Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Drive by shooting

Another trip taken recently was to the Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari where I took these photographs:

A gang of elk cools down.

A grand bison nonchalantly watches us go by.

Can you spot the odd one out in this herd of bison?

"What are you doing on my property?", the pelican seems to be asking.

Look closely, it is the extremely rare and hard to find white-tailed deer.

Welcome to the jungle

These photos were taken during a recent tip to the Omaha Zoo:

This is, currently, my favourite animal in the world - the Leafy Sea Dragon.

The feet of a gorilla...it is quite spooky how it resembles a human's foot.

Predators in captivity tend to live longer than usual due to the excellent medical benefits package and lack of competition.

And what would a trip to the zoo be without a look at the underside of a jellyfish?

A peacock and peahen demonstrate the principle of sexual selection, while not caring a wee bit for how close this human got to them.

Dressed for dinner...

Malayan tapirs indulge in a zoo-bound animal's typical pastime.

Are you talking to me?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Catching up

While I was away from the blogsphere these were some of the articles that caught my eye.

a) Who is (statistically) the greatest all-rounder in the history of Test cricket? The answer is someone who has very quietly put together a very formidable career. Get this: he is the only man to have scored over 9,000 runs, taken more than 200 wickets, and snagged at least 100 catches in BOTH Tests and ODI's.

b) Jamie Alter describes Virender Sehwag's approach to the Sri Lankan bowlers, especially Mendis, en route to a coruscating double century in the second Test against Sri Lanka. A must read.

c) Yuvraj Singh really has nice parents. After hearing from his mother, it is now the father's turn to talk about his son. Of particular interest is this snippet (I will let the comment speak for itself)...
Yograj doesn’t sound too happy with all the pampering that Yuvi has got from his mother Shabnam. He emphatically states, “A mother can give birth and maintain a house. But she can never show the right path to the child. It’s a man’s job. I have ruled my family with an iron hand.”
d) Two fellows - Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash - who made their debut in the same Test, underachieved at the highest level, and then forged a formidable career in the English County scene are linked forever as members of one of cricket's most exclusive clubs - the hundred 100's club. Simon Hattenstone pays glowing tribute to the ageless warriors.

e) In all the years of Test cricket, only 9 times has a batsman batted more than 1,000 minutes in Tests without being dismissed. Astonishingly, one man has done it on 4 different occasions, the latest being earlier this year. I will give you a dozen chances to guess who that might be, but I can bet that only a few of you will get it right. Not surprisingly, this dude also gives among the most boring interviews around, filled with banal observations and very little insight into the way he really thinks. Or maybe that's the secret of his success - he is really a very simple person!

f) Dileep Premachandran wrote about the declining fortunes of the Indian middle order after they failed miserably in the first innings of the Third Test match. After the series was done, he expanded on his thoughts and discussed the state of India's cricketing cupboard.

g) One of my favourite cricket-writers is Peter Roebuck. While it is probably too soon in his career for such fawning pieces to be written about him, it voices many of my sentiments.

h) And finally, Sambit Bal reviews the process of challenging an umpire's decision that was unveiled during the just-concluded Indo-Sri Lanka series. A tentative thumb's up is his final verdict, with the emphasis on the word tentative.
It was meant to get rid of obvious umpiring mistakes - the kind in the Sydney Test that threatened to derail India's tour of Australia - but it has ended up ruling on marginal calls.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I ask that of all my prey

When the Indo-Sri Lanka series began I had expected Ajantha Mendis's influence to diminish as the series progressed. At the end of the series and a resounding 26 wickets later, Mendis put paid to my prediction.

While his strike-rate (wickets per ball) diminished, his influence on the psyche of the Indian batsmen stayed put. Every batsman, bar Ganguly, had periods of time where it appeared they had sorted him out, but except for Sehwag none of them sustained it throughout their innings. Gambhir played him the best, followed by Sehwag, Tendulkar and Laxman. Dravid was completely clueless in the first two Tests, finally seeming to come to terms with the spinner in the last Test before succumbing (for the 4th time) to the carrom ball. Laxman got set in every innings of the series but got out everytime bar the final innings (5 times in all) to the carrom ball.

Here is how the Indian batsmen fared against Mendis (culled from a statistical analysis of the series on CricInfo).

Interestingly, the openers - Gambhir and Sehwag - (along with Laxman) were the ones who did best against him, and they were part of the ODI squad that collapsed in the finals of the Asia Cup!!

As a comparison, here is how Muralitharan was negotiated by the Indians. Laxman played him the best in the entire series and it is reflected in the stats.
Mendis showed that he has the tools to be a major force for years to come. His captain appears to know how to use him and, hopefully, he is able to keep the spinner's skills from diminishing. The presence of Murali as a mentor will, no doubt, help. When Sri Lanka next challenge Australia, it will be a true test of wills. Having observed Mendis closely, I expect him to do well against them, too.

Test cricket has found a new bowler to peg its hat on and it is splendid for the game. May he have a very successful career. I know I will be watching closely. Michel Aterton, former England skipper and a fast-rising columnist, certainly has his eye on him.

P.S. The flip side of the coin - India's middle order - appears more fragile than it ever has. The writing is on the wall. Unfortunately, the wrong persons are going to read it and exit the scene. When Australia comes around for a 4 Test series in September, it may even be a blessing that their premier bowlers are fast bowlers.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Aching beauty

From the MH-MK blog (which, unfortunately for the casual reader, is an invitation-only blog) comes this photograph of a spectacular sunset, taken by MK. The beautiful picture speaks for itself.

Friday, August 01, 2008

See-sawing around Sehwag

The second Test match has become a bit schizophrenic in nature. When Sehwag is at the crease, the bowlers are merely hopeful while he plots his next run. When he is at the non-striker's end, all the doubts and demons in the minds of the batsmen come out to prey on their confidence. Murali and Mendis were completely ineffective against Sehwag. Gambhir and Laxman also played them with a measure of certainty but lost their wicket to balls they should have negotiated quite easily. But once the breakthrough was made, and Laxman departed, Mendis came to the fore. The rest of the Indian batsmen succumbed to him without having a clue about which way his deliveries would turn. Based upon these performances it is quite apparent that Sri Lanka should be able to run through many tails in the years to come. And when Lasith Malinga comes back, they will only get more potent. Watch out Australia!

Sehwag turned down two singles when on 199 in an attempt to shield Ishant Sharma from the strike. Those two singles will probably do a lot more, in my mind, for his stature than the massive centuries he has been piling up in the last 5 years.

The Sri Lankan innings began in a blaze of boundaries and it looked like they would run away with the game until Harbhajan got a fortuitous wicket against the run of play. Once Harbhajan got that wicket, he was suddenly transformed into a close rendition of the Bhajji of old. Could his troubles of late have merely been an issue of confidence? It will take more than just one good spell to convince me of that. After all, he has been sliding by with numerous bad spells of late, to have the slate wiped clean by one spell. With 4 wickets in the last session he clawed the game back towards India, albeit slightly.

Mahela Jayawardane, currently on the verge of another half-century, holds the key to the match. I agree with Sanjay Manjrekar's assesment on CricInfo radio, on the current state of this match:
SM: I see India slightly ahead at this stage. Mahela Jayawardene is obviously the key and if Sri Lanka get close to India's first-innings score, they will be the favourites purely because of the batting form the Indians have shown. Most of India's batsmen have been out of form and only one or two have shown some semblance of form. Sehwag, obviously, but he is in a different league. Gautam Gambhir has shown some confidence and to a lesser degree VVS Laxman.

If Sri Lanka are bundled out with more than 50-75 runs, then India are still in the game. But if Sri Lanka get very close, then they will be the fancied team. At this stage today, at the end of day two, India have a slight advantage.
I will be traveling the next couple of days so my blogging and cricket-watching will be severely hampered. The last time I was unable to follow an India Test match on its third and fourth days because I was traveling, I missed Laxman's career-changing moment. What will the outcome be this time?