Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The logical progression

Roland Emmerich is a director who loves disaster flicks. Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow are some of his, ahem, masterpieces. His latest movie - 2012 - is simply a culmination of decades of visualizing the destruction of famous architectural landmarks. This time, naturally, his canvas is Earth itself. How original.

After watching this preview of 2012 is there a point to seeing the movie at all? We know all the major "events" that will occur. Oh well, at least somewhere, some CGI specialists are able to take home a regular salary and feed their wide-eyed babies.

Maggie noodle review - Transformers 2

Sounds of dissonance

It has been years since I was tempted to walk out of a movie before it ended. But I have never felt like leaving it less than an hour into it. T2:ROTF made my ears ring, my eyes fuzzy, my head ache and that was just in the first hour or so. Considering that I liked Armageddon (I know, I know) and tolerated the first Transformers movie, this one shocked me no end. The dialogs were written at a basic high school level. The words exist only to provide relief between the banging and explosions. When the machine-robots talked, I had no clue what they were saying, so garbled they were with the sounds of metallic parts constantly clanging as they moved. Scene after scene involved military folks shooting bullets at the bots, yet not once did I see where a bullet made an impression on them. Michael Bay, the director, tried very hard to throw in Megan Fox as often as possible, but it was not even worth the price of parking my car (and I did not even have to pay for parking).

By the way, the movie is 2.5 hours long. Imagine how terrifying the even-longer director's cut is going to be. But what do I know, the movie is turning into a mega-blockbuster in spite of the terrible reviews it received, so Transformers 3 must be on its way.
After just five days, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is halfway to $400 million domestically, a box-office milestone only eight other movies have reached. If it climbs that high, the "Transformers" sequel will be by far the worst-reviewed movie ever to make the $400 million club.

Critics and mainstream crowds often disagree, but "Revenge of the Fallen" sets a new standard for the gulf between what reviewers and mass audiences like.

The movie pulled in $201.2 million since opening Wednesday, the second-best result for a movie in its first five days, just behind "The Dark Knight" with $203.8 million. Even after its whopping $60.6 million opening day, "Revenge of the Fallen" was packing theaters, a sign that unlike critics, who mostly hated the movie, audiences felt they were getting their money's worth and were giving the flick good word of mouth
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Save yourself some money and watch this preview. It shows you all you need to know about the movie and yet can still cause a headache.

The future is now

In a remarkably prescient article, James Lawton stirred the tea leaves and saw a period of domination of epic proportions when Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2003.

It is a credit to Federer that he lived up to the article and more. And how! May he continue to impress us all with his virtuosity for years to come.

Apocalypse now

I can hear a bell ringing, and it signalling the death of Test cricket. Or it will if insane folks are allowed to run the asylum.


Case in point: The "protectors of Test cricket" are proposing 4 day Tests.

Leave the format alone!!!!

Crack down on slow over-rates. Relegate the teams that stink (you know which ones I mean). Encourage longer series in order to prevent teams from trying to sit on a 1-0 lead in a best of 3 series. Ensure that pitches retain a twinge of green to help bowlers of all ilk. Stop molly-coddling the batsmen. Get rid of the bouncer restrictions. Stop emasculating an umpire's ability to give decisions in the middle. Stop changing rules to help batsmen (why was the Mankad-ing rule altered anyway?). Spread the boundary rope to prevent edges from going for sixes, etc., etc.

My goodness, there are so many other ways of keeping the Test format fresh and alive, and the nitwits think that cutting one day from it will make it more exciting?!!

Let me say this very s-l-o-w-l-y in a language that the cash-chasing leaders will understand. 5 days produce more TV revenue than 4 days. Get it???? Increased over rates mean more commercials between overs. More competitive matches between more evenly matched teams means more eyeballs will watch. Longer series will mean that there is more interest for a longer period between two closely matched teams.

If you really want to tweak something, I suggest you cast your spell towards the 50 over game, which is the format that is being bludgeoned to death by the proliferation of T20 games.

Just leave the 5 day game alone. Please.

The $10,000 arms

Two Indian men, plucked from the obscurity of "rural India" are set to make their MLB debut in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system. I am not too sure they will be able to crack the highest tier, simply because in terms of baseball skills they are true rookies, but the fact that they are even within sniffing distance must be worth the adventure.
Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, their two India-born pitchers who had never seen a baseball game before being the top two finishers in a TV reality show designed to find potential Major League Baseball arms, are nearly ready to make their professional debuts.

Neither had picked up a baseball, much less thrown one, until little more than a year ago. Aspiring cricket players, they had no idea that American athletes could make so much money playing a sport they knew nothing about.

Now, after a busy year crowded with TV show appearances, basic baseball instruction, fitness workouts, constant throwing and adjusting to a pro athlete's life in a new country, they are about to take the mound for the Bradenton Pirates of the rookie-level Gulf Coast League
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(Link courtesy of JAN, an unabashed fan of M&M; not the rapper but the Sri Lankan bowlers).

A voice to remember

My favorite characters in movies tend to be the villains. They are the ones with the best lines and the unmistakable charisma. The heroes tend to be very goody-two-shoes for my liking. Especially so in cartoons.

My absolute favorite cartoon villain is Scar from The Lion King. It was only after recently watching a few minutes of the eminently forgettable Die Hard 3 (Die Hard: With a Vengeance) did I realize that it was the voice of Jeremy Irons more than anything else that made Scar so menacing.

Listen to this song and pay close attention to Irons' raspy voice that drips malevolence with every syllable. Oooh...I'd walk on broken glass for this lion if it asked me to.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

TMC: Episode 4 - The attack of the giant

Welcome to The Midwest Chronicles (TMC). These are the accounts of the exploits of the Nebraska Cricket Club in the 2009 season. To spice up what would otherwise be a routine match report of runs scored, wickets taken, and catches snaffled (or spilled) these posts are being written with a tongue firmly in cheek but with the facts completely in the true. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the meandering show.

Here's a complete guide to the cast of characters and their nicknames. The cast will be updated as players are added or dropped or nicknames changed as the season progresses
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And just like that. As mysteriously as he arrived, he was gone.
Oscar Martinez - The Office
Bob Loblaw was wandering around the east coast and missed the 4th match of the season - a clash between the two teams at the top of the CLIA table - the Bulls of Iowa and the...err...Cricket Club-ers of Nebraska. Eye witness accounts are notorious for their unreliability and this report is no different. So any mistakes, exaggerations, and falsified records are to be blamed on the eye-witness and not on me, your honest scribe. Peace out.

As is to be expected, Captain Ozone lost another toss, through his (not-to-be) trusted surrogate tosser Little Boy. The Bulls captain, Utpal Patel, (nameless he would have been but for some excellent investigative reporting from yours truly) immediately asked NCC to bat.

(By the way, UP (as he is known) has a photo on his profile that HAS to be seen to be appreciated. He really is cooler in person than he is in the photo!)

The NCC innings began with a bang when Thin Man hit the first ball into the nets at midwicket for a thudding six. However, his passion to clear the fence was put to the test and for the first time all season, he failed to cash in on a missed opportunity, finding the fielder at third man off a miscued attempt to uppercut a bouncing ball. Unfazed by this dismissal the Tasmanian Devil (he now has a new nickname that shall be revealed in an upcoming post) and Bhisma set about accumulating the runs in singles (an alien concept) and boundaries (that's more like it). The score trudged along at a 4-5 runs an over pace for a few overs before TD found his old nemesis - the roaring 20's - waiting for him. Not for the first time this season (and not for the last time either) he got out once he was set and had almost reached his age in runs.

The ONE constant with the NCC season has been the middle-order collapse. As in the previous matches, there was another one, only this one took up the rest of the innings. Gory as the details are, and this is a PG-13 website, I shall desist from giving you all of them. Just suffice to say that 162 for 8 in 30 overs is a score that is neither here nor there. Further proof, seven of the nine batsmen registered double figure scores but the highest was Kingsize Dada's 28. A team effort, an optimist would say.

While we wait for the teams to freshen up between innings, here are some more interesting things to know:
  • The sentence "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" uses every letter in the english language.
  • One-third pound stalk of broccoli contains more vitamin C than 204 apples.
  • There are approximately 45 billion fat cells in an average adult.
  • The dot that appears over the letter "i" is called a tittle.
  • Leaving the water running while brushing your teeth can waste four gallons of water in a minute.
When NCC took the field, they did so with guarded optimism. After all, this was their home turf. But lying in wait were UP and the as-yet unmentioned Saket Pradhan. In CLIA lore, Saket is a legend. And rightfully so. At night when Bhishma is trying to put his son to bed, he regales him with stories of Saket's (and Rampi's) batting prowess. Ozone began the innings with Bhishma and Energizer Bunny sharing the new ball. Twelve unbroken overs fetched 4 wickets giving away just 40-odd runs. Just the start that was needed. By the 15th over, the half-way stage of the innings, the score had reached 70-odd for 5. A run-a-ball with the second half of the batting line-up to come, some would say: advantage NCC.

But there was still one man to go - Saket. Two overs later, the game was almost done and dusted! TD was greeted with three sixes. Not to be outdone Saket took a liking to King Warney and matched him six for six, one of them hitting the middle of the cottonwood trees that guard the stream next to the ground. As the ball was in the air, Energizer was heard to remark dryly, "I told you we needed a fielder in the trees behind long-on".

After that, the Bulls rolled through to victory, cruising to the finish line without losing any further wickets. NCC suffered its first loss of the season and any complacency that had set in was wiped away. Beware CLIA, you have been warned. NCC is gearing up for retribution.

Maggie noodle review - Up

Within my friends circle, I was notorious for my disdain of animation movies, steadfastedly refusing to see any of them. Until one day I got tricked into seeing Finding Nemo. Since then, I have been an unabashed admirer of Pixar movies. (Other animation movies like Brother Bear underwhelmed me and I have not seen a non-Pixar animation, so I guess I am still snobbish about that genre). I thought WALL-E was the best movie made last year (and my Plants and Society class agreed with me, too, when I showed it to them over two lecture periods. So there!)

It was with great anticipation and pleasure that I walked into the movie hall to watch Up. And I was not disappointed one bit. In this "review" I shall leave the story out of it. If you have seen the preview you already know too much, and yet you have not seen enough. Watch it when you can. Young or old, you will all like the movie. The movie has as its main protagonists a 78 year-old retiree and an 8 year-old boy. Cuddly Walt Disney-types need not apply. In the beginning of the movie is a dialogue-less montage of a boy and girl and their life together that is brilliant. Simply brilliant. It sets the mood for the rest of the movie and tells you volumes about the old man's desire to fly away.

And fly away he does. Up, up, and away.

The namesake

When your uncle has been in the news once or twice, it is not surprising that your feats get recognized, too. Methinks that this young girl will not be anonymous much longer.

Watch out, Michelle Wie, here comes Cheyenne to steal your press.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

1000 words at a time

The Mormon bridge across the Missouri river, just north of Omaha, entering Iowa.

You never quite know what you might get to see on the road.

Sights like this are why Iowa is the third leading harnesser of wind energy in the US.

And away from the madding crowd, places like this are dime a dozen and yet unique to each one.

Playing cricket under a glorious sky is one of the perks of putting up with the long winter.

Sense and sensibility

M. Night Shyamalan has not been having a good time lately at the box office. He has been finding it very hard to live up to the expectations created by the success of The Sixth Sense.

He has been lying low for some time now, and has resurfaced to promote his latest movie The Last Airbender. Here's its preview:

Surround sound

The Kolkata Knight Riders recently fired the head coach, John Buchanan (big surprise there). The more interesting revelation in the article deals with Buchanan's entourage, the size of which would probably cause even Vincent Chase to blush. And that's saying something.
... Buchanan's support staff, which included Matthew Mott (assistant head coach), Andy Bichel (bowling coach), Wade Seccombe (wicket-keeping coach), John Deeble (fielding coach), Brad Murphy (assistant coach), Michael Buchanan (strength trainer), who is Buchanan's son, Andrew Leipus (physio) and Adrian Le Roux (trainer).
It took 9 coaches to guide a team to the last spot in a competition. I wonder how many coaches it would take to guide a team to the top.

A man under fire

Nothing epitomizes the "what have you done for me lately" mentality of portions of the Indian media than the way the flavor of the year - MS Dhoni - has been attacked since the Indian team's early exit from the T20 World Cup.

Kunal Pradhan delves deeper into this rabid fixation of the media to find a "storyline" to pursue, and asks for some perspective.
His captaincy has been dissected, his mistakes magnified, his effigies burnt (it sounds like a pretty good job in India, making effigies — income guaranteed, even in times of recession). Not because we enjoy parading on the streets with banners and torches but because our national pride (which, 62 years after independence, rides on which side of a three-run result we finish on) has been hurt.

Here’s a quick dossier on how Dhoni wounded our dignity over the last 20 months:

• Became captain of a team no one wanted to lead

• Went to the T20 World Cup in South Africa with a group of no-hopers and returned with the trophy

• Led India to their first-ever one-day series win in Australia

• Beat Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, twice

• Defeated Australia in a home Test series

• Crushed England at home

• Won the Test and one-day series in New Zealand

• Scored at an average of 60 in Tests and 57.81 in one-dayers as skipper

If there is a positive trend in those little factoids, it must be completely disregarded because a) we don’t live in the past, and b) he appeared in advertisements and made pots of money
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The Rajah and I

Shortly after Roger Federer completed the career Slam, Jon Wertheim (one of my favorite sports writers) weighed in on Roger's accomplishments, and many other related topics.
USTA.com: In spending time with both of these guys, how would you characterize the nature of the relationship between Nadal and Federer? For such close rivals, they seem to be very good friends.

Wertheim: Yeah, and I don't think it’s for the cameras, either. They're obviously very different – they play differently, and they're of different tennis generations. Yet I think they have a similar set of classy values and beliefs. They believe in acting a certain way and saying certain things. In some ways, they're bound together by the rivalry, and that limits how close they can really get. But I suspect, if they lived in the same dorm, they'd be friends
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Now that we know what we know about Roger's achievements, the following interview is very interesting to watch. This was conducted in early 2001, just after he had won the first tournament of his life. Note the irony in what he wants to achieve in Grand Slam events and pay close attention to his response when he is asked if any player would be able to dominate tennis in the future.

Mind it!

Some things need no further embellishment. This is one of those. Watch and enjaaay!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Eastward bound

A few days after jaunting around the west coast, it was time to take in some of the sights in the east coast. Most of the trip was work-related, but there was time for some fun, too.

First up, a trip to Longwood Gardens was worth every minute spent there. Here are some of the reasons it is worth your time.





But that was not all. There was time to go kayaking on the Batsto River located in the Wharton State Forest (New Jersey).

video

And also catch a Philadelphia Phillies - Boston Red Sox game, where Josh Beckett was looking dominant until the Phillies got to him and won by a thumping 11-5 margin.

video

Oregon trip

A few days ago I gave you a sneak preview of a trip to the Oregon coast. Here are some of the sights from that trip. Actually, here's 4,000 words worth from a hike.




But that's not all that was there to see. There was the D River, the shortest river in the world. But not as intriguing as this:

video

But the main reason for the trip was to see the beaches and the spectacular coastline. Such scenes are commonplace and yet each one is unique in its own way.


video

Monday, June 15, 2009

The X man

Many people scoff at me for my rooting interest in the Los Angeles Lakers. They beieve this has to do with Kobe Bryant. While I like watching him play, the real reason I root for them is the man behind the team - the coach Phil Jackson. I spent many years in Chicago overlapping with his championship-winning years, including the seminal 72-10 campaign of 1998 and have been rooting for him since then.


Yesterday, he won his 10th NBA championship as a coach (in just 18 years of coaching in the league), the most all-time. To me, the more staggering numbers are this:
  • He has won more than 70% of the games he has coached (and he has coached almost 1800 games)
  • His teams have never had a losing record in any season.
  • In a best-of-7 playoff series, his teams have won the first game on 50 different occasions. His teams have then gone on to win all 50 of them.
Jack McCallum of SI.com compares Jackson with Red Auerbach, the Boston Celtics head coach who also won 9 NBA championships. Jack notes that while they may appear to be vastly different personalities on the surface, if you dig a little deeper, their basic natures are quite similar.
It would've been fun to watch Auerbach and Jackson coach against each other, the former fussing and fuming and pacing the sideline, the latter sitting there with that Zen-like calm, calling his timeouts according to some inner clock, running the game with a seeming caprice that actually comes from a fundamental plan. There would inevitably come a time when they would torch each other in public, Auerbach with a straight-to-the-point rant, Jackson with a witty, circuitous insult. But winners almost always respect other winners, and, my best guess is, if they were pressed to tell the truth, here's what each would say about the other: He's a great coach.
Prior to winning the 10th championship, Eric Neel of ESPN.com also did a piece on the man with some background from his early years.

Cover art

It is very hard for a non-mainstream sportsperson to make it to the cover of Sports Illustrated (unless they have done something really bad), so it comes as a surprise (and a pleasure) to see Roger Federer feted for his French Open triumph by SL Price.
Historians will look at Federer's résumé—at least five U.S. Open titles, five Wimbledons, three Australians and one French—measure it against Laver's 11 and Sampras's Frenchless 14 and declare him supreme. But there's also the matter of Federer's unparalleled consistency: Federer has made an astonishing 20 straight Grand Slam semifinals (compared with runner-up Ivan Lendl's 10) and has appeared in 10 straight finals and in 15 of the last 16. Laver's longest string of consecutive finals was six, Sampras's three.

(...)

Agassi, whose own legacy had been transformed 10 years before by victory on the same court, handed Federer the trophy, and the champion held it over his head before bringing it down for a long, hard kiss. During the Swiss national anthem, tears rolled down his cheeks. "Now for the rest of my career I can play relaxed," Federer told the crowd. Then he put down the microphone and the sky opened up and the red clay turned to mud, but it felt like Paris was smiling. Roger Federer has nothing to cry about anymore
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Trick or treat?

Here are some amazing tricks. They look real to me. What do you think?

The good stuff starts at the 0:30 mark or so.

The future is now

A long time ago there was this new thing called the "Internet". I'll let Tom Brokaw take it from here...

Half empty, half full

The plane I flew on today had 50 seats, of which just one was right next to the only restroom on the plane. No prizes for guessing who got that seat.

At the baggage claim carousel my suitcase was the first to make its way out.

So was it worth winning the baggage claim lottery to sit next to the restroom for the duration of the flight?

(Confession: On the second leg of the flight I did get the window seat in the second row).

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Total eclipse of the heart

Music videos in the 1980's were (in)famous for their extensive "story boards", thanks to Michael Jackson's influence. But sometimes the videos were completely incomprehensible. A big favorite of mine is this one sung by Bonnie Tyler.



Luckily, we now have a "literal video" that attempts to (ahem) explain the video with a tongue firmly in cheek. Just perfect!!

Poetry in motion

Watch Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer recite Rudyard Kipling's poem - If.


If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son
!

--Rudyard Kipling

That given Sunday

On any given Sunday, anyone can win, anyone can lose, anything can happen. But once in a while comes that perfect Sunday, when all the chips align themselves. Last Sunday was just that:

Roger Federer cried again, this time they were tears of joy. A huge monkey is off his back forever. Bring on the GOAT discussions (by the way, check out comment #5 in this discussion thread - Lendl was indeed the truth).

A dude who spent Sunday morning fretting over Federer then went out and produced an inspired ending to his own day. With 2 weeks to go for the US Open, all the pressure is back on Tiger Woods's shoulders, just where he likes it because it means he is playing well.

In the evening, the Los Angeles Lakers put Phil Jackson within 2 wins of winning his 10th NBA championship. Yes, tenth!!

But I did not watch Federer or Woods and barely caught the last 6 minutes of the 4th quarter and then all of overtime in the LA-Orlando game.

You see, I was capping my perfect Sunday playing cricket for a team that drove in the rain to Ames, played in bright sunlight, and drove back in the rain! But who cares, after all these stories were processed in my head the whole day felt like one long sun-fest.

Monday, June 08, 2009

TMC: Episode 3 - Rinse, swish, repeat

Welcome to The Midwest Chronicles (TMC). These are the accounts of the exploits of the Nebraska Cricket Club in the 2009 season. To spice up what would otherwise be a routine match report of runs scored, wickets taken, and catches snaffled (or spilled) these posts are being written with a tongue firmly in cheek but with the facts completely in the true. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the meandering show.

Here's a complete guide to the cast of characters and their nicknames. The cast will be updated as players are added or dropped or nicknames changed as the season progresses
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We are what we repeatedly do..
Aristotle
The Weather Channel, largely quiet this year, reared its ugly head resulting in the postponement of Saturday's game to Sunday. On Sunday, TWC displayed similarly depressing predictions for the rest of the day (ranging between 50 to 70% chance of rain and thunderstorms for the afternoon. I wish I had taken a picture of that just to throw eggs at the channel after the fact - the game was played under almost cloudless skies for the most part).

During the drive to Ames, IA, two different scenarios played out in the two vans that took the 13 member team. In Bhishma's van, the venerable man regaled the rest of the folks with stories from the Mahabharat, i.e. his life. Speaking non-stop for three hours, his tales kept everyone wanting more, so much so that Bob Loblaw almost decided to make Bhishma the official writer of the match reports. In Captain Ozone's van there was a fierce competition between Ozone, Little Boy, and Kamikaze to see who was the best at winning coin tosses. Ozone guessed right 100% of the time, Kamikaze kicked in at 80%, while Little Boy barely registered a 50% ratio. So naturally, at the ground, Ozone sent in Little Boy for the coin toss which he promptly lost for the third straight time. Methinks that Little Boy is intentionally losing the tosses so that he doesn't become the prime candidate to be a scapegoat later on in the season.

The Iowa State University team decided to inset NCC. A wise decision since the outfield was wet and the grass tall enough to hide giraffes. Ground strokes stopped rolling before the boundary was reached and as the ball got wetter and heavier it became harder to hit. For everyone, that is, except Thin Man.

Tasmanian (Taz) Devil and Thin Man put up a 50 run opening partnership in a blaze of...err...singles and doubles. Taz ran Thin Man ragged, forcing TM to resort to ungainly agricultural swipes just to buy some time to rest. Thankfully, TM survived this phase and slowly began to connect with the ball. Then, against stereotype, Taz stepped out to loft the ball into the stratosphere but instead was easily stumped with his personal score on 23. (What is it with NCC batsmen reaching 23 and getting the impulse to be stumped?)

Bhishma kept it quiet and simple, content to let Thin Man hog the strike. And, boy, did Thin Man hog the strike?! Going berserk on the opposition, TM kept hitting the ball to various parts of the ground and took just 28 balls to register another 50. The long grass and wet ground kept his scoring down (relatively speaking) and he had just 1 four and 4 sixes and yet managed to reach 62 in 39 balls when he was finally caught at short cover.

Kamikaze went in and played to his strengths, but not before getting a thorough working over by 6'5" Abraiz, who got the ball to lift alarmingly from a good length spot. Meanwhile, Bhishma got run out going for a 3rd run that was derailed by a fortuitous bounce onto the wickets off Abraiz's legs, cutting short what was promising to be a delightful cameo.

Gunmaster G9 scored a run, and then came back when his attempt to clear long-on failed by just a couple of yards. This set the stage for Energizer to lift off. Energizer had been performing admirably in the nets but delivering duds on the playing field, so much so that one more dud would have changed his nickname to Net Zero (hero in the nets, zero on the field). He defended the first ball he faced and then bludgeoned 27 off the next 11, including two stunning sixes to end the innings. Kamikaze and Energizer plundered 37 runs in the last 2 overs to take NCC to a formidable 178 for 4 in just 20 overs.

While ISU was padding up, the fact of the matter was that their batsmen had to score 179 in 20 overs at the rate of just under 9 runs an over. Here are some other noteworthy facts:
  • No piece of paper can be folded in half more than 7 times
  • More people are killed by donkeys annually than in plane crashes
  • Men in their early twenties shave an average of four times a week
  • A chicken with red earlobes will produce brown eggs, and a chicken with white earlobes will produce white eggs
  • The largest employer in the world is the Indian railway system, employing over 1.6 million people
Energizer's first ball of the innings was short and pounded away to the square-leg fence by Amkur and that set the tone for the next few overs. Having scored 27 in 2 overs, Energizer then proceeded to give almost all of that away in two listless overs. Surprisingly, he began bowling (attempted) leg-spinners in the second over and the momentum was completely shifted towards the opposition.

Ozone, desperate to break the momentum, tried three other bowlers before the Tasmanian Devil (Taz) finally struck in his 3rd over, the 8th of the innings. By then ISU had put on 66 runs and were in a good position. But you see, NCC is made of sterner stuff than it appears when you see them on the field bickering and sledging each other, much to the bemusement of the opposition.

66 for 1 quickly became 75 for 4 as Taz and Gundappa (Malki) began bowling to the wickets in true dibbly-dobbly fashion. The ISU batsmen seemed hell-bent on scoring sixes to get to the target and played into NCC's hands. Four over later it was 95 for 5 in 12 overs. With 84 runs to get in 8 overs, what ISU needed was (yes, you guessed it) "a blinder of an innings" (thanks for nothing, Shastri). And they got just that. Man Mountain Abraiz began swatting the ball like it was an annoying fly buzzing about him. Five towering sixes came off his blazing blade and suddenly it was 135 for 5 in 16.4 overs - just 44 to get in 26 balls, easily do-able.

But there was one last twist, as Kamikaze came to the party snaring two well-judged high catches and then picking up two wickets to scuttle the ISU ship. The biggest blow to their cause was delivered by Bhishma, who enticed Abraiz into pounding a six and then castled him with a yorker when he went to repeat the feat. Just as in the previous match, Gunmaster came back and took the final wicket to fall, ending the ISU innings at 145, 33 runs short of the NCC total.

Kamikaze picked up the man of the match award with unabashed glee, but special mention must be made of Little Boy. For a big fellow, he showed amazing reflexes behind the wicket, diving around to collect the ball, and picking up a sharp catch and affecting a quick stumping while standing up to the wicket. Rumor is that his feats have captured the eye of some dainty damsel in India and he may be going home to meet her soon. We hope he comes back with his mojo intact. Bon voyage!

At the game, Mind It (Quintus, who shall henceforth be referred to as the Fifth Element) unveiled an electronic scoring system, using a PDA. It has some wonderful features, one among which is the ability to see a batsman's wagon-wheel. In honor of his decisive innings, here is Thin Man's wagon-wheel for the game.
(Note: The upper half is the leg-side and the lower half-is the offside. Also, 9 o'clock is directly behind the keeper, while 3 o'clock is directly behind the bowler)

Here's the NCC wagon wheel. Note how conspicuously the batsmen avoided one part of the ground!

(Note: The upper half is the leg-side and the lower half-is the offside. Also, 9 o'clock is directly behind the keeper, while 3 o'clock is directly behind the bowler)

Saturday, June 06, 2009

West coast jaunt

Here's a sneak preview of a trip taken to the Oregon coast last week.

video
More to come soon...

Prepping for the Ashes

At the T20 World Cup:
Simple logic tells me that England is more likely to qualify for the next round with a win than Australia. All England has to do is beat the Pakistanis by more than a ball or a couple of runs. That way, unless the Pakistan-Netherlands match also goes to the last ball, they are safe.

Australia, on the other hand, need a massive win against Sri Lanka and then hope that the Windies-Sri Lanka match is also a blowout. Does not look good from here.

The most likely scenario is that just four days into the tournament, both England and Australia will be out of it. Good for them. It will give them lots of time to prepare for the Ashes, which seems to have been occupying their minds for quite a few months now.
As the ancient Chinese curse goes: Be careful what you wish for, it may come true.

The Lee and Luke show

From the underappreciated official French Open website comes this (sort-of) blow by blow account of the Men's Doubles final between LeanderPaes/Lucas Dlouhy and Dick Norman/Wes Moodie.
5.08 pm: Out come the finalists for the men’s doubles – No3 seeds Lucas Dlouhy and Leander Paes against the unseeded pairing of Wes Moodie and Dick Norman.

5.22 pm: Lefty Norman opens and holds serve. This pair are 6’8” and 6’5” respectively. Whoosh! Leander Paes meanwhile is 5’10 ½” – fine if you’re blogging, I find, but not ideal when you’re up against a Belgian who’s nigh on a foot taller

5.25 pm: Moodie returns services over Paes’ head at the net (told you he was too small…) and the mellow yellows (they are wearing matching lemon-coloured tops) are a break to the good.

5.31 pm: Paes takes a Norman forehand right in the bridge of the nose. He’s got an ice-bag on it now and the trainer’s out

5.37 pm: 3-1 Moody and Norman but at least Paes is up and running again.

5.46 pm: The taller pair are dominating the net and that’s a 5-2 first-set lead in their ample pockets. Paes to serve.

5.56 pm: 5-3, Norman serving and Dlouhy and Paes save set point after set point! The fifth one is finally the charm and the tall South African/Belgian pairing is a set to the good.

6.37 pm: 6-3 to the yellows in the first set, 6-3 to the white-shirters in the second, with Paes showing no ill-effects of the ball being pinged off his nose earlier. We’re into a final set (a full set as opposed to a match tie-break).

6.43 pm: Break to Dlouhy and Paes, who made the final of last year’s US Open.

6.54 pm: Dlouhy holds, despite a raft of break points. 4-2 to the pair in white.

6.58 pm: 5-2 after another break. Time is running out for the team in lemon

7.01 pm: Paes finishes off with an ace and a love game, and goes and gives Martina Navratilova a hug! Congrats to this year’s men’s doubles champions – Lukas Dlouhy and Leander Paes.
If you are counting (and I know some of you are) Paes now has 5 Grand Slam doubles titles to 4 for Mahesh Bhupathi. Bhupathi still leads him 7 to 5 in the mixed doubles category. Incredibly, Bhupathi has won mixed doubles titles with 7 different partners.

Friday, June 05, 2009

FIP is not RIP-ing

The Fake IPL Player was the one source of entertainment for me during the recently conducted tournament.

After briefly promising to reveal himself at the end of the tournament he realized that he could have a lot more fun if he did not do so. For a while it seemed he had gone into hiding but now he has resurfaced at the World T20 championships (or whatever they are called).

His blog is on my daily blogroll of sites to visit. I think you'll enjoy his "insights", too. (Here's an interview with the FIP. One wonders whether this is real or fake)

Grace under pressure

Stefan Edberg.

Once in a while you come across interviews that seem to be of the unhurried type, meandering along taking a life of its own. Worth reading for the breadth of topics covered and the number of nuggets it yields. This interview with Edberg fits right into that category. (Note, it is slightly dated but still very relevant, and do note that it is over multiple pages).

Some notable insights:
PF: Agassi and Laver are the only men players to win all four Grand Slam events during the Open Era. But you came very close when y ou led Michael Chang two sets to one and had W break points in the fourth set and then were twice up a service break in the fifth set of the French Open final. Was losing that exciting final your biggest disappointment?

SE: Not at the time because I thought I'd have more chances. But as the years went by, I realized that was my great opportunity. It was similar to the great chance McEnroe had against Lendl [in the 1984 French Open final]. With my game I wasn't going to get that many chances in Paris. And I was playing very well that year. If I had played one big point better, that would probably have been enough to win the match. But Chang had God on his side, or whatever you call it. [laughing] Maybe he was destined to win that year. That was a big, big chance, and it's obviously something I regret today. But, what the heck, you can't win everything.

PF: You. won a gold 'medal at the 1984 Olympics when tennis was a demonstration sport. Are you pleased with the way tennis is staged at the Olympics?

SE: Yes and no. In 1984 having tennis in the Olympics was a bit suspect. But at the same time you have to be supportive because the Olympics is a big event. It wasn't until Agassi won it [in 1996] in the U.S. that you got a little pop about winning the Olympics. But I don't think tennis really needs the Olympics. I'm not sure football [soccer] does either. Tennis can stand on its own feet without it.

PF: You were one of the most elegant, athletic and effective serve-and-volleyers in tennis history. But today there are only seven frequent serve-and-volleyers in the top 100 and another seven who serve and volley occasionally. What should tennis do so that this entertaining and important style of play does not die?

SE: That's a good question. If I was playing today, I would not play as aggressively as I did because it's too predictable and the guys return serve far better than previously. With serve-and-volley, it takes a couple of more years to learn about the game. It's riskier, there is less margin for making mistakes. I don't think serving-and-volleying will die. I just wish there will be more serving-and-volleying because it's beautiful to watch.

SE: Because you go to all these other sports-basketball, football and ice hockey-and it's loud and they scream and there's popcorn. It's nice to have a sport for people who like it a little more quiet where you sit down and enjoy what's going on out there. You don't need to stand up and scream at everything. You need respect for other people, too. Tennis is very different because you keep quiet when the point is on, and you clap after the point.
I vividly remember many of Edberg's matches. Mostly for his fluidity of movement. He seemed to glide across the court (a la Federer) even when he lost the point. He was quite mentally strong, too. In 1992, at the US Open, he won three consecutive 5-setters after being down a break in the 5th set - a feat unmatched in tennis history.

John McEnroe once said that this man had the best first volley he had ever seen in tennis. That's high praise indeed.

Edberg was a five-time recipient of the ATP Sportsmanship Award, so much so that, upon his retirement from the game the ATP renamed the award the "Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award"! (Interesting sidenote: for the last 5 years the award has gone to Roger Federer!)

Here are some Stefan Edberg highlights. This one's for you, DSC/BD.

Dancing with the Dev-il

When Kapil Dev retired, he was the world record holder for not only the most Test wickets, but also the most ODI wickets. At that point in time he was also the holder of the second highest score ever made in an ODI. As time goes by, his achievements get bypassed and forgotten, but the enduring memory of his remains that of him lifting the Prudential World Cup in 1983. Thank goodness for small mercies.

For a man who scored over 8,000 international runs, I always felt that he underachieved. I have seen only one other batsman (Sehwag) as unaffected by the quality of the bowling, the state of the match, or the vagaries of personal form. Such was the aura he had when he came to bat.

Gideon Haig, in his inimitable fashion, salutes the legend, now being shunned by the BCCI.
He had the liveliest and least imitable action of all, a skipping, bounding run of gathering energy, and a delivery stride perfectly side-on but exploding at all angles, wrists uncoiling, arms elasticising, eyes afire. Which was part of his significance. No fast bowlers in India? Kapil could have hailed from no other country.

All that stood in the way of Kapil's bowling was his batting, full of generous arcs and fearful cleaves, signed with an exuberant pull shot that featured a chorus-line kick from his crossed front leg
.
By the way, my favorite stat concering Kapil is that of the 434 wickets he took in his Test career, 217 were at home and 217 were abroad.

Mountains and molehills and all that

A storm in a teacup an other such phrases come to mind when I think of the ruckus being raked up about the discord in the Indian team between Sehwag and Dhoni. Prem Panicker does a much, much job than I ever could of describing the inner workings of the birth of these controversies and the need to have a "story" that fuels them.

Here is his take on the episode. The interesting thing is that it was written BEFORE Dhoni came out with his prepared statement. Read Prem's take in its entirety.

And after the statement of solidarity from the Indian team, Panicker takes some time out to laud Dhoni for his open approach to dealing with such shenanigans.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

TMC: Episode 2 - Chalk and cheese

Welcome to The Midwest Chronicles (TMC). These are the accounts of the exploits of the Nebraska Cricket Club in the 2009 season. To spice up what would otherwise be a routine match report of runs scored, wickets taken, and catches snaffled (or spilled) these posts are being written with a tongue firmly in cheek but with the facts completely in the true. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the meandering show.

Here's a complete guide to the cast of characters and their nicknames. The cast will be updated as players are added or dropped or nicknames changed as the season progresses.
A good beginning makes a good end.
-Louis L'Amour
Two batsmen, in completely contrasting styles, propped up the NCC innings suspension bridge-style. Between them they played 99 balls, scored 124 runs, with 11 fours and 6 sixes. While they were at the crease 190 runs (out of 206) were scored. Yet, lumping Thin Man's contribution with Bob Loblaw only tells part of the tale. Here is the rest of it.

Last year, as NCC romped through to the best record in the league-phase of the CLIA, they did so without beating Elite Cricket Club even once. Naturally, in the finals, ECC resisted all temptations to cede the advantage and took home the trophy, leaving NCC to lick its wounds. Like the seminal Ashes series of 2005, senior citizens who had contemplated retirement cancenled their plans to have one more tilt at the CLIA windmill this season. (So, thanks for nothing, ECC. All you did was stunt the growth of the NCC by preventing younger players from coming through).

Week 2 of the 2009 season featured a highly anticipated and eagerly awaited clash with ECC. Little Boy lost the toss for the second game in a row. Unlike the previous match, in this case he did not get away with it as NCC was asked to bat first.

Like a drunken man ordering a flurry of drinks before the bar closes for the night, Captain Ozone rung in changes. The Shadow, Little Boy, and Kingsize Dada made way for Doctor Kamikaze (Francis), Mind It (Quintus), and Gunmaster G9 (Gautham).

Belonging to the Shahid Afridi school of batting (see ball, thwack ball) has worked well for Thin Man (Bala) and this day was no exception. The very first over featured two huge sixes and the plundering began in full earnest. Setting fielders at long-on and long-off is like waving a red flag at this bull of a man (metaphorically speaking). Soon the fielders began chasing the ball around the outfield while the bowlers developed sprained necks from twisting their heads backwards as soon as the ball was hit. Unlike Boom-Boom Afridi, Thin Man does not get carried away with his hitting prowess. Of course, getting tired easily is also conducive to forcing a batsman to take singles while he waits for his second wind. And Thin Man did just that. (Amit) Tasmanian Devil's single focus was simple - take singles to keep Thin Man on strike and take two's when TM hits the ball. Alas, after an opening partnership of nearly 30 runs to which he contributed a solitary single, TD went on the backfoot and paid the price, out LBW. In walked Doctor Kamikaze (Francis).

As Kamikaze walked to the crease, all activity ceased along the outskirts of Omaha. The first ball of Kamikaze's innings is always the most gut-wrenching one. A digression here will probably explain why it is so. Virender Sehwag is famous for racing away from zero and reaching landmarks with big hits, usually for six. The reason for that, he says, is that he is nervous and tries to dispel the nerves by hitting out. Well, Kamikaze probably ascribes to the same school of thought, but we seriously doubt it. He is famous around the world (inside his head) for hitting the first ball be faces as hard as he can, most probably because the two working neurons in his brain have not yet finished processing the arduous task of making sure he is indeed wearing a box (true story: he has forgotten to wear one on multiple occasions).

Shashank, the ECC captain for the uninformed, came racing in to bowl, visions of first-ball dismissals and pending hat-tricks in mind. Kamikaze calmly flicked the the ball away for a single and had a big grin on his face as he turned to the audience once he reached the non-striker's end. My, my, wonders never cease.

Keeping Thin Man warm and rotating the strike like a seasoned veteran, Kamikaze made sure the scoring rate did not dip. So much so that he scored 29 in 21 balls. In the same duration, Thin Man had blazed past his 50 and was beginning to sight that elusive century. Numbers do not always tell the tale but in this case they vividly do. Thin Man got out off the first ball of the 15th over, having already scored 101 runs. At that point the score was 143 for 2 and Ozone was having dreams of crossing the 300 run mark in 30 overs. A much-needed break (for ECC) was taken.

While Thin Man was batting, all superstitions were rigidly enforced by the supporters. No one was allowed to move from his or her spot, including Bhishma, who had the misfortune of having moved to the bench just as the hitting spree began. Though he begged to be spared from sitting in the hot sun, he wasn't allowed to budge even an inch. Some relief, in the form of a duffel bag was very thoughtfully provided by Little Boy. What did you expect - an umbrella?!

The superstitions worked as Thin Man's 101 was scored off just 48 balls, with 9 fours and 6 sixes. Thundering runs do not come much louder than this.

While we wait for the NCC innings to resume, here are a few fun facts to tide you over.
  • A kiss lasting one minute can burn more than 30 calories.
  • Women blink nearly twice as much as men.
  • Right handed people live nine years longer than left-handed people.
  • Sobering thought: There are six million parts in the Boeing 747-400.
  • The shortest river in the world is D River in Oregon. (I was there yesterday. *sigh*)
In the first game of the season, NCC's middle order collapsed over a span of 9 overs. Showing that they learn from their mistakes, in the second match they did it in just 4 overs. From 143 for 1 to 159 for 7 is the stuff of which captain's nightmares are made. And NCC managed just that. Here's the blow-by-blow detail of how it happened.

We have already heard of Thin Man's tired attempt to clear midwicket. That was the second blow.

Kamikaze finally managed to swing for the fences and a high spiraling catch was taken about 10 yards away from him at point. Three down.

Chikna (Jatin) was caught in two minds - his and the captain's - and tamely top-edged a catch to deep midwicket, a cross between the sixer he wanted to hit and the consolidation shot that his captain urged of him. Four down.

Energizer Bunny (JJ) continued with his quest to give the off-side players catching practice by tamely blocking a ball back to the cover fielder. Five down.

Bhishma (Bhaskar) walked in with a new bat in hand. He still hit 2 sixes off the first two balls he faced but looked totally out of sorts at the crease, repeatedly going down on his knees to sweep the ball and not connecting. Finally on his 6th attempt he missed completely and was bowled round his legs. Six down.

Ozone lived up to his name (O3) playing 3 balls and scoring 0 runs, tamely testing mid-wickets catching prowess. Pretty good was the final verdict. Seven down 159 on the board, and 12 overs still to go.

Gunmaster G9 and Bob Loblaw had the onerous task of batting out 12 overs with just three wickets left. Even in the nets the players do not normally get such an extended session, and the duo feasted on the opportunity. Ignoring the scoreboard and eschewing all risks, Bob Loblaw set anchor - a role that he perfected to an art form in the PCA league, where he was the only batsman to score over 200 runs at a strike rate less than 100 (in fact, a strike rate of 66 was his proud accomplishment). G9 was not as quiet, looking to bash the ball if it was in his zone and defending it if it wasn't. The pair slowly raised about 30 odd runs in 8 overs before G9 got out looking to increase the scoring rate. An innings of 18 runs in 22 balls with 2 fours was his invaluable contribution to the cause.

King Warney tried to rein himself in for a couple of overs but then got carried away and lost his wicket to a cross-batted slog, not his strongest suit.

The last ball of the 29th over yielded the last nail in the coffin as Bob, in a thinly concealed attempt to farm the strike was stumped running down the wicket without connecting with the ball. As in the previous match, the #11 batsman, this time it was Mind It, remained not out on a spectacular 0 off 0 balls.

Bob Loblaw scored a ponderous 23 runs in 41 balls, with two fours. Contrast this with Thin Man whose 48 balls produced 101 runs. However, each man was equal to the task and the situation of the innings at that time. In the first match, Bob's goal was to take the team's score past 100 and he did, ensuring a tight 16 run victory. In this one he escorted the score from 150-odd to 206, a fighting total, and probably enough to ensure victory if he bowlers could hold it together.

The ECC openers began in a cautious manner, seeing off Energizer's prodigious outswing before setting the blueprint for the rest of the innings in Bhishma's next over. Two bad balls - two sixes, four good balls - four dots. Thumping the ball when width was offered and defending when it was not, the openers calmly played out the first 10 overs, reaching 60-plus without a fuss. Ozone rotated through his bowlers - Energizer holding one end up while Warney and Chikna continued from where Bhishma left off. The runs came in small spruts rather than extravagant bursts and neither team felt it was out of it at the 10 over stage. At which point, Ozone turned to TD and Kamikaze.

TD bowls medium-paced straight balls that were wobbling around enough to keep the batsmen and the keeper on the edge. Kamikaze is a different bird completely. He has one motto when he bowls - "if the batsman misses, he hits. If the batsman hits, he misses". Confused? Don't be. It makes sense only to Kamikaze's warped mind. Nevertheless, the very first ball he bowled to Ganesh was a short-hopper that deserved to be deposited in the next County and the opener tried really hard. However, he only managed to underedge it for Bob to pull off a smart catch going low to grab it. While the umpire did not deem that the batsman had edged it, in a magnanimous gesture, Ganesh walked. Kudos are due to him for it.

Once the breach was made, NCC did not need another invitation, least of all Kamikaze. If there is anything free on offer, Kamikaze is the first in line to clean up and with wickets it is no exception. To quote Ravi Shastri, wickets fell at regular intervals as the asking rate rose. TD joined Kamikaze in the festive spirit of the moment and between the two of them they snared 7 wickets, giving away 71 runs in 12 overs.

Gunmaster came back in the death and bowled at a stunning pace, repeatedly thudding the 25-plus over old ball into the distant keeper's gloves. On debut in the CLIA, G9 showed that the NCC had found a new weapon.

The final score was 180 for 9, a 26 run victory that looks closer than it was because of the 33 wides that were bowled. The bowlers are the ones that do the most work in the nets but do not seem to be able to control the umpire's tendency to display his wingspan when they bowl. Need to work on that. One of these days it will catch up to them. A heartening aspect for the team was that more catches were taken than dropped and the keeper did not let any extra runs go by on the wide balls, only blotting his copybook by letting a solitary bye slip through in the 29th over.

Not surprisingly, Thin Man was the unanimous Man of the Match. Centuries do not come easily in 30 over formats, and that too ones that are completed in just 14 overs! With their second win in as many games, NCC climbs to the top of the league table, but it is a long road and too many bumps lie in wait for complacency to set in.

Think before you speak

Dear Brad Gilbert,

Giving tennis players nicknames is a nice way of showing off to the viewers, but please consider the implications before you come up with your monikers. One example will suffice:

Is Svety (sweaty?!!) the best you could come up with for Svetlana Kuznetsova?

Sincerely,
JQ