Friday, March 9, 2012

Take a bow, Rahul Dravid!

This is my seventh attempt to write something about Rahul Dravid (it was 'sixth' in my last attempt), but I'll try it again. It is difficult to write about a man who is associated with countless adjectives, so I will start by recalling some of the moments that are still fresh in my mind.

India vs South Africa, Durban, 1996

This was the first time I saw Dravid bat as far as I can remember. India were disastrous overseas, especially on fast tracks of South Africa. We were bowled out for a paltry 66, and Dravid was the last man standing. On 27. I was too small to understand, but I clearly remember the sight of helpless Dravid as man after man raced to the pavillion.

We lost the series, but we had finally found a player to carry us on fast, swinging wickets overseas.

World Cup 1999

As Dravid continued to flourish in test cricket, he was either criticized or laughed on for his inability to play one day cricket. He abolished all these myths by becoming the highest run scorer in the tournament. He made two hundreds (145 against Sri Lanka and 104 against Kenya), but not many remember it, because they were overshadowed by the eleven sixes of Sourav Ganguly, and the emotional 140 by Tendulkar who came back to play right after his father's funeral.

India vs Australia, Kolkata, 2001

While this wasn't his best innings ever, it was his most important one. He was on an extended run of bad form, and was one of the rare times he did not play at no. 3 (well, excluding all those innings where he was made the makeshift opener even in tests). Laxman was sent in at no. 3 and Dravid was demoted to no. 5. And while Laxman took all the honours by playing arguably the best innings in test cricket, ever, Dravid reclaimed his no. 3 spot again. His demotion lasted all but one test. Actually just one innings.

233 and 72*, India vs Australia, Adelaide Oval, 2003

His finest performance and his peak as a test player. After the Aussies scored a mammoth 550, India were 83/4 and Ganguly was vivid when Dravid ran him out. However, this was another time when we came back and won a test from a hopeless situation. In the first case it was Dravid who provided a fine supporting act to Laxman at Kolkata. Laxman repayed it back penny for penny at Adelaide.

The final ball of the match which Dravid steered towards the cover boundary, jumped in the air and pumped his fist and took out his blue India cap and kissed it is one of the most unforgettable moments in cricket. Right there with Ganguly's bare chested shirt wave at Lords and Dhoni's nonchalant bat swirl after India won the World Cup.

2004 - 2007, One Day Internationals

This was the period when Dravid was at his absolute best in both forms of the game. He surpassed Tendulkar in career average in tests and had actually replaced him as the most important wicket for the opposition. He also transformed himself completely in one dayers and played either at no. 3 or no. 5 according to the team's needs. He provided stability at the top, but it was at no. 5 where he became a nightmare for the bowlers. He minimized the dot balls, always looked for singles or twos, picked up an odd boundary or two, and became another version of Michael Bevan as he scripted some wonderful finishes along with Yuvraj Singh. Even during the nightmare of 2007 World Cup, my hopes were not dashed out till his wicket was taken.

81 and 68, India vs West Indies, Jamaica, 2006

This is one innings which I remember by heart. It was played on a minefield, where neither team crossed 250, and were both teams were bundled out under 200 once. If ever Dravid had to justify his nickname, "The Wall", it was here. Just innordinate skill.

India vs Australia, 2011-12

This series is unforgettable for all the wrong reasons; the biggest one being watching him get bowled innings after innings. At the risk of overusing the cliche, the wall was finally beginning to break. An intelligent man that he is, Dravid did not take long to realize that anything more, and he will overstay his welcome.

In all the above innings, he showed different qualities -- the master technician, his undying spirit, his ability to adapt, the selflessness, and of course, his "Wall"ness. As somebody who grew up watching him (and the likes of Tendulkar and Ganguly) bat, I can never become a fan of Sehwag or Dhoni or Kohli even if I know they are damn good. I once asked my Dad on how could he become a fan of Dravid who was one full generation after he grew up watching the game. How he could have the same emotions for him as he had for Gavaskar, Vishwanath and Kapil Dev?

He never answered it to me, but if I were to guess it was because he could feel the soul of cricket in Dravid. He played for the love of the game, and everything else was secondary. Which is why it is not ironic that the person who demanded perfection from himself at every point never got that perfect "farewell" series. But after watching his press conference yesterday, I can say with satisfaction that he did, indeed, get a perfect farewell.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Rekindling Hope from Anna Hazare and the Indians

There are many things to like about the movement started by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. Three of them are important to highlight: public awareness, national unity and future vision. There have been various movements in the past like this, the great man himself had spearheaded some of them. This time it was different, a bit like what happened during Jessica Lal murder case.

Public Awareness & National Unity
This was one of the rare times, that Indians got united as a whole. I can only think of two instances before this when this happened: Jessica Lal murder case, and a week back when India won the World Cup. In fact, 2nd April is even more important now that it was on that very day. The euphoria from the win, the spirit of nationalism, that fresh enthusiasm of national unity, everything was still alive and very much inside our hearts when the movement by Annaji started.
The second was the bill itself. Internet made sure the contents were available to any person in or outside the country at any time (s)he wanted. And that made even the common man (I will NEVER use the term "aam-aadmi" after this) at least partially aware of what exactly Annaji wanted. Even if somebody does not like to follow the online news, they were made aware of the issue through facebook, twitter or online blogs (which are more lucrative mediums to follow). And this brings us to the next point ...

Future Vision
Everybody knows that the bill is not perfect, and has its flaws. In fact, some say it might even lead to worse conditions such as dictatorship or have enough scope for manipulation by the government just like the CBI or the IT department. And we know that the bill is not the end means to end corruption, it is only the start. Which is why I was heartened after reading Annaji and Arvind Kejriwal's comments that the celebrations for the Independence Day will start with yet another war for independence if the bill is not passed to its completion by then. And these comments form the headlines of the news and were the first comments by the fighters right after the government conceded to the public -- when the spirit and enthusiasm of people was still fresh and alive after the campaign, when the hearts were still pounding with nationalism.
Indians have more faith in these campaigns now because of successful campaigns held in the past, and are more than prepared to spare a few days of a hectic week to extend their support. And now that these campaigns are not just limited to the rush of adrenaline, but are also assisted by the required knowledge, and future vision, the end goal looks nearer than ever. There is much more hope today, and its a sign that things are changing.
Rather than still being surrounded by the web of cynicism and skepticism, I am prepared to believe this time, and even if it fails, give it another try. Just like this child ...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

India vs Pakistan - Hype Led to Substance

Post match thoughts from the India vs Pakistan match
  • This match was considered to be a battle between the strongest batting side against the strongest bowling line up. It turned out to be one between the weakest bowling unit (which performed admirably) and the weakest battling line up (which performed miserably).
  • If I were to summarize the match succinctly, I would use the age-old cliche in cricket -- "Catches win Matches."
  • Indians did not bowl a SINGLE wide or a no-ball till the 37th over, and only 1 wide till the 40th over. They bowled a bunch of that in the last ten overs, but the match was virtually over by then.
  • I am finally starting to admire Dhoni's captaincy. After his lackluster performance in the league stages, he has been proactive in the field with his bowling changes, field placings and energy factor (normally cool and calm on the field, he showed tremendous excitement on every Pakistani wicket that fell down, it helps). Against Australia, Tendulkar got away even after bowling three full tosses. That happened just because Aussies had not seen the Little Master bowl for I-don't-know-how-long.
  • Two moments made my day. Munaf Patel sprinting from fine leg towards deep square leg, and restricting Pakistanis to just a single. And Ashish Nehra diving full length and deep mid wicket and almost managing to take off a spectacular catch (the ball bounced just in front of him). I mean, if the worst two fielders of the side were showing such athleticism ...
  • Speaking of which, they both pleasantly surprised with their bowling. Munaf's leg cutter to bowl out Razzaq reminded me of Wasim Akram special to dismiss Alan Lamb in the WC '92 Final.
  • It was great to see Yuvraj back at backward point, diving to save a certain boundary. Moments later, though, he missed a regulation run out of Umar Akmal of his own bowling. His 'knack' is coming back, but it'll take some time, some more runs, and some more wickets.
  • A great read at cricinfo about Sehwag's crucial cameo, and Misbah's utterly useless innings.
  • Never a fan of Yusuf Pathan. Suresh Raina further justified the elder Pathan's exclusion.
  • Despite this being an Indo/Pak match, I still found the Ind/Aus match more 'absorbing' and felt happier after that victory. Victory against the world champions count for more than a victory against the political enemies -- at least to me.

India vs Sri Lanka
  • Both have won one World Cup, and have been in one other final. Both lost to Australia.
  • Prepare a seaming track. Exclude Ashwin again (those guys practice against Murali and Mendis!) and keep our three-pace attack + Bhajji and Yuvraj.
  • Note to Dhoni: If you win the toss, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't field first, no matter how overcast the conditions may be, and no matter how green the wicket turns out to be. Just remember WC '87 SF (England) WC '96 SF (SL), WC '03 F (Aus), WC '07 league match (SL).
  • India needs to get expose Sri Lankan middle order quickly. Their middle order is brittle, and not yet exposed in the tournament.
  • The final in Mumbai will hurt SL. They are yet to play a game outside SL in this tournament.
  • As a Sachin Tendulkar fan, can't help but mention this. It can be a dream come true. Sachin scores his 100th 100 in his final ODI match and ends up winning the match, and the World Cup.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Technology and Over Simplification

Technology is supposed to make our lives simpler. Indeed, it has contributed a lot towards that front, but there are times when it advances too far to make itself look stupid. Sometimes, rather many times, harmful (nuclear bombs, global warming, depleting ozone layer…).

However, lets leave the more serious discussions aside, and look at a scenario where technology fails in a rather stupid way.

It was just another run-of-the-mill day. I was web-browsing using my company’s resources in the office, and checking my mail intermittently. I happened to go through an email where a person was moving to a different location, and hence selling all the unnecessary stuff.

I browsed through his list just out of curiosity, and found a pencil sharpener. Interested, I looked more and found it to be a special electric sharpener worth $10! If a second-hand used sharpener was worth $10 (about 200 times the price of a “normal” sharpener found in India), how much would a brand new one would be worth?

Further interested, I typed and looked up one such item. If I had been drinking water during that time, I can bet my life, I would have spilled off water in amusement.

$41.79 for a pencil sharpener?! Disgusting!

Even more surprising was that people actually liked this damn thing enough to write a review on it.

I had originally purchased a cheap electric pencil sharpener and was frustrated with its lack of performance. I finally "bit the bullet" and spent the big bucks for one that received excellent reviews. I couldn't believe a simple pencil sharpener could be worth that much money, but I am soooo happy with it that I don't begrudge the cost any longer. It sharpens quickly, perfectly every time. It doesn't stop when sharpening is completed, but you can hear the sound change and know it's done. I highly recommend this product and would definitely purchase it again. I can't believe I got so excited over how well a pencil sharpener works! Few things today seem to have superior performance, so our expectations and standards are lower. Not so with the Panasonic pencil sharpener; it's a great product.

It was eye opener. Manufacturing a pencil sharpener is rocket science as well! Nataraj still has a huge learning curve. Oh, how did I even survive my childhood with such outdated and mediocre technology?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Money and Happiness?

Ambani-Brothers_0It took a non-graduate, barely literate person from Gujarat to establish one of India's biggest industrial organization. The revolution he brought out was unprecedented in the country's history, which put the country on the world's radar, poured money in the hands of common people, and took apart the government's pathetic financial policies. Such was its magnitude that it even compelled one of the finest film directors in the country to make a fantastic film inspired by his life.

Merely two years after his death, it took two highly intelligent, educated people—one a dropout from the Stanford Business School, the other, an alumni of Wharton—to split up his indomitable legacy, in front of his widow's eyes, into two halves.

Its been five years after the split, and they are still not satisfied, as they make an attempt to settle their differences in the country's biggest institution of justice.

Money, as they say, is one of the most insignificant factors contributing to personal happiness. Otherwise, why would the world's richest Indian, boasting the country's first billion dollar house fight over petty issues?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Prevention and Cure

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India has undergone major changes ever since the MNCs have started to engulf the metropolitans. The pay packets have gone higher, infrastructure has improved tremendously, the offices have gotten better, roadside shops have given their way to expensive malls… the western culture has started to creep in.

A friend of mine tweeted -- "A pizza comes to our homes faster than a police in time of need."

The delicious cheese of a Veggie Delight from a Pizza Hut melting in the mouth offers a tremendous experience. It also injects that dreaded particles/matter in our bodies which gives fits to any partially unfit person—calories.

A moment on the lips, forever on the hips.

So the saying goes, people—especially working in MNCs—take extra effort by running endless miles on a rubber platform inside air conditioned corridors, or pumping iron twice the weight of their body, in an effort to lose the flesh gained "forever" on the hips and other parts of the body.

People make excuses while eating a chapati, "mein roti sookhi hi khata(i) hoon." ("I eat my chapati without ghee."). They stay away from sweets in an effort to reduce the fat. The most ironic of them being, people enjoying a "Diet" Coke alongside a Peppy Panneer Pizza.

Just as a note, "people" also includes me.

'Prevention' has always taken a backseat over 'Cure.' I regret those endless slices of Pizza now that I 'occasionally' exhaust myself in closed quarters amidst several other guys—I would probably not have minded had Maria been running alongside me, but unfortunately that is not the case.

So, where was I getting from this?

It has always been a case of convenience taking precedence over common sense. And the new place where I have just moved offers several such examples in daily life.

The moment I entered this country, I have been overwhelmed with variety. Where in India, I was content with buffalo milk (diluted with 50% water), I suddenly find endless types of milk! Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin A and D, Fat Free, 1% reduced fat, 2% fat, half and half pure milk… the list goes on.

My traditional "milk-corn flakes" breakfast no longer exist, because there are countless choices of morning cereals.

Extend this to almost every type of food item, and other things of day-to-day usage.

Disturbingly, most of these things are not natural. Hybrid is the buzz in this country. Hybrid milk, hybrid vegetables and fruits… everything is inorganic.

Be it cows being genetically treated to produce extraordinary amounts of milk, Chicken bred scientifically to have extra pair of legs and breasts, or apples treated with chemicals to make them insanely sweet, almost no common food item found in US is natural.

After discovering the disadvantages, special 'organic' food items are retailed—just a fancy term of selling naturally produced food items with minimal manipulation—at much higher prices than the usual processed ones.

Similarly, the overflow of fuel consuming BMWs, Mercedes, and Mustangs have given way to 'environment friendly' cars like Toyota Prius which refuses to reach 65 mph on a freeway even after pressing the accelerator.

BMW is the ultimate driving machine… no doubt about that! But the unpopularity of Mr. Bush over the Iraq war is a direct result of the same.

Prevention is better than Cure. But humans never realize. At every level—be it a frustrated call center guy working late and living on Pizza, or the organizers of Formula 1, responsible for burning away thousands of gallons of fuel in a single race.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Strauss/Smith Controversy Raises Bigger Questions


The group league encounter between England and South Africa had a controversial ending, after Graeme Smith's heroic knock proved in vain as England became the first team in the tournament to book a berth in the final four.

Smith started suffering from cramps at one point of the innings, when he requested for a runner. Andrew Strauss was clearly not impressed with the decision and blatantly refused against it. Smith was denied a runner eventually and fell shortly after that, effectively deciding the contest in England's favor.

It is a delicate situation, where the arguments from both sides are noteworthy, but ultimately the decision went against the host nation.

Smith was right in saying that there should be some level of consistency in the rules. If runners have been allowed in the past to batsmen suffering from cramps, then he should have been given the same luxury. It was very unlikely that this decision would have altered the eventual result, but the possibility was always there.

Even the present law states that a runner is permitted if the player is injured or becomes ill. Cramps would fit in the latter category.

Strauss, on the other hand, was within the rules to raise objection, because ultimately the final decision rested with the umpire. The allegations of spirit of the game of sportsmanship should not be considered here, because he had merely presented his opinion—even though he was pretty adamant on it, the officials had the final say in this call.

Nevertheless, Strauss has made a strong statement: "You shouldn't get a runner for cramps, full stop."

Watching a batsman suffering from cramps in the midst of a long innings, and then asking for a runner has been a common sight ever since the allowance of a runner was introduced. It not only highlights the lack of fitness that a top level athlete ought to have, but also how easy it is to continue playing the game even when physically unfit.

Cricketers are arguably the least fit among professional athletes, be it tennis, squash, badminton, soccer, or hockey. Top players such as Chris Gayle and Yuvraj Singh proudly sport a bulging paunch, when, on the other hand, it would be hard to find an extra ounce of unnecessary fat in Roger Federer or Cristiano Rolando.

Of course, Arjuana Ranatunga is a vintage example of an abnormally fat athlete relying on a runner in many cases.

The issue is not just related to the conditioning of the players. Many times we have seen players just shifting to another gear after getting relieved from the responsibility to run!

Saeed Anwar springs to mind when he was hitting sixes and sweeping fours en route to his record breaking ODI innings of 194, despite the fact that he was suffering from cramps shortly after reaching his 50.

It was stand and deliver innings, devoid of any running, which forms an essential part of the game.

This is just one of the many examples where a batsman has gotten unfair advantage. If a batsman is unable to run due to his internal problems rather than any external injury, he should simply retire, regroup, and come out to play.

Would this mean to eliminate the concept of a runner altogether? Of course, not. This only implies the amendment of the rule by removing the word "ill" from it and restricting it to "injuries."

This would require an addition of a big list of the scenarios applicable to illness or injury, which is no easy task, but the officials of ICC are paid big bucks for improving the game.

The amendment would be hard to make, but it is high time that this bitter pill is swallowed. Improved conditioning will only make the game better, and a player surviving for three hours on a cricket ground certainly demands a lot of them.

So, kudos to Strauss for raising this valid issue. Smith will consider himself unlucky on the basis of inconsistency in decision making, but nobody would complain if this actually results in some brainstorming on this issue.

...Meanwhile, I would be happy with my two cents.