Karthik
RP Singh

Rahul Dravid (Supersub)

This will be a preview of the Indian team of the future, and will give everyone a chance to show their mettle. Yuvraj Singh, who was appointed the vice-captain when Sehwag returned to India, will get a chance to have the "first game as captain" jitters out of the way and will be better prepared should he be suddenly thrust into the action in the future. Yes, we are a batsman or two short, but who cares about the match? And I have a feeling that this team will be ready for whatever Pakistan throws at them. The hunger of the unproven masses should not be underestimated. Ideally, we bowl first and (should we so feel inclined) Dravid can always substitute for Sreesanth when it is our turn to bat.

What do you think?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Occam's razor

Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid have been experimenting with the ODI batting order, seemingly randomly, and have left not just the opposition but also the fans guessing as to who would bat where. In particular they have targeted the #3 spot as one of the most flexible ones.

The IndianOil Cup in Sri Lanka was the first time Rahul Dravid was made the captain for an entire series, under the aegis of Greg Chappell. Since that time the following players have batted at #3 - Mohammad Kaif, Irfan Pathan, MS Dhoni, JP Yadav, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, SK Raina, and VVS Laxman.

The critics have been crying hoarse that such instability in the batting order is not good for the team's "chemistry". Chappell-Dravid repeatedly tell reporters that they are not experimenting but rather are indulging in "strategic planning". They insist that there is a rhyme and a reason for sending whomsoever they send in at #3 on a particular day. So, if indeed there is some method to who goes to bat where, what is the pattern? How do they decide whose turn it is to bat?

I searched for a pattern and I think I am beginning to see one. The Indian think-tank (Chappell, Dravid and Tendulkar) appear to have broken up the batsmen into two categories - 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 or Yuvraj or Dhoni will go in. If Tendulkar gets out first - either Kaif or Dravid will go in.

Scenario 1: Batting first
  • Corollary 1a: If India is batting first, and a wicket falls with a major portion of the PowerPlays still available to exploit, two accelerators will be paired up.
  • Corollary 1b: If India is batting first, and a wicket falls with most of the PowerPlays having been consumed, the replacement batsmen shall be of the same category as the dismissed one.
Scenario 2: Batting second
  • Corollary 2a: If India is batting second, and a wicket falls with a major portion of the PowerPlays still available to exploit, the replacement batsmen shall be of the same category as the dismissed one.
  • Corollary 2b: If India is batting second, and a wicket falls with most of the PowerPlays having been consumed, the replacement batsmen shall be an accelerator if the asking rate is high or the replacement player will be an anchor if the asking rate is manageable.

(Naturally, the personnel will change due to injury/selectorial whims but I think the basic principles are in place. As time goes by, it will be interesting to see if I have correctly gauged the think-tank's intentions. I shall keep you posted on it.)

Now, the less obvious strategy appears to be in terms of marshalling the bowling resources. I admit that I have not really paid attention to that side of the equation. With the pitches being the way they are in most of the Indian subcontinent, I wonder if a strategy, other than to bowl a good line and bowl more slowly as the pitch wears down ,will even be necessary.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Menage e trois

I was talking to SM this morning when another friend, KK, called me. I switched lines and told KK that I'd get back to her in a few minutes. By the time I came back, SM had hung up. So I dialled her number, she picked up and said that she was on the phone and would call me back. So I hung up, called KK only to have her say that she was on the other line and would call me back. Turns out, the three of us had been calling each other with a phase difference of a few seconds, resulting in a comical call waiting scenario.

I decided to put an end to it when SM called me back again while I was on the phone with KK for the third time. I told SM to hang up and to not call KK anytime soon! Sigh! Isn't technology supposed to make things less confusing? In the good old days before call waiting (it was not too far back in the past in India) there would be none of this calling around in circles. You would get a monotonous beep-beep that told you the phone was 'engaged' indicating in a very straightforward manner that two people were conversing (so could you please hold onto your horses?) .

Back then, I could get lost in that idyllic two person island, where the only interruption I might encounter may be physical, such as siblings snatching the phone from you, impatient to travel to their own secluded islands....

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Broad sword of justice

Chris Broad had a chequered playing career, shining brightly during one glorious summer against the Aussies. Now he is a match refree seemingly on a mission to eradicate the menace of chucking from cricket. Everywhere he goes, a suspended bowler seems to follow in his wake.

Currently, he is the match refree for the Indo-Pak one day series. And Shoaib Akhtar and Harbhajan Singh have niggling injuries that just don't seem to be healing.

Coincidence? I wonder.