Thursday, December 29, 2011

A case in point for team culture and respect that breeds success

Let us go back in time. I will take you to the spring of 1996. I was a school kid then who had sometime back fallen completely in love to cricket viewing. I always loved the game as the closest thing to my heart and played since as long as I can remember (albeit with the soft ball but I reckon I transformed from a ungainly softball batsman to one who could put bat to ball in the year 1995). Thanks for bearing with my personal info. But I simply loved cricket on television after watching almost every ball of the West Indies tour of India in the year 1995. But then the zenith was reached in 1996 in the World Cup(dont mention the official title sponsor, its a tobacco tabboo). I dint quite understand what Dominic Cork or Dikie Bird meant when they said that there was nothing official about Pepsi. Yes, I was naive to the alluring worlds of advertisements and sponsorship but I definitely understood what it meant when BRIAN LARA demolished South Africa in the quarter finals or the concept of pinch-hitting which was used to overhaul New Zealand's total by sending Warnie up the order in another match. So I was heartbroken when on a otherwise pleasant evening I returned from a short stint of play and found Siddhu caught by Jayasuriya in the semis at the Eden Gardens. Little did I know there was worse to come. We know what happened and it got me in pains. But we endure. Fast forward to the Gaddafi (anyone for a name change?) stadium in Lahore and those scenes of a helicopter (whats the difference between it and a chopper btw?) trying to dry the outfield. Surprising as it may sound, I was rooting for Sri Lanka. That they threw us out of the championship (oh, its the World Cup) did not matter, I simply did not support Australia. I do not understand why but I did not. So I was happy when Ranatunga sliced one through the thirdman boundary and accepted the trophy from Late Benazir Bhutto (I realized this only now, how far back in time it was and how the backdrop of my neighbouring land has changed). So much for nostalgia, but the real point is, I did not like Australia winning then against anybody. Fast forward to the 1999 WC and I was rooting for the OZ against the Saffers and cheered when Allan Donald was actually runout in that gut churner of a tie. I had started to choose Oz against any other nation but my homeland. So, I cheered every wicket as it fell in South Africa, from Sreesanth getting Haydos to Bhajji cleaning up Clarkie in the inaugral T20 WC. Same story in the CB cup finals down under and the Perth Test win at the start of 2008. I admired their brand of cricket alright and the firce but light hearted spirit they played in (I see in my mind's eye many eyebrows raising, but seriously keeping aside a couple of really arrogant pricks, they were always being aggressive on the field of play). I may be wrong but it felt like they always played the nice way. They were always smiling and chit-chatting in a pally manner among each other which did not at all look like street-side banter. The point I think is they played very well as a team and respected each other as the guys playing together and that I sensed. A fringe player in the playing 11 never looked like not having a good laugh. I dont know, I quite liked what I saw. But still I was a team-india fan. And I was pround of it. It is my national team. I had few of the world's best batsmen, good spinners, a keeper-captain with a nice hairdo who made bold suggestions and statements and they were winning (albeit just the limited overs rubbers). But today I envy an Aussie fan. And not just because they won the MCG test.
This is because I see them playing a team game like one. That reflects the culture that is prevalent in their first class cricket or thus it looks. I do not think India fared too badly in the match through the first 10 sessions in terms of putting bat to the ball and releasing the ball from hands or even grabbing the ball. Anybody would think that way. Still they managed to be outdone handsomely by a talented but fledgling Aussie side. Because they did so in a very disconcerted manner. This is what is so detrimental to a team game. Team India do not look a committed bunch of people playing with and FOR each other. They do not seemt to have enough respect for their peer in the team and that hurts subconsciously and eventually in my humle opinion.
When an opener plays in a manner because that he thinks is the way he batted, it is after much consideration a fair call. But it is a different thing when he boasts about that in very naked terms. It is a statement of an individuality which does not purport to be forming a part of the whole. This in my view is blasphemy in team sport. It would be much a better thing if Sehwag keeps on playing the way he does, improves upon that but not take it as a personal agenda or an avenging mission to demonstrate one thing or the other to the world. This adds fuel to the opposition firepower and they are running in with their tails up all the time. Sehwag has much more to prove in foreign conditions and he seems to give Sir Viv blushes in plain arrogance. He may be well meaning but someone needs to tell him that in order to leave a legacy and be consistently of benefit to the team in a structured manner, he needs to fit into a role and that role is definitely not blabbering among the media about his cricketing mannerisms. Who knows if the foreign media just intentionally puts him into a delusional state by pumping his ego. Because I honestly do not see any reason for them to go head over heels on Sehwag when he has still left so much to prove in foreign conditions. He might win the odd test but that is far outweighed by the negligent manner he plays his cricket in increasingly. A bloke who hit his first test ton in Johannesburg ought to have learnt better. Actually, he has been a little bit of a victim of his fanfare and hype. He has certainly not improved an iota. So much for speaking antagonistically for a batsman who I am a big fan of. I like his free spirited natre and the good laugh he seems to share always on the field. This is why I am increasingly frustrated and impatient with him. Being a good bloke who could do so much more, he must now curb his ego and look for some advice and help. If he looks around, he may have it at an arm's length. I would not venture to analyse the faults of a couple of other players as I do not think there is any merit in discussing Test cricket credentials or improvements of players who are not even the most capable to be playing the version of the game in the country. The humble message to the majestic Tendulkar however is that he being the biggest cricketer we have ever produced (Kapil maybe, thats another day's talk however), I would always feel a part of the responsibility of whatever kind of work ethic related issues happen in the team rest on him. This is because all the players listen to what he has to say with open ears. He ought to instill that discipline and team culture among the group. And here is wishing him best for his 100th ton. I am sure he is least bothered with it and would like to win the next test before anything else.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The electric genius is back.

Not too far down in this space, have I put a piece written almost two years ago in defence of Ricky Ponting the leader, the cricketer without delving into the batsman that he is, much. He faced criticism and "boos" then and just a few days back he still was facing the criticism and the occasional "boo-ing" but also a danger to his place in the Test side. I was for one never convinced of the noises. Various reasons accounted. First and foremost, there was no replacement. Had there been a barrage of young upcoming batsmen who had proved the mettle and were out of the team for just want of a place, we would have had a serious debate and a possible ousting of Ponting at some point. That was not the case apparent in the most overt and lucid fashion. I do not comprehend who gave this argument to oust him. A look at the starting lineup against India in the MCG confirms the situation. An opener without first class experience, another in all fairness solid but yet to prove he belonged to the highest level and a number three who repeatedly got out to typical limited overs shots. There is plenty in the plate for the selectors to sorth these slots first and leave Ponting alone till it is all sorted out. Even apart from the above, he might just hold his place on pure merit. The two innings he played in the MCG are proof enough to the suspicious and fickle minded. He played with flair and confidence there. After the initial jitters of a two-paced track, he found his repertoire of shots flowing out like in his pinnacle. The pulling and cutting resumed normal service and the feet moved with electric pace. The "style" resumed and the straight drive put a final confirm. But that is not the issue. The point is why is he supposed to be put through this acid test unnecessarily. He could have done if anything, a little better without the added pressure. The people who wished his ouster should decipher and savor the taste of the dish of humble-pie for goodness' sake. Then there is the case of a side rebuilding itself where experience is a most valuable commodity to be had and also some knowledge and ideas disseminated to build a culture and a new "brand" as they say of playing. Also, if not for any other reason, hisefforts in Johannesburg should have earned him some respite. But then, may be all this talk was actually from the quarters which mattered the least and in an extent just regular media stories. The team management had continiously backed him and also rightly another champion cricket in Mike Hussey. For the moment however, the case is rested so we can focus on more real and substantial issues. If Australia win the MCG test which is the most likely result now, India will have reasons to fear more than those at the start of the tour as Ponting would most certainly be back to his confident self after the match saving and who knows career saving as well, two innings.
Ricky Ponting was fluent amid trying conditions and majestic among cricketing adversity in Melbourne at the start of the summer and did best what he has done all along his glittering career, delivered under pressure with electric flair.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The cricket is back!

Its Christmas day. Whats more its the eve of the Boxing day (well almost) and India is in Oz. That means the Boxing day test is on the cards. How I remember the summer of 2007-08, actually the winter (look I am already transmuted to Australia) and the 26th Dec. test. If my memory serves me right, Matty Hayden was in his pomp and got no less than a century in the opening day. It was a memorable series in various ways. I remember it all. Dravid's struggles, bad luck (remember that ct Gilly bl Symmo dismissal?) and eventual 93 to win the match in Perth. Brett Lee's last successful test series (guess he won the man of the series honour). Sachin's uppercuts, Ponting vs Ishant, Sehwag's harmless and friendly swearing in the course and many more like Gilchrist's farewell.
Thats the beauty of a well played Test series. It turns intoan epic deeply etched in your memory and providing benign and enjoyable reminiscences of cricketing and sometimes human endeavour. And India-Australia down under is just that material. It maybe because they have been the team to beat (not anymore) all through these years of our cricket viewing or for a myriad other reasons, but the point is that we need to savor these memories. After all, in a life equated to an illusion by the sage, these moments of unadulterated joy look the least malignant! And rather uplifting.

real economy and real banking.

If you read through the messages inside the intranet of one of the frontrunner European Bank and read the executive comments rather closely, you would find an increasing reference to some "real economy". You would get a mixed feeling of satisfaction and a little surprise. Satisfaction because you would quickly understand that what you always thought was indeed correct. That the investment banking profession or practice seemed alien or detached from the ground realities. You just had this feeling or suspicion, call it intuition if you may but you never really believed that would be true. But the fact remains that our Banking system has been stretched a bit too far. Banking and finance have their prominent and justified places in Human society and always have had. Ancient texts could be found which delve into the science of Finance and I am not even alluding to Kautilya's relatively recent "Arthashastra". If endeavor hasto happen and someone has to venture into business, starting capital is needed. To give expression to one's creativity in Business and commerce, the leverage happens with capital. India's religious (not spiritual expression I say) tradition has a sacred seat for the universal consciousness' manifestation in the form of the goddess of wealth. In a nutshell, the world moves on finance and trade. Yet, it is a means and not the end.
The case in point is just that. What we saw in the ensuing phenomenon and the consequent crisis was that it became and end in itself. Few examples merit attention. Someone, like a pension fund needed to invest money in some kind of rated "AAA" lockers which promised the money invested was safe. So they created these lockers once. Probably they were AAA safe-lockers (these bonds and securities really) to begin with. However, folks got greedy then. There were fee cuts and bonuses to be had for creating such lockers and finding such investors and if you neighbour i-bank would do that blindly why would'nt you. Everybody looked happy and things were hunky the-dory. Only that the lockers were not really AAA safe. No-one really bothered though. There were some locker-testers (those Rating companies) there which stamped their AAA veracity and that was enough. However what started to possibly happen was that all the drive for the investor-locker syndrome came from the fee and bonus for creating the locker in the first place. I call it a Locker and not a Train because that what it really proved to be. I train or a car for that matter is a necessity. If someone finances someone to buy a train to do some sincere business, it is Banking. But what if someone finds two parties, one to invest and the other just on the street walking around and asks them if they were interested to have some quick money financed and the street-walker fancied yea, why not have a go. It becomes a locker no more a train. Whats more, the greed went a step further. They created "locker squares" (CDO squared really). They found more AAA investors and promised them the best money that would come from the lockers later. And they got some more fee cuts and bonuses. All in all, this process (only one of the multitude of such processes) quickly became the end. But such senseless and counter-natural finance could'nt sustain. Investment banking by itself couldnt sustain. There is definitely need for some mergers and those acquisitions and thus advisory duties. There is some need for hedging among communities and around commodities - currency hedges for instance. There is need for some simple derivatives. But looks like they stretch those a bit too far. Those exotic derivative products, those inflated CDS trades which none knows where the other end of the trade is. The so called "proprietory trading" where you take bets on the money given to you trustedly for safekeeping. It almost feels like taking your friend's money to a casino and hope you would always somehow win and take your share. Do we need Banking or gambling in casinos. To top it all, there is no regulatory oversight on these transactions, or rather there was no oversight. These Basel 3, Dodd and Frank and all these are just the regulation mechanisms suddenly everyone realised were missing in the playground of broker-dealer investment banks. It from the outside looks and feels like merry-making by these so called i-bankers (not many really know I guess what it really means to be an i-banker, some kind of an apple inc. creation, ridiculous thinking that). Maybe I am mistaken, accept my apologies then you i-banker. But I reckon they themselves started to believe at some point that they had unearthed some kind of a magic formula or machine to churn out transactions in multitudes without taking note of the financial sense beneath those. Hire that nerdy Physics Nobel laureate to come up with some kind of formulas to stratify different classes, get two parties interested, sit on the deal table (I wonder did they cut those deals on some expensive Cruise liners or somekind of a beach resort on the haven-of tax Cayman island). We are the superguys. We wear black suits, talk some nice-wrapped Finance jargon, flaunt our company logos, reside in expensive hotels, do zillion business trips, work (real mail) day and night and know so much about how the world business would function. Enough banker bashing? Alrite, done with it. There are nuances involved which we may not understand. Some of this trade may actually be required for our world's functioning. But please do not overdo it. Please understand you have borrowed money from countless shareholders, investors and stakeholdersand are the trustees of that money and not superstars who own the money to flaunt it. If you have an urge to have celebrity mannerisms, please try Hollywood. You may just have the charm. Good luck for that. But do not do the banking for the sake of it and as your favorite pastime like it were some kind of a Monopoly session.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Dravid's speech at Sir Don's Oration.

I wonder how many other current cricketers could have fit the bill for the esteemed regard, knowledge and adroitness for a Bradman reminiscence Orator. None flash automatically. The complete flavors of his personality were on display through the piece and so much so that he threatened to steal the show from the reverence of the great man himself, not purposefully so I am sure. His stately disposition was evident in the opening lines vis. "I understand that I am supposed to speak about cricket and issues in the game - and I will.". It was no leisuserly chit-chat and he set out his erudite stand at the outset. Not that there was any shortage of humor, the self-deprecating brand of which is so easily and fittingly borne by the modern great now.
Then there was the profound knowledge about issues ranging from world wars to pre-independence anecdotes delving into the psyche of the then Indian fan and man. Of course there were handy and may I say indispensible suggestions for the future well-being of the game from experience and a matter-of-fact description of the current affairs with the occasional expert-advice which he is legitimately entitled to. None better than the following in my humble opinion: "One of the things, Bradman said has stayed in my mind. That the finest of athletes had, along with skill, a few more essential qualities: to conduct their life with dignity, with integrity, with courage and modesty. All this he believed, were totally compatible with pride, ambition, determination and competitiveness. Maybe those words should be put up in cricket dressing rooms all over the world." If the above were to become the code of ethics hung in every Cricket dressing room, I guess a lot of the issues would settle for themselves in some measure. In any case, it is a good advice.
He represented Indian cricket pretty well without sounding jingoistic and still communicated the plethora of issues, passion and emotions which unfold in the backdrop of the story of India's romance with cricket. And finally there was the poetic ease, inspiration and grace, what with the instance of not letting facts hinder those great stories and the meditative experiences he shared. It helped remind oneself that behind the dodgy and almost robot like methodical approach which has served the legend fine, there actually was a mind seeped rich in spirit and controlled passion. That is a blend which distinguishes him immediately from any cricketer who comes to the mind.
If I really had to find some shortcoming in the speech to save the world from an impending doom, I would hesitantly say "Isnt it heavily India-centric?". But then, isnt he supposed to speak for his country and from his personal experiences rather than do research and put some facts together covering the entire cricketing community the world over. Thats up to the critics to mull over.
Overall, there is little surprise as to the quality of the content and delivery if one cognized the goods were to be delivered by Rahul Dravid. The only highlight is that his pre-eminence among current generation complete cricketers is now for all practical purposes, official.

Ponting as at the start of 2010...champion cricketer and captain.

Ricky Thomas Ponting, the prodigy who started wielding the willow aged 10 for his father's club and got junior sponsorship from
Kookaburra soon after, always made an instant impression. He scored quick and big for Tasmania as a teenager and his three year
senior (only in age) Gilchrist cant miss recalling the uber confident Goatee wearing pro making him feel shallow while both
were making their claims for a Aussie test spot. Only that Punter was a certainty even then. But then there was the downside.
While he scored runs on the field, his personal life did not seem to be the stuff of dreams. He had his share of controversies which all
culminated in the famous sydney brawl where his black eye was infamously captured on camera. He personally admitted to have an alcohol related
problem. A common sight these days is him walking to the presentation ceremonies and the crowds booing him from Lord's to Guwahati.
He is the perennial bad boy when it comes to an image and arrogance, haughtiness seem to be the adjectives people tend to associate
with him most.
So what exactly is the point here. Sachin, Lara, Gibbs and even Bell were all prodigies earmarked for success. And there are the good boys like
Younis and Sanga who are liked by all and sundry for their apparent gentlemanly traits. Is there really anything that sets Ricky apart for him
to leave a legacy for cricket. Doesnt look like he could hope to match up to even his predecessor captain.
Or does it.
After all he is the only captain after Murdoch from the last century to loose the coveted Ashes twice in England. And dint his side
exit the T20 world cup in the first round. Did he not loose a test series in India followed by the loss at home to SAfrica. And who lost the all too
important ICC ODI team rankings from the position of supremacy. Makes for a rather bad captain. Does it not.
But what was made of the OZ after the famous tri-retirement of Chapell, Marsh and Lillie. They lost 12 and won 3 tests in the next three years and
lost Test series to West Indies, twice to England, even to New Zealand while even India could salvage a drawn rubber down under and
it took them almost four years to register their first series win againt the lesser brothers New Zealand in home soil. The trio had won the
last series they played in for them 2-0. Both Kim Hughes and Border suffered ignominy at the hands of all other teams.
Ponting's captainship blemishes still are interspersed with series wins against S Africa, India and a plethora of ODI wins.
Even after Hayden, McGill and Gilly followed the other heavyweights out, he could win one of the next three test series and a historic win at that
in South A frica. Even after losing a closey fought Ashes he could win the ODIs 6-1 followed by the champions trophy win and a series win in India and regain
the top ranking.all too soon. He has achieved all this while only Hussey has consistently been in the playing 11 to answer the call
for any established cricketer other than himself. Clarke, Clark and Lee have been injured or out of form. And one and all from Beau Casson, Jason Krejza,
Bryce McGain, Michael Clarke, Simon Katich, Cameron White, Hauritz have been entrusted with the job of winning test matches with
their spinners. Even Shane Watson has opened in Test matches and three wicketkeepers have lent service to the national cause.
A player has joined the playing 11 with the flight boarding ticket in his pocket and one of the Aussie winning combination has looked more like a Pura Cup outfit.
And among all this, he has managed to accumulate most ODI runs in the year worldwide with almost every run worth the record unlike
some other player's runs which are no reflection of their contribution to a team's particular objective on that day.
And then there is Ponting the batsman. It is not the aim of this essay to decipher or list the electrifying attributes that make him the magnetic batsman he is
while on the crease. There is however the final product which is so pleasing to the eye and satisfying to the intellect. There is a sense of purpose in virtually
everything he does on the cricket field. He has successfully maintained the high standards for a long period now to answer the calls for consistency required to
bestow an all time great tag on a batsman. And ofcourse he has made the number 3 position his own as no one else has in both the formats of the game.
The only frailty which could be put against him is his occassional tentativeness against quality spin. Not to state that he has a decisive weakness against that form
of bowling, but just a case. However, it is not substantial enough to bother him or any critic and is far too occassional.
Now revrting to the original issue of a general criticism that he has to endure, we can only sympathise with him. He is actually one of the most sporting losers
in the game. He takes all the losses on the chin and doesnt shirk from responsibility and thats the mark of a champion. That comes from a confidence and a belief in
one's own abilities. He is always matter of fact. Adam Gilchrist quotes how he was matter of fact when Adam got vice captaincy ahead of him and also in the same
vein when Ricky got the captaincy ahead of Gilly. And Gilly himself assures everyone in his book that Punter was the best possible leader after Waugh among
the lot of legends. He throws light on how it was only Punter who could handle and confront if the need be, to the mercurial Warnie. Any other person in charge,
Gilly argues would have failed miserably in tackling Warnie without bias and hesitation. That is how Ponting is - matter of fact, forthright and that
is what comes as brash and rude to many a fellow. That is pitiful as such a person warrants highest respect for his professionalism and honesty to his craft.
Well, he is ultra competitive and thus would not sport that fake smile during close games. He wants to win to the last drop of his sweat and the last clause
of legality in the game. And like a truly confident professional, he does not seem to bother what anybody else has to say about his craft. Such is the confidence
which beams out when he trudges or rather sprints to the batting crease when the Aussies are one wicket down. That is what a fan would long to look in his/her
favorite player. And that is what Punter offers to his fan more than any other cricketer does to their's and that is where his true value lies.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What afterall is so good about Cricket?

I dunno man. Whenever I visit this space and think of penning down my mind, I inevitably think Cricket. I was following the game much less all through this year and was pursuing some other vocations instead which are as fascinating and closer to nature (Anyone game for some Geology/Geography/History talk? or some refreshing dosage of eastern philosophy around compassion and harmony?). But guess what, I opened up here today and its still Cricket on my mind !! Huh..
Part of it is attributable to one Rahul Dravid. He just completed his 13000 test runs. Collossal, aint it. And guess what, it is also cathartic. For someone who had been trying in vain for few years of defending among peers, his value and even position in the test side, it was a sigh of relief and some lighthearted happiness.
Not that people did not support him or like him, but they had all lost any confidence in him or doubted his relevance or thought someone youngster was better- off filling his shoes. He seemed just one knock away from some hard browed expert comments and passionate scrutiny. Is not there the lad from the west who has compiled mountains of runs in the domestic seasons, someone uttered. Are jaye yaar ab apna kaam kare kuchh wo kya karraha hai ab mauka dede auron ko, kab tak khelega. But something was quite not right in all these assertions and I found out what. I told myself - But what when we tour outside the dusty comforts of our subcontinent into the unknown entity where batsmanship was more than driving on the up and I suddenly found all the answers in my pursuit of his support. Rest was duly accomplished in the English summer and now everyone has gained perfect confidence in their minds for his abilities. Good for him and for cricket!