Sunday, June 21, 2009

Test Match or T20?

This debate seems to be happening everywhere. Newspapers, websites, cricket forums, columns, news channels, debating shows, on the tea-stalls near offices, canteens, messes, buses, trains, airplanes, and even on the cricket field. The latest format of cricket seems to have taken the world by storm. Reducing the five-day game to mere 3 hours of action packed hitting around the park. Of course, bowlers too have their say, and fielders have to be athletes of the highest quality to prevent runs from being scored.

Talks have been doing the round that Test cricket is on its way to death, T20 is the 'in'-thing. To justify their arguments, people talk of the huge response to IPL and the T20 world cup. What also provided fillip to T20 in India was the Indian team's victory in the inaugural edition of the T20 WC. And then IPL took T20 a step further and tried (with some success) to become like the footballs leagues in England. Building loyalties around cities and franchises, rather than states. Critics point out to the decreasing popularity of Test cricket by pointing out to the empty stands in the Nagpur test between India and England in 2008. They point that Test cricket is unsuited for the fast lifestyle of today and T20 cricket allows us to enjoy the game in under 3 hours and then get on with our work. Yes, we have changed. Our lifestyles have changed. Quick value for money is the mantra for today.

But then, really, does T20 provide all the excitement that we desire in a sport? As Sachin Tendulkar said, in T20 a batsman is 'good' if he can hit the ball around the park for three or four overs. So, a Yuvraj Singh is a must in T20. When he hit Stuart Broad for six sixes in the WC match in South Africa, it was considered a great display of batting. A bowler with bowling figures of 4-0-20-0 (O-M-R-W), is considered 'good'. The bowler's main activity is to stop flow of runs. The bowler doesn't need to trap a batsman into committing mistakes to get him out. So, we see spinners of the highest quality relying more on line and length, rather than flight and turn. Imagine Harbhajan Singh bowling yorkers, straighter and flat through the air deliveries. Where is his craft as a spinner put to display? In very very few situations, I would say.

The other end of the spectrum is Test cricket. Spread over five days, it requires a team to bowl its opposition out twice over. Or, if batting second, score more runs that the other team's combined first and second innings total. Only then can it be declared a winner. It tests the grit and determination of batsmen and bowlers alike, their skill to endure onslaughts. Batsmen have to face swinging deliveries, bouncers, four slips, and a point. A slight nudge outside the off stump and the batsman may loose his wicket. Sachin faced this problem in the 1999 and 2004 tour of Australia. But in the third test match, he was determined to get back the flow of runs. So determined that he didn't touch any ball bowled outside his off-stump. Such was his judgment that he knew exactly where his off-stump was, and left everything that was outside it. Almost all of Sachin's runs came off the leg side. People may call this defeatist mentality, but Sachin managed to frustrate the Australian bowlers and simultaneously get back the flow of runs. In the 2007 tour, he was seen teasing Brett Lee by hitting him over the slip cordon and scoring runs easily.

The grit and determination of V.V.S. Laxman, in the third test during India's tour to Australia in 1999 is also an innings to remember. Though Laxman's century was played in a lost cause, the sheer determination and cricketing shots displayed in the 167 runs that he scored is amazing. Australia didn't have it easily. Not to forget, the second test match of the India-Australia series in 2001. Where he and Rahul Dravid stitched together a record-breaking partnership and India went to score a victory over Australia after being asked to follow on, the third instance that such a thing happened in Test cricket's history.

I am not a very good cricket historian. So spotting anecdotes from cricket history is difficult for me. But, Maharashtra's famous cricket historian and writer Shireesh Kanekar has a thing or two for Test cricket. He says that while in one-day cricket (or T20 for that matter) how the runs are scored do not matter. But in Test cricket, it is very important for the batsman not to play rash shots. In Test cricket, bowlers always have a chance of coming back, not so in ODIs or T20s. It is actually appalling to see bowlers bowling flat trajectory balls or yorkers in T20s. In a test match, the bowler would have to bowl a mix of flighted deliveries, straight, flat and yorkers. Add to the fact that there would be a slip, a short-leg, silly mid-off and possibly a leg-slip, all waiting to pounce upon the nick that the bat might produce. A few runs given wouldn't matter if they could bring a wicket. In swinging conditions, bowlers would bowl with three slips and a point maintaining a line just around the off-stump. If the batsman manages to hit a few strokes through the off-side, it didn't matter, because the bowler could always try what he wanted.

On the other hand, for a batsman, it is essential to play strokes as correctly as possible. Test cricket can have a lot of scenarios in which batsmen would be required to change their batting style. There could be periods when attacking is possible, periods when wickets need to be conserved and periods where the run rate needs to be maintained. All these situations require a different skill set from the batsman. Not all batsman can be good Test players. Scoring runs in any possible manner isn't the name of the game in Test matches. Scoring them according to the situation is much more important. Sometimes conserving the wickets itself helps save a Test match. Remember England 2007? India couldn't win the third Test because they couldn't bowl England out in the second innings. Although India had the upper hand all through out the match.

Overall, I feel that a Test match is like our life. It goes through periods of highs and lows and we have to fight it out and overcome our adversaries to score a victory. There is no victory if the opposition is not vanquished. Remember Chennai 1999? Sachin Tendulkar, nursing an injured back played a brilliant knock of 136 to bring India close to the target. While India lost the test match by 12 runs, Sachin's knock was a display about how Test cricket should be played. About T20, my feeling is that it is like drugs, which give a temporary high, but then leave us with a vacuum.

So, let T20 remain for those who like to enjoy the temporary highs, but let Test cricket flourish for fans like us, who want a wholesome game.

P.S. Did anyone mention the empty stands during IPL-2? Well, it seems that T20 cricket can't attract enough crowds either
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cafe Britannia & Co.

Warning: If you detest non-vegetarian food, or its sight, do not read this post.

Tucked in the business district of South Mumbai, is this very old and famous restaurant called Cafe Britannia & Co. As is the case with the early restaurants of the city, this too is owned by a Parsi family. Established in 1923, Cafe Britannia is located at Ballard Pier, a walking distance from Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST).

The restaurant is famous for its Parsi/Irani style of non-vegetarian food. I happened to read about it in a newspaper. Although, what I read was sad. The restaurant owner, an old Parsi uncle (surname Kohinoor), has decided to close down the restaurant in due time. His sons, are not interested in running the place as both have settled abroad. They wanted him to shut down the place, but he coaxed them into keeping it running till he is alive.

One limitation of this restaurant is that it is open only 12:00 PM-4:00 PM Monday-Saturday. So, it is a disadvantage for those who cannot make it for lunch to this restaurant. What I do not understand is why did they not change with time and keep it open for dinner as well. With Ballard Pier being an business area, it probably might not have been feasible. Whatever the reasons, I went to this place, so that I can peek into their cuisine before they shut down. Since traveling alone to CST all the way from Powai is too boring, I tagged Sushant along with me. Sushant thinks that I am a person who has nothing to do, except taste food at various restaurants and then blog about it. But then, he is a sincere companion and gives sincere reviews. Sometimes, he manages to suggest some very good restaurants. If you manage to reach CST comfortably, then reaching this place is a breeze. It is located in the lane next to the New Customs' Office. You cannot miss the huge board of Cafe Britannia & Co.

They serve non-vegetarian food only. And it is classical Parsi/Irani style of food. This place is a delight for those who love non-veg food. The restaurant seating arrangement is spartan, like most Irani restaurants across Mumbai. Even the table fans are so old, you suspect whether they've been ever changed after being first installed. The food, is not spicy at all, so you can enjoy it without worrying about the after effects.

Here, I had the chicken dhansak for the first time and I loved it. Served along with brown rice, the dhansak tastes awesome. But, Cafe Britannia is known for its famed Berry Pulao. You can see it in the picture to the right (Picture courtesy, Sushant). In the far end, is the rice. I couldn't get a pic of the dhansak, as I was hungrily tearing into it. The berry pulao is awesome. We had ordered chicken berry pulao. The chicken was soft and properly cooked. The speciality of the pulao is the tangy tasting berries, with a few dry-fruits (like cashew). Of course, chicken is the main stay, but the berries add a unique taste to the pulao. These berries, they say, are specially imported from Iran.

At the end of the meal, I told the restaurant owner that we had come all the Powai to taste his food. He was the son of the old Parsi uncle, and was overwhelmed by the fact that we had taken the efforts to come this far. This guy has good PR skills. Every customer going out was greeted with thanks and come again, the more familiar ones were asked about their and their family's well being. And the patrons of the restaurant actually took time out to chat with him on any possible topic on earth.

Now, about the service. If the waiter takes too long to take your order, old Kohinoor uncle rushes down to note it. The time taken to serve you is not too much and you can eat at your will. No waiters overlooking you and asking you every five minutes, "aur kuch chahiye, sir?" The quantity is good enough and the taste is typical of Parsi/Irani cooking styles. The charges are a little bit on the higher side, but then, it is fine, once in a while. The chicken berry pulao cost us Rs. 240, while the chicken dhansak was Rs 200. Each dish serves good enough for one person. So, you can order two-three dishes and share between yourselves.

The sad part is, this restaurant may close any time, that is what the owners have declared. The only hope is that they franchise this out to somebody, with conditions that the same menu and ambience be maintained, but with extended timings, so that those millions of Irani food fans can savour the berry pulao for years to come.
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Thursday, June 04, 2009

The silent arrival

It is the first week of June and the weather, warm and humid. The temperature is not much of a problem, but the humidity is. Add to that, the winds have almost come to a standstill. And as the days progress, the humidity makes conditions even more worse. But, there is a silver lining to all this. The increase in humidity, winds not blowing anymore, and a steady temperature are an indication of an impending monsoon. As we enter the month of June, the question on everybody's mind is- "when will it rain?" Get up in the morning, with humidity circling your body, that is the first thing that comes to your mind. Air-conditioners are running to the fullest and their exhaust lines are draining more water than recirculating air.

Nature too, tries to play hide-'n'-seek with man. It teases us with a cloudy weather in the morning followed by an extremely sunny afternoon and a warm night. Every morning, looking up in the sky, there are prayers for it to rain today or get postponed till the time one is prepared for rains. I have to still buy an umbrella. So, while I pray for the rains to come on time, I pray that it rains only in the night, so that I am spared till the time I buy one.

In this part of the country, generally, pre-monsoon showers are accompanied with thunder and lightning. The clouds hover in the sky for the entire day and by evening, they start roaring and sometimes scare the hell out of people. But, they serve as a warning sign. It is akin to the monsoon saying- "Ding Dong! Next four-five months, it is my music and my song". Ever since Lagaan was released, everytime these thunder showers occur, I am reminded of the song "Ghanan ghan ghan ghir aaye badaraa". And it is this warning sign that keeps many ready for the monsson.

But, Nature again wants to tease. Probably trying to show who's the boss. With no looming clouds and an almost clear evening sky yesterday, I was sure that it will take atleast a day or two to for rains to begin. This would give me enough time to purchase my umbrella and ready my rain-sheeter for this season. And in night, while I was returning from the lab, there were silent drops. No thunderstorms, no lightning, nothing. The drops started pouring in sliently, evaporating almost instantly as the hit the hot parched earth. There was an aroma of freshly wet earth all around. The drizzle continued silently for some more time, enough to send people running helter-skelter. Clothes hanging in the terrace were taken off, windows facing the west were closed to prevent rain water from entering the rooms. Slowly, the rain water was cooling the parched earth. The monsoon season was on track! But then, Nature had a few tricks up its sleeve left.

The drizzling, as silently as it had started raining, the end was more silent. The clouds quietly drifted away, the sky cleared up, with the bright moon shining into my room. The next morning, I woke up to find the sky cloudy again, just to see bright sun-shine two hours later. Ghanan ghan ghan ghir aaye badaraa....

P.S. The monsoon is set to arrive in Mumbai on 7th June, as predicted by the Meterology Department.
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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Movie producers'-Multiplex owners row: A conspiracy theory

The ongoing strike by Bollywood producers against multiplex owners has definitely affected everybody. For those unaware, the producers decided to go on strike because the multiplex owners refused to agree to the producers' demands for greater share in profits from ticket sales at multiplexes. From movie watchers, to the producers, to the parking lot contractors, beverage stall owners in the multiplex, everyone stands to lose a lot of revenue. With movies not being released, their pirated versions too are not available. Hence many movie watchers (those who cannot afford multiplex tickets) are starved for movies.

But this strike is not without conspiracy theories. The beginning of the strike coincided with the IPL 2009 season. IPL began on 18th April (the kickoff began a few days earlier), while the movie producers began their strike on 3rd April. Well before the IPL, many producers had decided not to release movies when the IPL is going on as it affects their revenues. Hence, even without the strike, very few movies would have been released during the IPL. The tiff with multiplex owners gave the producers a very good reason for not releasing their movies. With this year's IPL producing much more drama, the bickering between producers and multiplex owners too started increasing as the tournament progressed. The IPL will be followed by the T20 World Cup in England. The T20 WC will be held between 6th and 21st June 2009. That IPL causes a drop in movie ticket sales is well known from previous year's experience.

According to this article (dated 5th May 2009), any movie requires 2-3 weeks of promotion prior to its release. And on 30th May, there were reports that the producers are willing to end the strike and have presented a compromise formula on the profits. Apparently, there have been claims that both sides are under pressure because of the financial losses they are facing. The ball now is in the multiplex owners' court. It is for the multiplex owners to now respond to the situation.

So, if the strike ends, we should see movies coming to multiplexes in two weeks from the date of truce. Assuming that the strike ends by 10th June, movies should be released on screens by 20th June. And 21st June is the T20 World Cup final. So, the multi-crore rupee question is
Was this strike actually called by the producers so as to extract a greater profit share from multiplex owners or was it just a means to avoid releases during IPL and T20 World Cup?
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