Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Test Championship

Till about a month back, the question on everyone's minds was "How do we make the Tests less boring?". Of course, that was until it was revealed that the most fervent followers of the game - the bookies - like Test Cricket the best as they make the most money from it! Well, at least someone does...

Test cricket is always termed by most players - former, current and currently suspended - as the pinnacle of cricket, the ultimate test of your abilities on the field. With the exception of Chris Gayle, who was then blasted for such blasphemy. Drawing on my years of playing test cricket, (our own street test cricket version where hitting a six was considered out, to ensure more measured play) I can empathise with that opinion.

But, my views as a discerning observer of the more commonly known form of test cricket will be suitable for the purposes of this post.

Professional sport, after all, is a microcosm of life itself. Grown men and women try their best to out-do one another while staying within the boundaries and rules agreed upon by the sporting society. The advantage being that while your greatest of victories in life may go unnoticed by the vast majority, in sport your smallest of losses is likely to be put under the microscope. If you call that an advantage.

But, for me, test cricket comes the closest to simulating the vagaries of life within itself. The great test matches in history have had the glorious uncertainities - from the sudden change in behaviour of the pitch on the third day afternoon session leading to a collapse, deadly spell of reverse swing bolwing turning the match, dropped catches rued for days, debatable umpires' decisions, players having lively chats about each others wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, etc - spread over five days swing fortunes from one end to another, with the potential for an action packed Bollywood spice fest with a climax to match.

I admit some matches can get boring. But then, so can life.

Test cricket is definitely not a shot of adrenalin for the masses like T20. Its taste is for the cultivated, the nuanced. For those who read between the deliveries, check for body language, ponder over strategy while the rest of the world just waits for the end of the day score. It is a sport where you can safely drift off into a world of your own, debate about the pros and cons of each move, without missing out on any action. It even gives you ample opportunity between overs, during drinks, lunch and tea breaks to have refreshing conversations about things other than the game. I may have taken it too far by thinking it is an ideal setting for a first date, but you get the point.

So, after this rather test match type detour, I shall come to the point I was making. Martin Crowe had an idea a month ago about a revamped Test Championship. I liked this idea far lesser than his only other idea - that of using a spinner as an opening bowler in an ODI. Though my response in Cricinfo's comments section was one of reflex. But upon reflection, I have realized it was the danger it posed to my beloved nuances of the game that really set me off. Anyway, here is my response:
I don't agree with Crowe.

1. The one-off contests can't replicate the beauty of a test series - a true test of mettle
2. The lop sided nature of the draw will give no incentive for the home-team to prepare sporting pitches. Incentive is works better than rules :P
3. Viewership will decline as a result of one-sided tests - most likely draws.
4. Only seven tests??!! and you are world champion??
It sounds increasingly like a patchwork formula made on the back of a tissue.. :P His ideas seem to pander to everything that is wrong with test cricket right now and gift wrap it into a short-term solution

My suggestion:
Emulate the football league formats (Premier and Championship), or even the Indian domestic Cricket Leagues (Ranji and Plate)
1. Split the teams into two groups of 5 based on current ranking - say 'Champions' and 'Challengers'
2. The 'Champions' will play a home and away tour of 3/5 tests each home and away during a two year period. Same for the 'Challengers'. Considering each series takes 2 months (for 5 tests) you have 16 months of test cricket. Still leaves enough time for T20s, ODIs.
3. The points system will be based on the hierarchy - Test Wins, Test draws, Away wins, Away draws, Runs scored etc to split the teams, if required
4. The bottom 2 teams from the 'Champions' and the top 2 teams from the 'Challengers' will trade places at the end of every two years
This will create a lot of test cricket and make it more competitive. The teams will be more evenly matched, and over a long tour will have opportunities to make come-backs.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems... I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation - Sherlock Holmes

Though, of late, I have been feeling that my mind rather revels in stagnation. After all, this post is a result of such an endeavour. I let you decide. Here is something for the exalted minds.

I seem to have a special talent in dishing out advice to people. They seek me from far and wide to gain my valuable insights into their eccentric little problems. And, in spite of having little knowledge on the matter, I always seem to be able to give reasonable and sound Plans of Action all the same.

Ashish was spending his summer vacations in the honourable regimen of updating his Facebook status message and wondering which Barcelona shirt he wants his brother to get for him from Europe. When tired of that, he would watch some mind numbing Bollywood movies to help forget the oppressive heat.

While watching one of the said movies, he got a brainwave. (Quite rare for the likes of him. Rarer still for someone watching such cinematic catastrophies) Why does he not write a movie script? But, he didn't know where to begin. Meanwhile, the plot he wanted to write about started exploding in his head.

In wild panic, he gave a call to his brother - the guy who prides himself in solving such irregular problems. Aditya had been particularly frustrated at work of late. He received the call with as much enthusiasm as an out of form Indian batsman would facing the Bangladesh attack.

After letting to his brother puke out his ideas for the script – while endeavouring to show professionalism by sniggering silently – Aditya came up with a solution immediately. As if he was born just for this.

He began by appreciating his brother's creativity.

"What you have got now is pulp. Sort of like tomato puree, if you will. What you need now is structure, a process. A well defined step by step recipe which uses your tomato puree to make delicious gravy."

Aditya realized he got a little carried away by the professional conduct and terminology. So, he came to the point.

"Start by splitting your pulp into scenes. Think of the most important scene in your script. Write down the names and nature of the characters in the scene. Choose an appropriate setting for it – the place and the time of day, the year. Write down what happens in the scene without dialogues. Do the same for all other scenes. Now connect characters, settings of different scenes. They could be the same characters or their relatives. It could be the same setting but in the past or future. Connect some settings to some famous event in history/news. Start writing dialogues.”

Ashish felt rejuvenated, clear headed. As Aditya's clients always do after having a session with him.

Aditya felt masterful, majestic. As he always does after he is done with his clients.

Ashish would do alright, he thought. After all, he could certainly do better than the buggers he was watching. The only problem was his inspiration were the same buggers.

"It is indeed a pity that the success of my gift can never be actually measured, since most of the recipients choose to ignorantly ignore it. This unfortunate course of action only causes these lesser mortals more suffering”, thought Aditya ruefully expressing his humble opinion to himself.

The worst vice is advice
Vanity is my favourite sin
Al Pacino as the devil in The Devil's Advocate

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Rhetorical Retort

The Supreme Court of India recently threw out petitions seeking legal prohibitions on the "immorality" involved in pre-marital sex and live-in relationships. While the honorable Court refused to delve into the moral aspects and summarily discarded with the petitions on legal grounds, an article in The Hindu - the mouthpiece of the Indian intelligentsia argued how such a legal judgment could serve to encourage the misguided youth from trying more such "experiments".

I took it upon myself to argue (as is my wont) back. Here is a copy of the article I sent as an entry to the newspaper:

Aligning the alien

I count myself as one of the youth of today. And though I am not an aggressive proponent for pre-marital sex or live-in relationships, I was shaken enough to write this response.

The author has clearly misunderstood the raison d’etre of live-in relationships. They are not quite the seed of convenience as much as cynicism. In fact, it may well be countered that marriage is the epitome of convenience. It suits the families, who get together and control the future of their young; the prospective groom, who chooses his bride with careful scrutiny and seeks payment for the efforts; the bride, who is promised all the comforts and security while she can help propagate the progeny of her hard-at-work husband. It works great for the rest of the society too as they have a gala event with customary lunches and parties to boot. It seems not a coincidence that the phrase ‘marriage of convenience’ was coined so.

Marriage is not a perfect system. Neither are live-in relationships. Both can cause anguish and pain with moments of happiness. Both need a lot of effort to be put in. To trivialize live-in relationships – a reality in today’s India – will alienate more than align the youth to society’s views as the author puts them. The hesitation to take the “plunge” - a lexical faux pas - is not as unfathomable as we are led to believe. While I don’t pretend to have personal experience to draw on, I can certainly take a shot at painting a probable picture.

In an expansively expanding economic frontier, youth of today increasingly find themselves torn off from homes and working in an alien city. Being humans, they crave care and companionship to combat loneliness; but not at the cost of their fledgling careers. Marriage brings with it pressures from society that become a burden for the ambitious. Relationships based on mutual trust, respect and support ensue. They might not always finish in ‘happily ever after’, but such endings are rather limited to the silver screen or children’s fables; certainly by no means ensured by marriage. With the ever increasing rate of divorces and unhappy marriages, can you blame a touch of cynicism sneaking in?

On the question of pre-marital sex, I find the article to be entirely misleading. Maybe I missed something in my biology class, but in what sense can sex between consenting adults be termed “extremely dangerous”? Assuming the use of standard conventions for protection, one can rule out the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases. Unwanted pregnancies are avoidable and I hope I do not need to remind the readers of the multiple options available.

On a purely dialectical basis, the Indian society’s view-point on pre-marital sex can be argued as a little hypocritical. If the matching of castes and horoscopes is so important to ensure the harmonious co-habitation of the couple, then why is sexual compatibility – a tangibly more critical element – ignored? Besides, the concept of treating sex as a dark shameful secret is historically puritanical and is rooted in the medieval cultures coming from the west. Many fa├žades on ancient Indian temples bear testimony to this theory.

It is not my intention to suggest pre-marital sex to all couples who are getting married, or give prescriptions of live-in relationships to depressed urban youth. There is a certain magic marriage and (sometimes blind) commitment brings in its wake. It’s the pinnacle of human relationship, based on faith and mutual trust that continues to cast its spell on youth across the world. Deviation from this tread path does not bother me. But my soul shudders at the society which seeks ‘endorsement’ from the self appointed guardians for every deviant opinion or lifestyle.

I grant every society has certain rules, certain practices unique to it - together with its guardians who vigorously protect them and the rebels who zealously revolt against them. The co-habitation of these two groups is essential for the health and growth of society. Through the ages, decadence set in when the balance was disturbed. A mature and strong society recognizes a dissenting voice as a possible carrier of change to be nurtured, not a harbinger of doom to demonize.

The article was not selected for publication. The one that was, was a fitting enough reply but not quite hard-hitting as I would like.

Another interesting retort to read: What NOT to do on Valentine's Day
And an article on youth issues: Gandhigiri is irrelevant for GenNext

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Jr.

Since I posted my last one on movies a while back (seems like a lifetime back), I thought I should put up another post on a movie. At least, it will give an illusion of continuity. Just like the earlier one, I do not pretend that its a critical analysis of the movie. Its more of an outpouring of my feelings after watching it - more emotional than rational, which is ironic since the protagonist is one of the most rational men ever lived (in fiction, of course).

Sherlock Holmes

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law
Director: Guy Ritchie

File:Sherlock holmes ver5.jpg
My mind rebels at stagnation.

The familiar feeling of fascination swept over me as I watched the adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, played more than ably by the dry wit of Robert Downey Jr.

In all his roles, Downey Jr takes a rather deep interest of the character. Some say a little too deep. In fact, his role as the award winning, always-in-character actor in the laugh riot Tropic Thunder was suggested to the director, Ben Stiller by Downey Jr’s own personality. Even Jeff Bridges, while talking on an interview about Iron Man mentions how Downey Jr and the director used to make up the dialogues on the sets at their whim and fancy.

But, in Sherlock Holmes, he surpasses himself. Maybe, greater credit must go to the casting director as Downey Jr was a perfect choice. His obsession with his profession is remarkably similar to Holmes’ approach to his.

Of course there are other things too that struck me while watching the movie and made me see it not just as an adaptation of the greatest detective ever penned.

The most popular Holmes novel by Arthur Conan Doyle was, inarguably, The Hound of Baskervilles. Doyle could never quite re-create the magic before or after that singularly fascinating novel. While the other stories attracted the minds rather rationally revering the robotic reasoning of Holmes, they lacked the aura of the supernatural that the Hound put on the menu for the otherwise palatable.

This is where, Sherlock Holmes-The movie, played a master stroke. There was enough of the devious dark arts and end of days thrown about woven with the precise logical mind of Holmes, the beauty and mind of Irene Adler, the devotion of Watson that has made the age-old detective series into today's blockbuster.

There were subtexts too for the ardent movie watcher (for the more trained eye, as Holmes would say) The talk of using fear as means of ruling over people and wielding the ultimate power can be used ad pedem litterae in a Michael Moore documentary. Add to that the chemical weapons being used, the association to the modern world is complete.

There are other aspects which really make it a fascinating watch. The obvious and unbridled envy of Holmes towards Mary Morston and his bag of tricks to avoid losing Watson; Holmes fascination for the only woman who bettered him; the some might call excessive violence (but with a typical Holmes tinge to it)

Going off the script, maybe. But, there was nothing in the movie that degraded the original Sherlock Holmes. It was created as a commercial film so that Holmes gets a wider audience in today’s world. I think it succeeded by quite a margin. After all, where Guy Ritchie is involved, one can expect a bit of violence, I suppose.