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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ajantha Mendis — The Freak Turns It On

By Venkat Ananth

Sri Lanka's penchant for producing cricketing freaks is not new. Even before they attained Test status, they had cricketers who could do different things differently on a cricket pitch.

Take the case of Ivers Gunasekara – Ceylon’s captain in the 1950s, the man who has been hailed as the original Master Blaster. His cricketing achievements apart, Ivers made a name for himself for being able to whack the cricket ball in the same manner as a Nadal would to that green little thing. He played shots at angles, which around that time was considered taboo than revolutionary.

Then came a Muttiah Muralitharan, whose unique action challenged the guardians of the game and divided the cricketing world. And then, Lasith Malinga – who by throwing the "soft-ball" in practice as hard as he could, turned into an A-grade slinger – flummoxing many a reputed batsman.

Now, at a time when quality in Sri Lankan cricket was in heavy doubt, they churned out a refreshingly freakish talent, who's taken international cricket by storm in his short stint. Ajantha Mendis, who was by and large known as a Sri Lankan Army Private till he wore the Blue (as Lankans call it), has overnight transformed himself into the poster-boy of Sri Lankan cricket.

No sooner did he come into public glare, than the inevitable comparisons to two Aussie former spinners – John "carrom grip" Iverson and John Gleeson already got going. If anything, Mendis has the ability to bowl everything that a spinner technically can – the off-break, the leg-break, the doosra, the flipper, the quicker one and not to forget the wrong'un – with a grip that is rather unique – the ball entrenched above the middle and the ring finger, only to be flicked the way he wants it to go.

What makes him a lethal proposition for a batsman is his ability, in true Kumble fashion, bowl an accurate line and length, with little or absolutely no deviation. Play for the turn, and the umpires if they picked him, might just send the batsman back!

But, for a man who has largely spent his rather short and successful cricketing career in a lesser known environment of a second-division domestic team, international cricket as of now looks like a piece of cake. Sixty-eight wickets in nine first-class matches' reads well in a stats review package, but when you consider the grueling nature of international cricket, that magical tenth over in the final of the Asia Cup left everyone spellbound.

The batsman was in a murderous mood, itching to put the pressure on Mendis straightaway – perhaps an indication of how highly the Indians rated him even without seeing him before. Had Sehwag's intentions come off, Mendis wouldn't have even been a subject of most cricketing discussions today. Mendis' talent was never under question and for everyone who woke up the night to watch Sri Lanka's Caribbean sojourn, it was only a matter of time before he blossomed in international cricket.

But, the need of the situation was temperament and courage. Mendis, had that in abundance and perhaps the hasty see-the-ball-and-tonk-it-to-Quetta strategy used by Sehwag played into his hands. And much more than that, the mere anticipation of the Sehwag gamble, showed that the spinner's maturity was beyond the matches he's played thus far.

In the case of the other batsmen, the set-up by a canny captain in Mahela and a private in Ajantha did the trick. Alas, it took an Ishant Sharma, a team-mate of Mendis in the Kolkata IPL franchise to perhaps pick what was coming out of his fingers (not the wrist).

At the end of it all, what Sri Lanka has manage to unearth in their past two series is a gem of a cricketer, who if guided well by the Muralis and the Sangakkaras will only blossom into something special.

His inclusion in the Test team is only a matter of time, but in his short stint as a Sri Lankan cricketer, he's given them what they needed all along – a quality spinner to support Murali and not just that, a bigger ray of hope and a shot in the arm for lesser known talents in the island-nation.

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Of jocks and jokes

Note: This interview was done in April 2007 for a Mumbai-based daily that was running a series of profiles of young achievers.

But this writer left the city soonafter, while the features editor of the paper quit. This is how the interview finally sees the day of light.

Name: Vikram Sathaye

Age: 32 years (He is 34 now)

Milestone moment: Comic spots for Extra Innings during the 2003 Cricket World Cup.

Innovation: Stand-up comedy in English — a rarity this side of Jerry Seinfeld. He’s had audiences in splits with his accurate mimicry of cricketers.

Alternative interests: Marketing management, film production.

Profile: MS Dhoni is wary of Vikram Sathaye.

During India’s tour of South Africa last year, Dhoni joked to Irfan Pathan pointing to Sathaye: "Irfan, don’t tell him anything. He makes his money by joking about us."

But cricketers respect Sathaye. His fan list is mighty impressive: among them are Sachin Tendulkar and Wasim Akram.

What’s the biggest compliment he’s received? "Someone told me I do better Sachin than Sachin does," he beams.

Then he recalls the time Wasim called him from Lahore. "Wasim used to tell his grandfather how funny my imitation of Inzamam-ul Haq is. So he called to ask me if I would imitate Inzy on the phone so that his grandfather, who was sick at the time, could listen to him and laugh a little. I said, ‘Anytime!’ That was perhaps the biggest compliment ever."

People know little of his accomplishments in marketing management, a career he chucked to be a full-time comedian.

"The year was 1997," he says, "and my batch mates at Symbiosis Institute of Business Management were heading to the Levers and Cokes. I wanted to be the manager of a basketball team — the whole Jerry Maguire thing was in."

An year-long stint at Sunil Gavaskar’s Professional Management Group followed, and then, a four year stay as marketing manager of MTV India.

At MTV, his part-time antics made him as popular as Cyrus Broacha. Then, he was heading a production company — SET’s Metalight Productions — and the talent for clean and effective humour was spotted in 2003 by Kunal Dasgupta, the SET CEO. Extra Innings followed.

"By the end of that year, I realised that the response was beyond my expectation. I decided I’ll be a full-time comedian," Sathaye says. Now, he’s on the road about 10 days a month doing about 7-8 shows for private audiences.

"Vikram can see the funny side of things, which seem perfectly normal to others," says columnist and popular blogger Amit Varma, who’s been Sathaye’s good friend from his Fergusson days. "And his humour is always good-natured, never harsh or malicious, and often very perceptive."

This is a country whose people need to laugh more often. Make them, Vikram.

Photo: The Hindu

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sursuri Quiz 3 — Slay The Clay

Sursuri presents our Roland Garros quiz.

The quiz rules remain the same.

This is a four-minute quiz; make sure you don't get timed out.

Remember to enter your name or your entry will be rejected. There's plenty of time to do it.

Whenever you're ready, just push play!

Warning: The quiz needs to be guarded against pop-up blockers. For best results, play on Firefox.

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Results of Sursuri Cricket Quiz 2

The second Sursuri Cricket Quiz is now over.

Here's the final list of quizzers, along with their scores.

1) The list, by Name, Score, Location, Age, Profession.

2) The complete grid of all valid responses.

Let's come to our Sursuri question which was:

“I think mine is the sort of record that won’t be bettered.” — Some good natured humor by a former cricketer, obviously indicating towards a peculiar – and somewhat unwanted – achievement.

Who is he and what is this achievement?
And here are some of the common responses by our quizzers:
  • Malcolm Nash on being hit for six sixes in an over.
  • Courtney Walsh/Danny Morrison/Glenn McGrath/Bhagwat Chandrasekhar on scoring all those ducks in Test cricket.
  • Sunil Gavaskar on his infamous 36 not out.
  • Chetan Sharma on being hit for the last-ball six.
  • The answer, of course, was Graham Gooch who played in three World Cup finals for England, losing each time.

    Not many got that one right — so kudos to everyone who did.

    The second quiz is now closed. But our next quiz, a French Open special, is on it's way soon.

    Other quiz statistics:
  • Total quizzers entered: 407
  • Total quizzer responses accepted: 328
  • Average quiz difficulty as rated by quizzers: 6.64/10
  • Average score per quizzer: 5.98/50

    Sursuri also acknowledges the help received from India Uncut and Churumuri.

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  • Monday, June 2, 2008

    Curtains! The Summer Madness Comes To An End

    Third Man writes:

    Beginning with a whimper, the IPL ended with a bang. Finally, what seemed like an interminable case of summer madness is over. As the 45th and final day of the IPL produced a Sunday night thriller – a dream, last-ball finish – even the purists must have been drawn into the thrill of the chase.

    Though it’s difficult to fathom a pattern in the shortest format of the game – some say the only pattern is its capriciousness – something must be behind the complete dominance of the Rajasthan Royals in the tournament. They frequently found themselves in tights spots in the tournament but, more often than not, they wriggled out. That’s what they did in the final, more than once.

    Warne is, by all accounts, a remarkable leader of men – his boys, brothers and sons to him, look up to him. “You walk on the edge, and if you fall off, we’ll hold you,” his coaching assistant, Daren Berry, says of the role Warne sees for himself.

    And the Royals regularly walked on the edge; even after the calamitous dismissals of Shane Watson, Mohammad Kaif and Ravindra Jadeja, Warned egged on Yusuf Pathan to keep going for the big shots. When Pathan slipped, run-out with direct hit from Suresh Raina, Warne calmly stepped in and held the team. And the dream endured.

    The Royals had men who were supposed to be inexpensive, bargain buys – men who were not a marketing dream; but the team ended up with a remarkably high number of match-winners: Swapnil Asnodkar, Shane Watson, Graeme Smith, Yusuf Pathan, Sohail Tanvir and Warne himself. The young were fearless, the (cricketing) aged were firm and in body and mind. The result was not surprising. Expected to bring up the rear, they were the favourites by the time they got to the semifinals.

    So, thus ended first edition of the IPL – a success, surely, in terms of the hype it generated, and the impossible amounts it brought into the game.

    But I suspect there’s much more to IPL than was visible to the naked eye – it could well be much, much bigger. We’ll know in a year or two what the fruits are of what we’ve sown. The fruits of success are not always sweet – if you love cricket, you may not love the taste of things to come.
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    Friday, May 30, 2008

    Modi, the man with the golden touch — and a past

    Third Man writes:

    Must a man’s misdeeds, committed in the first flush of youth, come back to haunt him 23 years later? In Victor Hugo’s masterpiece Les Miserables, the protagonist, Jean Valjean, committed an insignificant indiscretion in youth and desperation; he found an implacable enemy in Inspector Javert, who proved an unshakeable foe, the man who gave him a lifelong chase towards a tragic denouement.

    Javert, an unyielding agent of justice, drowned himself in the Seine when he could not reconcile his chase with Valjean’s redemption and nobility after very minor brushes with law. For, must a man who’s paid his debt to society forever be thought as the law’s enemy?

    Fiction and life imitate each other; it now has emerged that the current darling of the page 3 people, the usher of the new age of billion-dollar cricket, Lalit Modi, was convicted for possession of cocaine, with an intent to traffic it – 400 grams of it – when he was 21.

    Hindustan Times carried the story on its front page, just three days after Modi, in a TV interview, said: "It was something that was thrown away by the courts and the judicial system in America and it was something that happened when I was in my teens in college in America."

    Clearly, someone is lying. When Mail Today published a story on Modi’s allegedly criminal past, they also printed a document that showed Modi had confessed his guilt. The case was not thrown away – Modi pleaded guilty to bargain a milder sentence. Another point – in 1985, Modi was clearly past his teens. He was also charged with criminal assault, along with three others.

    Now, it's natural for someone in his position to deny the charge now – use of recreational drugs is often looked at with an indulgent eye, but peddling them is far serious business.

    Sports journalists say that those documents have been in circulation for years – it's only Hindustan Times and Mail Today who could find the courage to publish his confession.

    Twenty-three years is sufficient distance to let a man go, even if the crime were as serious as it seems – if there has been no further suggestion of misdeeds associated with him. However, with Modi, that’s not the case. He's been accused of joining cricket administration through dubious methods; the IPL – as the Indian Express has reported – has become a private money-making enterprise of a select chosen ones.

    Modi proclaims his innocence, but it’s clear that he has much to answer for.
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    Wednesday, May 21, 2008

    What's The Colour Of Money?

    Money may make you class conscious, but it can't buy you class. One aspect of old money that's most worthy of approval is the fact that pecuniary privilege is, frequently, good for artistic taste. Excesses of money are made tolerable by artistic discrimination it can help foster.

    That's not happened with the IPL – you could be forgiven if you have fit of apoplexy if you look at the IPL winner's trophy, for it's an eyesore.

    The IPL lovingly catalogued the number of rubies, diamonds and sapphires that constitute this frightful atrocity. Artistic taste is both an acquired habit and instinctive fancy; I prefer minimalist, elegant lines in understated hues, rather than gaudy gold, but sadly, no one asks me for my opinion.

    The IPL's trophy is what could have been expected – the game being played out is not cricket at all, and it's fitting that the winners take home a confused symbol. The trophy is a jumble of themes – a just prize for the gold-diggers the players have been turned into.

    The patriotic theme – the trophy is in the shape of India's map – is both superfluous and apt because, despite the international stars and the money, it's just a domestic tournament. Perhaps the IPL also sought to buy immunity against criticism with this display of patriotism; but patriotism worn on the sleeve must be dealt with caution, especially in an event marked by contempt for sport and veneration for money.

    The beginning of the end of the Baggy Green?

    What about when you wear patriotism on your hat? Australians love their Baggy Green, but colour-altering attributes are not restricted to the chameleon – money accomplishes that with ease among humans. The Australian players, taking on the might of a Jamaica XI in the West Indies, wore blue caps which happened to have the sponsor's logo on it – just "by chance", according to the team management. Brad Haddin doesn't have a Baggy Green cap because he hasn't played Test cricket for Australia, so the team decided to switch to blue, for the "sake of uniformity".

    For some reason, this particular piece of apparel has acquired a halo, a sanctity difficult to understand. The shirts, trousers and shoes have been taken over by the sponsors, but why not the cap? Perhaps it still signifies the primacy of sport over commerce, an obscure throwback to the pride associated with headgear. But the Australians, who talk of their Baggy Green with touching devotion, gave it up for reasons that are suspiciously specious, possibly commercial. Perhaps, in the end, the market forces will buy and sell even symbols of purity of sport. That will be a pity.

    Earlier: The IPL trophy and other monstrosities

    Photograph via Getty Images on NineMSN

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    What would Ramadoss tell Warne?

    Hindustan Times snapped Shane Warne smoking before the Jaipur vs Kolkata match on Tuesday night.

    Remember this?

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    The IPL Trophy and other monstrosities

    Lalit Modi recently unveiled this trophy for the Indian Premier League. It has been crafted by Orra.

    It's a monstrosity.

    Bizdom tells us the trophy has:

    2,554 round and baguette diamonds weighing 68.77 carats, 4,500 yellow sapphires weighing 218.55 carats, blue sapphires weighing 986 carats and 8 rubies weighing 248.70 carats have been used. The gold weight of the statue is 691.15 grams.
    The gaudiness of the trophy is perhaps bettered by the corniness of the concept:

    Yellow and blue sapphires make up the map of India signifying the passion for the DLF Indian Premier League that has captured the imagination of the entire nation, while the rubies on the map highlight the eight franchises and cities in which the matches are being played.

    The border of the Indian map and the league is highlighted in diamonds, to signify the added dazzle that the league has brought to the game of cricket.
    Sursuri scrounged the net and put together a small list of weird trophies.

    Here's Mahela Jayawardene all smiles with his prize — the trophy for the home Test series against England.

    And here's tennis player Agustin Calleri... with a portable shower?

    And here's the lovely prize given to the winners of the Chicago International Documentary Festival Grand Prix.

    Presenting the winner and runner-up of the Acapulco Pear Eating Competition. Sorry, we meant Acapulco International Tennis.

    Golfer Christie Kerr really seems to like her prize...

    ... but the clear winner is Novak Djokovic's prize — a luscious, translucent, rosy nipple?.

    Honorable mention: The Border-Gavaskar Trophy, which Sachin Tendulkar held aloft in 1996. If someone can find a picture of that, please contact us.

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    Thursday, May 15, 2008

    The Men Who Sold Cricket

    Third Man writes:

    All good men who love sport and cricket say privately they don't like the shape of things that the IPL promises. The IPL's biggest success is that it's turned sport into a commodity like never before, and venality into a widespread practice.

    Big money, to be made or lost, ensures silence.
    Those of you who are going bananas over the Indian Premier League may not like this, but the Third Man has a good mind to don a red shirt and turn into an anarchist. Only the direst incendiary acts against the IPL would satisfy the Third Man. Why? Because this is not cricket – this is ego massage and money-making in the most lurid form.

    The cricketers are commodified like never before. The basis of the IPL is not sport, it's money. A team owner like Vijay Mallya can wrathfully declare that "unfortunately, in cricket, unlike in any other sport, the captain is the boss". What, does he pretend that he knows cricket more than Rahul Dravid, whom his flunkeys in the media are slandering for not picking the right team? Dravid's worst cricketing strategy would be better than Mallya's best. It's easy to be wiser after the event – in February, Mallya had declared grandiloquently that he'd got a very good team.

    Mallya lacked sportsman's spirit

    In sport, victory is not a given; in T20, no respecter of reputations, iconoclasm is the essence. Mallya, surly in defeat, refused to go the Man of the Match ceremony after the games his team lost. Rich in spirits, he's lacking completely the sportsman's spirit.

    All good men who love sport and cricket say privately they don't like the shape of things that the IPL promises. The IPL's biggest success is that it's turned sport into a commodity like never before, and venality into a widespread practice. Big money, to be made or lost, ensures silence.

    Media, the tireless crusader of the IPL

    The media has turned into a cheerleader for Lalit Modi's money-making enterprise. Newspapers in Delhi devote a good two-three pages to the IPL. Only marginal, weak voices speak of the massive frauds inherent in the concept of the IPL. It's turned into a family enterprise, and contracts and sub-contracts are handed out to cronies and sub-cronies. Indian Express reported this a few days ago, but others just talk in hushed tones – the possibility of loss of advertising has turned editors into submissive errand runners of the marketing people.

    The day of the strong editor is long past. Would you know the name of the editor of the Hindustan Times or the Times of India, for instance?

    Third Man bumped into the editor of a Delhi paper during a game; the man blithely declared, without a trace of a blush, that the "whole thing (his paper's coverage) is being run by the marketing folks". Perhaps freedom of press is just a joke, and was always a joke – you write what the owner wants you to write, or you buzz off.

    Just a carnival

    Sombre thoughts, but the way the media has turned the IPL – which is just a carnival with little or no serious cricket – into something massive is just disgusting.

    Some of you might say that the Third Man is furious only because no IPL crumb has been thrown at him; perhaps you would be right, for moral resistance is frequently inversely proportional to temptation.

    That may be so, but the fact is that any kind of cricket that makes Dravid and VVS Laxman look like fools is not worthy of the serious fan.

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