30 November 2006

Fretting, fuming and frothing in frustration.

Before I embark on a scathing account of the terrible mess that Indian cricket is right now, I will try to be calm and analytical & spend a few mins on retrospection. After dismal performances in WI, Malaysia and the Champions trophy we knew we had our hands full with the SA trip and some intelligent thinking to do. Here is what the Selectors brainstorming resulted in - Wasim Jaffer as an opener in ODI's and KKD Karthik as a batsman (insert your choice of profanity here). Jaffer was supposed to be the technically sound accumulator, a role Laxman has already performed with decent results in the past and Karthik the keeper was considered a batting asset. Obviously Jaffer is not going to feature in the world cup plans so if we did need an opener, we could have sent Gambhir who has been performing well in domestic matches. Apparently the selectors were not using their heads (either that or they should be charged for WUI -Working under intoxication) and looking solely for immediate results.

After about 2 weeks of cricket, the selectors re-brainstormed (There should be a law against this by now). Laxman suddenly finds himself being promoted from batsman who was upstaged by Karthik to Vice-captain. VRV Singh is back. The only reason he is playing for India is coz he the biggest bowler in the country. Not the best, not the fastest, just the biggest. Even Singh must be wondering what he did to deserve this gift. Dont take my word for it. Watch him bowl in any one match and decide for yourself. He reminds me of David Johnson the ex-fast Indian bowler who bowled some of the fastest wides in Indian history.

And here is the icing on the cake, Ganguly who is known for his short-comings (pun intended) against the rising delivery is now our hope against the SA bowling attack on bouncy wickets. This isnt good thinking....this is desperation. Or maybe since its Christmas time, the selectors decided to hope for a miracle. If Ganguly saves us from even one test match defeat by virtue of his batting, I will print this blog out and eat it. No questions asked. I hope Ganguly plays well....I really do. But I dont think he will. So far we have seen 2 weeks of bad cricket sandwiched between ridiculous sessions of team selection. But the blame belongs as much to the players as it does to the selectors.

Sanjay Manjrekar put things in perspective in his cricinfoTalk interview when he said we need to play more on pitches that assist bowlers (like Mohali) but that all will be forgotten once we start winning on flatter pitches in the sub-continent. How unfortunately true that is! I shudder to think of our team once Sachin and Rahul retire. They will probably make it illegal to issue passports to cricketers so they cant go abroad and humiliate themselves and waste our time and money. Let me end with this fact which underlines the situation, Willow.tv slashed its rates for live streaming video by almost 40%. Well at least now you cant blame the cricketers for wasting you money.

16 November 2006

How strong the foundation of burst bubbles.

The trip back down to earth, as me and my partner found out, is quick and humbling. The so-called balloon which was merrily prancing its way through the pin lined maze has burst. and by-god it hurts. All the more because it signaled the end of an unbeaten streak which is beginning to feel like a myth now. The match was straight as an arrow and it went straight through my heart. No questioning that. "Toss. 6-1 6-3. Hand shakes. Adios." I have no words to explain the match because it had no drama and we were bettered in every department(Except the unforced errors section). It took a 20 min silence during the drive back home to soothe my frizzled nerves.

Isn't it amazing how one loss can undo what took several hard-fought victories to build. Self-belief. Bruised, battered and limping its way back home is our self-belief. I read somewhere that losses should not be taken personally for that creates enormous pressure on your game....and you may not learn from your mistakes. If thats true, I may never learn. I cant play competitively and not get mad when I lose. I cant want to save the match point with all my heart and moments later lose it and be smiling and shaking my opponents hand. I would rather gnaw my hand off or better still, save that match point. Its not the end of the world I know, in fact we may well be hitting on the court and enjoying ourselves before it stops raining outside; however there were moments yesterday when all our hard work seemed futile. Like a spider struggling to avoid being flushed down the toilet. Fruitless.

I know I cant be stunted by such defeats. The beauty lies in getting up, dusting yourself and asking for more. Like a plant whose older twigs have to be trimmed so newer ones will grow, I will be stronger from my loss. They say sport builds and fixes character and now I will have the honor of experiencing it for myself. Foundation, plaster, stitches, bubbles et al ....... and I cant wait to be re-born.

14 November 2006

Epics and their sanctity.

The purpose of this blog is threefold. To articulate the spate of recent tight matches, what it takes to architect them and why on-court coaching may debilitate them:

Its been an week full of adrenaline gushing fight-backs and stellar displays of mental courage. Amelie
Mauresmo after having the doors of the Championships almost slammed on her face by Petrova in her very first match rallied with the finesse she has displayed all year to beat Henin Hardene and then Clijsters and make it to the finals. Few would have seen that coming. As it turned out Justine avenged not just the early round loss but also the Grand Slam Finals beating she had received from Mauresmo earlier in the year. Federer, the man with the magic hat, pulled out yet another rabbit when he saved 3 match points to take the last 2 sets and beat Roddick. Note that Roddick, arguably the best serve in the business, was serving with a first serve percentage of 85% for the first two sets. Ljubicic came back after Nalbandian was serving at 5-4 and 30-30 in the second to win in three sets.

There are so many of these in just one week that its easy and I daresay even pardonable to overlook the level of intensity, focus and determination that go behind building these masterpieces. I, now having played this game consistently for little over a year, refuse to cast just a cursory glance. I know the feeling when you are a set down and facing match point. Its then or never. Period. The pressure is immense and the tightening of muscles, inconspicuous and fatal. Somewhere deep inside the brain some neurons connect and determine the choice between an immaculate shot to save match point
or a dud buried in the net. This has as much to do with natural ability as it has to do with conscious effort. To rally from that very brink of defeat and display the awe inspiring level of tennis point after point is to me the ultimate culmination of a champion of the sport and of the mind. Federer is just that and that's why he deserves the adulation he is showered with. Don't even get me started on the humility to top that greatness, that's a whole new blog.

This is precisely why I don't believe in on-court coaching. Let not the support crew violate the sanctity of the arena. Let the court belong only to the players. At least for those few minutes let the battle be between two warriors and not two armies. Let the duel stay between two adversaries with one mind and one talent each( forgive the shameless quantification of abstract entities) for only then shall the victor be truly great and the tryst truly epic.

08 November 2006

The Campaign thats down to earth.

My routine web-meandering had me stumbling onto this ambitious and noble cause called "The Billion Tree Campaign". This idea was conceived by the Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. The UNEP website (linked above) has details regarding how to plant what to plant and when to plant. You wouldn't believe the extent of illiteracy in that department and that includes me. But don't let that stop you from pledging to plant some trees (you can pledge the number you trees you want to plant on the website) and taking care of them.

This will take very little time and even little money. Perceive this as something we all need to do to counter the growing threat of global warming. If this unfolds the way it is planned to, we could in part be undoing not only some of our "unearthly follies" but also some of that guilt. Even if you can plant just one tree, go ahead and do it and make sure you spread the word. Every tree counts. That's as simple and down to earth as it gets.

06 November 2006

Bookmarking the finest hour.

On Friday 3rd November 2006, we finished the first round of playing all the teams in the mixed doubles league.... and I am happy to say, we stayed unbeaten throughout. Ahh....What joy a simple pair of tightly wound strings and fur coated balls of rubber can bring! This is quite a high for us and although I should probably just lay back and enjoy it, I cant help wonder how much further we can go and how much longer we will sustain it. Its like an over-blown balloon making its way through a maze lined with hairpins. Its almost a year now since we started playing in the USTA leagues and its been a eventful and fascinating chapter of our lives. We have thoroughly enjoyed playing competitively and it has given us the most exuberant and the most lugubrious of moments. The most recent ones though have been a lot more of the former.

In the most recent roller-coaster of a match which, as has become the norm was not devoid of drama, we coasted to a 6-0 first set victory, swore not to lose intensity and lost our focus instead to go down 2-5 in the second. We then rallied back to 6-6 to enforce a tie-breaker. Some poorly played points and some even poor displays of displeasure (courtesy of yours truly) later, we had lost the tie breaker and were leveled at one set apiece. The last half hour saw us fight tooth and nail all the way to 4-4. With 10 minutes to go this was now all or nothing. Much to our relief we held our serve and then broke theirs to pip them to the post and take the match 6-0 6-7 6-4. We had managed to stay undefeated!!!

I am pleased to the point of feeling guilty; Our game has so much room for improvement and then some more, but in a life otherwise sparsely populated with achievements, this feels good. In the book of my life these will forever remain as some of my favorite pages and I will longingly refer to this blog as my bookmark to relive them. Kudos to us Partner!!!

03 November 2006

Wearing a shield and ignoring the signs.

I am torn between my pampered taste buds and my self righteous, "do-the-right-thing" syndrome afflicted pseudo philanthropic heart. Bad news has always been a fast traveler, but now in this globally and digitally shrunk world it has grown more feet. Whenever I dare to inadvertently wander into the environment section of any news portal, I find myself bracing in the face of bad if not worse news. There is this invisible shield that helps me think if I ignore the signs, it will go away. Guess what...it ain't working. Half of the world's coral reefs have disappeared, Cows are being fed beef in their food and we now have the mad cow disease (who wouldn't go mad if they were fed their own kind ? ), global pollution is at an all time high, fuel resources are rapidly declining and now a ghastly prediction that sea food will be gone by 2048. Thats 40 yrs from now!!! We might soon have to move the fishes from the aquarium to the museum.

Now this isn't a "global disasters for dummies" tutorial, just a "fan the burn and soothe it" session. This is where I come in. Everyone who knows me will tell you how much of a food lover I am. I don't eat a lot, but what I eat, I enjoy. I relish. (I can see some heads nodding in wholesale agreement right now; my wife being the leader of that camp.) I have always gobbled down well cooked chicken and fish and although I have never had the courage to see the chicken being slaughtered, (coz i fear my appetite for meat will fall prey to that sight and I may never enjoy a juicy poultry meal again) my hunger pangs have always been followed with pangs of pity for the poor bird. Recently a very good veggie friend of mine reminded me of the error of my ways by giving me pamphlet which detailed the merciless and unfathomable treatment meted out to these birds before being decapitated. (If I were a chicken amongst the 100's in a 4 square feet wide coup, I would WANT to be picked when the menacing butcher comes with a machete in his hand.) As an aftermath of that "facts on your face" experience, I turned over a new leaf (pun intended). I decided to be a veggie at least 2 weekdays a week. I have been following that pretty religiously since. Its no laudable achievement I know, but it helps me feel like a responsible individual who is reading the obvious signs that nature is throwing at us and obeying it. If every carnivorous homo sapien on earth did that, we probably wont have to move the fishes into a museum anytime soon. There are many out there who feel the same and I am a part of that scattered few. This post is attempt to go out on a limb and hopefully inspire someone to join the "scattered few" and very soon make us an army.

This is the truce between my taste buds and a rebelling heart. I still need that shield when I read the news, but I not guilty of ignoring the signs anymore.