The Doctor Operates...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

# 1 - Yeti

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Layering of the Game

While I am anyway on the theme, I decided to link to this wonderful nugget by Lahar - for those who came in late, the aforementioned is a quizzer, lawyer, Dhoni-type batsman, writer and general freak about town. If you want erudite entertainment at any social gathering be sure to pick up the phone and punch a few buttons - can't tell you which, though (remember, he's a lawyer). I wish Lahar would post more often - his writing is always a delicious read. If you don't like cricket or crosswords, you will still like his turn of phrase.

Where have all the bowlers gone?

For years, we have bemoaned the lack of quality fast bowlers in the country. Every season, promises are made of young tearaways who are going to make the opposition shake in their boots as they thunder in, and every season, willow-wielders like Roger Twose (who was living up to his name till then) erase our illusions. Also, for some reason, we make a big deal about this entire pace issue - if in almost a century of cricket, we haven't had a genuine fast bowler, then why the sudden cry for it now? Look at the greats of the recent era - Lillee, Thomson, Willis, Garner, Holding, Marshall, Roberts, Hadlee, Imran, Botham, Kapil, Akram, Waqar, Donald, Walsh and Ambrose - did any of them have to push the needle close to the magic 100 mph mark for them to be considered truly great? It is the gimmick now to subject Lee, Akhtar and Jones to this ridiculous trial, not counting the cost to be borne by both the team as well as the individual. Discipline is sacrificed and injuries are invited by feeding the notion that to be a great bowler you need just one prerequisite. Zaheer, Irfan, Sreesanth and now Munaf Patel are bowlers of promise, but let's make them concentrate on discipline rather than flamboyance. A good off stump line (or any line that ensures that they bowl to their field), an ability to move the ball and mix up deliveries, and the production of bounce of the seam are imperatives.

It is this last point that causes some concern, at least as far as the crop of Indian bowlers are concerned. It is no secret that unlike the brilliant talent scouts from Pakistan who pick up boys they see playing in gullies and streets, we in India require a 'fairly' democratic scheme of things. As a result, you play your inter-school games, under-15 District and State sides, graduate to college, and if you are lucky , break into the State and Zone squads. What remains consistent and true for a majority of these is the fact that their first sight of a true turf wicket occurs only when they are 16 or 17. By this time, unfortunately, they have well and truly cut their teeth over the last 7 or 8 years on matting wickets, and find it nigh impossible to meet the exacting requirements of the turf pitches on which a majority of First Class and all International games are played. For a batsman, the matting wicket has always been a bit of a challenge, because, although there isn't much shift in line, the ball does tend to kick up off the surface. As a result, they become more adept at using their feet quickly and anticipating the change in height of the delivery. For them, the shift to a turf pitch ensures that unless the bowler is really bending his back, they can dominate whatever is flung at them.

On the flip side, a young bowler is wholly ignorant about factors such as reading the pitch for traces of grass and moisture. He revels in the security of the wickets in his kitty through mat-assisted bouncy pitches, and it is only when he embarks on his First Class debut that he realizes that there is more to the game. Much more. If he had been trained at age 10 or 11 to understand the variable bounce on a turf wicket; to come to terms with the deterioration and depreciation of the pitch; to see it on a dewy morning with the roller doing its job; to change his grip on the ball for an inswinging yorker and to exploit the pitch/foot marks at the other end, then he would be all set to don his new mantle as the country's spearhead. Till that happens, he gets carted around on this new surface, and eventually consigned to memory. It is only the exceptional few like Kapil, Srinath and Prabhakar who are able to overcome this challenge and keep the flag flying. The fact is you can't keep relying on this survival of the fittest random lottery method of selecting bowlers. You have to give them all an opportunity to test themselves for years before they find themselves in the international arena.

If one glances at the rules of the Second Class tournaments in the country, one is strictly informed that no spiked boots are allowed on matting wickets. Fair enough. The mats need to be protected. But what about the budding young bowler? Is he to leave these boots at the nets, and then suddenly get used to wearing them when he has a Team India shirt on his back?

The most important step towards blooding young talent in any sport is replicating international playing conditions at the first stage itself. If you have no grass courts for kids, dont expect a Wimbledon trophy. If we have astroturf only for International and PHL games, then a seventh place finish at the Olympics is very creditable for a bunch of lads who have only just learnt how to play on it. If you won't fund Mr.Rathore's training in Italy, then his silver is a bonus you dont deserve to boast of.

Maybe we have a little Malcolm Marshall somewhere - as he runs up and flings the small red plastic sphere against the three lines drawn on the compund wall, he doesn't hear his mother calling him in or his brother's taunts. He just hears a billion fans in full-throated frenzy as the off stump careens towards second slip.

Will his dream come true?

Friday, March 10, 2006

CRASH the RdB party?

I know that to many it would be blasphemous to even begin to compare the two big hits of the year (at least as far as our Indian theatres would have us believe), but still, I feel there might be a thread that runs true.
Rang de Basanti opened to much anticipation just over a month ago, primarily due to the presence of the new look Aamir Khan and the directorial skills of so-called genius, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (there was a time when Rakesh used to be Rakesh). Collections broke records, the music was lauded, the young crop were recognized and ROM was showered with accolades. However, the one thing everybody agreed upon was that the story fell apart towards the end, and the ingestion of pathos merely ensured that the film hurtled towards an unnecessary and maudlin conclusion. It makes you think, they said. I also want to break corruption, voiced the ubiquitous fan. India will change now, resounded from the middle class drawing room. Truth be told (and a cynical truth at that), nothing changed. And nothing will, at least not because of a much-hyped movie with some great tracks. As Shobhaa De reminds us, we are a little too liberal as a nation with our praises. Every second cub mewing in the Bollywood bastion is not a formidable lion. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra cannot be called a genius on the back of Aks and RdB. Give him time. And in the meanwhile let's not imagine that some social message has gone out to the people. True, credit to RdB for exposing the apathy towards the MIG pilots, but there it stops. Let's hope that the crude message conveyed by the movie is not taken to heart by some long-suffering urban youth who decides to bomb Rashtrapati Bhavan.

On the flip side, CRASH does what RdB hoped to do and failed - send a subtle message of tolerance without attempting to be preachy or clumsy in its treatment. Slowly, through the murky underbelly of Los Angeles, unfolds a story of love, shame, betrayal, loyalty and confusion, all against the backdrop of the racial milieu of the city. Without ignoring the difficult issues of the time, the film commendably captures the stereotypes and biases prevalent in a society with so many historical differences. Unlike in RdB where the Muslim character is abused and then saved by the Hindu nationalist in two separate avatars (incarnations) , Crash does not allow any of its protagonists to inhabit this implausible dichotomy. There are bits of black and specks of white, but what overwhelms us - what envelops us with the sheer force of reality - is the Grey. This is what draws us into the embrace of the film - even while an Indian will not - cannot - identify with the themes of the west coast drama, he/she will understand the futility of the straight and narrow, and accept the truth of the compromises we all make in our daily lives.

It is all very well to call for a better world and attempt to take our steps towards that by cleansing all the black. Fact is, the black isnt all that much. Its the grey that we must aim to reduce. And not by assassinating a Union Minister, but by merely leaving the malaise exposed, with all the causes for it. Only then will you undestand the true picture, and only then will you be in a position to exercise your own choices as to the solution. Crash leaves us discomfited - at times even helpless, but it never makes us believe in fairy tales. For its integrity and its truth, Crash convinces, while RdB fails.