Sunday, 28 September 2008

Is this the beginning of the end?

No, this is not about market capitalism - this is about Test cricket. Mukul Kesavan in his piece on Cricinfo writes about how Australia's upcoming tour of India may well portend the end of test cricket's hegemony:

"It costs me to say it but this golden age of Australian cricket, from Mark Taylor to Ricky Ponting via Steve Waugh, through which they produced a whole regiment of modern greats, gave Test cricket a longer lease of the cricketing limelight than it might have had in the normal course of cricket history. If we're at the end of Australia's modern heyday, we might well be looking at the end, not of Test cricket, but of its reign as the hegemonic form of the game."

Sounds ominous, except that it's a little over-the top. Test cricket hasn't had much of a hegemony since the beginning of the decade, at least not for most fans. Of course everybody appreciates a good Test series and all that, but that's not the same thing as dominance or primacy. If this series turns out to be less than spectacular, it's not going to suddenly change people's view of Test cricket. Besides, there's another very good series coming up in a few months - England under Pietersen versus South Africa in South Africa, which should also be a good advertisement for Test cricket.

That's not to say that the series won't be exciting. There definitely are a lot of questions that will be asked of both sides, as both Mukul's and Ian Chappell's articles note. One contest they both don't mention strongly enough, though, is how Sehwag and Gambhir take on the Aussie opening bowlers. The last time the Australians were here, the fast bowlers were willing to set conservative fields and choke the boundaries. That worked since the bowlers were of the quality of McGrath and Gillespie, backed up by the experience of Michael Kasprowicz and the spin of Shane Warne. What the Indians may want to look at though, is the tour before that, in 1998, when Australia came with a fairly inexperienced pace attack and the openers along with Dravid at 3 were able to dominate them and neutralize Warne, setting up the series win in the process.

This time around, Gambhir could play a very important role - he's coming off 50's in 3 consecutive Tests in a series where the rest of the batsmen mostly faltered, and he's great at rotating the strike, which is something that will help to stave off the pressure if the boundaries dry up for Sehwag. Given that Dravid doesn't have too many domestic matches in which to find form, how the openers do could decide the fate of the series. And if Dravid doesn't seem to be coping so well at number 3, a case may be made for switching positions with Laxman who is in slightly better form - it's been done before, with some success.

The other aspect that India's going to have to decide on is whether to go in with 5 bowlers or 4. Sourav Ganguly may still make it to the squad, but maybe they should consider 5 bowlers for the first test at least, before the Australians get completely acclimatised. Maybe Irfan Pathan, so there's a bit of batting back-up as well, though a more attacking option would be Munaf. I doubt if they'll be very adventurous with team choices though. My 15 for the squad would be: Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dhoni, Kumble, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Ishant Sharma - all 10 likely to play, Ganguly, Pathan, Munaf, Piyush Chawla and Badrinath. It would be unfair to keep Ganguly out of the squad - he's been one of the best Test batsmen for India in the last couple of years if you go by the numbers.

Anyway, it should be a fairly entertaining series. Too bad it's all on Neo Sports, though.


Will resume posting on more comment-inducing subjects later. Just been a while since I talked about cricket, that's all.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Batman minus Bruce Wayne

I finally managed to get around to watching 'The Dark Knight' today, and I have to say it's pretty good. But you probably knew that already. The one problem with the movie though, is that it comes off not so much as a Batman film as it does a Joker film. That's partly due to the fact that Heath Ledger was perfect as the Joker, but also because it seemed like the Batman, and more importantly Bruce Wayne, got relegated to the sidelines in the story. Which just dims the brilliance of the movie a little, since it means that you could have replaced the Batman with any other generic cartoon superhero/vigilante, (or even edited him out of the film, sort of like this) and it wouldn't have made too much of a difference. But then that's something that you all probably knew too.

So instead, to add a little novelty to the post (and to test out Google Docs), I decided to do a little 'analysis'. I pulled up the memorable quotes from IMDb for both 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight' - 502 versus 273 - and then droke it down into which character had the most number of memorable lines (in terms of percentage). This is what I got:(source data for charts available here)

For 'Batman Begins' Bruce Wayne had about 25% of all the memorable quotes in the film, and Batman had another 8%. The main bad guys - Henri Ducard/Ra's Al Ghul, Dr. Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow and Carmine Falcone, together made up about 21%.

Now contrast that with 'The Dark Knight':
The Joker alone gets 30% of the best lines, while poor Bruce Wayne comes in second with 11%. Batman, incidentally, has fewer interesting dialogues than Lt. Gordon.
And the few dialogues he does get to mouth are delivered in a voice that makes him sound like he needs to gargle. You'd think someone with the sort of R&D setup that can ostensibly turn mobile phones into sonar equipment would be able to get a better voice masking device made.

But that's another thing about the movie - it's not just that Batman doesn't have too many lines, it's also that Christian Bale just doesn't do much with whatever he's got anyway. He gets upstaged by pretty much everyone else in the cast, including not just Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, but also Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and I dare say even Eric Roberts as Salvatore Moroni. I guess the guys at Warner Borthers/DC Comics decided that they botched up by asking George Clooney to play Batman - why would you become a rubber-clad vigilante when you've got that smile and ooze Danny-Ocean-charm from every pore? - so they went in the opposite direction and picked up Bale, who ends up as being neither suave enough to be Wayne, nor physically imposing enough to play Batman.

So, on the whole, great movie, not-so-great Batman. And Google Docs works pretty well too, if you have a good net connection.

Friday, 19 September 2008

The Anonymous Lurker Weblog Awards

Last week, Han was kind enough to nominate me for a BrillanteWeblogPremio-2008 award, one of the conditions for acceptance of which is to nominate 7 other blogs. Now since there are only about 7 (active) blogs on my blog-roll (the one named 'Other People's Blogs'), that's not really a tough ask. All the friends' blogs that I read regularly (and sometimes comment on) are listed there, except for one who I thought might not welcome the attention. Anyway, most of them appear on Han's list and I second his thoughts on them, so I'm not going to list them all out here. Instead, I'm going to link to a few of the blogs I keep checking out every once in a while - lurk around anonymously, so to speak - which are not full-on 'professional' blogs, but are well-written and worth checking out:

Memsaab Story is a blog I've discovered relatively recently through some random link-clicking across a few other blogs. To quote Mem Saab's story , the purpose of the blog is 'to write about films that aren’t already extensively covered elsewhere', focusing mainly on Bollywood movies from the 60's and 70's, but with other interesting bits thrown in as well. The joy with which she writes about masala films is infectious, and since I rarely have the attention span or time to actually go off and watch movies, the plot summaries are perfect for me. And I've got to say - she has one hell of a cute dog.

The New Friends Colony Community Centre is a blog that I check out every once in a while. It is 'about fifteen minutes from the agency and two from hell'.It is also probably familiar to most readers of this blog - there is at least one Stephanian I know of who contributes to it, which should bring it to the attention of most of you. It can get a little arbit sometimes, but on the whole it's interesting, and worth a read.

The Corridor is a blog mostly devoted to cricket, and is the closest to a 'professional' blog on this list. It's written mostly by Will Luke, who also contributes to Cricinfo, but is a bit snarkier (more snarky?) in its style form the articles you find there. If you're interested in cricket, subscribe to the feed. If not, pass on by.

Daly Haal, the online hub for the Karnataka Quizzing Association, is another site I keep checking regularly. Most of the questions are fairly esoteric, but since this is quizzing in the world of Wikipedia, getting the answer right is as much about typing in the correct search term on Google as it is about 'knowing the funda'. A lot of interesting trivia, though perhaps not enough 'little known facts' of the sort that floated around the Delhi quizzing circuit.

There you go - 4 blogs that should keep you entertained through the weekend at least. What blogs have caught your fancy in the recent past? Do tell.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Happy Onam!

This is what you get when you get home late from work on Onam and end up watching 'Blade 2' on TV. The name was originally thought of as the punchline to the following not-so-funny joke :"What do you call a Mallu assault rifle?"
Feel free to invent your own back-story in the comments below.
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Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Driving in Cars with Mallus - Part I

"Don't tell your mother about this. She wouldn't approve", he says. We're driving down through rubber plantations on our way to Ernakulam.
"About what?"
"I'm going to have a 'small'", he replies, and he pulls out a bottle of McDowell's whiskey and a bluish glass tumbler. Booze at 11.30 in the morning, and that too IMFL? Heck, forget about my mom, I don't approve. However, I don't say anything. I have to get into town today and buy a ticket out for a flight this evening and I can't afford to not take the ride. Besides, he isn't driving, so it's not so bad.
"Life in Kerala is a little different", he offers by way of explanation. I murmur something and offer my conciliatory smile - tight upper lip, flash of the teeth, emphasize the pseudo-dimples on either side of my mouth. "We'll have to stop for a second so I can pour a drink", he tells the driver.
We're making pretty good time down the two-lane state highway through the hills, overtaking slow-moving autos and KSRTC buses by playing chicken with on-coming traffic in the opposite lane, ducking back onto our side of the road just in time. I'm pretty impressed with the Lancer - there really is something to that whole rally-based technology thing. Trying to find a place to stop, though, is a bit more difficult on the narrow road. The first open space near the road that we spot isn't suitable - it turns out to be in front of someone's gate, and they're trying to get their car out. The second isn't much better - it's right in front of a chapel, and my host's Syrian Catholic upbringing gets the better of him. The next spot has a similar problem - there's a temple just up the road, and our driver's a Hindu.
Rejecting another spot because it's just after a blind turn, we finally stop in front of a small shop, probably shut because it's a Sunday. A little fumbling with the bottle, a Patiala peg (how's that for North-South integration?) poured into the tumbler with soda and then we're off again.
The only CDs in the car are compilations of old Malayalam movie songs. Chitra's voice skips on the CD player every time we go over a pot-hole, of which there are a fair number. It's like a bad remix, like when she did that arbit album way back in the 90's with the Voodoo Rapper.
"I think I need to pee", he says. We start searching for another place to stop. This time not only does it have to be away from places of worship, other people's gates/fences/walls, and not around a blind turn, it's also got to be a little secluded. Man needs his privacy.
We find a spot, and he asks me if I need to go as well. I say I'm fine, thanks. Since he's gotten out of the car, he decides he may as well smoke a cigarette, so I get out to stretch my legs. I'm wearing a slim-fit shirt, and he looks at me and says - "Do you work out? You should. You've got a good frame." Gyaan on working out follows. Repeat conciliatory smile and mumblings.
We get back into the car. "I might as well pour myself another, save us the bother of finding another spot later", he says. Why not. After all, we're still an hour away from Ernakulam, and lunch.
The music's changed to songs from old black and white films - Prem Nazir in white pants, women in mundu-pavadai, the promise of communism and social revolution in the air.
My mom calls to check on how we're doing. "Everything's fine", I say,"Don't worry."