Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Echo

A few days ago, I made a case for Aakash Chopra to be included in the Indian side, for the time being as the heir apparent for Dravid's place. In that piece, I also touched about the inexperience of some of the potential replacements. Sambit Bal, the erudite editor of CricInfo, discusses many of the same points, though the focal point of his thesis is the search for a replacement for Ganguly, not Dravid.
Aakash Chopra has done everything possible in the last season to win back his place in the team. He has stacked up the runs, and got them big (1339 runs at 60.86, with five centuries). It always seemed a bit abrupt when he was dropped after three failures, and he was a bit unfortunate not to be picked for the last tour to Australia. He has started the season well, and batted confidently and positively till a good ball from Munaf Patal accounted for him in the Irani Cup. If a call were to be made on who the six batsmen most likely to succeed against Australia are, Chopra can't be far away.

The more things change

Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.

Three years ago, Sharad Pawar took over the reins of the BCCI, and brought with him a brand new Board. Their promise, outlined in a grandly titled "Vision Paper", was to clean the system like Hercules did with the Augean Stables. Simply put, except in the matter of filling up the Board's coffers (which they have done spectacularly) they have either reneged on or not fulfilled most of their promises.

I never thought I'd look back at the days of Jagmohan Dalmiya with nostalgia.

P.S.  Prem Panicker, has a cogent analysis of the BCCI "report card" that was written up by a very sympthetic writer, Clayton Murzello.

Lies, damned lies

Much ado is being made about Ricky Ponting's abysmal Test record in India, where he averages merely 12.28 runs per innings.

He has played 8 Tests, only one of them after that series in 2001. The lone Test since then, in 2004, was played on a spiteful pitch in Mumbai, where the match was done and dusted (pun intended) within 3 days, and of the 44 batsmen who got a chance to bat, only 3 crossed 50 (Laxman - 69, Tendulkar - 55, and Martyn - 55). So that match was an aberration and Ponting had a lot of good company fail with him.

By the time the 2001 series was done, Harbhajan Singh had twirled his way into Ponting's head.  At that point in time he had scored 2,492 runs at an average of 42.96 with just 7 centuries. Today, Ponting comes to India as (arguably) the best batsman in the world. The attacking, run-scoring, commanding, aggressive Ponting is a far-cry from the hesitant Punter from 7 years ago. In the 7 years since then he has scored 7,607 runs, at a mind-boggling average of 66.14 with 28 centuries.

The media has taken this horse and run with it.  The Indian media is gloating in his failings, while the Aussie media is playing up the salvation/redemption angle.

Ricky Ponting has 4 Test matches to change his average.  Recent form suggests that he will, as he averages a century once every 2.75 Tests since 2001.  The very same reporters who are (depending upon the perspective) praising the Indians for their dominance will bemoan the death of spin bowling, or will scream themselves hoarse comparing Ponting's resurrection with the phoenix.

But they need some "angle" for their stories and this is as good as any.  I will not read a single line/word of those articles, I promise.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Crystal celebration

Three years ago to this date, I began my blog with this post.

Some facts about the blog:
Total number of posts: 380

Total number of posts written by guests: 13 (uh-oh!)

Total number of site visits: 4,108 (more than half of them must be mine!)

Total number of photos used: 128

Number of photos where someone’s face can be seen: 25
This is the place where most of the blog posts were written in the past year or so!

Doug’s Den – Take 1 – Wake up, Wake!

Editor's note: It is my distinct pleasure to introduce the first guest columnist of this blog – DH. Doug is an expert on college sports trivia and a fount of knowledge, mostly useless. If pressed to describe him, I'd say he is 5'10", 170 pounds, Aquarius, and not afraid to cry! However, I'll let him introduce himself (for now!).

"I have taught mathematics for more than a quarter century, and I have been an avid sports fan for better than 2 quarters of a century. My principal sports interests are football, basketball, baseball, and tennis, and I prefer the college game to the professional, although I enjoy watching both. I was a sandlot legend (regrettably self-described – few others would subscribe to that label) in the four sports mentioned above. I have had a web site available for inspection (BCS Exposed!) that deals with the college football BCS formulation – specifically, it sought to rectify any number of bizarrely illogical elements in place.  I have good reason to believe that this site, together with several correspondences that I had with BCS committee members, was influential in a number of the changes made 3 years ago. By all means visit the site, but blow the cobwebs off it first. I have not updated it in 3 years because no changes have been made during that time."

In the Wake Forest–Ole Miss football game a few weeks ago, a situation arose that occurs frequently enough that it merits discussion. WF trailed by one point with 11:30 left in the game, then scored a touchdown (TD). The dilemma: kick the extra point to take a 6-point lead, or go for two in hopes of a 7-point lead.

The "pros" of the 1-point conversion: success is almost certain. With a 6-point lead, 2 field goals (FG's) by the opponent in the remaining time will only tie the game.

The "cons" of 1-point conversion: a single countering TD by the opponent will almost certainly put you behind again by 1 point.

The "pros" of 2-point conversion: success will push your margin to 7 points, and single TD drive by your opponent will now simply tie you (assuming opponent kicks conversion). Also 2 FG's by the opponent with no longer be sufficient to tie you.

The "cons" of a 2-point conversion attempt: Failure (which empirical evidence suggests happens about 60% of the time) leaves your lead at 5 points, and now 2 FG's by your opponent will put you behind.

What should be done? I've followed college football for 50 years and have a fairly extensive base of empirical data (although not tabulated statistically). This issue is clearly time-dependent, that is, the amount of time remaining in the game is critical. A popular rallying cry these days among the sports-media "analysts" is "Don't chase after points." Here, this means don't bypass getting one sure point to chase after 2 points for the sake of reaching a desirable point differential (usually a 7-point or 3-point margin). Well, for much of the game this is good advice, but when you get sufficiently late in the game, it ceases to be good advice.

Okay, so how late is "late"? The answer can vary somewhat based on the particulars of the teams in question. How potent is the opponent's offense? How good is their kicker?...etc. But as a reasonably good general advice, I would say that if you've reached the 4th quarter you'd better do all you can to keep a single score (here, a TD) from beating you. Thus, in this case, I would have strongly recommended to Coach Jim Grobe that he attempt a 2-point conversion.

(In case you did not watch the game, here's a short summary of how it played out. WF kicked the extra point to take a 6-point lead. Ole Miss was able to, with their second possession, march down the field and, with about 1 minute remaining, score a TD to take a 1-point lead. (At that point, I was thinking, "Coach Grobe, you owe your team an apology for your earlier decision.") Fortunately for WF, the quarterback, Riley Skinner, led the team into FG range in the last remaining minute, and on the final play, the WF kicker won the game with a 40+ yard FG.)

Too many times I have seen a team settle for a 6-point lead, and then get beaten by a single TD. It's all about assessing how likely the game is to play out one way or another in the time remaining. My experience (both as a football fan and as an individual well-versed in the theories of probability) leads me to believe that if this situation arises in the 4th quarter, you'd better seek a 7-point lead rather than a 6-point one.

While we're using WF as our whipping boy (and I actually feel Coach Grobe is one of the best coaches in the country), let's talk about last Saturday's game with Florida State University (FSU). For a long stretch in the second half, WF led FSU 9-3. FSU had proven to be amazingly self-destructive with numerous penalties and interceptions hamstringing their efforts. Nevertheless, a single big play or drive could give them the lead.

Now, in the other instances you may find me chastising a coach for being too conservative and playing for a FG rather than seeking a TD. That is definitely not the case here, however. As the game got to the midway point of the 4th quarter, it became quite clear that a mere FG would be critically valuable to the Demon Decons of WF. So, my advice to Coach Grobe would have been, "If you are well within FG range, make sure that if a 4th down arises the ball is ideally centered to make the kick as easy as possible." Well, Coace Grobe didn't do this (or else his players failed to execute his plans). Although the WF kicker is one of the country's best, he missed a short kick with about 4 minutes left which would have given WF a 9-point lead. The kick was quite difficult, however, due to the acute angle.

Once again, though, WF got fortunate. FSU basically said, "Here, try again," and threw another interception to give the ball back to WF. Yet again, WF was in FG range and didn't get the ball centered when their 3rd down conversion play failed. This time, fortunately, the kicker made the FG from an angle, and the game was iced. (I realize that most people who present arguments like I'm doing pick examples where the team fails to win because they didn't follow the recommended course of action. In my two examples, WF won despite not giving themselves the best chance to win!!)

Sadly, but not surprisingly, in neither of these instances did the TV analysts seem even remotely aware of what strategic decisions should be considered.

In my next conversation with you, I shall consider a situation where it is better for the defensive team to forego an interception in order to increase their chances of winning!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

An ode to laundry

Warm clothes from the dryer and neatly folded clothes.
Fresh, clean linen, is indeed therapy for the soul.
Many do it infrequently, since for them it is a chore
On par with work and other tawdry things that bore.


I wasn't always like this, my friend, I must admit
But once I discovered washers/dryers, I exulted quite a bit.
Ching-ching is the musical sound of the quarters entering the machine
And scant minutes later (or so it appears) the clothes are so clean.


Don't tell me that isn't magic; what else can it be?
It is definitely on par with anything conjured by Houdini.
Life's simplest pleasure can be summed up this way
Heavens be praised - for today is laundry day!


Wait a minute! I need to step back and do a re-think.
Lest people conspire to send me to a shrink.
Errr, yes, laundry, ummmm yes, what was that again?
I agree with you wholeheartedly, doing it is a pain.


What kind of a moron would praise his chores?
Must be someone who's walked into one too many doors.
Normal he isn't, I completely concur with you.
Now, please, please let me go, I forgot to separate the whites from the blue!

- CSM

Sneak Preview

Very soon this blog shall feature a "guest columnist". DH, a colleague of mine, is going to regularly contribute his musings on strategies adopted (or mostly not) by coaches in American football (college and NFL) and basketball (college). An avid watcher and player, DH brings to the table more than 50 years of TV watching experience and, with it, relevant anecdotal evidence.

His first diatribe, I mean column, will feature a discussion about when to go for 2 points and when to kick the extra-point after scoring a touchdown in a football game.

Watch this space...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Still waters run deep

Aakash Chopra is unusually candid in this interview with Nagraj Gollapudi, on CricInfo. You can sense the hurt and pain he has had to go through in his 4 years away from the team. He talks in detail about his disappointment at not being considered for the 2007-08 tour of Australia when Virender Sehwag, who was not included in the 24 probables for the tour, got the nod ahead of him on the recommendation of Ian Chappell. (Sehwag has resurrected his career so the move has been forgotten, but had he failed, we would have lost him for good, I fear) Speaking about it, Chopra says:
I wouldn't say I was expecting a call every time the team was announced, but when India toured Australia [2007-08] I was near 100% confident that I'd make it, for the simple reason that my name was in the 24 probables. The only other opener was Gautam Gambhir and he got injured. And I had scored nearly 800 runs in the domestic season. A week before the team was announced I'd scored my second double-century of the season, against Himachal Pradesh. So that was very disappointing. I didn't know what more to do. The last time I played for India I was picked on my domestic performances. You can sulk, crib and cry and it will never make a difference to anyone else.
He makes a very pertinent point - domestic performances do not seem to count for anything, but flashy showings in three-week exhibition extravaganzas with millions watching (IPL) count for more.


If I go out and do a Shaun Marsh and score the maximum number of runs in the next IPL, I'll play for India in ODIs. My performances in the Deodhar Trophy and Ranji one-dayers count for nothing.
I think it is time for a paradigm shift. He needs to do the opposite of what Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer did, and work his way into the team as a #3 (or #4) batsman. To do that he will need to be more vocal about it. I know my voice is probably not reaching him, but if it does, I hope he thinks about this angle seriously.

P.S. By the way, Aakash now has a regular blog on cricket on CricInfo called Beyond the Blues. Check it out.

Test cricket's big draw

If you spend more than a minute talking to me about cricket you will realize that I value Test cricket above all other forms of the game. Over the course of the last 15 years I have had to explain (or attempt to explain) the nuances of this fine game to Americans. It is actually simple enough to do so, or maybe I've had considerable practice at it. Either way, for the most part, they get it.

When I tell them that there are three major forms of the game, it is not difficult to explain the 50- and 20-over versions in terms of balls and runs. Since baseball has 9 innings, it is not that big a leap to envision a 2 inning game like Test cricket (the duration boggles the mind, but that obstacle is soon overcome).

The real fun starts when I explain that Test cricket has 4 possible outcomes for a given team. I have no problems putting across the idea of a win, a loss, or a tie. The tricky part comes when I inform them that after 5 days of slugging it out many matches end in a draw. That is when I begin to lose some of them especially since almost everything in life here is judged on the basis of success or failure, win or loss.

For the past few years, in the freshman Biology class that I teach, my students have been exposed to the game (I even devote a portion of one lecture to introducing cricket to them, with a huge boost from Youtube). Earlier this week I was asked why I liked Test cricket above all other forms. I began giving them the standard answer (test of skill, test of mental concentration, real test of a player, etc.) and then realized that any of the varied forms of the game require those skills, sometime more than in Tests.

The uniqueness of Test cricket is two-fold - you get a second chance at redemption in case you botch your first attempt (innings). Secondly, you may be fielding a very inferior team, but there is some hope for you in the form of a draw. You may not be able to beat the other team but you can make life miserable for them by stretching them to a fifth day or even, usually with the help of the weather, draw the match and live to fight another day. Some of the greatest innings ever played have come under such heroic circumstances and resulted in draws.

The allure of Test cricket is the option for a fan that no matter how bleak the situation may be, a draw can be eked out. On such tenuous hopes lie the seeds of Test cricket's enduring appeal to hard-core fans like me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

So long, and thanks for all those failings

As Graeme Hick finished his career it seemed as if every writer had to say goodbye, many of the very same folks who couldn't get rid of him soon enough years ago. Everyone worked their way through the same "Yeah-but" thesis - Yeah, he was good, but he was a failure in Tests. And everyone wrote as if they were presenting something new (I have written my feelings about him here and here).

Unless something new comes up, I promise these will be my last links to Graeme Hick retirement articles:

a) David Gower, another English batsman forever accused of not "maximizing his potential" which is odd since he scored more than 8,000 runs in Tests, offers his take on it. The article is interesting in that he tries to understand Hick from a more personal angle, his own. (A double treat is that the photo that accompanies the article features two of my favorite non-Indian players!).

b) Vic Marks, who had one of the best seats in the house when Hick scored a mammoth 405 not out, describes that day, and a few others, in a very engaging piece on the County giant.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Statistically speaking

Rediff has been "examining" the performances of the "Fab Four" of Indian cricket in the past few days, saving me some trouble as I was going to indulge in a similar exercise for this blog. Here's what they have to report about the Indian middle-order (presented here in alphabetical order):

Rahul Dravid: Cracks in the Wall?
Sourav Ganguly: Ganguly best but no place for Rest.
VVS Laxman: VVS Laxman keeps the runs coming.
Sachin Tendulkar: Tendulkar's diminishing returns.

Downgrading to upgrade

We already know that the Indian middle-order is aging and the players will need to be replaced soon. Waiting in the wings are young guns who have made a mark in the shorter version of the game, but have faltered in the longer versions

I am talking to you, Rohit Sharma. For all your pedigree and the publicity you are getting, it is sad that you have scored just ONE century in your first-class career. Rarely has a batsmen with such lousy results been feted by "greats of the game" as you have been. And fret not, you are not the only one - Virat Kohli has 3 centuries (including the 197 he hit two days ago), Manoj Tiwary has 6, and Suresh Raina has 5.

Yes, first-class centuries are not the best indicator of success in the international arena (after all, Graeme Hick had (gulp) 57 before he made his Test debut), but couple that with inexperience in the longer version and we may end up having their confidence destroyed before they even start.

Of the four batsmen currently shoring up the middle-order, I suspect that Ganguly has another comeback left in him, but his will to keep fighting his detractors with not flicker much longer. Tendulkar, I am convinced, has a burning desire to play until, at least, the 2011 World Cup which will be held in India (and even if he wants to retire, his sponsors will surely put a lot of pressure on him to hold on). Rahul Dravid, I fear, will be the first to actually hang up his boots. He has always been good about acting as soon as he sees the writing on the wall (no pun intended). He resigned from captaincy and opted out of the Twenty20 World Cup before he could be shown the door. Similarly, I expect that he will retire from international cricket before the selectorial committee reduces him to fighting for his spot through the media.

So who do we insert into the team to replace Dravid? The player has to have the following characteristics:
a) an ability to play the opening bowlers
b) be able to play an anchoring innings
c) be prepared to play long innings (therefore has to play spin well)
d) be a very safe fielder (an hugely overlooked aspect of Dravid's contributions)

(If you don't believe me about the fourth point, you definitely will when Dravid takes 5 more catches to equal the world record for most catches by a fielder (a record currently held by Mark Waugh). Lest you think this is a function of longevity, Waugh played 128 Tests for his 181 catches, while Dravid has played 125 for his 176 catches.)

But I'm digressing from my main point. The batsman to replace Dravid has to be one who can also withstand the sharpest barbs of the opposition and the heated atmosphere of Test cricket. Do we know of a player like this? Yes we do!

(By the way, supporters of Yuvraj, Kaif, and Badrinath, please calm down - none of them have regularly played opening bowlers at the start of a match.)

I present to you, India's best hope at the #3 spot for the next 5 years:

(photo from CricInfo)

Aakash Chopra was the second-leading run-scorer in the Ranji Trophy last year (he has already scored a mammoth 182 against an international side in his first game of the season this year), scored 330 runs to help his team win the Duleep Trophy (making him the leading run-scorer in all first-class cricket in India last year), and has played 10 matches for India - of which 6 were against the Australians, 2 against Pakistan (in Pakistan). He was part of the Indian team that ruined Steve Waugh's final series and won a Test series in Pakistan shortly thereafter. This is what John Wright, who was the coach when Chopra was in the squad, had to say in his book, Indian Summers:
Aakash was dropped (from the Indian side) the following year, but it would be an utter waste if he's consigned to the scrapheap, because he delivered the goods in the toughest environment and is the best bat-pad catcher I've ever seen.
Separating Sehwag and Gambhir now would be foolhardy and Chopra brings in an added stability at #3 since he has played extensively with both of them, so a quick wicket will not slow down the running between the wickets, as tends to happen when Dravid comes in. For now, while Dravid is still playing for India, Chopra will be the ideal 12th man. He is willing to wait his turn, and should (heaven forbid) one of the openers get hurt or need to be rested, he can slot right in without missing a beat.

It all makes perfect sense to me. What do you think?

P.S. An lip-smacking bonus will be his columns in the newspaper as they will have an additional dimension of coming from the inside.

P.P.S.S. I wish he would sit down someday and write about the two historic tours that he was on - the Indian tour to Australia in 2003-04 and the tour to Pakistan later that year. I'd pre-order THAT book as soon as it was announced.

The long goodbye

The advantage of announcing your retirement while you are still playing is that you get to have a farewell tour with lots of people having the chance to walk up to you and thank you for all the memories you have provided them over the years.

Graeme Hick is discovering the joys of such a scenario (much against his initial desire, actually). Here is another interview with the great man where he is, as always, very candid in his self-analysis. But right through the interview you get the sense that he is at peace with himself, a rare quality to have.

More of my thoughts on Graeme Hick's retirement can be found here.

P.S. I found another article that discusses Hick, now that his first-class career is indeed over. In it, Mike Selvey talks about an innings played by Hick years ago against one of the best sides in the history of the game.
...Hick launched the most withering assault of his international career, driving and pulling, so that great bowlers had no answer. Hick made an ubeaten 42 of the 59 the pair added in a dozen overs that evening, and the game had been transformed to one almost of parity. Given the manner of his play, the way in which he seized the initiative, and the generally low scoring on a helpful pitch a further hour of Hick might just have turned the game on its head. Instead stumps arrived and the moment passed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A leaky, boiling cauldron

Everyone seems to have a word or two to say to the selectorial committee that dropped Sourav Ganguly from the squad for the Irani Trophy to be played in a few days. One of the better articles on this topic has been written, not surprisingly, by Harsha Bhogle.

Leading from the front

Aakash Chopra is in the thick of the action in the first match of the season which is pitting the domestic champion sides from India and Pakistan against each other. Here is his take on his expectations for the game before it started.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rags to riches

On my last trip overseas, I picked up a book - Q and A - by Vikas Swarup. The premise was an interesting one - of a poor, uneducated, young man from the slums of Mumbai, named Ram Mohammad Thomas(a name that would fit right into any Manmohan Desai potboiler) who wins a quiz show modeled on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire".

While the premise was interesting, I found the storytelling to be a little contrived and awkward. Since RMT is able to successfully answer 12 random questions because of his life's experiences it ensures that he has to go through 12 situations that help him know the answers to the questions, giving the writer enough material for a book. One of the reasons I felt it was contrived was because the questions asked are not only random ones (and the only ones, the character feels that he could know the answers to) but they are also asked in an order that chronologically matches the experiences the protagonist has. And the experiences are very varied and action-packed.

It was a quick read and, even then, I felt it would be a better movie than book. Well, what do you know?! The book has been made into a movie called Slumdog Millionaire with Anil Kapoor in an important role as the host of the quiz show. Slumdog Millionaire won the audience award, the biggest honor at the Toronto International Film Festival, in spite of the underwhelming movie name. It is being touted as one of the front runners for Oscar contention early next year.
The movie, directed by Britain's Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting," "28 Days Later") tells the story of a teenager from the slums of Mumbai who finds himself competing on the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." He becomes a national hero. As he is tortured to reveal how he "cheated," flashbacks show his education on the mean streets. It opens on Nov. 28, and is a strong contender for Oscar nominations.
P.S. This is also the movie that Roger Ebert was watching when he was involved in an incident that has received a lot of press lately!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Shiny new toy

Yesterday, I discovered Google Chrome, which was released to the public very recently.

Since the Google search engine and email systems (Gmail) were far superior to the ones that were available at the time they were released, I am guessing this will be good, too. I have downloaded Chrome and have been using it since then. I am still feeling my way around the browser. I have not found a way to sort bookmarks (which I was able to easily import into Chrome from Internet Explorer). When it imported the bookmarks it did so in an alphabetical manner and I had to re-sort the links in the order I wanted them, which took some time.

So far, it seems to be doing all the things a typical browser does. But it is so spanking new, there are many websites that have not designed add-ins and software specific for Chrome. If this browser catches on, as I think it will on PC's, I don't think that will be the case much longer.

If you want to know more about Google Chrome and did not where to look, click here. The site gives you various tips on how you can use Google Chrome and what are some of the pitfalls of the program.

Vigorously stirring the tecup

Twisting the utterances of someone to create a scandal is nothing new. In this day and age, when there are so many channels battling for ratings points, any hint of a "scoop" is whipped up into a frenzy.

Gary Kirsten got the full blast of one such storm in the past few days. First up, this is what he actually said:
He (Dhoni) is ready for it (Test captaincy) but there is no need to rush as of now. Anil (Kumble) has done an exceptional job; he is a great leader and he is toiling in many overs for India.
No sooner than he had said it, the headline blared, "Dhoni ready for Test captaincy: Kirsten". Still fair enough. But TV channels picked up on the first sentence of that piece and ran with it! Soon, all the channels were debating whether Kirsten was right in suggesting that Kumble should be removed and Dhoni made the captain.

The BCCI, in its peculiarly inept way, fanned the flames by then "
admonishing" and "slamming" the coach for speaking out on the topic. By the now the flames had well and truly spread and the talking heads had another thesis ready for delivery to the public, namely, that Kumble still had a lot left to offer Indian cricket and Dhoni, that upstart, should wait his turn. Sadly, writers with a fairly large following such as Suresh Menon (link here) and R. Mohan (link here) succumbed to this tactic.

About the only person with a rational analysis of the whole episode appears to be Prem Panicker. Read what
he had to say about it on his blog. As he so succinctly states:
All the signs of a needless controversy over what seem to be innocent comments warped by our own innate prickliness.

Cornered on the spot

The web portal Rediff.com has a feature called Stars We Spotted where readers are encouraged to send in photographs of theirs taken with celebrities. It is a very popular feature and almost all of the senders appear to be surprised at how "down to earth and normal" the celebrities are!

But sometimes the photos indicate that the photographers encroached upon the personal space of these celebrities. The celebrities are in a no-win situation. If they accept, it is expected of them, but if they refuse to be photographed then the "fan" walks away with a sense of outrage at how "haughty" the celebrity is. Case in point: A reader sent in photos taken with Sourav Ganguly. The reader even says:
"He tried to hide his face with hand but by then we recognised him. We requested for a photograph and he kindly obliged. He also said Shukriya [thank-you] at the end. It was really a nice experience."
Check out the photos, though. I feel for Sourav. His expression definitely is not that of a person having a nice experience.

On the flip side, the sportsman featured most often is definitely Leander Paes. Having interacted briefly with him in the same manner a few weeks ago, I can see why there are so many people out there in pictures with him. The comments made by the fan in this particular case, echo the sentiments of most of the folks that send in photos with Paes.
He is gem of a person. He gave autograph to each and every fan who supported him during the match. Very down to earth personality and takes high pride in playing for India (sic).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Self-help

I recently had to move my belongings from one location to another. This called for a trip to the U-Haul facility. Since I also had to move my car, I rented a trailer. Getting onto the trailer was fine, but once I got on, I ran into a problem - I could not get out! The side-board of the trailer did not let me open the door and I was stuck inside my car. Thanks to the ingenuity of the way the Subaru Legacy is designed I was able to find another way out!!

The U-Haul had a very handy "fuel economy gauge" that let the driver know which speed was best for the vehicle. Notice how there are several "ranges" within which the efficiency is the best.

If you ever want to see your money being spent, simply fill up your car's tank at the gas station. *sigh* the U-Haul, carrying all that extra weight, really put a dent into my savings account. (Note that the price of a gallon of gas is over 4 dollars!)

video

Days of our lives

While the main reason for the trip to NY was to watch the US Open, I also got to spend some time soaking in the sights and sounds of the Big Apple.

From the New Jersey side, what makes this picture poignant is not what you see, but the two buildings that you can never see again.


A nearby memorial honoring the victims of the barbaric attack on that fateful day gives us an idea of how imposing the buildings were.

At the entrance to the Trinity Church in Manhattan is this interesting plaque commemorating the visit of Queen Elizabeth II. Notice how, for once, the man has been relegated to an incidental role!

Walking around NY, you get to come across some iconic locations, like this one that marks the collision of the discrete worlds of Art and Commerce.

Lunch was had at an obscure restaurant in the North-side of town where the food was just as appetizing as it looked.

What trip to NY would be complete without a picture of the Empire State Building?

But, to me, the most recognizable symbol of the City That Never Sleeps is this: the ubiquitous Yellow Taxicab.

All that walking around would wear anyone down, so I put the zzzz's in vacation by stealing a quick nap in Central Park.

Walk in the crowds

First the bare facts: Every year I undertake a trip to Flushing Meadows during the Labor Day weekend to watch some tennis at the US Open. I have previously blogged about my experiences here and here.

This year, I decided to catch more than just the solitary night session at Arthur Ashe. A day pass to the premises let me wander around the outer courts, sample the Grandstand, and sneak into Louis Armstrong. All it took was some patience and the ability to figure out which matches were going to be the longer ones.

On one of the outer courts I went to watch Leander Paes in the men's doubles. I have heard John McEnroe rave about the guy's quickness at the net, and watching him live was something else altogether. On the court Paes was the biggest draw (the other three players were his partner - Dlouhy, De Voest and Fisher) and he did not disappoint. (By the way, in the picture below I am not zooming in - I did have great seats for the match!)

After the match was done he spent a good half hour mingling with his fans. He signed every autograph and posed for every photo request. He responded to fans when they spoke to him, answered questions in a soft voice, and did not leave till everyone had a chance to spend some time with him, including yours truly.


After the Paes experience, everything else was just icing on the cake. These are some of the players I watched live on various courts: Djokovic, Davydenko, Robredo, Muller, Tsonga, Safina, Dementieva, Blake, Ferrer, Fish, Del Potro, and Cilic. I also got to see Federer practice, and McEnroe hit some balls with a 12 year-old kid named Christian Harrison (remember that name for the future).
Next year, I shall spend less time on Arthur Ashe and more on the outer courts. My favorite is the Grandstand which is big enough to feature some big names but small enough to where you feel you are at your neighborhood club.

If you get a chance to see attend one sporting event, I recommend the US Open. It's worth it.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Pen pal

My favourite cricketer-writer, Aakash Chopra, is now writing a blog for CricInfo. He starts his season by describing the importance of the first-class season to a fringe player in India.

I am looking forward to buying his book, Beyond the Blues, when it is released in October.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Lotur Rotak

In four Grand Slam events this year, this is how three players performed:

Player A: Semi-final, Win, Win, Semi-final
Player B: Win, Semi-final, 2nd round, Semi-final
Player C: Semi-final, Final, Final, Win

Not much to choose from between A and C, except that A has one more win (at B's expense). Yet, almost all the talk this summer has been on Player C - Roger Federer - being in a (potentially) career-ending slump. Some slump! Apart from the above results, he also won the Olympic doubles gold medal.

His "slump" year is better than EVERYONE else on ATP tour, barring Rafael Nadal's!

Having said that, he has looked more vulnerable this year than at any time in the past 5 years. I had a tete-a-tete with him earlier this month during the middle weekend of the US Open. Looks like my tips to him paid off really well.

You're welcome, Rog! Keep coming to the net and you will be just fine.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Leading from the front


BRB-AV points out that four of the 5 top ranked ODI batsmen in the world are captains. Coincidence, he asks, or is there some other explanation for it?

I am not sure myself, but I do know that there appears to be a shift in ODI brilliance away from openers (only 3 of the top 10 are openers), with the middle order finishers coming to the fore. The white ball does not do anything after the initial shine wears off, and with the mandatory change in balls after about 2/3rds of the innings, it is becoming difficult for bowlers to dislodge the entrenched batsmen. Once in a while, a demolisher like Ajantha Mendis disrupts the batsman's stranglehold but that is an exception rather than the rule. The golden age of ODI openers - Jayasuriya, Ganguly, Tendulkar, Gilchrist, et al, appears to be diminishing for now.

Currently, MS Dhoni is at the top. Siddharth Mongia traces the long path taken by Dhoni to get back to the top spot after a Sri Lankan bowler (no, not that one) embarrassed him during the 2007 World Cup.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Writer's block

Two of my favourite cricket writers are Harsha Bhogle and Peter Roebuck. Recently they wrote about two cricketers who are leading their respective countries very successfully in ODI's and look ready to accept the challenge of taking on the Australians.

Both MS Dhoni and Kevin Pietersen have taken non-traditional approaches to the game. Neither of them had any experience captaining at any level before they were thrust into the job. So far their captaincy is still in the honeymoon phase and they have led from the front with their batting. Both of them have won the only Test match they have captained, ironically against the same South Africans (KP scored a century, TOO)!

Here is Peter Roebuck on the long path taken by Pietersen, where the slights against him are more imagined than real, but have been used by him to fuel his intense desire to succeed.

Harsha Bhogle celebrates the transformation of Dhoni from a dasher to a finisher.

*sigh* I have talked about Dhoni as a finisher from the time Greg Chappell was the coach but perceptions will remain perceptions. Mind you, I wrote about this aspect of Dhoni's ability as far back as February, 2006!!.

Mad Dog to the rescue

On the day I heard the sad news about Graeme Hick, I needed a pick-me-up. My other 42 year-old idol, Greg Maddux, gave me just the pep-up I needed!

By winning his seventh game of the season, he tied He Who Must Not Be Named for the most wins by an "active" player. Greg Maddux has about 4 or 5 starts left this season. I hope he is able to reach double digits in wins.

And then I shall dread opening the "newspaper" every day in the off-season as he may announce his retirement and I will be left with very few folks to root for.

Tears on my pillow


On September 2nd, at a press conference in England, Graeme Hick announced his retirement from first-class cricket at the ripe young age of 42. For the past few years I have been dreading this moment. It was inevitable but with each passing year, my hopes were kept alive just that bit longer. Not any more.

I first remember taking note of Graeme Hick when he scored THAT monumental 405 not out for Worcestershire. The next highest score in the match was 56, and unlike most other matches that feature such big scores, this one produced a victory for Worcestershire. I liked the fact that he hit a six when on 399 and did not mind the declaration that came. In fact, at that time, he did not even know that the record was 499 or else he may have gone on to that, too! I followed him closely over the years and have revelled in the milestones he has crossed along the way; 136 first class centuries, 178 overall, and still counting...albeit for just a couple more weeks. Over 64,000 runs in all forms of the game and 1,007 catches, second all-time for any non-wicket-keeper in the history of the game. Very impressively, as of today, only one batsman has scored more Twenty20 centuries and no other Englishman has hit more sixes! It is rumoured that he will join the ICL once his playing days are totally done. In a bittersweet way I shall look forward to watching him live for the first time since 1993 when I had the pleasure of following his first Test century, a gorgeous 178 at Wankhade Stadium.

As the greatest run accumulator of the past quarter century puts his bat away , the eulogy's on his cricketing career come gushing in to appease me for a few more days.

Andrew Miller on CricInfo, pens a fine piece on a fine gentleman.
The scars of his England experience have long since healed, and the Hick who heads for retirement is a man who knows he gave his all for the sport - and the club - that he loved. Quite what he leaves behind him, however, is another matter entirely. Perhaps his very longevity has perpetuated the era that he helped to define, but without his totemic presence in the first-class averages, there's suddenly a void that may never be adequately filled.
Derek Pringle shared the England dressing room with Hick and has some insight into why the first-class giant failed at the Test level. He ends with this epitaph.
...the disappointments at international level have been counter-balanced by longevity and success in the county game. History tends to mythologise those who burn bright and brief, but it is built by those who stick around and no one has done that in the modern era longer than Hick.
David Foot reminisces about the day Hick scored one of his defining innings - 405 not out - and searches for pointers to explain, yes, yet again, why Hick could not translate his first-class success to the Test level.

An old article by Andrew Miller on the enigmatic Mr. Hick is worth reading again.

And finally, George Dobell, gives a Worcestershire person's perspective on what Hick has meant to the folks at New Road.

One more hero of mine quietly goes away...