Sunday, January 31, 2010

Holding court

(Ben Solomon 2010)

Roger Federer had some interesting things to say at the press conference after winning the Australian Open.

Some of the more interesting nuggets (all emphases mine):
Q. We saw you engage in psychological warfare, talking about the pressure on him, how long it's been, using 150,000 years out on court. Was it so much sweeter beating Andy because he has a very good record against you and has got under your skin in the past?

ROGER FEDERER: Well, I think it got exaggerated. The on‑court interview, I don't take those serious anyway. If you think it was a mental thing, it was not the case, you know.

But you ask me a question, I'll give you a straight answer. That's how the press conference was after the Tsonga match. It's not an easy thing to do to win your first Grand Slam. That's not mental, you know, trying to screw with his head, you know. It's just a tough thing, you know.

The next one is not gonna get any easier. But his game is so good that I'm convinced he will win one, you know. And I thought he did really well tonight because conditions were tough. I mean, I think I played a great match. So someone's got to win, and I'm happy it was me.

(...)

ROGER FEDERER: This felt similar to the Wimbledon victory in a way, because all of a sudden it was over and it hit me, you know. Whereas before I made the dropshot and I think I won, and might have been much more emotional, you know.

But then after losing that point, I'm thinking, My God, he just grabbed the trophy out of my hands. I might end up losing this thing. Two or three points later, I'm the winner after all.

It was very much a rollercoaster with the emotions. You know, you just try to stay focused. I guess the match point was over, and I was like, Oh, my God, this is it. That's kind of how I felt. It was great.

(...)

Q. How do you keep doing it year after year, Grand Slam after Grand Slam? You make it look so easy, and obviously it isn't.

ROGER FEDERER: (...) But I just ‑‑ you know, I always knew I had it in my hand. The question is do I have it in my mind and in my legs, you know. That's something I had to work extremely hard at. Now I feel like obviously I'm being pushed a great deal by the new generation coming up. I always feel sort of tennis changes sort of every five years.

Because when I came on tour, matches were played very differently. It was more of a bluff game, guys serving well, but there was always a weakness you could go to. Today that doesn't exist anymore. I think that's also thanks to guys like Murray. They've made me a better player, because I think this has been one of my finest performances, you know, in a long time, or maybe forever.

(...)

Q. You mentioned a couple times it's your first major win as a dad. Did you ever doubt you'd be able to keep winning as a father?

ROGER FEDERER: Not really. I mean, it was more put out there, you know, that apparently it's hard to do. Not as hard as it seems (laughter).

I mean, I think the special win for me was winning in Cincinnati, I think. I think the girls were barely two, three weeks old. That was terrific. That was very special. Sure, this is the first Grand Slam, but it doesn't feel as much as the Cincinnati victory felt like, just because there it was right off the bat; it was fresh.

It was all in my mind, you know. So to get through that tournament by beating Andy and Novak in the semis and finals was very special. Then, of course, being a dad, just coming off the whole thing was amazing.

This is obviously terrific, as well. Maybe not as much as the dad part, but just more that I can still do it, you know, after losing the US Open final.

Q. Can you understand why Andy got emotional at the end? You've been through that yourself. You say it's hard to win the first one. Can you appreciate why he felt as deflated as he did at the end?

ROGER FEDERER: (...) You know, in a way it was hard to watch, but at the same time I like seeing players who care for the game. I don't know. It's nice to see, you know. So you wish, you know, only the best for him
.
(Click here for the transcript of the entire interview. Since it a word for word transcription, obviously, you'll have to work around the, you know, repeated phrases. Definitely, this is him on the fly, I mean, and it is endearing, in a nice way).

Icing on the cake

Before Federer won the Aussie Open, another favorite of mine, Leander Paes, won the mixed doubles with Cara Black of Zimbabwe. Sweet!

(C.S. Manish 2009)

I watched them from extremely close quarters at the 2009 US Open and was disappointed when they did not win. Luckily, they did not make it three losses in a row in Grand Slam finals (they had previously lost at the Wimbledon final, too).

Not only is he a great player, like Federer, Paes is a wonderful speaker and a great ambassador for the sport. Federer is good at speaking with compassion and clarity but even he can take a leaf out of Paes' interviewing skills. Read this interview of Paes and you will get a great idea of how good he is for tennis.

Editor's note: Here's the full transcript of the post-match press conference of Paes and Black. My favorite bit:
Q. Does he talk non‑stop on the court as well?
CARA BLACK: It's great. I love it (laughter)
.
I am now rooting for Roger and Paes-Black to get a single season Grand Slam!

Stomping grounds

From Azhar's Facebook page I came across this oldie-goldie. The photo in and of itself is not that remarkable, except that it jogs a lot of memories in my head. Not for Mohammad Azharuddin and Raj Singh Dungarpur, though that has a lot of connotations with it, but for the backdrop. I spent many days at Fateh Maidan Club and the lawns of Lal Bahadur Stadium that doubles up as the floor of the dining hall. The paranthas and tandoori chicken of FMC remain etched in my mind and I have never found any that have even come close to duplicating them.

My mouth is watering as I type these words.


Aside: The last time I attended a match at LB Stadium, I was fortunate enough to watch Azharuddin and Hadlee in a splendid face-off that was thrilling in every sense of the word.

Having evoked those two greats, let me leave you with two videos. The first is of Richard Hadlee's greatest performance with the ball - 15 wickets (9+6) at the Gabba. He had a chance to get all 10 but unselfishly took a splendid catch for the 9th out. (Aside: Considering the recent troubles that Ricky Ponting is having with the hook/pull shot, it is interesting that in Andrew Hilditch, the current chairman of the selectors, he has a kindred spirit, one who understands the fascination with playing a hook shot.)



Finally, Azharuddin during the most purple patch of his career. Breath-taking stuff.

Running Diary: Australian Open 2010 - Federer-Murray

A year ago, I stayed up all night to do a running diary of the Australian Open men's final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Twelve months later, Roger Federer is back in the final, this time against Andy Murray. I was going to just watch it this time...but suddenly feel compelled to maintain another running diary.

So, here goes:

2:23am: This running diary will not be as up-to-date as my previous one. I am less emotionally vested in this one than I was 12 months ago. The reason is that in the past year Roger has won that elusive French Open to complete a career Slam, equaled and then surpassed Pete Sampras' record of Grand Slam singles titles (for men, obviously). The rest of his career, from here on in, is just icing on the cake as far as I am concerned. In my mind he is the GOAT!

2:27am: Obligate (awe-inspiring) numbers that have to be mentioned and gotten out of the way: This is Roger's 22nd Grand Slam final (second place: Ivan Lendl with 19). He has reached at least the semi-final of the last 23 Grand Slam tournaments (second place: Ivan Lendl 10). (Here is a list that was made up before the French Open in 2009, so some of the streaks have been added to or surpassed!)

2:29am: One final thing: starting from Wimbledon 2004, Federer has either won or lost to the eventual winner in every Grand Slam, a running total of 23 Grand Slam tournaments. Phew! A streak that continues today.

2:38am: If you feel that I am short-changing Andy Murray, then you are right. If it really gets you angry, then please feel free to maintain a Murray-centric blog and let me know, I will swing by and take a look at it.

2:40am: Why can't folks say Rafa-EL? Why do they keep saying Raf-E-al? Am I missing something about Nadal's first name? Grrr.

2:31am: My prediction? Federer in 4 sets. Big surprise there.

FIRST SET

2:32am: Federer starts the final by serving first. Murray begins with a fantastic backhand down the line. He needs to do that all day to win. Two booming forehands by Federer paves the way back from 0-30 to 30-30. The game goes to deuce but Federer works his way out of the slightly stressful game to hold serve. 1-0 Federer.

Interesting tidbit. Federer's first Grand Slam win was in his 17th attempt. This is Murray's 17th Grand Slam tournament. Does that portent well for Murray?

2:51am: After being very aggressive in the first game of the match, Murray regresses into a passive mode. Federer pounces and hits a backhand and a forehand winner to capitalize on two Murray mistakes that made it 0-30 to break. 2-0 Federer.

2:54am: Murry fights right back, hitting two brilliant passing shots to get back the break! After the first one, a backhand winner from way beyond the backhand side of the court, Federer acknowledges the winner by clapping on his racquet. Interesting. 2-1 Federer.

2:57am: Players almost exclusively serve to Federer's backhand on the second serve and Murray's strategy is no different. Federer is content to slice them back in for now. Murray is missing his first serve and that is not helping matters. When he finally does get two in, he controls the game from that point on. 2-2.

3:03am: Murray efficiently gets to double break point, capitalizing on Federer's propensity to attack lines, but Federer gets back to deuce with two winners, one off his first serve. Murray defends his way to a third break point and Federer responds with another first serve that puts Murray off-balance and he wins the point easily. Federer builds on that with two aces. Boom, boom and it is 3-2 Federer.

3:15am: Both players go through their service games to hold on, but Federer looks more shaky than Murray. Interestingly, Federer is trying different things and attempting to force the pace while Murray is content to pound away from the baseline to Federer's backhand. A quick analysis by ESPN shows that Murray has targeted Federer's backhand about 60% of the time so far today. 4-3 Federer.

3:22am: Murray slips up and falls behind on his serve, first 0-15, and then 15-30. Two exquisite backhands gets Federer to break point and he capitalizes by smashing an inside-out forehand to the Murray backhand to break. 5-3 Federer. Serving for the first set.

3:26am: Without much trouble Federer holds his serve. A couple of deep angled serves, two errors from Murray and the first set goes to Federer, one of history's best fast starters in Grand Slams (the exact stat escapes me but I believe Federer has an obscenely humungous advantage when he wins the first set in a Grand Slam match).

(Editor's note: Found it! Federer is 171-5 in Grand Slams when he wins the first set. 172-5 after this match.)

In the first set, Murray's first serve was abysmal, except for in one game where it bailed him out. He will not win today if he does not improve his first serve. Murray changes to a white t-shirt. Maybe that will change his luck.

SECOND SET

3:30am: Murray does exactly that, putting in a few more first serves, getting Federer to scramble and wins the first game easily. Encouraging signs. The humidity on the court is close to 80% and that is making it harder to hit outright winners as the ball is not traveling as fast as it normally does on hard courts. On an average there have been about 9 strokes per rally so far. Tennis strokes, that is. 1-0 Murray.

3:34am: Murray is an incredible ball-retriever but he needs to be more aggressive and take more chances. Federer is more fit and will outlast him in a slug-fest. 1-1 Federer.

3:36am: If you want to see Federer at his best, take a look at this game! Federer strings Murray from corner to corner, raises the ante, and smashes 4 winners to break Murray at love. The passing shot to get to 0-40 is among the best I have ever seen him hit. Not only was the placement good, it was emphatic, too. 2-1 Federer.

3:42am: Murray has a slight chance at 30-30 but he is oddly regressing to a passive style of play and Federer capitalizes by pounding away at Murray's confidence and ending the game with another forehand winner. 3-1 Federer.

3:45am: Murray is being taken to the cleaners here by Federer who hits two brilliant winners, the second one a backhand down the line from Murray's stable to get to double-break point. Murray responds with an ace and a backhand down the line of his own, as if to show Federer he can do it, too. Another service winner takes him to game point. Two deep backhands later, Murray holds. An important hold for him. It was at a similar point in the 2009 US Open final that Federer cracked against Del Potro and gave up all the momentum he had. 3-2 Federer.

3:52am: Eerily, at 40-30, Federer dumps a drop shot in the net when he had the whole court in front of him after a short return. He had done a similar thing (tried a stupid drop shot) against Del Potro and lost momentum. Luckily for him, Murray does not make him pay for it and Federer escapes. Phew! That as closer than any causal observer may imagine. 4-2 Federer.

3:56am: Federer settles down after that hold, and a settled Roger is a dangerous force of nature. Murray finds out the hard way, as Federer crafts a brilliant gameplan, moving Murray back and forth across the baseline, probing away and then swinging a winner to the opposite side to get to three break points. Murray responds by attacking Federer's backhand and constructing three good points to get to deuce. Good for him. Now he needs to sustain it and hold on. Aaargh! He plays the next point from 6 feet behind the baseline and Federer toys with him - break point again. Murray's first serve percentage is really going downhill and escapes when Federer barely misses the baseline from his forehand side. The next rally is one of the best of the match so far, which Murray wins when he attacks the net and Federer barely misses a running forehand down the line. Game point Murray. Another long rally later, Murray holds as Federer dumps a backhand into the net. Important game for Murray. Still some life left in the set. 4-3 Federer.

4:05am: Murray can learn something from Roger. Four huge first serves, huge for accuracy and direction more than speed, and an easy love game for Federer. Four emphatic winners. Vintage Federer. 5-3 Federer.

4:08am: Murray and Federer play an odd game, where neither really took the initiative but for one splendid crosscourt forehand from Federer. Unfortunately for him, that was his only winner and Murray holds to make Federer serve for the second set. 5-4 Federer.

4:12am: Roger Federer is on cruise control now. Four winners gives him a two sets to love lead. When Federer wins the first two sets of a match in a Grand Slam, he is 155-0. Federer is a virtual lock to win the tournament. Murray has not shown me much to suggest he can turn this around.

At this point, Murray has to throw caution to the winds and attack Federer - both forehand and backhand, hammer the serve in on both tries, and look to come into the net and shorten the points. No shame in losing the set but if he does not try to take more chances then it will all be for naught.

THIRD SET

The last time Federer lost a 2 set lead was on this very same court in 2003 in a Davis Cup match against Leyton Hewitt. A defeat that prompted Federer to be more aggressive and change his mental thought process. Since then he has waged an assault on the record books of staggering proportions.

[Editor's note: Tifosi Guy points out "Correction there JQ.
David Nalbandian defeated Roger Federer in the Master's final in Shanghai in 2005 after being two sets down.
Nalbandian won 6-7, 6-7 , 6-2, 6 -1, 7-6."

Mea culpa, TG
.]

4:17am: Murray gets a few first serves in, and thunders his way to the first game. His body language is not encouraging, however. He is walking around with a mopey look, as if searching for pebbles on a beach. 1-0 Murray.

One thing that Murray has done very well all day has been to anticipate which direction Federer is going to serve. Either Murray is very quick to respond or he is picking up on some cue from Roger. In his autobiography, Agassi points out that he knew which way Boris Becker was going to serve based on which direction Becker stuck his tongue out.

Murray reaches break point and plays the best point of the match for him, stringing Federer back and forth but misses a backhand down the line to get back to deuce. Federer quickly capitalizes with a brilliant backhand overhead winner and a serve and charge to finish the game. 1-1.

Federer has got to be one of the best ever at hitting the overhead backhand volley. Sampras was quite good, though Agassi was even better at it. Federer is right up there with Andre, in my esteem.

4:24am: Murray is showing some signs of life, pounding away at the corners and taking a love game, with the help of a couple of errors from Federer. Errors induced by the pace of Murray's hits. I hope this registers in Andy's brain. 2-1 Murray.

4:28am: Federer holds (2-2) and Murray grapbs his right quad muscles (or maybe his right knee). These are not encouraging signs for him. Federer hits 8 straight flat shots - forehand and backhand- to start the next game and goes up 0-15. Murray responds with a service winner. Roger runs around a backhand and hits a crunching forehand down the line for a sweet winner. 15-30. Murray hits out from his forehand side and wins the next two points to go to game point (40-30). This is a pivotal game. If Murray cannot hold, the match is done. Federer gets a second serve, tries to run around his backhand and hit a forehand winner. Epic fail and Murray holds. 3-2 Murray.

4:36am: Murray gets up very quickly to 0-40 with one superlative winner and two errors. Federer hits three great first serves, which elicit weak returns. He is able to pound winners off the first two but unable to capitalize on the third and Murray breaks! 4-2 Murray.

4:38am: Murray begins the game with a fabulous cross-court forehand that was hit with a venom that has not been on display all game to go to 15-0. The second point features the first really bad mis-hit by the Federer sliced backhand all day. 30-0. A forehand in the net by Roger brings Murray to 40-0. Murray has won 10 of the last 12 points. Murray finishes the game with an ace down the middle. 5-2 Murray. Game on!

4:45am: Federer responds with an easy hold, two aces taking him to the end of the game. 5-3 Murray. Murray is 4 points from the third set. After a good first serve and a forehand miss from Federer he is 3 points away. A Federer forehand blast and an error from Murray later it is 15-30. Throats are tightening up as Federer does not move his feet and misses a forehand slice. 30-30. A second serve from Murray is eaten alive by Federer, a cross-court top-spin forehand later it is breakpoint Federer. A booming serve from Murray brings it back to deuce. Good time to get a 133mph first serve. Federer responds with a great running backhand passing shot that elicits a weak volley from Murray. Breakpoint again. A long-ish rally ends with Murray hitting a routine forehand into the net. Federer is back on serve. Ouch-time for Murray fans. 5-4 Murray.

4:55am: Federer suffers a couple of odd decisions (hitting back to Murray on an approach shot and a drop shot hit into the net from behind the baseline) but battles his way back on the basis of that big first serve of his to hold serve. 5-5.

4:58am: Three brilliant serves from Murray (two aces) and two errors from him on the forehand side bring the game to 40-30. Federer then responds by pounding the second serve, coming into the net, and surviving a great passing shot with a drop volley to get to deuce. Murray then comes into the net very quickly and Federer misses the passing shot to get to game point. Federer's answer to that is to hit a looping forehand crosscourt, wrongfooting Andy to get back to deuce. Murray and Federer are finally playing high quality tennis simultaneously, with Murray winning the point with an overhead winner. He follows that up with an ace, his third of this very game, to get ahead once more. 6-5 Murray.

It took quite a while for the match to produce good tennis from both players at the same time, but now that it has come, it is well worth the wait.

5:05am: Four winners from Federer takes it to the tie-break. Federer's career record in tiebreaks is 266-139, Murray's is 70-41. In Grand Slam Finals, Federer is 18-5. Murray starts with an ace and then wins the longest rally of the match on a forehand error by Roger. A quick 2-0 lead. A service winner by Federer gets him to 2-1, but the advantage is with Murray. Murray hits what seems like three straight winners before he finally wins the point to get to 3-1. Murray follows that up with a horrible backhand that barely falls inside the doubles line to give the mini-break back to Roger. Roger capitalizes with a booming serve to Andy's backhand for an easy service winner. They change sides at 3-3.

Murray is talking to himself, while Federer has not displayed any emotion, those Great White Shark-like dark eyes just boring away into the distance.

Another backhand error from Murray and Federer inches ahead 4-3. Still on serve, though. Nice crosscourt winner from Murray shows a gutsy side to him. 4-4. He follows it up with an ace. Once again Andy is two points away from winning the set. As Federer approaches the net, he asks Andy to hit a passing shot and Murray obliges. 6-4 and two set points for Andy. Federer saves one set point with an acutely angled forehand winner. Still set point, 6-5 Murray. Federer plays excellent defense and forces a forehand error from Murray. 6-6.

Has Murray lost his chance? I will go out on a limb and say yes. It will be either set point or match point the rest of this tiebreak on alternate points!

Federer hits a lousy forehand and gifts a set point to Murray. 7-6 Murray. Federer plays great defense once again and Murray misses a volley to get back to 7-7. Federer responds as he does best - an ace to go to match point! 8-7 Federer. Inches!! A forehand passing shot (by Roger) missed by just inches and it is 8-8. Phew! What a point. Roger mishits a backhand slice into the net and it is set point Andy. 9-8 Murray. Roger rushes to the net, forcing Murray to hit the winner and Murray fluffs his third attempt at a passing shot. 9-9.

Federer comes to the net yet again and hits a delicate backhand drop volley to get to his second match point. 10-9 Federer. Andy to serve to stay in the tournament. Federer is not showing any emotion whatsoever. He bombs away at an Andy second serve, and tries another drop volley that Andy reaches and pulls off a passing shot to tie it at 10-10. Federer rushes a forehand crosscourt shot, with Andy horribly out of position, and another set point for Murray. 11-10 Murray. Another of Federer's service bombs saves that set point. He follows that up with a typical big serve-second hit winner to get back to match point. 12-11 Federer. Is this it? Yes, it is!!!!!! Murray hits a backhand down the line into the net and Federer has won Grand Slam number 16. The first man to win three different Grand Slams at least 4 times.

Federer wins 6-3, 6-4, 7-6.

By the way, in my mind: Never. A. Doubt.

At this point, Federer is starting to get closer to the real Grand Slam leaders of all-time - the Margaret Court mark of 24 is within sight. Albeit quite some ways away but starting to get closer. After all, he is two-thirds of the way there! His competition is the ladies from here on in:

Margaret Court - 24
Steffi Graf - 22
Helen Wills Moody - 19
Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert - 18

Andy: "I can cry like Roger; it's just a shame I can't play like him.."
Roger: "Andy, you're too good of a player not to win a Grand Slam, so don't worry about it.."

Okay, this was as much fun for me as it was last year (the result notwithstanding). But it is time to sit back and reflect on Federer's performance, consistency, and elegance. He is a fabulous mix of durability and winning, something that has eluded some of the folks that have his number such as Murray, Guillermo Canas, David Nalbandian, and, of course, Rafael Nadal. They have the winning thing down but, sadly for tennis fans, are unable to sustain their presence on the court. I hope they come back strong, especially Rafael.

I leave you with this image of Federer telling you where he lies in my esteem:

(Associated Press 2010)

Speaking engagement

My admiration for Roger Federer knows no bounds. With less than 15 minutes to go before his latest attempt at a Grand Slam championship (in the Australian Open against Andy Murray) I have just enough time to put up the post-match interview conducted on-court by Jim Courier, moments after Roger dismantled J-Wilfried Tsonga in the semi-final.

Not only does the fellow produce outstanding tennis, he is the antithesis of a typical sportsperson interview - he is candid, charming, funny, revealing, and, above all, respectfully entertaining.

Bleep, bleep

For decades, folks have been watching Wile E. Coyote unsuccessfully chase Road Runner. Here's a video that turns that notion on its head and asks...well, why don't you watch it for yourself and see what Wile wants to know!?

Good timing

I am a sucker for time-lapse photography. I like it even better than slow motion (super slo-mo has its moments, though, I must admit). So when I came across this incredible video of a series of time-lapse videos of Vancouver, I was mesmerized enough to see it numerous times.

Here, you can share my sense of awe too:

Who dat?

Take a close look at this photograph. Can you guess who player #22 is? The name of her school is a big clue, by the way.

Quick release

It did not take long for Kurt Warner to decide that he is done playing professional football. With that, another of the fellows I rooted for and followed assiduously has left the stage. Gah!

(Sports Illustrated)

From the time he became the QB of the St. Louis Rams in 1999 till his final playoff game against the Packers, Warner found a way to throw touchdowns and win games. He played in 3 Super Bowls, winning one. The top three passing marks in Super Bowl belong to him. It is a measure of his greatness that the last plays made by him in all three Super Bowls were touchdown passes to give his team the lead (twice) or tie the game. In 2001 and 2008 his defenses could not stop the other teams from scoring or the fellow would have had multiple championships to add to the one he won in 1999.

I trolled the web looking for tributes to the QB and this one by Seth Wickersham, I felt, best captured the essence of the man.

Here are some of the highlights of his great career.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Losing your head

One hour into the 4th day, with the score reading 290 for 3, 21 runs behind India, Mohammad Ashraful looking unruffled - serious advantage Bangladesh.

And then it happened: a wicket fell, another followed. A setback, but nothing too serious just yet. Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, and Mahmudullah were still alive and well.

Then Shakib jumped out and smashed the first ball he faced for a six over long-off. Madness! Put it down to a rush of blood? Nope! A few balls later he swept hard and straight to square-leg and the floodgates were well and truly opened. Zaheer Khan reversed his way to three wickets in 4 balls and just like that 6 wickets were lost for 14 runs.

Mohammad Ashraful (rightly) gets a lot of grief for his impetuosity but this display by Shakib was as egregious as any of Ashraful's misdeeds. Seriously, dude, what were you thinking? You had a chance to put India under some serious pressure and you gifted them a win.

(I know, I know, there's still one wicket to go but when I was brave enough to predict an Indian win after the first day of the Test, do you really think I'm going to balk at predicting one now?).

P.S. Even as I posted it, Zaheer Khan ripped through the defence of the last batsman and India now needs 2 runs to win. ZAK gets 10 wickets in the Test.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Musical medley remixed

Remember this? Mile sur mera tumhara was a phenomenon when it was first aired in the 80's.



A new version of this has been released - longer, more elaborate, and with a lot more star power than the original. I prefer the original which seemed to flow more easily and was less strained. (Also, one can't help but wonder about Salman Khan, who sends such mixed signals). Where the first one ends with Amitabh Bachchan, the new new starts with him. It is in two parts. Here's Part 1:



Here's Part 2:

Leveling the playing field

Before the series began, Virender Sehwag stated that the Bangladeshi team did not have the firepower to take out 20 Indian wickets in a Test match. The Woofing Gods sat up and took note when he said this. They agreed it was true so something had to be done.

By the time the first Test finished, the bulwark of the middle order, VVS Laxman was out of the team. The Indians foxed the Gods by bringing in MS Dhoni and Murali Vijay. But the Gods did not get to float on clouds in the sky by simply sitting back when attacked. They responded by getting Rahul Dravid to duck into a bouncer that did not rise, caused Yuvraj Singh to rupture a tendon and got Sachin Tendulkar to take a tumble in the field while attempting a catch. Take that, mere mortals!

Suddenly, the Bangladeshis need to take just 8 wickets to win a Test if they get a lead. Of the 8 wickets, the trio of Pragryan Ojha, Zaheer Khan, and Ishant Sharma do not inspire confidence that they can last long. So that means they need to prise out 5 wickets. Ooooh, this gets easier now.

Bangladesh is 83 runs behind with 7 wickets in hand. They made a massive blunder yesterday by sending in a nightwatchman. Mahmudullah bats too low as it is, now he will be batting with one fewer tailender as a buffer. It is bound to play on his mind. There's only so many times a team can drink from that well.

All in all, a very intriguing two days lie ahead of us. My suspicion is that Bangladesh will take a lead, but not one that is too substantial. India has Gambhir, Sehwag, Vijay (promoted to #3), Tendulkar, and Dhoni to get those runs. It is time for Sehwag to put his bat where his mouth is and ensure that the task does not even reach Dhoni.

Maybe overcoming this adversity will appease the Gods...for now.

P.S. Quick math should tell you how hard it will be for Bangladesh to set India a target of more than 200. Trailing by 83, they need to score 300 runs to set a target of 213. Tamim Iqbal and Junaid Siddiqui put on 200 runs yesterday and it was the first ever 200-run partnership in Bangladesh's rich Test history. In a given day they will have to bat about 85 overs (a combination of bad light and MS Dhoni's typically languid pace of going through overs) and that would get them close to that 300 mark.

My gut feeling? Based on what I have seen so far, India will wrap up the win late on the 4th day or early on the 5th.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

6 of one or glass half-full?

If you are a fan of the Minnesota Vikings, do you praise Brett Favre for playing well enough to get you within a few seconds of the Super Bowl or do you want to burn him in effigy for that (all-too familiar) bone-headed interception that effectively finished the season for you today?

That across-the-body, into the middle of the field, off-balance throw he made was one you'd expect a 19-year old QB to make, not a QB with 19 years of NFL experience. Sheesh! What a way for him to end his career. Or was it the end? As far as I am concerned, I am going to studiously avoid any news article between today and next Fall that mentions the word Brett Favre. The likes the Peter King are more than welcome to genuflect and pander to the ego of this fellow. I'm just glad I did not have any of my hopes tied to him.

Slash and burn

Bangladesh won the toss, chose to bat, Billy Bowden started the wicket-taking and Mohammad Ashraful provided a succinct exclamation point to the morning session. If you ever wanted to know who Ashraful is, this innings of his would be the perfect example. A large dose of dash, a healthy sprinkling of pizazz, and moments of luck are all capped by a final virtuoso act of maddening stupidity. Career-defining (and career-ending?) moments don't come with more clarity than this. What a dolt!

The opposite end of the temperamental spectrum is inhabited by Mohammad Mahmudullah Riyad. Mahmudullah's innings was characterized by his composed manner and calm demeanor and never did it seem like he was overextending the boundaries of his skill set. Coming in at 106 for 6, he then made 96 of the remaining 127 runs scored while playing with 9,10, and Jack.

Mahmudullah knows how to farm the strike. Here's one of those times when statistics do tell the entire tale: From over number 38 to 73, Mahmudullah was batting with 9,10, and 11. In those overs he consciously tried to take a single only from the 4th ball onwards in order to protect the tailenders (in the first three balls of the over he either tried to hit boundaries or refused easy singles). In 22 of those overs he was able to accomplish it, against just 6 times when the Indians were able to prevent him from doing so. (The remaining overs came when the other batsman faced the first ball of the new over). Think about that. In the company of the tailenders he batted as many overs as the top 6 batsmen had done combined.

Bangladesh has the makings of a competitive Test team. Taking potential into account, they have a good opener in Tamim Iqbal, a great all-rounder in Shakib Al Hasan, a fine wicketkeeper in Mushfiqur Rahim and a good middle-order batsman in Mahmudullah. What they need is some mettle and the mentality to want to win games rather than being happy with drawing them.

By wasting the first use of the wicket and the advantage of the toss they have handed all the initiative back to India. If India bats two entire days (that's 160-180 overs, depending upon the light, and anywhere in the region of 550-650 runs), Bangladesh will have to survive for 2 whole days just to save the Test. I don't see it happening.

The Test series will be remembered for long by Bangladeshis for its what-if moments. What if certain things had panned out differently? For me, the biggest what-if is this: What if Mohammad Ashraful had not gotten carried away by the ease with which he was getting boundaries?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Maggie Noodle Review - Sherlock Holmes

Honestly speaking, when I saw the preview of the Sherlock Holmes I had no intention of watching it. I have read every Sherlock Holmes story there is (including the clunky ones like the The Valley of Fear) and can quote from them extensively. I resisted for a while and then succumbed as it was either that or It's Complicated. Guy Ritchie is the director of this movie, and he has a cult following for some off-beat movies. I expected something along those lines. Friends, I was in for a surprise. What the writers have done is to take some of the less-detailed aspects of Holmes's life - that he is a fairly accomplished fighter with some advanced knowledge of martial arts, an occasional dabbler in narcotics when ennui sets in, and his fascination for Irene Adler - to weave an engrossing movie out of it.

This is not the clean-shaven, sharp featured, quirky detective that Jeremy Brett made popular. Instead Robert Downey, Jr. takes the Sherlock we know and sinks his teeth into some of the neurosis that the man surely possessed. Another entertaining deviation from the Conan Doyle era Holmes is that Dr. James Watson (Jude Law) is shown to be a gallant, brave, and surprisingly perceptive man. Watson is not shown as the fall guy for Holmes to show-off his deductive skills. Instead all through the movie, Watson is shown to be his equal in figuring out clues. Naturally, like the truly good sidekick he is, Watson lets Sherlock resolve the big mystery at the heart of the story, but features in the adventure all the way to the end.

This is not to say the movie does not have its defects. Downey, Jr.'s British accent comes and goes, the movie is shot in murky colors making a lot of the action hard to follow, and the characters have the terribly annoying habit of speaking their important (and plot revealing) lines when the camera is not on them. I have noticed this same problem with the Harry Potter movies, too, where the character may be saying something important to the plot but the camera lingers on some other actor or a side-incident and it is hard to keep track of both. Ugh!

Usually it takes me about 5-10 minutes for my ears to adjust to the British accents but I could not do so till the end. I missed out on many utterances and was only able to intuitively glean what the character was saying based on what happened next or how the characters responded.

So, do I recommend the movie or not? I will slip into Hyderabadi movie review mode and say that this is a time pass movie and not a story movie, so don't go in with the wrong expectations. Do not try to solve the case many of the "clues" are not revealed to us but if you sit back and enjoy the ride, you will be carried along to a pleasant enough experience. Or you can just wait for the sequel.

P.S. Mary Morstan first came to Sherlock's attention as his client in The Sign of Four but the movie shows them to be strangers until Watson introduces Mary as his fiancee. Surely, the writers could have found some other character to parade as Watson's fiancee? Or am I being too much of a stickler here?

I think I shall go and re-read my favorite Holmes story - Silver Blaze now.

Maggie Noodle Review - The Book of Eli

A man walks across a treeless, mostly monochromatic and ravaged landscape. Mostly in slow motion, but walk across it he does. The Book of Eli continues the recent trend of Hollywood movies that show the US in the future as a post-apocalyptic disaster zone where plants do not exist, barren deserts are the norm, and everyone wears as many leather-bound clothes as they can lay their grubby hands on. Personal hygiene is a way of distinguishing the good guys from the bad (except for the main bad guy who always manages to be above the mess he deals with). In this barren zone there are pockets of humanity spread far enough apart so as to provide set pieces of action sequences to keep the story going. You'd think that a band of people struggling to survive would try to pool together as many resources as they could. But that is a story not meant for this movie.

Denzel Washington portrays a man on a mission. A mission to head towards the West where he has to deliver a book. He has been walking for 30 years and has not reached the west coast yet. (You'd think 30 years would be enough to head across the continent but let's disregard that for now). On the way he comes across bandits hell-bent on ignoring his wishes to be left alone. Bad things happen to them when they try to force Eli to give up his possessions. Bad things, yes, but in a stylish ninja-fighting-cool kind of way.

All Eli wants to do is read the book and head west. Along the way he bumps into Carnegie, a book-burning lover of books, a contradiction that Gary Oldman makes believable by chewing and slithering his acting chops into the role. He wants Eli to work for him, Eli naturally refuses. Carnegie dangles some bait in the form of Solara (Mila Kunis). Eli demurs. Carnegie goes to Plan B (which was Plan A all along) - snatch the book from Eli by force.

After this the movie settles into a paint-by-the-numbers series of action sequences, setting up the payoff at the end. Then the directors (the Hughes brothers) stun you with a gobsmacking surprise. I refuse to tell you what the surprise is and if you have any intention of seeing the movie please don't talk to anyone who may tell you what it is. Going into the movie, I knew that there was a surprise twist at the end. I watched carefully for it and it still hit me with full force. When the movie is done, you continue to think about it, dissecting all that went on in light of the revelation. A fun way to leave the theater, I promise.

Apart from that surprise, two things stood out for me. Denzel Washington can make any character seem serious and respected by just being himself and a new star is looming on the Hollywood horizon - Mila Kunis. Mila is mostly known for playing the airhead girlfriend of Ashton Kutcher on the TV sitcom That 70's Show but in this movie she holds her own against Washington and comes out strong. She is impressive and I shall be following her career closely to see if she justifies my praise.

In the end, The Book of Eli delivers what it promises in the preview and contains enough intrigue to make it worth you while to spend a couple of hours peering at the screen. Also, I'm not giving anything away when I say that the the twist at the end gives you a perfectly good reason for why it has taken Eli 30 years to walk across the continent. Or has it?

Here's the really cool preview of the movie:

My IPL stance...

My stance on the IPL has not wavered. I wasn't in favor of watching it last year and the upcoming edition does not interest me either.

On many websites, newspapers, TV stations, and blogs people are debating the merits or demerits of the way the recent auction played out. I looked at the headlines and decided not to delve into it any deeper. I will continue to treat my eyeballs to Test cricket and give the IPL a skip.

Before you start talking about Hamlet and protesting too much, I want to clarify that this post is directed to those few faithful readers that I have. I am sure the IPL has some high quality cricket and splendid storylines but the off-field issues are off-putting and I don't feel like pandering to them.

The beauty of Test cricket is that I can see a protracted duel between two players unencumbered by over limits and scoring rates. It can inspire brilliant prose from the likes of Sambit Bal. Finally, when it ends like this, it makes me happy!



Luckily, the next Test match is less than 6 hours away. Onward ho!

P.S. I do know that Ponting was out caught at slip to end that spell of Ishant's. The photograph was not how the duel ended but I liked the image as it also featured Laxman. So there.

If you are interested, here's the highlight reel of that mesmerizing spell. 9 overs, 32 runs, 1 wicket.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Doppelgänger

It is not often that you read an article and wish you had written it instead. I feel that way after reading this article by Sidin Vadukut. While the example he uses is not one that I am familiar with, the sentiments are the same. And he is funny, too!
Over the last 14 or so years Srinath has been single-handedly responsible for my wasting hundreds of precious man-hours watching the last few overs of cricket matches half-hoping India will grab victory from the jaws of unavoidable defeat.

Or that some form of power cut, rain, sandstorm or DDCA ingenuity will call off a match at the last possible moment before defeat and Duckworth-Lewis.

These desperation scenarios often call on India to score 60 runs in the last four overs, with Sreesanth being the only regulation batsman left. Or they involve opponents needing 10 runs with three overs and seven wickets to spare.

Your local cricket cynic - and this is a compulsory vacancy in offices - has already laughed off India's chances in that whiny, irritating voice. Publicly you laugh along with him and say things like "Traitors! Can only act in ads!" or "One billion people and you pick Joginder?!" or "Buy them all some Musli Power, I say!"

But that is an act. A ruse. For public consumption.

In reality, deep inside, you want to gently call the cynic to one corner and redecorate the conference-room wall with his face
.
I spent some time trying to figure out if there was any such seminal event that made me think that the Indian team could pull it out against all odds. Many candidates come to mind, primarily the '83 World Cup and Kapil Dev's 175* or when India defended a total of 125 in Sharjah against Pakistan and won by a whopping 38 runs, thoroughly ruining a 6 for 14 performance by Imran Khan. But none of them really stick in the mind. What does stick are the ones that got away, the defining one being Javed Miandad and that six. Even that one I remember for two factoids that have withered away from public memory with time. One, it was the first time India lost to Pakistan in Sharjah and two, Miandad's 116* was the first century ever scored at Sharjah. That was a momentum-changing event of seismic proportions. (Also, the ball before Miandad hit a six, India messed up an easy run-out that would have ended the game. See the video to see what I mean.

But no, that did not make me think that no match was lost until the final note had been rung (to mix metaphors). For the past few minutes I have been sitting and mulling this. Through the '80's, my feeling that the Indian team would pull it out was rooted more in hope than belief. Then I came to Chicago and watched Michael Jordan play. MJ was many things - a selfish team-mate who shared the ball when it suited his means, an egotistical ballhog, a boorish sourpuss whose good looks and cultivated media image glossed over his personal faults - but he had one trait above all else - a dislike for defeat that veered into the realm of psychosis. With the game on the line he may have been as nervous as anyone else but he did not show it. All the fans in the stands, all the viewers on TV, the opposing team, the coaches, his teammates, all of them knew that he would take the game-deciding shot. And he did. And he did it often enough to fill an entire decade's worth of film roll. The aura of the fellow was such that the ones he missed are used as defining moments that show how great the fellow was because he came back and wiped them from memory.

Being in Chicago, I got carried away in the MJ wave and watched every game I could. Take LeBron James and Kobe Bryant today, mix them up, and you will not get the level of awe that MJ conjured. I used to think Miandad was the under-pressure guy to admire. To mis-quote Denzel Washington, Miandad ain't got nothing on MJ. When MJ hit the championship-winning shot to finish his legendary career, it was the perfect way to remember the man. (I never watched him or followed him in a Washington Wizard uniform so as far as I am concerned that never happened).

In the 90's and beyond as I heard about the Indian team (this was before CricInfo and live Internet streaming, boys and girls) choking away and ruining whatever chance Sachin Tendulkar had of leading a team to victory in his pomp, I wondered when the Indian team would come across the likes of MJ. MJ was paramount and unparalleled (in my esteem anyway) for a definition of a clutch player.

And then came Tiger Woods. It's funny how the unraveling of his life has diminished the man in the eyes of many, but on the golf course he dominated people like Mike Tyson in his prime, without laying a single punch. And he did not do this by blowing away the competition on good days. He did this by wrecking their hopes irrespective of how he was playing. I thought MJ was the quintessential pressure player until I saw Tiger Woods, especially circa 1999-2001. Even today, I feel TW is the best clutch player I have ever seen. It is an indictment of the man (and a great window into his soul) that most of the occasions when Tiger comes up short on a golf course are in team events such as the Ryder Cup or the President's Cup. When it comes to playing for himself, more often than not Tiger Woods makes the putt he needs to make. His career achievements are staggering and he is far from being done. Today he is the butt of jokes (and very rightly so) but once he steps on the golf course again, I can bet you a lot of money he will have a focus that will scare his opponents even more.

The greatest closer I have ever seen in sports is Tiger Woods. And he's the main reason I believe that no match is lost unless the last wicket falls or the last run is scored, whether it's the Indian team or the one I play on.

Here's one example from last year.



For me, here's the defining moment where there was never a doubt in my mind the fellow would find a way to get the ball in the hole. When it happened the overwhelming feeling was, "Yup, I knew it was going to happen."

Never. A. Doubt.

Yesterday once more

A long time ago, an Amitabh Bachchan movie was an event, an event to celebrate his mega-duper image and antics. Like so:



Today, you have another Amitabh Bachchan preview coming out. It features a polished, MTV-video quality production, with none of the action centered around him. It will still be touted as an AB movie, just without the associated dhishum-dhishum. I'm not complaining, just thinking aloud about the transition of the fellow who is still the most sought after leading man in Bollywood, Khans notwithstanding.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chilled bare

I love a good snowfall for how pretty it leaves everything in its wake.

This is the view from my office today.  (To the right edge is a planetarium):


(C.S. Manish 2010)
Even when it starts to melt, if it is cold enough, it leaves behind some spectacular ice-laden, frost-tipped tree branches.


(C.S. Manish 2010)

Arachnophilia

Recently, my students and I were treated to a series of behind-the-scenes tour at a nearby zoo. The highlight of one of those tours was was this:


(C.S. Manish 2010)

In case you are wondering, the Tarantula tickles, yes.

This next one is the Giant African Millipede. It has two defenses when threatened. The first defense is to curl up, exposing only its hard exoskeleton. The second defense is to release a compound from its pores that contains cyanide!  Needless to say, I did not handle it long enough to experience this.


(C.S. Manish 2010)

Eye oh!

If you have some time to spare, here's a fabulous collection of optical illusions, along with explanations of how each one works. Each one of them is a gem in itself.

This is one of my favorite ones.

Grace under pressure

After the Test match was won, I turned my attention to the television as Roger Federer was playing in the second round of the Australian Open. He played an assured match, about as clean a match as I have seen him play in over a year, but saved his best for later.

After the match was done, he was interviewed on the court by Jim Courier. You have got to admire the guy for being so...hmmm...simple and endearing at the same time. Well, just watch this to see what I mean.



Grrr...the video has been taken down. Oh well, I will search around and try to see if I can find it again. Please hang on until then!

Out, damn'd spot!


(Associated Press 2010 - via CricInfo)

VVS Laxman did himself no favors on multiple fronts in the recently concluded India-Bangladesh Test. After gorging himself to an inning-steadying, match set-up-ing 69* on the previous day, he blotted his copybook by lunging for two catches to his left, one high and one low. In his defense he was closer to the wicket than most slip fielders should be because of the nature of sub-continental pitches but I have seen him take similar catches in the past.

To add insult to injury (no pun needs to be intended here), he also split the webbing of his left hand and left the field, requiring 10 stitches on that gash. To wit, he is not playing in the second Test and his availability for the South Africa series is in jeopardy. Somewhere east of Kolkata, Yuvraj Singh is breathing a little easier.

Rahul Dravid benefited from Laxman's absence by padding his catching stats and (don't look now) can scent the rarefied, never-before attained level of 200 Test catches.

It did not take long for Sreesanth to forget his vow and revert back to being Soursanth, when Mushfiqur Rahim was whaling away at him. Give your lip a rest and get back to bowling, Sreesanth. What an idiot.

The same goes for Zaheer Khan, too. I understand being aggressive and bowling plenty of bouncers. But if the Bangladesh team is really as ordinary as your stand-in captain proclaims, then you don't need to be swearing and taunting them. Grow up, ZAK.

Mushfiqur Rahim scored what is now becoming a typical innings in these times - the 4th innings one-man show for a pleasing but utterly insignificant century in a big loss. I thought that Mohammad Ashraful would be the one to do so, but he left after just creeping past his career average. The fellow averages an abysmal 22.91 but has already played 51 Tests! He truly is like an ईद का चाँद shining through once in a long while and bringing great joy when he does so.

I am sensing a very big century from Virender Sehwag in the second Test. He has been coasting into the 40's and 50's and getting out, seemingly hell-bent on proving something to Shakib Al Hasan. A good pep talk is in the offing from Gary Kirsten and with Gambhir keeping one eye out for another century, there may be very little batting time left for whomsoever comes in at #7 (surely, Yuvraj will be at #5 and Dhoni at #6). Will India play Dinesh Karthik at #7 or will they change the batting order to accommodate Murali Vijay? Either way, Krish Srikkanth has covered his bases. Poor Badrinath.

Sachin Tendulkar truly deserved the man of the match award. His innings received some press but not quite what it deserved. Strangely, I am convinced that if Dravid had played this innings, there would have been another set of tributes across the country about how Dravid is so important, integral, and underappreciated in the Indian team. For once, SRT did not get the press he usually gets. (Sriram Veera talked about this innings of SRT after Day 2, without emphatically making the thesis I put forward about Dravid).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Approaching the Don

Don't look now but VVS Laxman is within striking distance of Don Bradman's tally of Test runs. At tea on the 4th day, he is 21 runs from the greatest's mark of 6996 runs. During the course of this innings (51* at the time of writing) Laxman has leap-frogged Len Hutton (6971) and Sanath Jayasuriya (6973) to reach the 36th place in the all-time run-getters list.

Also, in his last 10 innings, Laxman has crossed the 50 run mark 7 times. His last 4 second inning scores have been 124*, 61, 51* and 51* 69*.

Solid. Rock solid.

Update: India declared with Laxman on 69* (6993 Test runs, 3 short of the Don)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dare to dream

If I was the coach of the Indian team, these would be my talking points at the team meeting before the 4th day's play in the India-Bangladesh Test match.

First, I would take Rahul Dravid aside for a small heart-to-heart talk.

What's wrong with you? What were you thinking last night when you sent in Amil Mishra as a nightwatchman? If Amit Mishra was able to score 24 runs with 5 boundaries, why did you need someone to protect you? The score was 90 for 1 in just 17 overs when Sehwag got out. The bowlers were not looking threatening and you chose a protector?!! Seriously, dude. I hope Amit Mishra does a Jason Gillespie and bats and bats tomorrow. What were you thinking? It couldn't have been that you were tired. You fielded at slip for most of the inning and then got to rest for 17 overs. Please. I didn't think you'd be scared of facing a set of Bagladeshi bowlers on the backfoot? Ugh!

Second, I'd call the team meeting to order and tell the rest of the team to channel their inner-Sehwag.

Here are the cold facts. India is leading by 123 runs with two days to go. So far on no day have we seen the entire quota of 90 overs being bowled.
Day 1: 63 overs
Day 2: 24 overs (plus a 10 minute innings break)
Day 3: 72 overs (plus a 10 minute innings break)

So, realistically, in the next two days there are about (65+65) 130 overs left at the minimum. For the next 50 overs we should aim at scoring about 5 runs an over and put up 250 runs. That will leave Bangladesh the task of scoring about 375 runs in a maximum of 130 overs but, more realistically, about 80 overs.

If a batting line-up that reads Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Yuvraj and Karthik cannot score 250 runs in 50 overs against Bangladesh, then we seriously need to find new batsmen to take their place. Remember fellows, if you are serious about being the #1 Test team in the world, you need to go out there and beat the last-ranked Test team in the world, even in less than convenient conditions.

And if the bowling team needs more than 80 overs to finish Bangladesh, then we should admit that Ian Chappell was probably on the money when he said that India did not have the bowling attack to be the top ranked Test team in the world.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Word play

No other quarterback in the NFL has as complete a command of the offense as Peyton Manning does. Playing for the same offensive coordinator and the same team for his entire career has a lot to do with the fact that he is free to call the offensive plays at the line of scrimmage.

Here's a short video of some of the odd things he says in the huddle and while audibling a play at the line. Pretty fun when you consider that every game tape of his is screened for any signals the opposition can pick up on.

Charitable aces

The world of tennis is lucky to be populated by some of the best leaders in any sport. Look at the stars who came together to raise money for the victims in Haiti as such short notice. It helps that the fellows at the top, apart from being fantastic players, were also raised well, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal being at the forefront of this. Kudos to their parents!


Roger Federer played the role of master of ceremonies. Andy Roddick doubled as a stand-up comic. Serena Williams was laughing all the way.

The fundraiser for earthquake victims on Sunday -- a brainchild of Federer and dubbed "Hit for Haiti" -- came on the eve of the Australian Open and raised more than $185,000, an amount that organizers expected would increase.

Federer, who has won a record 15 Grand Slam titles, teamed up with reigning Australian Open champion Serena Williams and Australia's Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur. Their opponents were 2009 winner Rafael Nadal, 2008 winner Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick and U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters
.
Update: On his SI.com mailbag, Jon Wertheim talked about the event.
The CliffsNotes version: Federer sees the Haiti disaster on the news. "Let's do something." He fires off texts to players from Rafael Nadal to Andy Roddick to Novak Djokovic to Serena Williams. Tennis Australia makes the court available for an impromptu benefit on Sunday -- the day before a Grand Slam begins. Jim Courier agrees to be chair umpire. Through a quick publicity blast -- thanks, technology! -- a capacity crowd pays $10 to watch. There is no corporate sponsor or tie-in. This is not the "foundation benefit," whereby you pay your buddies an appearance, hold a lavish party and give the "proceeds" to charity. This was not some slickly packaged event run by a management agency. The alphabet soup of agencies didn't get involved and make sure no one logos were bigger than the other and their name came first on the self-congratulatory press release. Mary Carillo used the word "organic."

Also note the cause here: There are no Haitian players on tour, no event in Haiti, no Haitian sponsor, no ulterior motive. This is simply: Something horrible happened on the other side of the world, we recognize that and we want to use our platform to help. And note which players showed. Next time you rip "ill-tempered Serena" or "selfish Djokovic," keep this event in mind.

Just a great day for the sport, a great showing from the top players starting with Federer, a great indication of what can happens when tennis cuts through the in-fighting and everyone works for a greater cause. At the risk of getting carried away, events like this ought to convince the players that, when they work together, they have the power, the leverage and capacity to cut through the tennis clutter and take charge
.
Here's a brief video of the event.



From the same Wertheim mailbag: How cool is this? As recently as November 2009, Federer and Nadal practiced with each other, clearly supporting the notion that they are not antagonists off the court.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Symbolic words

Acclaimed novelist Dan Brown, the creator of Robert Langdon and the extremely popular series featuring the symbolgist, is not the most original of writers. Each of his stories are different but the basic plot and how it unfolds is sadly unoriginal. He has been acquited of plagiarism charges, but in reality he does plagiarize - from himself!

Krish Ashok, a writer armed with only his sense of humor and writing skills, gives us the latest Robert Langdon story. Read the entire post, it is worth it, especially if you have read previous books by Dan Brown.

The premise is not too promising, but the payoff is brilliant!
Robert Langdon has a crush on Lady Gaga but does not have the courage to friend her on Facebook. Will he eventually do it or will mysterious circumstances beyond his control thwart him? Will a global online conspiracy threaten the foundations of human society as we know it?
If you enjoyed that, you should look at the original article that inspired it - a positively brilliant and humorous breakdown of the appallingly horrid grammar and syntax of Brown's The Da Vinci Code.

And yes, the first sentence of this post is a "tribute" to Dan Brown's trademark opening lines.

The Louisville Lip

While trolling for a Muhammad Ali video that I remembered from years ago (the video is affixed in the previous post) I wandered across his Wikiedia page and found out, serendipitously, that today is the GOAT's 68th birthday!

I was not around for much of Muhammad Ali's career and am not totally sure if he is really worthy of all the gaudy positive press he gets for being a great human being (which is not say he isn't a great human being - I just am not sure, that's all). That's because I have always thought of him as a carefully self-constructed media creation who managed to parlay his charismatic personality into that of a lovable, huggable bear while getting away with a long history of belittling his opponents.

Anyway, I digress. During my searches, I came across this video of the famous Sonny Liston-Muhammad Ali fight. It featured the controversial "phantom punch" and probably the most iconic photo ever taken of Ali. The fight was completed in the first round itself and exhibits the qualities that made Muhammad Ali famous - the dancing, the nimble feet and the blindingly quick hands. Also noteworthy in the video is the commentary (or lack thereof) while the action takes place. It is so refreshing to not have to listen to a voice tell me what I am watching. Enjoy!



If you want to read more about the man on this significant personal day, you should go here.

A hymenopteran's sting

Not surprisingly, Virender Sehwag is the subject of some ridicule from the press and other Bangladeshi supporters for the tone of his pre-game interview. Bangladesh went out and scuttled India's "famed" batting line-up but all those stories of misplaced ego are too funny.

So, all these years, while Bangladesh sucked eggs and went through coaches and captains, what they really needed was to be disrespected publicly? That's what it took to get these fellows to play well! Being insulted somehow magically gave them the ability to get Indian wickets. Give me a break!

It is not uncommon for teams, especially in the US, to play the we-get-no-respect card but it will take more than an 8 wicket burst on day 1 of a Test to convince me that Sehwag's assessment did not have a ring of truth to it. One swallow does not a summer make. Repeat the feat a couple of times and I will concede it, I promise. Not too long ago, Australia was scuttled out for 127 and yet is on the verge of winning that series 3-0.

If you thought Virender Sehwag was belittling his opponent, take a look at this clip of the self-proclaimed Greatest Of All Time. Virender Sehwag ain't got nothing on Mohammad Ali:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Say it is so, Joe

Virender Sehwag's greatest strength is his (seemingly) uncluttered mind. He says what he is thinking and does not mince words when the opinion is not kind to others. Give me Viru any day over the cookie-cutter responses of some others.

Here's the latest example of Sehwag's blunt way of responding to questions. This is what he had to say when he was asked his opinion of the Bangladeshi bowling attack (source CricInfo):
"In one-day [cricket] they can surprise anybody but not in Test matches. It's an ordinary side. It's difficult for Bangladesh to take 20 Indian wickets. The kind of batting line up we have, I don't think so. Even Sri Lanka can't do that."
Hubris? Arrogance? Honesty? You take your pick. Whatever it is, I love it! Here's more from the same interview.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What's in a namesake?

Many years ago, after watching Mohammad Kaif calmly lead India to a win in the finals of the Natwest Trophy, Daniel Laidlaw proclaimed - Give this man a Test cap!

Yesterday, after 4 days of following the Ranji Trophy finals on CricInfo, I want to say the same about Manish Pandey. Give this man a Test cap...soon! This is not a knee-jerk reaction to him scoring a century in the Ranji Trophy final but because of his body of work this year. He led all batsmen in runs scored and centuries made in the Ranji Trophy this year, and did so at a Sehwagian strike rate of almost 80.

As if his batting was not not impressive enough, he is a great fielder, too. Here's the best example he can ever put forth to prove that:



With an Indian middle-order that reads Dravid, Tendulkar, and Laxman, the only spot available right now is #6. The current incumbent, Yuvraj Singh, is being given an extended run at it (and rightly so) but has not done enough to dispel doubts over his temperament when the ball is moving. I fear that Manish may go the way of so many other players. Yes, he is young and all that, but the Indian selectorial system is not conducive to fairness and that is my biggest fear about players not being blooded when they are young enough to make it count. A fate that appears to be in S. Badrinath's future now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The man who would be king


If you like honest appraisals of sportstars, you have to read what Aakash Chopra has to say about MS Dhoni on his (Aakash Chopra's) blog.

The formatting of the page leaves a lot to be desired and the article itself is a little clunky to read, but it is well worth it. It is as splendid an inside look of Dhoni before he became Dhoni as any I've read. This is exactly the type of inside stuff I look for from cricketer-writers.

Here's a brief excerpt to whet your appetite.
He (Dhoni) was funny and very well mannered, though a little subdued to begin with, typical of people coming from small towns. He'd talk about his dogs and his bikes. Sriram (Sridharan Sriram), he and I used to hang out quite a lot. Since he was not in the playing XI, after his keeping stint he would bowl to batsmen in the nets. Both Sriram and I were getting a little irritated at seeing him bowling everyday, and that too, to Dinesh Karthick, his immediate competitor. So one day we told him, rather bluntly, that the idea of playing for India A is to eventually play for the country, and that his primary role is to keep the wickets and if there's any time left, he should devote it to his batting and not on providing someone else a hit. But Dhoni being Dhoni, he simply said 'अगर  आपको  भी  खेलना  है  तोह  मैं  आपको  भी  ball डाल  दूंगा ' (if you also want to have a hit, I'll bowl at you as well). May be it was thanks to his bowling efforts in the nets that Karthick batted beautifully in the games he played and was called up for the Indian team in the middle of our A tour. 

Since my hand was still injured, I was staying away from active cricket and spent a lot of time on the sidelines working on my fitness. I would run for a long time at the end of the day's play with the reserves. I rarely had Dhoni for company as he always despised my running round and round in circles around the ground. He would do some keeping drills instead besides sending down a few more balls in the nets. One day I was doing shuttle running and suddenly found Dhoni game for it. Now I take a lot of pride in my stamina and endurance and was pretty sure that Dhoni would be very poor competition. But he gave me a run for my money. I was a little zapped and asked him if he's been running around in the gym or something to keep his stamina right up there. To that he answered that slow running is boring and that is why he stays away from it, but short sprints is something that he enjoys doing and I think he's naturally gifted in that aspect too. I argued that to play the longer version of the game one must develop stamina by running long distances, but he innocently retorted that he finds the longer version a little boring too
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Flattering imitation

Even as Avatar crosses the billion mark and makes its inexorable journey towards earnings of Titanic proportions (painful pun fully intended), there are numerous folks ever-ready to point out that in spite of all the money spent in making the movie, very little appears to have been earmarked to produce a brand new story.

Avatar has been referred to as a futuristic Dances with wolves or Ferngully to name a few. Let's add Pocahontas to that list, too. (Click on the picture for more clarity).


(Source: http://twitpic.com/wt1lk)

If you are interested, here's my review of Avatar.

Hot topic

Here's a research project I want no part of. Just reading the title was enough for me.

Imagine being the patient at the wrong end of the double-blind experiment. Caliente!

Ignorance is blasted

A few days ago, I was talking to a friend who was adamant that Chris Gayle should make way for Darren Ganga as the captain of the West Indies squad. Calling him the "best captain West Indies never had", my friend convinced me that taking a Trinidad and Tobago team to the final of a T20 Champions League was just the proof of the pudding.

He then told me about Shane Warne and repeated the myth that the leg-spinner never captained Australia. I convinced him otherwise, pointing out that Warne did indeed captain Australia, contrary to popular belief. At this point, some doubts set in. I thought I remembered Darren Ganga captaining West Indies, too. Surely, I could not be wrong about that, could I?

Well, well, what do you know - Ganga played as many as 48 Tests for the Windies and even captained the Test team in two Test matches in England, both of which were lost by the visitors. The last Test Ganga captained was one in which Shivnaraine Chanderpaul was finally dismissed by England after occupying the crease for almost 18 hours spread over three Tests!