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


RIP Nelson Mandela.

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thank You Sachin !

I have heard many people talking about their favourite food. And I have heard a lot of people say that the food cooked by their mother is their favourite - Maa ke haath ka khana as they say. I guess it is an Indian thing. Perhaps it is a question of taste which has got developed from childhood, perhaps it is in its simplicity, perhaps it is in the love involved all around. And when you don't have it - you miss it a lot. 

Sachin playing cricket is the cricketing equivalent of Maa ke haath ka khana for me. It has been a constant companion since my early childhood just like Maa ke haath ka khana. Just like a mother's cuisine also evolves over the years with new dishes, while still retaining its inherent simplicity, so has Sachin's batting.  I have been captivated by his many avatars and styles - from the pristine simplicity of his early years, to its evolved functionality of the latter years - complete with its constant improvisations and adjustments - it has always been a joy to watch. Talk about love - there has never been any shortage of that - for Maa ke haath ka khana and Sachin. And By God - I will miss Sachin's batting - when it is over. Like I miss Maa ke haath ka khana when I am not at home.

I have been lucky to have been an involved, devoted fan of this 24 year journey of Sachin Tendulkar the cricketer. It runs parallel to my entire conscious life. Like Maa ke haath ka khana, I have known nothing better than it as a cricket fan. Not because it was factually or actually the best, but because over time - it had become a part of my life, my identity. It was simply a matter of faith, of belief, of taste. Some people will not GET this feeling that I have, but I think some will. Either way, it's fine. I agree with what Sidvee wrote when Sachin retired from the ODI format

To understand us is to take into account the moral, physical and aesthetic effect of Tendulkar. To feel your pain, when he retires (edit)... is to know what it means to grow up with him.

I think Mathew Hayden said it most eloquently:
When Tendulkar goes out to bat, it is beyond chaos - it is a frantic appeal by a nation to one man. 
Sachin has been trying to answer this frantic appeal by a nation for a long time. And by doing that - he enriched my life enormously.

Thank You Sachin.
Sachin batting: The closest to a spiritual experience for me.

Friday, November 1, 2013


Arsenal were rather predictably (at least for me) knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Chelsea - a club whose squad is vastly superior to that of the Gunners. Having said that, as an Arsenal fan - it is one of the lesser disappointments and compared to the exit at the hands of Bradford last year - it is an easier one to take for me.
Arsenal have lost two out of their last three matches - both at home - against two very strong teams - Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea. And while Arsenal after 9 rounds are sitting at the top of the table at the end of October, thanks to both good play by the team, as well as a kind fixture list so far, the tough run of matches has started with the Dortmund game and it is going to get really tough for the Gunners starting tomorrow.
Between November to February, Arsenal play 19 (if they win the FA Cup 3rd Round) matches : 14 of them in the Premier League, 3 in the Champions League and 1, potentially 2  in the FA Cup.
By the time January is over - 23 rounds of the Premier League will be over and we will have a much better idea of whether this year's squad are genuine title contenders or just 4th place hopefuls. And even before that, by 11th December - we will know if Arsenal have qualified for the knock-out phase of the Champions League. The qualification - which now hinges on getting results at two very difficult stadiums - Westfalenstadion (Borussia Dortmund) and Stadio San Paolo (Napoli), is extremely important for two things. Firstly and obviously - the club and the fans want to go as far as possible in this glamour competition which is financially lucrative as well and also helps in attracting talented players. But more importanly perhaps for this season - should Arsenal not qualify and end up 3rd - they will be dragged into the cesspool - a long drawn out competition which will be a massive strain on the limited squad resources of the Gunners and could ultimately hinder the title challenge of the Gunners if it remains on track through the winter.
Also in this period is the January transfer window and reinforcements - especially up front and also defensive midfield are needed.
The fixtures that I have marked in red are really tough matches, while the brown ones are tricky as well. This is going to be a long and tough three months for Arsene Wenger's men.
Brace yourselves: WINTER IS COMING !

PS: Apart from GoT - I must credit Matt Becker for the title idea

Monday, October 21, 2013

Premier League Points Segmentation

While much has been made of Arsenal's good start of the season so far; they lead the table by 2 points after 8 (yes just 8) games, there have been certain unique circumstances that have resulted in this position. Michael Cox has pointed out certain statistical quirks and interesting anomalies here which demonstrate that Arsenal's position at the top of the table might just be false or misleading. Not only that, the fixture list has ensured that Arsenal have played mostly teams in the bottom half of the table and have had a relatively easy start to the campaign. While Manchester Utd (admittedly struggling in David Moyes' first season) have already played against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City, Arsenal have only faced Spurs at home so far and hence it is too early to say whether Arsenal will be able to replicate their early season good form against the better teams.

And this brought me to look at how Arsenal and indeed the other top teams in the Premiership have done against different types of teams. For this (rather rudimentary) analysis, I picked five teams to focus on - Manchester United (Utd), Manchester City (City), Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspurs (Spurs) and Arsenal. These five teams have all finished within the top six over the last three years; Utd winning the title twice in that period and City once. I classified the teams in each season into three categories based on their finishing position in the league for that season: Top 6, Mid Table (Positions 7 to 12) and Bottom of the League (Positions 13 to 20). The Top 6 essentially covers all matches between the 5 sides plus one additional who made it into this bracket (Everton, Newcastle Utd and Liverpool - have all been once in the top 6 over the last three years). So do we get any interesting patterns from this data shown below ?
Note: Cells in Green indicates best in class for that category and season combination. Cells in Red indicate worst in class for that category and season combination.

1) Each of the teams winning the league over the last two seasons has been the best in 2 out of the 3 segments. Utd (2010-11) were best in class in Top 6 clashes and Mid-table. City (2011-12) were best in class in matches against the Top 6 and Bottom of the league. Utd (2012-13) were best in class against both the mid table teams and the Bottom of the league. In fact Utd were perfect (48 points out of 48) when playing against the bottom 8 last season.
2) Each of the 3 squads winning the league over the last season were the best in class that year when it came to playing against the bottom 8. Essentially the team that was the best minnow basher won the league. And this gives me some hope for Arsenal - if the current squad continues to be clinical against weaker teams they should be in with a shout.
3) So what can each of the individual teams do to improve or maintain their good performances: Quick thoughts:

a) Utd: Continue being the best minnow bashers in the league. 
b) City: Can improve on their output against the Bottom half of the table. Keep winning the top of the table clashes.
c) Chelsea: Have struggled against mid-table teams. Mourinho should be able to sort of their complacency (?) against these teams.
d) Arsenal: Very poor against the top teams. Grab a few more points against the big boys and continue to remain clinical against the weaker teams.
e) Spurs: They appear to be a good team against mid-table teams but struggle against teams from either end of the table. Can surely be better minnow bashers now with so much more quality inducted into the squads. 

That's it for now - will add more commentary and perhaps data into this stratification. Would love to hear your thoughts too.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Architect

For someone, who has never been a fan of the Azzurri, Andrea Pirlo has been a bit of a secret love. I have not so much seen him play, but imagined him play more. I have often only seen him in action on the TV playing for Italy in the major international tournaments and his performances have most often been stellar - a Man of the Match in 2006 World Cup Final being probably the highest point. But really for me (given I am not really interested in seeing Italy win), it is the aesthetic pleasure that his game brings, that has always been precious. 
There are many types of great players and they appear to use pace in different forms. There are those that play at a very fast pace, often acceleration is one of their key weapons - think Henry, Ronaldo (both of them), Messi... Then there are those that make the game stop - everything appears to slow down, just for an instant, as an incredible piece of skill or control is imparted - think Zidane or Bergkamp.... Pirlo himself seems to bring the game to his own, languid, elegant pace, a pace which gives the viewer just enough time to think about what is about to happen next.
The good part though for you dear reader, is that Pirlo often brings out the best in football writers as well and over time, some of these pieces of writing have struck with me. So here are a few pieces of writing, of art, which try to describe the game of a player who raises football to an art form himself. 

Brian Philips on The Run of Play writing about how highlight reels cannot do justice to Pirlo's game.  

Andrea Pirlo might be the only player in football whose presence negates the idea of the highlight clip. He’s so subtle, so finely tuned, that he seems to become more invisible the more brilliantly he plays, as though football for him were the equivalent of keeping a secret. He moves through the match like the eye of the storm, like a center of low pressure, and is to the complex automation of other footballers like a machine with no moving parts. And his genius for remoteness is such that it turns a highlight reel into nothing more than another bit of noise for him to slip through. Pirlo makes glory look crude.To capture him, really to capture the way he plays, the camera would have to follow him without the ball, with the ball not even in the frame. It would have to show the way he drifts and watches, judges and glides, the way he moves as if movement were thinking. If would have to show the angles as the angles appeared to him, and to him alone of everyone watching the match. It would have to show openings three seconds, four seconds, before they opened. And then, perhaps, as he backed into a defender and slipped free, the ball could roll into the picture, and he could pause over it, hover for a beat, and make the astonishing pass while all eyes in the stadium were turned toward the run of the striker.The camera wouldn’t need to show the goal. By the time he made the pass, the goal would already have happened. It would just be a few more seconds before anyone else could see it.

But, while highlight clips cannot do full justice to Pirlo, they still can make us realise what an exceptional talent this man is. Here is Elliot describing this incredible golazo from Pirlo in 2010 ! 
So what should we make from Pirlo’s golazo?Well, at the emotional level, pure joy. He struck his shot like a pre-divorce Tiger Woods’ swing. While some players run to a game’s external rhythm and accelerate at key moments, Pirlo has always reminded me of a staccato laden soloist. In his heyday, Andrea worked the ball out of the back with aplomb, zipping around his own box and completing five yard passes until opposing forwards capitulated. But in the opposing end, his passes often fooled cameramen and caught the eye off guard. While some may confuse a slide rule pass for cunning, Pirlo’s use of eyes, head, and hips to wrongfoot an entire defensive back line (and fool a few of his own teammates) always took my breath away.

The story of Andrea Pirlo is one of the most fascinating of the last two decades in international football and if you, like me, trust Michael Cox, you may agree with the conclusion that he draws here of Pirlo:  Is he best player of his generation? Not quite, but he is the most important

The last link is a engrossing read as we learn about how Pirlo started off more as a number 10, how he had to move back in the Brescia team which contained the veteran legend Roberto Baggio in the same team, how he was influenced by Pep Guardiola, the mutual admiration between these two midfield maestros, the irony of how Guardiola replaced Pirlo in the Brescia team....

Pirlo is famous for his freekicks (penalty kicks as wells) and this beautiful article tells us about how he worked on his technique following the lead of the legendary Juninho of Lyon.
 "I feel a little Brazilian" he revealed in his autobiography Penso Quindi Gioco [I Think Therefore I Play] even referring to himself as Pirlinho. "When I take free-kicks I think in Portuguese, then at most I celebrate in Italian."He spends an entire chapter of his book discussing the inspiration behind them, namely the former Lyon playmaker Juninho Pernambucano, who is compared just as he so often is to the conductor of an orchestra only "with the baton between his feet," a player who, Pirlo jokes, "makes an 'OK' gesture with the big toe, not with the thumb."Completely fascinated by Juninho's ability to "invent extraordinary trajectories" and how he scored so many free-kicks, Pirlo felt compelled to learn how to do it himself. It enthralled him. "I collected CDs, DVDs even old photos of his games and eventually I came to understand. It wasn't an immediate discovery. It took time and patience."
Pirlo's less talked about defensive side of the game is no less effective, and here in this article titled  "The Humanity of the Defensive Midfielder on IBWM", the author in the below paragraphs writes about Pirlo and another contemporary great midfielder Xabi Alonso :
 He (Xabi Alonso), along with the great Andrea Pirlo, is the epitome of the concept of the deep-lying playmaker: a stoic yet vital piece of an organic machine, giving direction and control to the boat lain before it. They can tackle (Pirlo is especially underrated defensively), but are most exceptional at turning defense to attack in an instant, starting counterattacks with incisive long-range passes from a place that allows them to follow the play and offer themselves as an outlet for under-pressure attackers up ahead.To be sure, there are other talented players out there who fulfill this particular role. But Pirlo and Alonso share a particularly unfazed demeanor that makes it easy to imagine one of them in a captain's hat, chinos, and boat shoes (red socks), silently steering a lifeboat through the night. They make their passengers feel relaxed enough to enjoy a cup of hot cocoa while swaddled beneath wool blankets to protect against the chill of the icy waters. They are distinct because they offer more than a mere able hand. They offer imagination, warmth, and incisive passing without sacrificing defensive prowess or positioning. More than anything, they offer an aura: Look, I know I'm a badass. You know I'm a badass. 
The more one reads about Pirlo, the more one realises that he is part of a very select, rare group of beautiful, ball playing, creative central midfielders. And often the pieces involving Pirlo also talk about his contemporaries: Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Juninho, Paul Scholes, Juan Roman Riquelme. This piece (again from Michael Cox), written at the time of the Euros, before the Italy-Spain group match, celebrates the three amigos, Xavi, Xabi & Pirlo and the beauty of their game.
These three are the true greats: physically unremarkable yet outstandingly talented. Quiet off the pitch, yet leaders on it.All are now into their thirties, yet remain as influential as ever. This season, across Europe’s major five leagues, no player passed the ball as often as these three: Xavi did so 94 times per match, Pirlo 86 and Alonso 78.  It shows their constant impact upon games – they’re permanently available for a pass in the center of the pitch, never content to hide behind an opponent, always dropping deep, drifting sideways, anything to find a pocket of space and launch an attack.
For further insights (including perhaps learning about weaknesses in their games), read this from the same author writing this time about Xavi, Scholes and Pirlo
That is the fascinating thing about these players – they need a calm, patient feel to the game, or they can be completely overrun. The difference between the almost-great players of this mould (Carrick, Riccardo Montolivo, NĂ©stor Ortigoza) and Xavi, Pirlo and Scholes is that the former are forced to accept it is not their type of game, while the latter can actively create that type of game. That is extremely difficult against sides wanting to be powerful, energetic and chaotic – it is easier to hijack a meditation session and turn it into a rave than vice versa.
Finally, to end with another masterpiece, Jonathon Wilson pays a glowing tribute to Pirlo in this very recent piece of his. And as I mentioned earlier, the person getting compared with Pirlo is Riquelme, yet another amazing regista:
There is something rather beautiful about Andrea Pirlo—or at least the idea of Andrea Pirlo.He is, as Jorge Valdano once said of Juan Roman Riquelme, a player who preserves the spirit of another age. To watch Pirlo at his best is to see a game in sepia; to drift into a gorgeous nostalgia in which football was played without rush by debonair men who stroked the ball about.Like Riquelme, Pirlo seems an anachronism. He is not quick. He doesn’t charge about the pitch, and he is not one for conspicuous effort.His effectiveness, rather, lies in his intelligence, his ability to conceptualise the pitch in its entirety, to know where teammates and opponents are and where they will be, allied to a sumptuous ability to craft a pass.We call him old-fashioned because he doesn’t quite seem of our age, and we presume there must have been a time in which he fitted, but there never was such a time. Read match reports of the 1890s or the pioneering tactical columns in the SheffieldGreen'Un, and you’ll find just the same complaints about football’s emphasis on speed as you find today.But it’s nice to believe there was, and it’s a mark of Pirlo’s greatness that he can awake nostalgia for a golden age that never existed.
A great career is perhaps drawing slowly to a close as James Horncastle writes about his current predicament at Juventus. But for me - he will remain a quite unique and special player, that we were privileged to watch as Jonathon Wilson concludes: He’s 34 now and as his career perhaps at last is slowing to a halt, Pirlo remains an anachronism. Possibly, though, he is less a hangover of a golden past than a herald of things to come.

PS: For those of an artitistic inclination, this is Bonus Reading: Pirlo: The Art of the Fantasista

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Leap of Faith

It was a leap. A leap in terms of the money spent. Arsenal's previous highest transfer fees was less than 20 Mn GBP and to spend more than 40 Mn on a single player was a giant leap financially. 

It was a leap. A leap in terms of from where we do business. Arsenal, rarely if ever, buy from the top table of European football. To buy a player - in the prime of his playing life from Real Madrid is a massive leap.

It was about faith. Faith in his ability is what it appears Mesut Ozil felt was lacking at his previous club. 

It was about faith. Faith is what Mesut Ozil felt Arsene Wenger would repose in him.  And faith is what he needs - from his manager - to develop his game further.

But, most of all - it was a leap of faith. A new found belief - that yes, we can now unshackle ourselves from our financial constraints. A leap of faith it was, to invest such a big amount in one player - world class yes, but one single player. A belief that we can take such risks and not be jittery about it. A confidence that the corner has been turned.And when it was happening on deadline day, one just could not believe it. Till it happened. 
It was beautiful. It was audacious. And finally after a completely unnecessary, ill timed - interlull which was following a most exasperating and frustrating transfer window,  when the dude stepped on to the pitch yesterday, it was well worth the wait. For the Faithful.

Eyes on the ball
PS: Ozil's home debut last Sunday was incredible. Rarely has any new player at any club been welcomed with this love and affection. This pic depicts the madness quite well:

And talking about A Leap of Faith - well this is how it looks like !


Monday, August 19, 2013

Dick's Law

You all know about Murphy's Law. It basically states that "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong". Just under two years ago, I had written this rather long rant about The Arsenal and Murphy's Law. At that time it just felt so frustrating to be an Arsenal fan - one just felt that everything possible was going wrong for us. Injuries, Oil money fueled rivals, financial constraints with the move to the new stadium, a youth project going wrong and so on. But boy, that frustration was nothing to what Arsenal fans have been experiencing this summer.
I have tried to make sense of it with  Donald Rumsfeld and all that. But I found another law to explain this. DICK'S LAW.

Dick's Law states that " Anything that can go wrong in the transfer window, will go wrong". Here are some illustrative examples of Dick's Law.

Note: All players sign for long terms contracts of an unspecified duration for an unspecified fee. Unless they are free.

  1. If there are 90 days in a transfer window, you will really go to work only on the 90th day ! 
  2. If you want to sign a "top, top, top quality" player, he will not be available.
  3. If you want to sign a "top top quality" player who is available, you will be upstaged by a richer club.
  4. If you reverse the scenario and upstage rivals to sign a player who you think is "top top quality", he will prove to be a dud.
  5. If a transfer can be done for free, you will wait for one full season for that to happen and do nothing in between about it.
  6. If there is a player to be signed for $ X Mil, you will offer only 50% or so of the amount and piss off the selling club.
  7. If you want to buy a player but cannot quickly decide and agree the price with a seller, you will be upstaged by another club.
  8. If you think you are a Champions League club, you have the money to spend for both wages and transfer, you will be attractive to a player - you will be not - because the player is not sure of a regular starting place.
  9. If you think you can trust the agent of a player and buy a superstar want-away player - you cannot - cause the agent was smoking!
  10. If you think you can sign a youngster on the cheap, you cannot because he won't get a work permit !
  11. If nothing works, you just celebrate everyone returning from injury as just like new signings.
PS: The above was just for a bit of fun.

For now, let us just enjoy this masterpiece by Gunnerblog !

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Donald Rumsfeld explains Arsenal's transfer window

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know.
(Eg: We know Arsenal has bid £40,000,001 for Luis Suarez. Or we know we have fucked up our pursuit of Gonzalo Higuain).

There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know.
(EG: We don't know what exactly is the so called release clause in Suarez's contract. We don't know what are some of the deals, if any, that Arsenal are working. YAYA SANOGO could be the next Thierry Henry. WHO IS DICK LAW ?  )

But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.
(Obviously this cannot be explained but think Amauri Bischoff  - #Getit ? )

PS: In the meanwhile, you can always enjoy this ! 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Arsene 20: 13

 "The path of the righteous man 

is beset on all sides by the inequities

 of the selfish

and the tyranny of evil men.

Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will

shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, 

for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. 

And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. 

And you will know my name is the Lord 

 when I lay my vengeance upon thee."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

From A Hole in the Wall to A School on the Cloud.

Some random browsing brought me to this TED Talk Video. It is well worth listening to. Wonderful stuff indeed.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Walking the walk - Time for ICC to go beyond just talking about the spirit of cricket

On the 10th of June, West Indies wicket keeper Denesh Ramdin was suspended by the ICC for two ODIs and fined 100% of his match fee for breaching the ICC Code of Conduct when he claimed a catch off Misbah-ul-Haq during the Champions Trophy game against Pakistan at The Oval.
"This is regarded as a serious offence as it is the responsibility of all players to act in the spirit of the game," ICC match referee Chris Broad said. "I hope Mr Ramdin has learnt his lesson from this incident and that we will not see such behaviour by him or any player in the future."
Just about a month later - yesterday, the son of the above mentioned ICC match referee took advantage of an umpiring mistake and blatantly refused to "walk" after edging to slip. Now the incident has been justified by plenty of people saying that the batsman is not obliged to walk and it is perfectly fine to wait for the umpire's decision. Batsmen have been standing their ground since forever - so apparently what Stuart Broad did was just a continuation of what many batsmen have been doing - not walking. 

There were some people comparing cricket's predicament to the frequent issues of unfair play encountered in football. The comparison of a batsman not walking with the issue of diving for a penalty is not a very good one, for diving involves willful unfair play while the game is on. Perhaps a more accurate comparison would be where the defender has handled the ball or committed a foul in the penalty box and the referee has missed spotting  that. I don't think any defender actually holds his hands up and calls the referee to give the penalty to the opposing out. Sure, the opposition will rave and rant for a few seconds, but the game carries on without much ado in the case of football. 

Cricket of course is a different game, and unlike football - there is often almost enough time for the protagonists to consider - even reconsider their actions. (Of course enough time - that I mention here is relative). But I do believe that in the seconds after he had knicked the ball to slip, Stuart Broad did have enough time to consider what he was doing and that knew that he would be judged on the basis of his actions by cricket fans. That he chose to be more professional than ethical is his choice and I will leave it at that. And let us remember that Stuart Broad made his choice despite being an active proponent of MCC's spirit of cricket 

What I now want is the ICC to act in a similar way as Stuart Broad's father did and take a similar stand on this issue. Surely they cannot selectively apply their efforts to invoke the spirit of cricket and fair play. The ICC have certainly changed their stance with their punishment of Ramdin - from their previous silence on similar issues to providing demonstrable punishment. And now the time has come from them to go beyond their annual lectures over spirit of cricket and what not and keep walking the walk.  Will they do is the question.

PS: This from The Guardian where the Broad family has effectively reduced this to a laughing matter. End of.

PS2: Came across this video today, it is most instructive. Watch it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Winning Edge at Edgbaston !

It was a long frustrating wait before we got to see some cricket this Sunday. The English weather resulted that we got a delayed, truncated and often interrupted 20 over a side match to decide the final of the Champions Trophy. After India's slightly below par score of 129, England had suffered several initial setbacks, but were on course for the win with 28 runs to win from 3 overs. 2 of the remaining 3 overs would be "power-play" overs and both the batsmen in - Morgan & Bopara were well set. India needed something dramatic. At that moment, Mahendra Singh Dhoni turned to Ishant Sharma - who had been India's worst bowler thus far with figures of 3-0-27-0.  I was following the match on my tv as well as on twitter and my timeline exploded with much rage, amusement, bemusement - even incredulity. At that time, I tweeted that MSD had "gone full retard". I should have known better.
Below are excepts from 3 sites that were doing ball by ball commentary (or live updates) describing that over.
End of over 17 (12 runs) England 102/4 (28 runs required from 18 balls, RR: 6.00, RRR: 9.33)
RS Bopara  30* (24b 2x6)    RA Jadeja  3-0-20-1
EJG Morgan  27* (27b 3x4)    SK Raina  3-0-19-0
So it's 28 needed off 18 balls. Who's got the nerve? What a fantastic finish to a day of frustrations and rain. Does Dhoni bowl Ashwin now? No, it's Ishant. Vital, massive, immense over coming up. Now Powerplay yet from England. So it will be the last two overs.
I Sharma to Morgan, no run, swing and a miss to a short ball outside off stump...precious dot ball. Was a slower ball, so credit to Ishant
I Sharma to Morgan, SIX, clean hit! Short on leg stump, awful delivery, and Morgan hooks it away off leg stump with even elevation to skim over the boundary
I Sharma to Morgan, 1 wide, extra ball, extra run...that's pressure...sprayed wide outside off stump
Biplab: "Again Ishanth... Wats goin on in Dhonis mind ?". Ishant comes around the wicket
I Sharma to Morgan, 1 wide, another wide, he's losing the plot in this over, and this one barely hits the cut strip
MS Dhoni is the master of cool, but this will test even him
I Sharma to Morgan, OUT, what a moment! Zero to hero in the space of a ball. Tries to pick this up from outside off over midwicket, but it was quite wide and it looped off the bottom of the bat towards the man inside the circle. To be fair to Ishant, that was quite ballsy as he rolled his fingers across the seam and it deceived Morgan
EJG Morgan c Ashwin b I Sharma 33 (44m 30b 3x4 1x6) SR: 110.00
Did Morgan really need to play that aggressive option then? He clearly had Ishant in his sights. Over to Bopara - 20 off 15 needed
I Sharma to Bopara, OUT, and another! That could be the game. A short ball, Bopara drills it out of the middle of the bat but picks out the square leg inside the circle
RS Bopara c Ashwin b I Sharma 30 (40m 25b 0x4 2x6) SR: 120.00
What a few minute for Ishant. He appeared to be costing India the game and now he could have won it for them
You feel it's Buttler or bust for England now, but how will he cope with the spin in the last two overs?
I Sharma to Bresnan, no run, top ball! Blimey. Short of a length, jags away from Bresnan and beats the outside edge
I Sharma to Bresnan, 1 run, another short delivery, steps to leg and carves it down to third man so it will be Bresnan to take strike
End of over 18 (9 runs) England 111/6 (19 runs required from 12 balls, RR: 6.16, RRR: 9.50)
TT Bresnan  1* (2b)    I Sharma  4-0-36-2
JC Buttler  0* (0b)    RA Jadeja  3-0-20-1
The Telegraph

OVER 17: ENG 102/4 (Morgan 27* Bopara 30*)
Ishant. Swing and a miss from Morgan as he fails to pick a slower ball. But now a dire ball from Ishant, right in the slot for Morgan on his leg stump and he's planted that into the midwicket stand. Is Dhoni going to regret bringing Ishant back and saving his best bowlers for the end? Well, when Ishant bowls two wides in a row, he might be forgiven for thinking so. But then....
.... disaster! ....
WicketWICKET! Morgan c Ashwin b Ishant Sharma 33 Oh Morgs! What have you done? Tries to pull it from a length, but ends up just toeing the ball to mid on. Right back in the balance! FOW 110/5
... the batsmen cross ...
... and then next ball ...
WicketWICKET! Bopara c square leg b Ishant 30 A very short ball, and Bopara has smacked it straight to square leg. Nooooooo! Ravi, the clot, is asking if it was a no ball on height. Erm, not if you have hit it, son. FOW 110/6
... Bresnan in and he is beaten by a snorter. Gets a single off the last ball. What an over! A six, two wides, two wickets in two balls and then a jaffer from Ishant. We had to wait a while for this match to start - to say the least - but this is thrilling stuff. England need 19 off 12 balls
And finally some rather irreverent commentary from The Guardian
18th over: England 110/4 (Morgan 33, Bopara 30) Target 130

Perhaps Dhoni is trying to keep Sharma out of the field, keeping him on for another over, and he begins with a slower ball at which Morgan plays and misses. But the second one is dropped too short, and Morgan almost bites is face off with his alacrity to devour it, smashing low over square leg for a maximum. Sharma then follows it up with a wide, and this is now looking very gettable for England, as Sharma slings one that's so wide it's drinking Buckfast in the morning.

WICKET! Morgan c Ashwin b Sharma 33 (England 110/5)
Rich and varied expletives are uttered in a cloud of impotence as Morgan chases a wide one outside off - another slower delivery - only for it to rear up off the toe of the bat and disappear into Ashwin's troughs.

WICKET! Bopara c Ashwin b Sharma 30 (England 110/6)
Ok, this is deeply unpleasant and anger-inducing. That Bopara pulls down on a bouncer, and again, the ball finds itself in Ashwin's steel drums.

18th over: England 110/6 (Buttler 0, Bresnan 0) Target 130
Sharma's hat-trick ball rears up off a length and only just evades Bresnan's edge. What an absurd over that was, a six, wides, two wickets and very possibly the games, all in furious flap of arms and hair. This is gripping, appalling stuff. Dot, 6, wide, wide, wicket, wicket, dot, 1. Just ponder that for a moment.

What happened in that over was quite unbelievable as India were able to close out the game with Jadeja and Ashwin bowling the final two overs well enough.

The Cricketcouch has examined more closely how MSD has come out trusting the most unlikely of bowlers in crunch situations and how those decisions have worked for him.  And in probably one of the best match reports ever, Jarrod Kimber captured the emotions and the drama involving this crazy final just right. Read it again, and again to relive those moments.

Perhaps it was not fair on England to lose the final in a 20 over a side contest in front of a crowd that made Edgbaston appear an away venue. Perhaps it was not fair on them to have a pitch that turned so much. But then, India had been far and away the best side in the tournament and got lucky at the right moments. You could not say that India were not the deserved victors. Perhaps it was just destiny.

Over the last 2 + years, India has now between every major cricket team (other than New Zealand who did not come across India in both the tournaments) over the course of the World Cup and Champions Trophy now. India did not win two matches in the W Cup, 2011 - losing vs South Africa at Nagpur and tied vs England at Bangalore. Both these teams were defeated in the Champions Trophy. To just go through the list again, Bangladesh at Dhaka, West Indies at Chennai and The Oval, Australia at Ahmedabad, Pakistan at Mohali and Birmingham, Sri Lanka at Mumbai and Cardiff, South Africa at Cardiff and England at Birmingham. It will be difficult to get more comprehensive than this.

Today is the 30th anniversary of the World Cup win of 1983, an absolutely momentous occasion in India's sporting history. It was followed up by winning the 1985 World Championship of Cricket comprehensively. 30 years later the World Cup win of 2011 has been followed up with this Champions Trophy success in 2013. The historic similarity apart, it is a remarkable achievement by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his teams. Winning moments like these come few and far between and to get two such moments in such a quick succession has been an absolutely brilliant experience.

PS: Here is Jon Hotten describing with great eloquence probably what I wanted to write about in the first place. I read it after I originally posted my blog - hence it appears here at the end.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Pleasingly dominant: India in the Champions Trophy 2013

India are tantalizingly close - just one match away - from winning the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 and finishing off an almost perfect tournament. I think (probably this is the general consensus as well) that no other Indian team has played this well - in the sense of being so dominant in winning their matches - on route to reaching the final of a major tournament.
For just about as long as I can remember, we have been a batting side, that has tried its best to make up for the deficiencies in bowling and win matches. The format of ODIs is such that you need to score just one more run to win and almost all of our success in this format (90s and later) have come up on the back of our strong batting. At the same time, India's lack of bowling strength has resulted in a lot of matches being close - as the opposition have the chance to remain in the game for a longer time.
So, it has been refreshing to see India win matches so convincingly so far. At the same time perhaps, it is a reflection that sides across the cricketing world are not too strong at the moment - a number of teams are struggling, going through transitions and facing a talent crunch as well. What this Indian team has done well in the tournament is to capitalize on the weakness of the opposition and be ruthless.
At the start of the tournament, no one was really sure of what to make of this Indian squad - a squad missing some of India's most experienced players. India entered this tournament as the reigning World Cup Champions and the #1 ranked side in ODI cricket and yet I am sure not too many had them high up in the list of favourites. There were far too many unknowns in the mix. It is also worth remembering that the pre-tournament shenanighans of the IPL and match fixing meant that there was a lot to be distracted about. But the relative youth of the side has resulted in an energy and freshness on the field that has been brilliant to watch - the fielding has been spectacular, the bowling - competent and the batting led by Shikhar Dhawan - dominant.
The One (Pic: Cricinfo)
India will face the hosts and one of the pre-tournament favourites England in the final at Edgbaston tomorrow. English cricket has been on the up for almost a decade now. They are about to embark on an 10 test - back to back - Ashes series against the currently struggling Australians soon. But before that, England have a great opportunity of winning their 1st major ODI tournament. There cricket has been played in a contrasting style but in Captain Cook, Jonathon Trott and Jimmy Anderson - they have the players - more than capable of winning them the final. But more than individual players - the English team is built on a method and in their own conditions are going to be tough team to beat.
India have a fair chance of winning it all tomorrow, but then so do England. It is an interesting thought to ponder, but would we celebrate the performance of this thus far dominant Indian team - a few years down the line - should they fail to win tomorrow. I think we should but it is a question best left hypothetical. It is also great to have a certain feeling back - the feeling of anticipation before an ODI final. Most of the ODI cricket played in recent years have been bilateral series and unless there is a decider involved - one generally misses out on the feeling of an all or nothing, winner take all final. The fickle English weather, a bunch of ball tamperers and a rather good cricket team stand in the way of India and the Champions Trophy. May we end up edging it at Edgbaston !

Friday, June 7, 2013

10 years and a clean break

If you were not born in, or too young to remember what happened in 1983, 2003 was probably your favorite major cricket tournament as an India fan. That is before 2011. 10 years on, from The year we huddled (read this beautiful piece by Rahul Bhattacharya in case you want a bit of nostalgia) and into 2013 and today's Champions Trophy, I suddenly realised there is not one member left from that campaign. Not even the young turks of 2003 - Bhajji, Yuvraj, Zak - heck even Tendulkar has retired from ODIs.
Have a look at the two squads here:

2003 World Cup Squad 2013 Champions Trophy Squad
Sachin Tendulkar Shikhar Dhawan
Virender Sehwag Rohit Sharma
Sourav Ganguly (C ) Virat Kohli
Mohd. Kaif Dinesh Karthik
Rahul Dravid Suresh Raina
Yuvraj Singh MS Dhoni (C )
Dinesh Mongia Ravindra Jadeja
Harbhajan Singh Ravi Ashwin
Zaheer Khan Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Javagal Srinath Umesh Yadav
Ashish Nehra Ishant Sharma
Anil Kumble Amit Mishra
Parthiv Patel Murali Vijay
Sanjay Bangar Irfan Pathan
Ajit Agarkar Vinay Kumar

I think in terms of proven performers, there were more players who were closer to their peak in 2003 than today - Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Srinath, Kumble - had plenty of experience - while Yuvraj, Sehwag, Zaheer and Harbhajan - all had great talent and potential and were coming along nicely then. In a way- they have gone on to largely fulfill their talent over the years and been the mainstay of India's ODI teams through the 2000s.
As can be seen, some people don't quite rate this squad. It does contain 4 members of the W Cup winning squad from 2011, but the huge squad turnover in just two years - itself is interesting to note. In terms of experience - a number of these players have been around for quite a long time - but only Dhoni, Kohli and too some extent Raina have ODI records worth talking about. The rest of the squad is filled with people who have the talent but are yet to prove it consistently (Rohit Sharma, Jadeja, Ashwin, Umesh), people making a comeback on the back of good domestic performances or in some other formats (Karthik, Pathan, Mishra, Vinay, Vijat) or folks just about starting of in the ODI team like Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Dhawan.
It is an interesting mix - but these are times of transition. The old order - the usual suspects - the boys of 2003 - Viru, Yuvi, Zak, Bhajji or even a batch after that - the likes of Gambhir for instance - are making way for the new. The ODI game itself is facing an identity crisis of sorts - with the ICC declaring this to be the last Champions Trophy - just when it seemed that this was a good idea as Sidvee explains. The world has changed - The Huddle then was what we did after a wicket fell, the Huddle now is what happens on Cricinfo after a match. But I quite liked whatever little I saw today from this squad. Perhaps it was more of me enjoying seeing an ODI match after such a long time - it felt nostalgic in a way. Hope this team does quite well and more importantly India develops a team for 2015 in Australia that will be proper contenders outside the subcontinent. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Arsenal 2012-13 - A Random Post Mortem

My favourite season review is by Yogi's Warrior on A Cultured Left Foot. The heading - Praise and Concern in Equal Measure is quite apt. When we began the season, like many others - I was myself not sure about how well or badly we would do - given the loss of Robin van Persie and Alex Song. In the end, I was left with the feeling that we got ourselves out of jail, by sliding above Sp*rs into 4th, but we are still a fair way from competing for the league again. So here are a some of my thoughts:
Per-fect moment
  1. Giving the captaincy to Thomas Vermaelen was a mistake: Arsenal needed a new captain at the start of the season, given that their previous one left the club and Arsene Wenger's decision to appoint the previous vice captain was a mistake in hindsight. What it meant was that previous season's best defender Laurent Koscielny struggled to get sufficient game time as he was left on the bench more often than not. Vermaelen's form progressively got worse and was finally dropped for good sometime in March. It is quite possible that it was his status as captain which resulted in The Verminator staying in the team for a longer time. Going into the next season, this needs sorting.
  2. Slow start, but good at the back-end: You could take almost any match that Arsenal played - at least till February or March and you would find that Arsenal rarely started well - but eventually got better. Arsenal improved significantly in the second half of the season and scored plenty of goals in the final 15 while conceding very few. I think this pattern of slow starting but finishing pretty well also summarized how the season went - Arsenal got 26 out of the last 30 points and every one of them was needed to sneak into 4th place. 
  3. Improved defence - Arsenal improved significantly since the last year - ending with the 2nd best defensive record in the league. In fact, the way Arsenal defended with the Mertesacker - Koscielny partnership in the final stages of the season was terrific to watch. Kieran Gibbs and when he came in Nacho Monreal were good on the left back position, but the right back position is a concern. Bacary Sagna had a poor season by his own standards. Goalkeeping wise - Wojciech Sczeczny improved in the later part of the season and Fabianski played well when asked to do. Perhaps, Steve Bould's appointment as Wenger's deputy has had a positive impact. 
  4. An improving midfield - Abou Diaby's injuries aside - Arteta (generally), Ramsey (2nd half of the season), Wilshere and Rosicky - both in spurts did quite well. Santi Cazorla - has been a revelation - and while he has been part of both the front 3 and the back 3 - he has done well in both positions. The defensive discipline of the midfield was commendable.
  5. A curious forwardline - Theo Walcott was far and away Arsenal's best forward player. He improved significantly and his goals were crucial. Giroud and Podolski had mixed first seasons - there is plenty of scope to improve for them. Gervinho disappointed except in a few patches and Oxlade Chamberlain has  plenty of scope to develop. Arsenal lacked that one world class player who could make the difference in big games and it is an area they must strengthen for the next season. The positive to take away from all this - no longer reliant on one main man - goals and assists well spread out.
  6. Injuries - I don't have the statistics - but it just felt that Arsenal were less hamstrung by injuries than many of the past seasons.
  7. Diabolical in cup games: Probably for the first time in Arsene Wenger's time were Arsenal beaten - and not once but twice by lower league teams in the two domestic cups. Massive disappointment that.
  8. Poor vs the top 5:  Other than the 2nd 5-2 win vs Sp*rs at the Emirates - Arsenal did not win any other match vs the top 5 sides and probably lacking that world class player(s) who could be decisive in these sort of contests was the reason.
  9. The "British core": Arsene Wenger used to maintain that he did not care about the passport of his players and Arsenal have been much criticized in the past for not fielding enough English players. Interestingly enough though, now we have 6 young players who are all going to be in the first team squad - Wilshere, Ramsey, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jenkinson and Theo Walcott, who are on long term contracts and who happen to be British. If nothing else, this should help keep some continuity in the squad for the foreseeable future. 
  10. A more pragmatic approach: Arsenal were rarely fluent this season when in attack - this was a very un-Arsene Wenger-like team. Yes, there were spurts such as vs Newcastle game at the Emirates where everything seemed to click but overall - defensive solidarity came at the expense of attacking fluidity. And eventually - enough One - Nils to the Arsenal at the end of the season were crucial in gaining Champions League qualification. The search for the right balance still continues as we enter next season.
This is going to be a long and arduous break from football with no major tournament in the summer as a distraction. Whether Arsenal will fare better next season will depend a lot on how much strengthening is done during the summer. Probably the end of August will be a good time to look ahead as to where we are.
What I really want is to start being competing in the league again. And perhaps sometime soon a match, a moment like this - May 26th, 1989.

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