Thursday, 31 January 2008

Way to Go!

Indiawest Online reports that is giving $2 million to Pratham to support its initiative in bringing out the Annual Status of Education Report which evaluates levels of basic education across India. Besides the fact that I think Pratham is doing good work, this article is getting linked to here because it finally reveals to me what my sister's designation is...

Sunday, 27 January 2008

The end of the world as we know it..?

Another cricket post:

There have been 2 major bits of news relating to cricket over the past week - The sale of the IPL franchises and Adam Gilchrist's decision to retire from Test cricket. Both, in their own way, could signal the end of the cricketing order as we know it.
The IPL first - it's been hailed as the Next Big Thing in cricket, with a lot of positive spin about how having clubs will lead to professional management and more money and so on. I have a feeling it's going to be a mixed blessing, and it will take some time before the dust really settles on what the new structure of cricket will be. Having a club-based league in the Twenty20 format and regional teams in the other tournaments is sure to cause some consternation. How would, say, UP react to Mohammed Kaif captaining them in the Ranji trophy, then playing for Delhi in the IPL? If Sanjay Bangar were to get injured playing Twenty20 for Kolkata, would the Services lodge a complaint with the BCCI? Who gets to use (and promote) the Wankhede as their home ground - Anil Ambani's team or the Mumbai Cricket Association? Why should it be okay for Ishant Sharma to play for Bangalore in the IPL, but not for the South Zone in the Duleep Trophy?
The reason why the club format works in football is because it really is all that exists. Replace it with regional teams (indeed, the fan following has always been localized, at least until the advent of cable TV) and you would get similar results. The key there is good administration and a focus on the long-term success of the teams which helps build the brand.
An extremely important function that football clubs perform in this regard is talent development. For cricket, I think that's going to be crucial - if, and how, the money that will flow into the IPL will go into unearthing new talent and expanding the game's infrastructure. If the clubs choose to leave that aspect to the regional cricket associations without investing their own time and money into it, then there's less incentive for the associations to carry out such development. Here, I have a bit of a problem with the amount of money that is going to flow into getting in the big names like Warne. The very fact that players are willing to sign up even they're past their peak shows that they think this is a way to get some easy cash, and that Twenty20 does not require them to be at the top of their game. Instead, investing in putting together a bunch of fit, young athletes with a point to prove will make the games far more exciting, and help in unearthing new talent. For the business houses too, it would be a more profitable venture to get into endorsement deals with upcoming players rather than the big names - there's anyway going to be a lot of publicity which will translate into the making of new stars- witness Seagram's signing up Uthappa or Marico signing up Sree Santh after their Twenty20 exploits.
This brings me to the other big news - Gilchrist's departure. He has been a fantastic cricketer all these years and his retirement again brings into focus what I feel is the nearing end of a golden generation in international cricket. Over the past 10 to 15 years, we have been fortunate to see cricketers who have been able to straddle all forms of the game - Tests, one-day cricket, even Twenty20 - and succeed like none before, and perhaps, none that may follow, bringing with them a rise in interest in the game. The benchmarks set by them - Tendulkar, Ponting, McGrath, Warne, Murali, Pollock etc - are so high that any pretenders will have a long way to go before being considered to be in the same league. How their successors will meet these heightened expectations remains to be seen.
In turn, how the game's administrative bodies invest in their future, maintaining a steady supply of quality cricketers to meet the ever-increasing demand for more content from the viewing public, will decide the future of the game in the coming years.

Oh No! Knot another Tie-related pun!

Tomorrow I will have to wear a tie to work. The Powers that Be have decided that heceforth we shall all have to wear ties to work on Mondays. This is supposedly to make us all look (and, presumably, feel) more professional. Also, no more casual Fridays.
I guess the tie-tying/tie-knotting/knot-tying skills I honed at the Bank shall hold me in good stead now.

Top Gear does the Reva

If you like cars and/or quirky BBC programming, you've probably seen Top Gear. I don't think they telecast it on BBC here in India anymore - at least I haven't seen it (come to think of it, I haven't seen anything on BBC in some time) but thankfully, YouTube again comes to the rescue. Here's a video of them doing evil things to a Reva. If you've lived in Bangalore, you've probably seen the Reva around - it's that tiny electric car looks like a curvaceous golf cart with doors. I saw a couple in Mumbai as well - parked in the dealership, not actually on the streets, because I guess if people want to get all cooped up and sweaty they'll just take the Borivli local - but otherwise, you can hardly see them in any other city in India. Apparently it's exported to Britain as well, and a few months ago I remember there was something in the news about one of them bursting into flames or something.

I wonder what they'd do to a Nano if they ever get their hands on one...

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Channeling Derek

Watched this show called 'Nat Geo Genius' on, well, Nat Geo. Had Rajat Kapoor (of 'Mixed Doubles', 'Monsoon Wedding' etc) as quizmaster on it. For some reason, Kapoor seems to have grown a very fuzzy beard. Perhaps its a homage to the Derek O'Brien in his earlier days. Didn't really watch much of the quiz - got rather boring after a while. Nat Geo has a Flash-heavy site up for the show as well. The write-ups are avoidable, but there is a quiz-type game if you're bored.

Friday, 25 January 2008

A New Look

It's around 2 AM and I can't get sleep, so I've given the blog a makeover. The strict borders between the sections on the previous template seemed restrictive and claustrophobic. Cramped my creative flow, don't you know.

Or maybe I just like having a lot more blue.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Proof that simply averaging stuff out may not give you the right picture

WARNING: Not as scandalous as you might think (though I would still urge any young cousins of mine who might be reading this to look away. I wouldn't want to be blamed for leading you all astray): Jason Salavon - Every Playboy Centerfold, The Decades

Link via

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Umpires and the middle-management paradox

Another cricket post - there doesn't seem to be anything else that's too interesting happening, at least not in my life...

There's been a lot of talk of late about using more technology to assist umpires in making decisions about dismissals. Amit Varma, for example, talks about using Hawkeye to help umpires decide on LBWs:

The predictive technology behind Hawk-Eye is similar to that used in
missile-guidance systems and instrument guidance for brain surgeons – it’s
designed for extreme accuracy... Experts of the game implicitly acknowledge this
by turning to Hawk-Eye whenever lbw decisions need to be evaluated... What we
see on television is a just a graphical representation of Hawk-Eye, and
Hawk-Eye’s decision would actually be delivered within a second or two to the
umpire, via a handheld device: out or not out, pitching outside leg or on line,
and so on. At the click of a button, umpires would save themselves much

While this sounds good - it would take only about as much time as Steve Bucknor normally does anyway - it would open up a peculiar problem: would the umpire be allowed to over-rule Hawk-Eye? I don't think too many umpires would have the guts to go against the technology, because that would be an open invitation for criticism, so either by law or by convention, Hawk-Eye's decision would be final.

But that brings us to a bit of a paradox, which would be as follows:

The technology would be too expensive and would require too much technical support (maintenance, calibration, what-have-you) to be implemented at many levels below international cricket - I'd say even first-class cricket would not have it for at least the next 5 years - which means that the umpires' word would be final. Now, umpires for international cricket would have risen from grade cricket (hopefully) on the basis of their being able to make the right decision as often as possible. However, as they move up the hierarchy, those very skills that got them on that path would actually become less important (thanks to technology) - similar to what happens when people start moving up the ladder into middle management in your average corporate entity. Instead, again like middle-managers, their main role might just be to get out of the way as far as possible, and use their 'soft skills' to calm things down when they go awry.

It could get worse though - if skills aren't rewarded adequately closer to the top, those with the skills might not be interested in taking up the job, and you could end up with whoever is best at sucking up to the Powers That Be, never mind if they get bureaucratic and throw their weight around with the players. In other words, going by the evidence from the corporate world, the Pointy-Haired Umpire could be on his way.

And now, back to Regular Programming

After all that monkey business from last week, it's great to see India and Australia go at it in Perth. Watching Dravid and Tendulkar up against the Aussie pacers was a reaffirmation of why good Test cricket is hard to beat. I'll admit I thought it was a great move to get Dravid to open, but now watching him get back into form at number 3, I have to say he looks a whole lot more comfortable. I hope Yuvraj Singh realizes just how much faith was placed in him by the team management when they decided to move Dravid around just to accommodate him. Yuvraj's time will hopefully come in Test cricket. For now, though, I'd much rather have Dravid at No.3.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

My Artistic Development

For some strange reason, Law preserved this cartoon from way back when we were in school (that's more than 10 years ago - note the date). Possibly because the main protagonist was based, notionally, on him. In case anyone else has any more of my cartoons, do scan them and send them across. I'll give you credit, I promise.
Anyway, here's some stuff I doodled back in college on my study board when I should have been studying economics...

That's ball-point ink on wood. See how I've developed as an artist?
By the way, in case anyone out there wants to know, no I do not do tattoos. Or mehndi patterns.

A Documentary I'd like to see made this year

Norman Pritchard is not a name you hear too often. It's normally trotted out by the newspapers once every 4 years around the time that the Olympics come around. Born in Kolkata in 1875, he won 2 silver medals at the 1900 Olympics. The IOC lists him as having competed for India, though the IAAF has in recent years claimed that he represented Britain. Considering that there are very few Indians who have won medals at the Olympics in individual events, this itself would make for somewhat interesting viewing. But what's interesting is what happens after that. He moved to Hollywood, changed his name to Norman Trevor, and acted in silent movies for a couple of decades. Going by the names of the characters he played, I'd guess he played a lot of English establishment-types - armymen, judges, counts and the like.

Thus far, we have the story of an Anglo-Indian athlete who wins an Olympic medal, then goes to Hollywood and plays Englishmen. But I'm not done yet. I'd like to see the documentary hosted by Tom Alter. That would add a touch of symmetry to it, considering Alter is an American who came to Bollywood and started his career mainly playing Englishmen, and also did a bit of sports commentary and writing. Release it in 2008, and you would have a movie about an Indian Olympian the year that China hosts the games.

I think the story works on a whole lot of levels.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Happy New Bear!

I haven't posted this year so I'll start off with this, the spiritual successor to Crazy Frog. Insanely silly. Got it via NatGeo's blog Pop Omnivore.

UPDATE: In case you were wondering, I drafted part of the previous post earlier, but I clicked 'Publish Post' on this one first, so technically, this is my first published post for the year. Just in case anyone out there starts quibbling...

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

M*nkeying Around

I typed out a pretty long post on the whole Habhajan-Symonds imbroglio and the poor umpiring at the a couple of days ago, but I accidentally deleted the whole thing before I could hit 'Publish Post'. So instead, since everyone including Kracker-boy has gotten in on the act already, I'll write about what I think the Indian team should do going forward.
Firstly, it needs to work on its appealing technique. After all, human umpires will not be going away anytime soon, so we may as well make the most of them. Note how, when the Australians appeal vociferously, they claim they are just playing the game hard and eventually browbeat the umpires into giving them the marginal calls. When the Indians do it, they get cautioned or worse for excessive appealing. Avijit Ghosh wrote an article on it a couple of days back in the TOI, but unfortunately I can't find it online. I think we could ask Warnie or McGrath for a couple of coaching sessions -considering how much they're going to be paid for joining the IPL, it's the least they could do. Scotland once called in David Boon to help their team deal with sledging, so this may not be too far-fetched an idea.
The second thing the team needs to work on is the sledging strategy. Currently it's done pretty amateurishly. The Australians are again the side to benchmark against here. You have Ponting, Gilchrist or even Hayden playing the perfect choirboys when they face the media and being generally on their best behaviour most of the time. The sledging is then left to guys like Symonds and Clarke. This makes it tougher for people to criticize the team overall. England followed a similar strategy with Vaughan facing the media and Prior and gang doing the trash-talking. India on the other hand had Ganguly doing both for a while, and even now the younger members of the team still don't know how to play the media. Surprising, considering how much more coverage they receive. All is not lost, however, since Yuvraj still might make it into the Test team as a middle-order sledging all-rounder, and perhaps Rohit Sharma can perhaps be groomed into a baby-faced potty-mouth a la Michael Clarke or Ian Bell. At the same time, Dhoni can flash that smile at the press conferences, and just to ensure that all bases are covered, Robin Uthappa can reaffirm his faith in (a suitably Judeo-Christian) God.
Finally, in the short term, to deal with the whole racism issue, I would suggest a couple of photo-ops with aboriginal kids. Harbhajan could even adopt a home - it worked for Steve Waugh, so it might help him too. And seriously, they could do with the boost in media attention. Considering that the team is in Canberra at the moment, they could start by dropping in here .