Saturday, October 31, 2009

Yeh dosti

If you like Hindi movies and are nostalgic about the 70's and 80's, you'll love this photo. There are so many things great about this image, and it conjures up so many different thoughts, that that I will let it speak for itself.

Changing labels

A few weeks ago, after much procrastination, I began a time-consuming project on my blog. One that has taken me well over a month and a half to accomplish. Discerning readers of my blog will have noticed it by now. If you haven't, scroll up and down the page and look at the posts and the sidebars and you will know what I have done.

(I shall wait while you do that)



(Okay, time's up).

I added "labels" to every post of mine! Labels are tags that link postings that are related to each other (or at east how they relate to the labels in my mind) . On the right-hand side, in the sidebar, immediately after "Recent posts" you will find all the labels that I put on my posts, in alphabetical order.

So, for instance, if you want to see all the posts I have written that relate to MS Dhoni, you can simply click on that tag and it will take you to them!

I have been meaning to do this for months, and only in the recent past did I diligently set aside 10 minute a day or so everyday to do it. 600-odd posts later I have finally caught up!

So if you like certain topics and want to read more posts of mine on that topic, you now know what to do. Happy surfing!!!

(Help!!!! For some reason, only lists the most recent 20 posts under labels, without giving options to scroll older posts. Does anyone out there know how I can tweak the blog HTML code to ensure that all the posts under the labels can be seen? Until then, intense grr-dom prevails.

Okay, took care of that issue. Thank goodness for the Internet and helpful folks. One nice plus to the blogging business is that I am picking up some HTML on the side. Whodathunk it?!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Announcement - brief hiatus and birthday wishes

I have been off-bog for a few days as I have an important self-reflective essay due to the Promotion and Tenure Committee at the college that I teach at. It is due on Monday, the 2nd of November. Once that date is passed, I shall be back in full flow.

In the mean time, to all you Jack Reacher fans out there - Happy Birthday!  Reacher turns 49 today. You KNEW he had to be a Scorpio, right?!!

In 61 Hours we shall find out more about him (pun intended). And the good news is that, Lee Child is breaking tradition and will release two Reacher novels in 2010.

Meanwhile, here's an NY Times column so you can read some new Lee Child material. If you have never heard of either Reacher or Child, this is a great way to get a peek into that mesmerizing world. By the way, this story ends at the point at which Child's latest book - Gone Tomorrow - begins.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An excuse to name-drop

After their retirements, two of my favorite sportsmen Greg Maddux and Graeme Hick have, not surprisingly, stayed out of the limelight. So, when I read their names again I feel a familiar happiness flow through me as it rekindles fond memories.

Recently, Graeme Hick was honored with an MBE (Member of the British Empire). I am not one to put much stake into honorary awards, but I am glad his services to English cricket in particular, and fans worldwide, is getting some recognition now that he has stopped playing.

Since you are already here - here's Scyld Berry writing about Hick when the great man was on the verge of retiring from all forms of cricket. And Christopher Martin-Jenkins revisits a golden summer that promised so much.

(I do wish the story on CricInfo had been written by someone who cared more for the person he was writing about or, indeed, about editing his own piece.  I am not sure how this article passed by an editor before being printed. Check out the atrociousness at the end of the article:

"I take more out of the other side of cricket rather than just the cricket. It is what it gives you, the friendships, the fun, the laughter, the good side of things. Yes, I enjoyed my cricket, had some good times, but your memories of 25 years don't revolve around facts and figures at the end of it. "I take more out of the other side of cricket rather than just the cricket. It is what it gives you, the friendships, the fun, the laughter, the good side of things.

"Yes, I enjoyed my cricket, had some good times, but your memories of 25 years don't revolve around facts and figures at the end of it. It is being able to go always back to the ground, see the faces and friends and things like that

Breaking news

Click here for an absolutely hilarious take on how the media would report on the news about Jack and Jill and their mishap en route to fetching a pail of water.

I am tempted to give you an excerpt here but it deserves to be read in its entirety at the source.

While funny, the chilling part is that it is exactly how the news is presented today. Sad but true.

Monday, October 19, 2009

No way, José

Sometimes it is best to let someone else do all the talking (and shooting).

This is simply incredible:

Waiting to exhale

Here are the ingredients you need for a biopic:
  • A humble beginning
  • A meteoric rise
  • The admiration of millions
  • Temptation
  • Succumbing to the temptation
  • Losing everything
  • Fighting for dignity
  • Hope for the future
If this was Hollywood, a movie would already have been made by now. But Bollywood is not really a biopic kind of place. Columnists have written about this person, notably this one, but no movie is in the making. Maybe in a few decades, after the dust has settled, someone will.

Who am I talking about? Here's a hint:

Tempest in a teacup?

Say what you will about his movies but Ram Gopal Verma does have interesting premises for his movies. His blog is constant source of amusement for me and on it he gave us a look at his latest offering Rann featuring the ubiquitous Amitabh Bachchan.

RGV's movies have been hit and miss for me. I enjoyed Kshana Kshanam, thought that Sarkar and Shiva had their moments, was ambivalent about Rangeela and Company, while I absolutely disliked RGV ki Aag (and blogged about it here).

His latest offering seems interesting enough to make me want to see it when it comes out.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Moments of epiphany

Hindi movies are notorious for ramming home a point, long after the audience has figured it out. One of the directors who takes a more subtle approach is Farhan Akhtar. His first movie, Dil Chahta Hai, featured a fabulous opera scene that was commissioned specifically for the movie.

Watch the picture perfect acting of Priety Zinta and Aamir Khan through this episode, culminating in the moment of epiphany at the 4:00 minute mark. Farhan's next movie, Lakshya, had a similar moment of epiphany, which is why the two movies resonate with me.

Lakshya is one of my favorite movies ever. I loved it the first time I saw it and I love it every time since. If you haven't seen the movie, here's a taste of it:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fall forward

On October 10th, 2009, I opened the front door only to be greeted by this:

I love snow and while I was happy to see the white stuff on the ground, the biologist in me is a little worried for the trees in the region, many of whom have only just begun the transition to Fall (leaves changing colors, that is).

Luckily, the snow did not stay long enough to break branches but the frost damage may be severe. Folks who have lived here for decades cannot recall a single snowfall that occurred before the leaves had begun to change colors. Should I be watching out for frogs and locusts now?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Earth to MSD

Dear MS Dhoni,

Are you following the exploits of Pragyan Ojha? Do you still think that Harbhajan Singh is a shoe-in for the first spinner's slot in a limited overs match? Reputation isn't everything.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Stealing words from my mouth

True story (I swear): I wrote up a long, sarcastic article about the love-fest between ESPN, Peter King (of Sports Illustrated) and Brett Favre. I made the mistake of not putting it on my blog before the writers at The Onion came up with a similarly-themed article.

If you know anything about the Brett Favre situation, you will find this article just hilarious. Sarcasm drips from every sentence and the opinions (not) expressed are the views of millions of NFL followers around the globe. Here's a sample:
"I was looking at a newspaper, and it said, 'Favre Sacks Former Team,' and at that point I realized we really missed one," ESPN president George Bodenheimer told reporters. "I just want to apologize to our viewers. Had the Favre-Packers connection dawned on us sooner, fans could have enjoyed the same quality sports journalism they have come to expect from ESPN: driving storylines into the ground and exploiting every one of their subplots to the point of nausea."

ESPN news director Vince Doria said that if he or any of his colleagues had realized Favre would be playing against his former team, the network would have begun overhyping the week-four matchup the moment the quarterback signed with the Vikings.

(...) "We kind of blew a golden opportunity," Doria said. "Endless explanations as to what Brett Favre meant to the city of Green Bay, restating over and over how he left the Packers on poor terms, and airing at least 50 segments featuring wild and irresponsible speculation about his motives for returning to the NFL. It would have been perfect

Federer unplugged

Further proof that Roger Federer is one of the coolest persons to ever reign over a sport. I cannot think of too many other top dogs who were just such nice guys and had so much fun outside the arena.

Sometimes, good guys do finish first.

Maggie Noodle Review - Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia traces the interconnected paths of two protagonists over two different timeline. The movie weaves seamlessly between the stories of two ladies and, on the face, it appears as if their lives revolved around food. But that is simplifying it too much. In reality, the movie is about two ladies struggling to find a meaning to their lives. In one of life's cruelest ironies, Julia Child was herself childless and eventually found fame through her cooking books and TV shows. Julie Powell, on the other hand, was stuck in a dead-end job and lacked motivation to seriously pursue writing, until she was inspired by Child's cookbooks which led to a successful blog, book, movie rights, and a life in the spotlight.

After establishing the backstory for the duo, the rest of the movie is about Julie wading her way through recipes and Child trying to get her cookbook published. The two lives never intersect though it seems, for a brief while, that it might. A close acquaintance of mine who grew up watching Julia Child's cooking shows said that Meryl Streep nailed the character's mannerisms so much so that there were times when she forgot she was watching an actress in the movie. I cannot think of any higher praise than that for one of the most proficient actresses of the last 30 years.

Amy Adams is cast as Julie Powell. Julie is not a pleasant person to be around at home during this enterprise, I'm sorry to say. She is mean to her husband and very self-absorbed in her mission, to the detriment of their relationship. However, Amy Adams is such a likeable actress, she manages to make us feel sympathetic about Julie's travails. Amy Adams first came to my attention in Charlie Wilson's War and she was the brightest spot in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. I am an unabashed admirer of her's and when she smiles, she lights up the screen. The last person that truly captivated me on-screen to this degree was Annette Benning and Amy Adams reminds me of her a lot. Reason enough to like Julie & Julia!

Even disregarding my obvious bias towards Amy Adams, Julie & Julia is a well-made, entertaining movie that hits the right notes in many places. See it if you have a couple of leisurely hours to kill.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Are you watching, Bhajji?

It is so nice to see an off-spinner bowl such probing lines outside the off-stump and keep the batsmen constantly guessing during the finals of a tournament. Too bad it is Nathan Hauritz and not Harbhajan Singh doing the wheeling and dealing.

Truly, a reputation is not worth its weight in gold. Harbhajan has been too defensive when bowling to a top-flight batting line-up to be a shoe-in as the first spinner in ODI's in the past couple of years.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Relief for sore eyes

One of my favorite players is back...and how!  Fiery as ever and with that old control still intact, Shane Bond has come back from an unjust hiatus and world cricket is all the better for it.  As I type this he is bowling as if on a different wicket from the rest of the New Zealand bowlers in the semi-finals against Pakistan.

Imran Nazir is still flinching in the dressing room every time he replays in his mind the bouncer he barely fended off to first slip.

Friday, October 02, 2009

TMC: Episode 13 - The long kiss goodbye

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
There is no failure except in no longer trying.
- Elbert Hubbard

I don't believe in failure. It's not failure if you enjoyed the process.
- Oprah Winfrey

Success builds character, failure reveals it.
- David Checkett
The final of the CLIA championships was played on a sunny, cloudless but windy day on September 27, 2009. The match was between the Iowa Bulls and the Nebraska Cricket Club. Iowa came into the final carrying 7 differnt batsmen who had made at least one score of 50-plus in the tournament. NCC came in proudly bearing 3 of the top 4 wicket-takers in the league. They had split the regular season series 1-1, with each team losing on its home turf.

Those are the bland facts. The match was anything but that. Here is what happened.

NCC desperately wanted to chase and Bob Loblaw was sent by Captain Ozone to win the toss. Bob lost the toss (big surprise there) but heaved a sigh of relief when the opposing captain chose to bat! NCC went into the match on the tail of a brilliant bowling display in the semi-final, but knowing fully well that the pitch was different, the ground size was different (much smaller boundaries) and that the batting side they were facing was a lot more potent.

Energizer Bunny and Gunmaster G9 opened the attack. Bunny was given the task of keeping things tight at one end while Gunmaster let loose at the other. Aditya and Waqar began extremely aggressively, determined to not let the pacers settle down. In return, Ozone stepped up the ante with an 8-1 field, with the only fielder on the leg-side being a short midwicket. The batsman took on the packed off-side field and utilized the shorter boundaries to good advantage popping the ball up in the air beyond the reach of the fielders whose placement was restricted by having to be inside the 30-yard circle during the first 8 overs. Bunny was unable to get the beautiful outswing that is his trademark and Gunmaster, while fast, was unable to send the batsmen hopping back as he had the previous weekend. After 6 overs the score had raced to 52 for no loss as both openers threw caution to the winds. In a theme that would abound through the day (for both teams), edge after edge landed in untenented areas while well-hit balls went flying over the fielder's heads.

During this mayhem, a very sobering and unfortunate accident happened. Waqar dropped the ball near the wicket and took off for a sharp single. Racing in from point, U-Turn picked up the ball and sent in a quick throw, on the bounce, to the fast-approaching keeper, Bean Counter. The ball hit the edge of the pitch and, with a sickening crunch, smashed into the bridge of Counter's nose. Counter, who wears glasses, got lucky in that the frame took the brunt of the damage but in bending backwards it left a deep cut on his nose. Temporarily unable to see out of one eye, Counter was carted off to an emergency room and Bob Loblaw took over behind the stumps.

Doctor Kamikaze was brought in to stem the tide but was smashed for a huge six over square-leg. Chikna was brought in from the other end and he continued from where he left off last weekend, bringing some sanity back to the proceedings. The score had reached 70 for no loss in 8 overs when Chikna drew first blood. An attempted yorker by Chikna was smashed hard to long-off by Aditya, where a prowling Thin Man calmly took the catch a few yards inside the fence. One down but the big guns were still to come!

Utpal Patel, by consensus the best overall batsman (and the most consistent with 8 fifties in this year's edition of the tournament), walked in to the perfect platform. 22 overs to go, score already at 70. Ozone countered by bringing on Bhishma to partner Chikna as NCC eschewed a safety-first approach in order to snare the big fish. Refusing to crowd the boundary with fielders Ozone kept the fielders in, inviting UP to hit over them to get runs. For a while this kept UP quiet as he played out the on-target balls while taking singles when possible, especially against Bhishma, who was clearly relishing his clash with UP.

After 12 overs the score had reached 84 for 1 when Gunmaster was brought back into the attack for the second time. The first ball he bowled was launched by UP into long-on where Energizer covering about 15-20 yards pulled off a well-judged running catch. Two balls later, Gunmaster bowled a bouncer that nearly decapitated Mihir on the way to the keeper. Everyone and their uncle knew the next ball would be a yorker. In spite of that, Mihir was unable to get his bat down in time and was out LBW before the ball had even stopped rolling. NCC was beginning to claw its way back into the game.

Saket Pradhan, the most dangerous batsman in the league for his propensity to hit big sizes and even bigger scores, was still around and getting his wicket was key. Showing his might, Saket calmly picked up Gunmaster and twice hit the ball way behind the long-off fielder's head and then repeated the punishment to Chikna. Drinks were taken after 15 overs with the Bulls ominously placed at 98 for 3 with Saket still at the crease.

After drinks, Ozone turned to Kamikaze and Bhishma at one end while rotating his faster bowlers - Gunmaster and Chikna - from the other. While all this was going on, the opening batsman Waqar had settled down after his blazing start and was looking to simply hold one end up. Time after time, Bhishma tempted him with juicy offerings but the batsman, mindful of the stakes, defended them away. One ball even nudged the off-stump on the way to the keeper but Waqar survived when the bails did not fall. Bhishma's excellent analyses of 6-0-25-1 tells only half the tale. While his economy rate was excellent, his ability to keep the batsmen quiet is a very underrated aspect of his bowling and every ball he bowled was watched carefully by the batsmen content to just play him away.

Just when it looked like Saket was going to race away to a big score, he got too cute and tried to nudge a straight delivery from Kamikaze to the leg-side and when he missed the ball, the pad got in the way of it hitting the stumps. The umpire had no hesitation in raising his finger and the big man was gone! 33 runs in 22 balls with 3 sixes and 1 four was his contribution to the batting card but his exit meant that the Bulls had opened the door slightly, and NCC, not always the politest of guests, came roaring back in.

In the next over bowled by Kamikaze, Waqar finally lost his cool and attempted a cross-batted swipe. Waqar missed, but Kamikaze did not, hitting the middle of middle stump. Manish (the Bulls player not the insignificant scribe) spent some time swiping runs where he could but he was fast running out of partners as the NCC bowlers began to prise them out one after the other. Here's a speed read through the rest of the card:

Shiva was cleaned up by a Chikna yorker.
Anand was trapped LBW off U-Turn's bowling.
Viru was caught by Bhishma (a sharp chance at square-leg off a fast traveling ball).
Manish (yes, the Bulls player) was caught by Thin Man (on the second attempt) at long-off off Bhishma.
Anshul was the second LBW victim and the last wicket of the innings.

In 28.4 overs, the Iowa Bulls were all out for 178. From 70 for no loss after 8 overs, getting them all out for 108 additional runs in 20 overs constituted a determined fightback by the regular season champions.With the asking rate almost 6 per over, both teams went into the second half feeling like they had a more than even chance of pulling it off.

But before we get to that, for one last time, let's find out a little more about the world that we live in (or not). Since it is the final report of TMC, here's a super-sized list for your reading pleasure.
  • Men can read smaller print than women; women can hear better.
  • Average number of people airborne over the US in any given hour: 61,000.
  • Salt is the only edible rock.
  • In order for a deck of cards to be mixed up enough to play with properly, it should be shuffled at least seven times.
  • The average person over fifty will have spent 5 years waiting in lines.
  • On average, most people button their shirt upwards.
  • The highest point in Pennsylvania is lower than the lowest point in Colorado.
  • There are more people alive today, than have EVER died!
  • A 'jiffy' is an actual unit of time equal to 1/100th of a second.
  • If smoke does not rise straight up, but flows away horizontally, you can expect rain.
  • Windmills always turn counter-clockwise--except for the windmills in Ireland.
  • Traveling by air is statistically the safest means of transportation.
  • A dime has 118 ridges around the edge.
  • The only 15-letter word that can be spelled without repeating a letter is uncopyrightable.
  • The pound sign on a telephone is called a octothorp.
  • The New Hampshire license plates, whose slogan is "Live Free or Die." are manufactured by prisoners in the state prison in Concord.
  • The longest one-syllable word in the English language is screeched.
  • Monday is an awful way to spend 14.3% of your life.
  • The average person speaks about 31,500 words per day.  (Bob Loblaw speaks a few more than that).
  • When the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers play football at home, the stadium becomes the state's third largest city.
  • February 1865 is the only month in recorded history not to have a full moon.
  • A rainbow can occur only when the sun is 40 degrees or less above the horizon.
  • Personal letters make up only 5% of the mail delivered by the U.S postal Service.
  • Only 55% of Americans know that the sun is a star.
  • The official name of the St. Louis Gateway Arch is The Jefferson National Expansion Monument.
  • A repeat from an earlier report: 111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321.
  • During an average lifetime, a man will spend 3,350 hours removing 8.4 meters of stubble when he shaves.
  • A tenth of the 7 million tons of rice grown in the U.S. each year goes into the making of beer.
  • The average adult spends about 12 minutes in the shower.
  • The average woman consumes 6 lbs of lipstick in her lifetime.
The Iowa Bulls are the only team in the league to feature a double left-arm seam opening attack. Anand and James began the proceedings against Chikna and Bhishma. The duo looked totally relaxed and unhurried by either bowler and the score progressed calmly for the first 5 overs or so, with both batsmen looking mainly for one's and two's. In the 6th over, James produced a beauty - a ball that pitched outside the off-stump and jagged back in through Bhishma's defenses to end his composed innings (9 runs in 18 balls, 26 for 1).

Fresh off an unbeaten 103 in a local match the previous day, Chikna looked in ominous touch once he got into the stride of things. He nonchalantly stepped down the wicket to hit a straight drive over the bowler's (Anand) head to the boundary. Then, a few balls later he took an attempted bouncer and dropped it in near the tennis court beyond the midwicket boundary. However, almost immediately after that Chikna got into a heated argument with the opposition bowler and the umpires over some heckling from spectators watching the game. To the dismay (but no surprise) of his teammates, he got out the very next ball, tamely pulling a short ball to the square-leg fielder. A promising innings ended in a dispiriting whimper (22 runs in 21 balls, 1 four, 1 six).

Kingsize and Thin Man steadied the nerves in the dressing room by looking mostly for singles as the Bulls switched to a double spin attack. Let me rephrase it: the Bulls switched to a double slow bowling attack. Appearing to take cues from Mamu's successful bowling style, Aditya and Anshul threw the ball up in the air, taking away all the speed, and waited for the batsmen to get out in trying to hit the ball out of the park. For a long time Thin Man and Kingsize resisted all impulses but there were signs of them, especially Kingsize, getting fidgety that the boundaries were not coming. Thin Man took matters head-on after settling down with singles, smashing two fours to the straight boundary and two huge sixes over square-leg. With Thin Man going strong, what Kingsize needed to do was settle down and give him the strike and he looked to be doing just that when he got excited and pulled a short ball straight to the deep square-leg fielder...who dropped a sitter! Even as the spectators were chiding the fielder for having "dropped the match", Kingsize tried to cut another ball and popped up a simple catch to the gully fielder. This time there was no mistake and at the stroke of the drinks break, NCC had suffered a needless setback (12 runs in 20 balls, 1 four, 77 for 3 in 14.5 overs).

102 runs needed in 91 balls, 7 wickets hand: Advantage NCC.

After the drinks break, Thin Man continued where he had left off  and thumped a couple of boundaries.  However, the next ball spelled doom when he tried to simply nurdle the ball past the midwicket fielder for a single. Instead the ball took the leading edge and James took three steps to his left and was fully airborne when he grasped the chance (33 runs in 26 balls, 2 fours, 2 sixes). It is on such little gems that big games hinge.

78 balls, 85 runs to get, 6 wickets in hand: Game on!

For a few overs Kamikaze and Bunny took their time, gently taking singles and playing away the last of the slow poison coming their way. After 21 overs the score was 103 for 4; 54 balls, 76 runs to get, advantage shifting slightly towards the Bulls.

In the 22nd over, UP turned to Saket, having decided that slow bowling was the way to go. Saket, who can generously be called a slow-turning leg-spinner, is the type of bowler you can easily get 6-8 runs an over from without sweating too much. His 4th ball was an innocuous little straight one that Bunny did not offer a shot to and the umpire had no hesitation in adjudging him LBW. Padding up to a ball is mistake in judgement that Bunny has made in the past but for the first time this season it caught up to him and, that too, at the most inopportune time. While the ball may have been missing the stumps, it is a different matter that a man with such abundant batting skills should easily be able to defend a ball with his bat and not his pad. Bringing the umpire's judgement into the equation was a huge mistake. (By the way, Law 36.1d (ii) clearly states that the umpire was absolutely correct in giving him out). (12 runs in 20 balls, 1 four).

106 for 5 in 21.4 overs. 50 balls, 73 runs, 5 wickets in hand: advantage Bulls.

The last ball of Saket's first over brought even more disaster for NCC. Kamikaze inner-edged a ball onto his pads and, even as the bowler and fielders were appealing with all their might, wandered out of the crease indicating with his bat that he had touched it. Unfortunately for him, the point fielder swooped down on the ball and threw down the stumps as Kamikaze scrambled back desperately. Run-out! (7 runs in 14 balls).

108 for 6 in 22 overs. 48 balls, 71 runs to win, 4 wickets in hand.

Counter and Bob Loblaw were now at the crease. Counter, back from the emergency room with 3 stitches on the bridge of his nose and nursing a huge headache, was unable to see out of his left eye so he took up a pronounced two-eyed stance in a mirror image of Shiv Chanderpaul.

(Photo from CricInfo).

Aditya's last over was bound to feature a few faster ones, aimed at slipping through Counter's defenses, and he managed just that after Counter had taken him for a couple of hits through mid-wicket. Counter was out LBW and NCC's innings was now in total disarray. (4 runs in 6 balls).

113 for 7 in 23 overs. 42 balls, 66 runs to win, 3 wickets in hand.

Gunmaster and Bob began to take singles and looked to not take any further risks just yet. However, they survived a couple of close calls and a attempted quick single to short third man found Gunmaster just short of his crease. (3 runs in 6 balls).

120 for 8 in 24.3 overs. 33 balls, 59 runs to win, 2 wickets.

U-Turn and Bob had both batted up the order in other matches during the season so to call them tailenders would be a fallacy but the Bulls were not aware of it and began to celebrate a little prematurely. The trash-talking went up a notch and the duo decided on a simple plan - get as close to the target as possible in the next three overs, in order to swing for the fences in the last two. What followed for the next three overs was just that. Placing the ball repeatedly into the gaps, the duo began to slice away at the target without taking any risks. In the process the pressure began to tell on the fielders who got itchy as the runs added up. U-Turn picked up an over-pitched ball from Saket and thumped it to the cover boundary to add insult to pressure. In the 27th over, U-Turn tried to pull a short ball from outside the stumps but only managed to send it high up to very short gully. The ball was swirling in the strong breeze and UP, of all people, dropped the sitter. Ever watchful, the batsmen crossed over for two runs while the Bulls were looking at each other with the ball just a few feet from the wickets. (Yes, friends, the words "son, you just dropped the game" were picked up by the non-existent stump microphones).

At this point in time, an old injury flared up when Bob pulled his hamstring muscle and Bunny had to come in as his runner. Running between the wickets is the least practiced aspect of cricket and communication involving a runner is even less so. Unfortunately for NCC, Bunny and U-Turn got into a hopeless tangle and U-Turn was run-out when he was sent back while attempting a second run!! (17 runs in 14 balls).

150 for 9 in 27.4 overs. 14 balls, 29 runs to win.

The two oldest guys were now at the crease with Ozone joining Loblaw. The last two balls were played away calmly for a single (Loblaw) and a double (Ozone).

153 for 9 in 28 overs. 12 balls, 26 runs to win.

UP took it upon himself to bowl the pivotal over of the inning, the 29th. The first ball was on a good length targeting off-stump. Swinging with the line, Loblaw hit the sweetest straight shot imaginable, and the ball flew all the way over long-on for an uplifting six. Suddenly, it was now 11 balls to go, 20 runs to get. Bob and Ozone calmly exchanged singles off the next two balls to bring it to 9 balls, 18 runs to win. The fourth ball was a splendid yorker that Bob tapped back to UP. Dot ball! The fifth ball was a repeat of the first ball, but slightly shorter in length. The shorter length forced Bob to swing more across the line and his swing missed the ball - bowled (19 runs in 16 balls, with 1 six)!!

161 all out in 28.5 overs. 8 balls left, 17 runs short.

With that, the Iowa Bulls had scaled the peak that had been in sight for so long - CLIA champions! In a display of all-round teamwork, they proved to be the better knit unit on the day and deserved their triumph. NCC was left with the wreckage of a second straight disappointment in the final of the CLIA league championship, a bitter pill to swallow for everyone involved, both players and ardent supporters.

When U-Turn and Bob Loblaw got together they showed that the runs could be had with a little control of the strike. This is their scoring chart:
U-Turn: **1142211221W
Bob Loblaw: 211**121111161W

The duo put on 30 runs in 19 balls and while Bob was at the crease the team put on 53 runs in 40 balls. Sadly, this 9th wicket partnership was the second-highest of the day for NCC, showing where the game had slipped away, with no real partnerships developing to put the Bulls bowlers under the cosh.

The long drive back to Omaha was initially filled with remorse over the golden chance that had been wasted. But, as Des Mines faded into the distance, the conversations turned to what had been accomplished in the season and the positives from the season. Counting the playoffs, NCC had played 14 matches, and lost just 4. Numerous exciting moments had been experienced, and countless fun-filled experiences shared. Like all seasons, this one featured moments of pure joy and frustration in equal measure but coming up just 17 runs short at the end of a 4 month season is a lot better than many other teams can claim.

As the days pass by the pain of the defeat still lingers but the happier moments are starting to make their way through. 2009 did not have the perfect ending for NCC, but the ride was an enjoyable one and that, as they say, is the real deal.

(With that, I end The Midwest Chronicles. If you are still reading this, I am hopeful that you had some fun along the way and I thank you for your support, both vocal and silent. Stay tuned for the top 10 fun moments of the 2009 season).

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Collating thoughts

Here are some news items that have caught my fancy in the past few days.

a) First up: Aakash Chopra's latest installment about how cricketer's perceive the world. This episode deals with pre-match preparation and what goes on in a top notch player's mind the day before the game.
Rohan Gavaskar wouldn't play a single ball in the nets, while Viru likes a long hit. Similarly Gautam Gambhir needs his throw-downs before every match, while Sachin Tendulkar's batting in the nets depends purely on how he's feeling about his game at that point of time. While Sachin didn't bat too often in the nets during the 2003-04 series, when he did, he made someone bowl at him from 15 yards most of the time.

There was one extraordinary instance of Dravid and Viru missing the practice session and watching a movie instead. It was before the memorable Adelaide Test in 2003. Sometimes, simply unwinding is the need of the hour
b) Does this apple look funny to you? Even if it does, don't be alarmed since it is just a rejigging of the base-pair sequences, the odds of which occurring are set at about one in a million.

It seems to me that the odds need to be even larger, since I don't ever recall hearing of a half-and-half apple.

c) If you have been following this blog closely, and since only a select few do follow this blog you must a close follower, then you know that I am an unabashed admirer of Roger Federer's skills on the tennis court. In an age of conditioned, IMG-programed, PC-soundbites to the media, I like Roger's candor and honesty when he is interviewed. Here's an interview he did between the French Open and Wimbledon, before the birth of twin girls. Plenty of nuggets in there, so do read it in its entirety. Here are some excerpts that caught my eye.
5. What would you want to have to be the perfect tennis player – without Roger Federer?
Serve, I take Andy Roddick, in addition David Nalbandian’s backhand, Rafael Nadal’s forehand and Lleyton Hewitt’s fighter qualities. There is no longer so many volleys today, but I would say Stefan Edberg, Patrick Rafter or Tim Henman. And in the mental area, I take probably once again Nadal. This doesn’t guarantee success, but it would be a very difficult to play against this opponent.

40. What surprises me about Rafael Nadal is:
His consistency in his early years.
d) Somethings are better left for you to comprehend and digest.
... administration officials objected to giving author J.K. Rowling the Presidential Medal of Freedom because her writing “encouraged witchcraft”.
e) "Do unto others as others do unto you" is the theme of this long article on Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code. Using Dan Brown's style of writing (if it can be called that) Francis Storrs sets about trying to unravel the man behind the book series that is minting money by the millions.

For an English teacher, Dan Brown is extremely limited as an author. He is repetitive, uses big words to try to impress the reader, and his characters do not talk like normal people at all. At the drop of a hat they are ready with a long discourse on the topic of discussion. Coincidences abound aplenty and the story is just stitched together to put forth the information the author really wants to share. Robert Langdon has now appeared in three stories but very little character development has occurred. If anything, there is less detail about Robert in the latest book - The Lost Symbol. Dan Brown would be better served reading books by Dick Francis to see how a few words and implied gestures here and there in a book can help paint a very vivid picture of a character.

f) Finally, a sobering thought: what if someone knew your every move in the virtual world? What if they could then use that information to profile you and get to you? What would you think of it? Some say that world is already here. George Orwell's world where Big Brother is watching (1984) does not seem like fiction any more, does it? cleverly combining log-in data, cookies, and IP addresses, Google is able to connect search queries to a particular individual across time – with impressive precision.

The result is striking. Google knows for each one of us what we searched for and when, and which search results we found promising enough to click on them. Google knows about the big changes in our lives – that you shopped for a house in 2000 after your wedding, had a health scare in 2003, and a new baby the year later. But Google also knows minute details about us: details we have long forgotten, discarded from our mind as irrelevant, but which nevertheless shed light on our past: perhaps that we once searched for an employment attorney when we considered legal action against a former employer, researched a mental health issue, looked for a steamy novel, or booked ourselves into a secluded motel room to meet a date while still in another relationship.

Each of these information bits we have put out of our mind, but chances are Google hasn't. Google knows more about us than we can remember ourselves.
While it is disquieting, I do not quite share the same sense of doom that the author does. Yes, my personal information is out there in cyberspace, but not any more than I want to share with others. There are lots of parts of me that have never made it outside my mind, or my inner circle, and that will stay that way, no matter how hard any search engine tries.

TMC: Episode 12 - Victory parade

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
Some of us will do our jobs well and some will not, but we will be judged by only one thing-the result.
- Vince Lombardi

Whether you think you can and whether you think you cannot - you are right.
Henry Ford.
For the third time this season Cedar Rapids All-stars and NCC met, this time in Omaha. The winner would reach the finals of the CLIA championship while the loser would go home wondering how a season that promised so much ended so soon.

CRA won the toss and elected to bat. What followed can be described using the most banal cricketing cliches or in focused Reacher-like paragraphs. I shall use the second option.

The key to a fast bowler's success is footwork and an easy, relaxed run-up. Unless the bowler is comfortable at the point he leaps to the crease, all other aspects of his bowling suffer. It is not uncommon for batsmen to talk about going into a "zone". It is fun to watch batsmen enter the zone, so to speak. But when a fast bowler enters the zone there isn't a more exciting sight in all of cricket. On September 20th, 2009, Gunmaster G9 entered the zone and by the time he was done with his spell, CRA innings was shattered beyond repair.

Bowling faster than I can ever recall seening him bowl before, Gunmaster kept beating the batsmen who were unsure which direction the ball was swinging after pitching. Moreover, by the time they got the bat down, the ball was thudding into Bean Counter's gloves behind the stumps. Time after time, the force of the ball caused Counter to jump off the ground to corral it. Gunmaster is the antithesis of a fast bowler in that the next word he utters on a field will be the first word he does. There is no glaring at the batsman, no histrionics, no prolonged appealing whatsover. Looking at him gives no clue as to the outcome of the ball. Ram, CRA's most accomplished batsman, was clueless about the bowling and the 3rd ball of the innings was the first one that he even got his bat to touch - that was an inner-edge that barely cleared leg-stump. One ball later, Gunmaster broke through Ram's defenses more comprehensively and rattled the stumps.

At the other end, Energizer Bunny was strangely listless. Trundling up the crease in a shadow of his usual self he bowled many wides (12 in all in just 4 overs). Fortunately, when he did get the ball on the right line he was unplayable and the CRA batsmen, particularly Mamu and Abdul just looked to preserve wickets.

The first runs from the bat did not come till the 5th over of the innings. The only thing nudging the score forward were the wides being bowled. With the batsmen showing no signs of taking on Gunmaster, Captain Ozone set an incredible field for a game played at a club level. Only two fielders were front of square - one at short cover and one at short-midwicket. The rest of the fielders were in the slip-gully-third man region. On the occasional occasion the batsmen managed to play more than a defensive shot, the ball invariably found one of the two fielders in front of square.

Agonizing over after agonizing over followed as Mamu and Abdul couldn't find a run no matter how hard they tried, until Gunmaster ended Mamu's stay with a ball that was deflected down the leg-side only for Counter to pull of a sharp catch going to his left. 2 runs in 27 tells the tale of agony that Mamu endured.

Abdul did not fare much better either. After 4 overs, Bunny was replaced by Kingsize Dada and the big unit struck right away trapping Abdul in front of the stumps. (You know it is a plumb LBW when the batting team's umpire gives it in these leagues!). Abdul's contribution to the proceedings were 5 scratchy singles in 28 balls.

After the 11th over, Gunmaster's spell was done. Breathing fire till the end he ensured that CRA's hopes were severely dented. It is not often that a bowler's analyses truly indicates how well (or badly) he bowled. However, 6 overs, 1 maiden, 8 runs, 2 wickets is as good an indicator as you can get.

While CRA did not lose too many wickets to Gunmaster, the tone had been set for the rest of the innings. Sensing a chance to make inroads into the batting line-up, Ozone turned to his second-fastest bowler - Chikna Slater. Making a comeback into the team after a disciplinary issue-related hiatus, Chikna set about ensuring that Gunmaster's fury was not in vain. Mike Strydon, CRA's biggest middle-order hope (psychologically as well as physically) defended for dear life as ball after ball homed in on his stumps. The one time CHikna landed a shorter one, Mike effortlessly pulled him away to the mid-wicket boundary. Chastened by that, Chikna resumed his unrelenting attack on the stumps. Something was bound to give and, not surprisingly, Mike's stumps went for a toss when a peach-perfect yorker went right through his tentative forward prod (4 runs in 18 balls).

Manumeet Bhatia began to swing his bat at everything, a heartening display of taking on the bowling, but it was not accompanied by much success. Swinging at every ball is fine if you are connecting. When you are not it makes for some awkward moments. Fortunately for NCC, Bhatia's attempt to find the mid-wicket fence only resulted in a pop-up. Ozone saw the ball go up and quickly looked down to see who the fielder was. As soon as he realized Bhishma was after it, he relaxed. Bhishma, the safest fielder on the NCC team, backpedaled from mid-on. Making a difficult catch look simple, Bhishma took the over-the-shoulder catch (a la Kapil Dev) and seconds later was smothered by the captain leaping into his arms.

Murtaza struck two lusty blows, clearing the fence with one, but by now the NCC tails were up and the attack was relentless. Murtaza swung hard at Chikna and lost his stumps (11 runs in 25 balls). Alok tried to square-cut the first ball he faced and the extra pace from Chikna did him no favors, Thin Man gobbled up the easy offering at point.

With that Chikna's fiery spell came to an end - 6-0-21-4, with the big blot being the 10 wides he sent down. Keeping the pressure up at the other end while Chikna was wrecking havoc was Bhishma with his unique mix of sliders and low bouncing-scudders to the tune of 5-0-19-0.

Smelling blood in the water, Ozone turned to his closers - Doctor Kamikaze and U-Turn. The duo specializes in bleeding all the pace out of the ball while targeting the stumps. Ashok could not resist the Kamikaze temptation to send the ball into orbit and his high, arching pop-up was comfortably taken by, who else, Bhishma. A ball later the CRA captain, Senthi, actually managed to connect well with the ball. The ball traveled all the way to deep midwicket, where Thin Man took the overhead catch about a yard inside the fence. Kamikaze: 3-0-13-2.

The final nail in the coffin was struck when U-Turn drew Venkat out of the crease and beat him for pace (or lack thereof) giving Counter a chance to procure the first stumping of his career. U-Turn: 2.2-0-6-1.

With that CRA was all out for just 99 runs in 29.2 overs. The blot on the otherwise splendid bowling card were the whopping 37 wides bowled by the bowlers.

And now, here comes the much-awaited section of the TMC match reports. Let's take a break to appreciate some of the lesser known things about the world around us.
    • The average person is about a quarter of an inch taller at night.
    • The Statue of Liberty is not in New York state, but in New Jersey.
    • There are 20,000 living organisms in a glass of water.
    • Every day the Earth travels 12 Million Miles.
    • Every diamond, no matter how big, is only one molecule.
    • It takes 3,000 cows to supply the NFL with footballs for one season.
    • Baby giraffes drop 6 feet to the ground when they're born.
    • Thunder is caused by air rushing into the vacuum created by can't have thunder without lightening.
    • Mosquito repellents don't repel. They hide you. The spray blocks the mosquito's sensors so they don't know you're there.
    • No piece of paper can be folded in half more than 7 times.
    • A Boeing 747's wingspan is longer than the Wright brother's first flight.
    For the first time all season a team batting first had been nailed for under 100 runs by the bowling squad. Surely the chase would be a formality, right? But never underestimate the prowess of the NCC in making things more difficult than they should be.

    Kamikaze and Bhishma went in with instructions to not hang around and prolong the chase. Seeing them come in, Senthil threw a curveball and after Abdul's opening over gave Mamu the ball. I have described Mamu's unique bowling style elsewhere so I will just repeat what I wrote then:
    Mamu (no one seems to know his real name) is a bowler who was probably the rage a hundred years ago. He walks up to the wicket and let's the ball go with exaggerated flight. His ball does not spin after it lands but it always lands on a good length spot, teasing the batsman into stepping out of the crease. The ball takes a good 2-3 seconds to reach the batsman and is just the first step in the trap. He always bowls with a packed leg-side field with at least 2-3 fielders on the boundary waiting for that lofted hit. But the real danger is lurking much closer. Should the batsman step out of the crease and miss the ball, he may as well keep walking. Behind the stumps lies the biggest danger - Mike Strydom. This South African, big and strong as you might imagine, is also the best wicket-keeper in the league and possesses the fastest reflexes of any keeper most of us have seen in person. The square-leg umpires get a lot of workout when Mike is standing up to the stumps.

    It did not take long for Mamu to make his mark. Two balls into his spell, he got Kamikaze to try an extravagant cut shot, only to top edge it to a waiting gully fielder. Soon after, Mamu got the big gun - Bhishma - trapped LBW while trying to paddle a ball to the leg-side. Before that happened, the first signs that things may not be going as planned occurred when a hard-hit straight drive by Bhishma was deflected onto the stumps by the bowler to find Kingsize out of his crease,runout in the most tragic way imaginable. Now, with Bhishma also gone, it was three down for next to nothing.

    At this point, Senthil came on to continue the slow bowling trend, treating the crowd to his expert mix of leg-spinners, googlies, and sliders. To counter this unexpected mode of attack, Ozone promoted himself up the order, joining Thin Man at the crease. Stepping out of the crease and calmly playing the ball straight down the ground Ozone began to ease some of the nerves in the NCC camp. Emboldened by this, Thin Man thumped Senthil for a humungous six that bounced on the road beyond the ground at mid-wicket. Two fours later, the nerves were eased even further. And then Senthil struck. Ozone ventured out of the crease, did not reach the pitch of the ball, and before he had turned, Mike had snapped off the bails.

    Counter went in with instructions to take his time (not that he needs these instructions) and he did. However, at the other end, Senthil produced a picture-perfect leg-break to bamboozle Thin Man's defensive shot and take out off stump. In the very next over, Bunny's half-forward offering to an Ashok ball that swung in and then seamed out cost him dearly, losing his stumps in the process.

    Chikna did not hang around too long either. Right after a wild swing connected nothing but air, Chikna repeated the feat and the high, swirling catch was taken by Senthil at gully. 7 wickets down and about 30-40 runs to get, 3 wickets in hand. A humdinger that should never have been had now entered humdinger status.

    Every subsequent run was cheered with a fervor usually reserved for boundaries by the batting side while every dot ball was treated like a wicket by the bowling team. Luckily for NCC, at the crease were the two most unruffled batsmen in the team - Counter and U-Turn. Slowly, but surely, the duo inched their way towards the target, eschewing risky shots and playing out Mamu and Senthil's final arrows. With less than 15 runs needed to win, Counter blundered by trying to cut hard at a wide ball, only managing a top-edge to Mamu. By then Counter had played a great hand - 23 runs in 32 balls - but the door to victory had not been prised open completely.

    With mounting pressure and only Johnnie Walker to follow, Gunmaster did not even try to score runs, content to block out every ball he faced. At the other end, U-Turn took his time, defending any ball on the stumps, but thrashing two bad balls - one to the fence and one for three runs to bring NCC to the verge of victory.

    The first ball of the 25th over was a full toss no-ball that U-Turn gleefully deposited to the fine-leg boundary to bring up the winning runs. Without Counter's calmness and U-Turn's determined batting this one may have gone away from NCC. For many games U-Turn has been struggling with developing a batting identity and he may just have found one - late innings closer.

    Mamu (6-1-16-2) and Senthil (6-0-23-2) were the pick of the CRA bowlers but even their best efforts came short. With the narrow two-wicket win, NCC made it through to the finals. Waiting for them were the Iowa Bulls, who thrashed the defending champions - Elite CC - in a convincing manner in the first semi-final, successfully chasing down a target of 134 losing just 2 wickets in the process.

    The final would pit the league's best batting outfit (Iowa) against the league's best bowling outfit (Nebraska) - a battle worthy of the occasion.

    The match report for that game will come up shortly...