From smack-bang in the middle of the bell curve

Archive for January, 2008|Monthly archive page

The WACA – Conquered!

In blah, sports on January 19, 2008 at 11:15 am

“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!” – William Shakespeare

My limited exposure to classical literature as opposed to  mainstream fiction means the phrase “Dogs of War” conjures up images of a grizzled bunch of mercenaries sponsored by an American industrialist laying siege to the rudimentary military of an obscure African nation. The intent of the siege, to replace the despot leader with another who would sign over the mining rights to the mineral-rich expanse of the country. The magic of Forsyth’s writing is his ability to go into the nuts-and-bolts details of every operation that his characters undertake and so, the first half of the book is a ‘dummies guide to procurement for mercenaries’ with everything from combat jackets to rocket propelled grenade launchers.

The significance of ‘the Home advantage’ in sport has been such that many an encounter has been marketed with the classic setting showing the ‘Away’ team’s attempt at storming the citadel. So it was with Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers (until their near-perfect home record was vapourized over the last couple of seasons). So it is with teams going to Australia. A record of 22 wins out of 25 played over five years highlights the massive gulf between the world champions and the rest. It is for this reason that one can’t help but visualize the fourth day of the third test as an army launching an enthusiastic assault on the impregnable fortress that is the WACA.

Past campaigns by other teams saw half-hearted charges at the ramparts only to be either cut down by sharp-shooting snipers like Mcgrath and Lee. The first charge dismantled by the likes of Hayden and Ponting followed by Symonds and Gilchrist who line up opposition bowlers in the sights of their Howitzers before blowing them to smithereens. Jan 19 saw a spirited charge by a team that was light on heavy artillery that had, for three days dodged and weaved the pounding from the four heavy guns that were expected to anhialate the Indian ranks. Inspite of the additional ammo of a 413 run lead and 2 wickets, none expected it to be easy. It took sustained accuracy from Ishant Sharma to take out one of the big guns before some lucky ricochets got rid of Hussey and Symonds. Even then, the Aussies blazed away, going after a victory that every other team would not even consider. Clarke manned the guns supremely well, raking the Indian charge, putting doubts in their minds. Even with 5 wickets down, the writing was not on the wall, and it was only when Sehwag’s revolver shot that took out Gilchrist and Kumble took out Clarke, the defences were breached. With the Indians into the stronghold, Johnson and Clark put up some vicious hand-to-hand fighting that pushed the attackers back one more time temporarily causing confusion before being finally overwhelmed by the invaders. The WACA…conquered!

My ode to the stereotypical war movie sated, its worth considering that the margin of 72 runs after having been dominated for almost every session of play over four days shows how gritty an opponent, the world champions are, and you wonder the difference a certain healthy hamstring would have made, in the form of the massive Mathew Hayden. Another difference between champion teams and others might be evident in how they probably won’t be raking the umpires over the coals for two decisions that had their own telling impact on the day. In Melbourne, Roger Federer almost looked human in his five set marathon against J. Tipsarevic. Funny thing, sport.

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In search of excellence

In life, sachin, sports on January 6, 2008 at 7:21 pm

It could be considered a waste of nine days of letting my systems power down for about four hours a day. It could even be considered that it was a bad deal if I had to resort to injecting myself with copious amounts of caffeine to fight the temptation to catch some shuteye in meeting rooms and to up the volume on the car stereo to avoid testing a driverless car without the self-drive capabilities. To watch the inevitable unfold, just as it has so many times on overseas tours and to wonder if there is any point to it as a loud ad irritates your senses for the 140th time as you hear the sound of the newspaper landing at your door.

Who would enjoy watching the team they support being trampled over and at the same time invite the ire of family for looking like a zombie through that period? For over a decade I have had my reasons. None of them were to do with watching the Indian cricket team perform. What was it about then?

It was about watching cricket in its natural habitat. Technically, the home of the sport lies in a bunch of old, at times rickety stadiums built around tradition-steeped grounds in Western Europe where one finds geriatric ‘members’ drooling onto their ties as they sleep in the middle of enthralling sessions of cricket. But for me its soul resides in the set of grounds that have bred pitches that have always been decisive in their nature – hard and bouncy or crumbling and turning, rarely indifferent and slow. Surfaces that support batsmen with decisive footwork and bowlers who can bend their backs.

It was about sporting crowds. Capacity crowds for test matches. The facilities such that spectators come to relax and take in good cricket. Raucous support for the home team, but genuine appreciation for the opposition. Even some cheers when the visiting team shows some spirit to stage a comeback. Standing ovations for truly great performances, irrespective of team. These are the hallmarks of the crowds in a country where sports are very much a part of daily life and not just a means to a borrowed sense of achievement.

It was about the DNA of playing the sport. It is a human trait to withdraw into yourself at the appearance of a threat. While most line-ups ‘consolidated’ after the fall of quick wickets, these blokes attacked. While most fielding sides looked rudderless when faced with high-quality batsmen on song, they regrouped and set attacking fields.

And it was about the rare individual performance. The odd hour or even session maybe where the Indian team would match the Aussies, punch for punch. Be it a Tendulkar rearguard (of that there are many) or a fine spell of quick bowling from an Indian new ball bowler. The genuine applause reminding you that sport is as much about temperament as much about skill. The 03-04 series does not count as much because, and I’ve said this in a previous post, it was more an extended farewell party for Steve Waugh.

Not any more. In the last five days at the SCG, the Indians matched the Aussies in every way possible. Instead of frittering away advantages by playing circumspect and diffident cricket, they wrested initiatives and made things happen when none looked like happening. In spite of obvious shortcomings on bowling and fielding, they went toe to toe with Ponting’s team and scrapped. The men around the bat even when the batsmen were well past their fifties, the radical fields (all off-side for Hayden) that stifled the flow of runs for a significant period. India’s game-plans all but thwarted the Aussie plan to pile on the runs and declare with time to bowl India out. With some luck with umpiring, there would have been a much larger first innings lead and a much smaller 4th innings chase. Luck can not detract from a lion-hearted effort by the entire team. Now that’s a performance.

Now, it is also about watching the Indian team perform…

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Veisalgia

In blah, life on January 3, 2008 at 3:46 pm

I don’t know what it is about a hangover that makes me want to blog. Must be the sadomasochistic side of me that makes me screw my eyes to eliminate the double-vision, peer into the thin screen of liquid crystal and drum up crap to post. Of course, sense prevails and I give up the endeavour in about 45 seconds and go back to groaning and clutching my head in periodic intervals. So, the festive season aka ‘alcohol poisoning season’ is just about past us. Combine that with the odd late night at work and 4.30 am risings to watch our cricket team being given lessons in, you guessed it, cricket, and you have the world’s longest hangover.

Before: Driving while drunk is not something I figure deserves a merit badge and so my solution usually has been to forsake my ride for a black-and-yellow. But that means travelling in a creaking tin cupboard on wheels whose drivers maneuver with the fervent belief that they are immune to every law of physics. But given the lack of options, we’d just hang on and hunch our shoulders so the top of our heads didn’t break through the top of the rattletrap at the next backbreaker ..errr..speedbreaker.

Enter, the Mumbai Traffic Police and their edict to make it ‘uneconomical’ to drive while under the influence.
Now: Enter – Party Hard Drivers. While the name might mistakenly invoke images of piss drunk party-goers arriving at your door to offer rides, the idea is simple. You call a number to arrange for a driver at your doorstep for the specific purpose of driving your sloshed ass back home. For a flat rate between 10pm and 3am with Rs 50 per additional hour, you have the convenience of your own car driven by, as I found out, a reasonably professional driver who did not casually add a 100% premium to his fee grunting “night-time charge”. You have to wonder why the ‘spirit barons’ didn’t think of this on their own. Free limo-rides to and from all the watering holes in the city!

sheesh…all this talk of booze…quite ashamed of myself…so now to chalk out my resolutions to get into mountaineering shape, earn my first million and attain nirvana..in that order

p.s: the title means “uneasiness after debauchery” or in common parlance…a hangover

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