Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Indian Cricket's lesser talents

The generally held opinion amongst the cognoscenti in India is that Anil Kumble is the fastest leg spinner in its illustrious history. This opinion is a myth. The fastest leg spinner was infact Venkatesh Prasad whose stock delivery was the leg spinner bowled using his fingers and a longish runup. Some people called it a slow leg cutter, but they were wrong as usual. Venkatesh Prasad's change of pace delivery was the faster one that he sent down at approximately 115kmph. If we look at the
the effort/pace ratio for the figure that was V Prasad, it emerges as the highest ever in international cricket, though only marginally above that of one Abey Kuruvilla.

The 90s saw the arrival of brash young cricketers from Karnataka which coincided with the meteoric rise of Bangalore as India's silicon valley. And they were a bit like their software counterparts who were fresh out of college, brash, had the social grace of duckweed, could write code in Java, knew PL/SQl like the back of their hands and were put on mission critical onsite projects the day they joined.

Bursting onto the international scene were David Johson, Dodda Ganesh, Sujit Somsundar, and Venkatesh Prasad. Lanky, unathletic, uninspiring cricketers who would have gone onto achieve greater heights only if they had a spot of talent.

David Johsnon was renowned for consistent bowling in the corridor of absurdity. Little wonder that his first test wicket was Australia's Michale Slater aka Slasher. Dodda Ganesh looked menacing and was particularly adept at bowling balls that did
nothing off the pitch or though the air. He also had the knack of bowling a beatifully disguised no ball which would go for four byes. A wasted talent indeed.

But the most striking of these cricketers was Sujith Somsundar aka "Somu mere laal" as a friend of mine used to call him. Once facing Alan Donald in a one day international, he was so overcome with dread that he sidestepped all deliveries by
moving far away from the leg stump. He was not merely giving himself room to play a shot, he gave himself a 2BHK apartment and that too to avoid a shot.

Soon the software bubble burst and by extension these hard working cricketers were laid off. India continued to lose more mathces than it won. It lost most matches playing insipid, uninspiring, spineless cricket and the ones it managed to win it
played mesmeric, youthful awe-inspiring cricket. There was no middle path.

Selections were made based on a need basis. Apparently Atul Bedade was chosen specifically to hit sixes. After the Sharjah tounament he was dropped inspite of hitting a splendid 40 odd in the final. The reason - he did not hit enough sixes. Salil Ankola, Vivek Razdan, Raju Kulkarni, Gyanendra Pandey et al - they came, they saw and they whimpered.

As a cricket fan it was a frustrating period because on one hand there was Sachin Tendulkar being sublime and almost everyone else being subliminal. On other occasions even SRT flattered to deceive. You could predict a result in those days even before the first ball was bowled. Probably match fixing had something to do with it as well.

Nikhil Chopra, Ajay Sharma, Rajesh Chauhan, Gagan Khoda, Praveen Amre (scored a centry on debut too), the karnataka brigade, WV Raman....All men who made Indian cricket outrageously unattractive, inconsistent and cliched.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Mumbai's "esprit de Corpse"

The city of Mumbai, if you look at it carefully enough is a bit of a gigantic farce. The fleapit formerly known as Bombay has
variously been called the land of opportunity, the city that never sleeps, land of stars and bollywood, and several other bugerall things. But no one seems to state the screamingly obvious point that its nothing but an oversized dump-yard.

Ask anyone what they like about this place. Most of the time the reply would be - "I like its spirit".

Yeah right! I have a theory about this place. I think the life force that drives the people of this city to put up with ant-colony like
local trains, rude taxi/rickshaw/bus drivers, bad roads, badder traffic jams, floods, rains, mindnumbing property rates,bloodsucking brokers, occasional communal riot, slums et al is peer pressure. Everyone has a look on their face that says -
"When I am not bothered then what t f is your problem". So one says to oneself, "Ok, I guess I am just being a plain jerk here. I mean look at these people around me. They seem to rather enjoying running round this huge reeking pile of garbage in
the middle of the road to catch a train bursting at the seams." Once they reach the station they will go through the much practiced push, shove, jostle, swear routine to get into the train and once in, they will try to solve a sudoku puzzle. These
guys do this everyday and aren't bothered the least bit so, again, what t.f is your problem."

And don't even get me started on the slums. The civic administration talks of a slum free mumbai. Frankly that would mean destroying 50% of the city. If to
that you add an illegal construction free mumbai it would probably take that statistic upto 70%. So if one were to get rid of all that, then Mumbai would probably be just another small town the size of a Patna, only infinitely more hep with only three categories of people. The uberrich celebrity gang, the reasonably plush middle class and gujratis. That's because everyone else lives in the slums.
Everyday people die crossing railway signals, falling out of trains, in muggings, of hunger, disease and accidents, but still no worries mate! I mean this is Mumbai after all. These things happen all the time here. So if it isn't you, then all is well. Lets make a quick buck somewhere then.

And then there are the festivals. Some people actually seem to think that the public festivals in Mumbai are cool. I mean who dances on the street and blocks traffic just to please the Gods? How many people you know actually do that. All those buggers
look exactly the same, with faces colored, a fashion street outfit comprising the ubiquitous jean pant and the T-shirt, drunk and dancing to mindnumbingly monotonous rhythmic percussion. Unemployed, angsty youth just getting some leeway to let off
some steam and aggression. That's alright I guess.

Official statistics say that almost 50% of the population does not have access to proper sanitation facilities i.e a frickin' toilet. So by extension people defecating on the streets is a common sight. Nobody minds them. You just ignore them.
Another highly overrated by-product of the mumbai fast life is the vada pav. Its actually a masala bonda inna breadish bun. Its cheap, can be eaten on the move, doesn't taste too good, but its not too bad either. People who don't eat a lot of Vada Pav entertain the romantic notion that Mumbai lives on Vada pav. That is not true. No one can actually live off the muck.

Woman cut veggies on the train to cook when they get back home, people sing bhajans, do the crossword, sit on top of trains, hang on the sides, and even fit in between carriages like spiderman. And they seem to love it. Other who don't do all of this
are quite in awe of them. Also they can talk about these "outliers" with their friends and family. Its an interesting conversation piece in Mumbai, the way people behave on trains.

My problem is that no one seems to have a problem. All mentions of mumbai in TV channels show a vast expanse of the marine drive with fast cars zipping around. But surprisingly no one ever shows the dreaded Times of India signal at Malad, SV Road
in Bandra, Andheri flyover, Chembur, Thakur Village in Kandivali and almost any signal in the suburbs. Kramer once put it rather succintly to Jerry when he said, "The infrastructure Jerry, its crumblin'!!" Only here there was a crumbled
infrastructure to start with.

Life in mumbai during weekdays is a continuous struggle against other people,roads, traffic, elements, stink and garbage. But we all hang on because everyone else is hanging on. No one likes Mumbai. They only say so because others do.

Weekends though are spent sleeping...