Thursday, July 31, 2008

The sophisticated slogger

"The best way to know how [Sehwag's] mind works is to sit next to him in the players' balcony when India are batting. Every few minutes he will clutch his head and yell, 'Chauka gaya' [missed out on a four] or 'Chakka gaya' ... That's how he thinks, in fours and sixes."
- Sourav Ganguly on Virender Sehwag.
Waching Sehwag bat is like watching an action movie where you do not know if the hero will survive or die. You find yourself on the edge of your seat as the thrills keep coming at a fast pace and, at the back of your mind, you know that if the hero dies, he is going to take a few bad guys with him. Last night, Sehwag gave another demonstration of his stupendous ability to hit a cricket ball. Here's the tale of the Indian innings:

Gambhir: 56 in 103 balls
Dravid: 2 in 7 balls
Tendulkar: 5 in 3 balls
Ganguly: 0 in 5 balls
Laxman: 13 in 28 balls

Contrast that with Sehwag - 128 in 122 balls, with 19 fours and 2 sixes. He is still batting but the beauty of the guy is that you never know what he will do tomorrow. (previous history does provide a very good indication of what he will do but that is neither here nor there). To think that at around this time last year he was out of the reckoning for a place in the Test squad!

A few months ago Sambit Bal wrote a brilliant piece on Sehwag. I think it merits a repeat reading - here is the article once again.

(Previous posts of mine on Sehwag here, and here.)

Day 1 - A tale of two sides

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

The first day of the second Test match between India and Sri Lanka featured two divergent sessions of play separated by a 3 hour rain delay. At the end of the day, Sri Lanka came out slightly ahead. It is not often you can say that about a team that gives up 151 runs in the pre-lunch session of the first day of a Test without taking a wicket!

The day began with Kulasekara looking like he could take a wicket with at least one ball per over, while Chaminda Vaas did nothing but throw more meat for the vultures circling his career. Kulasekara should have had Gambhir when a routine catch to first slip became a difficult one with the wicket-keeper flying across like Superman and disturbing Sangakkara's concentration in the process. Gambhir used the chance wisely, walking down the wicket (Hayden-style) to Vaas and tacking both spinners with ease. At the other end Sehwag began in a quiet fashion. He still managed to canter along at almost a run a ball but there was a definite submissiveness to his batting for the first 10 overs.

In the 11th over Ajantha Mendis came on and Sehwag was transformed. Reading all of Mendis's variations off the pitch, as opposed to out of his hand, Sehwag's lack of footwork worked to his advantage as he rarely found his feet in a tangle. Six overs from Mendis bled 37 runs as Sehwag and Gambhir, in a seemingly pre-determined fashion, took to Mendis's flighted ones. Determined to show that they did not discriminate against the type of bowler, the Delhi duo also took Murali to the tune of 32 runs in his 6 overs.

At lunch, India were 151 for no loss. Sehwag was on 91 (yes, 91) and Gambhir on 50.

As I eagerly waited for the post-lunch session to begin I watched the dark clouds roll in on-screen and a heavy downpour began soon after. Many hours later the players came back on the field. Sehwag spent a scant 5 balls getting to his 100, smoting Vaas for a six and then a fearsome straight boundary. A 100 off just 87 balls on the first day of a Test! (Much more on him later).

In the very next over, Mendis made the breakthrough Sri Lanka wanted, trapping Gambhir plumb in front of the stumps. Even a challenge could not save Gambhir and he had to go.

The door had been nudged ajar and Vaas and Mendis flung it open in the next three overs. Dravid came in, scratched around without looking comfortable at all, and was snared by Mendis yet again. Tendulkar hit the first ball for four, took a single off the next, and perished off the third, missing an in-ducker from Vaas. Five balls later Ganguly guided a Vaas delivery towards first slip and the keeper, showing that his earlier lapse had not dented his confidence, flew across to take a one-handed grab while parallel to the ground. 167 for no loss was now 178 for 4 and the Sri Lankans had come roaring (pun intended) back!!

Murali and Mendis then subjected Laxman to a searching examination, while Sehwag merrily continued batting on, almost as if he was playing a different pitch and facing a different set of bowlers altogether. No further damage was inflicted as bad light brought an early end to the day's proceedings with India at 214 for 4, having frittered away the pre-lunch stranglehold on the game.

No prizes for guessing where I will be when the action resumes later today.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Frog in a well

Trans-Pacific phone call, circa 2004, Caller 1 is in the North-east United States. Caller 2 is in South-east Australia.

Caller 1: "Have you been watching the Olympics?
Caller 2: "Yes, everyday."
Caller 1: "I am getting tired of constantly hearing about one athlete, as if he is the only one participating in the Games".
Caller 2: "I know. I am sick of it, too."
Caller 1: "I am beginning to OD on Michael Phelps. Everytime I turn on the TV it is Michael Phelps-this, Michael Phelps-that."
Caller 2: "Huh? Who is Michael Phelps? Over here the only person who seems to exist is Ian Thorpe. Everyday it is Ian Thorpe-this, Ian Thorpe-that!"
Caller 1: "Huh? Who is Ian Thorpe? Haven't you heard about Phelps?"
Caller 2: "No. Haven't you heard about Thorpe?"
Caller 1: "No. Michael Phelps is trying to win 8 gold medals. Haven't they talked about that in Australia?"
Caller 2: "No, not really. Ian Thorpe is trying to win the 100-200-400 freestyle trifecta. Haven't you heard of that?"
Caller 1: "No!"

And on and on it went...

During the 2004 Summer Olympics, Michael Phelps's quest for 8 gold medals occupied the interest of the news media in the US. The impression I got was that his name was on everyone's lips around the world. Now I know better.

This year, the swimmer, still just 23 years of age, is aiming for 8 gold medals once again. Can he do it? Eric Adleson tries to go behind the quest and demonstrates how hard it really is going to be for Phelps. And if he does win 8 golds, the real question will be - will the rest of the world even know he achieved that feat?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Marshall law

The first college football game that I actively followed was the WVU-Marshall season opener in 1997. That game featured a whole bunch of future NFL-ers including Randy Moss. WVU's game plan was to shut the lanky receiver down but only succeeded in slowing him in a hard-fought 42-31 win. A few years later I watched Randy play for Minnesota against Detroit at Ford Field. He had put on a few pounds of muscle and the blinding speed was still there, but only when he chose to turn on the after-burners, that is.

Last year, he migrated to New England and had an enormous impact on a Patriots team that was about 30 seconds from having an undefeated season. For years, Randy has been a headline away from controversy. So it comes as a pleasant surprise when a reporter takes the time to explore the man behind the number. It is a surprisingly touching story of a man who knows his roots and is hell-bent on maintaining them, no matter what anyone else thinks.

(The article is in 4 pages, so click through them).

Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!

The cinematic "dream team" of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson are putting their heads together to bring one of the world's most-beloved comic books to the big screen. I am not too thrilled about the motion-capture technology they want to use, but I shall reserve my judgement till I see the final product.

I wonder which three of Tintin's 23 adventures are going to be adapted for the silver screen. Any thoughts or guesses?


Do you know the various ways in which your driving can influence your fuel bill? Go through this slide show/questionnaire to see what you can do to improve the fuel-efficiency of your automobile.

(Hint: To save time, simply go through the odd-numbered slides...1,3,5,7, etc.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

The bigger they are...

Far from learning the lessons of the first innings debacle, the famed Indian middle order went AWOL in the second innings in the face of some fantastic spin bowling by the Sri Lankans.

Once again, the two standout performers for the Indians were Tendulkar and Laxman, but this time only up to a point. Laxman was playing very well, reaching 21 with three fours when one splendid over from Mendis did him in. Two carrom balls were spun across the defensive prod. Those were just the set-up balls. The next one was on the same line, only this time it spun into Laxman, whose hurried backfoot prod was of no avail, the ball crashing into his back leg in front of the stumps. The fact that Mendis got him out twice in the Test match with similar deliveries should put a frown on his face. However, 77 high-quality runs in 144 balls showed that he deserves to be promoted to #3 while Dravid sorts out the glitches in his batting. Tendulkar looked serene while at the crease, picking up both spinners quite easily, but Murali's relentless accuracy and line of attack got to Sachin. A fuller ball on the leg-stump enticed a sweep that he missed completey, but on the follow-through the ball hit the back of the bat and lobbed to backward short-leg where Dilshan took a great catch.

After the first innings I had predicted that only two results were possible - a Sri Lanka win or a draw. Once Tendulkar and Laxman got out, it was a matter of time before the Sri Lankans ran through the rest of the line-up and a draw went out of the window. Compared to the first innings, the Indians tried a more aggressive approach in dealing with Mendis and Murali but it seemed more out of hope than knowledge of what the ball was going to do. Batsman after batsman played for the ball to spin one way and it went the other way.

A few years ago I had felt that getting this batting line-up all out twice in a Test match for less than 250 would not be possible. When they come to the crease, the TV screen gets filled up with amazing numbers - the number of Tests that have played, the number of runs they have scored, their career batting averages, the highest scores thay have made, etc. But all that is candy floss from the past. The future starts now.

More than Mendis, the Indians have to worry about Murali. With his round-the-wicket approach to the batsman he has increased his options of taking wickets and when the most lethal bowler in Test history does that, it is time to sit up and take notice. Getting to a 1000 Test wickets is going to simply be a matter of time for the Kandy-Man.

I can hardly wait for the next Test match to begin and the battle to resume. Fun times lie ahead. Too bad this is only a 3 Test series.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Trees in a forest

The hype before the India-Sri Lanka Test series was the potential battle between Ajantha Mendis and the "Big Four". I believe that, as the series progresses, Ajantha's threat will diminish once these batsmen get used to his bag of tricks. So it was with great interest I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to watch Mendis bowl.

Before that transpired I got to see India's spinners - Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble - toil away on a seemingly innocuous pitch. We have all known that Kumble is not a big turner of the ball and he unfurled his bag of tricks but on a pitch where the ball was not bouncing too high, he was negated for the most part. The interesting aspect was watching Harbhajan bowl.

In his autobiography, John Wright talks about the fizz and bounce in Harbhajan's bowling when he first saw him. I don't see that any more. Instead I see a guy content to fire the ball in as fast as he can, afraid of giving up runs in the quest for wickets, and overly reliant on the doosra. His career graph is beginning to resemble that of Saqlain Mushtaq, another spinner who started with a bang, developed the doosra, became the first-choice spinner in ODI's, lost his loop and whose over-reliance on the doosra had Sehwag licking his chops at Multan.

However, the extent of Harbhajan's decline did not become evident to me until I saw Muralitharan at work on the very-same pitch. Ah! So that's how a bowler uses the doosra. It helps that Murali has an abnormal wrist that enables him to twirl that ball even more viciously but what was more revealing was his preferred line of attack. He bowled round the wicket to the right-handers and over the wicket to the left-handers, snaring both lefties in the process. His command over angles is incredible and even if a batsmen gets boundaries (Tendulkar, Ganguly, and Laxman had their share) it does not seem to impact the next ball. Harbhajan would do well to lock himself up in a room and watch Murali bowl all day. While the Indians (and the gushing, breathless commentators) were focussing on Mendis, Murali delivered a masterclass as if to remind people that he had a 735 wicket headstart on Mendis and everyone should remember that.

Mendis was impressive and troubled all the batsmen. But his command was not complete. Of the lot, Tendulkar played him very well, except for one leading edge. Before we wax poetic about that ball, do remember that every batsman struggles against every bowler for a ball or two no matter how benign the conditions. Tendulkar was very, very impressive. Aggressive in both defence and offence, he was playing very serenely, with a very impassive countenance, when he read the doosra from Murali but did not withdraw his bat quickly enough. The ball hit the bottom of the rising bat and was dragged onto the stumps. He looked in ominous touch and, if recent history is any indication, the runs will flow.

However, I am worried about Dravid and, to a lesser extent, Ganguly. Ganguly was reprieved by the third umpire on a challenged review - the call was 50-50 so the benefit went to him, and on another occasion was totally plumb LBW but the ball then deflected off his bat and the Sri Lankans did not even register an appeal. On both occasions, Mendis was the bowler. However, the worrisome part was the shocking way in which Dravid chose to play Mendis. Preferring to read him off the pitch, Dravid played Mendis exclusively on the backfoot and paid the price when his angled bat missed the ball to gift Mendis a very memorable and well-deserved maiden Test wicket.

Of the "Big Four" I anticipate that Dravid will be the first to hang up his boots. In the last three series since he relinqished captaincy, his batting has looked haunted and there is no rhythm or flow to it. He is a hollow shell of the guy who almost single-handedly ruined Steve Waugh's farewell series. The footwork is forced and he seems to be batting more from memory than anything else. Hopefully, this is just a slump and he will be back to his best very soon.

Finally, a word on Virender Sehwag. I love the guy's batting, and his attitude. The only Indian batsman who plays the ball on its merit got out because he did not play one that way. The ball was a bouncer, with a deep square-leg for the mistimed hook, but it was about a couple of feet outside the off-stump. It cried to either to be left alone or upper-cut to third man. He chose the wrong option and perished on a top-edged hook bringing a soft end to a thundering cameo.

The match is interestingly poised with only two possible results - a Sri Lanka win or a draw. Two days to go, with an extra half-hour each day, for India to survive. South Africa did this successfully in the recent Lord's Test match. But they did not have to contend with a magician and his apprentice.

Interesting times are ahead and sleepless nights beckon.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Skirting to victory

The Omaha Cricket Club recently conducted a tennis ball Twenty20 tournament. The finals pitted the hosts, OCC, against the local tennis ball giants of Omaha - Citadel XI. The following is a report of the match. If you do not understand some of the references, let it slide. If you do understand some of them, don't fret over it if it bothers you, as the account is being written (for the most part) with my tongue firmly in my cheek. As always, in the interests of privacy, actual names are being shielded.

In the aftermath of the finals, many interested folks who were not present at the ground last Sunday have asked us about the outcome of the game. The deathly silence on our part should have given it away. Citadel XI won the match, but not necessarily, the game. You'll understand what I on.

We won the toss...let me rephrase - S_____"Lucky Tosser" A_____ won the toss. By the way, here is an aside...a knock knock joke for everyone. It is partly in Hindi so ask someone for a translation if you do not understand.

Knock, knock
Who's there?
Agarwal who?
Agar wall nahi hota, to ghar kaise hota.

Anyway, I digress. After LT (see above) won the toss, Camelot was convened, i.e. all the members of the OCC were summoned by King Arthur (S_____ M_____) and Lancelot (B_____ K_____) to discuss what to do (not with the coin; I am sure LT pocketed the quarter used for the coin toss when no one was looking). The round-table discussion yielded many an opinion, the most confusing one coming from F_____ "Kamikaze" O_____, who said that we should look to finish the match by 1:30pm, surely unhelpful advice as no one quite knew what to say for about 10 seconds.

King Arthur decided to bat first, no doubt influenced by the gloomy England-like conditions, and an affliction of Dravid-itis (in reference to the erstwhile Indian captain who insisted on batting first every time he won the toss, even in bowler-friendly conditions, simply because he wanted to ensure that we "got used" to playing in adverse conditions). However, Kamikaze O_____ and C.S. "Long emails" M_____ were selected to be the first lambs to the slaughter, i.e. the opening batsmen.

Kamikaze and Long Emails walked in to thundering applause ... from the opposition who licked their lips in anticipation, like Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight". (You HAVE to watch that movie, by the way, before it becomes so hyped that it will be popular to say that you have NOT watched it).

Swinging the ball with unerring accuracy and able to extract prodigious lift the opening bowlers of Citadel tested every sinew and nerve that the openers could muster. Sadly, the reality was more benign than that. The tennis ball comes out of the hand at a tremendous speed and even as it travels in the air it loses momentum faster than Brittney Spears's career. Once it hits the ground, it stops for a eternity, pondering the meaning of life, before it resumes its journey towards the stumps. For the OCC bowlers, for some unfathomable reason, the ball behaves in a less erratic fashion, but never mind that.

In two overs of blistering pace, the openers were back in the confines of the shed. After 5 overs OCC was positively motoring along at a rollicking pace that would put Chris Tavaré to shame - 2.4 runs per over. Having now reduced the game to effectively a 15 over contest, OCC got down to the business end of things. Platitudes like "losing wickets at regular intervals" can be freely interespersed in the text now, and before long King Arthur was looking for anyone in the team who was not out. But before that stage was reached, S_____ M_____ running like a hare being chased by a hound between the wickets gave JJ "Night Owl" T_____ admirable support. The score moved along well. Night Owl hit a splendid four through covers, slammed a six over square-leg, and was making amends for his brain freeze of the previous day, until he got out for 41 brilliant runs. B_____ "Lancelot" K_____ went in and used the strong breeze to hit a huge six over square-leg. But where was the challenge in that? True to his nickname, he targeted the wind and hit a lovely 8 iron - it went up in the air, said hello to the gale-force wind, and then dropped as rapidly as a meatball sandwich is by a temple priest. Unfortunately, the fielder at long-on was not a devout Hindu and had no compunctions about grabbing the treat. Riotously joyous celebrations ensued in the Citadel group hug.

But they had not reckoned with Arthur's ultimate secret weapon - "Rajanikath" M_____. Yesterday M_____ was informed about the ICL ad where the batsman stops the ball in mid-air and asks the crowd where they want it. Thus inspired, Rajani M_____ lit a cigarette with his bare palm (ask LT how it is done or watch this video), and slammed the ball like it was a repeat offender in prison, sending it to places it had not gone before (but would go many a time when Citadel batted). In the twinkling of an eye the score surged past Abraham Lincoln (four score and seven = 87), Half-Nelson (111), K. Srikkanth's personal highest (123), twelve squared (you can calculate this yourself), before finally settling at a seemingly mammoth 156. M_____ remained not out at the same score as Night Owl, as he did not want to overshadow the stellar performance of his teammate.

The mood in the OCC huddle was upbeat, so much so that the team did some stretching exercises while the rest of the audience watched in bemusement as LT proved to be more flexible and graceful than Kamikaze, whose idea of stretching involves opening his mouth as wide as he can to yawn. Suitably limbered up, OCC had another huddle (yes, King Arthur is big on huddles) and took the field with great enthusiasm. The first over by Lancelot (B_____) yielded one run - a wide to start proceedings - and Citadel was under the cosh. The next over by Night Owl (JJ) produced several near-misses - a six and two fours being among the more memorable ones as the batsmen nearly missed hitting sixes off every ball. The one time the ball reached a fielder it settled into Lancelot's hands like a new-born baby in a mother's hands. Unfortunately for OCC, Lancelot suffered the same fate as the villain in Lagaan, giving up a six because he was outside the boundary. Along the way, Lancelot got a ball to jag back into the nether regions of the opener. The person most affected by this was the dude farthest from the action - Kamikaze O_____ fielding at long-on. Memories of getting his jewels nearly restructured by the innocuous-looking tennis ball in an earlier match has put the terror of everything holy into Kamikaze, who trembles in abject fear any time the ball comes even within 12 inches of you-know-where.

A couple of overs later Citadel's captain and opener, S_____ lofted a ball that reached the 30 yard circle at mid-off but the swirling catch was spilled. For some vague reason, S_____ was heard muttering, "Son, you just dropped the World Cup." Considering that this was just the OCC tennis ball Twenty20, it seemed a tad too grandiose for a few of us to stomach. In Lancelot's next over high-jinks erupted. That deserves it own paragraph. To tide you over while you wait for the next paragraph to begin, enjoy this clip of THAT moment when Herschelle Gibbs let something slip through his fingers.

Lancelot bowled a ball that was wide of the stumps, S_____ swung towards the general vicinity of R____'s corner (named for the spot in the woods where R_____ has deposited numerous cricket balls). Unfortunately for S_____, he edged the ball which was grabbed with alacrity by Rajani M_____, behind the stumps. Up went the umpire's finger and OCC was delirious with pleasure. Until...the batsman protested that he had missed the ball, threw his bat, and asked the square-leg umpire for his opinion. The square-leg umpire claimed that while he had heard a nick he did not observe any deflection, so he "consulted" with the main umpire, and the decision was reversed. I could probably write a thesis (some would say I already am) about how erroneous this whole slate of events was from the perspective of the umpires but that is girst for a different mill. (Law 27.5 of the Laws of Cricket clearly states that the leg-umpire's jurisdiction is restricted to addressing hitwicket, stumped, and run-out decisions.)

Five minutes of verbal jousting ensued and eventually the batsman picked up his bat and resumed his innings. Two balls later, S_____ began his carnage - depositing Lancelot beyond the practice nets. Shoulders began drooping as every swing of the vengeful blade sent the ball soaring further and further beyond the fence. Long Emails had to go to the doctor later that evening for the whiplash injuries he suffered every time he followed the trajectory of the ball over his head while fielding at the deep sqaure-leg boundary. Eventually the other opener was cleaned up by someone on OCC - it is academic who the bowler was because that catch by Kamikaze will linger on in my memory for years to come. A fiercely hit square-cut (some apologists will claim it was more of a gentle swipe, but this is my story so pay attention to MY words) was taken by Kamikazee as it reached its apogee. The astounding reflexes and anticipation shown by Origanti were a sight to behold. Luckily for us, we have exclusive video footage of that catch.

Oh, by the way, when the first wicket fell the score was 146. No, that is not a typo. Here's the amazing conincidence...remember how OCC scored 12 runs in their first 5 overs? Well, believe it or not, the mirror image came up when Citadel batted - they needed 12 runs in the last 5 overs to finish the macth. If this isn't a sign that the end of the world is near, I don't know what is.

With one run to win, OCC had the last laugh (a small one, more like a stifled giggle, but it counts) when S_____ flicked a ball straight to the fine-leg fielder (and yes, he does have fine legs, I am told by reliable OCC sources Night Owl and Lancelot) to get out for a vengeful 92, inclusive of 11 sixes. OCC then harbored visions of pulling off a tie. After all, Citadel had just 3.3 overs left, and only 8 wickets in hand to get that one run, so theroetically it was possible. It was also possible for Kamikaze to escape a beating from his wife, but these are all dreams. Needless to say, in the end what we expected happened - Kamikaze got thoroughly beaten up by his wife and, oh yes, by the way, Citadel got the one run they needed to win the championship. Here's footage of the Citadel supporters enjoying the moment of victory.

So, there you have it. A detailed account of the final of the OCC Twenty20 tennis ball tournament. We will be lucky if we can get the same quality of enjoyment when we conduct the MidWest Twenty20 tournament in August. One can only hope that Kamikaze's divorce will be finalized by then so he can devote his entire attention towards running that tournament. After all, he does know a Chinese reataurant that makes the best chicken fried rice, ever!

The riddle

Ichiro Suzuki, the only player in Major League Baseball who has his first name on his jersey, is an enigma. In spite of being the most successful, and most followed, Japanese import to the US sports scene, very little is known about his private dealings. Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle attempts to demystify the growing legend of Ichiro.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


I am speechless...

Yuvraj (Singh)'s mother Shabnam on the right girl for her son:
"I don't want someone who throws tantrums or is very high-flying for him... She should know the basics of cooking, especially Indian vegetarian food. Considering he travels so often, she should also be able to pack well and take care of his clothes.

Guns blazing

Last weekend, in the PCA League, two matches featured some astonishing hitting.

In the first match, the Blitzers hunted down a mammoth total put up by the Strikers. (Not that it quite works that way, but remember that these are 25 over matches, so if you extrapolate the scores to that of a regulation 50 over match...).

In the second match, my former team, WVUCC, managed to make mockery of a substantial total put up by the (then) league-leading PittPunters.

(In the scorecard, each player's name is a hyperlink that will take you to his stats for this and other seasons).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My pages are numbered

As many of you know, I like to read. Books, magazines, newspapers, coupons, posters, billboards, brochures, and (in the absence of anything else to read) notices on walls. Of this lot, books take up the most time and it is only rarely that I can read a whole book in one sitting. In the past few years only books by Rowling and Child have moved me such that I read the book in one sitting. Over the years, I have been gifted numerous bookmarks by friends and relatives. But I rarely use these bookmarks for I have my own, possibly unique, way of remembering what page I stopped at the last time I put down the book.

It is simple really, and it merges my book-reading with my first love - cricket. The page numbers remind me of some score made in the past by some batsman or team. All I have to do is remember which player (or team) and the events associated with it. Sometime, I find it hard to remember a number so I associate that number with the nearest one to it of significance, in the process finding another number that fits the difference between the two.

Some memorable numbers for me are:
22 - the number of centuries by Azharuddin in Tests.
38 - K. Srikanth's score, the highest by a batsman, in the '83 Prudential Cup final.
45 - the score that Sehwag seems to lose his concentration at most frequently in ODI's (any number in the 40's would do, really!).
51 - VVS Laxman's score on Test debut versus South Africa.
58 - the number of 50's by Azhar in ODI's, a record when he "retired".
83 - for 1983 and Kapil's Devils.
87 - the number most feared by the Aussies (13 short of a 100).
93 - score made by Azhar in his first ODI outside India (in Australia).
99 - 101 short of a double century (a nod to AV).
100 - naturally!
114 - GR Viswanath's match-winning score in the Melbourne Test of 1981.
123 - K Srikkanth's highest score in Tests and ODIs.
130 - Sehwag's highest score in an underachieving ODI career, so far.
135 - Number of Graeme Hick's first-class centuries. This changes with time!137 - GR Viswanath's score on Test debut (with 25 fours!).
140 - Laxman's score against Zimbabwe, the aftermath of which changed Indian cricket.
148 - Laxman's score in THAT Adelaide Test match.
158 - Kevin Pietersen's favourite score, it seems.
163 - Kapil Dev's highest Test score.
175 - what else, Kapil Dev, Tunbridge Wells - 1983.
178 - Laxman (and Tendulkar) ruin Steve Waugh's memories of his final Test match.
183 - Highest score ever made in the second innings of an ODI (and, of course, 1983).
186 - Sachin Tendulkar's highest ODI score.
194 - Dravid's declaration with Tendulkar at this score causes a furore.
195 - Sehwag's Melbourne massacre.
201 - Jason Gillespie's highest score in his LAST Test - the best by a nightwatchman.
204 - Adam Gilchrist's highest Test score - the fastest 200 at that time.
222 - GR Viswanath's highest score in Tests.
227 - Vinod Kambli's highest score. So much promise...
233 - Rahul Dravid's magnum opus in Adelaide.
236 - Sunil Gavaskar's highest score - now surpassed by 5 Indian batsmen.
239 - Sourav Ganguly's highest score and first double hundred.
241 - Tendulkar's lesson in self-denial at Sydney (scroll down the page to the run-scoring chart) .
242 - Ricky Ponting's effort at Adelaide (the highest score in a losing cause).
248 - Tendulkar's highest score in Tests (and shockingly, in first-class cricket, too).
254 - Sehwag's third-highest score.
267 - Aravinda de Silva's highest score (overshadowed by 299).
270 - Rahul Dravid's highest score.
274 - Zaheer Abbas - the highest score outside the Indian subcontinent by an Asian player.
281 - you even have to ask?
299 - Martin Crowe chokes (as AV would say, he has to score 299 runs all over again just to get to 300).
309 - Virender Sehwag breaks a barrier - for the first time.
310 - John Edrich's highest score - most boundaries (52 fours, 5 sixes) in a Test innings.
317 - Chris Gayle shows that he is not always a mindless biffer of the cricket ball.
319 - Virender Sehwag is at it again!
333 - Graham Gooch thrashes India at Lords.
334 - Mark Taylor and Don Bradman are inexorably linked forever.
340 - Sanath Jayasuriya lays down a marker.
353 - the higher of VVS Laxman's two first-class triple centuries.
365 - Sir Garfield Sobers's first century was his biggest one.
375 - Brian Lara, part I.
380 - Matty Hayden rightly surmises that people will not remember who the opposition was.
400 - Brian Lara - the sequel.
405 - Graeme Hick, my hero, announces himself to the world with a 6 to get to 405 (check out the next highest score in the entire match).
443 - BB Nimbalkar's tryst with glory was cut short by petulant opponents.
452 - the highest score in the storied career of the Don.
499 - Hanif Mohammad falls short, and then achieves, cricketing immortality.
501 - Brain Lara completes his trilogy.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The spectre of Bonds

I came across this quote in CricInfo today:
It's like WD40, it's like oiling your joints. You should have tried it yourself, Gus. You could have had a few more years and played in the IPL!
England's captain, Michael Vaughan, shares his knee-lubricating technique with Angus Fraser
Jul 9, 2008
Hmm, it isn't "flaxseed oil" by any chance, is it? Is Michael Vaughan on the verge of cricket's next big scandal? Maybe he ought to read up on Barry Bonds and what happened to him.
Bonds told a U.S. grand jury that he used undetectable steroids known as "the cream" and "the clear," which he received from personal trainer Greg Anderson during the 2003 season. According to Bonds, the trainer told him the substances were the nutritional supplement flaxseed oil and a pain-relieving balm for the player's arthritis.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

No pain, no gain

Tiger Woods recently won the US Open on one leg. Almost anyone remotely following the world of sports in the US would have heard about it. Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post, digs deeper into the Tiger mystique and tries to understand what makes the man.

(Note: The article is two pages long).

One score and five years ago

The Prudential Cup winning team from 1983 had their moment in the sun, 25 years after the historic day, by appearing on TV in an interview conducted by Rajdeep Sardesai (click here for a transcript of the interview).

Ayaz Memon, describes his memories of the brilliant day when he got to witness that knock from the World Cup.

Jamie Alter visits Tunbridge Wells, the site of Kapil Dev's heroics, 25 years after the match took place.

A man apart

Rahul Dravid opens up on cricket and other topics to Anand Vasu.

Hacking at the jungle

"What the IPL did was to debunk some myths and the biggest of them all was about the infallibility of the Australian coaches. The franchise owners are not fools and unless they have an inferiority complex they will soon be issuing pink notices to most if not all these freeloaders masquerading as consultants or cricket officers or some such fancy designations."

Sunil Gavaskar
Jun 16, 2008
Not-so-surprisingly, Sunil Gavaskar managed to make his feelings clear about the money that was spent on Aussie "coaches" in the IPL. For a long time he has been anti-Australian in his diatribes and this particular one did not surprise me one bit. Delving deeper into the target of the attack reveals just who is the subject of Sunny's ire.

Here are the Australian-born coaches in the IPL:
Delhi - Greg Shipperd (reached semi-finals)
Punjab - Tom Moody (reached semi-finals)
Rajasthan - Shane Warne (winners of the IPL league)
Kolkata - John Buchanan

It is patently obvious who Sunny hates so much. I wonder if he even thought about the words he wrote (highlighted in bold in the comment above) before he submitted his article. I have great respect for Gavaskar as a cricketer but not much for the commentator or the writer. A few more uninformed comments like this and I will not be in the minority.

Gavaskar prides himself on calling a spade a spade. If so, why does he not come out in the open and declare that his grudge is against Buchanan. But no, this is not the way he operates. He makes bold statements but does not give the entire information. Some time back he said that some players in the Indian team abused John Wright. He brought this to light long after Wright had ceased to be the coach. Having done that, he stayed mum about who the players actually were. What was the point of raising that issue then? Either he should have named the players or kept quiet about the whole thing.

If trees had voices and you could hear them scream, would you be as callous about cutting them down? Yes, you would be if they screamed all the time and for no good reason. There's a lesson in there for Sunil Gavaskar.

Image is everything

Not many of us would have heard of Tarsem. A fewer still would have even seen the first movie he directed - The Cell. I saw the movie after reading the glowing review by Roger Ebert and came away fascinated by a visually stunning movie that had deeper levels than that of a normal psychological thriller.

After a long hiatus he is back with his second movie - The Fall. Roger Ebert spoke to the director and tried to figure out how Tarsem managed to generate all the fantastic images in the movie without any help from computers. Ebert has nothing but praise for the movie and calls it one of the best films of 2008.
Tarsem's "The Fall" is a mad folly, an extravagant visual orgy, a free-fall from reality into uncharted realms. Surely it is one of the wildest indulgences a director has ever granted himself. Tarsem, for two decades a leading director of music videos and TV commercials, spent millions of his own money to finance "The Fall," filmed it for four years in 28 countries and has made a movie that you might want to see for no other reason than because it exists. There will never be another like it.

"The Fall" is so audacious that when Variety calls it a "vanity project," you can only admire the man vain enough to make it. It tells a simple story with vast romantic images so stunning I had to check twice, three times, to be sure the film actually claims to have absolutely no computer-generated imagery. None? What about the Labyrinth of Despair, with no exit? The intersecting walls of zig-zagging staircases? The man who emerges from the burning tree?

A father's words

I am a regular reader of Amitabh Bachchan's blog. Yes, the actor has a blog (much, much, much more on that later). In the blog he is quite open about events in his past (not ALL events, but many) and what shaped him to be the man he is today. On Day 49 (he blogs daily) he had a great nugget to share about a particular interaction he had with his father Harivansh Rai Bachchan, the famous poet. I am providing an excerpt of the incident below. At the end of the interaction is a great poem, the perfect response from a father to his frustrated son.
The avenues and opportunities open to the youth today in an economically liberated India was absent in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

After graduation what ? Where to find a job ? What job ? How ? When ?

And the idealism and debate and the coffee house banter soon converts itself to anger.

The anger of not knowing what to do with ourselves.

You look for answers. You turn to those that may have them. You become followers of others’ wisdom; or seeming wisdom. You become vulnerable and porous. And on one ‘enlightened’ moment you get the answer from a fellow sufferer.

‘Why were we brought into this world ?’, a voice arose, ‘to suffer ?’

That’s it !

That’s the fault. We should never have been brought into this world.

Judgement passed.

Angered, frustrated, strengthened and armed with unreasonable thought, I walked into my father’s study one evening and for the first time in my life, with choked emotion, raised my voice at him and screamed -

“Why did you give birth to me ?” “Aapne hamme paida kyun kiya ?”

My father, immersed as he always was in his writing, looked up at me with some initial surprise and then settled down to a more understanding posture and remained so for almost eternity.

No one spoke. Not him. Not me. Not a sound.

Just the measured clicking of the time piece on his desk – and my un-measured breathing !

When nothing came across from parent quarter, I turned and left.

It was an uncomfortable night for me.

The next morning my father walked into my room, woke me up and handed me a sheet of paper and left. I opened it. It was a poem he had written overnight – titled - ‘Nayi Leek’ - the new generation - the new beginning -
Pulled and torn by the strains of life and living
My sons ask me
“Why did you give birth to us ?”
And I do not possess an answer to this
That even my father did not ask me before giving birth to me,
Nor my father asked his father before producing him
Nor my grandfather did ask his father before bringing him.

The trials and tribulations of life and living
Were there before
And are there now too, perhaps more
And shall be there tomorrow, even greater.
Why don’t you make a new beginning, a new thinking,
Ask your sons before giving birth to them !

Trivial pursuit

From the "Ask Steven" column in CricInfo, comes this nugget...
Is "c Marsh b Lillee" still the most frequent scorecard entry in Tests? asked Mitchell Brooks from Brisbane

That particular dismissal occurred 95 times in Test matches, which remains the record for a bowler-fielder combination. Next come "c Gilchrist b McGrath" [90] and "c Gilchrist b Lee" [81], just ahead of the first non-Australian pairing, "c Boucher b Pollock" [79]. The leading double act that doesn't involve a wicketkeeper is "c Mahela Jayawardene b Muralitharan", of which there have been 66 instances in Tests to date. For a full list, click here. The most-common Test dismissal is actually "bowled Muralitharan" (158), closely followed by "lbw b Kumble" (152).

Underappreciated and overburdened

In spite of all the problems that the West Indies are having of late, in the cricketing arena one player has emerged unscathed from the rubble and enhanced his reputation even further - Shivnarine Chanderpaul. For a long time he belong to the Fleming-Dravid school of batsmanship, scoring 50's, staying at the crease for long periods of time, but only occasionally crossing 100. Rahul Dravid has ventured out of this league, though in the past year he seems to be coming back to the fold. Similarly, Chanderpaul, in the final third of his career is proving to his detractors that style (ahem, Lara) is not everything. Peter Roebuck discusses this determined fighter who, more often than not, is left to plough a lone furrow for the Windies.
Altogether he has played eight Tests in the last 12 months, and has collected 1635 runs in the three formats at an average of 86.05. Along the way he has added six centuries to his tally. Nor has he punished mugs. Besides the Australians, these runs have been scored against England and South Africa in their own backyards. It is a mighty achievement.

It happened one summer

M. Night Shyamalan's latest offering, The Happening, has been severely panned by critics and is not doing as well at the box office as he would have probably hoped. I have not seen the movie (I am not good at handling gory images and there are quite a few such scenes in this movie) but I was curious to know how Roger Ebert felt about the movie. Here's the gist of what he had to say.
What I admire about "The Happening" is that its pace and substance allowed me to examine such thoughts, and to ask how I might respond to a wake-up call from nature. Shyamalan allows his characters space and time as they look within themselves. Those they meet on the way are such as they might indeed plausibly meet. Even the TV and radio news is done correctly, as convenient cliches about terrorism give way to bewilderment and apprehension.

I suspect I'll be in the minority in praising this film. It will be described as empty, uneventful, meandering. But for some, it will weave a spell. It is a parable, yes, but it is also simply the story of these people and how their lives and existence have suddenly become problematic. We depend on such a superstructure to maintain us that one or two alterations could leave us stranded and wandering through a field, if we are that lucky.

Where he walks...

The authors that engage me with their books change with time and taste. In the past couple of years I have been a big fan of Lee Child. Not too many people would have read his books as they are categorized as contemporary thrillers (actions, violence, guns, fights, etc). But the reason I read them is that I identify a lot with the main protagonist - Jack Reacher.

When I first discovered the books, I fell in love with them so much that I immediately bought all the books in the series. Recently, the 12th book in the series titled Nothing to lose was released. For a few hours it was fun to be back in Reacher's world. To promote the book, Child has been giving various interviews and is on a book singing tour. The New York Times had a nice piece on the author and his books. Also, here's NYT's review of Nothing to lose.

I have an awful lot to say about Reacher but, for now, I choose to say nothing (sorry, that's an inside joke that Reacher fans will get). Send me an email if you want to know more about him.

Not-so-average Joe

As the years go by, my respect and liking for Graeme Hick keeps increasing. Even in the twilight of his career he is the prize wicket to take when playing Worcestershire. (A little bit about him can be found on the Different Shades of Green blog).

Christopher Martin-Jenkins wrote a nice piece about the man who, if he plays a couple of years, could become the most prolific run-getter in the entire history of cricket.
His 40,624 first-class runs have been scored at an average of 52, which speaks unequivocally of his class, especially as Worcester pitches have by no means always been batsman friendly. If he were to keep going for another two seasons he could surpass (Graham) Gooch's record aggregate in all cricket of 65,928 runs. Before today's Friends Provident Trophy match he had 63,054, including his Twenty20 runs, more than Jack Hobbs's 61,237, the first-class record still, compiled before limited-overs games started.

Note: As of July 8th, 2008, Hick has accumulated 63,822 runs in all forms of the game.

Left field

The Indian Test team for the Sri Lankan tour has been announced. Thankfully Yuvraj Singh can go and rest his torn knee (maybe even get the surgery that it no doubt requires).

The question that most people seem to have is whether this Indian line-up will be able to tackle the Ajantha Mendis. The difference between the ODI squad and the Test side is that the following batting line-up - Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Ganguly - is better equipped to play spinners (please ask Shane Warne for references) . For now, I do not see Mendis extending his grip over the Indians too long. The first Test will be the one where he makes the most impact.

One bowler who has an outside shot at playing this series is Pragyan Ojha, considered by many to be the best left-arm spinner in the country. I just hope he does not suffer the same fate as the last Indian left-arm spinner to make his Test debut in Sri Lanka. Nilesh Kulkarni took a wicket with his first ball in Test cricket, and then did not take another for the next 70 overs of that innings as Sri Lanka piled on the misery to the tune of 952 for 6 declared!.