Friday, July 31, 2009

TMC: Episode 8 - Déjà vu all over again

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
Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
- George Santayana

Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied.
- Pearl S. Buck
The top of the CLIA league table is beginning to tighten up and with the money end of the season coming up, each game assumes greater importance. The Iowa State University team wandered into Omaha hoping to leap-frog into the 4th spot in the race for the semi-finals. The stage was set for a hard-fought battle. Last year the games between NCC and ISU were very close (more on that later) and this game was no different.

Captain Ozone entrusted Bob Loblaw with the toss. Naturally, the portly one lost the toss and had the duty of informing his team that they would be batting first. Thin Man and U-Turn began sedately as Usman and Anwar pegged away at a just short of good length line. U-Turn, mindful of recent low scores, looked to middle everything and spend some time out there. Unfortunately, the first overpitched ball of the innings was too juicy to avoid and his attempt to clear mid-off failed. The batting hero of the previous match, Sunny Delight (yay...I have a nickname for him now), proceeded to play his way in while trying to guide Thin Man. Thin Man, having changed bats before the match began, was having a tough time connecting with the ball. He still managed to hit what was to be the biggest six of the day, but eventually his frustration at not striking cleanly got to him and he was out for a paltry 8 in 11 balls.

Abraiz, ISU's big (6'5") man, was brought into the attack to stir things up and he did just that, getting Chikna Slater bowled while attempting to biff a shorter length ball into the tenanted leg-side where deep square-leg and deep midwicket were waiting patiently. Just 6 runs in 18 balls was a sad return for his cautious vigil.

In the past few matches Energizer Bunny has been having a good time in the middle and the law of averages was bound to catch up with him, and it did. After being tied down for a couple of overs by Abriaz, Energizer looked to take matters into his own hands and stepped down the wicket to loft him to the long-off fence. With the ball speeding away past him, the mid-off fielder took off and took an acrobatic catch to save a sure-fire boundary, among other things. A labored innings of 4 runs in 14 balls was brought to a spectacular close.

Almost immediately afterwards, Sunny D looked to clip the spinner (Sharan) for an easy single to long-on. Instead the bat turned in his hand and a laddoo of a catch was taken at short-midwicket. His innings of 18 runs in 21 balls promised a lot more than it eventually delivered.

Ozone pushed and prodded his way, poaching singles in his typical nurdling style, while Doctor Kamikaze began his innings with a typical bang, slamming a four to deep midwicket off the first ball he faced. These two normally do not get to bat together in matches (usually because Kamikaze cannot be bothered to hang around at the crease till Ozone shows up) and, not surprisingly, a misunderstanding between them led to Ozone's needless runout. (Having said that, here's something to think about, when is a runout NOT needless?).

The score read 86 for 5 in the 17th over. With 13+ overs still to go, Bob Loblaw walked in to thundering silence. Over the next hour and a half Bob resisted all urges to throw his wicket way, constantly reminding himself to stay put till the end. With Bob in a combative mood, Kamikaze began to unfurl his drinking-cat hoiks (eyes closed, swing bat), connecting enough times to keep frustrating the bowler and the opposition fielders. Twice Kamikaze's swings connected well-enough to scatter the grasshoppers near the far road, but apart from those sixes it was hard work for the fellow. Taking on one too many risks, Kamikaze lost his stumps to Abraiz but not before compiling 43 runs in 49 balls with 2 sixes. His 50 run partnership with Bob had advanced the team score into the 130's and what was needed was a final flourish.

King Warnie and Bob kept the ball along the ground and ran two's and three's as often as possible. Bob pulled up with a sore back and U-Turn came back to run for him. At the end of 29 overs the score was 147, and Bob turned on the gas and 16 runs came from the final over. 163 for 7 in 30 overs was a competitive score. Warnie, playing with a great sense of purpose and along straight lines, scored 13 in 9 balls. Bob remained not out on 39 runs in 36 balls, with three boundaries. In the 7 matches he has played this season, this was the fifth time (out of the 6 times he has batted) he has been there at the end of the innings (including three not outs), often taking the team past a tender stage into a position from which a victory is possible.

We shall now take our regularly scheduled mid-inning meaningless trivia break.
  • The most commonly-spoken languages in the world are: Mandarin (907 Million); English (456); Hindi (383); Spanish (362).
  • The most common street name in US: Park Street.
  • The Statue of Liberty is not in New York state, but in New Jersey.
  • Pencils are hexagonal because they're cheaper. You can make 9 hexagon pencils with the same wood it takes to make 8 round.
  • The only country with 100 percent literacy rate: Iceland (They also have to speak 3 languages).
  • Proportional to their weight, men are stronger than horses.
There are two ways of chasing a middling target (164 to win in 30 overs at less than 6 an over) a) attack in the first few overs and bring the asking rate down so drastically that no more risks are required the rest of the way b) Reduce all risks and take it slowly and ease your way to victory ISU came out with plan A in mind. The first over of the innings by Energizer featured three cross-batted pulls to the fence and ISU were up and running. King Warnie had difficulty controlling his flight and gifted runs in wides and boundaries, not discriminating between the two. The 5th over of the innings was a complete surprise - a maiden by Enegizer. Yet after 6 overs the score was 61 for no loss. 103 runs to get in 24 overs with all 10 wickets in hand. Serious advantage: ISU. Ankur was the opener who was on the move and getting him out was paramount if NCC wanted any chance at all to get some positives from the match. While he had bludgeoned his way to a rapidfire 50 (off just 34 balls), Ankur was not content and that led to his downfall. A short ball by Warnie was hit towards deep midwicket, where U-Turn came racing in and dove full-length forward to take a brilliant catch just inches off the ground. By then Ankur had already made 55 runs in 41 balls, with 9 fours. This was easily the best catch of the season for NCC and was reminiscent of a similar effort by an Aussie a few years ago (see the first catch in this video).

Three balls later another rubbish ball got Warnie a wicket. Usman did not quite know what to do with a low full-toss and tamely patted it back to the bowler. And just like that a breach had been made and NCC came roaring in.

Ozone turned to his middle over enforcer and U-Turn did not let him down. Bowling his deadly wicket-to-wicket wobbly swingers, U-Turn cast a spell and the scoring reduced to a trickle. At the other end, Fifth Element was brought on to keep up the pressure and between the two of them the bowlers did just that. Bowling in tandem as if they had been at it for years, the duo slowed the rate to such an extent that something had to give. Not surprisingly it was the batsman. Another cross-batted hoick found its way into a diving U-Turn's hand at deep midwicket and Fifth was back in the wickets. Pretty soon, Fifth surprised everyone, including himself, by latching on to a sharp return chance offered by Prasanna. 61 for no loss in 6 overs had disintegrated into 98 for 5. But the fast start had ensured that the required run-rate was always of manageable proportions. What was needed was a calm head to take the team through and Lakshmi Narayan (LN) set about to do just that for ISU.

Refusing to take any risks, LN was content to take the very occasional single and the more-than-occasional wide that was on offer and the match slowly meandered for a while. However, one rush of blood from Anwar was enough to see him lose his stumps to U-Turn and increase the pressure on LN. 113 for 6.

U-Turn and Fifth completed their spells in one go and throttled the ISU momentum brilliantly. U-Turn finished with analyses of 6-1-13-2, while Fifth provided great support with 6-0-27-2.

Chikna breathed fire looking for the breakthroughs the team needed and settled down from one end while Ozone circulated between his options at the other end. Sharan and LN kept things very quiet and it would take a burst of inspiration to change up things and Chikna managed that with a picture perfect in-cutter that took out Sharan's off-stump. 138 for 7.

Kamikaze came in at the other end to bowl in the death and, like every other every bowler, was having trouble breaching LN's defences. Slowly but surely LN inched the score along but his long vigil came to an end when he missed a flick off of a straight ball from Kamikaze and was trapped dead plumb in front of the stumps. LN's innings of 17 runs in 53 balls was one of those double-edged swords in that it gave both teams a glimmer of victory. 152 for 8.

Abraiz came in shaking his head at the situation of the innings and pummeled the first ball he faced to the long-off fence with chilling nonchalance. At the other end 18-year old Daya played with immense purpose and actually scored most of the runs, swinging cross-batted at everything and managing to get enough bat to not get out. In the 29th over, with just 9 runs needed for a win, one such shot took the outside edge and sped away to the third man fence.

With 6 balls to go, Abraiz was on strike. Three runs to win, two wickets in hand and Kamikaze with the ball in hand. The first ball was slightly wide of the off-stump and a wild swing by Abraiz yielded a thick edge to third man and the batsmen quickly ran two runs to level the scores. 5 balls to go, 2 wickets in hand, 1 run to win, Abraiz on strike...massive advantage: ISU.

The second ball of the over was punched o short cover where Warnie quickly converged on the ball. Seeing this Abraiz refused the run but the non-striker had taken too big a lead and could not recover in time. A calm throw by Warnie to Kamikaze produced the runout.

4 balls to go, 1 wicket in hand, 1 run to win, Abraiz on strike...advantage: ISU, but the margin of error had decreased considerably.

Let's step away from the action for a flashback: Last year, ISU hosted NCC in a 25 over game. In that game, with about 8 overs to go, and 7 wickets down, Bob Loblaw had taken the score to 143 while scoring 20-odd not out. Then in the final over bowled by Kamikaze, with one ball to go and one wicket in hand, ISU needed 3 runs to win. The batsman was, you guessed it, Abraiz. He lofted a ball to deep midwicket where the fielder dropped the catch (!) but then showed good presence of mind to throw to the non-strikers end where Abraiz was runout going for the winning third run, thereby tying the game.

So, coming back to the present - here's a refresher of where we left things: 4 balls to go, 1 wicket in hand, 1 run to win, Abraiz on strike...advantage: ISU, but the margin of error had decreased considerably.

The next ball by Kamikaze was on good length targeting the off-stump. Abraiz's eyes lit up and he went for a cross-batted flick that missed everything. Unluckily for him, Kamikaze did not miss the stumps and for the second time in two years ISU and NCC had tied the game!!

Each team went back with 4 points for the tie and a feeling of what-if. What-if NCC had not bowled 32 wides? What-if Abraiz had not lost his cool? What-if...?

In the end, what we got was a memorable match that will be hard to forget.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ring of fire

Don't look now but is Andrew Flintoff really nothing but an English Abey Kuruvilla? The funniest cricket writer these days, Andy Zaltzman, ponders this in an article written with a tongue firmly in cheek, but with a finger on the real pulse of the issue: Is Flintoff really all that he is made out to be?
The game was labelled by some as ‘Flintoff’s Match’ – rightly so, as his performance is what the game will be remembered for above all else – yet, as an all-round display, it was not quite as impressive as Abey Kuruvilla’s effort for India against Sri Lanka in Mohali in 1997-98. Kuruvilla scored 35 not out, compared to Flintoff’s 34 for once out, and took 6 for 117, as opposed to the English titan’s comparatively profligate 6 for 119. Few in the cricket world, however, talk excitedly of ‘Kuruvilla’s Match’. None, in fact. Not even members of the Kerala quite-quickman’s immediate family.
"From one Andy to another, I think you may be onto something here, Zaltzman."

Doomsday conspiracy

The prevailing trend in news reporting these days is what I call the hail-or-fail syndrome. Reporters either predict the upswing or downswing of sporting icons depending supon what status they have attained in their sport.

So, either Roger Federer is the new heir to the Greatest of All-Time throne, or he is just a pretender whose best days are behind him. Should the downward moving person's fortunes make a turnaround for the better, as Federer's recently did, the very same naysayers will then turn around and be astonished that people wrote him/her off.

And on and on it goes...

The latest to receive such coverage is Tiger Woods. Now that three majors have gone by without a win in 2009, Tiger's days are surely numbered. Right? Gene Wojciechowski ( tries to provide some much-needed perspective.

An eclipse to remember

On July 22nd, 2009, most of Asia got to witness the longest solar eclipse of the 21st century. has a fabulous photo-spread of the event as it transpired in various locations.

For once, the pictures do tell the whole tale.

Man! On the Moon!! Now!!!

How would the media cover the moon landing today, 40 years after it was sedately (and awe-inducingly) delivered to the masses? If Walter Cronkite had seen this video, he probably would have realized that his time, indeed, was up. From anchorman to anachronism, such would have been his fate.

And this is how it layed out 40 years ago. (Note that the following video is the last part of a series of videos that you can see on Youtube.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

TMC: Episode 7 - Pleading the fifth

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
To some, an obstacle is an excuse to quit.
To others it is an opportunity to grow stronger
- Anonymous
A week after getting too many things wrong, NCC regrouped to play the Knight's Cricket Club, of Des Moines, IA. The nets session on Thursday featured never-before-seen levels of activity as bowlers tried to curb their wides and fielders practiced all kinds of catches. Did it help? Read on and find out.

KCC won the toss and elected to bat first on a historic day (it was the coolest weekend for this time of the year in Nebraska since the late 1800's). This suited Captain Ozone's plans just fine as he wanted to chase anyway. But he maintained his record of never winning the toss. You'd think a guy who has lost so many tosses would win one just by accident. *sigh*

Energizer began the proceedings but was missing some of his usual fire. True, he was still bowling from his long run-up, but the zing that he had obtained in the past few weeks was missing. His first spell was steady without ever looking threatening. At the other end, Ozone began with Warnie. Through his spell Warnie was threatening when he remembered to flight the ball. On occasion he has a tendency to zip it through and, invariably, bowls wide. However, against the run, Warnie induced a tentative cut shot from Amit, the KCC captain, to a ball that was destined to be a wide and Hercules flung himself forward at gully to take a catch in front of him (if only Andrew Strauss had been as keen in the Lord's Test).

While the breach had been made, the run rate did not slacker and interspersed with the great deliveries were some not-so-good ones. Energizer doled up a wide or two down the leg-side while Warnie was spinning it viciously outside the edge of the pitch. Ozone continued with Warnie and it paid off when, totally unnecessarily when you consider how easily the runs were flowing, Johnnie cross-batted a long hop to deep midwicket where Sandeep took a smart catch. (Oh no! New guy Sandeep U. has no nickname yet. I promise I will have one for him before the report is done, as he has a major role to play in the second half of the match).

The final over bowled by Warnie would prove to be his best. Four fully flighted balls on the leg-stump were parried away by the batsman and the increasing pressure got to him. The fifth ball was another Mamu-special and the batsmen lunged down the wicket, missed the ball and was comprehensively bowled.

At the drinks break, KCC was 89 for 3 in 15 overs.

Ozone turned to Kamikaze and Hercules to control the scoring. Kamikaze bowled his traditional wicket-to-wicket line and Hercules looked good as long as he stayed under control. If wickets are not falling, Hercules develops the urge to blow the batsmen away with pace. Unfortunately, his attempts to speed up the ball only result in easy pickings for the batsmen. When the man just concentrates on bowling to his field he is quite good.

Normally a firebrand who lets loose with some of the choicest expletives when things are not going well, Kamikaze was unusually quiet on this day. When he bowled, he gave the batsmen too many easy pickings on the leg-side, but he saved his masterclass for his fielding. A top-edged pull went high in the air and, to Kamikaze's horror, he found himself under the ball waiting for it to come down with no one else claiming the catch as theirs. The easiest of high catches possible was dropped by him and for the rest of the day he had a sheepish grin on his face. Even before the opposition could begin to sledge the poor soul, his unforgiving teammates were at it. A week has gone by and Kamikaze has still not lived down this moment of ignominy!

Ozone turned to his favorite mid-innings bowler but even U-Turn, for the first time this season, could not live up to his name. It is times like this that unexpected diamonds shine through. Ozone found one in the Fifth Element (Quintas). Fifth Element is one of those hard-working fellows who flies under the radar. A constant presence at every practice, he is probably the only guy who bats, bowls, and fields during the sessions. During the games he is always smiling and reminds all of us jaded fellows what we really should care about. As the season has gone by, Fifth has been biding his time, waiting for a chance to show what he can do. When Ozone turned to him, Fifth seized the opening with both hands and more!

Fifth has a very simple run-up and a straight, open-chested action which he uses to put the ball in the spot that he aims at. Behind the stumps, Bob Loblaw provided the target and Fifth fired away at it ball after ball. Combined with this accuracy was some new found swing, of the dibbly-dobbly kind. The first wicket he got was a gift. for over a season, Ozone has been putting down catches left, right, and center. On this day, when the ball went up, all the players' thoughts turned towards damage control. To the surprise of many, most of all himself, Ozone clung onto the ball and, suddenly, anything seemed possible. Soon after, Fifth got the batsman to hang his bat out for a regulation caught behind. Two more batsmen followed in quick succession, trying to force Fifth out of the attack and only succeeding in getting their stumps splattered.

By now, Fifth was on fire. Not content with taking wickets with his bowling, he revealed another weapon in his armory. A flick to long leg should normally have been an easy double for any player. But this day was no ordinary day. Fifth's throw from the fine-leg boundary zeroed in onto the stumps and the direct hit was enough to run out the batsman! However, as if show that the run-out was an event that should be celebrated as unique one and not as a common occurrence, his next throw was about 25 yards wide of the mark, and order was restored in the galaxy!

A fifth wicket for, yes, Fifth followed soon after with Hercules taking a simple catch and showing Kamikaze how it should be done. Fittingly, Fifth ended the innings by getting the last batsman to hit a square-drive right into Energizer's hands. A good thing, too, since Energizer was unprepared for it and had the ball been 6 inches in either direction he probably would not have caught it.

Fifth's heroics - 6 wickets and a run-out - are important when you consider that in spite of all that KCC put up 182 runs on the board!

The teams then rested for a while and while they did, your chronicler was able to pull up some more interesting facts:
  • Molecularly speaking, water is actually much drier than sand.
  • The word "queue" is the only word in the English language that is still pronounced the same way when the last four letters are removed.
  • Earth is the only planet not named after a god.
  • You can't kill yourself by holding your breath.
  • Coca-Cola would be green if colouring weren’t added to it.
  • It is impossible to sneeze with your eyes open.
The OCC innings began with a bang when U-Turn smashed the first ball straight over the bowler's head for a brace. Unusually for him, U-Turn seemed in a belligerent mood and, sure enough, tried to manufacture a pull shot to a ball pitched outside the off-stump and gave a simple catch to the square-leg fielder.

Unperturbed by this, Thin Man went about batting the only way he can. Slamming three sixes and two fours in a span of 4 overs, he threw the KCC bowlers onto the backfoot. Seemingly in desperation, Amit gave the ball to Kaylen, a gentle spinner. Thin Man got out to the first ball, unable to decide whether to smash or place an upper cut. Instead he simply gifted gully with the easiest of catches (36 runs, 22 balls, 2 fours, 3 sixes).

Sandeep U (damn! I still cannot think of an apt nickname for him. Help!) slipped into the breach and played within himself. A tall, slim(ish) batsman who likes to play in the V, Sandeep impressed thoroughly with his temperament. Midway through his innings he began to cramp badly, but continued on through the pain with U-Turn as his runner. Initially, Sandeep had a tough time adjusting to the beautiful outswing that Amit was generating, repeatedly playing and missing. To his immese credit, Sandeep did not throw his wicket away and bided his time. Keeping him company was a subdued Energizer. Without taking any risks the duo added 86 runs at an even pace. Sandeep found the cover boundary with periodic precision, while Energizer was more open-minded and took 4 boundaries to four different areas. In between they took singles and twos but did not rush anything.

Energizer stepped down the wicket and looked to punch the ball to long-off for another routine single when the ball hung in the air a bit too long, and KCC's best fielder Johnny came haring in from long-off and took a diving catch to tilt the balance of the game just a little. Energizer's contribution was 33 runs in 22 balls, with 4 fours. Kamikaze came in, swing the first ball he faced to the deep midwicket fence, and then took the game along in his inimitable style. A slasher born to slash, Kamikaze would have been happy in the good old days when the grass in the prairie was 10 feet tall and the only way to get through it was with a machete. In spite of his one-dimensional attacking style, Kamikaze makes up for it with a keen eye. 25 runs in 22 balls, with 2 fours attest to that. No prizes for guessing how he got out.

At this juncture, Bob Loblaw went in and eased whatever tension there was by batting in a Test match mode, blocking out Amit's last over and, with it, the last roll of the KCC dice. Inching the innings along with smartly placed drives, Bob ensured that no more wickets were lost, even finding time to drive-flick a four to deep midwicket. With 2 runs to get for the win, Sandeep hit a fluent cover drive to the fence to bring up the win and achieve a personal milestone (52 not out, 65 balls, 5 fours). Bob remained not out on 11 in 18 balls with that single four.

The man of the match, and the day, was Fifth Element. He convinced the rest of the team that there were hidden depths to his talent. Now, if only it was as easy to convince his skeptical wife! Maybe this report will help...

(You can pay me later, Fifth!)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The smiling assassin

(Image source: CricInfo)

No cricketer has evinced as much divisive opinion as Muttiah Muralitharan. The debate whether he delivers the ball legally or not will rage long after he stops twirling the ball. One fact that lies undisputed is this: he is the most lethal wicket-taker Test and ODI cricket has ever known. In Tests, he has taken at least 5 wickets in an innings a mind-boggling 66 times (out of 220 innings). To put this in perspective, here the players who are atop the list of bowlers to have taken at least 5 wickets in an innings the most times:

M Muralitharan (SL) 66
SK Warne (Aus) 37
Sir RJ Hadlee (NZ) 36
A Kumble (India) 35
GD McGrath (Aus) 29
IT Botham (Eng) 27
Wasim Akram (Pak) 25
SF Barnes (Eng) 24
DK Lillee (Aus) 23
Imran Khan (Pak) 23
Harbhajan Singh (India)23
N Kapil Dev (India) 23
Waqar Younis (Pak) 22
MD Marshall (WI) 22
CEL Ambrose (WI) 22

The list is even more incredible when you realize that Murali has taken at least TEN wickets in a match 22 times!!

On his Movers and Shapers column on CricInfo, Gideon Haig writes about Murali, and a brilliant article it is, about the phenomenon that he is and how a genial guy from Sri Lanka has changed the way we view cricket. Here's a sampling but do read it in its entirety.
To anticipate any player's legacy is fraught with difficulty. Warne has left a wonderful trove of memories, but also an enormous gap: there has been no renaissance in Australian wrist spin to speak of. Because it is hardly less difficult to imagine a copyist of his methods, the same may prove true of Murali. Yet he has also, in an era of unprecedentedly intense coaching and 24-7 television coverage, with their homogenising influences, struck blow after blow for heterodoxy, for tackling cricket according to one's own lights. It can hardly be a coincidence that Murali's team-mates now include the world's three most innovative young players: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis.

Better late...

On reading this article, the words that danced in front of my eyes were: Coming soon to a theater near you, starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Lopez...
A British man and his Spanish former sweetheart have finally married 16 years after they drifted apart, reunited by a love letter lost behind a fireplace for over a decade, reports said Monday.
Who would you pick for the movie version that is bound to come out now?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

That thing called life

Not often in life do you get to meet your idol. Tariq Mahmood, a promising Under-19 player, who starred for Pakistan when they won the U-19 World Cup in 2004 was picked from obscurity because of the way his action resembled Muttiah Muralitharan's.

Years later Tariq finally got to interact with the master. To his pleasant surprise, Murali was very helpful (says a lot about how nice a person Murali is). Read on to see how the episode played out. Life really has a way of hitting you in the face when you least expect it.
PakPassion.Net: Did you get the chance to meet Murali?

Tariq Mahmood: Aqib took me to meet Murali when the teams were based in Lahore waiting for the second test. Aqib had told Vaas that we have our own Murali and Vaas had told Murali who then wanted to meet me. When we arrived, Vaas called to Murali who gestured at me, I wasn't sure what he meant and so I shrugged my shoulders.

Then Murali pointed at me and said 'Murali' and I nodded, then he called me over and asked me if I could speak English. I told him I couldn't and so Aqib came over to translate for us. I asked him anything and everything that I could think of and Murali answered in a very happy and friendly way, as though we'd been friends for years. He had an answer for every question about bowling that I could come up with, the most important advice he gave me that day was to keep control over myself at all times. He said that the bowler who is able to control his own reactions can stay in control of his bowling but when you lose control over yourself then you've lost control over your bowling too.

I asked him about every kind of delivery and he told me how to bowl it. Murali wanted me to come back the next day and practise with him in the nets but my team Sialkot had a final and I told him that. He told me that if I didn't get picked in the final XI then I should come and see him at 9 in the morning to join him in the nets for the day. He said that he had lots of stuff to show me and that he was very happy that there was another bowler so much like him

PakPassion.Net: So did you play the final?

Tariq Mahmood: No. The next day was the day of the Lahore attacks. We heard the news at the toss, the news was so devastating that everything else was forgotten.

Maggie noodle review - Ice Age : Dawn of the Dinosaurs

I have not seen the first two Ice Age movies, so I went in without any preconceived notions about this one. I knew that Ray Romano voiced the main character - a mammoth - and that was about it. I was surprised by how much of the humor was targeted towards adults but without being crude or vulgar. The characters could have been humans and it would not have made a difference. When mammoths are able to make sculptures and wind chimes as intricate as are shown in the movie, you have to suspend copious amounts of disbelief.

In the past few years, showing a T. rex seems to be the in-thing to do and this movie features one, and goes one better by showing a bigger, badder dinosaur that looks like the unfortunate product of a T. rex and a crocodile. So, naturally, an animal with an Australian accent is summoned by the scriptwriters to tackle this croc-o-saur (how they must have giggled at the scriptwriters session when this brainwave occurred to one of them).

Overall, the movie followed predictable patterns with some generic humor thrown in to make you smile all through. It is a gently-moving movie that sets out to give you a pleasant time and delivers on that promise. It is no Pixar movie, but that should not be taken as a slight against this film. If anything, this movie has found a different niche and settles well into it. Comfortably so.

Maggie noodle review - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The Harry Potter movies have begun to take liberties with JK Rowling's stories, not so much in the big happenings, but in the content. Fans of the book who have imagined in their minds fantastic sequences are bound to be disappointed when they see this one. In order to cram a book into a 150-minute movie (without songs, mind you!) requires comprehensive revision of events and sequences. Gone therefore are the many "memory" trips taken by Dumbledore and Harry. Instead the first and last one are kept intact and the rest not even referred to. The movie ends without a climactic battle at Hogwarts, which it does in the book.

Having said all that, this is the best Harry Potter movie so far. It was refreshing to see that the movie-makers did not deem it necessary to end the movie with a series of bangs and explosions. After all, the 7th book also ends with the Battle of Hogwarts and it would have seemed repetitive if they had already covered it in Movie 6.

The actors have been at it so long they slip effortlessly into their roles. My favorite is Alan Rickman, who makes everything he says sound ominous and full of portent. I'd love to be able to hear him place a lunch order one day just to see if the waiter trembles in his boots while taking it down.

While Ginny's "hard, blazing look" was eschewed in favor of a newly-written scene in the Room of Requirement, considering how much material needed to be covered, it was probably as nice way of doing it as a screenplay writer could think of.

I can hardly wait for the next two HP movies to come out now (yes, two movies).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Maggie noodle review - Public Enemies

Michael Mann directed one of the best bank-robbery movies of the recent past, getting Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro to put in one of their last good performances. So when I saw the preview of Public Enemies I was expecting another cops-and-robbers story with a heavy dose of action. Instead what I saw was a fine movie that incidentally features some well-directed shoot-outs. The emphasis of this movie is firmly and squarely on the lead actors and Mann has three fine ones at his disposal - Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, and Marion Cotillard. Don't get me wrong - there are some extended action sequences, but it does not overwhelm the movie. The action sequences themselves are choreographed (for want of a better word) in such a way that you can, at all times, tell what is going on (unlike some other recent movie).

The acting is top-notch. The dialogs are written with care and after a while you can see why Cotillard's character would be willing to risk everything to be with Depp and vice versa. Christian Bale could have easily ended up as a third wheel and a less secure actor would probably have not ceded as much ground as he does to peripheral characters in this movie, but in one scene of unexpected tenderness and civility, he establishes his character's integrity without saying a single word. Impressive, very impressive. You will know what I mean when you see it.

There's a lesson in here for the makers of those summer blockbusters. If you populate your movie with good actors and then let the camera linger on their conversations, an engrossing movie can easily be made for a 10th of the budget you think you need to keep the audience engaged.

Random musings - 2: For crying out loud

(In this column of I shall put forward thoughts that course through my mind - too small to be separate blog posts but too long to be passing fancies).
  • For the first time that I can recall, Roger Federer did not cry after winning a Grand Slam tournament. Considering that he bawled like a baby after he lost to Nadal at the Australian Open, I was sure he would crack. But the nature of the match must have had an impact on him. His reaction was, dare I say, more Nadal-like when he finally broke Roddick's serve in the 5th set.

  • By the way, England, since when did Graeme Swann and Chris Broad become good enough batsmen to warrant sending James Anderson ahead of them as a nightwatchman to protect them?!! Why do teams still use nightwatchmen anyway?
  • Had my pre-Wimbledon dark horse, Grigor Dimitrov, not gotten injured and forfeited his first round match, he would have played.....Andy Roddick in the second round.
  • If you make a prophecy but don't tell anyone until after it happens, does it count?
  • This is a feel-good story, no doubt. (Some may go overboard and say it is historic). But really, getting one batter out in an inning should not qualify you for a win in a game where you need at least 27 outs to record victory.
  • Just 4 more Tests and then I will not have to put up with any more articles that over-hype a formerly formidable player. Truly a man whose image far outdid his deeds.

    There is no better indictment of his flawed aura than this:
    In the 25 matches that Flintoff has missed since 2005, England have won 12, drawn 10 and lost on only three occasions. In the 23 matches in which he has been present, those numbers are almost exactly reversed - won 3, drawn 7, lost 13.
  • Sometimes, looking down and back provides the best possible view of all. I particularly like #7 and #32.
  • Check this out!!! The fact that it occurred during a match makes it even more impressive.
  • And finally, just for kicks...

TMC: Episode 6 - A tale of two weathers

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
The only way I'd worry about the weather is if it rains on our side of the field and not theirs.
- Tommy Lasorda
A day after bidding goodbye to a long-time cricket tragic (good luck, Gundappa, we all hope you find lots of opportunities to play cricket in Dallas), NCC traveled across the plains to Ames, Iowa for the next installment against their toughest rivals in the CLIA - Elite Cricket Club. The first meeting of the season was a success for the home team, behind Thin Man's coruscating performance.

When the game started the conditions were overcast, low clouds were periodically spitting out drizzles, and the ground was wet enough to be tricky for proper footing. The toss was a very crucial one, and bucking recent trends, Captain Ozone sent in Little Boy for the toss. Sure enough, he lost the toss and NCC was asked to bat.

U-Turn watched in horror as the second ball of the innings produced the worst possible start as Thin Man's extravagant swipe resulted in a thick edge that was barely snaffled one-handed by the keeper who trapped the ball in the webbing between thumb and index finger. A few more inches...

The Shadow was promoted to the #3 spot and played a cautious knock as Prakash and Saravannan, the opening bowlers, kept a tight line and length. U-Turn produced a couple of pleasing cuts and drives but the wet grass was stopping every ball sooner than it would under dry conditions. Shashank, the ECC captain, spent all inning drying the ball with a towel and doing as fine a job as possible. There is no truth to the rumor that he has been contracted by the producers of Baywatch to work as a as a towel boy.

After playing out a few overs, The Shadow and U-Turn both perished trying to force the ball in the air over the infield. With very fun runs on the board and the innings going astray, Ozone shuffled the batting order and sent the Energizer Bunny in. Soon, he was joined by Doctor Kamikaze. True to his nature, Kamikaze swung as hard as he could to the first ball he faced, but to his horror he only managed to send it spiraling high into the air. Shashank and the bowler twirled around as if in a ballet but somehow managed to not even get a hand on the ball which landed between them. Not content with that life, Kamikaze tempted the gods time and again. Five lives later, Kamikaze perished. But before that he and Energizer ran like....well....bunnies between the wicket. Runs came in singles and doubles. If the ball hit the bat a run was made. This was frantic running of the most frenetic variety and provided some energy to the innings. But like all good things, this came to an end with Kamikaze's dismissal.

In between all this two breaks were taken as the rain picked up in intensity making the turf pitch very slippery and difficult to run on. However, when the rain subsided play was resumed. With each over the ball got heavier, negating any chance of swing for the bowlers but making it harder for the batsmen to hit it far, too. A ball change with a few overs to go near the end of the innings alleviated it but not by much.

Chikna Slater looked comfortable for a few minutes but a short-pitched ball by Sunil induced a pull that was under-edged by him to the keeper and a vital breakthrough had been made. Soul Patch (Devkanth) stepped into the breach. Playing straight in the V is his strength and he produced a few pleasing drives, but paid the price for stepping too far down the wicket for an attempted run. When turned back by Energizer, Soul Patch slipped and could not recover his footing. Sunil came charging down the wicket and kicked the ball onto the stumps to run him out, Denis Compton-style.

Captain Ozone went in and, in his typical bustling style, looked to hustle the scoring along. But for the first time in his career (and a long one it has been...he has been playing proper cricket since before Kapil Dev's career even began) he was out stumped off a spinner.

With wickets drying up at the other end, Energizer took over, nurdling the strike and ensuring that he played out a majority of the overs. While the bowling was there to be hit, the situation demanded some prudence and Energizer bid his time till the 26th over came around. At that point, he began a systematic attack on the ECC bowlers and the run-rate began to take an upward turn.Energizer finally got out for an even 50 (in 60 balls) with just 1 four. It was, by far, his best innings of the year, and on par with some of his best ones from last year. In fact, his score would have been much more if the ground had not been so wet. Sure boundaries were just eaten up by the wet turf on multiple occasions. In fact, in the whole innings there were just three boundaries and no sixes, a testament to the wet ground and the heavy ball.

Keeping Energizer cmpany for the last third of the innings was Bob Loblaw. With so many wickets down and Sunil breathing fire, ENergizer monopolized the strike and Bob was content to help him along. After Energizer departed in the 29th over, Bob turned on the pace and hit Deep for a 4 and then, helped by Sudhakar at the non-striker's end, scrambled 4 two's and a final ball bye to end the innings with some momentum prodding the score to a respectable 143 for 8 in 30 overs. Coincidentally, this was the same score, on the same ground, last year when NCC won, lost, and tied a match - all on the final ball of the innings (a story for some other day).

Our regular feature - the mid-inning fact break - is here again as we wait out the bad weather...
  • Emus and kangaroos cannot walk backwards, and are on the Australian coat of arms for that reason.
  • In the last 4000 years, no new animals have been domesticated.
  • More people use blue toothbrushes, than red ones.
  • Our eyes are always the same size from birth, but our nose and ears never stop growing. (Poor Bill Lawry).
  • "Stewardesses" is the longest word that is typed with only the left hand.
  • The Boston University Bridge (on Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts) is the only place in the world where a boat can sail under a train driving under a car driving under an airplane.
  • The Earth weighs around 6,588,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons.
  • The only two days of the year in which there are no professional sports games in the US (MLB, NBA, NHL, or NFL) are the day before and the day after the Major League All-Star Game. (Wait...that would be today and the day before yesterday!).
During the break, the sun finally made its appearance and by the time the players were back on the field, the ground was bathed in full sunshine. Conditions got better, the ball stayed drier, and traveled further as the afternoon progressed, further favoring the batting side.

Ozone sprung a surprise by electing to begin the innings with the leg-spin of King Warnie first up. A bold move designed to get the batsman to take chances did just that. Unafraid to charge down the wicket, Prakash took a couple of boundaries to get the innings off to a quick start.

Enengizer took up proceedings at the other end and kept the openers quiet with his outswingers. However, in an ominous note, both bowlers found it unavoidable to bowl wides. In the 6th over Prakash looked to slog-sweep a fuller ball from Warnie and U-Turn calmly settled under the catch at deep midwicket.

Ozone then held back Energizer and brought on The Shadow, Chikna, U-Turn and Kamikaze in quick succession. But a general trend began to appear. As the overs went by, the number of wides began to accumulate, a cardinal sin when bowling, magnified even more when defending a small total. Not helping matters was the sloppy and unreliable effort of the keeper behind the stumps.

When Sunil came in to bat, NCC appeared charged up and Energizer, Chikna, and U-Turn provided a stern test to the masterful all-rounder. 11 runs in 27 balls later, Sunil could not resist trying to flick U-Turn to deep midwicket, where Chikna (after some adventures in locating the trajectory of the swirling ball) took a nice catch, to the immense relief of his teammates and himself.

Things began to get tight as NCC chipped away at the wickets, while ECC slowly but surely inched towards the target. A pulled six by Babu was a big stress reliever and even a spectacular run-out of Babu by Energizer was not sufficient to pull things back. ECC crossed the target with 2 overs to spare and pulled even with NCC on the points table in the league.

No one can accuse NCC of not being generous guests - in all the bowlers gave away 41 wides. The drive back to Omaha was a long one, made even longer by the post-mortem that inevitably accompanies a loss. Luckily, less than a week later the team will have a chance to redeem itself when it hosts KCC.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Shuttling up

Saina Nehwal is a rising star on the badminton court. She recently won her first (of many, I hope) BWF Super Series title at the Indonesia Open.

Here's a fairly lengthy video that captures the final rallies of the match and its aftermath. I do miss playing badminton.

(Reading up on Saina has been a pleasure, as some names from the past came back to me like old friends reappearing through a mist - Prakash Padukone, Morten Frost Hansen, Liem Swie King, Rudy Hartono....)

Long live the Rajah

Roger Federer is now firmly entrenched as the most successful Grand Slam champion of all-time. There are numerous asterisk's that accompany this accomplishment but none of them concern him (Rod Laver missed 5 years worth of Grand Slams as he was ineligible to compete, Bjorn Borg never bothered to play the Australian Open after one attempt early on in his career, etc.).

For now, barely a year after Rafael Nadal broke through at Wimbledon and a few months after many folks (including me, I must admit) wondered if he would get back to his old self, Federer has reclaimed the #1 ranking. put together a list of Federer's accomplishments in numeric form. The most amazing number in there for me is this one:
21 -- Consecutive appearances in Grand Slam semifinals, perhaps the most extraordinary metric of Federer's otherworldly consistency.
Greg Garber of salutes the maestro a few hours after the Wimbledon triumph.
Federer will not be content with 15 major titles. He arrived for his postmatch interview wearing a shirt bearing his new agenda: There is no finish line.
Here's a longer report of the final against Andy Roddick, with a comparison to Pete Sampras, whose record he broke.
The statistics were eye-catching: Federer's 50 aces were one short of the Wimbledon record held by Ivo Karlovic. Federer had an incredible total of 107 winners, compared with 38 unforced errors. Roddick had 27 aces, 74 winners and 33 unforced mistakes.
By the way, the 50 aces by Federer are easily the most ever in a Grand Slam final. Surprisingly, hitting aces does not correlate all that well with victory, as this list reveals:
55 - Ivo Karlovic (Roland Garros 2009) 5 sets, lost to Lleyton Hewitt

54 - Gary Muller (Wimbledon 1993, qualifying match) 3 sets, defeated Peter Lundgren

51 - Joachim Johansson (Australian Open 2005 ) 4 sets, lost to Andre Agassi
51 - Ivo Karlovic (Wimbledon 2005) 5 sets, lost to Daniele Bracciali

50 - Chris Guccione (Wimbledon 2005, qualifying match) 3 sets, defeated Olivier Patience
50 - Gregory Carraz (Andrézieux 2004 - Challenger) 3 sets, defeated Tomas Zib *
50 - Roger Federer (Wimbledon 2009) 5 sets, defeated Andy Roddick

49 - Richard Krajicek (US Open 1999) 5 sets, lost to Yevgeny Kafelnikov

48 - Marc Rosset (Davis Cup 2001) 5 sets, lost to Arnaud Clement

47 - Gustavo Kuerten (Davis Cup 2003) 5 sets, lost to Daniel Nestor
47 - Gilles Muller (Australian Open 2009) 5 sets, defeated Feliciano Lopez
Finally, to round it off, my favorite tennis writer - L. Jon Wertheim has 50 parting shots from Wimbledon 2009.
For the second straight major, the eight men's quarterfinalists were from eight different countries.

• Most underrated story: the Indian-Pakistani doubles team of Prakash Amritraj and Aisam-ul Haq Qureshi, won a few matches. Qureshi has now played with an Indian and an Israeli at Wimbledon. Small steps. But steps nonetheless.

• Here's Scott on the WTA ranking system: "The one place it doesn't stir a debate is in the locker room. The players believe in that ranking system. They believe the ranking is right. And I have not had one player come up to me and say, 'How can Dinara Safina be No. 1 in the world?'"

• Here's Serena Williams -- who apparently spends little time in aforementioned locker room -- on the same subject:

"I think if you hold three Grand Slam titles maybe you should be No. 1, but not on the WTA Tour obviously, so. ... You know, my motivation is maybe just to win another Grand Slam and stay No. 2, I guess (laughter). ... That's just shocking. But whatever. It is what it is. I'd rather definitely be No. 2 and hold three Grand Slams in the past year than be No. 1 and not have any. "

• Here's Serena again: "I feel like I've had a pretty consistent year, though, you know." Come again? You've won "only" two tournaments in 2009, but they've both been majors. And sandwiched between them was a four-match losing streak. What exactly constitutes an inconsistent year

The inside man

Dear English Cricket Board,

I hope you enjoyed the initial fruits of your dalliance with John Buchanan, formerly the coach of Australia (and the Kolkata Knight Riders). Since Buchanan did not coach the Aussie bowlers (Johnson, Hilfenhaus, Siddle, Hauritz) or the new boy wonder batsman (Hughes) one can safely assume that he told you all he knows about how to get Katich and Ponting out. Worked out really well, didn't it? Ponting and Katich both recorded unbeaten centuries today.

Why does this man still have a job? And why are you courting him so assiduously? He was fired from coaching a team that finished at the bottom of the IPL.

I am glad to see that he is getting the ECB to foot the bill for what appears to be a nice paid vacation in England.
The former Australia coach will travel across England over the next week, meeting with coaches from England's elite programmes, as well as county mentors Chris Adams (Surrey), Peter Moores (Lancashire) and Mick Newell (Nottinghamshire). He will also spend time with England Lions before their tour match against Australia at Worcester, before presenting a proposal to David Parsons, director of England's National Performance centre in Loughborough, regarding a future role within the England set-up.
Enjoy the time, ECB. It will be worth every pound you spend, I am sure....for Buchanan.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

TMC: Episode 5 - Sealing the BOGO deal

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
You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.
- Margaret Thatcher

You may have to fight a battle just once to win it multiple times.
- Captain Ozone
A weekend after NCC eked its way into the finals of the Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival, it ran into a scheduling conflict with the CLIA. In an ominously prescient bit of scheduling, the weekend's match-up was against Cedar Rapids C(hallengers), the very team that NCC was to play in the finals!

Years of shopping at Payless Shoes put a brilliant thought into Captain Ozone's mind. Why not make the match against Cedar Rapids C a double-billing?! The winner would not only take home the trophy but it would also count as a win in the CLIA league standings. BOGO indeed (Buy One Get One free). A week of feverish wrangling later, it was agreed upon and a simple league match was needlessly (if you lost) or brilliantly (if you won) turned into something so much more.

So for those folks who pay attention to these things - this report can also be read under a second heading:

Cedar Rapids Festival - 3 - Second time's the charm!!

A week after losing to CR-C, Captain Ozone was taking no chances. In he sent Bob Loblaw with one mandate - win the toss and field first. Five minutes later, to the immense disbelief of NCC, that's exactly what happened! As NCC huddled up to listen to Ozone speak (which, by the way, no one ever pays attention to) they were interrupted by the match officials to say that the start was delayed as the organizers had brought just 5 stumps to the ground!

Where other teams would waste their energy during such a break fretting and fuming, NCC instead found some time to indulge in the first pre-game warm-up all season. Ozone had honorable intentions when he rounded up the bunch, but when a nice breeze is blowing, the sun is casting its warmth, and the grass is soft...why bother with exercise??!!

(click on the photo to enlarge it in a new window)

A big factor for the captains and bowlers (and batsmen) to contend with was an exceptionally stiff cross-wind that was blowing from the west. This was easily the windiest conditions most of the players had ever played in and before the match was done the wind would have a significant role to play.

Energizer Bunny got to choose his end and he, interestingly, chose to run into the wind, in an attempt to help his outswing. Not surprisingly, the first couple of balls were way off the mark as he adjusted to the new environs. But by the end of the over he had struck pay dirt. A brilliant delivery swung from the leg-stump towards first slip and all Siva Sathanathan, CR-C's stalwart opening batsman, could do was edge the ball straight to Bob Loblaw. A day after botching the easiest of catches in a local game in Omaha, Bob had a fantastic day behind the stumps, collecting every ball that came his way, off-side or leg-side, not conceding a single bye or extra off wide balls, while snaffling every chance that came his way, and helping effect a couple of run-outs. These are little things, but on that day, these little things began to add up.

Having praised him to the skies, it is also beholden upon me to strike him down. In the third over of the innings, the #3 batsman decided to loft Energizer, but only managed to hit a skier behind the bowler. As soon as the ball was hit, Bob lived up to his nickname and screamed for the long-on fielder to take the catch. But he had not taken the wind into account. As the wind caught the ball it curved away towards the long-off fielder who waited and watched as the ball dropped to the ground just a few feet away, well out of reach of the hapless long-on fielder (who is probably still running for the catch!). Energizer rightly let Bob know what he felt about that misjudgement in no uncertain terms. True to nature, the rest of the NCC found humor in this situation, too!

Energizer bowled a 4-over unbroken spell that was an exhibition in outswing bowling. At the other end, Kingsize Dada, playing in his last match before going home (Bengaluru, I believe) for a vacation, struggled with the wind behind him and delivered two lackluster overs where he bowled many wides and was hit to and over the fence multiple times. Ozone replaced him with Doctor Kamikaze who then bowled 4 overs on the trot, slowly finding his bearings until decisively breaking through the top order. The batsmen took numerous risks and (literally) rode the wind to hit sixes which would normally have been simple skiers on any other day. After Energizer finished his spell, Chikna Slater replaced him and upped the pace, while not sacrificing any of his accuracy. Not surprisingly, at least to some of his fellow-NCC-ers, he made the next breakthrough, sending in a picture perfect yorker that dislodged the stumps before the batsman could bring his bat down. Kamikaze made the next breakthrough, getting under a skier off his own bowling, taking the catch in his inimitable style. Like so:
In the 10th over, the batsmen asked the umpires for a break after the over and Bob Loblaw began beseeching his players to get a wicket so an early drinks break could be taken. Right on cue, the next ball was hit down deep midwicket's throat and Chikna made sure he did not cough this one up. The batsman was not amused and had a pleasant (ahem) tête-à-tête with the wicket-keeper on the way out, probably more out of embarrassment than anything else for having fallen for the banter.

After the 10th over, CR-C were 78 for 4, courtesy some lusty hitting and a lot of egregious wides.

In the 11th over, a thick edge to third man resulted in a mix-up between the batsmen which would would have made Sirian blow a blood vessel if he had seen it. Bob collected the incoming throw and calmly threw it to Chikna at the non-strikers end to complete the dismissal.

Another run-out, a more conventional one this time, was effected in Kamikaze's last over and NCC was threatening to run away with the game at this time. After Chikna finished his spell, U-turn (formerly known as the Tasmanian Devil; see cast of characters for an explanation) came on at the windy end and bowled out the rest of the innings. At the other end, over number 17 by Warney proved to be ultra-expensive as a few expletive-inducing wides were sandwiched between boundary hits. Suddenly the momentum that had been gained was dissipated and Kannan, the CR-C captain, began to churn together some runs. U-turn was effective in snapping the stumps a couple of times in his typically non-threatening way, but Kannan was unruffled at the other end, even as he was running out of partners. In a controlled innings, where he took risks when warranted, the opposing captain played a solid innings and shook off a brilliant 19th over from Kingsize Dada (who gave away just 4 runs thereby partially atoning for his profligate start) to take CR-C to a highly challenging 155 for 8 in 20 overs.

A target of 156 in 120 balls was what lay between NCC and a double-dip victory. Stay tuned to see how it turned out.

Now, we take a break for our mid-match staple - some more interesting facts about the world we live in.
  • It cost 7 million dollars to build the Titanic and 200 million to make a film about it.
  • The plastic things on the end of shoelaces are called aglets.
  • A Boeing 747s wingspan is longer than the Wright brother's first flight.
  • No word in the English language rhymes with 'MONTH.'
  • Only two countries in the world are doubly landlocked: Liechtenstein and Uzbekistan.
  • Of all the nations of the world, China has the most people. But there are 71 nations that are more crowded.
The key to NCC's successful chase would be partnerships. But Thin Man had other ideas. From the first ball of the match, he took to swinging as hard as he could at the ball, as is his wont, but in this case he seemed to underestimate the skill of the bowlers. In spite of hitting a typical six over long-off and a four through midwicket, Thin Man did not look composed and soon enough another wild swing resulted in a top edge that was brilliantly held by the fielder at third man. Bob Loblaw was resurrected to the top of the order and middled every ball he played. But the excitement of doing so got to him and he took off for a non-existent single and was stranded mid-pitch when U-turn wisely refused the run.

Dipleased with this turn of events, Ozone sent in Kingsize Dada to steady the innings and KD did just that. Finding the off-side tenented by 7 fielders did not dim his enthusiasm or his run-scoring in that area. With U-turn regularly finding the gaps, and KD willing to run vigorously when called upon, the score began to bulge and tense shoulders began to relax in the NCC pavilion. Against the grain, after a calm innings where he even found the timing to punch a flick for a six, U-turn spooned a catch off Ranjit, and just like that CR-C was back in the game.

Energizer and KD then proceeded to almost put the game away in a partnership that relied heavily on Energizer's favorite phrase, "Single, double. Single, double." With KD providing the ideal foil to Energizer's energy, CR-C were treated to a heavy dose of Energizer doing this to them:

KD enjoyed the bowling so much he even found time to punch two sixes over cover, his strong suit, to provide the impetus to the innings. Not to left behind, Energizer calmly stepped out to the fast bowlers for two sixes over cow corner and long-off, and two neatly placed boundaries to the cover region. By now the equation had come close to a run a ball, when KD backed up too far and was run out by a quick-thinking midwicket fielder. This appeared to disturb Energizer's equilibrium and he perished soon after, too.

CR-C were jumping up and down with joy, but NCC's team game came to the fore to squash their dreams. Undeterred by the mounting pressure, Chikna picked up two short-pitched balls and slammed them over deep square-leg. Kamikaze played the sedate role, giving the strike as often as possible to Chikna. With 6 runs to win, Chikna's eyes lit up when he saw a full toss. But in his haste he overswung and the resultant top edge was snapped up at mid-off. The CR-C flame flickered one last time, but the captain and vice-captain quickly extinguished it, taking NCC past the target with 4 balls to spare.

And wild celebrations ensued!

For his splendid opening spell and fine 30 (in 19 balls, with 2 fours and 2 sixes) in the tense moments of the chase, Energizer was recognized with the man of the final award.

Since this was a dual match, for the CLIA league game Kingsize Dada was given the man of the match award for his momentum-stopping 19th over, and measured innings of 34 (in 31 balls with 2 sixes).

For the team, it was a victory within a victory. Every player had a role to play, some bigger than others, and it was with great joy that Captain Ozone led the NCC players in receiving the inaugural Freedom Festival CVB Cricket Classic Trophy.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

That's what I'm talking about!

In this day of sensationalist media, it is rare that people being interviewed are frank and forthright in their answers. A perfect example is Tiger Woods. One need not even interview the fellow to know what he will say.

So, imagine my happiness when I came across this interview with the great New Zealand batsman Glenn Turner. The interview is chock-full of interesting information and he is not afraid to tell it like it is.
I would love to play cricket today, with all - I am not just talking of money - the opportunity you get, the practice facilities, the amount of time you are able to put into preparation.

Old perceptions die hard. When I played, we went to tour straight after the monsoon. The pitches used to go off the top. Always Australia and England coming after us. We played quite often in smaller centres. But even when I was coaching in the mid-80s, when we were having all that success - in fact, Australia and England used to play for the wooden spoon called the Ashes - it still didn't change our rating in terms of perception in people's mind. Not much has changed still.

It is much harder for players now. With the attention that's paid to them, it takes a strong young mind to take all the money and the exposure and come through it with a level head. Life has become more complicated now. Young people have to make a lot more decisions than was the case previously
Read the whole thing and relish his candor.

Cedar Rapids Festival - 2 - Left it, left it!!

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.

Following the successful defense of a total in the first match, NCC decided to shake things up for the second of the back-to-back matches in the tournament, this time against Cedar Rapids Challengers.

When Captain Ozone shakes things up, he starts with the toss. The latest sacrificial goat, err, nominee to toss it was Bob Loblaw. Bucking a season-long trend, Bob came back having won the toss! Ozone promptly decided to field.

The opposition got a taste of Energizer Bunny's outswinger in another 4 over spell that teased the batsmen no end. But the openers decided to take the attack to the bowlers at the other end where JaiGanesh, Mind It, and Kingsize Dada got to bowl one over spells. 6 overs into the innings, NCC had already tried 4 bowlers. With the openers throwing their bats at everything, the score was moving along merrily until one swing too many brought NCC back into the game when the opener slashed hard at Energizer (big mistake) and the resultant edge was taken neatly behind the stumps.

With that a steady stream of batsmen came and went, with small cameos to mark their spot in the roster. Tasmanian Devil once again probed away at the stumps, picking up a couple of bowleds, while Doctor Kamikaze and King Warney snaffled the remaining ones. Details of the dismissals are too ordinary to put down here; suffice to say that the batsmen contributed to their dismissal more than the bowlers did. There were a couple of easy catches dropped, one at square leg and another at deep midwicket, but that is par for the course with NCC. CRC ended up at 155 for 8 in their innings.

As is a tradition with this blog, here are some interesting facts while the teams take a quick break between innings.
  • "I am." is the shortest complete sentence in the English language.
  • 111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321
  • Every time you lick a stamp, you're consuming 1/10 of a calorie.
  • The highest point in Pennsylvania is lower than the lowest point in Colorado.
  • The Eisenhower interstate system requires that one mile in every five must be straight. These straight sections are usable as airstrips in times of war or other emergencies.
Thin Man began the chase for NCC seemingly in a daze. The toll of being the primary run-getter and having to be on the field for back-to-back matches appeared to tell as he swung hammer and tongs at every ball, irrespective of where it was. He still managed to connect one or two, but his end seemed inevitable when it did.

TD took up the mantle of the scoring, hitting one delicious extra-cover drive for six in between some splendid upper cuts to rising deliveries. However, one upper cut too many found third man to scuttle a promising innings (yes, once again in the 20's). Kamikaze and Energizer Bunny tried to stem the tide and were going along well until Kamikaze's attempt to clear cover failed miserably. After that it was a procession for a while, until Energizer began to stamp his authority on the proceedings, while nurdling along the batsmen who were coming and going faster than a line of guests at a wedding reception. (I shall now hide my head in shame for having channeled Sidhuisms in my write-up).

Eventually, a tired Energizer failed to move his feet in time to a ball on the leg-stump and was bowled around his legs. Unwilling to give up, NCC took the game to the last out, and perished with just 13 runs to get in 9 balls. By ensuring that the margin of victory was not an imposing one they gave themselves a shot at entering the finals, at least on net run rate. As Fate would have it, Cedar Rapids Challengers won their second game, too, and NCC made it to the final as the 2nd placed team. Not quite the way Ozone would have wanted it, but satisfying in that NCC got a chance to square up against the team that they lost to.

The final was played the following weekend, and you will have to wait for the next report to find out what happened that day.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Saagar kinare

An impressive-looking bridge has been inaugurated with great fanfare in Mumbai - a 5.6-km Bandra-Worli Sea Link (BWSL), India's first open eight-lane, cable-supported sea bridge. Impressive looking. I hope it really reduces the traffic congestion as promised. Though I suspect that, initially, it will have lots of traffic as everyone and their uncles will want to experience the drive, whether they have an excuse to use the bridge or not.

Here's a slide show of the bridge. Seeing is believing.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Cedar Rapids Festival - 1 - Leave it, leave it!!

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.

First up the facts: NCC participated in the Freedom Festival CVB Cricket Classic. Yes, that is the full name of the tournament. Almost on par with another famous competition's name from The Office.

The tournament was held over two weekends, with the first weekend involving league matches on a semi round-robin format. Each team got to play two matches.

The first match of the tournament featured NCC versus Cedar Rapids A. The 300 mile trip to Cedar Rapids, IA, was completed Friday night. However, only about half the team got a full night's rest. Rumor has it that the other half was wandering the historic city in search of answers. The questions that were asked are left to your imagination. But these are probably just rumors since yours truly was fast asleep by curfew time and has no direct knowledge of any shenanigans.

Since Little Boy had left for India, Captain Ozone was forced to personally go for the toss. Five minutes later, he walked back with a smile on his face and sheepish acknowedgement that he had lost yet another toss (big surprise there). The opposition had no hesitation in asking the tourists to bat first.

Thin Man and Tasmanian Devil (now just a game or two removed from changing nicknames) began the proceedings. Well, let me rephrase it. TD watched while Thin Man began the proceedings. Bludgeoning the ball in his characteristic style, Thin Man spread the field to the edge of the 30-yard circle by the end of the first over and began to clear the fence with ease. TD, however, did not stick around long enough to see how well TM was batting, shuffling back in the crease to get out LBW.

In a surprise move, Bob Loblaw was sent in to steady the ship at #3. Instead he rocked the NCC boat by being beaten by the first ball he faced. Even as he turned back to look at the keeper he was shocked to find out that the umpire had adjudged him caught behind. Such are the vagaries of life.

The next few batsmen stayed around and watched TM pick apart the bowling but could not sustain themselves for long. Soon, Ozone was walking in with more than half the team back in the hut, with half the overs to go. A few minutes later, TM's long innings came to halt. Damage inflicted: 65 runs in 35 balls with 5 sixes and 3 fours.

Ozone shepherded the rest of the innings, routinely walking down to the Mamu, CRA's dangerous spinner, to negate the exaggerated flight and bounce. Along the way, Ozone made everyone sit up by pulling a six over square-leg. All across the world, everything stopped for a milli-second - in his 4-plus decades on this planet, Ozone had never intentionally hit a six until then! It was a monumental achievement and that may well have been the straw that broke CR-A's back.

Eventually, in 20 overs, NCC piled up 165 for 7, with everyone (almost) contributing a little bit here and there. Ozone finished with 35 runs in 31 balls including that solitary, earth-shattering, six.

With his mother watching from a distance, Energizer Bunny came bounding in determined to make an impression. And make an impression he did. Bowling off his long run-up, EB struck a rhythm right away, getting the ball to outswing appreciably. Predictably the first batsmen prodded tentatively, and the thick edge was taken in front of first slip by Bob Loblaw. The second wicket was an inspired piece of cricket. In order to negate the prodigious swing, the next batsman walked down the wicket and still managed to get beaten by the swing. In a blur of motion, Bob Loblaw threw the ball at the stumps and the wandering batsman was out - stumped off a fast bowler!

The CR-A batsmen swung away at anything but did not connect as often as they wanted. King Warney and TD made merry by targeting the stumps. TD, in particular, hit a fantastic rhythm and took 3 wickets in his 4 overs, all bowled, giving up just 15 runs. Warney, as befits a leg-spinner, was more profligate, giving up a lot more runs for his 3 wickets.

CR-A fell 30 runs short but not before being involved in the highlight of the day. JaiGanesh (who has not made it to the cast of characters just yet so he still goes by his given name) bowled a bouncer that was feebly lobbed up in the air by the batsman. When a ball is skied, it is good practice for the fielder interested in catching it to loudly call for the catch. As soon as the ball went up, JG screamed, "Leave it, leave it." Three fielders, the keeper and JG converged on the ball and stood around. A few seconds later everyone had heeded JG's call and left it. The ball dropped harmlessly to the turf while the rest of the bemused spectators looked on. Play was held up for 5 minutes as the entire NCC team was doubled up with laughter trying to figure out exactly what had happened. Needless to say, JG has yet to live it down and is teased endlessly about it!!

A victory is a victory, and the big margin was good as it provided NCC a buffer, in case they stuffed up the second match. As fate would have it, they did just that...