Posted by & filed under cricket, Indian abroad.

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I was lucky to be at Lord’s this past week to watch an extraordinary game of cricket. Over the next two days, I will be writing more about my time there, the experience of watching a game at Lord’s, the food and drink at Lord’s all accompanied with plenty of pictures and videos. Before that, here is my take on the win and its significance for Indian cricket.

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Lord’s 2014 was symbolic. Lord’s 2014 was transitional. Lord’s 2014 was definitive proof that India’s next generation of cricketers are quite alright. It is as significant for what it means for the future as it is for being the team’s first win outside India in three years. If we as cricket fans are still glorifying our youth and bringing up Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman references, Lord’s 2014 was a reminder that old Father Time had moved on and it is time to embrace, support and watch a new group of kids who are possibly more fearless, more talented and more determined to carve their own niche. The kids are alright…

Ajinkya Rahane image reused under creative commons licence

Ajinkya Rahane born in Sangmaner, Maharashtra is all of 26 years old and 5’6”. Converted from an opener to a middle-order bat by team management, he took to the English attack on the greenest pitch known to man. Even at 145/7 on the humid Thursday of the test, Ajinkya mixed excellent judgment with the reflexes of a young opener to take India to 295. His second fifty was awash with boundaries to all parts of the ground with strokes that radiated experience way beyond his years. It is easy to watch parts of his stance, follow-through, walking and demeanor and slot him in as this generation’s Dravid, Laxman or even Sachin. Truth is he is none of them. He is his own batsman. He gives India a dimension and value it is very lucky to have. He did more on day 1 of a Lord’s test and in the first innings of a Lord’s test than the many legends before him. He is his own man and we are lucky we get to watch him bat. What he did on Day one was unprecedented and an obvious sign of things to come. He is doing quite alright.

Image reproduced under creative commons license

Bhuvneshwar Kumar is all of 23 years old and 5’10”. He is lean, slender and straightforward to a fault. If he wasn’t better at cricket than 99.9% of the universe was, he would be perfect for the role of the boy next door on any Indian movie or sitcom. Take a look at the photos he has posted of himself on his Twitter feed? This is every 24 year old brown male with a Twitter account. He is the boy every girl wants to take back to her mum. On the first four days at Lord’s and especially on the Friday, he was every cricketer you ever wanted to play for India. He was fearless with the bat playing more than a sidekick to Ajinkya Rahane on day one and to the Rajput warrior on day four. With the ball, he bowled a marathon seventeen over spell with the discipline, accuracy and swing rarely provided by bowlers to Indian captains of the past and present. He was the bowler Indian fans have always wanted and felt we deserved. He troubled the left handers consistently to provide cathartic relief to a generation haunted by Jack Russell and Shivnarine Chanderpaul marathons. With six wickets and 80+runs, he gave M S Dhoni the all-round performance so sorely needed to flip a test around. Bhuvneshwar Kumar needs our love, nurturing and support. He is not Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath or Sreesanth. What he did on day two of the test match especially to keep India in the game and hold one end up as an effective attacking bowler was unprecedented. For now he is the bowler we never had, the boy we all wished we knew and he is doing quite alright.

Image reproduced under the creative commons license

Murali Vijay is 30 years old and 6’1”. He is no one’s favorite cricketer. How little his second innings knock was mentioned post-game by journos was evidence of how easily he will be forgotten when he does stop playing for India. At Lord’s he was everything India ever wanted out of its opener. He left 200+ deliveries outside the off stump and saw thru tricky periods on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Alastair Cook referred to his inner steel in his post-game speech. You know who showed inner steel? Murali Vijay. It is obvious he has worked on his technique and attitude and slowly but surely developed the temperament to be one India’s best test openers ever. Like Mahesh Sethuraman mentioned on Twitter, Vijay’s second innings knock was one of the best knocks played by an Indian opener and it will only become more legendary and valuable with time.

Murali Vijay is not Sehwag, Gambhir, Bangar or Gavaskar. What he did on Day three of the test – do the opener’s dirty work and to keep India afloat and the swinging ball at bay was quite unprecedented. He is his own man he is doing quite alright.

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Ravindra Jadeja is 25 years old and 5’10”. He is the sort of cricketer that Pakistan seemed to produce in bunches in the 80’s and 90’s that Indian fans longed for. He oozes with natural athleticism and talent while bringing a dimension of fearlessness not seen before. He was at the heart of the controversy at Nottingham and the English fans booed him in unison thru the test. Indian fans came up with their own chant for him putting him in the limelight virtually every second of the game. He was nimble and athletic on the field, bowled with the precision and to the field the captain had set for him and batted with a panache unseen from an Indian #8. He will have some days when his fearlessness will frustrate the fan base immensely but more often than not he will be the dynamic all-rounder capable of turning a game on its head. He will be what India has not had in a long time and he will be one that Pakistan fans wish they had. What he did on Day four of the test was the kind of all-round performance that the domestic system did not seem capable of. Sir Ravindra Jadeja is unprecedented and he is his own man and he is doing quite alright.

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Ishant Sharma is only 25 years old and already has been in more incidents of note than Forrest Gump. It is easy to forget how many bowlers only truly figure it out in the late 20’s and that Ishant is older than he really is because Ishant has been around for so long. He put together a spell of bowling on day five that Indian fans have only seen on the receiving end. He bowled to his field, bowled what the captain wanted and stuck to a line and length amidst minor carnage. Performance on the biggest stage has to override performance on smaller stages and what Ishant did at Lord’s should buy him the goodwill of fifty bad ODIs. There have probably been a few Ishant Sharmas in India’s past but no one picked up seven wickets in the fourth innings of a test to win a match for the country. Ishant Sharma is one of a kind. What he did on Day five was unprecedented and he is doing quite alright.

Forget the giants of the years past. Forget the scars of tours past. Forget the anxieties of a future after Dhoni. With emergence of Ashwin, Bhuvi and Jadeja as legitimate international test all-rounders, India suddenly has the luxury of playing nine batsmen and five bowlers in tests abroad. Rohit Sharma probably walks in to every test XI today but India’s. Ashwin probably makes it ahead of all the spinners across cricket not named Ajmal or Jadeja. Whatever your political beliefs, ‘Acche Din aanewale hain’. The kids are doing alright….

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Mahendra Singh Dhoni has played in over 500 cricket matches in just under nine years. He has kept wickets in almost all these games while also shouldering the mantle of captaincy in over 70% of the games. During this period he has achieve unique success and authored memorable moments simply known to cricket fans as ‘that night at the Wankhede’, ‘that knock versus Punjab’ or ‘that last over vs. Pakistan’. He has captained India to triumphs at two World Cups, a Champions trophy win and has held one of the most difficult posts in world sport with great tact and efficacy. He is at least somewhat responsible for the fearlessness his teams show chasing gargantuan targets in limited overs contests. He is also loyal to a fault (e.g. Ishant Sharma), judges talent poorly at times (e.g. Ishant Sharma) and way too defensive (e.g. Ishant Sharma) much to the frustration of the team’s fans.

As he winds down to the part of his career where wicketkeepers past and present have started to lose their motor skills (Dhoni has already played more games already than Ian Healy did in all forms of the game and for longer than Adam Gilchrist did for Australia), there is but one fault in India’s biggest star – His record in tests away from home. Outside of India, Dhoni averages 33.00 and outside of the subcontinent, Dhoni averages 29.24. These are numbers generally associated with the Mark Ramprakashes and Chandrakant Pandits of the world, not the most famous and successful athlete of the country. Dhoni has also led his team on some #epicfail tours of late losing 9 of the last 11 tests played outside the subcontinent (almost all of them fairly convincingly).

The five test series vs. England that starts a week from today is Dhoni’s last chance to salvage this pathetic batting and captaincy record away from home. Australia later in the year will likely be too much for this Indian side and there are no major tours on the horizon past the World cup next year. A 35 year old Dhoni may not warrant a place or will more likely be out of tests altogether when the next opportunity to tour England rolls around.

Dhoni batting in England

That is why I think India’s first five test series in more than a decade is all about Dhoni. It starts and ends with one of the certain starters on the All-time India XI trying to craft one memorable knock or eke out one series win away from comfortable confines. Forget India’s pu pu platter bowling attack or the much beleaguered Alastair Cook. Forget whether Virat Kohli or Joe Root or both will get to 600 runs before the fourth test even. Forget whether Moeen Ali will be dismissed even once. The story of the series for India is the success of their captain as a captain and batsman. Never has leadership by example been more important for Indian cricket and a Dhoni who chips in with 45 runs an inning could be the major difference in side composition, morale and the team’s ability to grind out enough days and hours.

Dhoni now more than ever needs to play a defining role in India’s test fortunes. Another insipid series with the bat or another winless series loss will put him a few tiers below his predecessors when the history books are written. If Dhoni wanted to add test match success & pedigree to an illustrious limited overs record, this is the time.

In some ways, the signs are promising. This English attack is a lot weaker than the ones India had to face on their last tour and England got worked over by a Sri Lankan team that no one will mistake for the Invincibles. Dhoni, Kohli and Pujara have also gotten one of their longest breaks away from the sport and rest can be a wonderful cure for most ailments. There is a good chance that the Indian batsmen put it together game after game and the bowling gets lucky enough once or twice to eke out a series win.

A full summer of cricket with five test matches is a fascinating and fun feast for cricket fans worldwide. MS Dhoni has one last chance. He can make this series his and take a much-deserved place on the pantheon of Indian greats. If not, this summer’s drama that makes Indian fans cry and mourn will be the fault in our star; In our captain and biggest star – MS Dhoni.

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One year ago (to the date), I wrote about finding vegetarian food in Taiwan. Taiwan is notoriously difficult for herbivores and the whole exercise of me writing that post was to make it easier for vegetarians like me to survive on trips to the Asian superpower-in-progress.

This post on the other hand is about searching for, savoring and enjoying vegetarian food in Peru. Peru is not a place where the vegetarian has to try and survive. It is a country of vast beauty, rich history and a cornucopia of grains, vegetables and fruits. It is a country that prides itself on its culinary importance (the word gastronomia was used quite frequently by waiters and bartenders and this guy is their biggest “rock star”).

Five thoughts on Peru though before I dive deep in to specific vegetarian recommendations:

1) Orders across the country in every city I was in (Lima or Cusco or Mancora) take a little more time than I am used to in the U.S. This is true of any place that does sit-down service and is not a fast food or chain food outlet. A typical order for two took about 20-25 minutes to be processed. Do keep this in mind and make sure you get to your place of choice before the hangry pangs set in.

2) American fast food chains are plentiful. Even in the remote corners of the country, a Subway or a KFC or a Mcdonald’s is not far away. If you wanted to survive on comfort American fast food you could easily do so outside of the 8 hours you spend at Machu Picchu.

3) Pizza is the national dish or at least it should be. I am still trying to figure out how and why this is the case but there are more restaurants selling Pizza than there are restaurants selling Peruvian food. The pizza was ubiquitous. Whether it’s Papa John’s at the Lima airport or a 100 square feet street food store, the pizza was the most popular dish in Peru. You’ve been warned!

4) People in Peru eat late. Breakfast service is available till 11 and lunch doesn’t start until 12:30. Dinner is usually eaten past 20:30. So if you are craving the company of Americans, make sure to eat at American times ‘cos the only folks at dinner tables across Peru before 8:30 PM are American tourists.

5) Peruvians do not seem to have a tongue or craving for spicy food. I craved politely and admonished loudly for “Mucho Picante” or “Aji Aji” but chefs across the country had trouble reaching the spice level that someone who likes spicy food is comfortable with. Carry your own Sriracha if you can!

Now on to the fun parts!

Arroz Con Verdura

Arroz Con Verdura

Spanish for Rice-with-vegetables, you cannot go wrong asking for this simple yet fulfilling dish in kitchens across Peru. Red peppers, Green Peppers, Onions and Tomatoes are sauteed for 5-7 minutes & mixed with local seasonings and spices. This is then served hot and fresh with a cup of white rice. I found this to be worthy of a daily lunch several days in a row. If and when coupled with the ubiquitous Cusquena, you get a lunch that is the very essence of Peru – simple, tasty and filling.

Inka Grill in Cusco

Cusco is 11,000 feet above sea level. It is a deviated septum’s worst nightmare and on an unrelated note, a shockingly good source of vegetarian yumminess. Inka Grill situated along the edge of the Plaza De Armas at the center of the city boasts of fine decor and stunningly tasty Peruvian fusion food. The wife and I sampled most of the vegetarian menu here across two meals and you really cannot go wrong. Our favorite dish was the Piqueo peppers shown below. These soft well-cooked local peppers stuffed with quinoa and herbs have an incomparable after-taste. I didn’t find the side of cream or local sauce to be required at all. The peppers by themselves were very tasty.

Piqueo peppers

I also highly recommend the Risotto here. It is chock-full of vegetables including asparagus and thyme. It is rich without being overloaded with cheese or butter and is just the right kind of filling. A plethora of appetizers including Huacataya (Andean potatoes) and Tamales make for great conversation accoutrements as you wait for the Ravioli, Risotto or Pesto Quinoa (shown below) to be prepared by the chef.

Pesto Quinoa

Chifa food in Lima

Lima is a beautiful city with diversity in its neighborhoods and outstanding food everywhere. The tourist-friendly Miraflores and Barranco neighborhoods are home to 100s of restaurants per square mile and the ones they are loudest and proudest about are the local Chifa restaurants. Chifa is a term used to describe Peruvian-Chinese food. It is the amalgamation of years of immigrants from Guanghzhou assimilating into Peru.

I tried Chifa dishes in Lima, Mancora and Cusco and one place that stood out was the ‘Restaurant Chifa Asia’ in Barranco. Their vegetarian noodles and fried rice were to die for. The restaurant is very bare-bones-y and the service absolutely sucks. These however tend to be the characteristics of restaurants that survive for a long time based purely on their tasty food and that is absolutely the case with Chifa Asia.

Chifa fried rice

In a refreshing turn, the dishes here are not overloaded with salt the way similar dishes in several Chinese restaurants across the US can be. The portions are plentiful, the veggies are cooked really well and the noodles even come garnished with tasty roasted cashewnuts. For less than 8 dollars-per-head, Chifa Asia offers a killer vegetarian meal.

Chifa noodles

Pizzeria Antica

Pizzeria Antica is an Italian chain that has outlets across Peru. We visited the one in Mancora twice and were very satisfied customers. Antica offers one of the biggest menus I have seen allowing patrons to choose from seven kinds of Pasta, 30 sauces, 20 toppings and Pizza crusts. The options are overwhelming and no number of Mojitos make the decision-making process any easier. Trust me, I tried!

The good news in all of this is that the vegetarian options are plentiful. I tried the Gnocchi with Pesto sauce and a simple pizza with cheese, olives and peppers. The chef took nearly 40 minutes to get these out but they were both great. Again, the dishes were less salty than comparable US dishes and were very filling and tasty. The service staff here was great and the whole place had a great relaxed vibe which made it one of our favorite jaunts while in the beautiful wind-swept beach town of Mancora.

Pizza Antica

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The only Indian restaurant in Lima

As far as I could tell google, the only Indian restaurant in Lima was the Mantra. The wife and I visited Mantra for dinner one night wondering what sort of Peruvian flair this meal had in store for us.

In spite of the music which was most definitely a 1999 Shah Rukh hits on infinite loop, we left satisfied customers. Our meal of Gobi Manchurian (Wet/Gravy), Aloo Gobi and Coconut Burfi was authentic, flavorful and satisfying. The restaurant owner chatted us up for a bit explaining how he procures many of the ingredients from the US while actually preparing the spices and powders in-house. The service was great and the crowd started to trickle in well after 10 PM. For those having Indian cravings, Mantra is a must-stop.

Burfi Gobi Manchurian

Chocomuseo

The Chocomuseo has branches across Peru and conducts 2 hour sessions and workshops on chocolate making and chocolate history. We made time for this in our first 24 hours in Lima and are very grateful we did. The folks here are as sweet as the dessert they work on every day and the 2 hour session involves roasting, grinding and tasting chocolate beans. The place offers up a variety of ways to eat or drink your chocolate. You can try chocolate flavored Pisco, jams or even tea.

We made a bunch of chocolate in shapes and sizes we liked and enjoyed them after. In a land renowned for chocolate and the cacao, Choco Museo is the must-see dessert spot.

Chocolate ground chocolate

Peru is a land where you are never too far from either the mystical or the modernest architecture. Peru is home to the potato, cacao and Pisco. Peru is a land of plenty and home to extraordinary food. Fusion, Italian, Chinese, Indian and local cuisines work hard to sate the vegetarian palate. The people are friendly and proud and I hope you have as funa culinary adventure in this great country as I did.

Muy Bien!

Posted by & filed under cricket, Indian abroad, Media.

Image courtesy Getty Images under Creative Commons license
America,

A very unfamiliar program will greet you this Sunday morning when you turn on ESPN2. Instead of the dulcet tone and canned notes of John Saunders or the 732′nd breakdown of the Final Four, you will be greeted with cacophony, terrible play-by-play and references to tracer bullets. You may also be greeted with loud, pouring rain. For Sunday is the day when for the first time ever, a cricket match will be telecast live on a major American sports network. The World T20 final is live on basic cable at 9 AM EDT on Sunday!!!

ESPN has steadily increased its coverage of India’s most popular game starting with live updates and previews on the front page of the website during the 2011 World Cup final (A World Cup final that was of a different format and is more important and very different from Sunday’s World Cup final. We’ll get to this later) and then showing the previous edition of the T20 World cup final on tape delay on TV to now showing the whole friggin’ game live.

I am 33 years old and cricket has already given me a lifetime of joys. Here below is a quick primer for the unfamiliar American. Hopefully it makes you want to stay tuned for the entire 3 hour broadcast and turns you into a cricket fan.

1. There are three primary formats for the sport that is played mostly between 9 nations and a made-up one called the West Indies. The longest of these formats lasts up to five days at a time and has been in vogue since 1877. For reasons unknown to man, games in this format are called tests/test matches. These games are actually a lot of fun but it will take longer for this version of the sport to gain relevance in America than it did Solomon Northup. The most popular format is the One Day variety that lasts approximately seven hours and has been around since about the start of ‘Monday Night football’. Until a time when the Red Sox were afflicted by the Curse of the Bambino, odds were that this would be the format that evangelized and seduced Americans but a skimpier sister who would only take three hours to put out stole its thunder and is now here to stay. The skimpier sister’s name is T-20 and what you will be watching on Sunday is the climax to its most recent World cup. Clear as mud?

Image courtesy ICC and under Creative Commons License

2. The T-20 World Cup is being held in Bangladesh which is to international cricket what the Jacksonville Jaguars are to American sports. Bangladesh is mostly irrelevant, mostly incompetent and gets to host the odd event that in turn helps get their vote in favor of whatever the league’s Dallas Cowboys want. In reality, India are the Dallas Cowboys of the cricket universe and the president of their cricket board N. Srinivasan is a Botox-free Jerry Jones but we can get to that story another day. India will play Sri Lanka in the final. Weather and the playing surface play a huge role in all formats of cricket and the conditions in Bangladesh are similar to the conditions in India and Sri Lanka which makes it no surprise that India and Sri Lanka are the last two left standing. These two teams neither have a historic rivalry nor do they hate each other. If anything, they play each other way too much in many-a-meaningless match that in many ways this is the most boring matchup you could have gotten for a final. You are welcome!

3. A T-20 game is split into two innings in the same way a baseball game is split into 18 (You see what I did there? Cricket fans don’t say top-of and bottom-of and deny the existence of the half-inning). Teams are part of a coin toss where the winner of the toss gets to pick if they want to pitch first or bat first. Late evening dew has made batting late a better proposition in this tournament. Expect this fact to be drilled into your head a few more times during the game. Once the toss is done, what you will watch is eleven batters of one of the two teams face 120 pitches from 5-7 pitchers where each pitcher cannot throw more than 24 pitches and not more than six pitches in a row. Also in cricket, the pitcher runs in from anywhere between 5 and 50 yards. The eleven batters will attempt to score as many runs as possible via hits between and around and over nine outfielders. Each batter however can be dismissed or be out once which then makes him not a batter for the rest of the game. As soon as the 120 pitches are done, teams swap roles and the team with more runs at the end wins. Any fan of the sport will tell you that there is considerably more nuance to what I just described but will confess this is kind of all you need to know.

4. Enjoy each pitch! Cricket fans call each pitch a ball and the pitchers as bowlers but who cares? Cricket’s bowlers deliver the ball over 22 yards with exceptional variance in speed, style and angles unless their name is Vinay Kumar. A good way to kill time during the game is to imitate the action and stride of the bowlers you see on-screen. Don’t hesitate to really roll that arm over.
Image courtesy Creative Commons license

5. Enjoy each hit! Cricket’s hitters are called batsmen and the top of the lineup typically has better batsmen. These batsmen pick up the speed and deviation in the air and off the pitch to guide the ball along the ground and in the air away from fielders. They do this with great hand-eye coordination, nifty footwork and rules skewed to favor their tribe. A good way to kill time during the game is to drink a shot every time silly analogies are used to describe what the batsman just did. “Tracer bullet”, “meat of the bat” and “flashed hard” are just some of the terms used to describe otherwise normal movements of the batter.

6. The median cricket game has more stoppages of play and commercial breaks than the median American anything. Use the gaps wisely to refill your brunch bowl, use the bathroom and to google the terms “googly”, “chinaman” and “N Srinivasan”. If you have kids tell them cricket has fewer concussions but more mosquito bites than any sport known to man and ask them if they want to play cricket. Their answer might surprise you or startle you. If your spouse wants to watch something else, tell her/him that what you are watching is something unique and rare and may never happen again on American cable television. Soak it all in and if at 11 :30 AM EDT you have an inkling of what is truly happening and who is likely to win, congratulate yourself. You now are an American cricket fan and a better human being than all your friends or neighbors. Welcome to this great sport. It comes in three flavors and offers you in return a lifetime of joys.

Yours Sincerely,
A cricket fan.

Posted by & filed under Indian abroad, Media.

At around 9:30 AM IST on Saturday, Rajdeep Sardesai (Editor-in-chief IBN 18 network) said this on his Twitter account -

Rajdeep has 1.3 Million Twitter followers. NaMo refers to Narendra Modi who is the current odds-on favorite to be the Prime Minister of India. He has over 3.3 Million followers on Twitter.

15 hours later, Rajdeep tweeted this -

Later in the day he said this -

Rajdeep is no spring chicken. He is a seasoned media veteran in a divided nation. He is very familiar with both the passions surrounding Narendra Modi and the way dogs are perceived by a lot of the country. Four out of every thousand Indians own dogs and 99.6% of the population likely thinks of stray, diseased and unclean street dogs when they hear about dogs. While Nemo maybe Rajdeep’s cuddly pet and is probably the cutest dog on earth, Rajdeep should surely have known that his tweet would incite strong feelings. If he intended to troll Namo’s massive internet fan-base or expose the vilest insults the internet throws at him, his tweet was excellently thought out. After all it was just wordplay.

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But apparently this is not what he intended. He intended no malice and was then apparently taken aback by the response from anonymous Twitter accounts who cannot be held accountable by any law or service provider. I don’t buy for one second that Rajdeep couldn’t see this coming from a mile away. If he really is as naive about this as he portrays himself to be, he is the dumbest editor-in-chief in the world. I for one, think he is way smarter than that.

Twitter’s most unique feature is in how easily it connects celebrities and regular people. Prior to and post-Twitter there has been no service that allows for easy 2-way communication between the rich and famous and those that are not. This leveling of interaction coupled with the anonymity and privacy that Twitter provides makes it the perfect breeding ground for overreactions, emotions and vile tweets. Basically any user anywhere can create an anonymous profile, say anything at anyone and not be held accountable for saying whatever. Right now I could tweet at you that your mother is a whore who slept with you and I could continue tweeting for the rest of my life. Rajdeep or any media personality should know this by now and pretty much anything he says is bound to invoke a lot of reaction including the vilest the internet has to offer because of how Twitter works.

So for Rajdeep to apologize many hours later and then play victim is ludicrous. It would be the equivalent of me yelling “Fire” in a movie theater when there was no fire and then pointing out how people were mean to me for ruining their experience. Only, there are laws and social norms in most countries that would result in a slap of my wrists if I did what I described here. Twitter for now is mostly lawless and Rajdeep should have known that reactions to his “harmless” tweet from over a million people would span the spectrum of human behavior and decency.

rajdeep

For a decade, Indians could not even decide if they were #teamdravid or #teamsachin. Being on one of these ridiculous metaphorical teams almost always brought out insults from the other. So is it any surprise that Twitter and Indians reacted to Rajdeep the way they did? It is par for course and one that should be assumed and expected if you are a media person of any sorts.

So as troll-y as Rajdeep’s original tweet was, his reaction was even worse. To point fingers at those tweeting at him and to play victim is much worse than his original tweet itself. Twitter is not right and it is not fair. But it is the way it is and the Editor-in-chief of a major news corporation should certainly know better than to not expect a gamut of reactions every time he tweets. Especially when he has a million followers!

Update: Here was Rajdeep’s response to my post. Thanks Rajdeep Sardesai for reading my tweet, my post and responding. It is appreciated.

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International cricket is going thru one of its biggest challenges right now with the menage-a-trois of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the England and Wales cricket board (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA) on the verge of screwing over (for good) the other cricket-playing nations. With the attention of journalists and fans on backroom dealings and cricket administrators, curious events in the recently concluded Pakistan vs. Sri Lanka test in Sharjah escaped many a skeptical set of eyes.

Image courtesy the Creative Commons license and ESPNCRICINFO

Strange events that transpired on day five of the test tell me that the question on whether the game was fixed or not is a legitimate one and one that should be asked. While I have no smoking gun, I strongly suspect this test was fixed.

Here are the reasons why -

1) Human incentive to lose voluntarily is high when the loss doesn’t cost much. In this case, the Sri Lankan team knew they would not lose the series. In this case the Sri Lankan team knew they were getting a new coach anyways with Graham Ford returning to Surrey. With respectability already sealed and the series unloseable, who is to say a loss and some cash were not the best outcomes for Sri Lanka’s players? This is after all a cricket team playing for a constantly cash-strapped cricket board (1,2).

2) This is the pitch map of Pakistan’s second innings on the final day at Sharjah. If Sri Lanka were serious about winning, wouldn’t they have bowled more than 20% of the deliveries with the negative line and length associated with pitching the ball on or around the leg stump and at a fullish length? I did not see every ball of this game live but watching the highlights and looking thru the raw data on Cricinfo, it does not seem like Sri Lanka tried particularly hard on day 5 to contain Pakistan.

3) The series had seen scoring rates between 2.4 and 3.1 runs per over. Pakistan had not averaged more than 3.1 runs per over in any of their innings prior. The pitches especially the one at Sharjah were slow. Suddenly faced with a must-win situation, Pakistan accelerated to T-20 rates to score over 300 runs in just over 50 overs. Azhar Ali (career strike rate of 39) and Misbah Ul Haq (career strike rate of 42) suddenly turned in to Virender Sehwag circa 2005 to play chanceless knocks that won their team a test. You can choose to believe in the spirit of humanity under adversity or you can choose to be skeptical of protagonists from troubled cricket boards and nations and I choose the latter.

4) The exceptional Andy Zaltsman who normally sees the forest for the trees like a wide-eyed visionary lumberjack outlined a bunch of curious statistics from the test in his article on Cricinfo. He points out how using Cricinfo’s behemoth statistical tools, he has encountered only one other test match where the # of dot balls was fewer than the # of singles conceded. And all of this was against the second slowest scoring team of the last four years. Zaltsman adds,”To concede 160 singles in 57.3 overs was a frankly superhuman effort, a landmark in anti-pressurisation of batsmen. There is much talk of “bowling dry”, to restrict the batsmen’s flow of runs. Sri Lanka bowled damp. They avoided being drenched by a deluge, but instead ended up slowly saturated, sogging themselves into submission with a steady seepage of singles, their tactics as effective as an umbrella made of bread.”

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If you were working on Ocean’s Eleven type of plot to fix and intentionally lose a cricket match, wouldn’t your recipe be – Wait for a Monday in December when the series cannot be lost, allow plenty of singles, tell everyone you had the right idea to win and then lose with a whimper and have the game be forgotten.

If I had any connections to players or officials involved or if I had any power to sniff around, I would dig deep into this test match. There are plenty of unique and idiosyncratic occurrences that can just as easily be attributed to malice and intention-to-fix as they can be to the human spirit and luck.

I think the Sharjah test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka was fixed. Someone should look into it.

Posted by & filed under cricket.

baseballhof

American sports media was all into the baseball hall of fame this week. The Baseball Writers of America (BBWA) voted three players into the hall of fame Wednesday. A sport that lends itself seamlessly to numbers and stats raises quite the ire and passion from fans on which individuals gain a 75% approval rating from an arbitrary group of baseball writers. Even the phrase “baseball writer” is an arbitrary and archaic definition in this day and age. Beat writers on newspapers with circulation in the low thousands have votes to the hall of fame for they are “baseball writers” while Nate Silver and Jay Jaffe don’t.

While there is a lot to be desired on the subjectiveness of the process of voting individuals into the hall, the fact that baseball has a hall of fame is for lack of a better word, cool. It is cool for baseball fans to learn about and have ideas on who the best players of different eras were. It gives fans a vision into timeframes they weren’t a part of. It makes for excellent debate and conversation. It truly connects the sport’s history, tradition to the fan.

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The past week made me think of a sport I am a much bigger fan of. Cricket needs its own hall of fame. It needs to be housed in a city which will treat the physical structure as a shrine. It needs to capture the greatness of those in it, thru videos, pictures and classic audio clips. It needs to be able to narrate the story of various eras of the great sport clearly communicating the conditions, the teams’ strengths during that period and the performance of the doyens of the time. While limited overs cricket is already 40 years old, the hall of fame I envision is primarily and largely for test cricket. Test cricket simply has been a much larger buffet of performances and players for a much larger period in time. It needs to be devoid of political machinations and hence hopefully unaffiliated to a cricket board or the ICC.

Assuming this utopian hall of fame materializes, what would be the broad criteria under which cricketers are admitted or voted in? Who lets them in? I underscored baseball’s subjectiveness earlier but there are some parameters under which those debates operate. In some sense, outfielders who hit fewer than 500 home runs or pitchers who didn’t pitch at a certain high level (Earned run average <=3 ?) for at least ten years are not usually voted in. What would such criteria for cricket look like?

Here are my thoughts on some very basic first-level filtering criteria, accounting for the over 130 years of history the sport has.

1) For the test match hall of fame, batsmen should check off at least two of the three boxes - Over 120 innings, average at least in the forties and played at the highest level for at least eight years. To me, these account for longevity, skill and consistency. For bowlers, a strike rate of at least 50, eight years at the highest level and at least 250 wickets should be the three corresponding boxes.

2) The voting should be divided and weighed between fans of the sport, statisticians and cricketers. Anyone voted into the hall of fame should be given an automatic vote on who else gets in. A 2/3rds majority threshold should be needed once votes are weighted and counted.

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3) Every cricketer not in the hall of fame should be eligible every year. This way, performances and perception of performances are allowed to change over time accounting for changes in the world around them. An Alec Stewart candidacy for the hall of fame doesn’t look so bad now, does it? Did it look as good in 2003?

4) There should not be an artificial cap of players that can get in to the hall of fame in a year. Merits need to be fleshed out comprehensively and not via a cap on the number of entrants.

It is possible that a cricket hall of fame becomes another horse trading tool. It is possible that criteria are even more hazy than baseball. It is possible that a cricket hall of fame is the worst idea since matches between the ICC and Australia were deemed official. But in every case and in every way, a concept that recognizes and charts the history of cricket, the stalwarts of the game and provides both a constant fodder for debate and a shrine to those who worship the gentleman’s game is a good idea by me.

Let’s make it happen! What else would you like in a cricket hall of fame?

Posted by & filed under NFL.

Image courtesy Google image search and the Creative Commons License

For the third year in a row, my friend (who was unfortunately born into the pre-existing condition of 49ers fandom) Mark and I are exchanging emails as the NFL playoffs kickoff. In 2011 it was in anticipation of a 49ers at Packers match-up that never transpired. In 2012 it was ahead of a game I knew the Packers would lose. In 2013…….

Dear happy and soon-to-be-sad Shyam,

On Sunday night, you sent the following text:

“Thought game would be a pick ‘em. Instead it is sf – 2.5. Vegas loves ur team. Not a good sign for me.”

First, let me say, didn’t I call this two weeks ago? Niners coming to Lambeau for a playoff game. Couldn’t ask for a better way to close out the season than the same way it started. Better yet, time for us to talk some smack! Perfection.

Second, take a moment to enjoy from where the Packers came. Given up for dead with Rodgers gimpy collarbone. Coming back, only to be given up for dead again. And Rodgers finally comes back in week 17 to lead an improbable victory and division title? That’s like the most gut-wrenching-est fairy tale season ever. But you’re in like (Matt) Flynn, and that’s all that matters when we get to the playoffs. Time to play some craps.

Third, you have to look at past history to understand the betting line. Although that 8-7-1 division title gives you a home game in the first round of the playoffs, you’ve got the 12-4 49ers coming for a visit and recent results haven’t been too favorable for the greenies. I’ll put it like this: Kap owns you pretty hard, with his legs… or his arm. Sure, you looked great against the likes of the no-D 8-8 Bears and the other dregs in your division ( Lions ), but how do you think the Packers will fare against a real defense? We already know the Packers’ D is hardly a fence.

(Aside: When is the NFL going to start rewarding strong “wild card” teams with a home game over a weak division winner?)

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That said, there are concerns in ninertown. The defense hasn’t been as stout the last few weeks; it seems to be turning into the porous version from last year’s playoffs. Sadly, Kap isn’t superhuman (Editor’s comment: Mark may or may not have sent the pasted photo here as an image file and said it reveals otherwise), and their offense is still a huge question mark. (Exhibit A: first quarter in Arizona versus rest of game.) And the Lambeau advantage shouldn’t be underestimated. I recall thinking the Saints would pound the Seahawks a couple playoffs ago, back in the NFC Worst days, only to see them lose in Seattle. It’s back to that crapshoot where anything can happen, so I wouldn’t advise the Niners to take the Packers for granted, despite recent history. I like the Niners’ chances, of course, but this is no way a gimmie. No playoff game is a gimmie.

The 49ers *should* win this game… and the right to play in Seattle the following week, at which point I will secretly hope the Niners win while proclaiming they have no chance.

Mark,

Watch this and then this and then this ….. I have watched live sports for 30 years and I have not felt a moment quite like that one. It’s taken me over 24 hours to gather myself and draft a coherent response. Seriously. If you had movie producers pitch you a tale where the star quarterback comes back from a nine week layoff and throws a game winning touchdown on 4th and eight in his arch-rival’s home turf to a teammate who was playing his first game in 12 weeks, you would ask them to come back with something remotely believable. So forgive me for my state of disbelief and euphoria after a Sunday like no other and in a season like no other.

So I am enjoying this moment and I am extremely bullish going forward. I think the 49ers are the better team and you know how I worship at the altar of Jim Harbaugh quite religiously and shamelessly. I can see why Vegas has your guys as 3 point favorites. Yet unlike the last three times when I had a sinking feeling going into the game, I am very bullish right now. Here are the reasons why –

A) This is the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era that the 49ers are playing the Packers with just a week between games. On all three prior occasions he had multiple weeks to get his team prepared. Jim Harbaugh with more than a week to prepare will get the better of most teams most of the time but with only a week I like the Packers’ chances to be closer to 50-50.

B) This game is at Lambeau in the frigid weather. I think it is cavalier to assume that the 49ers are a “physical” team and will adapt. I don’t know the last time players on this 49ers roster would have played in conditions like the ones they will encounter at Lambeau. Injury stats show the 49ers to be one of the healthiest organizations in the sport and I am sure Harbaugh will have the roster well prepped but if things get tight in the fourth quarter on Sunday, I don’t think the 49ers can quite keep up with the elements as well as the Packers can.

C) This is the second road game in a row for the 49ers and third game in 13 days. I am a huge believer in the impact of travel and lack of rest in the NFL. Finishing up in Arizona one Sunday at 4:30 PDT and to get ready for a game in the snow seven days later is hard. I think it plays a role.

D) The Packers passing game when it is on, is really hard-to-stop. A healthy Rodgers throwing to Jordy, Randall, James, Boykin and Quarless is going to be very hard to match up to however well your defensive line is playing. On familiar home turf in front of a deeply adoring, loud and clamoring crowd, the Packers passing game will stretch the coaching staff and secondary of the 49ers. The Niners defense is playing much worse than it did last year according to Football Outsiders. They were the second best defense in the league last year but are 13’Th best now.

Six days and six nights prior to the game, with the boner from Sunday’s game versus the Bears still very present and for the reasons listed above, I love my team’s chances. Jim Harbaugh will win more often versus the Packers than he will lose. He is the best coach in professional sports and if I had to pick one individual to run my team for the next three decades it would be him. But even the greatest lose football games and on any given Sunday anything can happen. Like this.

Go Pack, Go
Shyam

P.S: I love that we both are confident our teams will win :). When did that last happen?

Posted by & filed under NFL.

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Matt, Eddie, Tramon and Sam were making plays. Ridiculous, insane and you-have-no-business-being-human plays. Midway through the frenetic fourth quarter on Sunday, right after one such play, I was pacing up and down the living room like a man awaiting his cancer screening results. I was sweaty, pale and paying no attention to anything other than the game on the TV screen. The wife would have none of it and tried to bring some perspective to the situation. “You’re not going to make the playoffs…Aaron’s not coming back this year, is he? It’s just a game…”, she said in a voice that clearly indicated she didn’t “get it”.

“It’s not just a game. It’s not just about the playoffs. It is about rooting for what is good versus what is evil!!!”, I hollered back hyperbolically during the next commercial break. I gave her the 30-second version of the Jerry Jones story and how it felt wrong for a team that did it the “right way” to lose to one that didn’t. I am not sure she remembers any of it now. I even remember her laughing.

Tramon Williams

By winning a game they had no business winning followed by the Detroit Lions losing a heartbreaker at the hands of the Ravens, the Packers are now 2 wins away from a spot in the most open NFL playoffs in a long time. By winning a game they had no business winning, the Packers injected relief, life and joy into a fan-base that had been drained of cheer and luck for nearly two years. By winning a game they had no business winning, the Packers reminded me again why I love sports and have loved sports for all of my life. By winning a game they had no business winning especially when led by a quarterback who neither the Raiders nor the Bills wanted, the Packers showed me that miracles do happen.

There are absolutely no guarantees in sports and in a season where they have lost their starting quarterback and an incredulously high number of key contributors to injury, the Packers are one play and one Sunday away from elimination into the vast NFL wasteland. But after a game that defied history, momentum and logic, the team just made December and possibly January very interesting. If you don’t think the 14-2 Seahawks are not suddenly waking up to a cold wet dream that Aaron Rodgers, Mike Mccarthy and M D Jennings may be making a visit to the Clink in a month, you don’t know much about sports.

Twenty minutes after I had gotten off my good vs. evil soapbox, Eddie Lacy would steamroll six Cowboys on his way to a touchdown that gave the Packers a 37-36 lead (first lead of the game) followed by a Tramon interception that sealed the deal. “What a badass. What a badass team.”, the wife said in a voice that clearly indicated she got it.

This is the team that made her “get it”.

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Go Pack, Go

Posted by & filed under cricket, Indian abroad.

ipl teams

Cricinfo’s Nagraj Gollapudi provides us some insight into what the select cavalcade of rich Indian businessmen are thinking up and thinking of ahead of the next edition of cricket’s most lucrative league and tournament. Based on this article and other tidbits that have been revealed about IPL 7 so far, here are seven questions I hope the league and ownership groups are thinking about so as to ensure a competitive and exciting season of T-20 cricket.

1: Where is IPL 7 going to be held?

Short answer: Nobody knows.

Long answer: I don’t really understand why games held in established cricket grounds in metropolitan cities for three hours a day are so gravely affected by the prospect of general elections around the same time. Cricket matches happen in conjunction with extreme weather, local festivals and in the immediate aftermath of war and conflict. It is unclear to me why the very rich owners of IPL teams don’t partner with the local governments of the cities they represent and ensure game day logistics and travel arrangements are well set for eight evenings in the year.

The truth though is that the powerful and rich owners themselves seem resigned to moving IPL 7 outside of India if it coincides (like it mostly will) with the 2014 general elections. If so, I hope the tourney is moved to cities and grounds which will provide good crowds and semblances of bias towards certain teams and players. I hope Sri Lankan and Bangladesh cities are not chosen by default. Ideally, even an abridged tournament with games at the 8 cities that make up the IPL will be a better watch for viewers and a better product for fans everywhere than a tournament that is moved out of India. I hope the owners think long and hard about this.

2: When will the venues for IPL 7 be decided?

Short answer: Nobody knows.

Long Answer: Teams are about to invest Rs 600 million into resources hoping to win IPL 7. I for one hope that they are able to put their rosters together after the venue for the season is decided. For example, the Royal Challengers Bangalore surely care if games are going to be held in their home ground that has proven to be the most batsman-friendly of all the venues before choosing to invest in either AB De Villiers or even Chris Gayle. If their home games for season 7 were moved to Dambulla or Headingley, do they really pay Rs 125 million for Gayle?

The BCCI is notorious for making things up on the fly and I hope the owners insist on closing on the venue ahead of the auction.

IPL 7 2

3: Are the proposed new retention rules better than the rules set prior to IPL 4?

Short Answer: Depends.

Long Answer: If your definition of better is with respect to the ease of retaining essential members of the current squads, then the answer is YES. With up to eight spots open for retention and with five of those eight spots having cost certainty, retaining players is far easier than it was going in to IPL 4. If your favorite team declines to retain a player, they truly really don’t want him. Because the way the proposed system is setup, a team has enough flexibility if they really want someone.

However if your definition of better is with respect to parity, the answer is NO. If the teams with greater revenue and clout (Mumbai, Chennai) can now retain more of the players from their very successful rosters of the past three years, it means there is lesser talent available for the underdog franchises. So while owners of the Kings XI Punjab, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Rajasthan Royals might think the new rules give them the ability to retain and carry over solid chemistry, they are reducing their chances to poach the big guns. I will get to other reasons this proposed retention system kills parity, with a deeper dive while answering questions 4 and 5.

4: What are the loopholes in the rule that proposes that up to five players can be retained?

Short answer: Kills flexibility in roster building.

Long answer: The proposed rules have blanket hard-coded salaries for the five players a team can retain from its IPL 6 roster. For the first player that a team retains, the team is likely to lose Rs 125 million from the Rs 600 million salary cap for IPL 7. This is also the amount paid to the first retained player. Similarly the cost of retaining players 2-5 is likely to be baked in to the system, according to the Cricinfo article referenced earlier.

I can see the merits in this approach but I am not sure owners have thought this through well. This approach absolutely kills flexibility and any ‘Moneyball’ approach that an intrepid team might want to pursue. A team that may want to build off 3-5 middle class players (for lack of a better term) is unable to do so and has to devote 25% of its salary cap to one member who would be the franchise player. This falls right in the wheelhouse of the established superpowers and makes it harder for a Kolkata, Punjab or Rajasthan to break through using a different approach. The biggest gainers from this setup will likely be David Miller and Gautam Gambhir who may end up being franchise players worth way more than they would be in the open market.

My recommendation to owners would be to give franchises the option to retain 5 players at five different salary levels and blank unfilled intermediate slots. For example, the Sunrisers today if they chose to retain Shikhar Dhawan and Thisara Perera would pay Rs 125 million for Dhawan and Rs 95 million for Thisara. However they should be allowed to retain Shikhar Dhawan at Rs 125 million but Thisara Perera at the fourth retention slot of Rs 50 million rather at the more expensive second retention slot. They should be allowed to keep the second and third slots blank if they value players differently. Some protection for the players’ incomes can be inserted with the ‘right-to-match’ rule extended to all players. The rule is talked about in detail in the Cricinfo piece referred to above.

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5: What are the loopholes in the ‘right to match’ rule?

Short answer: Depends.

Long answer: The proposed rule indicates that teams can raise a ‘right to match’ card for up to three players during the IPL 7 auction. It is unclear to me at what point in the auction the team raises these cards. Do they wait for the seven other teams to bid up the player before revealing their card or do they announce ahead of time to the council or auctioneer, who the players they choose to use these cards on are? Also, why leave this at 3 players? Why not extend this approach to every player playing in the league so as to make it the truest free market of them all?

This rule has a lot of promise if designed and implemented correctly. I wait eagerly on what the owners conjure up.

6: What new steps have been taken to prevent betting, match-fixing and corruption?

Short answer: Nothing.

Long answer: Nothing. The article and IPL announcements have been hazy about specifics that are being put in place to prevent a repeat of the embarrassing and disturbing scandals of years past. Here’s hoping there are steps that make a difference, soon.

7: Why is there no penalty to a team if it chooses to let go of players between IPL 7 and IPL 8 or between IPL 8 and IPL 9?

Short answer: Because the owners are smart and don’t want to be held accountable for mistakes.

Long answer: While wholesale auctions only take place every three years, teams can carte blanche their way out of bad decisions or player injuries by dropping a player and recouping all of the money owed to him as part of the available salary cap for the ensuing season. Smart owners who want to gain an edge should propose some sort of penalty (for e.g. only 50% of salary relief that is gained by the release of a player should be available for the team to use in the ensuing auction) rather than the status quo that does not reward those teams that do a good job of identifying sustainable talent over three years.

What other questions do you think need to be answered now about IPL 7?