Vantage point

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Daily SomeAchaar - ICC Announces Seminar on Sledging Etiquettes

December 28, Dubai - The International Cricket Council (ICC) has announced a seminar on the etiquettes of sledging, to be held on the eve of the 2011 World Cup. The keynote speaker at this seminar will be retired Australian pacer Glenn McGrath. South African captain Graeme Smith and current (at least at the time of going to press) Australian captain Ricky Ponting will also be among the speakers.

"Cricket fans have become vocally confused about what kind of sledging is appropriate, and what crosses the line." Haroon Lorgat, CEO of the ICC said when making the announcements. "Today's episode at Durban where Graeme Smith got upset at Sreesanth for sledging and Paul Harris later speculated that the bowler crossed the line, is fresh in everyone's minds. There has also been some outrage over Ricky Ponting in Melbourne copping only a meager fine for arguing with both umpires and the batsman for over five minutes. We at ICC believe that Graeme Smith and Ricky Ponting, as shining examples of perfect gentlemen on the field, could not have been in the wrong at all. Clearly, the fault lay with Sreesanth in Durban and umpire Aleem Dar in Melbourne. This seminar will teach cricketers and umpires once and for all, when boorish behavior on the field is 'part of the game' and when it is just not cricket."

Lorgat further explained that the choice of Glenn McGrath as keynote speaker was a no-brainer. He reminded reporters of the episode when McGrath politely made an inquiry of Ramnaresh Sarwan about the flavors of Brian Lara's penis, only to be rather outrageously told by Sarwan to ask his (McGrath's) own wife. McGrath rightly felt that Sarwan had crossed some line and almost physically attacked him and threatened to decapitate him.

"Glenn is the ultimate authority on the subject, as his exemplary behavior throughout his career demonstrates. Whatever he said was polite, tasteful, competitive, and within the spirit of the game. Anything said to him that he found inappropriate was surely inappropriate. Similarly, Smith and Ponting's sledging or mild dissent with umpires is kosher without question. Thus, the ICC believes that the team of McGrath, Smith, and Ponting is ideal for teaching clueless players and umpires the rights and wrongs."

When this reporter contacted Glenn McGrath over the phone for a comment, the lanky great responded,

"Let me start by saying, Australia will still win the Ashes 5-0." he then went on to speak about the seminar, "I am glad the ICC has finally taken note of my real talent and asked me to headline this seminar. I am also happy to learn that Ricky and Graeme will be assisting me. In the past decade, there has been a disturbing trend of opponents of Australia and South Africa not meekly taking the sledging dished out, and rather brazenly, responding in kind. This trend threatens the very foundations of the game of cricket."

So when will McGrath meet Smith and Ponting to work on the materials for this seminar? Will there be slides or hand-outs?

"Oh, I just finished a conference call with Ricky and Graeme. The slides and hand-outs are finalized. They'll just contain a simple algorithm of self-help rules that will tell players what sort of on-field behavior crosses the line. Yes sure, I can email you a copy."

The algorithm, reproduced with permission from McGrath, the ICC, Ten Sports, ESPN, BCCI, and lalit Modi are -

1. Are you a Caucasian? (Y/N)
2. Is your opponent Caucasian? (Y/N)

a. IF 1 = N AND 2 = Y, then anything you say to the opponent crosses the line because it is personal OR racist OR obscene OR disrespectful OR all of the above.
ELSE, anything you say to the opponent is part of the game OR is par for the course for intense competition OR is something grown-ups say and do OR totally fine OR all of the above.

b. IF 1 = Y, then you can argue with the umpires' decisions, abuse them, literally point fingers at them, spit at them, and whip them with python skin canes, without any fear of being suspended.
ELSE, even the slightest non-verbal displeasure expressed at umpires' decisions is outrageously inappropriate, and must be punished with bans for anything from 5 tests to life.

"As you can see, these are simple rules that anyone can internalize." McGrath concluded, and before disconnecting the call said, "Mark my words, 5-0 whitewash is imminent."

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Monday, December 13, 2010


How do you know Twitter is definitely affecting blogging? Not just when bloggers (like me) who posted daily start posting on a monthly basis. That can happen for other reasons. But when bloggers who once ego-searched themselves on a daily basis now do so on a weekly basis. In such ego-searching, I came across this excellent post by Bharath. Do read. Very well said.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

On Masala, Kitsch, and "Leave Your Brains Home"

Recently I met some friends after several years. These friends were going absolutely gaga over Dabangg, quoting lines from it and cracking up. They were aghast to learn that I found Dabangg extremely boring. One of them said,

"Of course it isn't "quality cinema". It is the sort of masala movie you should watch after leaving your brains home to truly enjoy it."

I've heard variants of this comment in reference to several movies that I have hated. And I really, well and truly disagree with the conclusion, for Dabangg and for many other movies.

Yes, there are movies...most movies...that require you to suspend disbelief, let your hair down, alter your expectations, and prepare for a baser, melodramatic, single-layered variety of entertainment. I have watched and enjoyed many such movies. But even then, there are masala kitschy movies and there are masala kitschy movies. Some movies, no matter how much slack you cut them, are just BAD.

But in recent years in India, there has been an exoticization of masala and kitsch. The exercise of "leaving your brains home" has gone from being an involuntary suspension of disbelief to a self-conscious, premeditated and elaborate effort in justification. You know how the typical tourists who come to India make themselves gets formulaically charmed by the cliched colorfulness, noisiness, chaos, yoga, and spirituality? Many Indian film fans are figuratively turning into fanny-pack wearing, camera clutching tourists looking in on Bollywood masala.

Kundera wrote about kitsch -

Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.

Although what he wrote was in a different context, the point remains valid. Most Indian fans who claim to appreciate really bad masala brainless movies are actually moved and impressed at themselves for appreciating masala movies. It probably makes them feel less snobbier than usual. Also gives them the pompous self-satisfaction of appreciating something in unison with the unwashed masses.

It probably started with Govinda and David Dhawan movies going from lowbrow to "cool". People found themselves having a good time watching some of those movies, were probably unable to reconcile this enjoyment with their supposedly "refined" tastes, and concluded that the enjoyment they derived was of a meta-kind, arising from kitschiness. So kitsch became "cool".

Then the Gunda phenomenon happened. Finally, India had its own Plan 9 From Outer Space, a bad movie that was "cool" to watch and discuss. And then Farah Khan started making movies. She well and truly made this kitschiness being cool thing mainstream.

Until then, people who made unabashed masala movies truly believed, like Johnny Depp's Ed Wood, that they were making quality cinema. Either that or they did a great job of pretending to believe that. Until then, "masala movies" was a pejorative. Farah Khan went a separate route. She admitted upfront that what she was making were masala movies. She also threw in some nostalgic intention, saying she made her first film Main Hoon Na to recreate the masala magic of the 70s and 80s that she grew watching up.

With Om Shanti Om, she went one step further. While the atrocious dress sense and melodrama displayed by Govinda in his movies was organic, the kitsch Farah pumped into her movies was calculated and deliberate. And announced. People went from snickering at the kitsch to all of a sudden appreciating the meta-ironic-brilliance of intentionally putting kitsch in there.

Om Shanti Om was watched by usually discerning and hard-to-please elites, not as a movie, but as an ironic statement of kitschiness and nostalgia. And as an ironic statement, they loved it. I watched it simply as a movie. And I hated it. Found it beyond boring.

Now this post enters subjective territory. I am not saying that we always enjoy masala movies to enjoy our own enjoyment of them. I am not saying we can't actually enjoy masala brainless movies just for what they are. Sure we can. If the movies, going past the masala, kitsch and logical leaps, have stories and performances that make those 2-3 hours fun, it's a good movie to watch.

Speaking for myself, some enjoyable masala brainless movies have been Judwaa, Deewana Mastana, Dulhe Raja, Khiladi, Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, and Awara Paagal Deewana (which I found a lot funnier than The Whole Nine Yards). What made them enjoyable for me was that I found their stories interesting, several situations funny, performances decent, and they held my interest till the very end. Sure, these movies had memorable one-liners and over-the-top scenes that became topics of water cooler conversations. But beyond that, the movies had, in my purely subjective opinion, enough steam in their plots to last 3 hours.

With Dabangg, I was bored in 20 minutes. The Chulbul Pandey one-liners and antics that my friends keep cracking up at, I failed to see even absurdist humor. To make an apple-to-apple comparison in explicitly absurdist humor attempts, Salman's faux fight with Shakti Kapoor in AAA was funny. His weird ringtone dance in Dabangg was just too contrived.

I thought Om Shanti Om had a very weakly told story, which was quite an achievement in bad direction, given that it was based on Karz, one of my favorite masala movies ever. I am usually not a Shahrukh hater but his performance in that movie was truly groanworthy. The so-called twist in the end was stupid. And at the end of the movie, I just felt annoyed and pissed off.

It is possible that you hated the masala movies I liked, and liked the ones I hated. Tastes differ. I have no issue with that. But I get peeved when people self-congratulatorily praise a movie they thought was bad, but which was enjoyable if "you left your brains at home".

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Lara Crunch Innings Urban Legend

The thousands of man hours spent debating which one is "greater" - Lara or Tendulkar, far outnumber the thousands of runs both those men have scored. And the debates continue. As they would for a qualifier as subjective as "greater". Both men are inarguably legends, demigods not only in their own countries but throughout the cricketing world. They have given us many memorable moments or enchanting strokeplay and sheer genius. Which one of them is greater is less an argument that starts from first principles and ends on a conclusion, and more a rhetorical exercise that starts with a favored conclusion and goes on to provide supporting facts.

There is one side-show in the Lara-Tendulkar debates that has become somewhat of a pet peeve of mine. Many, indeed most cricket fans I know, including some extremely knowledgeable ones (and including some hardcore Sachin supporters), seem to take it as a given that Lara was a better fourth innings batsman than Tendulkar. Very often, someone will fling a variant of that claim my way. And it has me nearly frothing at the mouth, because it is at best a cherry-picking of facts, and at worst, an urban legend.

Le me first say that I absolutely LOVE Brian Lara. I have watched almost all his centuries live on television, whenever academics and work permitted. In terms of the sheer orgasmic delight of watching an elegant craftsman at work, it is my (admittedly subjective) opinion that Lara is miles ahead of Tendulkar. If I were forced to watch the recordings of only one batsman's innings for the rest of my life, it'd be Lara by a wide margin. But we're not talking elegance. We're talking 4th innings miracles. We're talking to people like a very good (and knowledgeable) friend of mine who wrote to me in an email - "Sachin's 4th innings record is decent, but does not match up against Lara's many 4th innings epics".

"Many" 4th innings epics? How many epics did Lara score? In fact, forget epicworthiness. How many 4th innings centuries did Lara score? Take a guess.

Two. 2. Do. Dos. Only two of his 34 centuries came in 4th innings. One of them, undoubtedly an epic, is probably the source of this urban myth. I remember my parents' indignation at my ignoring my first year engineering studies as I stayed up late nights watching every moment of that absorbing test series between West Indies and Australia. After Australia had garnered a healthy first innings lead in the Barbados test (the series in balance at 1-1), those two crafty men - Ambrose and Walsh, bowled with hostile intensity to dismiss the Aussies in under two sessions for something around 150. West Indies were set a shade over 300 for victory with ample time.

Lara walked in towards the end of the 4th day's play, at the fall of the 3rd wicket (nightwatchman). It was 85/3 at stumps, already a precarious position. Two more wickets fell within half an hour on the 5th day leaving West Indies at 100 or so for 5, still 200+ away from victory. And then that stubborn stonewaller Jimmy Adams stepped up. He crawled along, guarding his wicket against McGrath, Gillespie, Warne, and McGill for almost three hours, allowing Lara at the other end to unleash a dazzling but cautious array of strokes. There was a lot of drama. Lara and McGrath seemed close to coming to blows after a bouncer hit Lara on the back and McGrath seemed intent of following it up with some lip. Gillespie went off the ground after another one of his frequent niggles. And there was a lot being said all around; definitely one of the most sledging-heavy matches ever, with Lara frequently responding to the Aussies' taunts. But what spoke louder was Lara's bat as he played what is for me the best innings of his life (forget the 277, 375 and 400). During that partnership, he must have scored at a strike rate of at least 80, unleashing his full array of strokes. Vicious pulls and precise drives. Lara brought up his hundred with a lofted on drive off Warne. All seemed to be going well.

With Adams looking solid and Lara looking imperious, the target was now less than a 100 runs away. My mom woke up for a glass of water, approached me with the intent of chastising me for being up this late watching cricket and not studying, but was drawn into the drama. A few minutes later, we both groaned in disappointment as McGrath managed to break through Adams' stubborn defense, with a delivery that cut away, knocked back the off-stump and went to the slips. Just as Ridley Jacobs started showing promise, McGrath trapped him in front, with one that straightened almost miraculously. Nehemiah Perry fell on the very next ball with the ball cutting the other way. After Ambrose survived the hattrick, my mom told me to go to sleep. The match had all the makings of a typical West Indian chokefest, she said. Just watch the highlights tomorrow. I ignored her and kept watching. More out of recalcitrance than actual hope. 60 runs to get with only Ambrose and Walsh for company? Yep, the writing was on the wall.

I watched, waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it took a while. Ambrose hung around, even collecting a couple of boundaries. Lara kept going fluently. the Australians grew even more irksome and vocal. Lara was harsh on Warne, alternately stepping out to hit him down the ground and leaning back to drive him through the covers. Even Ambrose joined in the fun, changing his stroke mid-shot to cut a wide McGrath delivery to the point boundary, The Barbadians were going insane. Calypso music was blaring so loudly, at times it drowned out the commentators.

In just over an hour, the 300 was up. Less than ten runs needed. Oh wow, I thought to myself, they might actually do this. But a fear lingered, arising from a two-month old memory. The memory of India falling short of Pakistan's significantly easier target in Chennai so recently, after Tendulkar's dismissal against the run of play. Just as I was thinking about that heartbreak and Sachin's back, Gillespie who had returned after nursing his back, pitched one back of length on middle moving away. It seemed to happen in slow motion - Lara went for it, edged and it flew to Healy. I let out a sigh of relief as Healy, very uncharacteristically, flubbed it. Bullet dodged. But there was now a growing sinking feeling in my stomach that my mom might be proved right.

That sinking feeling in my stomach turned into a crater as just moments later, Gillespie bowled a similar delivery, and Ambrose, perhaps looking to repeat his point boundary, went for it, handing an easy catch to 3rd or 4th slip.. In came Courtney Walsh who back then either held or was close to capturing the record for most ducks in test cricket. Next ball - a no ball. It brought the target down to 5, but also meant that Walsh would have to survive an extra Gillespie delivery. He kept a straight bat and played out 3 deliveries. McGrath to Lara. 5 to get. Surely it would end happily in the next over. Kensington Oval seemed set to celebrate. Even Gary Sobers, watching from the stands, had a smile on his face.

The next delivery, the smile all but disappeared from West Indian faces. McGrath bowling round the wicket and wide off the crease sent down an incoming delivery. Lara brought his bat down, and the ball flew off the outside edge. Luckily it flew just wide of a diving Warne at first slip and was headed to the thirdman boundary before it was intercepted. Another narrow escape, and 2 more runs shaved off. Then, a sure sign that the pressure was getting to the normally unflappable McGrath as he delivered a bouncer outside off that went for a massive massive wide. 2 to win. Then another bouncer, this time well directed. Lara swung his bat hoping for a boundary, but didn't connect very well. Just a single. Scores tied, with Walsh on strike. Walsh now had to either score the winning run or defend against McGrath. If he fell, the two teams would have yet another tied test.

Luckily, McGrath was off target and Walsh survived. Lara back on strike, facing Gillespie with one run to win. The ball was decent, almost identical in length to the one that almost gave Gillespie Lara's wicket 2 overs ago. But this time, Lara moved perfectly, and unleashed that beautiful cover drive he's known for. The ball raced away. I roared in unison with the Barbados crowd, making my parents wake up. Lara, having completed a famous win, hugged his teammates.

See how awesome that epic was? I set out to describe it in a few sentences and ended up rambling on and on. Well, it was THAT special. It also came with some luck, as we saw. But in the end, Lara scripted a saga that was memorable and magical. And magical enough to build an entire urban legend - of his 4th innings winning expertise.

Barbados 1999 is where the 4th innings expertise begins and ends. Two years later, he seemed set to repeat his triumph against South Africa, but fell to Kallis short of a century, and West Indies ended up losing comfortably. Two more years later, chasing 400 or so against Aussies, he made a fluent century but fell with West Indies miles and miles away. A couple of seasons later in South Africa, set 450 to win in 100 overs, he scored an entertaining 80-odd but fell with almost 2 sessions to go, leaving Sarwan, Hinds, and Smith to grind out a face-saving draw.

All these other near-misses and failures do not show him as a 4th innings failure per se, but don't make him a 4th innings god either. Certainly does not make him "way better" than Sachin in the 4th innings. Sachin has some near-misses himself, the aforementioned Chennai century being the most famous one. But he also has two famous successes. The first such being of course, famously, his maiden test century. An unbeaten century coming in at No. 6 to salvage a draw at Old Trafford. The other being his last ball hundred at Chennai against England two seasons ago.

Even in terms of pure numbers, there's little separating the two greats when it comes to 4th innings performances. In fact Sachin's 4th innings average at 38.77 (49 innings) is higher than Lara's at 35.12 (46 innings). Sachin has 3 centuries, Lara has 2. Sachin has 5 half centuries, Lara has 7. And, interestingly, Sachin has 3 4th innings duck, and Lara has 7. These numbers don't speak strongly for either of the two gentlemen.

All things considered, both Lara and Tendulkar are neck-to-neck in this regard - 4th innings records, as they are in most other regards when it comes to debating which one is greater. I am writing this post not to claim that Sachin was better, but to say that it's too close to call.

So the Lara myth comes from that magical nail-biting century in the Barbados win. You saw how I waxed lyrical about it. It was unforgettable. But so was Sachin's Chennai century against Pakistan just two months before. Sadly for him, the chance he offered with victory in sight was taken. And that century is associated with a painful failing, not a famous win. In a parallel universe, Sachin's catch was dropped, Lara's was held, and people are touting Sachin as the 4th innings master, and Lara as the choker.

Thus ends this rather self-indulgent exercise in mythbusting. The next time someone says, "Sachin is great, but Lara's 4th innings record was much better" throw this post in their face. And if you were one of those who used this to bait Sachin fans, worry not. Let me give you another name. Let's see.... let me think of some random name - Smith sounds as random as any. It's very common and is often chosen as a fake name. So go with Smith. Tell them, "Sachin is great, but a dude named Smith has a much better 4th innings record".

P.S. Seriously, Graeme Smith has an awesome 4th innings record. So does Ricky Ponting for that matter.

Cross posted at Clear Cricket where I plan to be an occasional contributor