Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Dream or nightmare?

A friend woke me up, very early, this morning.

"I have to tell you a dream I had before I forget it", she said. "I dreamt that Salman Khan, dressed handsomely in a sherwani, announced at a press conference that, henceforth, he would no longer be taking his shirt off in his movies."

"Wishful thinking", said I.

"I know", said she. "Too bad it was a dream."

I smiled. She giggled. I slept fitfully but woke up with a huge grin on my face!

It's Yesterday Once More

The website cricinfo (self-proclaimed "Home of Cricket on the Internet" and the world's biggest single-sport website) recently launched "Cricinfo Magazine", a print version featuring lots of columns, interviews and reports. I subscribed to it and received my first copy yesterday - and loved it!

Apart from all the interesting articles, it has a feature that is missing from mainstream American sports magazines such as Sports Illustrated or ESPN-The Magazine. In addition to providing a report of the games itself, Cricinfo included the box scores (scorecard) with the article. Growing up in India, I remember reading Sportstar and always liked the scorecards as it gave me a chance to view what happened during the course of the game more clearly.

I collected every Sportstar for almost a decade during my high school years. I look forward to doing something similar with Cricinfo.

To read, perchance to dream

I hardly watch the idiot box these days. (The only time I am glued to the set is on Monday nights, as my regular readers will know by now). Sometimes on Sundays I follow some sporting event (last weekend it was the Buick Invitational tournament, where Arjun Atwal frittered away a chance to enter the playoffs; next weekend it shall be the Super Bowl).

When I come home, reading a book (and cooking) relaxes me. Most nights, I usually read till I fall asleep. Within arms reach I can see a few books as I type this post. This material can be broken into some distinct categories:

a) Books already read (for casual reading on the days I don't feel like paying too much attention to detail). Right now the books in this category are ...
  • The Collected Short Stories of Jeffrey Archer
  • Asterix the Legionary (by Gosciny and Uderzo)
  • Partners in Crime (Agatha Christie)
  • Cricinfo - The Magazine (edited by Sambit Bal)
b) Books that I am currently reading (once again, the genre I read depends upon my mood; and yes, I have read a little bit of all of them).
  • Foul Lines (Jack McCallum and L. Jon Wertheim)
  • The King Must Die (Mary Renault)
  • The Best American Mystery Stories-2005 (edited by Joyce Carol Oates)
  • Two Lives (Vikram Seth)
c) Books that I shall read
  • The Bull from the Sea (Mary Renault)
  • The Last of the Wine (Mary Renault)
  • The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
  • Scaramouche (Rafael Sabatini)
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert M. Pirsig)
So what am I in the mood for tonight? I think it shall be Foul Lines, "an explosive, fast-paced satire that will do for today's NBA what North Dalls Forty did for the NFL a generation ago".

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Irascible Defender

"I am Federal Agent Jack Bauer, and this is the longest day of my life".

The inimitable raspy voice of Kiefer Sutherland introduced me to the world of "24". I saw the complete first season of this television show, albeit a couple of years later on DVD. I came to respect Dennis Haysbert as the POTUS-to be, while watching a show where surprises are the norm and no character (except Jack, of course) can safely be assumed to negotiate the day unscathed.

Now, years later (I think season 5 is currently in progress) I picked up this show again and every Monday from 9-10pm my friends know better than to call me, as I breathlessly follow Jack as he crashes headlong from one impossible situation into another.

Being in a dangerous situation has become so common place for this dude that he no longer even bothers to tell us that this season represents the longest day of his life!!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sources say this post may get delivered late

All too often I read an article that quotes "inside sources" who are safely anonymous but reveal a lot about the inner thoughts of a closed room discussion. But all too often I wonder - what stops an intrepid journalist from making up sources, just so the report can seem more credible? Journalistic integrity? If you are pushed to write a column and want to sound more emphatic about the point you are making, the temptation to ghost comment must be immense.

(Sources close to me say that this post was written while I was simultaneously balancing a knife on my head and watching the Screen Actors Guild awards on TV).

Lets Goooooo....Mountaineers!!

The Coliseum at WVU is one of the most intimidating college basketball arenas in the US. After 8 years, I finally got to see the Mountaineers play the Friars of Providence University on January 17th. Here is a view from the first tier:

And here is a view from my seat. The students section (with the students decked in golden coloured t-shirts) is to the left side of the picture:

Monday, January 23, 2006

Lead foot in the grave

The VVS Laxman of circa 2001 is no more. Back then the trademark of his batting against spinners was his decisive footwork when he danced down the wicket to play with and against the spin. Shane Warne will be the first to attest to that.

Today, Laxman stays rooted to the crease, putting a long stride forward, looking to smother the spin and venturing to put the ball away off the pitch only if the bowler errs badly in length, premitting him to rock onto his backfoot.

Why has this happened? My belief is that it stems from two reasons - one physical and one mental.

Physical: After that 281, Laxman injured his knee while fielding in a one-dayer and went to Australia to undergo reconstructive surgery. He hasn't been the same since. He is cautious when he runs, cautious when he has to stop and turn, cautious when he has to come down the track to the spinners.

Mental: With the supporters of the recently-deposed captain circling like vultures, waiting for a crack to appear in his edifice, Laxman has eschewed flair for substance. Today he looks to bide his time, nudging and nurdling singles, the occasional couple, and the rare four, as he bats with one eye on the ball and the other on the safe ground of personal milestones. It is no coincidence that only after he crosses the 50-60 run plateau does he begin to get expansive with his strokeplay. By then he probably believes that he has averted a removal from the team for another Test. For he knows that a Sehwag or Tendulkar can fail a few times and not be culled from the team, but his place is in constant jeopardy.

Sad really. A batsman capable of taking a game away from an opposition in a session or two is now just another regular middle order guy. Seriously speaking, is today's Laxman any more dangerous than a Bell or a Kallis or a Chanderpaul? A huge fall for a person who once walked with the Gods.

I just wish that the fear of failure is removed from his line of sight and we can once again relish the free flowing willow that caresses the ball to the boundary. Against the turn.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Dead rubber alert?

Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar are considered the pre-eminent batsmen of this generation. For a long time I had the feeling that Lara made a lot of his famous centuries in dead rubbers, wherein the fate of the series did not hinge on his suceeding or failing. I put that hypothesis to test, using StatsGuru on CricInfo.

For the purposes of this analysis I considered that any Test match in a Test series that would not alter the final outcome of the series was a "dead rubber" Test match. For example, in a 3 Test series if one team had won the first two Tests, then the third Test was a "dead rubber".

Sachin Tendulkar has (to date) scored 35 test centuries, of which I counted 3 dead rubber tons:
114 vs Australia 1991/92 at Perth
177 vs Australia 1997/98 at Bangalore
176 vs West Indies 2002/03 at Kolkatta

Brian Lara has (to date) scored 31 Test centuries, of which I counted 7 dead rubber tons:
375 vs England 1993/94 at St. John's
132 vs Australia 1996/97 at Perth
100 vs Australia 1998/99 at St. John's
221 vs Sri Lanka 2001/02 at Colombo (first innings)
130 vs Sri Lanka 2001/02 at Colombo (second innings)
400 vs England 2003/04 at St. John's
226 vs Australia 2005/06 at Adelaide

I may be biased, but I think my hypothesis is supported to an extent. Lara has finished quite a few seires with a bang and is remembered for that.

On a whim, I also checked to see how their centuries stacked up with their team's results. This is what I found:

Wins - Lara 8, Tendulkar 12
Draws - Lara 10, Tendulkar 15
Losses - Lara 13, Tendulkar 8

Here, the picture is not clear as valid arguments can be made by supporters of both players.


In a previous post I used the phrase - "GOAT discussions". The acronym stands for - Greatest Of All Time.

("GOAT" is the title of a recent, humongous biography of Muhammad Ali. When I say humongous, I mean humongous - GOAT, which is nearly 800 pages long, weighs almost 34 kgs (75 lbs) and is 50 cm x 50 cm (20" x 20") in size).

As Time Goes By

During my undergraduate days, 3 close friends and I invented a new game.

My university had an indoor sports facility that featured a TT table and a badminton court (usually unoccupied since shuttlecocks are well beyond a student's budget as the feathers break too quickly). The line for the TT table was always long and one day, tired of waiting for our turn, the four of us invented Tenniton. A game that is played on a badminton court, with a (plastic) table tennis ball, featuring lawn tennis rules. It quickly became our favourite sport and we spent almost every evening playing for hours till dinner time.

And we got really good at it - Sravan was as steady as a rock, Anand (the best TT player amongst us all) was able to produce exaggerated spin and bounce with his top and side spins, Verma (a Boris Becker fan) was a relentless serve-and-volleyer, and I was able to control the ball better than any of them and (in those days) was able to run down almost every shot.

I can count on one finger the number of times I lost a set in all the years we played the game. When it came to Tenniton, I was the undisputed, undefeated, and (unfortunately) undocumented #1 player in the whole world.

I haven't played the game since I left that place, but I have often thought of it. Everytime a player is said to be "in a zone" or is talked about in "GOAT" discussions, I have flashbacks to tenniton. Jordan, Tendulkar, Federer, Woods, Schumacher - I know exactly how it must feel to dominate a sport, knowing that on that given day no matter what new wrinkles an opponent throws at you, you have an answer for it. It is a feeling like no other. You do feel invincible.

Oh, how I wish I could play it, play it again for old time's sake...

For a few dollars more

They say everything evens out in the end.

Earlier today, at the grocery store, the lady at the check-out counter returned my change to me - but miscounted and gave me an additional $10 bill. As she was counting the money I knew she had messed up. So when she handed me the money, I told her that she had done so, and returned the bill. I could have walked out and she would not have missed the money till it was time for them to count the day's take. But I didn't.

And even earlier today, I renewed my membership in a scholastic organization and realized, after the fact, that I had been charged the student rate. I sent them an email clarifying that I was no longer one, and forked up an additional $22 to cover the difference.

Jerry Seinfeld once demonstrated in a memorable episode of his popular sitcom that things always have a way of evening out.

As I was driving home a thought occurred to me - what if it does not even out? In that case I am short by $32. Or maybe over the years I have accumulated a positive balance of $32 in my ledger and today was the day it all evened out.

Aiiyyaaayyyy, the idle mind is, indeed, a devil's workshop.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Words from deep within

A few years ago a friend went through some depressing times. She tried to talk to me about her situation but always became tongue-tied and frustrated that she was unable to describe it. So I encouraged her to write what she was feeling. Her attempts to articulate what she was going through resulted in many essays, and one poem. Here is the poem:

(And for those amateur psychologists out there - the "friend" is not an oblique reference to myself!!)

The River

The river makes me smile, it makes me happy and calm
it flows and winds and talks to me.
Nothing in the world can be better than the cool fresh breath of mountain air blowing over my body high on a bridge above the water...
and then I watch, just slowly creeping around the bend is a misty fog.
It is coming for me and it passes over me softly. Talking to me as it passes all the furrowed lines upon my brow...

The smell of trees and whitewater and earth...it's like medicine. But they dont try and they ask nothing of me - they just are....existing forever in every form imaginable.
Can't help but give in to it. It will be ok, as long as I stay here..but at that moment the fog - which came partially from the river - gets thick and the cold seeps in.

It knows what I want and turns me away...but not just yet..
The river jumps and swirls sending me back to the other place - where? Where I am supposed to be, I guess. I listen. It knows. Suddenly I know, too. And I go away.
But somehow driving slowly away, I hear it still, tilling my mind over and over.

I'll be back, I think...I'll always be here, it says.

-- J.S.
May 2003