Saturday, April 22, 2006

The air is tingling in Touchdown City

It is not often that the WVU gridiron football team finds itself in a position of strength. Aided by what appears to be an easy schedule, a weak conference, and a very well-coached team, the Mountaineers are being picked by some people to be the leading college football team in Division I-A this year.

The spotlight is falling squarely on the shoulders of the coach, Rich Rodriguez, profiled here by Pat Forde. Last year the team began with low expectations and stormed its way to a #5 ranking, on the basis of its win in the Sugar Bowl. What will this year have in store for us fans?

The season begins in a few short weeks...

An instant response (on a plate tectonic timescale)

On Monday, December 26, 2005, in a post titled "The clock stops" I had mentioned that I was going to stop following up on two promises made by the BCCI:

(a) finding out who leaked the Greg Chappell email (September 27, 2005)
(b) Organizing a charity match to aid earthquake victims (October 18, 2005)

On April 18th, 2006, exactly 6 months after the promise was made, the BCCI and PCB conducted the promised Indo-Pak match, raising Rs 12.28 crores.

Unsurprisingly, there is no news yet on the leaked email front.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A cricket-writer returns from hibernation

Of all the current cricketers who are supplimenting their playing income by writing a column, Aakash Chopra, in my opinion, is the best. Here is his first column of the year discussing the oddly disturbing case of Marcus Trescothick's "mystery bug".

Atlas sighed

My favourite non-Indian cricketer ever (there...I have said it!) is now entering what could possibly be his final season. On the eve of the English domestic season, the man who had greatness in sight is the subject of a fairly personal interview. I shall follow Graeme Hick's scores, as I have been for decades now, and hope that he goes out with a bang.

Who knows, there may even be a phoenix-like resurrection in time for the next World Cup, what with England struggling to put together a decent batting line-up in ODI's these days. The odds of it happening are very, very remote, but I am an optimist by nature. Eternally so.

Maggi Noodle Review: Rang De Basanti

The colour of freedom

Last night I saw "Rang De Basanti". It had been recommended to me by many friends but, having missed its theatrical release, I consciously avoided reading about the movie and wanted to wait till I got an original DVD to see it. At EC-SB's house, I got the opportunity to decide for myself whether the hype was worth the wait.

It was!

By combining a "coming-of-age" movie with a strident message at its heart, the director, Rakeysh Mehra, has made a movie that should resonate for a while yet. Visually, the movie is breathtaking. And here I am talking about the colours that are used, not just the sceneries or sets. A sepia tone is employed to show events of the early 20th century, while a colourful canvas symbolizes the 21st century. Seamlessly transitioning between two parallel storylines, the story juggles between the past that the characters will be influenced by, and the aimless present that they currently inhabit.

The change in the characters occurs over a period of time and is quite convincingly written in. And even after they realize their calling, they do not do anything that belies their abilities or positions. From start to finish, the dynamics of the group are kept consistent and every character is given enough room and screen time for us to be able to distinguish between them. A fear I had was that Aamir Khan would take over the movie post-interval, a la "Dil Chahta Hai", breaking the dynamics of the story. He does not. Instead, the director makes the character with the most to lose, portrayed by Siddharth, the public voice of the group. Aamir, in keeping within the defined framework of his character, remains the physical heart and soul of the group without trying to become the emotional leader.

In a movie filled with symbolism, the most subtle one made the deepest impression. The mother is in a deep coma and finally shows signs of awakening from it. When she does, the movie intercuts this with scenes showing the main characters finally fulfilling their date with destiny, symbolizing the metaphorical awakening of Mother India from a long slumber.

Another masterstroke was to use two different narrators - a sympathetic English jailor for the 20th century and his documentary film-making granddaughter for the 21st century. By employing a British narrator, the director managed to suggest an outside view that somehow seems to emphasize even further how impressive the protagonist's actions were.

A final word on the acting. My simple test for an actors performance is whether I am seeing the character or the actor on the screen. Initially I could not help but think that I was watching the actors. After a while when I saw them on screen I was associating them with their movie names.

I would strongly recommend watching this movie, and would suggest that you give yourself entirely to the experience. So do not get up to go to the bathroom, do not answer the phone and do not talk to anyone else in the room. Otherwise the connection between you and the characters will be broken and it will become a less impressive celluloid experience.

Victim of expectations?

On CricInfo's blog - Wicket to Wicket - a group of writers have been discussing the apparent dichotomy in performance of the the Indian Test and ODI teams. The question being addressed is - why does the Indian Test team have trouble winning series while the ODI juggernaut rolls on, albeit in subcontinental conditions?

I will let you discover what the consensus opinion of the writers is. The wrap-up of the discussion by Anand Vasu is linked here. (By the way, I agree with most of what 3 of the 4 writers have written).

The List - per Jaunty

In a continuation of my previous post, I now present the top 10 Test innings by an Indian batsman (post-1980), according to me.

10. VVS Laxman's 75 in Brisbane against Australia in 2003. This was more important than his two centuries in the series. He not only stayed in there but calmed Ganguly down in the early part of the captain's innings. When he got out playing a cut shot to point off MacGill, it taught him a lesson that held him in good stead for the rest of the series and helped India hold its ground against the Australians - every time he crossed 50 after that, he scored a century, 5 in all (2 in Tests and 3 in one-dayers).

9. Mohinder Amarnath's 91 at Bridgetown against the West Indies in 1982 (out of a team score of 209). Of all his innings I remember this one the most. He got hit on the face, spat out blood, stayed in, and kept batting bravely. The bowling attack in the Test….Roberts, Holding, Marshall, and Garner represent, arguably, the greatest collection of 4 fast bowlers in one Test side!!

8. Mohammad Azharuddin 109 at Faisalabad against Pakistan in 1989. This changed the face of Indian cricket for the next decade. Why? Because he was dropped for the Test and made it in only because Raman Lamba was sick and could not play. He was out first ball in the first innings and appeared headed for obscurity. In the second innings he gloriously counter-attacked and, amazingly, two Tests later he was captaining the Indian team in New Zealand, and then resurrected India’s home fortunes with an unlikely troika of Kumble, Chauhan and Raju!

7. Sachin Tendulkar 122 in Birmingham against England in 1996. Important because the next highest score was 18, and it was in the 2nd innings of the Test match. Unfortunately, the others did not support him and we lost the match. Much more significantly, because of this batting debacle the selectors decided that Tendulkar desperately needed help from other batsmen. Their solution would alter the course of Indian cricket history. Two new batsmen made their debuts in the next Test at Lords – Ganguly and Dravid.

6. Sachin Tendulkar 114 at Perth against Australia in 1992. He was just 19 years old, playing on the bounciest pitch in Australia against a team determined to crush him. He had scored a century in an earlier Test in the series at Sydney, too, but this is the one that Richie Benaud often brings up when he reminisces about Tendulkar. Coming in at 69 for 2 he was 9th out at 240.

5. Sachin Tendulkar's 241 at Sydney against Australia in 2003. He was in the worst TEST slump of his career, and responded by grinding out an innings that Geoff Bocott would have been proud to claim as his own. He wore down the Aussies, and did so without hitting a SINGLE cover drive in the whole innings. Amazing restraint for him, and later on when historians try to figure out the innings that changed the master blaster into the master accumulator, they will point to this one. His Test hunger has changed colours – now he no longer looks to dominate attacks but rather to simply score off them, and this one showed even Tendulkar that he could do it sucessfully.

4. Rahul Dravid's 180 at Kolkotta against Australia in 2001. Not many people give it the credit it deserves. Laxman’s innings would have ended up being like his 167, a desperately brilliant one. It reached epic proportions because of Dravid’s stay at the crease with him. Also, Dravid continued on after Laxman was out, scoring some more runs that proved vital in the end.

3. Rahul Dravid's 233 at Adelaide against Australia in 2003 set up a monumental win by sheer will and perseverance, combined with a great technique against the Aussie bowling (which in hindsight, barring Gillespie, was not-so-great).

2. Gundappa Viswanath's 114 at Melbourne against Australia 1981. Set the stage for Kapil’s heroics with the ball and an away win in Australia. And also, the only century of Vishwanath’s that I can recall vividly, though I was at school when he scored the runs and my elder brother holds me responsible for him getting out.

1. VVS Laxman's 281 at Kolkatta against Australia in 2001. This is the innings by which his whole career will probably been defined, but it also represents a “turning point” innings not only for him, but also for Indian cricket. It is a testament to his drive that the 281 will be remembered by me as ONE of his great innings. I may be biased because he is from my home town but I think we have not heard the last of this Hyderabadi's exploits in the Test arena.

The List - per Buck

A couple of years ago, Buck and I decided to come up with our top 10 Test innings by an Indian batsman (individual). The criteria were simple - they had to be innings that were more than just numbers; they had to be innings that were enhanced by the context and their influence on the fortunes of the Indian team (and its future) and, a final caveat, these would have to be innings that we either heard/watched/read about by us as they occurred (therefore, innings played pre-1980 were not included).

We each came up with a list of 10 innings and did not know of the other's choices till we had both made ours. I went through my list recently and realized that my feelings were still the same and the many Indian innings that have followed since then have not (as of yet) displaced any on that list (some by Sehwag and Dravid have come close but did not quite displace the ones I picked).

Here are Buck's top 10 with his views on some of them (I have linked to the Tests should you wish to see the scorecard for those innings).

10. Sachin Tendulkar's 169 for a lost cause in South Africa in 1997 (when he did one of the important things required of a good innings - he was the last man out after adding 19 for the last wicket with a tailender who made 2).

9. Mohammad Azharuddin's breathtaking 109 of 70-odd ball s at Eden Gardens against South Africa in 1996 in a lost cause - barely makes it to this list because he did not adjust his batting once it became apparent he had a worthwhile partner in Kumble who was last out at 88.

8. VVS Laxman's 75 in Brisbane - prefer it to the pair of centuries he had later in this series and the 167 in the prior series (in terms of breathtaking innings for a lost cause, the 167 ranks behind Azhar's knock above and also his crazy 115 of 110 balls in S Africa in 1997 when he overshadowed skipper Tendulkar completely before being run out of all things ).

7. Gundappa Viswanath's 114 at Melbourne against Australia 1981.

6. Dilip Vengsarkar's 102 at Headingley (Leeds), vs England 1986 - I remember this as a superior innings to a century he made at Lords in the same series, but of course Lords being Lords, that one has received more play over the years...

5. Sachin Tendulkar's 241 at Sydney in 2003 v/s Australia - especially like the fact that he did not get out finally.

4. Sachin Tendulkar's 114 at Perth in 1992 v/s Australia (India lost this game but this is, in my opinion, his greatest test innings to date - even more than his double century) - fastest wicket in the world, young Sachin, etc...

3. Mohammad Azharuddin's 163 at Kanpur in December 1996 gainst South Africa.

2. Rahul Dravid's 233 at Adelaide v/s Australia - long innings that won a test - also his greatest test double century in my opinion (poor guy - so many of his great knocks ended up with him playing second fiddle that it detracts from him a bit. I was tempted to include the 91* in a later Test in the series but this is a greater innings).

1. VVS Laxman's 281 - enough said.

My list shall follow in the next post. As always, I will be interested in your opinions (and maybe your top 10, too. You will find that these lists are harder to make than you'd think).

Turning 40

"Mad Dog" turned 40 on Friday (14th April), joining a fairly eclectic bunch of personalities who have turned 40 this year (as a fellow blogger pointed out). Not surprisingly, there were many articles in the media written in praise of Greg Maddux. The one I liked most was this one by Tim Kurkjian of

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

And then there were none...

David Quammen is a noted writer of essays in science (and other topics) and is the author of a well-written book "The Song of the Dodo", on applying the lessons learned from studies on island biogeographies, to understand species extinction and evolution.

In this book there is one particular paragraph that is quite haunting. David takes the reader along a hypothetical scenario where he describes what the final days of the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) may have been like, reproduced here:
Raphus cucullatus had become rare unto death. But this one flesh-and-blood individual still lived. Imagine that she was thirty years old, or thirty-five...In the dark of an early morning in 1667, say, during a rainstorm, she took cover beneath a cold stone ledge at the base of one of the Black River cliffs. She drew her head down against her body, fluffed her feathers for warmth, squinted in patient misery. She waited. She didn't know it, nor did anyone else, but she was the only dodo on Earth. When the storm passed, she never opened her eyes. This is extinction.

Monday, April 10, 2006

"Inspired" movie-making

With each passing day comes an announcement that an Indian director is going to be "remaking" another old classic. The most recent example is of Amitabh Bachchan reportedly signing on to act in the Bollywood version of Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita".

I am surprised that another movie - "L.A. Confidential" - has not been made into a Hindi movie yet (or if it has, I am unaware of it). To save a potential producer the trouble of figuring out who to cast, here are my suggestions:

Ed Exley - Hrithik Roshan (with the "Lakshya" look and performance)
Bud White - Abhishek Bachchan (the "Yuva" look and performance)
Jack Vincennes - Ajay Devgan (must be clean shaven and suave)
Capt. Dudley Smith - Amitabh Bachchan (a tailor-made role for him)
Lynn Bracken - Sushmita Sen (perfect with the "Main Hoon Na" look)
Sid Hudgens - Boman Irani (ONLY if he does not make it a caricature)

I would also recommend that Farhan Akhtar be the director.

I think the movie would do very well, but getting this star cast will be the issue.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fab Five to the fore

After three rounds of play, Woods, Els, Mickelson, Singh and Goosen are within 4 shots of each other at the Masters. A mouth-watering Sunday is in store today, and I am going to be glued to the TV watching it unfold.

My pick is still a man named Eldrick. He is the best under-pressure player I have ever seen (along with Michael Jordan) and this situation is tailor-made for him.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

A Somerset man's view

Peter Roebuck puts forward his thoughts on the current Indian ODI team. I have been a fan of his writing style for some time now and this article reinforces why.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

To sleep, perchance to dream

I have had an unusual night so far. I was dog-tired when I came home, and was glad to lie down on my bed. But after tossing and turning for what seemed like hours (more like 15 minutes) I gave up and began blogging.

Now (finally!) my eylids are drooping, and my fingers are getting lethargic. Sleep beckons. This time I hope the trip to neverland is swift.

Good night, dear reader.

Update: The not-so-manic Punisher

In the first 4 games of the ongoing series against England, the Indian team has twice chased a target and won an ODI , taking their tally to a world-record 15 consecutive successful chases. In an earlier post I had alluded to the role played by MS Dhoni in this amazing streak. In the two chases since my post he has contributed:

230/6, Dhoni: 39 (off 55 balls)
238/6, Dhoni: 10* (off 13 balls)

In the course of this streak his aggregate is now at 624 runs in 11 innings, dismissed just 3 times (average: 208.00).

Trring, trring

My office phone rings. It is KK at the other end.

KK: Knock, knock.
Me: Who's there?
KK: Interrupting cow.
Me: Interru...
KK: Moo!

Yes, I have friends like that!

Our own Telestra Dome

One of the perks of being at a University where college sports is a huge deal is that they have many huge gymnasiums (gymnasia?). And when the University teams are not using them, other folks can "book" the space and use it to play their preferred sports.

In the winter, when the temperature drops, cricket becomes an indoor sport - with tennis balls. A few days ago I played for the first time and was shocked at how fast some of the fielders could return the ball to the wicket. Consequently, in true Inzamam-style, I managed to get 3 other batsman run out, before justice was finally served, and I ran myself out to end the innings.

Not surprisingly, the match ended in a tie!!

By the way, before you start looking for me in there, I took these pictures.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Silent whispers

Tomorrow, the Wimbledon of golf begins. It has been 10 years since my favorite golfer won the tournament on a day that is more famous for a Shark's meltdown. I do not know who will win it this year, but I do know this - my productivity over the weekend will decline to a near-flatline status.

And if I can convince CB to let me watch it on HDTV at his place, flatline status will definitely be attained.

A switch in time

After a gap of 30 years, the state of Indiana decided to adjust the clock to follow Daylight Savings Time.

In a perfect example of creating one's own market, an Indiana teenager found a way to make a profit out of this (and get visibly profiled by CNN, to boot).

The Fresh Prince

Yuvraj Singh has long been thought of as a flashy guy with enormous potential, but lacking the drive to buckle down and fulfill it. A few months under the new regime appears to have made a world of a difference, as evidenced by the mature responses in this interview.

Lotur Rotak

A few words for my regular readers (MJ style) -

I'm back!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The hiatus

For the past few week or so I have been extremely tied up and have neglected this blog. All I can think of when I come home is to measure the length of my bed.

In a day or two, I shall get back to my normal schedule. Until then, I apologize if your visits to my sphere have been in vain.

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