Friday, February 19, 2010

We won despite the stupidity

What a day! If you're a diehard cricket fan, you would have spent it like me. On the edge of your seat - perhaps your cubicle seat. Me? My work allows me to lounge on the edge of my couch :)
Anyway, it was a great day. After the pasting we received in Nagpur, I was certain that we would hand South Africa the #1 ranking on a platter. We just couldn't win without Dravid and Laxman, could we? Then came the news that Laxman would play. I breathed a little.
By the end of Day 1 at the Eden Gardens, we had engineered a batting collapse and clawed back into contention. Then four centuries by the four most experienced batsmen in the side ensured that we were firmly on the driver's seat. Sehwag set the tone. And when he does that, the opposition bowlers lose the will to live. Which, in turn, makes it easier for the batsmen who follow. But that takes nothing away from Laxman and Dhoni. They could have fallen cheaply and embarassingly like Badrinath. Instead, they stuck it out and gave us a large enough lead to press for an innings defeat.
We know what happened over the next two days. Harbhajan lived up to his billing - he does this once in a while while at other times looks like the most overrated cricketer in the world. Mishra too spun a few good ones. Ishant showed grit. And we managed to win despite the absence of our pace spearhead on Day 5.
En route, Hashim Amla made our bowlers shed blood-red tears. Talk about being on a royal purple patch!

But despite our heartwarming performance, I feel annoyed at the BCCI. More specifically, at the way they choose the venues for our beloved sport. Surely these folks have been given rudimentary lessons in subcontinental geography? Surely they know our climate patterns (considering that the incumbent President is also the Union Agriculture Minister)? And surely they know that we have one time zone for the whole country and therefore the light fades a lot earlier in our eastern cities?
Apparently not. There is a rotation policy in place for venues. And the BCCI sticks to it. Well, in a manner of speaking.
Nagpur has its very own "special rotation policy". Sometimes the first match of the series is played in the Jamtha stadium, sometimes the last and sometimes a match in the middle is played there. That's probably because a certain politician-cum-cricket administrator wants to ensure that the people of Viderbha remember him at all times. How else can one explain the fact that since November 2008, Nagpur has hosted two Test matches, two ODIs and one T20 match? You haven't heard a peep about this from any of our prominent experts, have you? Well, we'll let it pass. We'll assume that the visiting cricketers insist on playing in regions that grow oranges. And therefore Nagpur must figure in every series (and it has except for the India-Eng series in 2008).
But let's look at some other interesting choices of venue:

1) The first Test between India and England in 2008
The chosen venue was Chennai. The dates: December 11-15. Even a crackling dry city like Chennai expects rainfall in December. I remember my 7th standard geography teacher mentioning something about the North-East monsoon. This, if memory serves me right, affects the eastern parts of the country and is particularly active in the south-eastern coastal cities between October and December.
And guess what: the Met department issued a cyclone warning on Dec 9th, denying the visiting team sufficient net practice on the ground. It was a small miracle that the Test was played out fully and there was a result: a brilliant batting display in the 4th innings, especially by Sachin, ensured an Indian victory.
This brilliance, mind you, almost didn't happen. Chennai in December indeed!

2) The second Test of the same series
The chosen venue was Mohali. The dates: December 19-23. Peak winter in North India. A few score miles east, the Delhi airport would have been foggy enough to halt flights. Mohali would have been marginally better. Marginally. Luckily, only 18 overs were lost to bad light and that happened on Day 1. The match was a dull draw. It would have been duller had bad light intervened each day, as it did in Kolkata in four out of the past five days.

3) The first Test between India and Australia in 2008
The chosen venue was Bangalore. The dates: October 9-13. Well. Tough one. September is statistically the rainiest month in Bangalore. October is not far behind. Bangalore receives rainfall from both the South-West and the North-East. It also receives pre-summer showers, post-winter showers and pre-monsoon showers. In all, it receives a fifth of the rainfall the other side of the Sahyadri range receives. But, well, the point is, the light fades fast and it could rain at any time of the year. If I must schedule a Test match in Bangalore (and I don't see why I must, since we have such a poor track record there!), I'd do it in February-March. Other months, we're better off playing elsewhere.
And guess what happened in this particular game? Sachin and Laxman plodded through Day 5 and gave us a draw. Bad light halted play, just as I had predicted on my city column in the New Indian Express, which appeared on the morning of Day 5. Vindicated :)

These are just three stark examples from recent Test matches. If I start scanning the ODI venues, I'd find more such issues.
So to the head honchos of the BCCI, I'd offer the following thumb rules:
1) Play our summer matches on our eastern front. A city like Guwahati hosting, say a day ODI in November, is a bad, bad idea. Let Guwahati, Kolkata, Cuttack, Ranchi and Vizag get matches between March-August.
2) Play our peak winter matches in the western and south-western cities such as Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Baroda, Kochi, Panjim etc.
3) Avoid peak winter games north and east of Bhopal.
4) Pay heed to the monsoon. If you schedule a match in Mumbai in July, you're making a mockery of the sport and showing disrespect to its fans.
5) If you want to ignore the single time zone factor, convince the ICC to allow the use of floodlights in Test matches. The white apparels will not get tainted by artificial light. No, they won't.

Overall, it was a miracle that we won today at the Eden Gardens, given that we lost two-thirds of Day 4 to bad weather. Had Morkel survived another 4 overs, we'd have been cursing the weather Gods instead of cursing the decision-makers.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mrs Craddock was nice

Keeping me company these past couple of weeks was one of William Somerset Maugham's lesser known novels - Mrs Craddock.
If you are a keen reader of Maugham, you'll realize by the third page that this is an early work of a writer still seeking his artistic voice. It's more verbose and stylistically less accomplished. It uses unpalatable writing techniques to offer insights into the human psyche - Maugham's biggest strength in later years.
But it's still the work of a master. Because by Page 30, the characters have gripped you and you feel compelled to read through the placid plot.
I especially loved this quote in chapter 30: "I've learned by long experience that people generally keep their vices to themselves, but insist on throwing their virtues in your face."
Now how true is that? The racuous crusaders of today - me included - can benefit from mulling over these words. And doesn't the true angel seal her lips to brighten her halo?

P.S: For those of my dear readers who haven't read Maugham, I have a question: do you think breathing is synonymous with living? It isn't. And you haven't lived till you've read The Moon and Sixpence. Read it to be inspired. And to know that Howard Roark - Ayn Rand's unforgettable character from the novel The Fountainhead - had a predecessor. His name was Charles Strickland.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

To all my guardian angels

Writing this from a cyber cafe in Bhubaneswar. It's going to be a sentimental post, so if you aren't in the mood, read no further.
The last 30 months of my life have been as pleasant as the dentist's drill for reasons that most of you are well aware of. And yet I found the past fortnight to be particularly jarring on the nerves. As if the dentist's drill smelled of the last patient's puke, resembled a jackhammer, was sluiced with infected blood and had been hooked to a Dolby system.
In other words, I've been dealing with a nightmarish legal matter, a matter that enunciates the massive failure of another person and I. At the end of this legal battle, neither of us will emerge winners. But I must fight this battle for the sake of someone more precious than I.
Wow! I never thought I'll dare blog about this, even in a cryptic way. But hold on. This blog post, at least, gets happier.
So here I am, in Bhubaneswar, after a fortnight that offered the following:
1) Weeks of creative client work squeezed into days
2) Brief time capsules to heal the unfinished-ness of my novella
3) Long days of travel &
4) Last but not the least: legal jaw-jaw, sleepless nights & deadlines that only I cared about.

And just when I was wrapping up the humongous legal document, a day before it had to be filed in court, I lost my wallet. Just like that. It contained replaceable items like my ATM/Debit cards, PAN card, a respectable stash of dough and visiting cards. It also contained a few irreplaceable personal effects:
1) A happy photograph
2) A lovely hand-written letter that did much to nullify the pain of the legal matter
3) A one-dollar bus ticket that, in Milwaukee, would have taken me from Juneau Ave to the city library on Wisconsin & 9th.
4) A recipe that contained the secrets of my mother's world-famous sambhar

Anyway, you could imagine my plight. I would have had no option but to beg outside Bhubaneswar station to pay for the legal paper and the printing charges and the notary's fee. Thankfully, I was not alone. I was a welcome guest at the Malu household.
I've known Chandan Malu since 1997. His wife Swati is fast becoming an equally good friend of mine - just as sweet and dependable.
Swati, as flustered as me, helped me search for the wallet. We soon gave it up as a lost cause, and she called Chandan and gave him the news. Chandan, who had much work pending in the office, swiped out without another thought, rushed to the nearest ATM, withdrew some money, arrived home, searched for the wallet himself, then escorted me to the lawyer's house - on the other side of the city. He sat patiently as I indulged in the by-now familiar legal jaw-jaw. We then went searching for a printer who had the ability and the desire to patiently take printouts on legal paper. We finally found one, finished the mind-numbing chore and left in his car only to discover that some of the pages had to be reprinted. Without a word, he turned the car, back towards the printer. This time, we finished that task well and then went for a late biryani dinner. Despite being dog-tired, he then drove me to the police station to file a complaint about the missing wallet (I needed this to travel back on Indian Railways using my e-Ticket.) He then drove to another ATM to withdraw sufficient money for my use. We reached home where Swati was anxiously awaiting our return. She wouldn't rest till the Debit cards were blocked. Chandan sat through the whole thing, as I called a million numbers to get the cards blocked.
The next morning, as I left for the ordeal, there wasn't sufficient time for Swati to give me breakfast. So she found a packet of sliced cake - which I consumed on the court premises, while waiting for my tardy lawyer.
Ever since, they have been calling and ensuring that I'm doing well.
And this is not the first time that the Malus have showered their love and hospitality on me. Whenever I come to Bhubaneswar, they open their doors with a smile. I don't know what I've done to deserve friends like them.

Today, I think back about those million instances when my friends cared more than enough to help me out of a tight spot. I counted and am now certain that I have at least 34 such friends, accumulated over the years. And guess what: the list keeps growing longer! I must be doing something right in my life.

To all my dear guardian angels out there - thanks for being such beautiful people and such great friends. You are the reason the dentist's drill looks squeaky clean and smells minty fresh. Life will extract its pain. Meanwhile, there's reason to smile.