Thursday, September 15, 2005

Where is the Australia we know ?

Where is the Australia we know? To deem that the way Australia have played during this Ashes to be purely a result of being up against a better team, would be gross injustice to the efforts of Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh in building a clinical and ruthlessly efficient winning machine. They nurtured a team that was tough, relentless and competitive to the point of being called unsporting. In fact, they secretly considered being disliked a compliment.

Australia have had a succession of brilliant captains and after the tough-as-nails Steve Waugh the mantle fell on Ricky Ponting’s shoulders. Perhaps the administrators choice was swayed by Ponting’s rough and tough demeanour. A ruthless and accomplished batsmen, Ponting had a reputation of being a tough bloke and it’s entirely conceivable that the men who mattered thought his maverick attitude would extend to his leadership as well. Whether John Buchanan’s methodic and scientific approach has curbed Ponting’s natural instincts or whether Ponting was never a leader of men, one thing is certain; this Australian team lacked the tenacity needed when it mattered most; an Australian trademark in previous years. Let this not take away anything from the character that Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath have shown through out this England summer. They are champions and have proved themselves again. But cricket is a team game and with McGrath injured, it was beyond Warne to win it single-handedly for Australia. Though he did come close.

Ponting inherited a winning team from Steve Waugh and continued in the same vein for several years. He led successful campaigns in several countries and even claimed a World Cup triumph. But there was one crucial difference; Taylor and Waugh were raw when Australia underwent a transformation under Border; a mediocre team became one that could hold their own. They witnessed the change and knew how and why it had come about; they were still young when the term ‘mental disintegration’ came to be. They were richer for the experience and used it to take Australia to dizzying heights. Ponting was new to the experience of losing a series as captain, let alone the Ashes.

Leadership is best tested in adversity and this is where Ricky Ponting’s captaincy was severely exposed. His vent of frustration as Gary Pratt, the 12th man, ran him out told the world that England’s tactics has got under his skin; something Steve Waugh would have hidden even if it had had the same effect on him. And certainly one would never have dreamt of Waugh, for that matter any mature captain, saying that it was not his fault alone if the Ashes were lost, as Ponting did with one Test left to play. It was an astonishing admission of defeat and lack of faith in the team. Not to mention a dearth of self belief.

Perhaps the most significant difference between Ricky Ponting’s Australia and Steve Waugh’s Australia is the dulling of the killer instinct that Australia had honed to perfection under Waugh. Even though England were by far the better side, Australia had more than a couple of chances to commit day-light robbery and under Steve Waugh they just might have pulled it off. To question the fighting spirit of Warne, McGrath and Lee would be a terrible injustice but one cannot help but think that the Australia of the Taylor-Waugh era would have batted on in the fading light at The Oval instead of going off; fully aware that time was of the essence. That was the tough Australia, the Australia that produced the impossible when the impossible was called for. John Buchanan’s scientific and methodical strategies and plans can only do so much. To win when faced with the insurmountable, calls for special performances – extraordinary Human performances - in unfavourable and hopeless conditions and not procrastinations until the next day.

Waugh’s men may have lost at The Oval too, but his entire team, and not just a few individuals would have put their bodies on the line. And I would like to believe that when staring down the barrel of an inevitable defeat, Waugh would have urged his openers to stay out in the bad light and brave those final seven overs rather than accept defeat in the dressing room. It would have been gracious to give England their victory on the field and to go down with heads held high. Warne and McGrath shared Steve Waugh’s mindset of champions. And they certainly deserved better. One may argue that Ponting’s team is getting on in years. But McGrath started with buckets of wicket at Lord’s and Warne finished with 40 in the series. They are the oldest and most tired men in the side, but they were easily the best performers in the series. Perhaps Warne and McGrath refused to let Steve Waugh’s influence on them fade. By and large Ponting’s team is the same as Waugh’s. What has changed is the ethic.

But Ponting could not have hoped to continue winning forever. A defeat had to come sometime. And what this defeat has done is expose flaws that the past victories hid. These Ashes should not end Ponting's captaincy. It should provide the oppurtunity to correct the errors and come back stronger then ever.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Filing returns, and all that jazz

"You kick me like a dog and expect me to smile? You remind me of a jackass." Those words accompanied by the sound of shattering glass used to send us (a weekly gathering of budding wrestlers) into raptures. Enter Stone Cold Steve Austin with his no-nonsense brash attitude. A Quick stunner and he's off, a two minute appearence to satisfy audiences who'd been waiting for an hour. But that was not all, we awaited the arrival of the Great One, the Show Stopper. After a flamboyant smackdown and a people's elbow, the Rock had made his appearence. And we were satisfied. That was a long time ago. I've long since stopped watching WWF.

Trump cars were a manic craze during the early nineties. Yes, it was almost a decade ago! We used to cheat, make secret markings on favourite cards, hide the super-trump up our sleeves - to be produced only when the opponents ace was played. That fad also faded.

Cricket was as important as eating. Irrespective of the searing chennai heat, we played on well past noon having started at day break. Stopping periodically to appease parents who insisted that we eat. But soon the grounds grew small and the times where we used to struggle to clear the boundary passed. A six every other ball was no fun. We went in search of larger stadia.

An evening at the beach with friends became routine. Reminiscing on days gone by, of school and the fact that we were all leaving for good. Then we left.

College was fantastic. Three years gone by too soon. It was another world. Where we lived with gay abandon until the month of Feburary and then did the needful.

This is beginning to become random but the initial resolve to post is fading...nevertheless....let it not be said that George shied away....

I took up the mantle of the working man. Fresh out of college and hopelessly trapped inbetween. To my juniors I was 'earning'. To my colleagues I was still the fresher.

Anyways, to cut a long rambling short, I filed my tax returns today. The IRS can now monitor me. I have to save extraordinary amounts if I want to save on paying tax. I have to make tax saving investments that can be reclaimed only 15 years later. I have a PAN number.

Gone are the days when an F-16 meant just a fancy fighter jet and nothing else.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

26th July

Cricket on tv. Working away at my laptop. Arguments over the first Ashes test. A typical day at the office. Nothing unusual apart from the fact that it was raining heavily outside. Since my coming to Mumbai, the monsoon had abated for two weeks. There had been a few showers but nothing you wouldn't have seen on a rainy day in Chennai. I had come equipped with a worthy raincoat, complete with top and bottom. And so far it had done nothing but collect dust. What is to follow in this post might seen a bit dramatic and rather over-the-top. But the 26th of July was an over-the-top day.

The rain continued, incessantly since noon. While everyone else at office was looking out of windows, I scoffed saying that I had seen worse in a Kerala monsoon. At the end of the day, there I sat with my foot in my mouth.

The first call for alarm was when the terrace of my office building overflowed, and water flowed down the staircases and down the lift shafts. Then it came in through the AC vents in office. We had to shut down our comps and turn off all electrical appliances for fear of a short circuit. It was about 5 o'clock in the evening and everyone had slowly left office, attempting to make their way through what was now a 5-hour old torrential downpour. I was among the last three to leave office. And as soon as I left the building, I realised that I would have to walk home. It was unreal, I'm sure you've all seen it on TV. Automobiles were stranded in radiator-deep water. A few SUV's and buses plowed their way through, creating waves in the process. People were walking everywhere. Everyone searching for the shallowest part of the road. I chose the median. The water was waist deep and it got much worse after I reached home. Pot-holes, buses, people and a strong current were only few of the things I had to negoitaite on my five kilometre walk. I was only too aware that had an electric cable snapped in the strong wind and fallen into the water me and everyone else on the road would have had a bit of a shock. My mind wandered to an old English lesson in Class 9. It was TS Elliot who i think wrote 'An inconvenience rightly considered is an adventure'. If there ever was an inconvenience, this was one. Taking a leaf out of Peter Pan's book, I started thinking 'happy thoughts'. Fairy dust and the ability to defy gravity would have been welcome. Quite a few people were having a ball. Rolling around in the water, pulling tired cyclists off their seats, splashing people and getting their kicks. Then there were those who never have a reason not to tank up. They swigged from their bottles as they walked the streets, discarding one empty bottle and opening another. A few cars stopped to offer lifts, most others splashed as we hurried out of their way. Some acted as guides through the water, others perversely remarked at a lady's wet clothes.

I was starving but money was useless. Everything was shut. Everyone was making their way home. Finally I found a tiny bakery that was open and gorged on whatwas left of their daily stock. I tried calling near and dear ones from my phone but the most advertised network in Bombay was the first to lose connectivity. Eventually at 8.30pm, three hours after I had started walking, I reached home. My trusty phone booth, which on normal days would be open till 1am, was open. I made my calls and went home. No water had entered my house. And as I removed my raincoat, I thanked my parents for forcing me to buy it instead of a more fashionable windcheater, for underneath it, I was bone dry.

I had it easy. 5km in waist deep water over 2 and a half hours was a walk in the park. A friend of mine was stuck overnight in a taxi on a flyover and then walked 8km. Another slept over at his office and then took 9 hours to get home, walking and hitch-hiking all the way. My uncle walked 26 km to his house. And another friend, a vegetarian, had to walk past four dead bufaloes. They had it relatively easy too. Many died in a landslide. Some drowned. Some sufocated in their cars. Some died saving others. Many are still missing.

This is the first time that I've had the experience of being rendered helpless by nature. It was a truly humbling experience.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Manic monday...

Remember those days in school or college when you awoke and just lay in bed wondering how you were going to spend your day? Remember complaining that you didn't have anything to do or that you were bored? Wait till you dont have a 'summer holiday' anymore. Wait till you have just 32 holidays in the year, or less. Wait till you dont have a weekend to do as you please.

Actually the working life isn't bad at all. I entered this new realm about ten months ago and have had a pretty good time since. But who doesnt love a good shout ever so often. And it's my blog and I'll rant if i want to.

The first casualty when you start working is choice. In college you could choose to lie in bed, on a cold wintry morning, for an extra hour and then only consequence you'd face was a missed class. Of course, do it too often and you'd be forced to miss a year's class. Try the lazy hour in bed while working and soon you'll be wont of creative excuses: "There was a ferocious dog outside my door and it wouldn't let me leave" or "The bus driver had the loosies and he to go really bad...". You could choose to party till 3am but then you'd be bleary-eyed all day at work the next day. You could certainly decide to call in sick but you'll realize that being ill too often downsizes that vital paycheck!

There's one similarity between the workfree pre-21 years and post that. Monday. The much bemoaned first day of the week (or third if you live in the middle-east, could someone living there tell me if you hate Monday as much too??)

No offence meant, I dont mean to call any of you cows. Oh, I take that back, I think of only one person as a cow and if you are reading this I wonder if you know that I am referring to You. He he, that unwarranted jab aside, that picture is quite typical. Flat on a monday morning - physically, from all the 'stuff' you've been upto on the weekend, and mentally, knowing you have a whole week of work to go through till it's Friday evening again. [I, being at the ripe age of 22, am referring to the under-30 category. And no offence meant to those over 30; I had this cartoon with me so it was convenient.]

And then there's complaining about work. It never ends, mindlessly doing the same thing again and again. Always getting the dirtiest work getting passed on to you because you're the new kid on the block. Being piled with work just as you've tied your shoelaces and are ready to run out of the door to start the best part of my day. To top it all, you have to listen to people who've read all the self-help, how to talk effectively, how to get my cheese moved, how to be an effective but sweet talking pain in the arse.

What do you do in times like these? Make a few changes. I made mine. And now I work even on Sundays. And yet I dont complain.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A debut for George Binoy

Am pleased as punch, feeling like a million bucks, and whatever else you might want to call it.
Check out my first byline, McGrath in numbers, for Take a look, even if you despise cricket.

The Beatles? ...Not quite

The Australian pace quartet - McGrath, Lee, Gillespie (bare-footed like Paul McCartney) and Kasprowicz do an Abbey Road impersonation.

The Original Version - The Fab Four

The Red Hot Chilli Peppers do it their way.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

My first Mumbai fist-fight

It's easy to spot new-comers to a city. I could identify them immediatelyin Delhi. They were the ones who asked me how to get to India Gate, which buses went to AIIMS?, how long it would take to get to ISBT. They were the ones who didnt push everyone else on a bus. And who didnt haggle with the auto-rickshaw drivers. I felt sorry for them in Delhi because they had to learn the ways of one of the most hostile cities and no one would take the time to guide them. I'm a new-comer to Mumbai. And it doesn't take a genius to single me out as one. But Delhi has prepared me well.

Moving on to the fist-fight. I hate to be a wet blanket but the fist fight wasnt mine. I was a mere passenger on a bus, on my way to work when behind me, a mother-of-all fights broke out. At first I didn't notice it but one of the participants, no doubt offended by the lack of attention I was paying to him, shoved me into an elderly respectable woman. Embarassed, I muttered my apologies and turned around to give the offender a piece of my mind only to see Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, of WWF fame, going at it hammer and tongs. Had my Marathi been any better than my Hindi, I would have known what caused the fight. It was in a dead-lock, with Hogan and the Warrior latching on to each other's collars. Each screaming what i assumed to be 'Let-go F*****'. Hogan snapped, landing three clockwork-orangesque punches on the Warrior's face. Bleeding from the mouth and nose, the Warrior got down at a bus-stand and the conductor and his mother (who was actually on the bus because I distinctly heard him call her something Aaie,marathi for mother) heaved a sigh of relief. The Warrior, then returned with something that would certainly call for a disqualification even in the WWF, a rock. Not a stone but a decent sized rock and pressed it to Hogan's face threatening to disfigure it. By this time most of the strong young men and the conductor on the bus had had enough and the two stars were told that they had had enough stage time. They were forcefully(and considerately) asked to get off at different stops and there ends my tale.

Now you didnt expect me to have gotten into a fist-fight during my second week in Mumbai did you? It's a crazy place. The traffic is the worst I've seen. Everywhere is crowded all the time. Beer costs 50 bucks.And this is probably the only city where you have the privilege of paying the eunuch to travel in an auto with you. But I grew to love Delhi inspite of its many faults. I hope that my stay in Mumbai will take a similar path.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Innovative or just plain meddlesome?

Fearing that Twenty20 cricket, England's dose of viagra for the waning interest in county cricket, would soon render one-day cricket obsolete, the lawmakers of the Real McCoy felt that they were not to be outdone.

Enter the 'Super-sub' and the 'Powerplay', the chosen catalysts of one-day international (ODI) cricket. Much has been written about these 10-month guests of ODI cricket. They have been welcomed and rubbished by scores of cricketers, ex-cricketers and journalists. Suggestions for improvement of the new rules have been put forth, accusations of trivialising the game have been flung. Amid all the banter, Boycott and his hallowed Granny have been unusually silent.

The powerplay: 20 overs, broken up into a block of 10 and two blocks of five overs each where the fielding team is allowed only two fielders outside the 30 yard circle. However, they need not have two compulsory catchers during the five-over powerplays. The 10 over block is at the start of an innings, and the five over blocks can be used at the discretion of the fielding captain at any stage of the innings.

Introduced primarily to break up the 'pedestrian' nature of play between overs 15 and 40 (after the fielding restrictions are taken off and before the slog), where the batsmen tend to switch to 3rd gear and cruise after the initial rocket-propelled start to the innings. This does pose dilemmas to the fielding captain as to when he should implement the powerplays; should he finish all three blocks in one 20 over stretch, or should he implement it in the middle of the innings? No captain in his right mind will allow a powerplay during the slog. That is a no brainer.

To be fair to this new rule, only time will tell of its role in bringing about change in one-day cricket. The three-match Natwest Challenge is too short a time to pass judgement on the powerplay. Also, conditions in England tend to nullify its significance as teams do not get off to a blistering start as often as they do in the subcontinent, save the anomaly of Adam Gilchrist, and captains will be inclined to finish off the powerplays at the start of the innings.
Let Shahid Afridi club Pakistan to 100 in ten overs and then we shall see an unfortunate opposition captain tearing his hair out. Woe betide him if he implements another plowerplay and Afridi continues his rampage and woe betide him if he doesnt and a patient Afridi bides his time waiting for the inevitable powerplay. The Sehwag's, Afridi's and Gilchrist's of the world will soon be gunning for the 200 run barrier.

With bowlers already having such a hard time in one-day cricket, one tends to feel for them and wish that the innovators concerned had included them in their Christmas lists. What if they let McGrath bowl for as long as he wanted? Or increased the bouncer limit to two per over? Or made it possible to get two wickets of the same ball? Allow me to explain: Sehwag skies an attempted pull to Ponting who takes the catch. Ponting then sees Ganguly, who was half way down the pitch praying that the catch would be spilled, out of his ground and breaks the stumps to dismiss the non-striker as well. A cricket pundit would be aghast at borrowing this concept from baseball, but my argument is that when you innovate in favour of the batsmen, even it out with something for the fielding side.

The super-sub: The captains name a team of 12 players, before the toss, of which the 12th name designated as the super-sub. The super-sub may replace any player in the team at any stage of the match and perform duties of the substituted player as permissible. The substituted player takes no further part in the game.

Cricket's variant of football's substitution rule, the super-sub opens up a new dimension to team selection and batting and bowling options. Teams will gleefully plan to field seven batsmen (inclusive of a wicketkeeper) and four bowlers, and substitute a batsmen for a bowler while fielding and vice versa. Look a little closer and you'll realise that they've overlooked a trivial matter, the toss. When enough literature has been devoted to reducing the significance of the toss, the naming of the super-sub has given it augmented importance. Why would you want to give the captain who has won the toss on a batting paradise, the added advantage of nullifying an opposition player, if the opposition's super-sub is a bowler? Vikram Solanki did go down in history books as the first super-sub to score a half-century but not before Simon Jones, originally in the starting eleven, was given a ODI cap for cooling his heels in the dressing room. Consequentially, England were a bowler short as they defended their already meagre total against Australia. One is tempted to question the lawmaklers shortsightedness. Surely they could not have overseen this blatant advantage accruing to the luck of the coin. Why didn't they allow the teams to name a team of 12 before the toss and designate the super-sub after it.

I am all for innovations to galvanise and improve the one-day game. And admitted that the innovations can only be tried and tested. All I am saying is to make balanced innovations. Keep the bowler in mind as well. There's much more joy in watching a close run chase where the target is 250, than when the target is 330. And try and test the innovations at the first class level. It is not fitting for international ties to be reduced to a farce beacuse of an unmonitored new rule.

A front foot foward

Deeply influenced by friends, enemies and faceless bloggers, I have decided to foray into this 21st century literary world. What does 'Georgespeak' mean? Well, it's a pun on 'Doublespeak', a language immortalised by George Orwell in his masterpiece,1984.

Doublespeak is language deliberately constructed to disguise or distort its actual meaning, often resulting in a "communication bypass". Such language is associated with governmental, military, and corporate institutions. Doublespeak may be in the form of bald euphemisms ("downsizing" for "firing of many employees") or deliberately ambiguous phrases ("wet work" for "assassination"). Doublespeak is distinguished from other euphemisms through its deliberate usage by governmental, military organisations.

Terribly sorry about the Orwell binge, but you have to take a look at this fantastic
Apple commercial. No points for guessing what it's based on.