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Is “good enough” good enough?

In blah, life, sports, work on June 23, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Muhammad Ali. Steffi Graf. Ayrton Senna. Michael Jordan. You get the idea.

Now think of something you reckon you’re pretty good at and also enjoy. While it doesn’t really matter what specifically, try and think of something that involves conscious effort, maybe even some preparation. So, near-perfect poker games and presentations you nailed count. Witty comebacks and  picking the fast lane at the supermarket don’t.

Think back to the last time and to how you felt as you completed “the task”. I like replaying in my mind, specific cricket strokes I played, for example, a bowler applauding after I stepped out to hit him over a position just after he’d moved the fielder. There is that feeling of well-being because of the way things came together just right and you know it was no fluke.

Imagine that as you completed the above mentioned task, you hear a strident voice announcing all the things you did wrong, berating you for the hand where you should’ve gone all in but didn’t, pointing out that you spent too much time on slides 4 & 11. Also imagine being told that you’ll need to run through that same task a dozen times to iron out the kinks and to do it not just well, but flawlessly. Sounds wrong doesn’t it. What if that strident voice is in your head? Still wrong?

How do you differentiate between an unhealthy obsession of a perfectionist and a genuinely fulfilling pursuit to get good at something?

The names at the top of this post invoke awe precisely because of their dedication to being better than everyone around. You’d have to be pretty ungracious to dismiss them as just lucky recipients of  a genetic lottery. No way that the talent wasn’t combined with years of hard unglamorous practice.  And after all that there exists the realistic possibility of being shown up in front of millions by an opponent in superior condition or brandishing a natural advantage. So are they all unhealthy perfectionists to be appreciated but never emulated?

Or maybe it can’t be that only the wrong kind of effort causes disappointment and hurt. Maybe wearing that cringe that says you cared is the just the other side of the warm glow from having done something really well. I mean, would we appreciate Federer as much if he didn’t break down after losing the Wimbledon final to Nadal?



Virender Sehwag – Force of Nature

In blah, sports on March 13, 2009 at 5:39 am

While most of my cricket posts are now segregated on my ‘other’ blog : Outside Edge, some merit the crossover…

Smite me oh mighty smiter! For long, I was a non-believer. I thought the back foot, anchored, as if driven into the ground would be your undoing. I thought the incoming delivery from a good length would breach your defenses like an almost molten knife through butter. I thought those with strong shoulders and the ability to clock the high 130s kph would hobble you with rib-ticklers. I was wrong!

I believe!

Others have raised their arms in appreciation of the natural disaster that struck New Zealand. Jrod was amongst the first to found the religion of Sehwagology, which states amongst its scriptures:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, but if he bowls a wide half volley hit it like it stole your donkey or ox.”

Naked cricket has an enterprising visual representation of the innings: Sehwag Modern Art
BL Nguyen tracks the revival of the man since his comeback to the side in 2007 : Can Franklin stop Sehwag?

On his blog, New Zealand bowler Ian O’brien gives a first-person perspective of dealing with the most destructive batsman in world cricket today: Dark times and demons

It’s been a while since cricket saw something that took your breath away while having you drooling for more. Contests in mediocrity between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the horrendous attack that was far more than cricket, the snooze-fests between England and the West Indies. Cricket needed this.

The unleashing of the destructive force that is Virender Sehwag. There are numerous players who eviscerate bowling attacks on their day. Not Sehwag.

There is nothing approaching surgical precision about Sehwag’s batting. It is just pure unadulterated violent power and timing. The backlift seems to commence even as the bowler is completing his delivery stride. The front foot steps out of the way to let the arc of the bat describe almost a full circle. The angle of the bat is not bound by traditional encumbrances like being vertical of perfectly horizontal. It hones in on the ball at whatever angle can offer maximum violence. He doesn’t look to hit them very high, just very hard. Most of his sixes don’t seem to go too much over head height as they thunk into sightscreens, scoreboards, hastily vacated seats.

Before being dropped, his areas of scoring were between point and thirdman. Creating room from deliveries on off-stump to flay them over point. The short delivery into the ribs used to be seen as a way to keep him quiet and to get him out. It’s apparent now that he’s been working on his on-side play. In Wednesday’s innings, he was offered almost no width. I can’t recall a boundary scored behind point. He was planting his feet and launching them into the midwicket region. Short stuff was murderously pulled or hooked.

It was scary to watch. And I’m an Indian supporter!

Daniel Vettori better be sending expedited orders for “Miracle Gro” to groundsmen for the test matches. Or atleast hand out hard hats to spectators.

Praise the lord! or as Jrod and Miss Field would put it “Praise be to Sehwag!”

Normal service has been resumed

In blah, sports on February 23, 2009 at 10:27 am

  • Australia getting thrashed, in tests, one-dayers, thumb wars, air-guitar competitions, by any team disembarking down under. Not just any, even the ones who jumped puddles and came over from New Zealand.
  • The Sri Lankans celebrating a solitary win at the Premadasa in Colombo, against India in the 5th ODI of the series
  • An IPL bidding frenzy over a player based on talent and not just “star” quality. (Mashrafe Mortaza isn’t quite a household name in target demographic for most advertisers…yet)

Up was down. Tit was tat. Cricket was tekcirC. Until the final day of the 2nd test match between England and the West Indies.

Sanity returned to the cricketing world when the highly expected happened at the Antigua Recreation Ground in St. John’s, Antigua. Experts say that England’s failure to press home from almost complete domination over four days in a five-day test match against an opponent now in the “Most dramatic sporting collapses” hall-of-fame, has numerous precedents.

England captain Andrew Strauss was visibly relieved at the post-match interview “It was close, wasn’t it. With Freddie out of commission, I figured it’d be a breeze to not take the 7 wickets. I’d be lying if I didn’t sweat a little near the end wondering whether one of the bowlers might land one straight, but they
came through.”

Our sources spoke to several bookies who said that in contests like these involving two teams who have made “squandering the advantage” an art form, the smart money is invariably on the team in front to self-destruct. With Flintoff hobbled with a hip injury, even punters predicted a wicketless first session followed by a flurry late in the day as the West Indies would assert themselves to try and snatch defeat from the jaws of a draw.

A dejected West Indies captain Chris Gayle blamed the draw on the retirement of a certain Brian Lara. “His retirement certainly unsettled our lineup. For nearly a decade, his dismissal was the cue for the rest of the lineup to do the most promising impersonation of a pack of cards when someone opens a window”

Local spectators were subdued as they went about trying to look busy after their side couldn’t come away with the loss. A local resident dejectedly said “A bit of tradition has been lost today” On the other hand; the Barmy Army was in good cheer and continued to party long after time was called by the umpires in the final session. “Yet another forgettable day of cricket, to add to our enviable record over a couple of centuries.” He raised a toast as he congratulated the English team for “never failing to un-deliver”

Another “army-man” said how he never lost faith, even when that 9th wicket went down with the better part of an hour remaining. “I’d hold the bowlers responsible if that 10th wicket had fallen. Straussy did his bit by delaying the declaration in the face of a slow wicket and predictions of rain. All they had to do was to keep the ball away from Freddie”

For now the world of cricket is back to normal with the underachieving ways of the English. The West Indies will however will need to take a long hard look in the mirror to regain the spark that made them the biggest under-performers in over a decade.

On never losing teammates

In ISB, life, sports on August 25, 2008 at 8:48 am

Passion. It’s a lot rarer than we might think. Most often its mistaken for Drive, of that there is plenty. The professional who puts in 90 hour weeks, the sportsman who trains for the better part of each day, they’re all driven. Passion is so much purer. The pursuit of an activity or an endeavour, not because of what it leads to, but for the sake of the pursuit itself. The means is the end, in fact, there is no end. We come across it all too fleetingly in our daily lives. At the time I write this, I’m having a hard time thinking of any everyday examples from my personal encounters that can be categorized as passion. And it was one such clear example that got me started on this post.

L Rama Krishna (RK to us) had it. He one of those I made acquaintance with at ISB. I first met him during one of the dinky little indoor cricket matches played with a tennis ball and a couple of bats that had seen better days and also during ’07 application-review sessions. A rake thin structure, a bushy moustache, any guesses on his age would fall in the 40 – 50 bracket. It was his enthusiasm that you noticed, be it when he batted, bowled or even more when he fielded.

It was later, on seeing his email addressed to the student group id, inviting those interested in playing for the ISB cricket team, I realized, his interest in the sport was combined with significant talent and experience at the club level. As is my wont, I set aside brightly burning assignment submission deadlines, trooped off to tear around a mostly grassy field, lobbing a 165 gm leather sphere, waving a block of wood and called it therapy. My cricketing endeavours are all well-documented on this blog, a little too well-documented for some. We played half a dozen games against teams from various companies, lost all except one. But, dang, did we have fun. The game we won was our last at ISB.

Placements rolled by, term 8 parties did too, the next ISB batch moved in. Over 8 months after graduation, RK sent an email talking about his new role on the office of admissions and financial aid. I congratulated him and asked him how the cricket was going, for good measure adding in brackets “(was part of the 06 cricket team)”. His response was a good 1-page long, talking about how good the current team was and how they’d won 3 out of 4 games that season.

What will always stay with me is his chiding opening to his response “How can you think that I’ll forget you? A cricketer doesn’t forget his teammates.” As if to prove his point, he went on to recount, in commentator-detail, a couple of shots I’d played in one of our games.

RK passed away on August 13th 2008. Rest in peace buddy. Here’s to always being teammates.

Reflected Glory

In sports on August 14, 2008 at 6:07 am

India won its first gold medal in twenty years and its first individual gold..ever. Frontpage stuff, if ever there was. “Congratulate Abhinav” links spring up on every website to be dutifully filled in with comments that go”…you have made the country proud…”. Courtesy the full spotlight coverage, we know that he’s now back in India and has meetings scheduled with some well-known sports afficionados; for instance, the president..whazzername. From the slew of coverage that followed, there were 2 common themes; 1. He’s rich. His training costs in the tens of millions were sponsored by a doting father and 2. The reason the third most populous country in the world routinely misses most sporting top 10 lists is the lack of infrastructure and financial support from the government. If the columns are to be believed, there are scores of atheletes in the nethers of this country, straining at the leash to burst forth and deliver Olympian podium performances if only given the right kind of support. Await calls on increasing funding for sports, coupled with complaints on how cricket has cannibalised every other sport in the country. No, this post is not in defense of cricket.

Firstly, how loud would the voices demanding the commissioning of world-class facilities be if they had to fund them? Going by data on Abhinav, it would cost anything between 5 and 10 Crores Rupees to win an Olymic gold. And this is after having identified those select few with a natural ability far above average. So how much are we willing to foot to garner another dozen medals? After all, you can’t put a price on national pride. You think a dozen golds will do just fine, I think it has to be atleast more than that bully of a neighbour. Maybe we can settle that with parliamentary debate? But doesn’t just plain natural ability count for something? Sure it does, its safe to say that the likes of Sergei Bubka and Mark Spitz would be leading sportsmen in their fields irrespective of where they were born, but its anyones guess whether they would be the legends they are if denied world-class training facilities. This might seem contradictory to what I started off saying that setting out to win Olympic golds cannot be a state endeavour. The point is, achieving sporting supremacy is a naturally evolving phenomenon, combining supremely talented individuals with the requisite training facilities to enable them. An economist Daniel Johnson has succesfully predicted medals tallies over the last four Olympics based on economic factors. We might therefore find our medals tallies growing exponentially once larger percentages of the population have access to potable water.

Secondly, what are the rest of us so happy about anyway? This is not a cynical, rain-on-our-parade kind of question. I’d ask this of any American exulting in the glow of the bushel of Michael Phelps’ golds waving a red-white-blue. Winning an Olympic gold is the ultimate sporting achievement. Beating every other proponent of your sport, single-mindedly training for a significant portion of your life, only visualizing those final few moments knowing you will need to muster every ounce of skill you were born with while maintaining monk-like control on your emotions is stuff that the rest of us will never be able to imagine. For us, a lifetime’s training and preparation ending disastrously on account of mistiming by a fraction of a second forms a ‘sports bloopers’ video on youtube. The discs of gold (or silver or bronze) are not symbols of one nations’ superiority over all the others, they signify much more, of one individual’s superiority over the law of averages, over the limits of human endurance and performance. They should indeed be applauded, celebrated…not by only those whose passports bear the same crest…but with unadulterated awe and appreciation by every individual.

Of throbbing members

In blah, sports on May 22, 2008 at 4:51 pm

There is this feeling I remember. A large part of it involved grimacing at the ceiling, which sometimes suspiciously looked like it was floating and wobbling as if not quite sure about wanting to be around. This is of course after the huge dark spots of various sizes that were gliding what looked like 2 cms away from my eyes would have gradually faded away. But the errant ceiling would be driven out of my mind by the sensation that my back had rapidly transformed into steel, not the thin ductile kind, but the girder kind used to reinforce concrete. But my muscles, perhaps feeling neglected, would radiate a kind of dull ache that would make me want to look around for the warranty papers that really ought to have come with the body. The right knee, (it obviously always had to be the right) would be busy sending thick stabs up and down the rest of the leg as if rioting in protest to the illtreatment. All this time I’d be aware of the sandpaper feel of my mouth and throat and after two movements, both in super slow motion to the right and left I’d decide that if my throat wanted the water, it could go and get it from the table by itself. Then, as I’d get the uncanny sensation of being able to tell the stitch patterns of the bedspread with the inside of my stomach?! it would dimly register that my last meal had been over ten hours ago if you dont count a third of a subway sandwich inhaled in less than 15 seconds.
Oh, and that other sensation…total and complete bliss. My mind, replaying with relish, everything that got me into this state.

The constituents would be the same, except in varying proportions. Some sprints of equal distance ending in quick leaps, hence the protesting right knee and the back. Some rotations of the arms interspersed with dashes, with lots of sudden stops and turning; hence the leaden arms and the wincing hamstrings. And lots of just plain flat out charging across not-so-even grass. Did I mention lots of running.

Some researchers say the there is a point, in the midst of intense physical activity, the body generates endorphins that diminish the pain emanating from the lactic acid build-up in oxygen-starved muscles and that the feeling is not unlike getting a high. I for one think that’s one dreamed up by some slick marketing team at a sneaker company.
Me, I miss that feeling…I miss grimacing at the ceiling…I miss cricket.

For sale: Heroes

In blah, sachin, sports on May 7, 2008 at 12:31 pm

Pre-IPL school kid: Wakes up, dons whites, shrugs on his kit bag, warms up, visualizes his hero (one of top 10 list of run-scorers/wicket-takers on test matches over the last 5 – 10 years) , practises hard, dreams of donning the test cap…

Just over three decades ago, life in India was simplicity itself. Dyanora and Crown were the only widely available brands of television sets, the portly Ambassador or the angular Premier Padmini were the only two passenger cars available, Pele, Cryuff and Beckenbauer were the soccer-loving public’s icons and Sunil Gavaskar was the cricket-loving public’s homegrown ideal. For every kid who fantasized about the epitome of sporting achievement, it was simple; a match-winning performance (a hundred for 97% of the population, a ten-for for the remaining 3%) to win India a test match.

Today, electronics ‘uber’stores showcase 23 brands of plasma televisions and 27 brands of the LCD variety, there are roughly fourteen different models of sedans, each with not less than 3 variants, Raikonnen jostles for poster space alongside Rooney and Lebron, and Yuvraj, Dhoni and Harbhajan are the cricketing superstars. While the fame was based on the on-field spats, chest-thumping sound bytes interspersed with the odd performance of cricketing relevance, it was still relatively easy to separate the wheat from the chaff. Obvious deficiencies in technique leading to failure to make it to the test team (which still counts for something) or to be sorted out by well-prepared batsmen meant that kids were clear about the difference between a Rahul Dravid or a VVS Laxman versus a Yuvraj Singh or a Mahendra Dhoni. The ubiquitous ‘fan’ might already be swooning at the sight of a ‘Dhoni special’ as he bludgeons the ball with the end of the bat describing a full circle as his feet leave the ground but the kid in the nets will still dream of standing tall on the backfoot and punching through the covers like he’s seen Tendulkar do because he knows the supreme balance and coordination needed.

But what of it, three, maybe four years from now, when the IPL will hold consistent sway? When the TRP race will have elevated the bits and pieces cricketers to demi-god status, when those with the ‘swishiest’ blades (made that word up, but i think it conveys the meaning) will endorse their team owners’ products? With test cricket relegated to those times of the year when the IPL can’t be played (like monsoon season on the subcontinent), practising the long hit will make much more economic sense than getting in line and playing on length. Those knocking on the doors of the U-19 teams of their respective states will prefer adding part-time slow-medium bowler to their resume in addition to big-hitter than refine that non-essential skill of a backfoot defensive. The simple reason being the prospect of a bidding war that will pit his wares against his peers and that additional skill might tilt the balance. Sure, fielding skills will be significantly elevated in the manner of a season or two (amazing how much less grass burns hurt when they fetch you the additional $200K), but the younger generation of batsmen will look like mass-produced assembly line products, ugly ones, that move their front foot towards mid-on and rapidly bring their shoulders around to take almightly heaves at the ball, irrespective of line or length. The shortened boundaries and the ever-improving bats will ensure that any contact upwards of feathered edges will send the ball ballooning over the ropes and the crowds rapturous. Combine a continuously declining standard of bowling for no reason other than neglect and you only accelerate the decline in the standard of the game.

Post-IPL school kid: Wakes up later (coz of the IPL game last night), dons his multi-coloureds, snaps on the franchise headband of the Ahmedabad Kiteflyers, remembers the roar of the crowds as he attempts to launch each delivery out of the ground while complaining about the tinge of grass left behind by the groundsman, dreams of franchise cap/helmet/paraphernalia…

The doomsday scenario about the cricket has been overdone to highlight one thing, the (hopefully) short-term impact of the IPL will be to narrow the gap between the great and merely competent, between the sublime and the almost ridiculous. The impact on the next generation of cricketers might be enormous and far-reaching. Everyone has to have heroes, important that they be the right kind.

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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sweet spot

In sports on November 21, 2007 at 4:17 pm

There is a point in time when you and you only know – the rest know it a second later – and it’s the best feeling as a batsman.” – Adam Gilchrist (on hitting a six)

I can’t recall any other comment, spoken or written, that captures, so beautifully, the essence of batting. Commentators talk about the sweet sound that a well-timed shot makes, but that is only a fraction of the story. Get it wrong and the ball dribbles half-heartedly to the inner circle, the impact sending a shudder up the spine of the bat that travels through your arms. What its all about is the way it feels to make contact with the bat flowing through its arc, the combination of the point of contact on the bat, the bat-speed at that point in the arc, the flexion of the wrists that adds thunderous power to send the ball rocketing, either in a lazy arc or burning a trail along the grass to the long off fence…Perfection

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