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 fa├žade 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 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.