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!!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Absorbing the punches

So, India came extremely close to toppling the Windies in Antigua. Two days ago, very few gave them a chance. That is the beauty of a Test match. You get a second chance to redeem yourself, if at first you fail.

Of course, the glass half-emptyers shall moan and groan about lacking the killer punch to take the last wicket. And that Rahul Dravid did not give himself enough time to bowl the Windies out. I wanted to write about that aspect until I read Prem Panicker's match report. He said it best at the very end. I quote:

An interesting point that has cropped up repeatedly in email exchanges with friends is the possibility that India could have looked to have pushed on a bit quicker, and gotten a few more overs at the West Indies batsmen. 450 runs ahead in 20 overs less was more or less the consensus suggestion - that is to say, India should have been around 580 runs in around 130 overs.

The good bit about hindsight is it is always 20/20. But then what? A target for the West Indies of 4 an over, with 110 overs to get there? On the ground where, in May 2003, the West Indies successfully got 418 for seven in 128.5 overs to win a Test - against the world champion side boasting an attack that read Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee, Stuart McGill and Andy Bichel?

To set that target, India would have had to make 580 runs in 130 overs, India would have had - coming into the second innings 130 runs behind, with the consequent risk that losing wickets in the push for quick runs would toss the game, gift-wrapped, into the opposition's lap - to have scored at 4.46 per over throughout its innings. Assume that was possible for the Indians, then by what logic is a run rate of 4 not possible, on the same pitch, for the opposition?

A team that after being 130 behind in the first innings lost the game setting that sort of gettable target on a pitch that has played placid throughout would have been incarcerated in an asylum for the criminally insane - and quite rightly too.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Diamond cuts

This past weekend I put my paper shredder to good use. Over the years, due to my magpie-like tendency to hoard every little thing I deem to be even remotely important, I built up a sizable collection of boxes containing all kinds of paraphernalia. Letters, memos, books, papers, articles, gradesheets, photographs that had not been good enough to make it to my photo albums, and other knick-knacks that covered the last 13 years of my life (and a few incidents beyond) were all in there.

A task that should have taken a few hours extended for over a day and a half as I read every word, re-lived every episode, and revived long-forgotten memories from the deep recesses of my mind. Going through those boxes was like taking a ride in a time machine, albeit one that stopped and started randomly through my past. People I had not thought about in years showed up in old photographs. Names I could not place any more showed up in notes I had written to myself. Events that I had displaced from my heart came back to me. To paraphrase a famous dialogue from the Spider-Man movies - With great purging comes great remembrances.

It was quite a poignant weekend. I feel like I have met my past and am now ready for the rest of my life to begin. Ten years from now, when I have the inevitable urge to purge again, I hope to have as rich a store of memories as I did this time.

Test-ing cricket

The 2nd and 3rd days play of the first Indo-Windies Test match were perfect examples of why I love the longer version of the game. On a pitch that is starting to ease up, the game has become a test of skill and patience. In the first innings, the Indians reached the 30's and 40's and got out. In their first innings, the Windies reached 50's and 60's and got out. In the third innings, Wasim Jaffer hung in there and was rewarded with an unbeaten century against his name.

The two batsmen out - Sehwag and Laxman - looked good for the long haul until the ball they got out. Laxman's dismissal was the shocking one. One ball after a vintage inside-out cover drive, Laxman tried a pre-determined slog-sweep over midwicket and lost more than just his wicket. (Steve Waugh made tons of runs with that shot but should have taken it with him into retirement oblivion. In fact, he got out (fittingly caught by Tendulkar off the bowling of Kumble) in his last Test innings trying that very same shot).

The match is interestingly poised with India, in effect, 85 for 2 in the second innings, with 2 full days to go. Too bad I will only be able to follow it fleetingly while at work.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Lara's Tsavo

The Antigua Recreation Ground (in St John's, Antigua) is a place filled with fond memories for Brian Lara.

At this ground Lara has played 13 Tests and scored 1632 runs at an average of 85.89 (with 4 centuries and 6 fifties). Of those runs, he scored 775 in just two innings. Yes, this is the very same ground at which Lara scored 375 and 400* against the Englishmen, ten years apart.

Tomorrow, he will stride to the ground for his last Test at this ground. (I am not suggesting that Lara will retire before playing there again. In fact it is the stadium that is hosting its last ever Test). Dravid and his merry men must hope that they can stop him before he shatters any more records here.

Quick to deify, quicker to condemn

Knives will be sharpened and brickbats merrily hurled in wake of the Indian teams batting performance at the end of the first day of the First Test match against West Indies.

231 for 9 in 88 overs does not look good. But then most of us appear to assume that the opposition has nothing to do with how the Indian team performs. So, if you read any report of the days proceedings, I can guarantee that the writers will talk about the batsmen "throwing their wicket away", "playing loose shots", "feet not moving", "tailenders showing how it is done"...etc. Very few will focus on the fact that the West Indian bowlers induced these moments of indecision from the batsmen with a brilliant display in the field.

I thought the day's play was engrossing and the pitch curator deserves some credit for making an even-steven pitch. No matter how long a batsman was at the crease, he was never really set. All day there was swing, seam, and spin for the bowlers who knew where to pitch the ball. Like a spider that sets a trap, Lara set his ring of fielders and waited. Give credit to the bowlers, too. No matter how good a batsman is, he is only as good as the bowler lets him be (with the occasional exception). Bradshaw had an awful day and, not surprisingly, he was hit around the park. The others had a great day and they reaped the rewards.

We need to ease up a little bit and enjoy the tightness of the match, something that ODI's fail to evoke except on the rare occasion.

A little perspective will not hurt. For example, in 1999 Australia toured West Indies for a 4 Test series with a new captain - Steve Waugh. At the end of the first day the Australians, after winning the toss and electing to bat, were 174 for 6 in 90 overs. Yes, the Aussie team that would go on to be called one of the greatest Test teams ever was 174 for 6 in 90 overs. They went on to make 269 in 121.3 overs. No great shakes and not too dissimilar to India's current position, either.

The point I am trying to make is that we (Indian fans) tend to behave as if the Indian team is plunging to great depths everytime they fail to post a 400+ score. Things are not always hunky-dory, even for the best of teams, so why should our performance be any different. The Aussies eventually went on to win the Test match.

Most of the West Indian bowlers showed how to do it. Can the Indians duplicate it? Either way, I shall be very engrossed in tomorrow's proceedings.