Sunday, March 23, 2014

Quiz Up

Quiz Up is probably the most fun and interesting mobile phone app that I have come across. It has become quite an addiction now - as one can spend quite a lot of time playing quizzes with random strangers or challenge friends. Quiz Up had been in iOs for quite some time and it made it's debut on android this month. 

Here as some interesting articles on the web:

Iceland startup finds success with trivia app

QuizUp Debuts On Android; How An Icelandic Game Became An Overnight Success

Trivia sensation QuizUp launches on Android

Next up, I guess - time for people to wonder about valuations and revenue models..... But for me for now, time to play another quiz.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bhaat Baaji Returns

Just over 3 years ago, I had a come across this series of videos of a Bengali gentleman talking some stuff on youtube and compiled it this blog post titled: The Bhaat Trilogy. They are great fun to watch and listen and me as well as some of my friends loved it. Suhel had even managed to track down the creator of these videos and we did have a fun email exchange with him.
Well, guess what - the man - N Da is back ! Here are a couple of teaser videoes: Teaser 1, Teaser 2 and the real thing here. Sit back and enjoy !

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Question Marks

What do you make of this Indian Cricket Team ? Do you think this series of win-less tours in South Africa and New Zealand is a continuation of the horrors of England and Australia tours of 2011-12 or is it a new beginning ? Do you enjoy the cricket that they are playing which lead to the Jo'burg and Auckland test matches being such close finishes ? Or are you completely in despair because we haven't won overseas in an awfully long time ?
Do you look forward to seeing a top six of Vijay, Dhawan, Pujara, Kohli, Rohit and Rahane ? Or are you outraging because your own personal favorite does not make the side ? How long do you think Murali Vijay will play test cricket ? Are you encouraged because he seems to bat for quite some time as an opener against the new ball ? Or are you mad it at him because he gets out after getting starts ? Are you still mad at him - because he is MURALI VIJAY ? What do you make of Shikhar Dhawan ? Do you think he will be a top class opener ? Do you think 2 hundreds and 7 failures is an acceptable success rate for an opening batsman ? Do you think Pujara and Kohli are well on the way to being all time greats ? Do you look forward to seeing them bat like you did for Dravid and Tendulkar in their pomp ? Are you convinced yet by Rohit Sharma ? Or will you never be convinced by Rohit Sharma ? Does Rahane give you hope with his little cameos and technique ? Are you happy with a keeper batsman in MSD who averages 38 or so ? Or are you unhappy with a keeper batsman in MSD who averages 38 or so ?
Are you a Ravindra Jadeja convert because he is electric in the field, takes wickets and hits out at batting at 8 ? Or are you shocked to see him as India's number one spinner ? Do you think Ashwin is the best all rounder in the world ? Or do you think he is shockingly inept as an overseas spinner ? Do you think Pragyan Ojha should play more for India ? Or do you think he has no chance as long as he can't bat ? What do you think about India's pace bowling ? Do you even want to think about India's pace bowling ? Does India's bowling have pace ? Does India have a bowling ? Who bowls for India ? Does it matter ? Why should India have to bowl ? Why should we have to see India bowl ? Should Zaheer Khan still be playing for India ? Should Ishant Sharma play for India ? Does Mohd Shami give you even a little bit of hope ? Are you already ready with your jokes when he drops his little pace ? Why have we forgotten about Umesh Yadav ? Will Bhuvi ever cut it as a test bowler ?
What do you make of our fielding ? When will we have a decent slip cordon that takes its catches ? Are you happy with the number of run-outs that we get ?
When will India next win test matches abroad ? Will India ever win test matches abroad ? Do you think DRS is a joke or not having DRS is a joke ? Does it even matter with all the shenanigans going around with world cricket ? Is your approach to watching a cricket match different now, with The Paper being in Position ? Are you anti BCCI or pro BCCI ? Are you Anti BCCI or Anti Indian cricket team ? Are you Anti BCCI But Pro Indian cricket team ?
Do you watch test cricket or just tweet about it ? Do you give a damn about what is happening now or are you sanguine ? Are you looking forward to the next test match or just waiting for the IPL ? Do you get up early morning to watch test cricket or do you create pivots on spreadsheets to analyse the upcoming auction ? Do you do both or neither ? Will cricket survive Srini ? Will it be stronger because of him ? Or will it do alright in-spite of him ? Do you have answers ? Or just some more questions like I have ?
PS: Idea of the post taken from this post by 7amkickoff 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Kevin Pietersen: Superstar

Earlier this week, the English Cricket Board ended Kevin Pietersen's England career by telling the world that they will not be needing his services any longer and thereby robbing cricket fans like me, the chance to see him play cricket at the highest level. The fact is that whichever way you look at it, the English cricket team is going to be much weaker without him. That is of no relevance to me. But as I fan of his batting, not getting the chance to see KP play test cricket any more is a great disappointment.
I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that in my 23-24 years of watching cricket, Kevin Pietersen has been one of the most exciting players to watch. You are unlikely to read a better tribute to KP than this one by Jon Hotten, and he gets it absolutely right when he says, "There were some batsmen more skilled and better than Pietersen in that phase, but he had this innate imagination and feel. His game was an act of creativity and it's no exaggeration to say that he broadened the horizons of batsmanship."
Imagination and feel - words that capture Pietersen's game brilliantly. At the batting crease he did things very differently and he did things which few, if any, could match. He was not the most consistent of batsmen, but he played more memorable innings than most. His thrilling three centuries in his debut series against his country of birth, his equally thrilling entry into test cricket in the 2005 Ashes which culminated with his marvelous hundred at The Oval; 100s in each of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, including that brilliant innings at Mumbai that will stay with cricket fans for the ages; his tons at Adelaide - there are plenty of special ones in there.

My personal KP favourite is his 149 vs South Africa at Leeds, a game before he was dropped  for apparently causing disharmony to the team. The entire innings is a classic but if you are short of time, jump to 7:39. He has crossed his 100 and then goes into overdrive. First he spanks and I mean he absolutely spanks the best bowler in the world Dale Steyn down the ground. Steyn is literally ducking for cover there. The audacity of that is unbelievable. Listen to Michael Vaughan describe KP's batting on the commentary. Next shot on the highlight reel - a sort of half pull, half flick through midwicket, again off Steyn,  described by Geoffrey Boycott on air. "Dismissive" he calls it, it is almost casual, make to look ridiculously easy - a playground stroke played against Steyn. And then to complete the trilogy of sorts of imperious strokes, he tonks Dale Steyn for a six straight down the ground. It is jaw dropping stuff. Dale Steyn is shaking his head in disbelief at all this. And so are you by now, I guess.

Kevin Pietersen was one of the few batsmen who could make me want to come home early from office or get up early from sleep to watch him play. These days, I am often watching cricket while also being preoccupied by doing something else - working on the laptop or some such, but KP had my undivided attention when he came to bat. He brought the viewer to the edge of his seat and go wow, more often than most and probably more often than any other English cricketer in its history. And that is because, he had this ability, this gift, this belief, to do extraordinary things on the cricket pitch. His uniqueness - right from his background and image to his massively wide stance, his onside play, his ability to take the  ball  very early using his great reach, his switch hits, his "flamingo" shot, everything - made him stand out from the crowd. Sure, you can have your players with better averages and more consistency and what not, but very few captured my imagination like KP and in the end that's what will stay with me.And as a neutral, he improved the image of the English cricket team and made them worthwhile watching while he was there.
It is unfortunate that we will not be seeing KP play international cricket any more. Of course there is the IPL and other T20 leagues and stuff, but it isn't quite the same thing. I have also had a chance to listen to him describing play as a commentator, or explain his own batting in some of the shows of Sky and he has this wonderful ability to talk sense and  describe things with great clarity. In due course, I see him as a top commentator as well.
For now, England can go back to executing their attritional, little game plan with harmony now without him, but I really don't have much time for them and their incompetent management any more.
Kevin Pietersen - Cricket's Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Farewell. And see you at the IPL.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

When Gods "were" reduced to mere mortals

This time, when I was back in my home in Kolkata last month, I dug into some of my old diaries to dig out this article. This article written by Simon Barnes - originally for The Times, London was reproduced in The Statesman in Kolkata. This is from December, 2004 - some time after Arsenal's unbeaten run has been ended at Old Trafford. If you search the internet, you will find this particular article behind The Times' paywall. Hence the picture makes sense.
I have never been of the habit of cutting up and preserving newspaper articles, but I did make an exception for this particular article. It was a fantastic (if somewhat depressing) read then. It is still a fantastic read now. Read.

Arsene Wenger and the Ship of Theseus


I hadn't known about the story or the paradox of the "Ship of Theseus" before I watched Anand Gandhi's critically acclaimed film last year. I found the film both interesting as well as mildly boring in parts, but here we are talking of football. 
Can we phrase the paradox behind Ship of Theseus in footballing terms as follows, by putting Arsene Wenger as Theseus ? 
As the components of Arsene Wenger's team needed change, it was replaced player by player, up to a point where not a single player from the original team remained in it, anymore. Is it, then, still the same team ?
Of course, what is happening at Arsenal,  happens at every other football club. Players will come, and then they will go, either transferred out or retire. However, with Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement at the end of last season, Arsene Wenger, now in his 18th year in charge of Arsenal, is by far and away the longest serving manager in the premier league. As of today, the second longest serving manager in the Premier League is Alan Pardew, who has been some 4 seasons at Newcastle. The average duration for Premier League managers is now 1.76 seasons only.


And it is this longevity of Arsene Wenger, that allows us to pose the paradox of Theseus for his teams. There is no doubt that Arsene Wenger, firstly when he came to England, helped bring about a lot of positive change to English football. This from 2008, by the cricketer-writer Ed Smith captures it nicely:
What is the nature of Wenger's achievement at Arsenal? After Bruce Rioch was sacked in 1996, Wenger's first task was to connect with Arsenal's existing culture, which was red-blooded, to say the least. Heavy drinking and gambling were as central to the culture as the pragmatic, puritanical style of play. Wenger's temperament is the opposite-drowning his sorrows with a few pints and a large punt is scarcely his style--and he must have been tempted to make radical and immediate changes. But Wenger stuck with much of the existing squad and still managed to win the Premiership-FA Cup double in only his second season.Since then, Wenger has turned evolution into revolution. Arsenal are now synonymous with a brilliant, athletic and refined form of the game. Wenger's business acumen and eye for talent have become legendary: the list of players he has bought cheap and sold for millions is endless. He is also resilient when big names make contractual demands. Most managers pay lip service to the idea that no player is bigger than the club. But Wenger holds his nerve--mainly because a conveyor belt of young talent is a major negotiating weapon. At Arsenal, there is always someone ready to take your place.
Ed Smith talks about Wenger sticking with much of his existing squad which won the Double in 1997-98. I looked at all the squads of Arsene Wenger over the years, here are some interesting things I found:
  • Wenger came to Arsenal at 1996-97. The longest continuing player in terms of seasons from that squad was Dennis Bergkamp who played till the 2005-06 season. So in a way, from the time he came, all the parts of his ship were finally replaced once Dennis left.
  • Wenger has won 3 League Titles at Arsenal: 1997-98, 2001-02 and 2003-04. Only four players played key roles in each of these 3 title wins: Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Martin Keown and Ray Parlour. 
  • There were 8 players who played in the first and second titles: the four mentioned previously along with Lee Dixon, David Seaman, Giles Grimandi and of course Tony Adams.
  • However, there was a much bigger overlap between the second and the third titles as can be expected with the two titles coming in three years. 
  • Since then of course, Arsenal have won just the one FA cup (2004-05) and have been trophyless post that. When did the last parts of the Invincibles leave ? My data tells me that it was Gael Clichy, who won a Premiership medal in 2004 and was at the club for the longest duration after that, who played till the 2010-11 season for the Gunners. Of course, there have been cameo appearances made by Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell and even Jens Lehman post their initial departures.
Those were the glory years of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal and Zonal Marking captures the tactical view of this team here in his lookback at the great teams of the 2000s.

One of the things about the great exodus of players post the Invincibles was that it led to the team being in a state of transition (and that too for a prolonged period of time). Within two years of that record breaking season came the 2005-06 seasons which is till date his worst in terms of league performance. And this came because the club did not have stability.  In 2003-04 Arsenal had a ‘stability index’ of 83%, versus just 64% in 2005-06- Arsenal’s lowest points total under Arsene Wenger. This data point along with tons of others are brought out in this  most comprehensive of analysis titled: Arsene Wenger: What is he good for (PDF Link), done by the good folks at Sporting Intelligence (commissioned by The Arsenal Supporter's trust).

The long barren spell for Arsenal post the 2004-05 FA Cup win has been difficult for him. The many reasons behind this are of course well documented and we will not enter that discussion here. In 2010, Barney Ronay suspected that Wenger might finally be going mad
There has always been a suspicion, even during his early flush of success, that madness would one day claim him, that this would be his flaw. It is partly a physical thing. Wenger has peculiarly long arms and legs. Aloof in his touchline rectangle, cloaked in his floor-length quilted gown, he seems to be always on the verge of some burst of frighteningly angular expressiveness. There is also a sense that we have never quite forgiven him for turning up and making us all look so dim and retrograde all those years back, parading his oversized spectacles, inventing pasta, and suggesting a single glass of sparkling mineral water as an alternative form of recreation to leaping up and down in a lager-fuelled circle inside a wine bar called Facez.
The thing about Wenger's low-level madness is that it is very specific. This is the madness of the ascetic and the idealist, one that narrows with age. Wenger has only one way, interpreting all he sees through the prism of frictionless, nimble-footed, free-market Euro-Wengerball. Life has become very simple. If his team loses this is now due to some imperfection in the footballing universe, a failing in his opposition or in the game's administrators that has allowed this ideological catastrophe to occur. Such all-consuming zeal can be deeply seductive. There is a sense that his opinions on everything – on whimsical west coast acoustic coffee shop music, or supermarket own-brand yoghurts – will all be robustly, even angrily infused with this galvanising belief in supra-national sideways-pinging soft-shoe spreadsheet football.
There is a beauty, as well as robust economic good sense, in his absolute one-note convictions. Wenger has gambled all on being right, on refusing, for example, to spend jarring sums of money on an essentially unexciting, non-shirtsleeved, unspiky-haired goalkeeper with a tedious expertise in catching footballs. He remains convinced that the world will ultimately bend his way. And perhaps it already has a little. Wenger will take the journey into the promised new world of Fifa fair-play rules and revenue-based austerity with an ideology in hand and a set of self-drawn maps. He may or may not be allowed to get madder from here. But for the mad-curious neutral it would fascinating if he could be proved right just one more time.
Roll a couple of years forward and by the end of 2012, Arsenal were deep in trouble in (once again), as they were dropping behind Tottenham in their annual quest for the Champions League spot. The great Brian Phillips wrote this brilliant piece on the decline of Arsene Wenger, on whether it was time for Wenger to part ways with the club. While the entire article is actually quotable, this is probably the most poignant.
If Arsene Wenger’s late-game anguish-face has become a universal signpost among soccer fans, it’s because Arsenal has become so familiar with late-game anguish. And early-game anguish. And halftime anguish. If there is such a thing as bus-ride-on-the-way-over-to-prematch-warm-ups anguish, I feel confident that Arsenal has experienced it repeatedly since 2005 (Wenger staring out the rain-streaked window of the motor coach, all the leaves of autumn falling behind his eyes).
The only criterion by which we can judge a coach is what he accomplishes with the resources he has. And with Wenger, the background is so complicated that we simply don’t know exactly what he’s had. He’s soccer’s quantum uncertainty. He’s a terrible coach whose decisions have ruined Arsenal, and he’s a brilliant coach whose balancing act has saved Arsenal’s future. We have no way of measuring which of those things he really is, so to us, he’s both at the same time.
My personal opinion around that time as well during those dark days was that yes, it is time for Wenger to go. On another point, the guys at Sporting Intelligence have proved otherwise what Brian Phillips says of we have no way of measuring Arsene Wenger's reign.

And as we know today,  Arsene Wenger has managed to turn things around since those days of negative spirals and minding the gaps. Arsenal sit on top of the Premier League with 22 games played this season, and while they may not win the League, they are certainly competing for it as well as they have in a very long time. And Arsene Wenger has done this by changing things within himself. The signing of Mesut Ozil on British transfer fees and having a more pragmatic approach to his game plan are all signs that Arsene Wenger is changing again. If you are to believe one fan, it all changed one night when Bayern Munich came to the Emirates and Arsenal were given a clinic in modern football. Sure, Wenger being Wenger will have his own quirks and idiosyncrasies. Barney Ronay (yes again !) talks about his latest obsession with Attacking Midfielders.
In the past four years Arsenal have spent £13m on functioning centre-forwards. In the same period Wenger has spent £120m on attacking midfielders – not to mention £15m on left-backs, including £6m on the now-departed "false three" André Santos. There is a sustained plan here, the entirely logical behaviour of a man for whom there is only one answer to every question – when he has a burst pipe Wenger doesn't call a plumber: he calls an attacking midfielder – and a coherent tactic in its own right. Arsenal have certain strengths – ball retention, short triangulated passing, attacking through swift transitions from defence – and it is these strengths Wenger is always seeking to feed. Diversifying into other kinds of strength would, in his opinion, be dilution not addition. To improve the current team is simply to try to do the same thing even better......
For the neutral the most fascinating part is watching Wenger become more entrenched with age, more absolute in his hair shirt adherence to the basic tenets of Wengerball, that dream of football as a fluid, frictionless, thrillingly homogenised property, and stalking the touchline in his quilted floor-length gown with an expression of fond, tolerant disapproval.
But while this piece is entertaining, it is not entirely accurate, in my view. For all of Wenger's preference for attacking midfielders vs strikers today, it is to be remembered that he has had squads with 5-6 strikers at one time more than once in the past. And while it still fashionable to talk about Arsenal's passing and possession and of Wengerball, this current side's ability to defend collectively, to press and withdraw as appropriate and its overall play without the ball has improved significantly from previous Wenger editions.

And so to come back to the question, with part by part of his old teams being changed, is it still the same team, the same club that Arsene Wenger coaches ?

The answer to that is of course both yes and no. Arsene Wenger had inherited a club which was known more for its mental toughness and character (the famous back four for example) rather than its collective technical excellence. Wenger's tenure has seen a pursuit of technical excellence at the club, playing an aesthetically pleasing brand of football (for most). It's highest points were reached in the seasons of 2001-2004 culminating in the unbeaten league season. Since then, while technical excellence has remained top priority, we have seen a slipping of standards, both in terms of mental fortitude as well as physical toughness. Perhaps finally, we are seeing the signs of a team, which will be able to find the right balance, not the exact same one as the past, but the right balance between the technical, the mental and the physical. This latest model: The Class of 2013-14 of the Ship of Wenger may yet give Arsene one final chance of glory. But for that, there is a lot of sailing still to be done.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Che Pujara: Greed is Good

We once had THE WALL batting at Number 3. Now it is someone who believes in WALL STREET. Don't believe me ? Just see a few numbers !

  • 6 Hundreds in 16 Test Matches !
  • 2 out of the above 6 Hundreds are Double Hundreds !
  • 2000 runs in First Class Cricket in the calendar year 2013 !
  • 9 Double Hundreds in First Class Cricket !
  • 3 Triple Hundreds in First Class Cricket !
When I see him bat, I see a run hungry batsman like no other from this country. Patient to begin with, but he makes it count and he makes it big as he just keeps batting and batting and batting. Again and again and again.

Cheteshwar Pujara is making Gordon Gecko sound good. 
The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the CHEvolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for runs, for boundaries, for hundreds, DADDY HUNDREDS has marked the upward surge of batsmanship.

Cheteswhar Pujara : Uniting Guevara and Gecko all on his own. The Chevolution, ladies and gentlemen, has truly begun.

PS: Hat-tip to Bored Cricket Crazy Indians who created CHE and this wonderful pic!

Monday, December 9, 2013

MADIBA !

RIP Nelson Mandela.

PS: As a sports fan, I have found this video to be one of the most moving videos ever.

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