From smack-bang in the middle of the bell curve

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script revisions

In life on December 27, 2006 at 3:59 pm

Script ver 1: school (grades supposedly important…but really, play more so) –> junior college (grades all important!…play? sorry…best science college in the city, we dont do that sorta thing here..grrr) –> engineering (grades yes, play YES! – slinging leather spheres that veer in the air!) –> what next?…master of science (telecom/microprocessors?)…???

Script ver 2: no…
infosys – software engineer (work – good! first meeting with boss…asks to play cricket over the weekend 🙂 –> 1 year..time for that master of science degree?..give GRE…2270…damn..dare i think of a top 10 school?…boss says onsite assignment..cud be fun…analyst (work – umm..mostly good, play – only 9 months of winter in a year…but otherwise…coloured clothing…gray nicholls…kookaburra…genuine outswing? me?! bloody brilliant!) –> three years –> next? –>project manager (3-4 years)? –> program manager(4-5 years)? –> account manager?..???

Script ver 3: …that MS in telecom making lesser and lesser sense…B-school?…two years is way too long…the Indian School of Business…GMAT…4 weekends prep can’t be good…780 on practice…700 on the real thing..pfft!…apply anyway…get in! –> holy crap! quit?! move back?!..spring around the corner…road-trips being planned…damn did i screw up?!… –> Gachibowli…awesome environment…ditto for the people…work (not grades) excruciating!, play..11pm games…woohoo!…11 months like shutter speed at high-velocity sports event –> placements…take that IT role that sounded promising –> sucks!…quit…QUIT?! –> next? –> analyst/manager/BD/sales or assorted designation in other IT firm?…really?…f*** it! life’s too short…management consulting…l’il firm…tiny office…wtf?!…
Script ver 4: …?
It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.” – Alan Cohen

Team is spelt with an I

In sports on December 12, 2006 at 10:10 am

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. One for All, All for One! Sport can be classified along several parameters, one that’s often used is to separate individual from team sports. So, you have your tennis, golf, athletics (relays being the exception) versus football, basketball, volleyball, several others and yes, cricket. The difference between the two kinds is fairly obvious in how the first kind is essentially about indiidual brilliance while the other kind is about how well different individuals combine to perform at exemplary levels. Some die-hard team sports fans go as far as saying that sports in themselves are a microcosm of life. However, the point of this post is more than to state the obvious, but to indicate that all team sports are not equal and that the sport that this blog is dedicated to is markedly different from the others. Here’s how:

  1. Lets settle this, you…and…me. Unlike other sports, cricket is never about the ten or eleven of one side against the same number of the other. Its always about batsman versus bowler. The bowler has the assistance of the fielders to get the batsman out, but its he who has to make it happen. The batsman could look at it as him against the world. His teammates in the dressing room, however supportive or well-meaning, can’t face that chap hurling 90 mph thunderbolts, for him.
  2. The part is greater than the whole of the sum. Cricket is one of the few sports where individuals can literally win games irrespective of team performance. Hence you have Kapil’s 175 v/s Zim that won the game when the rest of the batting had collapsed in a heap. A striker in a football team would have a hard time finding the net if his midfielders couldn’t feed him the ball.
  3. Do that thing you suck at. Imagine a field hockey team’s most prolific striker being asked to guard goal or the running back in an american football game being asked to be a lineman (for the unitiated, there’s the small matter of a difference in body weight of about 100lbs in the two)But the sight of the side’s fast bowler being asked to bat out half hour to save a test match is not uncommon. Essentially, this is one of the very few sports that has professionals performing roles they haven’t done much of and therefore aren’t proficient at.
  4. You can run but you can’t hide. The scorecard is your report card. Provides a fairly complete picture of what each individual’s contribution was, be it wickets, runs, runouts or catches. The scoreline at the end of a football match might tell you who scored the goals, nothing about that defender who foiled 14 attempts by the opposition or that goalkeeper who let in a powder-puff shot on goal. The point, cricket provides much fewer places to hide than other sports.
  5. There is no such thing as a level playing field. Its the tagline for an accenture ad i think, but is quite applicable to this game. Pitch conditions deteriorate, the light fades, dew gets on the ball. Well, deal with it. While other sports ensure equal opportunity for both sides in every way possible, cricket often seems downright unfair in its dependence on the vagaries of the weather and the playing surface.

Maybe there is a striking resemblance to that other game we all play…called life?

India’s talisman

In sachin, sports on December 12, 2006 at 10:09 am


Brilliance…with heart

Pity I coudn’t find a clip from the Perth innings…but its on this first appearance in Australia that had Richie Benaud, in his signature measured tone, “we’re watching the start of something special here…years from now, this man will come to Australia…and people will flock to the grounds to see him bat…” How did he know then?!

Never as good as they say…

In Uncategorized on December 12, 2006 at 10:03 am

Sep 2000, the first ICC Knockout tournament, the only tournament besides the world-cup to feature all the test-playing nations. India v/s Aus, and after a mini-collapse the new kid on the block, Yuvraj Singh played a gem to score 84 and take India to a then respectable 265. We won that game by 20 runs. Next morning’s TOI headlines screamed “Tendulkar is King, Yuvraj is Prince”. For the curious, SRT only scored 38 in that game that included 3 mesmerizing pulled sixes off McGrath and Co. but he was in a rich vein of form and hence the reference.
India’s tour of South Africa, 2001, Day 1 of the 1st test. Asked to bat on a green-track at Bloemfontein, wouldn’t take extraordinary powers of ESP to tell India would be in trouble. But from a depressingly familiar 68/4, India ended the day at 372/7. Yes, its still 90 overs a day and that run-rate makes sense when you consider it was the test debut of a Mr. Virender Sehwag who scored 105 (173) belligerent runs. Century on debut, that too in a place where we’ve been embarassed with unfailing regularity, was any praise ever going to be enough?! Side-light, SRT scored 155 (184)…err…big deal!
ODI Series, Ind v/s Pak, 2004 and a surprise promotion for India’s wicket-keeper at Vishakkapatnam who responds with a swashbuckling 148. India score a mammoth 356 and win by 58. He goes on to slaughter Sri-Lanka for 183 in a subsequent game and India’s favorite drug is MSD!
These three, without doubt, the superstars of Indian cricket, nay, of India today. Stay on any channel for 5 mins, and see them hawking everything from haircare products to bikes. Their home cricket associations host galas to celebrate their brilliance and resulting success. Their hairdressers get print space on leading dailies and every person who might’ve shared a playground with them goes on record citing how they just knew that their ‘friend’ would make it big. All the undeniable side-effects of being a part of the national team with the greatest fan-following on earth. Nothing wrong with it all. Even my hopelessly biased views cannot claim that the cricketer I hail as the best-ever did/has not enjoyed stardom and milked it to the fullest, be it by selling everything imaginable or getting Italian Sportscars into the country for free.
The first batsman above, while having the odd match-winning performance, has genuine problems against quality spinners and bowlers of decent pace. The Second, a glaring weakness against anything pitched short and into this armpit. Owing to the recent run of scores, most reading this would readily, but it was something that’s always been there, evident to anyone who saw that backfoot move back and never across (which not incidentally is also the reason why he can play those breathtaking slashes over point and thirdman). The third, well, maybe the most popular of the lot, but for me, the least tested, with all his successes coming on home-grown featherbeds. Some very fast bowlers are waiting for him to step out of the comfort of the subcontinent, count on that.
So, whats with the disconnect between talking about their fame and dissecting their technique? Simple, cause-and-effect. Why would they be analyzing their techniques, getting expert advice on where they might be exposed and working on correcting them with painstaking hours in the nets, when they are scheduled to be guest of honor at that local shindig. When every has-been failure of an ex-cricketer who’s earning his living as a parasite on the game today, sings odes to their talent and temperament, why would they consider changing anything about that very technique. In today’s world, ‘superstars’ are constructed overnight. Instant-gratification they call it. But maybe, just maybe, not every individual is born with the temperament that lets you remain grounded when everyone around is comparing you to a certain Australian gentleman with an average shy of 3 figures by just 0.04. And all this before you have even played your first international!
The 3 I’ve mentioned above are exceptionally talented cricketers without a doubt, and they will sort out their technical flaws…atleast to an extent, but the same rigmarole awaits the new crop of cricketers…Munaf, Raina, Uthappa. And it’s essential for Indian cricket that they have some steadying influence to keep them focussed on their game, when every international coach is looking at replay after replay to identify weaknesses.
Like that quote by I don’t remember who…”You’re never as good as they say when you win, you’re never as bad as they say when you lose”

Ban ODIs

In opinion, sports on December 12, 2006 at 9:59 am

No, this is not a crusade against the shorter (not shortest with twenty-twenty around) version of the game. I think that there is enough for the purists to enjoy even in a fifty over contest where the joys of watching a fast-bowler operating with four slips is replaced by the meticulously planned run-chases and innovative stroke-play. I would complete the title with “…in the sub-continent and lets start with India”
Home Advantage?! Has always been an integral part of sport and more so this one because of its dependence on the actual surface. But our cricket board takes the meaning of this term to new levels. Imagine going on an English tour in the middle of their winter with temperatures nearing zero. Its kinda like that when you invite those blokes over to play in the month of April in forty-plus. Not to mention that the cauldron like design of our stadiums means ground level is easily 3-4 degrees warmer. Have a heart! Those have got to be the cricket conditions from hell! Why not just tie their hands behind their backs before letting ‘em on the field, might as well.
Crowd Support. Is a logical extension of the above, but with over 50K of us at any venue on an average and each one keen on making himself heard, it deserves special mention. We are, quite unequivocally, the most boorish spectators of the game. As I write this, M.S. Dhoni launches himself at a delivery so hard, his feet leave the ground and the force of the swing causes the bat to complete a full circle. Crowd yells with delirium. Of course, the fact that the ball only took a thick outside edge and trickled to thirdman for a single is incidental. The purpose of sporting arenas is to be able to watch sport being played at the highest level, to see an exhibition of skills that have been honed to near-perfection. And applaud them. Instead, we cheer wides and no-balls and maintain a sullen silence when the opposition’s finest unfurls a delectable cover-drive.
Mandira’zation. Those perplexed by the term, can read it as bastardization of the game. Started with the coverage of the 2003 world cup where Sony SetMax decided that the housewives and the ‘not-so-enamored’ by the game needed to be roped in and they did this by dumbing the game down to reduce it to a circus. And I’m not talking out of a hat, the man who dreamt up the concept was one of our guest-speakers in Advertising class at school and he accepted that the lovers of the game would’ve hated the coverage while at the same time pointing out that as cricket-lovers, we had no place else to go! For a nation that claims to be in love with the game, not many of us can differentiate between an on-drive and an on-switch. Call it being petulant, but it ‘sticks in my craw’ when I hear a debate about whether Veeru or MSD is the best batsman in world cricket on current form. Makes me wanna scream “Did anyone happen to see any of Ponting’s innings against SA?!” Might be plenty more reasons why cricket in India is fast losing its ‘viewability’…but these are my top 3.

Pavlovian theories and India’s top 7

In blah, sachin, sports on December 9, 2006 at 7:13 pm

Pavlov’s conditioning theory propounded that repeating the same kind of stimulus time and again can lead to a conditioned response. That didn’t quite take into account the Indian cricket journalist. After repeatedly elevating every performance that was marginally above average to stratospheric extents only to see their messiahs crash the day they left indian shores you’d expect they’d be conditioned to look for an actual sign of brilliance before waxing eloquent. “Grits, Guts and Ganguly” says the HT article. The Hindu said it with a little less hyperbole but the ‘indepth’ analysis of his flawless technique against pace shouldn’t be read while eating lest you choke yourself to death. A reality bite; The team in question was called ‘Rest of South Africa’, as in players who aren’t good enough to play for the test team. Not quite in the league of Ntini, Pollock, Kallis and co. So why’d the others fail against even these bowlers?
  1. Virender Sehwag: Has traditionally relied on hand-eye coordination to plant himself on legstump line and swish through the line. Bowlers have worked that out about him and bowl a lot more at his body before giving him one that hits the pitch short of length and rises over off-stump. He’s not been good enough to adjust to the line that’s much closer to the body. Not everyone’s got the work ethic of a Ricky Ponting to overcome technical flaws.
  2. Wasim Jaffer: Mumbai’s most prolific opener, has bucket-loads of runs in Ranji. His is a more understandable problem of never having seen the kind of movement and bounce before. The bounce prevents him from getting into line and playing the ball under his eyes. Remains to be seen if he can adjust to by being more decisive letting them go outside off.
  3. Rahul Dravid: One of the best techniques in the world they say. The missing qualifier is best “frontfoot” technique in the world. Doesn’t like it when a huge frontfoot movement doesn’t allow him to play the ball at knee height. On the backfoot, Rahul’s backlift comes down from wide thirdman and across the line. Leads to those repeated instances of the ball sneaking through and hitting off-stump. But his more tenacious mindset enables him to concentrate that bit harder to hang on.
  4. Sachin Tendulkar: Been there done that, got the t-shirt. A legstump stance with decisive footwork and laser hand-eye coordination have been his hallmarks. Now, he’s only shuffling across and trying to almost fend the ball to the on-side. The bowlers goad him outside off and after letting a few go, he ends up trying to force one, either edging to slip or chopping onto his stumps. Needs to back himself to be able to see the ball and let the hands flow through uninhibited. Forget that there the field has an on-side for a session and play like only he bloody can. Play for the next ball, not for the day or even the session.
  5. VVS Laxman: Not a coincidence that he’s been most successful against the quick bowlers. Has a more erect stance than the other Indian batsman. Does not lunge onto the front-foot and therefore earns more time by letting the ball come to him after it has done its bit. The opposite of Dravid in terms of gutsing it out and therefore relies on gaining confidence early or not-at-all.
  6. Saurav Ganguly: His stance is almost like someone on the frontfoot before the ball is bowled. Closed stance (the right shoulder’s pointing almost at mid-off) and lack of any backfoot movement means he is incapable of facing short and quick bowling. Relies on giving the bowlers aggro to put them off their length. But has a definite weakness against the sucker combination; 2-3 short sharp followed by a floating wide half-volley.
  7. Mahendra Singh Dhoni: Quick bowlers who let him score should hang themselves. Has only one movement, a lunge onto the front-foot followed by an axe-like swing of the hands. People who compare him to Gilchrist are as much cricket experts as Mata Hari was a virgin. A definite bodyline attack, maybe even around the wicket would neutralise the biffer with an affinity to dairy.

India’s top 7; collective game-plans to tackle the pitch will only bomb. Each will have to work it out for themselves. “Spending time in the middle” is bullshit, bat like you dont like the bowlers, bat to hit them off their lengths, bat to get under their skins, bat to single out each bowler and f****in’ destroy their confidence……not my secret recipe…its been practised for decades by the guys in the baggy green…bat like the Aussies do!

heart says that what the heart says

In blah, life, work on December 7, 2006 at 12:09 pm

“You will inherit a large sum of money”…says orkut, raised my arms in joy only to become aware of how its not a good idea to burden the skinnies with unreasonable amounts of load to lift after long periods of time. Am currently celebrating the first-ever client meeting i’ve had on this engagement that wrapped up in less than 2 hours. Suddenly I don’t know what to do with myself. Some suitable pics and alone time would’ve been a good idea but the glass-walled cabin kinda precludes that. or then again maybe I can just tell any curious onlookers that this is how we consultants think. then again maybe not. so settled for typing out a post in the middle of the day.
Had a ‘kool kafe’ to substitute for lunch. you haven’t heard of it you say? those ads about “dil bole jo bole…” where people hold their thumb and forefinger about 2 inches apart and grin. dunno how the censors missed that. i mean come’on…there’s this wedding scene where the soon-to-be deflowered bride turns away from her husband and does that same gesture. as the poor guy tries to deal with his embarassment, an aunty-type leans in close and does the same gesture with a sly grin. talk about hitting a guy where it’d hurt most.
Checked the tour match score and sure enough, a formerly obscure fast bowler has now taken 4 indian wickets (sehwag, sachin, laxman, dhoni). forget sports pshycologists, you need to boost a quick bowler’s morale – feed him our team! the likes of Franklin Rose, Dion Nash, Simon Doull, Lance Klusener to name a few would attest to how thoroughly ordinary bowlers are given marshall-esque reputations by our stars. but australia raises the bar on impossible test match come-backs and so all’s well with the cricket. damn! those guys can sure play sport!
and now…back to the next deliverable…

clang!

In blah, life on December 6, 2006 at 4:51 pm

Since I started blogging about 19 months ago, I’ve rarely been very discerning about the kind of stuff that’s gone onto the htmls. Landmark events however have definitely been on and today’s been one such.
My first moves were tentative…like the initial steps onto a rickety rope bridge that spans a ravine and you know you ain’t no Indiana Jones. Not quite sure if those that have been so neglected, so completely ignored over the last couple of months would respond. I hoped nevertheless, not daring to hope, expecting to be rebuffed. Starting slow…unsure…looking for a sign, even contempt would be a relief, just not that dreaded soul-drenching effect that only comes from being subjected to nothing…indifference.
But that dread was misplaced…the initial leaden resistance…the unnaturally quickened breaths…even the light-headedness coming from the oh-so-apparent reluctance to acknowledge me. But then finally relenting, each fibre pulling its weight, flexing, not as expansively as i’d want them, but one doesn’t show the complete disregard that i have and expect flawless form. Yes! I went back to the gym!

unshackle

In sachin, sports on December 1, 2006 at 6:21 pm

The backfoot goes deep into the crease, not so much across as back. The left leg makes a pretense of coming forward and then stops abruptly, as if stopped by an unseen wall in mid-stride. The bat face comes down from second to third slip rather than fine thirdman. It makes a feeble attempt at a complete arc, the bat face turning towards midwicket. The ball trickles towards square leg. This is not how the best batsman in the world bats. Will the real Sachin Tendulkar please stand up…

time-please!

In sports, work on December 1, 2006 at 10:40 am

Things have to be seriously wrong with the world if my blog shows only three installments of its customary drivel for all of the month of November. It’d be cool if I could break my silence with a “Eureka” about deep insight into the metaphysical or such other esoteric concepts. Sadly, I have nothing but being a ping-pong ball with the opposite ends of the table in two cities as my reason. Trooping into the client’s office every weekday, plonking yourself in a conference room, meeting all and sundry, shadowing some as they go about their tasks (imagine having someone looking over shoulder, notepad in hand, asking questions, making notes. I’d be lead to man-handling someone doing that to me). Meetings…consensus…god how i hate that word! the spawn of the devil. the deepest subterranean root-cause of all thats wrong. Think I’m being melodramatic? Try putting a bunch of managers into a room and getting them to agree on the colour the office walls should be painted with. Damned if you don’t come out of the room with a psyche ‘f***in’ delic rainbow on your notepad!
In other news, the Indian team’s performance/selection got more newsprint than the Rwanda genocide ever did but then, thats perfectly logical for a country that tacks its sense of pride and achievement onto a bunch of 14 individuals weighed down by expectations and also the logos sewn onto their equipment. Its amusing how everyone and their uncle has an opinion (hence this one) about how to fix the slide. With news channels announcing Sourav’s inclusion a day in advance, you wonder if the selectors actually even debated the player who’s technique makes him unsuitable for anything but a sandpit as far as bounce goes. Band-aid fixes et al, we all shall wait with bated breath to expect dramatic turnarounds conveniently ignoring the following:
1. Our performance in South Africa is dismal for a reason; we can’t play movement. Not rocket science that but contrary to popular opinion, our performance in the 2003 world cup was not an instance of our warriors mastering the conditions. God bless Dr. Ali Bacher for having read “Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid” and having the life squeezed out of all wickets to provide featherbeds for the purpose of providing employment to ‘has-been’ actresses (read Mandira Bedi) and tarot card readers
2. Our cricketers have never had to correct this deficiency in their technique. Reason – we play over 70% of our games at home/home-like conditions. Embarassing failures in South Africa are camouflaged by ‘scintillating come-backs’ in tournaments involving the likes of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, England etc (Yuvraj Singh must be thanking his stars for his timely injury)
It ain’t the cricketers’ fault though that they go through their domestic lives thinking that anything green can only be an outfield and the first time they see the ball zip past chest height is on an international tour match. Of course the board can’t be held responsible either, there are broadcasting rights to be auctioned, official team sponsors to be chosen. Not for them the trivialities of looking into the preparation of the most crucial 22 yards in the sport, given that the odd sprinkling of grass might actually encourage a young kid somewhere to want to knock the batsman’s head off rather than make a beeline for the batting crease. No, we wouldn’t want a crop of searing quick fast bowlers to complicate matters of selection even more, would we. As for now, the poor over-marketed sods in SA can only hope…
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