Monday, October 29, 2007

Eye of an Optimist

The 7 match ODI series between India and Australia has recently been concluded. The series, played with high intensity and temper has been won by Australia, 4-2.

But there is a lot beyond that scoreline. Australia's dominance is the most boring and monotonous thing that had happened to cricket. So every slice cut out of australian glory will be well enjoyed by the rest of the cricketing world. Competing with Australia is not an easy job, as they are thorough professionals and master-sledgers in the field. When they sledge, they dont consider you as human being, or have no respect for you. India , especially sreesanth, wanted to give them back some of their own medicine. They did not like that.

Aussies started crying about racism, monkey chants, all that. How funny!! how funny that the most racist nation in the world is complaining about racism. Every touring party, that toured down under, has faced racist comment on and off the field. Makhaya Ntini, Muralidharan, Chaminda Vaas, Gavaskar, you name it. I just dont think they are not nice human beings, most of them. Of course there is Allan Border, there is david boon, geoff marsh, geoff lawson, richie benaud, who played the game as gentleman's game. But in general, they always sledge, use bad words, drag your families.
The way India approached australia's sledging was wrong. They shud have approached with smile, not with artificial jumping in the ground. But this is not an article on sledging, this is just a small report on the optimistic side of Indian cricket.
India bowled well with the new ball in the whole series, they had Australia 3-4 wickets down inside 100 runs in first 3 matches. They bowled aussies out for 193 in the last match, and dragged aussies to 283 from a runrate of 7 after 15 overs. The

Spinners bowled well, both M.Karthik and Harbhajan generated turn, and sometimes bounce. Brad Hodge has a horrible series, and if all the catches were held properly, Symonds average wouldnt have look so healthy.

Fielding definitely needed to be improved. The general level is okay, but Indian fielders have to hold on to catches more frequently, have to have direct-hit run-outs more often. But again, when the opposition is Australia, it is not so easy.
Indian batting was mixed. Whenever sachin and sourav gave good starts, the middle order looked solid, the runs came big. In the 4th and 6th ODI, the opening stands were 91 and 140 respectively. India ended up scoring 291 and 299. We need that level of consistency more often. Sachin and Sourav together have opened for India I think close to 180 times, and they have crossed 100 runs together as openers for 21 times. Their average as a pair is 45+ . Undoubtedly this is the best opening pair EVER to play one-day cricket. Indian selectors should remember that before they get influenced by a 70 by Gautam Gambhir in challenger trophy, or a meaningless 75 by Virender Shewag in domestic tournaments. Yuvraj's century at Hyderabad was treat to watch, so was the fight by Zaheer and Karthik in the last ODI to win from 64/6. In Uthappa, India has found a batsman who can take the attack to opposition in true sense. His stepping up to the crease, his walking silently to the ball before hoising it for six, his calm head and silence aggression is definitely a wonderful sight for the future. He needs to do this more consistently.

India smashed Aussies out of the park in 20-20 match in Brabourne stadium. I am not going to the discussion of that match, because India is world champion in that format, and the way aussies played that 20-20 match, they have A LOT to learn in that version, a lot to adapt. May be they can take that lesson from India.
All in all, a series ended 4-2, could well have been 3-3. A series, where , Indian team, after such long season, still withstood to aussie challenge. Indian team has played 14 ODIs, 5 test matches and one T20 world cup after their early exit from carribean world cup. Australia, played only few 20-20 matches in T20 world, no international longer matches whatsoever. Easily understood which team was fatigued and which team was more rested. Still Indian players have shown that they can fight, and impossible will be nothing.
I see a bright light at the end of tunnel, or I can say, I see a bright future for Indian cricket.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Chak De..India..!!

Blue Billion..that was the name of the support campaign for the Indian cricket team before the 2007 limited over(50) cricket world cup in carribean. Filmstars, pundits, not-so-noteworthies, everyone chipped in with their signatures and one-liners..wishing their best. And a team, led by an insipid captain, coached by a horrendus individual, boarded the plane for carribean...

We all know what happened in the islands of central america. Indian cricket have not seen bigger disaster, a nation did not show bigger rage. India lost to Bangladesh, surrendered against Srilanka, came back home within a week they played their 1st match. The blue billion became pale, the cafe-corner junta's demanded the head of the players, specially those who failed to perform.
Fingers are raised and pointed to several individuals, the opportunistic racist coach started to swing his willow. Greg Chappel has finally succeeded in destroying Indian cricket. Thats what he came for. After finishing his job, he left the post before being sacked by BCCI. A lot of speculations prevailed, who didnt do their job, who wanted to catch fish in dirty water...

After effect..shewag sacked, harbhajan sacked, Irfan pathan sacked. Sachin and Sourav "rested" from the ODI team. India travelled to Bangladesh to get a "revenge". Well this article is not about the aftermath of world cup disaster..but these events are needed to be mentioned to put things in perspective.

The upward curve of Indian cricket after Greg Chappel left. India defeated Bangladesh 2-0 in ODIs , 1-0 in Tests, defeated South Africa in aODI series in Ireland 2-1 (1st time such thing happened), defeated England in test series 1-0 in England(1st time after '86). But still something was not right. I am telling you what is not right. THE CAPTAIN..!!

Thankfully Rahul Dravid stepped down at the right time. After India lost to England 3-4 in the ODI series, and came back home. Rahul Dravid ended the two tortorous-eventful year at the helm. Some capabilities are natural, and cannot be polished with hard-work. For example, captaincy for Sourav Ganguly, batting for Rahul Dravid. Do what you do best, and do what the team needs you for. The overindispensable feeling of Sourav Ganguly and momentary greediness from Rahul Dravid has chopped India off several glory, cost India a building process.

But never must go on..and we..the blue billion..can adjust to life very well. So here comes the 20-20 world cup, the new brainchild of ICC in international circuit. 20-20 cricket started in South Africa in 2000, and started in the gully-moholla's of Pakistan in 1970s. This format stopped the non-cricket playing nations accusition of cricket being a boring long game.

It takes about 3-3.5 hrs to finish a match, same time a baseball, american football, basketball match takes. The 50 over games shrinked by 40%, with all the rules and powerplays, and everything. The ground-size is not shrinked, nor the members in team.
It is hard for the puritans to accept it. Same was the case when Kerry Packer started world series of cricket down-under in 1977, flood-lights, colored dress, white-ball, excitement. New things takes a while to be accepted. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, english counties play a lot of 20-20 cricket, so does south-african clubs, Pakistani players. The format is not well established in India , and not taken seriously in Australia.

Ya right, you heard it correctly, Australia. The nation that has won almost everything in cricket in this decade so far. 2 world cups, many more ODI series. Australia, the nation who wants to dominate the sport of cricket. Australia, the nation without emotion and with a lot of bad intent. Australia a nation with utmost power unleashed in cricket field. A nation build on by 2nd generation english prisoners and 2nd generation tribal aboriginals, devoid of mass education, devoid of respect towards human race. Players from all over the world became victim of racial chants in australian cricket grounds. Why? because those individuals have no respect for other people.

Now this is too far-fetched generalisation. There are tons of aussies who are exactly opposite of this picture, but as you know exceptions only can prove the rule.Now back to the cricket ground. India all in all played one 20-20 match in SA. Australian team said they dont take this tournament seriously. Everyone tipped South Africa to win this tournament at their home.Life only goes so much according to the prediction.

India and Pakistan both needed to do well in this tournament. Albeit the shorter version, this is a world cup. And world cup in any sports is of huge magnitude, even if its a world cup of 3-a-side soccer, it gets media attention all over the world. So why not 20-20 cricket? India and Pakistan , both indispensable to the ICC for cash-accumulation, needed to reinstate the flavor on the cricketing world, specially after their early exit from world cup of longer version earlier this year.
And what a way they began. They played a tied match and India won 3-0 in a bowl-out. On the other groups, Zimbabwe stunned Australia, Bangladesh sent WestIndies packing. The sixes started flowing, crowd started dancing, the fireworks making noise. Yes, cricket is back, the excitement is back, the subcontinent is back..should I say the exciting part of the subcontinent is back.
Let me know generalise the matches a little bit. A score of 175-180 is considered to be good score in 20-20, an economy rate of 7 in 4 overs of bowling considered to be good. Now you are thinking 20-20 is batsman's game. Not quite. Yes indeed batsmen are hitting more sixes and four they used to, but there is the catch phrase. They are expected to hit more sixes and fours. This makes bowlers job easy. If a bowler can bowl full, bowl good yorkers, it is hard to just swing at those deliveries. The mind games take priority here. You have to out-think your opponent. Fielding is an important part of the matches, as it always been. No time for making-up, its just 20 overs.
After the initial hickup, Australia made it to the super-8, but they again lost to Pakistan there. Pakistan gained up the momentum superbly after group stage, they defeated Srilanka as well. Pakistan have players who can hit the ball naturally to a long distance. Imran Nazir, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Misbah-ul-Haq. Misbah ul Haq applied himself brilliantly, and shoaib malik and younis khan played natural cricket. Umar Gul boled awesome yorkers in the middle over, Md Asif provided initial brakthroughs, and Pakistan matched on to the final winning all the matches in super 8 and beating NZ in the semifinal.

Oh, NewZealand, not again. Again losing a semifinal to a subcontinent team. They never get past semifinal because they are the best mediocre team I have ever seen. Daniel Vettori displayed some superb spin bowling, but nothing much to remember off. Some big hits by Craig Mcmillan and Jacob Oram here and there. The lost drably to Pakistan in semis, lost to SouthAfrica in group stage.

Yeah, lets talk about South Africa, and group B in super 8 in general. India lost the first match to NZ, and then SA defeated Eng, NZ defeated England, and the equation became complicated. India , suddenly, losing just one match to NZ, are on the brink of elimination from the tournament. No one noticed the cricket of India that much, till that point. Then India faced of England in a must win match. In came Yuvraj Singh, blasting 6 sixers in a Stuart Broad over. Game on, suddenly the tri-color flags started flapping in the crowd more vigorously. India defeated England by only 18 runs though, 218-200. Bowling remained a question, Joginder Sharma's low medium pace being main concern.

But slowly one can sense, India gaining momentum. Gautam Gambhir batted very well throughout , Uthappa is providing good innings, and now Yuvraj. Yuvraj;s natural hitting ability is never in question, but what he lacked always is the license of hitting freely whenever he wanted. This format of cricket provided that to him. And his shots were not slogs by any means. Good, clean hitting, good classic big cricket shots.

So came the crucial match, India against SouthAfrica, with all its permutation and combinations. India can win the group, India can just qualify for the semis, India can be out of the tournament. Same is true for both SA and NZ. India batted first, Yuvraj was out with tendinitis, and managed 153/5. Decent score from 32-3. Dhoni and new-found Rohit Sharma played calculatedly. Rohit Sharma showd immense maturity in pacing his innings in this format. You hardly pace an innings in 20-20, you just go and hit, right? Ya, you wish. No, as I tried to emphasise earlier as well, this is natural game of cricket. The intricacies and delicacies of regular game of cricket is not lost altogether here. Batsmen still can pace his innings, still can rotate the strike, bowler still can bowl a classic outswinger to beat the edge of the bat.

SouthAfrica choked again, and choked bigtime. RP Sing provided an awesome combination of swing and pace-bowling, SA tottered 32-5 at one stage, and finally even failed to score 126 runs they needed to qualify for the semifinal. India topped the group, and booked a date with Australia in Durban for semifinal.Indian fielding have risen to a new level. Karthik's catch of graeme Smith and Rohit Sharma's run out of Justin Kemp are the best examples.http://http//, http://http//

India vs Australia at the semifinal. The two ignorant teams in the semis. The experienced teams in this format like SA and England are out. What does this prove? This proves that it doesnt depend on the format, it depends on how you play it. If you play proper cricket, bowl well, field well, you will win a match in 20-20 no matter who is your opponent.

Not a lot of people think that India can go to the final beating Australia. India started off with mediocricity, reaching 41-2 in 8th over. Here comes Yuvraj again. Flicking Lee for couple of sixes through square leg, he gathered his momentum. Gilchrist tried to slow things down by introducing Symonds, Yuvraj whacked him outside the ground. Then he delicately lofted some low full-tosses from mitchel johnson over the cover for boundaries. Finally when he fell to Clarke in 18th over, India are well placed at 155-3. Dhoni was still at the other end, and used his brutal power to lift India to 188. Not staggering, but very good total. If you bowl well, aussies will find it tough chasing that under the lights.
Gilchrist and Hayden started in their natural ways as they always had. Hayden in particular smashed things hard. Gilchrist fell to Sreesanth, but hayden continued the sixes and fours. 134-2 in 14th over. 55 from 6 overs with 8 wkts in hand. A cakewalk in 20-20. Pathan and Harbhajan had other ideas. First Sreesanth bowled a scorching yorker to knock off Hayden's stump. Then pathan and harbhajan bowled 3 tidy overs, allowed no room to hit. Pathan bowled Symonds, Harbhajan bowled Clarke, and Australia suddenly was pushed hard to backfoot. They neede 21 in the last over, Joginder Sharma gave away just 5 and took 2 wickets. Joy erupted, fireworks exploded, Indian players dancing on the pitch. Yes, Australia, the mighty-all conquering Australia is eliminated from a world cup. Other than aussies, I guess everyone erupted with joy. This is an welcome break from the monotony. Then people realised what just happened due to Indian victory in the semifinal over aussies.

It is an India vs Pakistan final. A dream come true. Two nations, divided by british, two nations, filled with so many emotional crazy people, two nations, exiting early from the world cup, two nations, whose players stardom switch from zero to hero and vice-versa in seconds, are in the final. Such is the intensity of rivalry, such is the history of cricket, such is the fan-following of these two nations, such is the flavor and excitement these two nations bring, that, the final of this 20-20 worldcup instantly became the most-awaited event in cricket. Never in an world cup final before, India and Pakistan met. Cricket enthusiasts all over the world felt that this is going to be the match, for ages. This is going to be an epic by itself.

Yes , what a match it was. Any adjective will fall short to provide proper description, so I am not using any. Just suffice to say, it is indeed the match for the ages, it is indeed the best final in any form of cricket have seen so far. India won the toss, batted first. Yusuf Pathan, Irfans older brother opened the batting with Gambhir in Shewags absence. He hit Asif for a six in the 1st over. Gambhir played superbly, kep the scoreboard ticking and picked up boundaries as well. Pakistan did their homework on Yuvraj. Yuvraj was not given pace to work with, and he never felt too comfortable against spinners. Dhoni also failed to score big, and Umar Gul strangled India in the middle over. On a sunny day, a flat Jo'burg pitch, everyone felt anything short of 175 will fail to challenge Pakistan. India were 120 in 17 overs. Rohit Sharma provided the late fire-power and India managed to reach 157 in 20 overs. Gambhirs 75 was the main pillar, and Sharma's 30 n.o. provided the late impetus. Runs on the board. Though 157 is well 20 run short of expectations, chasing 7.9 runs an over in a final cannot be a cakewalk. India been bowling well for last few matches.

Imran Nazir started as if he is playing a 10-10 match, not 20-20. He blasted two cover driven sixes in Sreesanths 1st over that cost 21. RP Sing removed hafeez and Kamran Akmal in his 1st two over to keep things in check a little bit, but Imran anzir just carried on, he scoed 33 of 14, and Pakistan were 53/2 in the 6th over. Match is slipping away from India.

..and here comes the cliched turning point.Imran Nazir wanted a runner, but since he carried an injury to the match, umpires didnt agree to the request. Younis khan pushed a ball to the mid off region and called for a single, Uthappa picked up the ball and throwed to the strikers end. the throw beat hobbling Nazir to the crease, and 3rd umpire pressed the OUT button.

That seem to have change the momentum of Pakistan innings. Pathan came in and varied his pace beatifully. neither Shoaib Malik, nor Younis Khan was able to hit him, and finally Younis Khan was out to Joginder Sharma. In came Misbah-ul-Haq, the tragic hero of last India Pakistan 20-20 match in this world cup's group stage. Shoib Malik found it hard going on the other end, and in Pathans 3rd over (Indias 12th), both Malik and Shahid Afridi perished. Malik held on at mid on, and Afridi tried a non-existing heave on the second ball he faced, that landed to Sreesatnh on long off. Similar situation as the group matches. Misbah left with tail enders.And Misbah started it as the group match, started hitting sixes along with tail enders. First with Yassir Arafat, then with Sohail Tanvir. He hit 3 sixes on one Harbhajan's over, where as Sohail Tanvir hit 2 sixes to Sreesanth. Equation became 20 from 13 balls. But Sreesanth bowled Tanvir in that last ball of the over, and then RP removed Umar Gul early next over, to put Pakistan again under pressure. 17 required of 7 balls with only 1 wicket in hand.

Md Asif edged a full toss from RP towards thirdman boundary for 4. Again it swings to Pakistan. 13 of last over with Misbah on strike. Harbhajan was whakced by Misbah, so Dhoni called Joginder Sharma again. Joginder finished it off well against Australia in semis. But there 21 was required, here only 13. Joginder bowled a full toss in the 2nd ball, and Misbah whacked it for 6. 6 required from 4 balls. Everyone is on the edge of their seats. The world cricket have not seen more tense final before. The flags in the crowd are not waving. Which way it will go?

There is a proverb,"dont try to be too clever, you may be hanged". The fine leg was up indeed, but just playing with straight bat will have earned Pakistan victory. Misbah tried to scoop Joginders out-side-off stumo full delivery over fine legs head. Bad attempt, and he did not connect it properly, Sreesanth held the catch. It was over, the best final match in the history of the cricket was over. So the outcome..? India has won the inaugural 20-20 cricket world cup.

A nation errupted in joy. People just ran out of their home, fireworks started shooting up in the sky. The joy knew no bound. The escapades from the daily monotonus life been wide open. The only true religion in India has won today. Cricket has provided a billion people their moment of glory. All the Indians in every corner of the world felt special. "We are the world-champion of a sporting event." And what a way to win it...
In the ground, the players were ecstatic beyond words as well. These players, they faced criticism, their houses were attacked, their families were targeted when India lost in carribean.

The smile is back, the enrgy is back, the youth is back, the enthusiasm is back. The freeness, the liberty to express your mind is back. You are allowed to dance , you have earned the right to go for a victory lap with the tricolor flag and a world cup trophy in your hand.
Its a story of success, its a story of youth, passion, exubuerance, story of camaraderie, story of a nation , who after all, full of people with emotion..full of people who feel proud when the tricolor flatters in the sky..a nation with full of people who get excited when they hear the music playing in the background sounding.."Chak de...India.."..!!!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Mighty Milan is the king of Europe

A befitting end to grueling and competitive season of football in Europe. The curtain fell on the continental scenario when AC Milan beat Liverpool 2-1 in Athens to lift the champion’s league for 7th time. Rewind the tape to the start of august, when Milan is shattered by match fixing bribing referee allegations, people shouting for Berlusconi’s head, the game is tampered. But the Milan players and coaches can do nothing about it. They don’t fix the matches, the officials upstairs do. Yet they had to fight adversity, they had to qualify for the champions league.

In an earlier writing I have discussed the season as a whole, how the two teams reached final, not going to do that now. I will keep my discussions on the final match itself. Liverpool played much more flaring attacking football from the beginning. They had to. They saw how Man Utd carried a 1 goal lead in san siro in semifinal, and got destroyed by playing not-so-pressure football from the beginning.
Rafael Benitez asked his boys to go out in the attack from the start, and they did. They used the flank pretty well, with Pennant and half-fit Zenden running down. Pennant was simply superb, and so was Mascherano. It is mascherano who never allowed Milan upfront players to settle down, he didn’t allow them to hold the ball, do slick passing. Milan was trying to free Kaka and Inzaghi, with little success.
Milan was doing another thing, giving up the possession near their defense number of times. But Liverpool never took advantage of those gifts. In today’s world, no body misses a chance to grasp on free gifts. If you don’t, you are lagging behind. That’s what happened to Liverpool.

Milan’s 1st goal was completely against the run of the play, Xavi Alonso sort of pushed Kaka, and Kaka did enough to earn a free kick. Pirlo’s shot deflected of Inzaghi’s shoulder to go in. Liverpool supporters call it luck. No it’s not luck; it is part of the game. The mix of players, who stand beside the wall, always follows the ball after the free kick, so there is always a possibility that the ball going to get deflected.

That goal changed the whole game. Milan came after the half time with more assurance that they can take their time and hold the ball, while Liverpool looked desperate with every second passed by. Seedorf and Kaka was not a factor in this game, but Jankulovski, Ambrosini, Oddo, Nesta and Maldini..They were huge factors. They never really allowed Kuyt or Gerrard to have a clear easy shot at goal.

Master tactician Benitez did two big mistakes. 1) He kept unfit Zenden on pitch for 60 minutes, and 2) he brought in Crouch on 76th minute. Too late. Dida is never comfortable on aerial balls, but Liverpool never tasted him in air. One would have predicted that Liverpool will have Crouch upfront, have pennant or zenden crossing from wings, and Crouch will try to nod it in. Or Gerrard will have some long-range shots. Did not happen. I think Liverpool, instead of sticking to the basics, tried to do too much. Tried to out think Milan. In the process, they lost their natural game.
The 2nd goal was a result of Kaka’s brilliant pass and Inzaghi’s immaculate finishing. The way Pippo just rolled the ball under onrushing Reina’s arm from an acute angle is really commendable.
That’s why Ancelotti started him ahead of Gilardino. He will be offside 15 times, will miss 10 times (as he did today, among them was one easy tap in from 8 yards out), but he will score the all important goal that matters. He did it against Bayern Munchen in quarterfinal. He did it again today. Kuyt’s equalizer in 89th minute ( only meant that the supporters will be on their toes till the final whistle. There is no more Istanbul happening this time. Those things do not happen every day. Milan is the king of Europe one more time. Paolo Maldini lifted the Champions league trophy one more time.
Viva Milan..

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A preview of 2007 Champions league final:Two teams,Different approach, same result

On athens, panathinaikos stadium, AC Milan and Liverpool will lock horns for the 2nd time in 3 years for UEFA champions league, to decide who is the king of europe, who is champion of champions. Gerrard and Maldini will exchange pleasentaries, shake hands, and in back of their mind, Istanbul will loom large. Shevchenko scored the winning penalty when Milan won it in 2003, Sheva missed the last penalty in tie-breaker when Milan lost two years ago. Sheva isnt

there with Milan this year. But the legacy of number 7 will be there. Xavi Alonso, Carragher, Gerrard, will remember that night. Maldini and co. will want to forget and take revenge.

In Liverpool and AC Milan, UCL got two most competent and consistent team in this year's final. Two teams with completely different approaches. Liverpool is a group of "men-at-work" under Rafael Benitez's instruction. Rafa knows the limitation of his players. Doug Kuyt and Bellamy is fast, Peter Crouch is good in air, but they are not Eto'o, Nistelrooi, or Drogba. Thats why you have to provide the ball into their area of strength, they are not going to create chance on their own. Thats why you have gerrard, ager, penant, zenden. They will float the ball across the area, put the ball in the air, and 6'7" Peter Crouch will try to head the ball in. Bellamy and Kuyt will try to outpace other defenders with off-the ball run. Mascherano and Carragher will get behind every ball, stop the oncoming centre-forwards. Chalked out strategy..when you attack seems to you the lanes are open, but when you get there..every where is stop sign.

Liverpool overcame defending champion Barcelona in 2nd round, got off an easy win with PSV in the quarter final, and "luckily" got past chelsea in the semifinal. Yes luckily. Chelsea shud have won that match in the 1st leg itself. But again, if you dont take your opportunities, you will fall behind in this opportunistic world.

On the contrary, Milan had a mixed campaign. They fought hard to get over the match fixing scandal issue, and had the luck of easy group in UCL. They sweat to beat Celtic. But suddenly after that , the campaign and the body language changed. The beat Bayern Munich 4-2 on aggregate, and 2-0 in Munich. Not many team beat Bayern in Allianz Arena. Milan's playing style is total artistry. they pass the ball in small areas, depend on individual brilliance to creat a thru ball or nagging pass. Kaka runs with the ball in a brisk pace, keeping the ball in front of him.

Pirlo is a cool customer..he takes his time, places the ball with a curling velocity in the feet of the destination striker. Seedorf is mixture of both, he can slow it down..he can play a quick one-two, and then he can unleash from the top of the box. Then there is the wall at the defence..Nesta, Ambrosini, Jankulovski, Oddo, and ever young Paolo Maldini. Think about this, Milan's current coach Ancelotti and Maldini played for Italy in 1990 world cup semifinal. Maldini played against Maradona..!!
Coming back to the discussion, Milan's defense is hard nut to crack. They screen the ball so well, never two defenders are on the same line. If you cross the ball in goalmouth, they will head and clear, they will not leave space infront of the penalty box.
The position Milan will struggle is upfront. Goals have been scored by Kaka (10 so far) and Seedorf. Inzaghhi , Gilardino are inconsistent. You cannot count on them. That is why I said in the beginning, the legacy of jersey number 7 will be there. Andriy Shevchenko will not play in Athens on 23rd May. But Mialn wish he could have played for them. Mialn will again need Kaka and Seedorf to score.
Dida and Reyna are also two completely different goal-keepers. Dida has got past his prime, he is susceptable to aerial balls, and Liverpool will put a plenty of balls in the air,no doubt. Reyna is good keeper, but he lacks the agility in one-on-one situation. If Milan can free Kaka or Filippo on one or two thru balls, it will be interesting to see.
All in all, it is clash of two different styles of football, two different modes of football. It will be a fascinating match. May the best team win.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Sushi, hunan shrimp or Shish Kafta?

How do you compare foods? Based on taste, or based on your sense of tastefulness? or based on how you satisfy your hunger at a particular point of time?

Hunger is probably the driving force in this world. The world biota is existing because hunger is driving it to exist. The evolution dictated the creation in such way that you can enjoy the deliciousness and juicy drops of a shish kabob. But do you always want to eat what you think you would like to eat? Most of the cases, the answer would be "no".

We used to grow up with one particular cuisine. Mom-cuisine. The taste-buds are accustomed to the taste that mom-cooked food tasted. Be it "luchi-aloor dom", be it "khichuri", be it "mangser-jhol", be it "pabda maachh", be it "alu-posto" it numberous other dishes that I cannot name it here because blogspot does not have that much space. Then you go outside the familiar home dining room, hit the college canteen, late evening coaching classes, the roll corner behind the bus stop, the egg-chowmin, the pakoras. There is a major transformation zone of your nerves connecting your taste bud. New enzymes, new hormones, new chemical reaction all-together. And before you realise, you started liking shish kabobs, the beef roll of Khaliques, the parantha and beef curry at Nizam, the biriyani in Shiraz. You already connected yourself to the same dinning plate of your rulers 500 years ago.

The odd connection to oriental food so far has been the chow-min, and noodles. You cross overseas, reach either Europe or North America. Opportunists around the world gather over there to sell their own-self. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Middle-eastern, Africans. The most funny and interesting thing is, these people came late, by atleast 120 years. Their ancestors migrated to America in mid 1800s. The issue with Europe is different. Well, we all migrated from Africa. Lets not get into the root of civilization arguement, keep it with food and cuisine, shall we?

Getting back to what I was discussing, you see restaurants from all these countries. People came to do business. A business prospers only when it get along with the neighbourhood where you are doing business. May be this is true for small business only. Nevertheless, to get "along" with neighbourhood, the cuisine style changes to fit in the "taste"-style. The sauces of Sushi or japaneese food is much different, more bar-b-q style. The Chinese dishes rely heavily on the sauteed vegetables. The rice becomes sticky. The south-asian subcontinent is known to be home of most delicious and tangy-spicy food. I am proud to say, this subcontinent cuisine does not lose its touch even it travels 1000s of miles. You still find delicious ilish maachher jhol in Boston, New York, you get awesome Tandoori Chicken in California and Pittsburgh. A whole street in London is devoted Bangladeshi and Indian restaurants. The "foreign"-isation of desi foods is minimum.

I think this is becoming a reflection of a common trend observed in most eastern country's culture. Desperate attempt to cling to the west, be it food, be it clothes, be it sports, be it cars, be it life style, be it relationship with your dear ones. Okay, check , not going into philosophical discussions, lets keep it into food.

So the point that emerges from it is, whether you eat a Sushi dish in Japanese restaurant in US, or a Hunan Shrimp abroad, or be it a Shish Kabob, all of them have travelled a long way from its actual cooking pan, and in the process it has lost its taste. A $6.99 lunch combo. One heavily soya-sossed Hunan shrimp with tons of broccoli and onion, hard fried rice with chunks of scrambled eggs, a tangy soup. Or 4 sushi, one tempura, some lettuce, a salmon, $ 7.95 . Satisfy your hunger, forget about the taste. Pack your taste bud chemicals, enzymes and hormones in a bottle, and send them home. Ask your mother to keep them in a secret place, and ask her to label them " Taste-bud chemicals, when I was young".

Give in to the culture and pace with which the world is revolving. The physics text book may say it takes 23 hours 54 minutes to spin once around its own axis, but it actually spinning a LOT faster. You feel the centri-whatever force, and your taste is feeling that too. So do not be surprised if on one fine morning you wake up, and realising that the driving force is gone. It does not matter what you eat, be it shrimp, kabob, bannana, water, broccoli, grass anything. The empty space in your stomach just need to be filled, the small guys up in the tongue deserve no attention.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Decline of excellence

"A sharp bouncer from Jeff Thomson, Roy fredericks just pushed to backfoot and hooked it for six..!!..what a shot"

Fast forward to 2007

"Jacob Oram delivers a straight delivery, around the off stump line, the ball jumps a bit from the pitch, O..Marlon Samuels cannot read it, he tries to leave the ball, could not get his gloves out of the way, the ball kisses the top of gloves, and to the safe hands of Brendon McCullum. Westindies 3 down for 78.

I am not trying to prove that westindies never been to 78/3 in the past. The purpose of this writing is to enlighten the fact that cricketing genious has declined over the time. Human nature is to cling to excitement. Though we want to know the outcome of the happenings in our life, but the element of uncertainity in every turn of life is the impetus that is given to life's journey. Be it sport, be it ones profession, be it politics, be it anything.
So, cricket is also the same. Excitement, uncertainity, unpredictability, these are the terms that made this game so popular around the world, though only a handful of nations play them. Yet you go to the grounds, you see national flags flying high, you see mexican waves, you see colorful characters with extravagant jourseys, you see sponsorers big advertisements. Cricket has turned into big business now-a-days, but in the process it has lost the competitve edge, it has lost the artistry.
I am going to focus on this very point right now. From its modern birthday (1877 Melbourne test), the game has travelled a long path in last 130 years. Like any other historical element, it had also ups and downs, kings and villains, goods and bads and ugly. The earlier years mostly saw battle between English and Aussies. Walter Hammond, Sid Barnes, W G Grace, Jack Hobbs are some of the names. Then came Bradman era, the bodyline series. During all these years, cricket evolved from a not-so-exciting-nottinghamshire-county game to controversial-pride and passion-melbourne-lords tactical game. Tiny Larwood targeted and demand blood with instruction of captain Jardin. Don Bradman amassed runs like thirsty vagabond in middle of desert. The level of excellence, the ease with which these achievements were achieved, are enormous. The elegance, the courage was high enough to scare the opponent on first glimpse.

Then slowly, but assuredly, other nations under british rule started to play the game. WestIndies, NewZealand, India, Pakistan(after 1947), SouthAfrica. The competition increased. Number of players with sheer brilliance and courage and skill increased. Don Bradman retired with an average of 99.94 in test cricket, playing 52 tests, 70 innings,scoring 6996 runs. No one in the lifetime of this universe will be able to put some record like that.

WestIndies slowly began to take over the reign from england and australia. Due to their physical build, due to the exotic life style and weather, due to pure love for the game, the westindian posed a dare-devil care-free attitude in the ground. The destroyed things that came in their way, but destroyed with elegance, without letting the opposition realise the pain. Gary Sobers scored 365, the then world record in a test innings, and the opposition players later said that they wanted Gary to carry on. It was such a beauty to watch that the opposition wanted the saddistic pleasure of getting killed. Bapu Nadkarni bowled a spell of 27 overs with 26 maidens in it. Batsmen did not wanted to score runs, because it was such an exceptional display of economical spin bowling.

And there are examples aplenty. I dont want to divert from the actual issue. Excellence of cricketers probably peaked during 70s and 80s. Each and every team had handful of matchwinners with bat and ball, who on their sheer excellence on individual basis, can turn a team game like cricket upside down. I just name a handful of them. LLoyd, richards, greenidge, marshall, holding, garner from westindies, Chappel brothers, lille, thomson from australia, botham, willis, snow, boycott, gower gooch from England, Kapildev, Sunil Gavaskar, Mahinder amarnath, viswanath, chandrasekhar from India, Richard Hadlee, Martin Crowe, Glenn Turner from NZ, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Zaheer Abbas, Sarfraz Nawaz from Pakistan. There are plenty more. These players capability with ball, bat were above average, above normal. The names weighed heavily in the team line-up. The next generation started to fade away.

In 90s, when you start to build a world eleven, there were some automatic limited choice. Sachin-lara-waugh brothers, jayasuriya, Aravinda desilva, pollock-mcgrath-vaas-murali-warne. May be a few more players here and there, but on a general note, thats about the number of players you can come up with whom you can compare with the lot i mentioned in earlier paragraph.

The competitive edge from the game is also gone. Australia has dominated world cricket for last 6 years, and the nature of dominance was enormous. Just because the other teams are not simply good enough. Australia adopted to a hard hitting aggressive power cricket, and the other teams mostly didnot adopted that. Definitly what australia has done is not good for cricket. Name a australian batsman in the current line-up whom you can watch day after day. You wont be able to name one, may be Michale Clarke.
Try naming the same from other teams, you will come up with a lot. Because they still stick with the artistry, creation, elegance. But in the process, they lost the edge and lagged behind.

India during 2000-2004 was the perfect mixture of artistry and power. Under the captaincy of Sourav Ganguly, they changed from middle to last benchers to exam toppers. Rahul Dravid became a run machine, Sachin Tendulkar became a 18 year old kid again with the old excellence and freedom. In Yuvraj and Kaif India had the two most energetic frielders ever to play donning tri-color, and Zaheer Khan, Nehra, pathan provided the best pace attack for India in its cricketing history. But all good things come to an end, especially if the captain of the team doesnt score runs, and human nature of grabbing power comes into forefront rather than cricketing skills. That led to India's downfall in the last two years, and the exit in the 2007 worldcup in the 1st round was icing on a defarmented cake. The lack of brilliance and supremacy. It was really painful listening and watching the past great players as commentators. Because of the agony they suffer when they see their respective nations surrender so meekly. Botham, Barry Richards, Michael Holding, Bob Willis. You listen to Viv Richard's interview, you will feel the pain. The current westindies side cannot even stand straight, they dont have the spine.

Vivian Richards, Michael Holding cannot bear this pain. Their spine was straight like concrete. Their dominance was as powerful as it can get. The glory days are over. Look at South Africa. Clue-less, mindless, tactic less, hotheaded, impetus based bunch of people. No imagination, no embarassment. How would barry richards, grame pollock, ed barnes,..even clive rice, allan donald, late hansie cronje would think and feel about that?

Daniken theory is not proven, and its only a proposition. But in cricket reality, there were men who used play the game with courage and passion, with artistry and creation in the past. That generation is gone lost. Now is the age of power cricket, business cricket, hard-hitting cricket, sledging cricket, cricket with little competition. Its a slow death, and the whole cricketing world including australia is dying with time.