Banner by Rituparna Chatterjee, a woman with the potential to make it big. It's not that she can't: she just won't.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Unsung heroes 1: Ryan ten Doeschate

Browsing through cricket scorecards is one of the things I live for doing (I wish I could do it for a living). This was in 2006: one of the first things I do every day is browse through the various match results on Cricinfo, and this was what I came across.

A man opens bowling for his side, takes 6/20 to bowl out the opposition for 103; comes out to bat in the third over, and remains unbeaten, scoring 259 not out out of 409; opens bowling again, and helps rout the opposition, taking 3/92; still not happy, scores a quickfire unbeaten 31 off 26 balls to secure the winning runs. I mean, there's got to be a limit to performances, correct?

That moment I knew I had to follow this guy.

A few months later we travelled to The Caribbeans for our worst world cup campaign in recent past. We had a practice match against Netherlands. We won by a comprehensive 182 runs, but the name on the scorecard that caught my eye was one that scored a 39-ball 31, and took 5 wickets including those of Sehwag, Ganguly, Yuvraj and Dhoni: what could've been better, against, well, a quite decent international side?

Let's bring some facts into the picture as well:
1,234 ODI runs at 68.55 and a strike rate of 87.93, 48 wickets at 20.93, an economy rate of 4.75. How good are these numbers?

Fact 1: Among those who have scored a thousand ODI runs, the next highest averages belong to Hashim Amla (54.84) and Michael Bevan (53.58). Michael Hussey and MS Dhoni are the only others with a 50+ batting average. The difference in average might be a proof as to how good our man is.

Fact 2: Among those with a thousand ODI runs and a 40+ batting average, his strike rate is the seventh in the world. Viv Richards is at the top with 90.20. Sachin Tendulkar is at nine.

Fact 3: Among those with 40 ODI wickets his average is eighth-best in history. If we consider the fact that the frequency of big scores has gone up significantly over the past five years and restrict the list only to bowlers who have played after 2005, he ranks third after Ajantha Mendis and Shane Bond.

Fact 4: The difference between his batting and bowling averages is an unbelievable 47.62. This is a phenomenal statistic, given that most all-time great all-rounders struggle to keep this difference over ten. Kallis, for example, averages 45.73 with the bat and 32.06 with the ball as I write this - so basically a difference of 13.67.

I know that being from a minor side, most of his accomplishments have been against minor sides. But then, try improving on those numbers playing against your son in your balcony, and you'd do a good job. And then, whenever he has got a chance to play a major side he has done well. For example, his all-round job against India in the world cup practice match; a defying 57 (out of a team score of 132) against Pollock, Nel and Langeveldt; wickets of Ponting and Hussey in a world cup match; and his 2/35 and match-finishing 22 not out to eliminate England from the 2009 T20 World Cup.

Mind you, his first-class (mostly for Essex) average of 49.01 with the bat and 33.53 with the ball puts him on top, with the very best. The difference of 15.48 is quite impressive for someone without serious international exposure. Ian Botham, for example, had a difference of 6.75, and Imran Khan had 14.47. This, being mostly in the English county circuit, means that he had to lock horns with the best names in the world.

He's good, guys. Keep an eye on him. He shall go places, possibly unheard of.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Badlaa!!

Chapter I

18th April, 1986. It was the Australasia Cup final.

I had just returned home from school. We had amassed 245/7 with Srikkanth, Gavaskar and Vengsarkar all scoring 50s. Chasing a steep target by those days' standards, Pakistan were losing wickets on a regular basis. No one had gone past 36: no one but one man, who raced through the 70s, then the 80s, then the 90s, then reached three figures as wickets kept falling around him.

It had come down to the last over. He was still there, and how I hated his very presence at the crease at that age! And then I realised that the inevitable had happened - Kapil Dev had miscalculated again (haven't we got tired watching him do that, time and again?)! He shall not bowl the last over!

So Chetan Sharma it was. Kapil didn't trust Shastri with the task (after all, this was the 1980s, and spinners rarely bowled in the slog overs, let alone the final one). Pakistan needed eleven, and he was on strike.

Wasim Akram, later to go on to become a legend of the game, managed to get run out the first ball of the over, possibly while returning to the non-striker's end while attempting a two (writing from memory this is what I remember). Ten to score off five now, with only two wickets in hand, but then, he was back on strike.

It was a slog-swept four, an inevitable one. Six off four, and I was starting to get certain that he would finish it with another couple of blows.

And then, Javed, oh Javed, how could you do something this foolish? He swept the ball towards fine leg and scampered through for a single, and the whole nation erupted at the prospect of having the meek Zulqarnain on strike. Surely he cannot give back the strike to his superior partner immediately?

Chetan Sharma then did the unthinkable - he clean bowled Zulqarnain! Five from two, and surely the last wicket cannot pull this off?

As the Lionel Richie lookalike Tauseef Ahmed walked slowly towards the centre, evening had set in quite comfortably in my city. I wonder how many people in the country moved from their TV sets that day. None, I presume.

Tauseef managed a single off the fifth ball.

It was left to Javed, then. He had to hit another boundary.

I wonder what he was thinking at that moment.

Chetan Sharma's run-up seemed like an eternity. He ran in, ran in, ran in, and...

... it was a full-toss.

And it was dispatched mercilessly.

For a six.

Miandad ran frantically towards his team.

Suddenly the world turned dark, cold, cruel, harsh, brazen. With that one single six.



***

Chapter II

19th June 2010. A league match in the Asia Cup.

Chasing 268 under lights was always going to be difficult at Dambulla. Gambhir and Dhoni, however, had put us on track. As Gambhir fell trying to steer a straight one from Saeed Ajmal and missing the line completely, I left office. I had to pick up some grocery on my way home, so I lost out on some crucial time.

As I tuned to Neo Sports I saw Jadeja getting bowled by Ajmal. Would you believe it? 88 from 87 with 8 wickets in hand had suddenly been metamorphosed to 49 from 29 with 4 wickets in hand. But then, hang on, a small square at the bottom right said P3, which meant that the third powerplay was on. Hey, it's still possible then, correct?

There were no more wickets lost, and three more sixes, two by Raina and one by Harbhajan, took us to a target of seven from the last over (it was seven off eight at one point of time, but Harbhajan had missed two short-pitched deliveries on the trot from Shoaib Akhtar).

Mohammad Aamer would bowl to Suresh Raina.

Raina hooked, someone shouted "catch it!", but the top edge fell towards where short fine leg would have been, beyond Kamran Akmal's reach. Single. Six off five now.

Harbhajan played. And missed. And... hang on, why did Kamran throw down the stumps? Why is he celebrating? Hell, Raina ran! And his dive couldn't beat the direct throw - and he's actually short... we're left to score six off four now, that too with the new batsman on strike.

Praveen Kumar played it towards deep third man, and yayness! Akhtar has fumbled!! They scamper through for a second as Afridi and Aamer are livid at the Rawalpindi Express!

Four from three now, and Praveen played the next one towards deep point to get another single, which left us with three to get from two.

Aamer bowled. And bowled in the slot. And Harbhajan hit. And hit it hard. Hard enough to soar over the boundary ropes past deep mid-wicket.

The entire Indian team rushed to the ground as Harbhajan was on one of his typical emotional orgasms on ground.

Suddenly there was light again, lots of it. With that one single six.

It took us 24 years. But it has happened at last. We've avenged Sharjah.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

69

The number of people who browse through cricket websites during a world cup soccer aren't many; I'm one of them, though. I do follow the soccer, though, in my own way. For example, I support Australia, New Zealand and South Africa against heavy odds for the simple reason that they play cricket.

Anyway, I was browsing through Cricinfo as I was cheering for New Zealand when they pulled off an almost-last-minute equaliser against Slovakia. I came across this match, and was somewhat confused to realise that the Mexican bowling attack could well pass as Indian one if you consider only names (they also had a curiously named Theodore Wucherpfennig).

It seemed that I had missed out on the real stuff on the scorecard, something that someone brought to my notice today:

Two of the Costa Rica cricketers were 48 (one of them, Timothy Baker opened batting and bowled first change); one of them was 54; one was 59; but the real stunner was someone called Richard Illingworth, who was 69 years and 267 days old when he played the match. I mean, who plays international cricket at 69?

I hope Bryan Adams makes a sequel some day.

***

PS: Even Mexico had a 47-year old member, and Wucherpfennig, my favourite Mexican cricketer by now, is 51. But then, they had the audacity to include a few players below 30 as well: the Costa Ricans, obviously, didn't engage themselves in such blasphemy: their youngest member was close to 31.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Moolah

When I grew up I was told that in the entertainment industry women had to do unspeakable things for money: they had to stoop to levels hitherto unthinkable in decent families. I used to shudder at such thoughts, and was quite content during my adolescence that I wasn't a girl with aspiring Bollywood dreams in my heart.

Whatever shady levels I had imagined for the innocent, helpless girls would stoop to, I had always thought they'd never go beneath a certain level. But that was before today morning, when I came across a commercial on TV.

It was Asin; Asin of an incredible stature in The South, but of Ghajini and London Dreams fame to me. There she was, displaying her bare left armpit, showing how much sweat was accumulated (too close to the camera for possibly the man behind the lens to have an uncomfortable sniff) and lecturing the audience on how controlled the pH level of her armpit perspiration as a result of usage of so-and-so deodorant (can't recall the name, but Rexona won't be a poor guess; I could only see Hindustan Unilever Limited at the end).

Beat that.

The media had miniskirts in the 1970s, spaghetti tops in the 1980s, lingerie in the 1990s and ample flesh in the 2000s. Welcome to the 2010s - leading actresses analysing their sweaty armpits. I wonder what the 2020s have in store. Urinating baboons, perhaps.

***

PS: I shall try to upload the video as soon as possible. Meanwhile, remain happy with the picture. And don't tell me you had, for one split second, tried to look at where her left armpit should be.

***

Edit: The video is here! And it's not Rexona, but Sure. I hope the same applies to her mentality towards whatever she's doing. I know I should've added the Hindi version, but the Tamil version is too good to miss out on.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

The pilot

Earlier this month something bizarre had happened. While the pilot was in the restroom, an Air India aircraft, flying from Dubai to Pune and flying over Muscat at that point of time, descended 7,000 feet. The moment I read this the first thing that struck me was: what was going on in the pilot's brain during the descent?

It must have been somewhat like this:
"I hate being a pilot. Some day my bladder shall give in and I shall have all sorts of kidney disorders."
"Aaah, finally. It's been a long wait."
"Aaaaaaaaaah. Bliss."
"What the hell?"
"Why is the pot trying to run away from me?"
"It must be inside my mind. It's there only."
"Hell, why is this like a Fenris wheel? Why does my stomach suddenly feel empty?"
"Are we falling?"
"We can't really be falling, can we?"
"Damn, why is my bladder so full today? I shouldn't have had that beer before taking off."
"Come on, we must really be descending: but why now?"
"Gosh, this might be an accident. If that's the case then I need to rush back."
"If only my bladder would empty itself earlier... I really don't want to die peeing..."
"This must be several thousand feet."
"Finally! If only those extra end-of-action droplets oozed out a bit faster..."
"Why doesn't this damned flush work? Do I need to press harder?"
"What's that darned co-pilot doing?"
"Why can't they make smoother flushes?"
"Now, do I need to wipe off those couple of droplets from the rim of the pot right now, or can that wait...?"
"Argh, why doesn't this darned door open...?"
"Stop knocking on the door, I'm fully aware that this is an emergency and I should rush. STOP KNOCKING!"
"Jeez, now my fly got stuck midway...!"
"YES, I'M COMING! No, that wasn't what I meant..."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

বিচিত্রবীর্য

বিচিত্রবীর্য নিঃসন্দেহে মহাভারতের সবথেকে অদ্ভুত নাম।

কেন, কি পরিস্থিতিতে শান্তনু আর সত্যবতী এই নাম রেখেছিলেন সে বিষয়ে ব্যাসদেব সম্পূর্ণ নীরব। সে যাই হোক্‌, সৎ দাদা ভীষ্মের প্রতিজ্ঞা আর (অসৎ?) দাদা চিত্রাঙ্গদের অকালমৃত্যুর ফলে বিচিত্রবীর্য অল্পদিনের জন্য হস্তিনাপুরের রাজা হয়েছিলেন। কিন্তু (যেন খানিকটা নিজের নামের যৌক্তিকতা প্রমাণের জন্যই) তিনি বংশবিস্তারে খুব ইচ্ছুক ছিলেন না।

তখন ভীষ্ম এই বিচিত্র ভাইয়ের (এবং হস্তিনাপুরের ভবিষ্যেতের) কথা ভেবে তিন বোনকে অপহরণ করেন - অম্বা, অম্বিকা আর অম্বালিকা। অম্বার গল্প আমরা জানি, যেমন জানি অম্বিকা, অম্বালিকা আর সেই দাসীর কথা; জানতে পারি যে শুধুমাত্র বৈচিত্র্য নয়, অক্ষমতাও ছিল লুকিয়ে। তখন স্বয়ং ব্যাসদেবকে ডাকতে বাধ্য হন ভীষ্ম। ব্যাসদেবও তাঁর দেবতুল্য ব্যাসের সদ্‌ব্যবহার করেন, আর অচিরেই নানারকম পুত্রসন্তানে হস্তিনাপুরের অন্দরমহল ভরে ওঠে।

এইখানেই শেষ? না, আরেকটু আছে।

বিচিত্রবীর্য চিরকালই তাঁর নামের জন্য ইস্কুল-কলেজে নানান্‌ আওয়াজ খেতেন; অতএব তাঁর মনে ছোটবেলা থেকেই প্রতিশোধস্পৃহা জেগে ওঠে। তাই তিনি ছেলের নাম রাখলেন পাণ্ডু। বলাবাহুল্য, নানাবিধ আওয়াজ খেয়ে তিনি বড় হন। আর যদিও তারঁ প্রকৃত পিতা ব্যাসদেব, তাও তিনি বিচিত্রবীর্যের ট্র্যাডিশন বজায় রাখলেন - তবে এবারে ব্যাস-ব্যাসার্ধ-দৈর্ঘ্য-প্রস্থ-পরিধি নয়, আসল দেবতা দিয়ে কাজ চালাতে হয়েছিল।

Monday, June 7, 2010

Oh well...

I once had a mountain.

Not quite The Himalayas, but it was a mountain nevertheless. It was so dwarfish that most would call it a hillock, but to me it was a mountain. It stood quite proudly in front of me, and was high enough to make me go around it instead of just treading over it. It reminded me of the high classroom windows some schools had. I was afraid that someone might try to steal it, so I tried to hide it under my cot.

But it was too high. So I had to keep it outside. Then the inevitable happened. Someone stole it.

I was crestfallen. The mountain was the only possession I had, and parting with it meant a serious blow to me: a really serious one.

Time passed.

***

Then I had a river.

Not quite The Nile, but it was a river nevertheless. It was so small that most wouldn't even call it a brook, but to me it was a river. It flowed, it even wet my feet as I tried to tread across it. It was orangish, and looked like Gold Spot flowing merrily. I had learnt a lesson from last time, so I did hide it under my cot, meandering it as much as I could to hide it..

But it was too long. The cot couldn't hide its ends. Someone saw it. And, well, stole it.

The second blow was too much for me. First the mountain, then this? I mean, you crave to own something this much, and give it up, just like that? Just because you weren't capable enough to hide it efficiently from the world? Is that what you call justice?

Time passed.

***

Then I had a grassland.

Not quite The Steppes, but it was a grassland nevertheless. It was so small that it would hardly pass as a meadow, but to me it was a grassland. It wasn't even lush - the grass was sparse, and oddly reminded you of those small suburb fields where little girls ran as if their feet didn't touch the ground and they sold ghotigorom on summer evenings. I had to hide this under the cot this time, and even managed to do it somewhat.

But the insects gave me away. Someone followed the insects under the cot, and it happened again. It was nicked.

By now I should've learnt a lesson: I simply could not keep my precious stuff to myself. I wasn't capable enough. Perhaps I should've given up all hope of owning something that precious, that rare. Maybe things that special were elusive, after all.

Time passed.

***

Then I had a desert.

This time it was really a massive one, bigger than The Sahara. It was so huge that you couldn't even fly from from one end to the other, let alone drive; and walking was out of the question. It was humongous, imposing and, in a nut-shell, a quite imposing body.

I knew I had to hide this. It wasn't just another geographical structure -  it was a desert. As one of my favourite books has mentioned, "What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well." That's what makes deserts so special. And the fact that it had Abhishek written all over it made it the most special entity that had ever existed.

Then I realised that to keep the desert secured and own it to your satisfaction you cannot separate it from yourself. You need to stretch yourself beyond your limits, convert your limbs to tentacles and put a firm grip on it. Above all, you cannot afford detach yourself from it.

So I decided to step inside my desert. I knew this was suicidal, and once you walked a certain distance inside there was no way out - it was vast enough for a lifetime, or maybe even the entire timeline. But I had to own it, correct? What options did I have?

I walked in. And walked. And walked.

I know there is a well somewhere.

But where is it?

It's there, isn't it?

Please tell me I shall not lose my desert. Ever. If I do, I shall never be able to say "time passed" the way I did for the others: you need sand for the sandclocks, for the glass in watches and clocks, for the silicon chips in electronic devices to measure time. If I don't have a desert any more, time shall cease to pass. In fact, it shall cease to exist.

I need to own my desert, possibly even die walking on it, but then, all the water that I had stocked over the years is running out. Where is that well? WHERE IS THAT WELL?


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

ধর্মমঙ্গল কাব্য

তখনও আমি ইস্কুলে, এখনকার মত সাংঘাতিক পরিণত মন নয় আমার। তখন মনের আনন্দে ঘুরি, এদিক-সেদিক তাকাই, নানারকম করি।

বাংলা সাহিত্যের ইতিহাস পড়াচ্ছিলেন, একজন, ইস্কুলেই। ধর্মমঙ্গল কাব্য। একে তো তাতে লাউসেন নামক ঘ্যাম চরিত্র ছিলেন, যিনি ধর্মের পূজো করে মাঝরাত্রে (অথবা পশ্চিমে, কোনটা ঠিক নিশ্চিত নই) সূর্যোদয় ঘটিয়েছিলেন; সেটা হজম করাই যথেষ্ট, সেই উঠতি বয়সে। সেটা অবশ্য এখানে প্রাসঙ্গিক নয়।

কিন্তু তারপর যখন শুনলাম, গল্পের নায়কের নাম ধনপতি, আর তার স্ত্রীর নাম খুল্লনা (জীবনে কত অপ্রাপ্তি থাকলে মানুষ এইর'ম নাম রাখে?), আমি খ্যাকখ্যাক করে হেসে উঠেছিলাম, ক্লাসের মধ্যেই।

আমাকে ক্লাস থেকে বের করে দেওয়া হয়েছিল, কোনো কারণ না দিয়েই।

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