Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Seeing is believing

A few days ago, EC-SB invited a few of us over to their house to celebrate PS's birthday (27 in case you were wondering). Since her husband (UK) is working elsewhere and could not be there, PS called him up just before she cut the cake to talk him through the proceedings.

And then we had a collective brainwave! So, I held a webcam, the others took turns holding a light and PS cut the cake. UK got to see it all on his computer and further, on speakerphone, joined in the chorus as we sang one of the most popular songs of all-time!

Viva technology!

Mad Dog once more!

My favourite non-cricketer is back for his 21st season!

A few of our cricketers would do well to learn from his longevity and also the way he conducts himself on and off the field.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Two sides of the coin

Amit Verma (who helms the award-winning blog - India Uncut) also writes for newspapers and was part of a discussion in the Pioneer on the pros and cons of having Greg Chappell as the coach. Here is his side of the debate/discussion.

Contrast that with the other side, all innuendo and intrigue-speak, provided by Debraj Mookerjee.

I am obviously biased towards Amit Verma, as I frequently read his work, but I feel that he did a much better job of supporting his side of the equation. I would like to know what an unbiased reader (if there is one on this topic) feels about the merit/demerits of both the articles. (I am talking just about the articles, not the issue itself).

Object in the rearview mirror

Ricky Ponting is on a tear and Sachin Tendulkar better watch his back! When November (2005) rolled around, Sachin had scored 34 centuries and had a healthy lead on Ponting, who had 23.

Since then Sachin has played 13 Test innings and added to his tally by 1.
Since then Ricky has played 16 test innings, and added to his tally by 7! In his last 7 innings, the Aussie captain has scored an incredible 5 centuries (all against South Africa who appear helpless to stop him).

Ponting is just 5 centuries from Tendulkar and in my mind it is inevitable (considering how many more Tests Australia plays, and how many more years Ponting has at the top) that he will cross Sachin.

I hope Sachin can keep Ricky at bay for a few more years.

Just in case you were wondering:
  • Australia is scheduled to play 8 more Tests this year - one more against SA, two against Bangladesh, and 5 against Australia this year (at home).
  • India is scheduled to play between 4-10 more Tests this year - 4 against West Indies, and a series against Bangladesh and South Africa, all away from home.
(In typical fashion, the Bangladesh and SA series have not been confirmed by the Indian Board, while the venues and dates for all of Australia's matches and first-class fixtures have already been confirmed).

Post script: As of March 27th, Sachin has been ruled out of the tour of the Caribbean after undergoing shoulder surgery. So strike those 4 Tests off, too. Now, it seems even more inevitable that Ponting will cross him within a calendar year or so.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

AR goes to Hollywood

Last night I saw a Spike Lee directed movie, Inside Man. The movie has an enviable list of actors - Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Clive Owen, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Plummer - and it gripped me with the very first scene. And not because of what was on the screen but was playing in the soundtrack.

The movie starts with Swapna Awasthi singing the first two lines of a song, and then Sukhwinder Singh happily joins her. I never saw "Dil Se" in a theatre, but now I have heard the song "Chaiyya Chaiyya" in a movie hall over a Dolby sound system. And it is not just a token cameo. The whole song is played and then a remix version of it is played over the end credits.

Even more reason to go see the movie about a "perfect" bank robbery in NY, which is reminiscent of other heist movies but has some intriguing elements all of its own, bolstered by the excellent acting.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The day the Sphinx squints

Today marks the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring.

So how do you view this date? Is it 12 hours of daylight or 12 hours of darkness?

Is your glass half-full or half-empty?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Paradigm shift

A fellow blogger, Buck, made a very pertinent comment on Tendulkar recently. His suggestion was:
Sachin Tendulkar (should be) batting at #5 so that some of the early pressure is off him and he can afford to play grave-digger for a while if the pressure is still on.
When you think about it, it is not that bad an option. Here are some reasons why I believe that playing at #5 may be the way to go:
  • Obviously he suffers now because he is usually batting with Dravid and, lately, seems inclined to follow Dravid's lead on how to play the bowling. Most of the time Dravid is defensive and Tendulkar joins him in the same rut. Dravid knows hows to get out of it, Sachin does not. An Arjun-Abhimanyu case, for want of a better analogy.
  • By playing at #5 Chappell-Dravid will have their alternating accelerator-anchor lineup in Tests, too. (Jaffer-Sehwag-Dravid-Yuvraj-Tendulkar-Dhoni). (If Laxman/Kaif come into the team, I'd play them at #6 for now. The tail wags long enough these days for them to feel secure about playing their own game).
  • If the need is for quick runs, Sachin has the ODI experience to shift it into high gear from the start. If there is a collapse, he can revert to his anchor-role, and not get booed for it, because the situation demands a little stickiness.
  • I think he needs a little jolt. A "demotion" in the batting order may be the catalyst needed to jump-start him for the next 5 years.

Personally, I think the second innings of the Bombay Test is going to be one for the ages. Premonition or hope,we shall find out in a few hours.

The girl from Leon

On Saturday night, I saw "V for Vendetta", which is about a man whose goal is to incite a revolution within one year. Set in London in the near future, it was surprisingly heavy on words and light on action (I had anticipated the opposite since it was written by the directors of the Matrix trilogy). Apart from having some memorable visual images, the dialogues were quite witty and fun to follow along, too.

This movie once again demonstrates that Natalie Portman is a fine actress. (Impressively, she speaks five languages fluently - Hebrew, English, French, German, and Japanese).

Now, if she could do something about that British accent which seemed to come and go at times - the only jarring note in her performance in the movie - she'd be set for good.

A slave by any other name

Sometime yesterday my cell phone service died on me. A little while later my cable internet service provider had a meltdown. Suddenly, I was without the services of both.

What was disconcerting was not that I lost both services but that I was felt helpless and unable to do anything without them. I could no longer talk to anyone or look up cricket scores or send emails or update my blog.

Order has now been restored in my galaxy and Jaunty-dom heaves a huge sigh of relief.

Yin and Yang

Michael Atherton interviews the "only real competition that Sachin Tendulkar ever had."

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Dead rubber alert - part deux

A couple of months ago, I compared Sachin Tendulkar to Brian Lara, particularly with regard to Lara's tendency to hit big scores in the last Test of a series when the series was already decided.

In the current series against New Zealand, which the Windies are on their way to losing handily, Lara has failed in both innings of both Tests (with egg on his face after his remarks on Chanderpaul). The stage is now set for Lara to post a humongous score in the 3rd Test and end his tour on a high, making people partially forget the failures that came before that.

And when that happens, remember this - you first heard it here.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The big Little Master

In my list of top 5 all-time favourite batsmen, there is one outlier - a player whose career was (almost) over by the time I began avidly following cricket (1982 Indo-Pak series). Most of what I know about G.R. Viswanath is anectodal, mainly from my grandfather and my brother. The rest has been gleaned over the years by reading articles in print, and lately, on the Internet.

I watched him score the last 50 of his career and was once was held responsible for him getting out in Melbourne. I remember rushing home from school to find out the score (my brother was listening to the commentary). As I opened the gate he ran onto the roof and told me to hurry; Vishy was batting on 110. By the time I went upstairs, he had scored another four. I sat down and Vishy got out! Naturally I was to blame. He probably still hasn't forgiven me for that! It happened to be the last century of his career and was enough for India to win a Test match at Melbourne. (That incident had another long-lasting consequence - it gave birth to my supersitious nature when it comes to watching my favourite players!).

Here is an article that talks about Indian batting greats and has a good breakdown of the roles played by them in India's cricketing fortunes. I particularly like the way he deems that Vishy's career marks a defining period of change in the role of Indian batsmen.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Thus spake...

Rahul Dravid speaks about himself and other related topics on the eve of the 100th Test of his career. He continues to set a fine example for any kid aspiring to play for India.

His career average has crept past Tendulkar's and, as Amit Varma mentions, the fact that it does not seem to be an aberration is a measure of his greatness.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sweet child of thine

My friends, KDK and MK, recently added a new kid to their family. An avid bird-watcher and fitness freak, Mikey is simply adorable. And I haven't met him yet! So, how do I know? Take a look at this photograph. I dare you to disagree with me.

A change in fortune

The recent West Indies-New Zealand Test match may have "swung" in the Kiwis favour because of a monstorous hit by Chris Gayle.

When I read the story I was reminded of a ploy adopted by the English bowlers in both Test matches. I noticed that the English bowlers were having a tough time getting the ball to reverse swing. Soon, Flintoff was repeatedly showing the ball to the umpires, supposedly complaining that the ball was out of shape. Twice (in both second innings, if I recall correctly) the umpires agreed and changed the ball to a newer one.

When the balls were later shown on camera, they did not seem to be unduly out of shape. (No matter how perfect a sphere a ball may be at the start of the innings, eventually the repeated contact with the ground and bat will cause a little bit of unevenness). I am convinced that this is a tactic adopted by them to change the ball if it is not helping the fast bowlers. I will be curious to see if they complain about the ball in the third Test match, especially if the Indian batsmen are on top.

Monday, March 13, 2006

It's a bat, bat, bat, world

The Australia-South Africa run-fest is being hailed as the "greatest ODI of all time". On Prem Panicker's blog, one of the other "posters", Manish Verma, has a very valid point to make. His post on this issue has this little nugget, which reiterates what I had touched touched upon earlier:
How can this game be the best ever, if the bowlers literally had nothing to do? Would anyone have given a similar title to a game where a top ODI team got out for 110+ and then got the opponent out for under 100? Even if it meant scintillating bowling from both sides?

He makes a fantastic point. All the people who have announted this game with the GOAT tag may have a hard time answering Manish's question.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Casting the first stone

Before the ongoing West Indies-New Zealand Test series, Brian Lara challenged Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the current WI captain, to score more runs as befits a senior player on a team that is struggling to be competitive, let alone win games.

Lara himself stood up to be counted, scoring 5 and 0, while lasting a total of 13 balls and falling victim to Shane Bond both times with a golden duck in the second innings when his team came up short by just 27 runs.

Methinks the title of this Saul Bellow book best describes Lara's verbal faux pas?

A matter of perspective

A few days ago when I suggested that India chase down 360+ runs in 90 overs (plus half hour, if necessary) in a Test match, I was in the minority. On various websites I read that this was not possible and would be a foolhardy attempt on the part of the Indians.

After hearing/seeing South Africa chase down 400+ in just 50 overs, I wonder how many of them have converted to my point of view? There's nothing more useful than an epochal incident to put the past into a different perspective.

R.I.P bowlers

In 1984, India beat Pakistan in an astonishing match at Sharjah. After Imran Khan bowled unchanged at the start to register scarcely believable figures of 10-2-14-6, India were in dire straits. But with every bowler chipping in, India won by a huge margin of 38 runs.

That day the Indian team scored 125 runs. The entire match produced 212 runs in about 76 overs. If that represented the mother of all low-scoring ODI's, the grandmother of all high-scoring ODI's was played today between Australia and South Africa. The match has left grown men flabbergasted, unable to put words to the mayhem they watched. In exactly 99.5 overs, 872 runs were scored. Eight hundred and seventy-two runs in 599 balls!

In 2003, I watched Ricky Ponting lace the Indian attack in the World Cup final to the tune of 140 imperious runs, an innings I thought was a once-in-a lifetime feat. On the very same ground, the next innings played by Ponting was a brutal 164 off just 105 balls. And he was overshadowed by Herschelle Gibbs, who scored 175 off 111 balls.

If 434 is not a safe ODI total any more, what is? I know this is probably one of those freak occurances that may never happen again (like a bowler taking 10 wickets in an innings twice in a single season against the same team as Laker did, or a batsman batting 60 overs in an ODI and scoring 36 runs as Sunny did) but an unhealthy precedent has been set. All across the globe ODI's are becoming a one-dimensional event. Batsmen come and plunder; then mercifully, due to an over limit, they make way only for other batsmen to come and plunder even more. It is boring, boring cricket.

With each passing year the pitches become more and more batsmen friendly. A pitch that has grass must be mowed, a pitch that is crumbly must be pounded into a concrete-like state. Any hint of moisture on the pitch is room for a "weather delay". I prefer the nuances of Test cricket as it gives more time for plotting and testing the concentration and other skills that are being robbed from cricket. Everytime a captain complains about a pitch being difficut to bat on, I get mad at the wimpiness of these players, whose cricketing ego's cannot stand to be tested by the fact that a pitch may be aiding a bowler more than them.

Dig up the pitch at the Wanderers. Let teams win games at the famed Bullring because of their bowling, fielding and batting, and not only because batsmen can launch balls into the stratosphere. But from the reaction of most people who I spoke to today, this was just the tip of the iceberg. Suddenly scoring 500 in an ODI seems doable. And an inordinately large number of people want to be there or see it when it happens. Incredible.

I personally want to once again watch a match where a low total is defended (the recent Under-19 World Cup final was one such match). I fear that my wait for a repeat match of this nature shall be a very, very long one.


Today is my friend, RP's, birthday. Not even she would have imagined that the week culminating in her birthday would witness so many cricketing feats worthy of books by themselves. Murali crossed 600, Kumble crossed 500, and my favourite pacer who is also the fastest bowler in the world - Shane Bond - is back!! (Yes, I know Lee and Akhtar are faster but I hope you get my point).

All three of them are men of a different breed. Murali has been abused and vilified for his bowling action and yet the man keeps chugging away. He bowls an inordinately large number of overs almost as if he is hell-bent on bowling his arm out before bowing down to the naysayers.

Kumble went through a phase where he was not the first choice of the former captain and even now, in a perverse way, Dravid ensures that Bajji gets the ball first, almost as if to prove to his detractors that he is not partial to his fellow Kannadiga. In spite of all that the leg-spinner, whose bowling arm injury was the catalyst that paved the way for player contracts from the BCCI, keeps attacking only as he knows best. He is still fit enough to play for a few years, and judging from the way he batted yesterday, his resolve to put up his hand when the team is in trouble has not left him.

Shane Bond is a rarity - a fast bowler that Australian batsmen fear. In the 2003 World Cup he produced spell after spell of devastating fast bowling, almost single-handedly leading New Zealand onwards. If a 10 over restriction had not existed in ODI's I believe that he would have blown away India in the Super Six encounter where he ripped through our batting order. By his own admission he is one more injury away from quitting cricket. His remodeled action looks quite good and, hopefully, those stress fractures of the back are a thing of the past for the Kiwi cop.

But all of their feats paled in front of an event that I did not even watch (more on that in another post).

Thursday, March 09, 2006

For the want of a nail

The IKEA furniture instruction sheet, which I had (prematurely) ripped here, was not in 4 languages. In fact, it wasn't even in any language. The entire sheet had instructions in pictoral forms. The diagrams were clear and easy to follow. Now, if only they had provided a Phillips head screw driver, I would have been done last night itself.

Anyway, I have to finish one last thing and I shall have my writing desk and chair. Tonight. So I have said, so it shall be done.

Spice Girls hit - sort of

I once met a man from an ancient land. We spoke. He said,
"What I want, what I want, what I really, really, want.
Is to live life on my own terms."

Easier said than done.
Which is why it is called Life, I guess.
Hmmmm...but if you could, wouldn't you?
I know I would.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Midnight musings

The phone rings and wakes me up. The clock says it is 1:49am (at night). It takes me a few seconds to orient myself and pick up the phone.

Me: (in a sleepy, slurred voice) Hullllllllo??
SR: Hey, quick question.
Me: What?
SR: What was the name of that movie?
Me: Which one?
SR: The bounty hunter. "Jaaack...Jaaack".
Me: "Midnight Run".
SR: Yes! And who was the other guy?
ME: Charles Grodin.
SR: Right! Thanks. Now go back to sleep. Bye.
Me: Bye.

Yes, my close friends are like that!

Hammer and tongs

I went furniture shopping last night. To the IKEA, a good 75 miles away. I had seen a couple of computer/writing desks that I was interested in and wanted to see them first-hand, rather than purchasing it online and trusting the glossy photo that accompanied the description.

When I saw the two of them the same old question reared it ugly head. Style or simplicity? Should I buy the cheaper, nondescript one or the slightly more expensive, better-looking one? In the end, looks won (don't they always?!!). I also bought a simple looking chair to go with the table (maybe to assuage my guilt over having spent so much on a flat piece of wood with 4 legs). Naturally.

So this evening will be spent assembling the table, trying to make sense of instructions that are in 4 languages, but not really explicit or helpful in any one of them. We can send a man to the moon (or so they say) but we cannot write clear instructions on how to assemble pieces of wood into a table.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The 4th inning of the 4th inning

Yesterday I wrote about the Indians not showing the stomach for a fight. And I had suggested that the best way to wrest some initiative back from the English was by attacking the target.

The Indians adopted a different plan - a sort of a compromise between defense and attack. Until tea they were content to let the clock tick away, not taking any risks. At tea they re-assessed and decided to make one stunning assault at the target. They did not leave themselves enough time to really have a good shot at it, but they managed to rattle England. In the last hour Flintoff and Harmison, their two tearaway fast bowlers, were made to run hard and long, and their fielders were made to run around, while it was the non-regular batsmen - Pathan, Dhoni and Singh - who did most of the damage. The best innings of them all, however, was the one Tendulkar played. I hope this cameo convinces him that when he plays the ball and not the occasion or the bowler's reputation, he is still peerless.

Onto Mohali, where I hope they do not resort to completely shaving the grass on the pitch. I want to see a real contest and the Indian batting line-up against the English pace attack is a lip-smacking proposition! But I fear that the safety-first attitude shall win over.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Living up to my name

I am a batsman of limited skills - my best shot is a forward defensive push. I can recount to you ALL the fours I have hit since I began playing summer cricket in the Mid-West Cricket Tournament 8 years ago - and it will not take me too long to tell all the stories!

Until last summer I had never bowled in a match. Towards the later half of the season we were having a tough time getting 11 players to show-up for a game, let alone practice. So at practices I began bowling off-spinners (or rather straight balls with an off-spinning action). Eventually I progressed enough to be able to bowl them from a 15 step run-up. I bowled in the last two matches and even picked up a couple of wickets, much to my surprise.

The skill that I do possess is fielding. My reflexes and stamina are no longer what they used to be in my high school days, when I used to prowl the square-leg to long-on area all by myself, but I am still a decent fielder.

But that is not my best cricketing asset. My most valuable skill does not show up in the early part of the match and sometimes an entire game goes by without my team needing it. In the early part of the game everyone is enthusiastic and jumping about. Also, when wickets are falling, everyone is excited. Then, inevitably, comes a period in the game when the opposing batsmen begin to assert themselves. Shoulders begin to drop, hands start resting on waists, eyes start staring at the ground, feet start shuffling in the dust, and an eerie silence comes upon the ground. Ironically when the team really needs to be making some noise, nobody does. Which is when I begin to earn my place in the squad. When such times come upon us, our captain - SC, puts me at mid-wicket inside the circle and just smiles.

You see, I am a live-wire in the field, incessantly jabbering, clapping hands, jumping about, running around, calling everyone out by name, exhorting them to keep trying as hard as they can. After a while, slowly but surely, the smiles come back on their faces and even though the opposition has built up an unassailable position, our team does not look lost. Last year, we lost 6 of the 7 games we played but not once did our team go completely quiet and give up. I simply refused to let them do that. We may have lost badly, but we were never beaten!

Years ago, I watched Jonty Rhodes change the way fielders behaved and performed on a cricket field. He was the cricketing idol I felt I could emulate the most. (Not for nothing is Jaunty my Internet moniker. Get it?!)

Yesterday the Indian team descended towards a familiar going-through-the-motions stage and, shockingly, only let it get worse. They took an extra half-hour to bowl their overs as they were shuffling around waiting for the English batsmen to make mistakes. The fielding standards dipped, faces started resembling those commonly seen at a funeral, and all the players stood by themselves as if they had each contracted some contagious disease. I was appalled at that. How could they give up so easily?! Haven't they themselves collapsed when seemingly in charge? Why couldn't they expect the same from their counterparts? By allowing themselves to be lethargic, their energy levels decreased and England's attempt to dominate was made easier.

All the talk about the team spirit, heart of a champion, never-say-die attitudes, etc., doesn't mean a thing unless these attributes show up when the chips are down. It is very easy to be upbeat when the going is good. A true champion is one who does not lose before the game is over. I was disappointed with the Indian's on-field demeanor on the 4th day. If on the 5th day they compound it by defending their way towards a draw and still lose - I shall be disheartened, too.

I hope Dravid and his band of men do not let that happen. I really do.

Once more, unto the breach

But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger:
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood
- William Shakespeare "Henry V"

The Indian team (assuming England declares overnight) has to score just over 360 runs in 90 overs to beat the Pommies in the first Test.

There are two ways to tackle this:
a) Play for a draw; bat slowly and surely, eschewing all risks
b) Play for a win; think of it as a one-day international, but with more overs and less fielding/bowler restrictions

Plan A just will not work (if you doubt this I present to you Karachi '06 and Bangalore '05 as the most recent examples). Once the Englishmen know that there is no risk of their target being attacked they will go all out, putting men around the batsmen, knowing fully well that their bad balls will not be hit to the fence and their good balls may well take some wickets. With each falling wicket they can exert even more pressure on the batsmen.

Plan B should work - the batting lineup (batsmen 1-7) is the same as the ODI lineup, with Laxman replacing Yuvraj. This situation it will not matter since Laxman's biggest problem in ODI's was that he could not accelerate as fast in the later overs as some others. Here, with an additional 40 overs in hand, that should not be a problem. Also, don't forget that he has (in the past) scored some very crucial 2nd innings knocks for the country when chasing a target, so for this time we will not miss Yuvraj as much as we may think. In addition to the 7, we also have Wasim Jaffer. So we have enough batting firepower to attack the target, utilizing the anchor-accelerator strategy that has been employed so successfully in the past few ODI wins. I suggest using Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dhoni and Pathan as the accelerators and Dravid, Jaffer, Laxman and Kaif as the anchors.

By attacking the target, they force the Englishmen to defend, thereby crating gaps in the infield, meaning that a mishit may go to a now-vacant 2nd slip, or a now-vacant short mid-off and so on.

If the Indians come out with a defensive mindset and show no inclination to go for the target I am going to be very disappointed. (Virender Sehwag will go for it, that I am sure of, I am talking about the rest of the batsmen). If that happens I shall not follow this time for a while. As it is their attitude in the field yesterday made me mad (more on that later) and this would be the last straw.

If I see Tendulkar go into that obdurate, stubborn, defensive shell that he has lately been adopting I may just blow my fuse!