Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sunshine on my shouder

Some days are just perfect.  When these days roll away I wait eagerly for CricInfo to write about it.  They did not disappoint me this time.  I have watched the innings thrice already  and I could watch it another three times. What a joy to watch VVS Laxman in song!
Rahul Dravid has spoken about the mental strength of Laxman, which is often masked by the beauty of his batsmanship. "When he walks in, whether you are batting in the middle or sitting in the pavilion and a wicket has fallen, he brings calm to the whole dressing room," Dravid said. It wasn't a surprise to see the Indian team happily playing football at the end of the fourth day's play, still a long way to go in saving the Test. Laxman was still to bat.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

King-ly corner

Stealing an idea from Peter King (of Sports Illustrated), here are some things I think when I am not thinking other things:

a) Why don't frontline bowlers get the luxury of a nightwatchman at the end of a long day when they have been at the mercy of a lifeless pitch? Can Sachin Tendulkar give me an answer?

b) I have a strong suspicion that Rahul Dravid is going to retire from Test cricket at the end of the India-New Zealand Test series.

c) If Sachin Tendulkar is batting in the high 40's the best way to get him out is to bring on a slow bowler or spinner. His need to get there with singles, and not by playing the ball on its merit, is making him very vulnerable lately (think White, think Patel, in fact, look at the names of the bowlers who got him out when in sight of a personal landmark (in the late 40's) in the recent past.

d) I think there should be a ban on using certain puns with certain players, such as, Tiger Woods and prowl in the same sentence, Rahul Dravid and the wall, Chris Gayle and cool, Laxman and wristy.

e)  Who will man the slips cordon once Sachin, Dravid, and Laxman exit the Test stage?

f) If the IPL is played in South Africa, is it still the Indian Premier League?

g) I wish I could golf more fequently.  I bet RT would agree!

video

Friday, March 27, 2009

Spring is in the air

Over the years, cricket in the United States has slowly been picking up steam. Played mostly by college students or recent immigrants from various parts of the British Commonwealth, the level of play is not of the highest caliber, but there is no shortage of intensity. Elsewhere on this blog I have documented one such season for a team from West Virginia University.

The New York Times recently featured cricket in its weekend section, chronicling a club cricket tournament played in Florida.
Though cricket counts its fans by the billion worldwide, the sport does not register a pulse in the United States. Of the five teams in attendance at this experimental event last weekend — Montgomery, from Maryland; Boston University; Carnegie Mellon, from Pittsburgh; the University of South Florida and the University of Miami — most exist only as social clubs. None of them have club team status, and the sport is not officially recognized by the N.C.A.A.

“This is an opportunity for us to really show athletic directors at a Division I level that cricket matters, cricket is a big sport and cricket has a marketing capability in this country,” said Sumantro Das, an all-rounder and junior at Boston University, who learned to play as a child in India
.
I doubt whether cricket will ever really catch on in a major way in the US (the ICC will find a way to botch it) but it is heartening to see that it is beginning to make some inroads.

A book by Joseph O'Neill, Netherland, was recently in the running for the 2009 Man Booker Prize, too.

For my part, with each passing day as the sun sets later and later, an excitement is building in anticipation of the new season.

The march of the lemmings

A few weeks ago, some students told me about a charity event that they were organizing. In order to raise some money for it, they set up a "pay to vote" system where students could "vote" for one faculty member to lead the event.

I was the lucky (or unlucky, depending upon your inclination for these things) faculty member chosen for this honor. Yesterday was the day and it sneaked up on me! The local newspaper covered the event. Here's a look at what the event was about!

The ambient temperature at that time was about 35 degreesF (2 degreesC) but it was much colder because of the cold breeze that was blowing. All in all, a fun way to spend a few seconds of the day. There definitely was shrinkage, Jerry!

video

Logically speaking

When the Oscar awards were announced, I could not understand how The Fall was not nominated for visual awards. All the clips I saw of it were breathtaking and Ebert's praise could not have been more fullsome. (I had written about it here).

Made by Tarsem (he goes by just one name) it looks like a fantastic movie to watch. Here's a preview of it:



Here's just one scene from the movie. The kid's logic is simple and unanswerable.

Cottoning on

Bobilli Vijay Kumar finds that the ghosts of the former regime are still being revisited by the current one.

I have talked about it a couple of times in the past, most recently a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hot tin roof

Dinesh Karthik (who seems to be back to a normal spelling for his name) needs to calm down behind the stumps. He is too jumpy and has way too many body parts moving around while the ball is in the air. If he keeps this up, this may well end up being his last Test match.

For instance, he is like Jim Carrey when he needs to be like Clint Eastwood. Action isn't everything.

Matter of the mind

MS Dhoni has not put too many false steps in the short time since he has been captaining the Indian side. Where he has impressed the most is in his ability to deflect the media's questions with jokes and (gasp) corporate-speak. For a guy who has no more than a high school education (and by all accounts just a rudimentary one at that) he is erudite and displays an acumen well beyond his ears.

At press conferences, his answers are elaborate and informative, while eschewing typical captain-speak ("boys batted well, the boys bowled in the right areas", etc.) most of the time. It is not as if he is always ready with a quip. It is just that even when he is giving the same information, he takes the time to elaborate on what he means by it.

Case in point: He takes a simple statement that the team is not underprepared because they haven't practiced much at the current Test venue (yawn) and turns that into a lesson on how to unclutter a mind. The stock answer would have been that the players are all professionals and know how to prepare for the game at such short notice, etc. Here's how Dhoni elaborated on it.
"Mentally we are right there. When it comes to the mind it depends on what you're feeding into the mind. The mind doesn't know if it's Napier or what you're feeding. You come and say 'this is Napier', and it believes it's Napier. If you see, it's an abstract. When people say 'he's in form', nobody has seen form. It's a state of mind where you are confident and you think very positively and everything you think about, you think it's very achievable. It's about how you treat the mind. One day here, one day there doesn't really make a difference. Preparation-wise, we are up to the mark."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fore!

Here's a panoramic view of the Meadow Ponds Golf Course in West Virginia - a course where I honed my (very-limited) golf skills.  This video was taken in the month of March (which explains why the trees are so bare and the grass not as green).  

Yes, the wind does get pretty strong sometimes.  And that is indeed me missing my putt (for par).

video

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Old wine, meet new bottle

In 2006, Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid were at the helm of Indian cricket. The Indian team was gearing up for a run at the upcoming 2007 World Cup. There was a great deal of hue and cry over the fact that India did not have a settled #3 batsman.

On February 12th, 2006, on my blog I wrote:
The IndianOil Cup in Sri Lanka was the first time Rahul Dravid was made the captain for an entire series, under the aegis of Greg Chappell. Since that time the following players have batted at #3 - Mohammad Kaif, Irfan Pathan, MS Dhoni, JP Yadav, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, SK Raina, and VVS Laxman.
The criticism that was being leveled at that time was that the oh-so-easily-insecure batsmen were unsure who was batting where, and that it was ruining the player's confidence. In searching for a method behind the seeming madness, I thought I found one.
I searched for a pattern and I think I am beginning to see one. The Indian think-tank (Chappell, Dravid and Tendulkar) appear to have broken up the batsmen into two categories - the accelerators (Sehwag, Yuvraj, Pathan, Dhoni) and the anchors (Tendulkar, Dravid, Kaif). These 7 form the central core of their batting lineup.

The manipulation of the batting line-up is based on pairing an accelerator with an anchor as much as possible. Which role-players will go in to bat depends upon the state of the match:

The generic formula: Sehwag and Tendulkar will open. Sehwag's mandate is to accelerate, while Tendulkar's is to consolidate. If Sehwag gets out early - either Pathan or Yuvraj or Dhoni will go in. If Tendulkar gets out first - either Kaif or Dravid will go in
.
The plan did not quite work out in the World Cup because of factors not completely in their control.
Unfortunately for the think-tank, the worst possible thing happened. Sehwag's ODI form hit rock bottom and, soon, Pathan joined him there. Yuvraj Singh hit a purple patch of form and India rode the crest of his, Dhoni's, and (for some time) Pathan's feats to the tune of 18 straight successful chases (oh, how easily the media forgets this astounding feat).

But then Yuvraj, a vital cog in the scheme, was rendered
hors de combat, and Raina/Mongia could not fill his void. Eventually the scheme was adjusted to try to fit the personnel available and this coincided with the clamouring for all experimentation to stop. (Ironically, this is the time when they needed to experiment the most to find the pieces to replace the cogs that had begun to malfunction).
The end result was that Chappell was eased out, Dravid eventually resigned, and serendipitously, India discovered that MS Dhoni was a brilliant captain, in spite of a total lack of experience in that role.

Fast forward to today. Once again, the Indian batting line-up is in a flux. Stop the presses!! Sidharth Monga (there he is once more!) picks up the thesis, as if it is a new concept, again.
So who is India's No. 3 for ODIs? Gautam Gambhir? Only when Sachin Tendulkar plays. But wait a minute, didn't Mahendra Singh Dhoni feature at one-down in the Napier ODI with Tendulkar opening with Virender Sehwag? Gambhir didn't even get to bat then.

Suresh Raina would be a close guess, but he has done it only five times out of his past 11 matches, and on 15 occasions during his 61-match career.

How about Yuvraj Singh? Not really, having batted at No. 3 14 times in his 228 games. But he can make a surprise appearance every now and then
.
Dhoni attempts to clarify this (seemingly) bewildering state of affairs when he says:
Dhoni took the uncertainty game one step ahead after India won the previous match. That involved the roles the different batsmen were supposed to play. One of the keys is for one batsman to provide stability from one end so that the likes of Sehwag, Yuvraj, Raina and Yusuf can play their natural game.

"We have Sachin, Gautam and lower down the order, myself, who can do this job," Dhoni said. "But in between we change that also, so the opposition can't really be sure that the batsmen will play their innings in a certain way. At times he is given the responsibility to play aggressive cricket too, because the opposition keeps thinking he will look to take the innings through
."
Hmmm, sounds familiar, doesn't it? Before we get too ahead of ourselves we must let some old demons rise up one more time.
But there is a fine line between a clever, better shuffle and a muddle. If the ploy surprises the opposition, it must also leave the batsmen themselves a touch unsure. By the time the captain-coach combine of Rahul Dravid and Greg Chappell was done, a major criticism was that with so many shuffles no batsman was certain of what his role in the side was.
My take has always been simple. If the captain (and coach) of the team clearly explains to each player what the overall strategy is and how their play fits in the big scheme of things, I don't see anyone having problems with that. The only concern (and this is a big one) is that the selectors need to be aware of this before they take a knee-jerk approach and discard someone for a lean spell while simply following team orders. It has happened before (most noticeably with Aakash Chopra in the recent past) and nothing convinces me that it will not happen in the near future. 

I just hope that the 2011 World Cup does not get sacrificed at the altar of public perception, like the 2007 edition was.

Cricket links

Here are articles that merit a few sentences but probably not an entire blog item. (Also, I think I will get lynched by some of my regulars, who are not as cricket-centric as I am, if I proceed to have 5 more posts on cricket today!).

a) If you haven't already gotten the message - I am thoroughly jealous of Sidharth Monga. Here's a sample of his tour diary from New Zealand while he has the arduous task of following the Indian cricket team and reporting on it. Grr-dom prevails. Someday....someday...
February 24
Norm has been driving the Indian team around in his coach. He has done the job for various sports teams for a long time now. The first time he went into the bus this time, he saw Sachin Tendulkar in his customary first seat, and his jaw dropped. "Jeez you are famous," Norm said.

A few of Norm's observations: the Indians are immaculately behaved; most of them put on their iPods when they board, except for Tendulkar, who is always seen laughing with Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan. Norm keeps the bus keys away from Sehwag. Never know when he feels like a drive. Alone
.
b) From the "Ripley's Believe It Or Not!" stable comes this entry - England has the world's #1 batsman and bowler. I kid you not!

Step into the spotlight - Isa Guha and Claire Taylor. (What?! You thought I was talking about Pietersen and Flintoff?). I watched England thump India yesterday (yes, I watch women's cricket, too!) and came away maha impressed with Guha, Taylor, and Mithali Raj.

c) Elsewhere, Sidharth Monga describes the inequity that exists in cricket these days between bat and ball, particularly in the shorter form of the game. ODI's first double century is coming, maybe in just a few hours from now (in the 4th ODI between India and New Zealand, but I will not rejoice when it does. Scoring runs these days is as easy it was to hunt a dodo back when dodo's were alive and thriving.

What is even more frustrating is that people like Sachin Tendulkar, who should know better, think this is a wonderful trend. Sickening, really.
There is an inherent flaw in the modern cricketing language too. Commentators, captains, experts instinctively call a flat track a "good pitch". A pitch which assists bowling is put in the "not-of-international-standard" category.

Tendulkar recently criticised the pitches on the last tour to New Zealand thus: "The wickets are great [this time around]. Not only players, but the spectators are also enjoying it. Last time we came here the bowlers got false confidence and the batters were looking for technical problems which didn't exist. I have at least not played on tracks like those and it wouldn't be ideal for the spectators either."

Most of it is fair comment, but the pitches are not great this time either. Not with the small boundaries at least, where edges and dabs go for boundaries and sixes. Won't the easy runs give some of the batsmen false confidence? Wouldn't bowlers be looking for faults that might not even exist when they look at their figures? The bowlers won't be thinking of all that though for they are facing the ultimate test of their skill and acumen
.
d) The recent events in Pakistan have put some doubts into the latest season of the IPL. The IPL has successfully flexed its muscles, notably with respect to the ICL and the ICC. But now, the IPL may be trying to bite a bitter chunk than it can reckon with - the Indian electoral system, as Nirmal Shekar explains in The Hindu in a tongue-and-cheek way.
The Indian Premier League is about many things. It’s about money, money, money, money, money… and then, of course, about a bit of cricket, of the frenetic kind, too.

Given that fact, this column has a suggestion to Mr. Lalit Modi, the IPL’s high-profile head honcho. He should request the Central Government of the world’s largest democracy to postpone the general elections scheduled for April-May. Well, actually he should go beyond that: he should demand it
.
(...)
There is a simple solution: postpone the polls, no matter what the Constitution says, no matter what the Election Commissioners may say. After all, can these blokes possibly bring in hundreds of millions to the kitty? Can they conceivably persuade Preity Zinta or Shilpa Shetty — draped in the finest their unabashedly expensive wardrobes can offer — to jive it live in front of TV cameras during the matches?

Did anyone whisper anything about priorities? By golly, who cares? After all, this is a nation where Parliament erupts in atavistic frenzy whenever the Indian cricketers lose a match in South Africa, and reverts to certain ennui as the odd member brings up an issue such as farmer suicides.
(...)
In a rational world, it would have been an open-and-shut case, a non-issue. If the governments of the States where the IPL matches are scheduled believed they would not be able to provide adequate security to the players because of the election pressures, then the Central Government should simply tell the Board of Control for Cricket in India that it would do well to postpone, or even cancel, the event.
(...)
Repeatedly we are told that there is far too much at stake for too many people, for the IPL Board to even so much as contemplate the idea of such a postponement or a cancellation. But who are these stakeholders, and why should elected governments stretch their security apparatus dangerously thin in order to protect their interests?
e) Asian players have long complained about a biased treatment from the match officials when it comes to handing out punishments. But news from West Indies would have heartened them when they heard that two English players were found guilty of excessive appealing. But before I could write about it here, Samir Chopra beat me to the punch on his blog.
But wait! The two Englishmen are named Madhusudan Singh Panesar and Amjad Khan! Curses. See? Its in the genes, the stars, the pitch, the water, the blood, the skies. Poor lads. Their parents moved so far away from home, put up with the trials and tribulation of migration, of an unsympathetic local populace, brought their kids up right, sent them to good schools, made sure they didn't have the wrong accents, and even got them into the English team, complete with the Four Lions sweater. But they still got hauled up for excessive appealing.

Sorry lads; you can run, but you can't hide
.
Or in the case of Panesar, you can prance like an excited bird (or a happy seal as aptly described by the commentators on CricInfo) but you can never be a McGrath. Note how McGrath never turns around before the decision is given, but was he reprimanded? Are you kidding me?!

Dancing with the stars

One more article that deserves to go into my ode to the original Little Master, GR Viswanath, is this one by Ramachandra Guha. It is full of anecdotes and is a treat for any fan of Vishy.
I once watched Vishy, at the Ferozeshah Kotla, in a Ranji Trophy match between Karnataka and Delhi, being beaten on the back foot by a delivery from the rising university star Praveen Oberoi. The ball had come in late with the arm instead of, as the batsman had anticipated, spinning away towards the off side. The ball was only narrowly missing leg stump, and the bowler, after pleading with the umpire to give the decision in his favour, sank to the ground in despair. At the end of the over Oberoi made a great show to his team-mates of what he felt was a case of justice denied. Vishy watched calmly but at the beginning of Oberoi's next over came dancing down the wicket to send the ball into the crowd over extra cover.

Even the gentlest of men are sometimes moved to show an upstart his place
.

Musical Chair

Ram Gopal Varma has collaborated numerous time with AR Rahman and has a good working relationship with the musician. On his blog, he goes into detail about the origins and the workings of this relationship.
I was making a Telugu film called Kshana Kshanam with a first-time music director called Keera Vani, now known as M.M.Kreem. One day at the recording studio while we were having lunch, Rickey, a rhythm programmer working with M.M.Kreem at that time, mentioned to me that I should work with this very talented keyboard player called Dilip. That was the first time I had ever heard of A.R.Rahman.
Read the whole piece. It is informative and gives an insight into both of their thought processes.

Oddly, they have worked together in just twice in the past (Rangeela and Daud) and not since 1997.

High ground

Here's reason number 14,657 why I like Aakash Chopra. Aakash recently played a few matches in Agartala, a location not often visited by the cricketers. His CricInfo blog touches upon the place and his feelings.
Personally, I like coming to the smaller, lesser known places in this vast land. Only cricket could have given us the opportunity to travel all over and get acquainted with various local cultures. There’s something peculiar about the houses (on the outskirts) in this part of the country. Since land is not at a premium the houses are built on a big compound with enough space for a garden. Invariably there are a couple of coconut trees in every compound and the boundary walls are made of bamboo. Those bamboo boundary walls – some of the smaller shops have them too - make a statement: we trust each other. It reminds me of the tradition in a small island called Nevis in the Caribbean, where locking your car is taken as an insult by the others.
What is impressive about the post is not what is there, but what is not there. Chasing a mammoth score of 306 to win, Aakash and Virat Kohli hit centuries to guide Delhi to a great win.

It is so typical of the fellow that he did not refer to this in his blog. His book (which I have now read and shall review in detail when I have a couple of hours to spare) is also written in the same style.

He truly believes in letting his deeds do the talking. For a guy not considered good enough for the slower formats of the game, check out where he ended up in the leading run-scorers table after the Vijay Hazare tournament.