Saturday, November 29, 2014

Grateful to a GOAT

For many years I watched sports to root for a particular team, usually the Indian cricket team. But all that changed after I lost touch with (watching) cricket in the 1990's. When I was finally able to watch cricket again, the way I watched sports had changed.

I no longer root for a team. Instead I root for individual players and, by proxy, the teams they play for. I realized this aspect the year(s) I rooted for the New England Patriots (gasp!) simply because Randy Moss was on their roster. Now that Moss has left, I am back to not caring for the Patriots.

As the years have gone by the number of sportsmen who make me turn on the TV/computer to watch them has diminished due to retirement. VVS Laxman, Randy Moss, post-2010 Sachin Tendulkar and Greg Maddux were the prominent ones on the list. There are some stragglers who I don't watch any more but used to a until a few years ago like Jeff Gordon, Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods (in his prime, El Tigre was as deadly and clutch under pressure as any sportsperson as I have ever seen).

Today, there is just ONE sportsman whom I try to watch whenever I get a chance to because I never know when he will stop playing professionally. A few days ago, it gave me great pleasure to wake up early in the morning to watch the man tick off one of the last items missing from his career resume - the Davis Cup.

Look at that concentration! He takes "watching the ball till the last moment" very seriously.

Watching Roger Federer play tennis is something else altogether. Most matches are won or lost on his terms because he is relentlessly attacking in nature, always looking for a way to end the point. The way he glides across the court, the way he manufactures shots from seemingly-impossible angles are the reasons I watch. In the future, there may be others who win more than him or have a more impressive career resume than him. But none of them will be able to convince me that Federer is not the best all-round tennis player I have ever seen. I was privileged enough to watch him once in person on Arthur Ashe stadium at the US Open and that memory is something I will always cherish. 

Roger is not my favorite tennis player ever (that would be Ivan Lendl) but he is definitely the one who has given me the most joy. Even as he fights Time and plays as well as he can, I know the light is burning fiercely but the candle is burning out soon. Yet he is out there "tarnishing" his legacy in the eyes of some, piling up the years without Grand Slam titles. But he is not going down quietly. He ended 2014 a few points shy of the #1 ranking (I predict he will return to #1 sometime before May 2015) and wowed us with the Davis Cup triumph and continues to play on.

And for that I am very grateful.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime

So, Sunil Narine's bowling action has been found to be illegal and he has been suspended from further participation until he rectifies it (in some tournaments and not others...but that is grist for another mill).

Sunil Narine in action.
(Click here for photo credit)
I have ALWAYS thought his action was dicey, so I am not surprised. In general, I do not like bowlers who have jerky actions so I am not shedding tears at the recent clampdown on illegal bowling actions.

Here is what is interesting to me in the entire Narine saga: even as various conspiracy theories are floated for the timing of the ban and many folks (including Clive Lloyd) fume about the ban itself, one thing is striking - no one is defending Narine's action as being legal. Not. One. Person.

Everyone is harping on about how he has been allowed to bowl for so long (as if that is reason enough to not suspend him now) and how it is w itch hunt bu why is no one even talking about the elephant in the room - that his action is dodgy.  That to me is more damning than any video evidence.

Raise your hand in protest, Mr. Narine, but be sure you don't bend that elbow when you do so.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Once more unto the breach

Update: Verily, my worst fears came to pass. Displaying no real conviction that they could actually hold out for an entire day, the batsmen pottered around and were bowled out before lunch on the 5th day. I do not think they had a real plan other than - bat out the day. When Moeen Ali can get 4 batsmen clean bowled on the last day, it's a sign that all the "thinking" that goes on behind the scenes as well as the wishful kind that exists on blogs like mine are useless endeavors. The sad thing is that once England batted out the first day losing just a couple of wickets, the script for the rest of the match was written and it played out exactly like that.

After 4 days of play in the third Test of the India-England series, India needs 333 runs to win with just 6 wickets in hand.

Realistically speaking...conventional wisdom says that the Indian batsmen have to survive 90 overs on Day 5. A task that is unlikely to happen. According to CricInfo:
76.3 - The most number of overs India's last six wickets have played in the fourth innings of a Test. In order to save this Test, the last six Indian wickets need to play out 99.4 overs, of which 9.4 overs have already been negotiated by Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. The most number of overs India's last six wickets have played in an away Test is 68.5, versus England at Lord's in 2002.

In the unlikely event that India can bat out that many overs, I will be very happy.

But instead, I propose something radically different. The two current batsmen - Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma - ought to bat as naturally as they can and occupy the crease, while scoring runs and not simply deadbatting everything that is flung their way. But, irrespective of how they do, I think the rest of the Indian batsmen - MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar in particular - should attack the target. Yes, we need 333 in 90 overs and it will not happen (most likely scenario) but I think we are more likely to chase down 333 than we are to survive 90 overs.

It's a simple equation, MSD - don't try to do something alien to you. Pretend this is an extended ODI and go for it! I can promise you one thing - if the English lead dwindles rapidly, Alistair Cook will get very defensive, making it much easier for you to save the Test if it comes to that.

But, I don't hold much hopes for such an endeavor. I am resigned to accepting that the Indians will offer token defensive resistance and crumble sometime between lunch and Tea. I so dearly hope not!

Go down with your guns blazing, MSD! The situation is tailor-made for your new team.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Testing times

Various articles have been written bemoaning the death of Test cricket, too many to even bother linking to. Just as many articles have been written in support of it, pointing out the most recently completed thriller as an example of how the format is awesome and must not be killed.

Test cricket is unique among the 3 forms of the game in that there is an option for an honorable draw. THAT  is what sets it apart from T20 and ODIs. And for every thumping win that a team has, there is a gut-wrenching draw or near-draw to fall back upon. This was never better illustrated than the recent two Test series between Sri Lanka and England, where Sri Lanka nearly lost the first one but held on for a draw and nearly drew the second one but hung on for a win.

Mark Nicholas said it best in the article linked above. Here's an excerpt from it (I strongly urge you to read the whole thing to get a taste of the drama):
Now if you wanted to slag off Moeen, you damn well could. I mean, fancy not nicking the strike to save Jimmy from himself (Joke.) Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. Balls 51 to 54 were superbly handled. Two remained to save the match, a task incidentally that no other team in history that had been five down going into the last day of a Test had achieved.

Eranga sprinted up the Headingley hill. He flung the leather short and hard at Anderson's throat. If only Anderson had ducked, or swayed, or slipped, or fell. But he didn't. See Moeen, Jimmy tried to play this frightening missile with his bat, or glove, or hand, or wrist or something. From his bat, it ballooned up in the air and was caught. If it had been you Moeen, no problem. You are a marvellous batsman. Whereas Jimmy, if not quite a rabbit, is no Geoff Boycott. The best nought in the history of cricket came to nothing, whichever way you look at it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Things I have realized...

... if I account for every contingency when I make a plan, the worst-case scenario imagined will always materialize.  If I do not make any plans and simply rush into things without thinking, the sailing will be smooth.

... that today's generation places less regard for their word than I do. If I say I will get something done, I do it. If they say they will get something done, it is just the first step in a series of steps leading to the not keeping their promise.

... in sports, there is no situation that hasn't happened before. And the past has NO bearing whatsoever on the few things that do happen for the first time.

... that work has a way of filling the time available to get a job done.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Twisted weather

Pilger, NE, is about 60 from where I live. A little town about an hour's drive from me is in the news today because of the almost total devastation wrecked by twin tornados that ripped through yesterday evening. By my count, this is the third major tornado-carrying storm we've had in the last month. I cannot recall so many storms in such a short frame of time.

(Reed Timmer 2014)
Here a video of the twister as it wound it's way through Pilger.

Friday, May 16, 2014

All quiet on the western front

Last Sunday, while we played cricket, the skies got pretty rowdy. Very quickly and not-so-silently....

When I looked up this is what I saw.

(Purathatil Krishnan 2014)
Fifteen minutes after the game ended, the sirens went off for a tornado warning and I scrambled for shelter in my friend's basement 

Summer is officially upon us!

P.S. In case you are wondering, those are Mammatus clouds.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Field of dreams

On his blog, Harsha Bhogle waxed nostalgic about Fateh Maidan.

(© Getty Images)
Harsha's memories of the stadium are from an insider's perspective, since he had access as a commentator long after he ceased visiting it as a spectator.
The Lal Bahadur Stadium was like that to us, except that nobody called it by that name. It was always the Fateh Maidan or the “stadium”. It was holy, it was the home of cricket, it was ours. I saw my first match there, played on a turf wicket there for the first time and my first commentary session was there too. Do I give the impression that the pillars spoke to me? I might have thought it was so…once.
Around that time I had first set foot in the commentary box, like the dressing room, a much hyped place made special only by the people within it. All of 19 and wearing a twenty rupee t-shirt, a pair of jeans and rubber slippers, I had done my audition there. It was where Shyam Karwande and HK Srinivas sat and talked about the “Hill Fort End”, Naubat Pahad to everyone else. In my audition I said “Hill Fort End” and felt special too.
It called me back often and I grew to like the little area, only a little bigger than a cubicle with two wide windows we looked through. It was where the first step had been taken, it was mine
My memories are more of the Fateh Maidan Club, whose Tandoori chicken and parantha are unmatched in my memory. I guess I was spoiled at a young age - I have never been able to enjoy either of those food items since then as what I have pales in significance with the FMC items. Even after all these years, I  can still taste them, if that makes sense.

I watched a few matches at Fateh Maidan. Two stand out in memory. There was a game against the Australians where RP Singh (the other one) began his international career with a maiden over and little else about his bowling was remarkable. Australia batted first, Bruce Reid read a Sidney Sheldon book (for once I had good seats in a section right next to the Australian players), and a torrential downpour forced the match to be abandoned soon after my hero, Mohammad Azharuddin, came in to bat. I walked home from there as I did not feel like fighting the crowd at the bus stop and I was already soaking wet. Back then it did not seem too far away to walk home. Those of you who know the distance will know it took me a while to do so. And it rained all the way home!

The second one against the Kiwis holds better cricketing memories for me - I got to watch Azharuddin play a sublime innings filled with boundaries, Richard Hadlee found swing where no one else did, and Arshad Ayub pleased the locals with a few wickets. That inning of Azhar's was enough to fill me with a lifetime of good memories and thoughts about the fellow, all his subsequent (alleged) shenanigans notwithstanding.

Sitting at the far end of the ground, diametrically opposite to the FMC end, I did not know then that my life would change in a few months. I have never been to an international match at a stadium since. In hindsight, I am glad that those days at Fateh Maidan remain my last memories of a day spent watching a Test match.

P.S. Here is another recollection of the glory days of Fateh Maidan from former South Zone offspinner V Ramnarayan.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A futuristic past

During my Morgantown days, my favorite mode of transportation was the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) - an 8-seater, electric-motor driven, automatic transportation system that connects 5 different points on the West Virginia University campus.

(Michlaovic 2010)
In spite of being built in the mid-1970's, the PRT still feels like it belongs to the future. A safe, convenient way to move from one end of campus to the other, I am surprised more cities, especially smaller ones who cannot afford (or need) a full-fledged subway or train system, haven't looked at it as a viable people-mover option.

(Jae69376  2011)
If you are ever in Morgantown, take a ride on this marvel. It will be worth your time, I promise.
(If you want to see a 1977 video about the PRT, click here).

Friday, January 17, 2014

TGIF: Songs to hum - 6

On Friday afternoons, after I am done teaching for the week, I sit in my office, put my feet up on my desk, lean back in my chair and softly hum songs to myself, unwinding and releasing the built-up tension of the week so far. Youtube is a good companion during these times and I have my own version of Chitrahaar, with the songs following some unfathomable pattern, changing per my mood and wishes.  (Previous TGIF posts are here).

Note:  The links may be broken as Youtube links tend to come and go.  I apologize in advance if that happens here.

Here is today's trip through Youtube:

1) My absolute favorite song of 2013 was Tum Hi Ho from Aashiqui 2, sung by Arijit Singh.  I did not see the movie but have seen/heard this song innumerable times.

2)  By the way, if you want to hear all the songs and also find out how Aashiqui 2 starts, begins, and ends you can watch this video of all the songs and some of the dialogues.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Splash or splat?

Acrophobia (heights) and Aquaphobia (drowning) are my two biggest fears.  Later this year, in a park near where I live, I may get a chance to conquer both of them at the same time.

I present to you, without any further comment - Verr├╝ckt in Kansas City :

(In case you are wondering about the chances of me ever being on that ride: No way, no how!)

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Mad Dog and the Big Hurt

I have never really followed Major League Baseball too closely and it has been exactly 5 years since I even paid attention to the scores or highlights.  After I moved to Chicago two baseball players with connections to Chicago held my interest.  Greg Maddux, a pitcher, and Frank Thomas, a first baseman for the White Sox.

Maddux had been a Cy Young award winning pitcher for the Cubs who had been unsigned by the Cubs, paving the way for the Atlanta Braves to grab him.  Maddux would win the Cy Young for the next three years as well underscoring how badly the Cubs had misjudged his greatness.  Frank Thomas was a huge (6' 5", 240 pounds) hitter who was as good a singles hitter as he was a slugger.

Even as their careers wound down and they changed teams, I kept track of the box scores just to see how they were doing.  Maddux finally ended with 355 wins, one more than Roger Clemens which pleased me no end (and still does even today)!

Yesterday, in their first year of eligibility Maddux and Thomas were voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  A perfect ending to my "association" with them.

Someday I will tell you of the one time I went to see Thomas play live.  I was more fortunate with Maddux, seeing him pitch multiple times, including a 9 inning gem where he did not give up a single run and still did not win the game!  That game - on August 28th, 2002 - remains my favorite baseball game.  I had a seat right behind home place at PNC Park in Pittsburgh and got to watch Maddux unveil a 100 pitch masterpiece.  When he left in the 9th inning the score was 0-0!

Maddux was not only a good pitcher, he was also a great fielder, winning the Golden Glove a record 18 times.  Think about it, for 18 different years he was best fielding pitcher in baseball.  A testament to his longevity and excellence at that position.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

2013: Year in Review - Jaw-dropping movie "fact"

Henry Cavill's Superman outfit was not enhanced in any way in Man of Steel - those are really his muscles underneath the costume.  'Nuff said.

(Digital Trends 2013)

2013: Year in Review - Pet peeve

As the years have progressed, movie directors have pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable to be shown/visualized on-screen.  But sometimes, just because you can film something does not mean it is "entertaining".

A common theme that has emerged in recent superhero movies (be it the Hollywood variety - The Avengers, Iron Man, etc. or even the Bollywood kind - Krrish 3, Dhoom 3, etc.) is the "battle" between the main characters.  Earlier, the destruction of cities and buildings and, by proxy, humans was reserved for natural disasters such as comets or meteorites crashing into the earth.

But not any more.  The zenith (or nadir, if you will) of these scenes was the final battle between Superman and General Zod in Man of Steel.  One of the most enduring legacies of Superman was his wish to protect human life at any cost.  Look at the following video and try to figure out how many lives were lost before the General was eliminated.  Oddly, it seems that the General's fatal mistake was to target a family.  As long as he was only destroying buildings (and the people within them) Superman appeared content to simply trade body blows with him.

What bothers me is that human lives appear to not have any value, especially if they are eliminated en masse.

(Note how much destruction has already been wrought on Metropolis by this point.  And it is not a vacant city as you can see from the cars that are moving on the roads and the people clearly still milling about).

P.S. And yes, I will admit that the entire premise of my favorite movie of the year was the destruction of everything human-made  in outer space but I will submit that the loss of human life was restricted to the astronauts at the start of the episode and was treated with great seriousness.

Monday, January 06, 2014

2013: Year in review - My favorite movie

The next few posts will discuss some of the things that caught my attention (mostly positive, some negative) in the year gone by.  I am leading off with my favorite movie of the year.

These were the top-10 grossing movies in Hollywood:
1. Iron Man 3
2. Despicable Me 2
3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
4. Fast & Furious 6
5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
6. Monsters University
7. Man of Steel
8. Gravity
9. Frozen
10. Thor: The Dark World

Of the top 10, I saw 6.  Not a bad ratio for me.  The ones I missed were Despicable Me 2 (since I have not seen the first one), The Hobbit (No interest whatsoever after the ponderous Lord of the Rings trilogy left me cold, Monsters University (liked the original too much to ruin the memories), and Frozen (I am a Pixar snob, what can I say?  Though I may well end up watching this one.  (I will revisit the Top 10 in a separate post with some pet peeves and concerns).

Among the Bollywood releases, I liked Kai Po Che!, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (not the ending, though, as it reinforced stereotypes that I think it is time Hindi movies got away from), Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (even though it was too heavy-handed and syrupy), and Dhoom 3 (more on this and Krrish 3 in the afore-mentioned separate post).

But, by far, my favorite movie of the year was one that featured just two actors, one of whom is there for only about a third of the screentime.  Strap your seat belts and watch this extended preview first:

Some movies are meant to be seen on the big screen.  This one definitely was. Wow.  The movie combined my love of astronomy/outer-space with my fear of being adrift with no one but myself to pull off a rescue.  Sandra Bullock and George Cloony give Gravity the right amount of heft and their persona is so likable you start rooting for them within minutes.

If the movie is running in a nearby theater, go see it.  Don't worry about the 3D. The movie is a combination of an edge-of-the-seat thriller, how-dun-it with some spectacular visual effects and perfect acting.

I could tell you more but that would only spoil the fun.

Friday, January 03, 2014

New beginnings

While I have never been a prolific blogger, 2013 was the absolute worst of all.  A combination of increased workload, the retirement of some of my favorite cricketers, and a project that took me all of 2013 to complete, slowed me down.

In terms of posts, I have been on a 5-year decline (number of posts in parentheses).

 2013 (13)
 2012 (43)
 2011 (70)
 2010 (196)
 2009 (246)
 2008 (184)
 2007 (86)
 2006 (153)
 2005 (39)

My first resolution of 2014 is to arrest that trend.  Starting today. There are so many things I want to talk about and so many features I want to revive (such as the Maggi Noodle Reviews, TGIF - Songs to hum, match reports, etc.).

But, for now, I will leave you with my favorite image of 2013 from my personal collection - my first view of Sydney, taken from the plane as we flew in to Australia.

(C.S. Manish 2013)