Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rukawat ke liye khed hai

The internet connection at the hotel I am staying at is excellent in terms of speed but it loses connectivity every few minutes or so. After I select a photo to upload and watch the icon turn away while it is working, I have one eye on the wireless connection icon. So far, in the seven times I have tried to upload pictures, the connection has stuttered for a few seconds every time and canceled the transaction.

Colorado Springs gave way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, today. The road went away from the foothills of the Rockies into the eastern flatlands, before venturing back towards the mountains again. The day began with an overcast sky, followed by an hour of brilliant sunshine that highlighted the yellow sand. This was quickly followed by misty conditions that gave way to snow (yes!) and then onto a steady rain. By the time Santa Fe was reached, the rain had reduced to a drizzle. A combination of the rain and the fact that on Thanksgiving Thursday everything is closed meant that the hotel room was where a few hours in the evening were spent before venturing out to an Indian restaurant for dinner. The Indian restaurant seems to be the only restaurant that is open today and was a popular destination for tourists!

Oh well, tomorrow I shall try to put up photos and also go and see some tent rocks a few miles south-west of Santa Fe.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Trip - Day 1: Fortes soli superstites sunt

At first I wasn't going to blog today because of the horrible news from Mumbai. But then a thought occurred to me - if I desist from posting an item I shall simply be giving in to their unspoken agenda. No ill-meant gesture or threatening act should interrupt our lives. It is very, very, very easy for me - sitting on a bed in the middle of a country thousands of miles away from the action - to talk like this, but I can think of no better way to thumb my nose at those war-mongers than to go on with my life (I am fully open to reasonable suggestions). I refuse to let myself get bogged down by them. So onwards I go...

After weeks of slogging it out at work, a long Thanksgiving break beckons. First things first, the rental car - a Chevy Uplander will do just fine, I suppose.

To help plan the trip a few tour books and maps were referenced, such as this one.

Going west on I-80 always meant going through the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument of Kearney, NE.

Lunch was had at a rest area that featured this odd but beautiful sculpture in a pond adjoining the building.

After crossing Nebraska, I-76 was taken into Colorado.

The Colorado Welcome Center features a very cordial staff and some well-maintained sculptures.

This one is prominently displayed in the garden next to the information center. This photograph does not do justice to the life-size sculpture.

Nor does it do justice to this one that honors the short-lived, but long-remembered, Pony Express Trail.

Unfortunately, the sun set soon after that so there was no viewing of the Rockies as Denver was crossed. I shall rectify that on the way back, I promise.

Now I shall go and sleep. I shall be in Santa Fe, New Mexico tomorrow, and vow to have many more photos to share.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The search goes on

For some time now, I have been wondering who could play Jack Reacher on the screen. Reacher's distinctive physical attributes (6'5" in height, between 220 - 250 pounds, age in the late 30's to early 40's depending upon which story you are reading) have eliminated most of Hollywood's leading guns, definitely Tom Cruise (thankfully!).

One actor that has wafted in and out of my mind has been Liam Neeson. He has the height and the commanding presence to play the role but he is about 20 years too old for it (or at least looks that old).

What makes it even more sad is that he is in a movie now that reminds me so much of Reacher. Not so much in the storyline but in the absolute conviction that the character has that he will find a way to get the bad guys. See for yourself:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Quality control

The Indian Cricket League has been dismissed as a league for has-been's and never-were's and one that is doomed to fail. While some of the players are well past their pirme, there are others, like AT Rayudu, who should have been playing for the BCCI India Test team. The ICC may kowtow to the BCCI and not acknowledge this league, but it is doing just fine without the "official" tag. My parents avidly follow the games and I know many thousands more do, too. Almost 50,000 people were at the ground for the finals between the Hyderabad Heroes and the Lahore Badshah's (which was won by the Badshah's).

The fans were treated to some really good Twenty20 cricket and also one of the greatest outfield catches you will EVER see, by Justin Kemp. Watch and admire the big guy's agility, timing, and control...



And here's another one that is just as good, if only for the quick thinking of the fielder who was about to cross the boundary line. I have often "imagined" taking catches by the boundary line in this manner.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gridiron Barnum

Approximately 10 years ago I started watching football with AB. Until then I used to blindly believe whatever the talking heads told me to believe in. A combination of skills I began to develop as a PhD student and AB's tutelage made me a more discerning viewer to the point where I no longer watch TV with the volume on. I am content to make up my own mind about what's going on.

Around the time I began picking up the game, I changed the way I followed it - I began picking players to keep track of, rather than teams. It is a trait that has spilled over into all the other sports I watch, including cricket. That way it did not matter to me which player was on the field, I had a rooting interest in almost every match. With the advent of fantasy football, a new spin has come about as now I have players to root against, too, especially if they can influence how my fantasy opponent does against me.

One of the players that I have been rooting for in the last decade is Kurt Warner, formerly a Super Bowl winning QB of the Saint Louis Rams. This year, aged 37, he has had a renaissance of sorts, with a stellar year so far as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. I have always admired his ability to stand in the pocket, see the rush coming his way, but still hang on until the very last milli-second before releasing the ball downfield. The best example of this came in the Super Bowl the Rams won in 1999. Here's when the player and his team caught my fancy (a bonus is the attention given to another favorite of mine, Marshall Faulk):



Peter King of Sports Illustrated tends to verge on the hyperbolic side of reporting, but this tribute to Kurt Warner is great to read as he praises the actions of a guy who is more than just a football player, while nominating Warner for SI's Sportsman of the year award.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Picnic at B's Ranch

A few weeks ago I had given you a tantalizing glimpse of a weekend picnic with the B's. Here are some of the other photos I took on that gorgeous day in Iowa.

To get there we drove through the bustling town of Modale, IA. Note the traffic jam at the solitary stop sign in the town.

The sign the welcomes visitors to LB's Park:

Here's the view from just inside the gates of the Park (which is private land owned by the B's!).

The picnic area where our lunch-time companions were squirrels and honey bees.

LB also uses the Park to hunt deer. Here's a deer stand (machan to some) that he constructed.

Elsewhere on his property is a huge Walnut tree. Collecting walnuts and shelling them was a lot of fun (note all the walnuts lying around on the ground).

Proof that LB also owns a few cattle...cowpie!!

And also grows a few acres worth of corn.

Food was cooked over an open flame in the woodlot (baked beans and sausages).

On the drive back, I came across many of these grain silos that store the corn after it is harvested, a very common sight in this part of the world.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Just not cricket

From the cricketing world, comes another example of media-baiting. I am not sure if this is a term already in use, but it is one that comes to mind when I read articles like this one, titled: Dhoni hits back at Hayden for Third World countries.

Rediff.com takes one sentence by MS Dhoni and conjures up a whole story, adding a "sarcastic tone" to the statement, no less, with an inflammatory headline to boot. Read through the article and see how little of it is really Dhoni responding to the "Third World" remark of Matthew Hayden. I hope Hayden is as discerning and reads the whole article before carrying a grudge the next time he pads up for his Chennai captain. If he does carry a grudge, then this (and other) websites will no doubt be at hand to break the "exclusive news".

I've heard of making mountains out of molehills, but this is reprehensible. Here the reporter is making up a retaliatory tone and then leading with it, to boot. Shame on you, Rediff!

Maggi Noodle Review: Quantum of Solace

Ab tak 22


Daniel Craig returns as James Bond in Quantum of Solace.

That's about all I can say about the latest Bond flick without wondering why the character had to regress.

Casino Royale ended with the most perfect ending to the revamping of the James Bond franchise. When the movie came out, I was moved enough to write:
What the filmakers have attempted is to reinvent the Bond franchise by starting at the beginning, before Bond even became a full-time OO agent in MI-6. Consequently, Brosnan could not have played this role. It needed a newcomer and it is a clever launch vehicle for Craig. In the third act the movie meanders a little bit as Bond recovers from the trauma of his last encounter with the bad guys. Then there is a twist, and from the wreckage emerges a more definitive Bond. At the very end he walks past a fallen bad guy, the iconic Bond music playing for the first time in the movie, and then he looks into the screen and identifies himself. I do not get goosebumps often enough in a movie theatre these days, but after this scene I was tingling.

James Bond is back, and how!

Quantum of Solace picks up, ostensibly, from where the previous movie ended, but that is just a cosmetic way of saying that Bond is still hurt by the betrayal of Vesper Lynd. Dialogue is at a premium, and explanations have to be gleaned from half-sentences and meaningful glances at out-of-focus photographs. The movie goes from one exotic place to another, mostly long-shots of vistas before settling for interior shots filmed in a studio. The set pieces have always been an attraction of Bond movies and the action almost incidental. But in this movie, the set pieces exist to move the story along. And they would have, if the action scenes had been more comprehensible.

Every fight/action scene is comprised of quick cuts that last less than half a second, if that. A blur of hands, legs, guns, faces, walls, grunts, groans, and gasps ensues and then, about 5 minutes after it starts, Bond stands alone over the dead body(ies) of the fellows he wrestled with. This Bond is a weird fellow - no pithy comebacks, no time for niceties, and least of all, no regard for the gentle art of persuading the villain to spill the beans. Everyone he meets he kills, except for M (curiously referred to as Mum multiple times in the movie) and the heroine.

All the heroine gets for keeping the movie (and story) afloat - yes, she is that good - is a chaste kiss and a quick goodbye at the end. This Bond is not only more caveman than couth, he is a lousy judge of women, too.

As the kills mounted and the sheer joy of an escapist fare eluded me, I looked for small moments to keep me going. There is a great action sequence where the background music of Puccini's Tosca keeps pace with the fighting, but it is too short-lived to sink in. Naturally, the scene ends with Bond throwing a bad guy off the roof without waiting to get the information from the guy that he purportedly seeks.

If the bad guys did not telegraph all their moves to M, Bond would not know whom to kill next. If this is how the rest of the Daniel Craig movies turn out, it may be time to have his license to kill revoked. Permanently.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Two decades ago, DSC/BD came back from the States with a wide range of items he had collected in his year-long stay in the US. Some of them had a prescient tone to them - the first song I heard from the cassettes he brought back was "Country Roads" by John Denver. The others introduced me to new avenues - a tennis racquet (McEnroe McMaster II model) that I still have, Guns'N'Roses, Tennis magazine, and a graphic novel that I was deemed too young to read - Watchmen.

Before the novel was removed from my sight, I got a glimpse of some of the panels and the images stayed with me for decades. Hidden in the back recesses of the mind the images would occasionally burst forth, especially the statement that headlines this post. Who watches the watchmen? Recently, I came across the novel while perusing the bookstore looking for The Long Halloween, soon after The Dark Knight was released. Like a moth to flames, I was drawn to it (no pun intended) and devoured the book.

Call it serendipity, premonition, Fate or plain luck, a movie on the novel is in the works and the preview is splendid, especially if you can remember the original visuals. Enjoy this preview, DSC/BD. This one's for you!



Here's the more recent one, with more scenes and a clearer idea of the story.

Raising the bar

In one of the most elaborate hoaxes ever perpetrated, more than 1.2 million copies of the New York Times were hand-delivered in a couple of major cities in the US. The headline screamed: Iraq War Ends. The date gave it away: April 1, 2009.

The "newspaper" imagines what the headlines would be 6 months from now if the President-elect is able to keep all his electoral promises. It was more than just headlines. Each article was also elaborately written and presented in as authentic a manner as possible. There's nothing like taking a message to the extreme to highlight how difficult the road ahead really is.

I wonder what the headlines will really be on All Fools' Day next year.

Sixty million degrees of separation

If you could go back in time, would you choose this moment, almost 2 billion years ago, to go back to? I doubt you would, but it can be considered the most important event that occurred in the history of histories. That single act precipitated a chain of events billions of years in the making, the repercussions of which will be felt until we find a way to destroy the planet once and for all (or until the sun explodes and nothing survives the intense heat 5 billion years from now, or all the water evaporates in about a billion years).

The end result of that chance event? As of right now - these words that you are reading, typed by a semi-intelligent sentient being on Planet Earth.

What's in a name?

After falling in love with the movie at the Toronto Film festival, Roger Ebert's admiration for Slumdog Millionaire remains unabated even as it gears up for a possible run at the Oscars. Giving the movie a coveted 4 star rating, Roger Ebert says:
Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" hits the ground running. This is a breathless, exciting story, heartbreaking and exhilarating at the same time, about a Mumbai orphan who rises from rags to riches on the strength of his lively intelligence. The film's universal appeal will present the real India to millions of moviegoers for the first time.

The real India, supercharged with a plot as reliable and eternal as the hills. The film's surface is so dazzling that you hardly realize how traditional it is underneath. But it's the buried structure that pulls us through the story like a big engine on a short train.


(...)

On the other hand, the world's largest middle class, mostly lower-middle, but all the more admirable. The India of "Monsoon Wedding." Millionaires. Mercedes-Benzes and Audis. Traffic like Demo Derby. Luxury condos. Exploding education. A booming computer segment. A fountain of medical professionals. Some of the most exciting modern English literature. A Bollywood to rival Hollywood.
I am looking forward to seeing the movie when it gets released in a wider setting later this month. This movie appears to be one of those rare situations when the movie is superior to the book. (I have previously blogged about the book and movie here).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cricket, cricket, cricket....

This post shall cover some last thoughts on India's historic 2-0 win over Australia, and other articles found while trolling through the web. After this, I shall blog on topics other than cricket (until the next Test series against England next month), I promise.

1) After India drew the first Test match, I was mad at the defensive mindset of the Indians. Back then I had written:
India are the home team, with 5 batsmen who have scored about 40,000 Test runs, with two spinners who have taken more than 900 Test wickets, and three fielders who have collectively taken over 370 catches. The Aussies have one batsman who has scored more than 10,000 runs, another great who has over 6,000 runs. One bowler who has taken more than 100 wickets (Lee has 291), and their lone spinner making his debut. And we are celebrating the fact that we drew the first Test? Seriously, those that are afraid to win are indeed condemned to repeatedly fai
It took a change in captaincy (forced by injury to Kumble) to inject some sense into the team. The Australian team that dominated the world for almost two decades is NOT this motley collection of individuals who came to India. Once the Indians figured this out, they took on a new persona and charged to a series victory. The Fab Four have lots of "experience" but that experience comes with a price - they have tasted lots of defeats, too. When things start to go wrong, they seem to remember those bad days and forget to play their normal, natural, wonderful game. The worst offender, by a country mile, is Sachin Tendulkar. For a batsman who has played so long, he has the deer in the headlights look way too many times. The sad part is that he drags the rest of the team down with him. Luckily, the new breed (dare I say New Age cricketer?) is immune to Tendulkar's fraidy-cat routine. MS Dhoni made a 50+ score in the 4 innings of the two Tests he captained, leading from the front. His attitude rubbed off onto the rest and India won a Test series that, in hindsight, was theirs to win all along. A 2-0 result should not surprise you. The Australians did not take 20 Indian wickets until the last Test, and even when they did, the Indians put on 736 total runs. Pshaw! If the Aussies did not have Michael Hussey in the middle order, they'd have caved to a worse fate than they did. The real test for the Indians will be when they are favored to win, as will be the case henceforth.

2) A couple of post-series analyses from CricInfo:
First up, the Australians are found wanting in most categories.

Secondly, most of the Indians come out well, except for some surprising names at the bottom of the list.

Sambit Bal sums up the series and its implications, rightly contending that India won more because the Australian standards have dipped and not so much because the Indian standards have gone up.

The battle between two Test giants was played in front of empty stands and the BCCI has to shoulder a large part of the blame. In their haste to make money they ignore the most basic needs - that of the spectators. Chasing after the T20 golden goose has seriously compromised their stance on promoting cricket.

3) The first great to retire was Kumble. Ganguly announced his retirement earlier, but did not retire till later. A week into the retirement, Sharda Ugra found Anil to be at peace with the decision and in a happy frame of mind. A few days later, in Nagpur, he gave a really wonderful speech, thanking his teammates individually, that must be read in its entirety.

4) Sourav Ganguly left on a high, captaining the Indian side for a few overs thanks to a wonderful gesture by MS Dhoni. Along the way, he had the satisfaction of helping beat the Aussies in the very city where the first seeds of discontent with his captaincy were sown. A full circle provided proper closure to his career - one in which he underachieved in the Test arena, made his mark in the ODI stage, and brilliantly overachieved in the captaincy stakes (more for the attitude he brought than just the wins). The tributes have been pouring in and CricInfo does a good job of rounding up some of them here, saving me some time.

Some others that deserve a separate mention are:

Peter Roebuck takes his time and tries to decipher what made him so revered in India.

Sachin Tendulkar talks in depth about his feelings for Ganguly and Kumble.

VVS Laxman talks about Ganguly in an older interview.

Finally, Harsha Bhogle comes out with his assessment of Ganguly's contributions to Indian cricket.

5) At the end of the Nagpur Test, Ricky Ponting came under heavy fire from the media for his seemingly inexplicable decision to let India off the hook on Day 4. Rather than accept that he may have erred in judgment, he has taken the moral high ground and is being supported by his coach. I guess if you repeat something often enough, people will think it is the truth. Finding articles that slam his captaincy are dime a dozen these days, so I;ll let you troll through the web for those on your own. Instead, I shall direct your attention to this nicely written piece by Gideon Haigh where he believes that Ponting deserves a modicum of sympathy from us.

The Nagpur Test was also MS Dhoni's first Test as a full-time captain and he led from the front, and impressed everyone with his acumen. Chloe Saltu admires MS Dhoni for having the guts to be his own man and not back down from criticism for a defensive 8-1 field placement.

Suresh Menon is a lot more effusive in his praises and reaches into the past to find comparisons.

Not surprisingly, some reporter tracked down Dhoni's childhood friends and found out that he has not changed much since then. The article is nice as it provides a lot of insight and background to the BMOC of Indian cricket.

Peter Roebuck is at the top of his game, a fine return to form after a few insipid articles, with this extended description of MS Dhoni.

6) Considering how cliched and, even worse, how predictable the cricket commentary on TV was, re-reading Amit Verma's observations made me realize that I am not alone in my low regard for some of them.

7) And if you are still reading this, here's a treat for VVS Laxman fans:
a) An interview with the Times of India on the eve of his 100th Test match, one that was doubly special because India beat the Aussies in it.

b) Rajan Bala goes back in time and compares Laxman to ML Jaisimha and MA Azharuddin.

c) VVS Laxman lists his top 6 innings. Note how three of them are 50's, and are integral to an Indian victory.

d) Finally, Gautam Gambhir looks to VVS Laxman for a final seal of approval.
"VVS Laxman told me in Sri Lanka that my biggest challenge will be playing against Australia and I need to pass that test. I met him in Nagpur and asked him if did clear that test, he told me, 'you have not only passed the test but passed it with a distinction.' I don't think I need any more approvals from anyone."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Parallel vision

One of the best features of JK Rowling's writing is her ability to describe places and people in a few, short sentences. The reader's mind then fills in the rest of the details.

For example, here is how she describes Severus Snape:
His eyes were black like Hagrid's, but they had none of Hagrid's warmth. They were cold and empty and made you think of dark tunnels.
When the movies came out, the vision of the movie-makers was quite different from what I had in mind, and after the first movie I have begun treating the movies as a separate entity in themselves.

The first preview of the next movie - HP6 - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has been released, and I cannot wait for next summer to roll around. It does not look anything like my imagination, and there are many scenes in the preview that do not exist in the book but I don't care - it looks good and it looks like another blockbuster is on it's way. See for yourself:

The goose and the gander

After watching the end of an absorbing (and sometimes engrossing) series between a surging India and a crumbling Australia, here are some of the thoughts that went through my head while the post-game festivities were going on.

1) MS Dhoni has that important ingredient that a successful captain needs - luck. Winning the toss was important and he has done it in all three Tests that he has captained (and won). Sourav Ganguly supposedly said something along those lines, too. But there is a lot of truth in the adage that winners make their own luck. Dhoni is a shrewd judge of situations and scenarios. He adopted the go-slow tactic on Day 3 and the Australians could not think of another way of scoring (a point brought out by CSD in a comment on one of my earlier posts) when confronted with this challenge. Dhoni's greatness is not that he thought of this plan, but that he convinced his bowlers to keep at it, ball after ball, over after over, half hour after half hour. Like a predator that sits patiently by a watering hole, he bid his time, knowing that the Aussies would come. They took a long time coming and when they did, they meekly accepted their fate. Not what I expected from the #1 ranked team in the world (note that I did not say they were the best team in the world. For my money, that is Sri Lanka). John Buchanan was a better coach than the current one and his tactical acumen must be greatly missed by Ricky Ponting, who does not think well on his feet.

2) Ricky Ponting is pretty frank in his post-game interviews (he freely admitted that India had outplayed them in the series and deserved to win) but gets prickly when the questions become directed to him as an individual. When asked about the bizarre decision to bowl part-timers on day 4 after the tea break, he brought out his "spirit of the game" defense. Sad. Instead of addressing the question he treats it as an affront to his dignity and tries to divert the attention to something else. When you are winning, it is easy to appear magnanimous. When you are losing, your man-management skills get tested. Considering how thoughtful and gracious Ponting was in the prize ceremony interview, it is odd that he regressed when questioned about a decision that may well have cost the trophy.

3) MS Dhoni made two brilliant moves yesterday, and neither of them got the Indians a single wicket. First, after 9 wickets were down, he walked up to Ganguly, took him aside, and was seen talking earnestly to him. Ganguly demurred, but Dhoni gave him a big hug, and Ganguly led the side for the next few overs. In his last Test match, Dhoni gave Ganguly a taste of what he said he'd give his right hand for - captaincy. Dhoni's second move was to insist that Anil Kumble step up to the podium to accept the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. When the last wicket fell, Dhoni ran to the wicket, but only to pick up two wickets - one of them was a souvenir for Ganguly (he also kept one for himself...methinks he then gave it to Kumble, but I have no way of knowing). Rapturous celebrations by him are usually reserved for big wickets, not for the grand finish. I am reminded of Rudyard Kipling, "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs..."

4) I am as big a fan of Dhoni's captaincy as you can find, but I HATE the 8-1 field that he adopts, and the slowing down of the over-rate. While it was happening I could see why he was doing it and I admired his guts for taking the unpopular road to keep the bigger target in sight, but I hope he does not make it his typical modus operandi. It may be the best tactic, for now, against extremely aggressive and dominant batsmen; however, there's just a handful of those in Test cricket, and many of them are on the Indian team. I fear that other captains will see this tactic and start applying it willy-nilly. Test cricket will get bogged down into a game of pseudo-attrition and that will take away some of it's charm. Dhoni, you also need to keep the over-rate going. You are at the forefront of a new wave of Indian cricketers and I'd rather see more of that aggressive, innovative captaincy, than a paint by the numbers go-slow tactic.

5) By dropping a couple of sitters, Rahul Dravid lost a golden chance to equal Mark Waugh on the all-time list of catches by a fielder. He is a 179, while Waugh is at 181. Ironically, his being so close may have delayed the stay of execution on him. Had he succeeded in reaching or crossing Waugh, the selectors (ever mindful of milestones and public perception) would have felt that there was no reason to keep him going. I foresee Dravid scoring some runs in the next month in the Ranji Trohpy, making his way back to the Test team against England, and if unable to rediscover the touch that made him India's best match-winning batsman ever (yes, ever) retiring quietly. Simply playing two Tests will be enough to cross Waugh (he does average more catches per innings than Mark Waugh did, actually!).

6) India is on the verge of becoming the next great team. It has the players and the skill set to be so, led by an admirable captain. I hope they learn the good things - aggressive mentality, positive outlook, sharp fielding, good running between the wickets, incisive bowling, and patience - and not the bad things - sledging, whining to umpires, slow over-rate - from the Australians. The Indians drop too many catches, and misfield too many balls to be considered the best. Hopefully, with the new blood that is coming in, the fielding levels will increase, and that that gap will be bridged, too.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Con job

On day 3 of the 4th Test match between India and Australia at Nagpur, the home team conceded a chance to put the Test away for good when they were all out for 441 in the first innings. Just enough to feel that they had an upper hand but not large enough to secure it for good. Not surprisingly, the Australians came out and took the challenge to the Indians. However, two pieces of good fortune - Matthew Hayden mistaking Murali Vijay for Sourav Ganguly (Hayden admitted as much later on) and Ricky Ponting not learning from Sehwag and Laxman's mistakes - ensured that the match was still in the balance.

The way the Aussies were batting (Michael Hussey and Simon Katich were motoring along at almost 4 runs per over) a full day of batting would put the ball firmly in the Australian court.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni took the Australian fielding playbook and refined it to another level. The Aussies have spread the field, restricting the Indian strokemakers to settling for singles instead of boundaries, and it has worked to an extent but these guys are too experienced to not find the boundaries when the Australians err in their line. Dhoni took the tactic to an extreme - employing an 8-1 field, with just a mid-on guarding the leg-side. Then he instructed the bowlers to bowl a foot or three outside the off-stump and Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma obliged. Over after over, they kept at it, seemingly indefatigable and immovable from their aim. The challenge to the Aussies was simple - if you want the prize, take the risk. Hussey and Katich played into Dhoni's hands, putting on just 42 runs in the 2 hours before lunch. Right after lunch, ZAK resumed his outside the stump line and took his time to lay the trap. Totally against the run of play, he bowled a yorker on middle-stump, Katich was late to react and even though the ball was tailing away he was adjudged LBW - a fair enough decision as he was hit on the full.

After that, slowly but surely, the Aussies began to wilt. Micheal Hussey was run-out by a brilliant piece of reflex fielding by Murali Vijay at silly point. (By the way, watching the way this lad batted and then fielded completely justified his inclusion in the squad. I hope he maintains or improves this energy level of his for years to come. I still have a grouse with the way he was selected but whether right or wrong, he is a find for Indian cricket).

At the end of the day, the Aussies lost 8 wickets, scoring just 166 runs in almost 86 overs. India secured a precious 86 run lead and will look to bat the Aussies out of the match.

Somewhere around tea time tomorrow, the commentators will start taking about declarations and the need to send a message and try to win the series 2-0. Why give the Aussies even a sniff of victory? I don't think Dhoni will give the Aussies even a sniff of a target. Unless India is all out I do not see a declaration happening, and definitely not on the 4th day if it does happen. The Aussies have to go and get 10 wickets. Can they do it?

P.S. Ian Chappell is getting his underwear into a bunch, losing his cool at MS Dhoni for the "negative" tactics and slow over rate. He was never this irate in the 3 Test matches that preceded this one while Ricky Ponting was employing the go-slow. Now he wants captains suspended and hung out to dry and what-not. Where was all of this outrage when the other shoe was dishing it out? What's good for the goose has to be good for the gander. Ricky Ponting began a tactic, and MS Dhoni and his players had the gumption to take it to it's ultimate expression and the ends justified the means. Read the comments at the end of the Ian Chappell article. The comments are spot on in their assessment.

P.P.S.S. I do not like the slow over-rate employed by captains these days at all and will write about it later with a suggestion on how it can be stopped. But, for now, while the administrators are willing to let captains employ it, I am heartily behind it's adoption by Dhoni. By the way, Ricky Ponting HAS to employ the very same tactic if he wants to win this Test. I'll be really looking forward to Chappell's comments after that happens.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

First blood

Ricky Ponting called heads and lost the toss at the start of the 4th Test between India and Australia at Nagpur. MS Dhoni did not have a moment's hesitation in choosing to bat.

Virender Sehwag took strike to protect Murali Vijay at the start of the match. The second ball was thumped to the point boundary and it was business as usual for the manic marauder from Delhi. Pleasingly, Vijay did not lag behind and displayed a good temperament, coupled with a tight technique. He stays very still at the crease and has a slight step forward without committing too much. The wicket was as good a batting wicket as there can be in the first hour of a Test and he showed that he may have the tools to do well in the Test arena. He also handled the short-pitched ball with aplomb, dropping his wrists and swaying out of the way easily. By the time Shane Watson got him to prod at a sharply rising ball, 98 runs had been scored and the Aussies were on the defensive.

Jason Krejza has been shielded all series by Ponting, and his first three overs showed why. Sehwag waded into him with such reckless abandon that it was going to take a man with a big heart to absorb the damage. 32 runs in 3 overs and it looked like Jason would have a tough day at the office. Luckily for him, Rahul Dravid is having a tougher time than even Jason. A hesitant prod at a fairly timid delivery spelled the end of Dravid, hopefully not forever in the Test arena. After that Jason got a double bonus when Sehwag tried to cut a ball that came in sharply and played on. Sehwag has the instincts of a measured gambler and I will not berate him for "throwing" it away. This is how he plays and his record shows that, more often than not, he makes it count when set. Today was one of those rare failures that we should have to live with.

This brought Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman to the crease, easily the best looking middle order batsmen from either side in this series. They put together another serene century-plus partnership without appearing to be in any trouble. However, these days, Sachin's batting worries begin when his score reaches the 60's. For a guy who has more than 80 international centuries he seems to have forgotten how to score them. His progression to three digits was fairly torturous to watch and he tried to mix predetermined defense with predetermined slogging, escaping three times when in sight of his century. Along the way, Laxman tried to force Krejza to the vacant off-side one time too many and, as luck would have it, the ball lodged between Haddin's legs and the keeper was able to cover the ball and claim the catch on his second attempt. For the second time in the innings, Krejza dismissed a well-settled batsman in his 60's.

Sourav Ganguly then played serenely till the end of the day, not really tested in any way. At the other end, Sachin entered that increasingly annoying state of mind of his where he shuts down everything and defends every ball. To do this when he was in the 90's was understandable, considering the tension, but to do this after he reached his century was inexcusable. This negative frame of mind of his has caused his downfall too many times in the last 3 years. I keep hearing how Sachin analyzes all his dismissals and is always working to never repeat his mistakes. I don't see any signs of this malady of his being addressed in spite of repeated failures. Why he chooses to put away the most complete repertoire of strokes in the game today, and bring out only the defensive stroke when the conditions do not even warrant it, is beyond me. Not surprisingly, he got out to Mitchell Johnson and gave back some of the initiative to the Aussies. Earlier in the series, Michael Clarke had given back the initiative twice to the Indians by getting out late in the day. You'd think Mr. Little Master would have learned the importance of keeping his foot on the pedal by now. Grr-dom prevails.

Tomorrow, Ganguly will resume with MS Dhoni, who eschewed a night-watchman in a nice, positive move at the end of the day. The pitch is showing signs of wear and tear and Krejza was able to spin the ball from the good length region and not just the rough. This augers well for the Singh-Mishra-Sehwag troika. I believe that 450 runs on the board will be a good total to aim for. 140 runs to get, 5 wickets in hand.

This could turn out to be the most interesting of the 4 Tests and it is a shame that it is taking place in front of almost empty stands. Test cricket is not dead in India, but the BCCI is doing a great job of trying to kill it with some inane decisions on ticket distribution and sales. You don't suppose it is an intentional ploy, is it? Paging Mr. Lalit Modi.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

How do you do?

In Indian cricket, it is not how you do but who you know that matters.

Come with me while I show you what I mean. The following players are under contract with the BCCI:

Grade A (Rs. 60 lakhs): Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan.

Grade B (Rs. 40 lakhs): Wasim Jaffer, S Sreesanth, VVS Laxman, Dinesh Karthik, RP Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag.

Grade C (Rs. 25 lakhs): Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Ramesh Powar, Munaf Patel, Robin Uthappa, Piyush Chawla and Suresh Raina.

Grade D (Rs 15 lakhs): Manoj Tiwary, Rohit Sharma, Joginder Sharma, Ishant Sharma, Ranadeb Bose, Mohammad Kaif, Cheteshwar Pujara, Parthiv Patel, S Badrinath, Aakash Chopra, Yusuf Pathan.
President Sharad Pawar told the media that Grade D was aimed at nurturing new talents, who are on the fringe of making it to the Indian team, by giving them stability and financial backing. Chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar said, “They have done very well in the India A tours and we look upon them as India prospects.
Ignoring gradations, here's how it breaks down:

Opening batsmen: Wasim Jaffer, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Aakash Chopra.

Competition for this opening spot has been tough with the first three playing musical chairs with Dinesh Karthik and Rahul Dravid thrown in on the odd occasion someone needed a spot in the middle order. Of late, however, Gambir and Sehwag have cemented their spot, relegating Jaffer to the Ranji leagues, his technique having been found wanting at the highest level against the Aussies.

Gautam Gambhir got himself a 1 match ban and is not available for the 4th Test. So, naturally the Indian selectors reach back into the centrally contracted talent pool and select M Vijay as his replacement. Makes sense....wait...err...M Vijay?

Who is M Vijay? Since I cannot ask the girls next door, let's check with CricInfo.

Murali Vijay: 34 innings, 1505 runs, 4 centuries, 4 fifties, average of 47.03.

He scored a double century (243) in his latest first-class match so the numbers get better. Other facts that emerge about him are that he was the third-highest run-getter in the Ranji Trophy with 628 runs in seven games at a 50-plus average in 2006-07. This year, he is the third highest scorer so far in this season.

The stats are nice and undeniably indicate a young man who could be a great player in the years to come. But when the incumbent misses a match, as is the case here with Gambhir, then the next in line ought to come from the pool of centrally contracted players, right? I mean, that is why you pay them to stay on the fringes.

Wasim Jaffer did not do well against the Australians so I can understand not trying him. But right behind him is the leading run-getter from last season, and the guy who is in 4th place (one place behind Vijay) in runs this year, too - Aakash Chopra. He is a centrally contracted player (level D) who can also replace Gambhir at the forward short-leg position. He has played for years with Sehwag and has a great understanding with him. Moreover, he has faced the best the Aussies could throw at him and acquited himself quite well in the past.

In a match as crucial as this one, the Indians are going to send in a tyro. I have no idea how good a player Vijay is and I am not saying anything about his ability here. But the person he is replacing could not keep his cool when confronted with the verbal barrage the Aussies get away with on the cricket field. Can Vijay handle this, on top of it being his first Test, while playing with teammates who would not be able to pick him out of a line-up?

I hope he does very well. If his career numbers so far are a accurate indicators, he has the capability to do very well. But the reason for this diatribe is this - would he have been pitchforked into the spotlight so soon had the Chairman of the selectors not been from Tamil Nadu? The cynic in me cannot reconcile that.

Aakash Chopra has done nothing wrong in the time he has spent on the sidelines, waiting for his chance to come. When it rightfully should have been his time, he has been by-passed. I just hope it does not come back to haunt the Indians in Nagpur.

The final nail in Aakash Chopra's international career just got rammed in. What rankles is that it came from the stroke of a biased selector's whim and not from an opponent on the cricketing field.

The future is now

As soon as the clock ticked past 11pm EST, and polling closed in the contiguous US, all the media outlets announced Barack Obama as the next President of USA. By wide margin.

Soon after that John McCain gave a concession speech that ranks right up there in the great speeches of this decade. It made you wonder where this persona of McCain had gone to during the last few weeks of the election. Rather than expending energy wailing away at Obama, McCain should probably have spent more time talking about himself. Those that protest too much only raise intrigue about their own drawbacks.

While some of his supporters booed when Obama's name was mentioned, McCain admirably kept them in check and proved to be a model of grace and dignity in defeat. Politicians all over the world, especially India, will do well to learn from him. In the end, it is the country that is important, all said and done.

Here is the transcript of his concession speech.

Once John McCain cleared the screen, the stage was set for Barack Obama to come forth and acknowledge the victory. And he did, in a dignified and measured way. Occasionally breaking into a wide smile, he kept his composure and added some gravity to the situation. Incredible as it sounds, he knows, more than anyone else, that becoming President was probably the easiest hurdle to cross. The hard work begins now. Great men get anointed as messiahs after they have accomplished something remarkable. Barack has been given the mantle of one by his ardent supporters even before he has done anything substantial at the worldwide level.

His acceptance speech reflected this need for caution, too. On a stage (mercifully and incredibly) devoid of anyone else, Obama stood alone and spoke to everyone - supporters and detractors alike. The message was simple, delivered in an style sure to produce soundbites and elicited appropriate crowd reactions. But it was more than that - it was a message that the hard yards had yet to be run. The race to the Presidency was a marathon not a sprint. It is the next decade that will determine whether he won or lost, not just the events of yesterday.

The audacity of hope has yielded to the fierce urgency of now. Yes, he can!

Here's the transcript of his acceptance speech.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Trolling the web

While taking a break from preparing lectures, I wandered around the web and these are the articles that caught my eye:

a) When cricketers retire and go to the commentary booth, I expect their analysis to consist of more than the banal "What India needs right now is a couple of quick wickets." or "A good over or two will change the complexion of the game." D-uh! What I am looking for is an insight into the game that someone looking on from outside may not readily pick up on. Here's a perfect example and it comes from someone who is still playing the game at a very high level. Aakash Chopra tells us why the type of ball used in matches makes a huge difference. That's insight, dear analysts.
The SG Test ball that is used in first-class and Test cricket in India is relatively soft (made with a soft cork inside and a finer quality of leather) with a very pronounced seam. The ball doesn't move too much, but once it gets a little old, if maintained properly, it swings throughout the day. The ball comes a bit slower off the surface unless it's been made to pitch on the seam. The only way to succeed with an SG Test ball is to land it on the seam, for otherwise you're doomed. On the contrary, the SG Tournament ball has a lot more glaze on it, and is made with hard cork and not-so-fine leather. The ball does a lot when it's new, and travels much quicker after pitching even when it is not pitched on the seam.

The figures we see at the end of the game could be quite misleading. You can't pick a fast bowler just because he wreaked havoc with that ball in the winters in north India. Spinners get less purchase, and hence shouldn't be condemned, and poor openers might not get big scores.
b) Just a day or two after blasting Anil Kumble, Dilip Vengsarkar lets bygones be bygones upon hearing about the leg-spinner's retirement. The article itself is very bland and poorly written, but there is a nugget that was very interesting to read about.
However, DDCA’s curator was quoted as saying that the grass was cut without his knowledge on the eve of the match, making it a lifeless wicket that invariably produces dull cricket, and leaving the curator furious.
c) Rick Reilly used to write the last page article for Sports Illustrated for years. Often it was the best thing in the whole magazine. Now he works for ESPN and, occasionally, still produces brilliantly written pieces, such as this one about John Wooden, the celebrated coach of the UCLA men's basketball team of the 60's and 70's. A must-read from start to finish.

d) One of the people who caught my eye in the early part of this millennium on a cricket field was Shane Bond. He had an injury-ravaged career in which he showed what could have been. When fit, he was the best FAST bowler in the world, better than the Lee's and Akhtar's of the world. Way better. Here, he reminisces about his achievements and his role in the ICL.

e) Harsha Bhogle waxes eloquently about Laxman. I may have already linked to this earlier, but I don't care. Read it again, if you already have. Or read it for the first time and enjoy a writer describing a batsman, with both at the top of their game.
This will be one of Laxman's more satisfying moments. He was treated very shabbily during the IPL, was prevented, in a most bizarre episode, from playing for a month in England and had to witness the swords being sharpened for his execution. Don't forget this is a man who gave up a million dollars a year so the Deccan Chargers could get better players and help develop cricket in his state. In England they are going crazy over a million dollars per player. Laxman gave up a million a year for three years! At the end of the first season in the IPL, he was sacked when he had been captain for six games and the job was given to a man who had led in the other eight!! And not a thank you for the extra three million!!
f) Finally, the folks at CricInfo try to describe VVS Laxman in a elegantly written article. Wonderful writing. One for the archives.
When VVS Laxman plays like he did today, there isn't a worry in the world. For 470 minutes over the last two days even the Feroz Shah Kotla's garish stand at the Tata End didn't look ugly. For 470 minutes, Laxman disguised violence with grace and left Australia hopelessly spellbound.

When Laxman plays like he did today...

Remembering the titan

Anil Kumble announced his retirement (from Test cricket, mind you, not all cricket) with minimal fanfare, and a lap of honor around the Kotla. Compliments have been pouring in from all quarters since then. All of them justified and apt.

Some words are common to almost all of them - dignity, respect, hard-working, gentle, giant, leg-spinner who did not turn the ball, broken jaw, Brian Lara, match-winner, greatest, timely retirement, captain, quiet, unassuming.....

But the word that comes up in all of them, either overtly or covertly, is underrated. If everyone thinks someone is underrated, then is that person really underrated? I don't know. I always thought that opposing teams respected Kumble's presence in the team more than any other Indian bowler's. (There were periods here and there where someone like Harbhajan broke through, but not in a sustained way). How does that make him underrated? Methinks that may have been the case in the early 90's, but not any more. Give the man his due. He was India's greatest and most reliable match-winner. Bar none.

Anyway, as previously promised, here are some of the better written tributes to Kumble. For each one I shall highlight the points in the article that stood out for me. (Click on the author's name to access the article).

1) First and foremost, the person who has probably spent the most time with him on a cricket field - Rahul Dravid. (This is an older, very well-written article, pubished soon after Kumble crossed Kapil Dev's mark of 434 wickets in Tests):
Anil is tough and I like that about him. He is the essential 100-per-cent cricketer, every day, every over, every ball, bringing great energy to the contest, facing every challenge with his jaw sternly set - or even broken for that matter!
2) Next up, Sanjay Manjrekar:
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a seminar on management issues connected with cricket; we were about four or five speakers there, and one of them was Kumble. His preparations were so hectic; he was working hard on his speech that he was going to give to the corporates next morning. I could see the same kind of effort and discipline going into his preparations for his speech that he would put into his preparations for a Test.
3) A statistical break down of Kumble's career by CricInfo's S. Rajesh and Matthew Verghese:
Where Kumble stands head and shoulders above the other Indian bowlers is in his contribution to team wins. He took 288 wickets in the 43 Tests India won - an average of 6.70 wickets per Test. The average was a remarkable 18.75, at a strike rate of 44.4 deliveries per wicket.
4) A sampling of former players and selectors by Nagraj Gollapudi of CrinInfo:
Vijay Bharadwaj , former Karnataka and India team-mate:
It was my first day as Karnataka coach back in the 2006-07 season and we were playing Mumbai at the Wankhede stadium. Both Anil and Rahul [Dravid] were available for the first couple of games. They were pulling my leg saying, "Vijay has already retired, Venky [Venkatesh Prasad] has already retired, and both of them are coaches now but we are still playing." On our return to Bangalore, before our second game, Anil called up to check if it was fine to get a 16-year-old legspinner as a net bowler. I just laughed. I told him he didn't need to call me to get permission. But he knew the coach was important and didn't want to break protocol, so he wanted to check. He could've straightaway taken the decision himself because of his stature. He is a guy who gave importance to each and every detail.
5) The CricInfo staff puts in another high-quality effort:
Bowden went up to him, handed him his cap and shook his hand again. Ditto Hayden. Amit Mishra came up to hug him; the baton was perhaps being passed. And then he was swarmed by his team-mates. Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan lifted him and after a while it was clear he was not comfortable with all that. Dravid and VVS Laxman tried it again before Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the strongest man in the team, took over the job alone and lifted Kumble on his shoulders. But Kumble was not happy; he wanted to walk on his favourite turf, soak it in one last time.

Not a person in the ground could stay seated through the farewell; they could sense a very important part of their lives going away. Kumble would have felt the same but, save a few emotional moments, he handled it with dignity and with equanimity. It was so like Anil Kumble.
6) Dileep Premachandran calls him one of the two pillars of Indian cricket:
As he walked off the square for the final time, Anil Kumble got a pat on the back from the only man who has been playing international cricket even longer than he has. Kumble's first Test, at Old Trafford in August 1990, was Sachin Tendulkar's ninth, and in the decade that followed they would be the twin pillars of a team that sought to establish itself as a big player on the world stage. Over time, they would be joined by other great players, a nucleus that would allow India to challenge Australia on a consistent basis, but the mind-boggling durability of the two main men remained a source of wonder.
(...)
After all was said and done and the match called off, he came back out to be chaired around the ground, part of the way on the shoulders of the man who will succeed him as captain. For someone who scaled the greatest heights, it was one of the very few occasions during the 18 years when his feet actually left the ground.
7) Suresh Menon uses that word in the title:
He played 41 Tests fewer than Kapil Dev to go past Kapil's Indian record of 434 wickets; he bowled India to more victories than the entire spin quartet of the 1970s, yet he was condemned to being defined by negatives. The pundits told us he did not spin the ball, that he did not have the classic legspinner's loop, that he did not bowl slowly enough to get the ball to bite. Kumble was described by what he did not do rather than by what he did.
8) Snippets from the press conference where he made his formal announcement:
"Thank you all for all the support I have received right through my career. I've built some great friendships and met some fantastic people along the way. You'll probably start calling me from tomorrow for quotes about somebody else. Give me a break for a couple of days and I'll certainly take all your calls." Like he has unfailingly answered the Indian team's calls for the last 18 years.
9) The scene in the Indian dressing room was how we'd imagine it to be, knowing what we have been told about the man:
In between, there was time for some humour as well. A player turned to Mahendra Singh Dhoni and quipped: “You have two empty seats now” (the Nagpur Test will be Sourav Ganguly’s last). But for those who are familiar with Dhoni’s style, the gist of his instantaneous reply did not come as a surprise: “Nobody can replace those two”.
10) Ian Chappell thinks the timing of the decision was right:
The defining moment for me and it encapsulated the career of Anil Kumble was his last wicket in Tests. He had been angered by the young legspinner, misjudging a catch in the outfield and the very next ball he took off after a skied catch off his own bowling, charged back even with his bad hand, took the catch and turned around and fired the ball back at the stumps as if to say to the young man, who will take over his role as a legspinner in the Indian team, that is the sort of the effort that you've got to put in every day if you want to be at the top of the game.
11) Rob Smyth of the Guardian talks about some of the high notes of Kumble's career:
Rarely has there been a sportsman who has combined flintiness and dignity so adeptly. He was hard, really hard, but utterly fair. Kumble forever walked the line, but rarely if ever crossed it. This was a fiercely proud man.
12) Peter Roebuck chips in from Australia:
He never gave up, and with unyielding will and high intelligence, made the most of his abilities. He scored a Test hundred and never let his side down. A thousand pities the Australians did not speak to him in Sydney. Throughout he has retained his dignity, it has been an immense contribution, and he did not outstay his welcome by a single day. Even in his retirement he served the side and Indian cricket.
13) Prem Panicker says goodbye:
And so he went. Not at the end of the series, or the end of the year, but now, when the arguments for his going were only as strong as, not stronger than, those for his continuing—and that, perhaps more than anything he has done on the field in course of an extraordinarily distinguished 19-year career, sums up all there is to know about Kumble the human being.

The more long-lived of Indian cricketers have invariably been players of extraordinary skills. They have had one other thing in common: they have all, without exception, undersold themselves; their accomplishments have been less than their promise.

Anil alone has been the converse: man who consistently rose above the sum of his own parts; almost, you could call him the Glenn McGrath of spin bowlers.
14) G. Rajaraman pays tribute to the Smiling Assasin:
A couple of years ago he joined world billiards champion Geet Sethi, former Test cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar and Olympian sprinter Ashwini Nachappa in conducting a management workshop for corporates. And I had the opportunity of watching him prepare his presentation on resilience. He spoke at length about developing the ability to bounce back – citing examples from his own career – but more than his oration, the quality of his preparation left me stunned and gave me an insight into how seriously he took any task.
15) Kadambari Murali has some inside stuff on the man:
Eight months ago, sitting under a lovely afternoon sun outside Kreeda, his elegant Bangalore bungalow, Anil Kumble casually said he didn’t think he would last out the year, career wise. “I’m hoping to make it to the Australian series this October,” he added, equally casually, “but it depends on my body”.
(...)
That Bangalore day, he grinned as wife Chethana disapprovingly commented, “He needs to think about himself”. “She’s being a wife,” he quipped, smiling at the woman he dubbed his “support system” and “partner in everything”. And then the smile became more wry. “What do I do?” he asked. “I’m exhausted. The last tour was very tough, mentally and physically and though I desperately want to play, I have to see how much I can take. I’ll know when it’s time to say goodbye.”
16) From the archives, an article by Anand Vasu, written soon after Kumble had crossed the 600 wicket mark in Tests:
Anil will not like this piece on him, though it is meant to be a tribute. He does not let his personal life become public and he would probably have preferred that what happened to him in England stayed private. He will be irritated that this mentions the time in 2004 when the Supreme Court of India granted sole custody of a child from an earlier marriage to the woman who is his wife, and was carrying his child at the time. “The Supreme Court cannot trace any deception in Kumble,” screamed the headlines. Justices Shivraj V. Patil and DM Adhikari never faced Kumble’s bowling, clearly.
17) To round it off, Harsha Bhogle uses almost all the words I mentioned above, and more:
The announcement itself was typical of the man: no grandstanding, no ostentation, no farewell tour. Anything else would have jarred, it wouldn’t have been Kumble. One of the greatest team-men the game has known did his job and said good-bye. In his last Test match, he had eleven stitches and was under general anesthesia for half a day. When the numbness vanished, when the body was over-ruled once more, he returned to take three more wickets.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Home stretch

The third Test did not produce the result that was expected when the Australians began their first innings trailing by 613 runs. The Indians got a get-out-of-jail card to explain their inability to prise out the Aussies when they lost Anil Kumble for most of the third day to a finger injury. But even a "healthy" Kumble, bowling the way he has been of late, would not have been able to do much more. A wise man is one who can feel the wind change direction, a wiser man is one who can see the change and adjust his sails accordingly. Anil Kumble showed that he belonged to the latter group by announcing his retirement.

Kumble waited until a draw had been ensured before making the announcement public and it injected some vigor into the proceedings that owed VVS Laxman a favor for what little life there was at that point. Serenely motoring along in the second innings, Laxman did not even remotely look like getting out and was prevented from padding his stats when Kumble declared with about 24 overs to go. I did not realize how dense the TV commentators were until they started talking about India declaring in order to try to get a psychological advantage by prising out an Australian wicket or two before the Test was done. Didn't they understand that Kumble was being given his moment to say goodbye? While I am not privy to any private conversation or to having any knowledge of the man, I am pretty sure that the decision to declare, so he could have a few overs to himself on the field, was a team one. (Anil Kumble has toiled away for almost two decades, always looking out for the team's interests. An hour's worth of self-indulgence to end his career appeared out of line, given his nature).

But, either way, come out he did, to open the bowling attack and send down a few overs that had enough nostalgic appeal to remind us of what was going away for good. When he bowled his last ball, I was more emotionally affected than I would have thought I'd be. After taking his presence in the team for granted all these years, it felt strange to bid him adieu.

Compliments and salutations have poured in from all over and I shall devote another post to just that.

For now, the lines have been drawn and India will go into Nagpur looking to seal a series victory. I hope they go in trying to win. Three of the 4 possible results - win, draw or tie - will get them the trophy. If they eliminate a win from the equation, then they will be playing into the hands of the Aussies. When your opponent is staggering, it is best to deliver a knockout punch. Jabbing away at their body in order to win by a decision only invites trouble.

Only five more days of Test cricket remain in this absorbing match-up. Don't you wish it could have been a 5 Test series?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Getting on the moral bandwagon

By battling to within 36 runs of the Indians, the Australians ensured that the third Test match ends up in a draw.

The morning began with the Aussies 275 runs behind with 6 wickets in hand. Michael Clarke stood between an Aussie collapse and an Indian dream of a win. As expected he received excellent support from his team-mates. However, he would not have counted on the Indians helping his cause. In a big way. Spilling catches has always been a part of the game, but the stooping of the shoulders when Clarke was dropped on 21 is not something you'd expect to see from a team that is within striking distance of toppling the Aussies.

The lack of intensity from the Indians was palpable and something that was sad to see. The Australians were batting really well, yes, but the Indians walked around between overs, took their time to bowl them, and did not display any enthusiasm. At least one ball an over was doing something, so you'd think they would be pumped up. Once Clarke was dropped, they appeared to go through the motions.

Soon the lead was whittled down to double digits and with it went any hope that India would go for the win. With good reason. Australia, being the team that trails, is the one that will look to force the issue while the Indians, based upon years and years of watching this team, will not look to force the issue if a draw is dangled in front of them.

Australia batted almost 180 overs to lose 10 wickets, which is enough for the current edition to believe that they cannot get them all out in less than 50 overs. Stranger things have happened but if you do not have the belief that they can, then you will not get the results you seek.

So, the fifth day will involve the Indians batting slowly for time, with an occasional wicket here and there injecting some artificial life into the game. At the end of the day, the Aussies will talk about moral victories and how they were the only team looking for a result.

Big deal. If moral victories mattered on the cricket field, then the Aussies would surely have been under the biggest mental cosh of them all, after losing the previous Test by a record margin, right?

Moral victories are as as influential and informative as the player interviews after the game. Lay the red carpet, Nagpur, the sound bite bandwagon is going to be talking up a great game for the next few days.