Sunday, August 29, 2010

Just an old story

About two and a half years ago, in January 2008, I had gone on an audit trip to a place called Hathidah in Bihar. It was a factory visit, one I quite enjoyed. The client was excellent and organised and the trip was very satisfactory from a professional standpoint. But perhaps, I enjoyed the trip a lot more, simply because I was visiting Bihar after some time and got the opportunity to converse in the language and dialect I so love once again.
We were put up in the guest house within the factory and would be joined during meal times by some of the officers. During the dinner time conversation on the first night, I was warned by one of the officers not to go outside the factory without having security with me. On asking him the reason, the gentlemen replied with a perfectly straight face that if I ventured out alone, I was liable to be kidnapped and then forcibly married !!! He then went on to describe how young factory workers - young unmarried men in their 20s were accompanied by their fathers when they came to office. He also told me how one guy working in the stores department had been missing the last week and when he returned - he had been forced to be married in the mean time.
I found the conversation rather amusing that time. Growing up in Patna in the last decade, I had known all about the fear of parents sending their children to school and so on, but this kidnapping and forcible marrying of young boys was a phenomenon I had been unaware of. I have shared this story with a few friends and it has been received with varying degrees of amusement and incredulity.
So, while browsing through Google News the other day, I came across this review of a new movie called Antardwand. And what caught my attention was the subject of the movie - " the kidnapping of marriageable boys by desperate fathers of wannabe brides".
And this made me recall the story I just narrated. Well, having a movie on this topic sort of lends credibility to my story - Doesn't it ? :)
PS: I am looking forward to seeing the movie some time soon.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Drama of the 5th Day of a Test Match

Written Originally for 
Cricket provides entertainment, excitement and education to its fans in all its forms. The thrill of a slam-bam T20 encounter, the riveting journey of a close high stakes ODI and the charm & pleasure of an engrossing test match, all cater to different segments of cricket’s audience. For me personally, nothing beats watching test cricket when a good contest is on.
Test cricket provides the purest and the truest contest between bat and ball, the batsman and the bowler – it is after all a TEST. And among the many facets of test cricket which I enjoy, one of my favourites is the drama, the tension and the sheer excitement of a test match which enters the 5th day, where more than one result is possible. It could be a team chasing a stiff target, with the bowling team also in hunt to get all 10 wickets, or it could be a bowling team on top looking to get the opposition out, but the batting side battling for survival and playing for a draw – the tension, the excitement is often breathtaking.
With the 3rd test match between Sri Lanka and India at the P Sera Stadium, going almost the distance, while producing some excellent cricket throughout along with a morale boosting Indian win, I think it is a good time to look at some of the test matches in the last few years that have literally gone the distance.
I think it was Richie Benaud who once said on commentary that a good test match pitch produces a result in the 3rd session of the 5th day. Now, while a good/ great test match, need not be one which necessarily finishes late on the 5th day, for instance a low scoring thriller on a seaming or spinning track which lasts just 3 days can be exciting, some of the most memorable test matches in the last decade or so have been decided late into the 5th day. In order to have a compelling contest in a test match, I believe two things are extremely important – 1) Two well matched teams and 2) A sporting pitch. Now what is a sporting pitch is a debatable question, but what most cricket fans agree upon is that it should provide reasonable opportunities for the batsmen and the bowlers to do well, which typically means some assistance for the fast bowlers in the early hours of most days, good pace and bounce in the track, and some assistance for spinners late in the game, all however meshed together in what should still be a decent batting surface. Or let’s look at it another way, a good test cricket pitch is one where the toss should not be decisive.
Talking about some of the best test matches of the last ten years or so which have gone the distance, as an Indian – the first 3 that come to my mind straightaway are our 3 wins against Australia between 2001 and 2004. The two home wins – the incredible follow-on turnaround at Eden Gardens (which I believe is The Greatest  Game Ever Played J ) and the pulsating, heart –throbbing series decider at Chennai ; followed by the Rahul Dravid (and Ajit Agarkar) inspired victory at Adelaide. All three of them were played on wonderful, sporting wickets, which were excellent for batting and yet always had something for the bowling team too.  Incidentally the drawn 4th test of the series, which was Steve Waugh’s last match, was also a quite brilliant encounter- one that got away from us perhaps due to some poor catching.
Let’s look at a few more classics which went deep into the 5th day: India vs England once again at Chennai – 2008, where Sachin took India home in an epic run chase in the 4th innings; India vs South Africa at Eden Gardens in February this year (in the series where Hashim Amla was refusing to leave the crease) – late, late drama before Bhajji clinched the win.  Australia vs India at Sydney, 2008 - The test which we could have drawn had we batted for 9 minutes more, if not for the dubious umpiring from Bucknor and Co – and yet a terrific test match none the less.
Let’s change the India centric view and look at another team and bring in England – a team which over the last 5-6 years has been in unusually high number of dramatic, last hour – sometimes last over finishes. Let’s look at the 2005 Ashes in England ; the 2nd test at Edgbaston – the match which produced the now immortal image of Flintoff embracing a dejected Brett Lee after he had just led England to a pulsating 2 run win. The 3rd test at Old Trafford was just as close but this time the Australians held on with the last wicket pair battling away for a draw. The last test at Oval was almost as dramatic with England holding on for a draw and the series win in a fascinating day’s cricket. Roll forward 4 years ahead and the 2009 Ashes, while not quite being the same series as the 2005 one in terms of sheer drama, also provided spectators with some thrilling cricket. The first test at Cardiff ended with Panesar and Anderson seeing off the last few overs to hold on for a draw. And perhaps that escape allowed England to get some relief and later momentum to regain the Ashes once again.  The situation was not too different when England toured South Africa later that year. The first test at Centurian and the third test at Cape Town, both ended in draws with the last wicket pair surviving – Graham Onions being the last man standing on both occasions. In a 4 test match series, where England won the 2nd and South Africa the 4th, these last wicket heroics proved decisive for England to square the series, when clearly it was South Africa who had dominated 3 matches and perhaps with some luck could have gone on to win it 3-1.
[However it has to be noted here that while in the last few series, England had all the luck going their way, they were massively unlucky in the 2009 series in the West Indies. They managed to get West Indies 9 down in the 3rd and 8 down in the 5th test match, but could not force home their advantage and lost the test series 1-0.]
What makes it particularly interesting for me as a fan to watch these close test matches, is that they bring forward different aspects of batting and bowling. Very often, especially in limited over cricket, the attacking skills of a batsman and the defensive mind-set of a bowler are all that is on display. However, 5th day test cricket sometimes is about how well can the batsmen defend and cope with the turning ball or a wearing pitch or whether a bowler can pick up wickets when it is really needed. The tables are turned here and we find the bowlers attacking and the batsmen defending for a change. It tests those parts of a batsman’s technique or a bowler’s repertoire which one rarely sees otherwise.
As a cricket lover, while I do enjoy ODIs a lot and T20 a little, give me a thrilling test match with 5 days of brilliant cricket, any day of the weekJ. And with Test cricket now having a bunch of teams which are fairly evenly matched, I expect to see some more engrossing contests in the next few years.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


My first significant interview was when I was changing schools in Class 9. Prior to that, school changes had been handled by my parents and in those days, toddlers and kids were spared the horrors of gruelling interrogations on stuff like metaphors and the fibonacci series. At least that was the case in Patna in the late 1980s and 90s.
Moving ahead, the point that I am coming to is whether it is an interview for an admission to a new school, or college or a job, one of the commonly asked question is "What are your strengths and weaknesses ?". Or in management lingo, do a SWOT analysis of yourself, with greater emphasis on the S and the W. And if one has the company of experienced and sensible seniors and elders around, it is quite likely that people will advise you to prepare for such a question. I too had been lucky and would always go prepared mentally for facing such a question. (It's another matter that the answers would never come out the way I had prepared, but then that's another story.)
Looking back, the strengths and weaknesses that I mentioned in my interview (or at least planned to) seem a little different to what I say are my current strengths and weaknesses. Rather more disturbingly, some of the qualities that I used to think were my strengths might be honestly put in the weakness bracket today.
And all this brought me to think that when I was younger, whether the strengths that I had mentioned, were more the qualities I wished I possessed rather than them being actually the qualities I possessed ? Was it the case of those qualites being more aspirational rather than real ? And to that a few qualities which I think the person on the other side of the table wants to listen and the S of SWOT is ready. I tend to think, that was the case. Having said that, I also believe it is a perfectly appropriate way of going about presenting yourself.
Wonder if anyone else feels on similar lines on the topic ?

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