Monday, July 30, 2007

Poovar Resort

The main reason for going to this resort, I guess, is to get cut off from the world and relax. There is really nothing much to do there. My only target everyday was to get up before evening and try and get out of the room while sunlight was still around. Typically you'd find young couples visiting this resort. My first day there was really funny. The place is already so beautiful that you feel you are part of some dream sequence. On top of it everywhere you see, there are couples holding hands and walking slowly, couples sitting near the swimming pool and nuzzling each other like newly born kittens. Things are almost in slow motion and where ever you see, couples are walking in slow motion looking dreamily into each others eyes. It looked like some weird love city shown in Star Trek, where people have been put into a trance by an interfering Klingon vessel. After the first day all this hyper-romantic ambiance became rather dull. I was almost praying for someone to put 'Saroja saaman nikalo' song and start doing some macho stuff. Of course, I quickly developed a hobby, where I'd remark to my wife as to who among these couples was a 'thallikinu vantha case' (not-married-but-affair variety). There was one couple, much to the annoyance and grudging acceptance of my wife, I was pretty sure of. The girl looked like one of those hot bollywood thingies. Well endowed and a veritable cross between (well I don't know any recent names so I'll guess) Bipasha Basu and Rakhi Sawant. She was skimpily dressed to boot. Sometimes my wife was concerned that I'd fall into the swimming pool, while walking and drooling at her. Her guy was 700 times older than her and was a cross between Kumari-muthu and an Urukai from middle-earth. I felt this hot-chics-marry-dorks was stuff best left to theoretical conversations and I didn't prefer to see a manifestations of it walking around. I did not appreciate the guy asking me for directions and 'cheapest taxi to Kovalam beach'.

This resort is in an island, about 1 hour car drive away from Trivandrum. The pre-paid taxi ride from airport to the resort is Rs 600. You get off the Taxi at a ferry pick-up point and the resort provides a free boat ride from there onwards (provided you spend more than Rs 450/day in their premises). We went to this resort during off-season (season is between November and March). This was a risk, it could have rained and made things messy, but it didn't and that was extremely lucky for me. It rained there the minute I flew back to Madras. Poovar is a very comfortable, luxurious resort bordering on 5 star quality. I would tell you the details on room rate etc, but I went there as a Club Mahindra guest, so I have no clue. However, I can safely say it should be bloody expensive.



There is a massage center there, which I will describe in great detail in my next post. There is an excellent swimming pool. Very neat and the water doesn't reek chlorine. We spent most of our time floating around in a near empty swimming pool, sitting idly in the beach and going for those ferry rides into back waters. As much as it is the purpose of the place, that is all that is there to do in Poovar. Things get remarkably slow in Poovar. I was told that there would be variety entertainment and other fun stuff during season time. The most awesome thing in this place was a carom board. I hadn't touched this for many years and relished playing it for hours together. The resort staff also play beach volley ball, literally 5 meters from the beach. They invite you to join them and that is fun. On the how-to-spend-time part, although I was a bit negative about it - is not to be under estimated. The Beach and the ferry rides around the island are a dream. The sights and settings are awesome. On the whole this may not be as awesome as Kumarkom, but it has its moments. Its a good place to go as a couple. The batteries are recharged. When you start getting cold stares and sharp rebukes for eating junk food, watching too much TV, burping loudly, sleeping 3 hours in the afternoon and in general venturing to her parents house in shorts - its time to go to a resort like Poovar. It immunizes you from cold stares and angry words for at least 100 junk food outings, 70 burps and for the next four years you can watch so much cricket that you don't need to shut off the TV until every expert commentator in the post game show shuts up. You could even visit your in-laws in komanam and its all forgiven. Of course, Kumarakom gets you more mileage in the same way being a real 'chamathu' husband will get you mileage. Okay I digress.

If you had noticed I mentioned the word island a few times. Poovar, is an interesting resort which is located in an island on the backwaters of Kerala. On three sides, the island is covered by backwaters that flow around it like a river. However, the side facing the sea, is most interesting. There is the sea and then some shore-sand sort of thing that makes up for a superb beach. Behind the sand flows the back water and then the behind the back water is the island. So, if you are standing on the beach, you have water on your front and on your back, which is quite awesome. The resort has a swimming pool (bar attached) and its own restaurant. The resort has about 200 rooms and many boat houses. When I went there only 20 odd rooms were occupied. 99% of the rooms had a hammock. I love hammocks. If you know what the title of this blog means, you'd know if mine had one or not. The restaurant is very expensive. Breakfast is 150/person and the other two food sessions cost 300/person. The variety is not awesome and sometimes you wonder if there is a cheaper restaurant somewhere in the middle of the sea.



Not that I wrote this post to make some sort of a conclusion, but just to put things in perspective - there are many positive points to this resort. But treat it for what it essentially is. A getaway place. Having said that, I also have to say that it needn't be a complete getaway place. Given the availability of cell phone towers, it is connected. There was evidence of it with some people, overly engrossed in their office work, were struggling to disconnect. They were 'arey yaar'-ing into their mobiles to find out if their yaars had 'file bhej diya kya?". Its not the best sight seeing, scenic place in Kerala. We planned it for 3 days. Its optimal. Anything more and you might start plucking strands of hair from your head to pass time.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Book Review: Steve Waugh : Out of My Comfort Zone - III



Previously: Book Review Part 2 & Part 1

Some of the other interesting topics this book touches upon is the match fixing controversy, captaincy, and , in the earlier part of the book, his come back. For most part Waugh's description of his career seems to reflect a big struggle for survival. Even during his captaincy his descriptions constantly border on his struggle to score runs. For some strange reason his book never hits a confident assured patch that his statistics seem to suggest.

Captaincy:

That I was vulnerable to the lure of arguments is well known among my friends. That it led to many interesting friendships was the only saving grace. I met one of my closest friends, 6-7 years ago and our first conversation was on the world cup controversy - where Waugh batted slowly against Windies to help them qualify (eventually in vain) for Super Six. In the 1999 WC, There was a possibility of Windies qualifying into the super six on better run rate. This would ensure that the Australians would go into the Super Six with 2 points. India would have been similarly better off if Eng or SL qualified. The key was India couldn't control Eng or SL's fate whereas Aus had some, but significant, control over WI's fate. I clearly felt the objective of any team was to win the World Cup and not each one of the individual battles. If I were an Australian supporter, I would rather see Australia win the World Cup and wouldn't care crap as to how fast/slow Australia won against WI.

Losing a game deliberately was/is against the rules of the game. By an extension, losing a tournament deliberately was also against the rules. So by my logic - if Australia hit those 116 odd runs quickly, it reduced their chances of winning the tournament - dramatically. So if they went for the runs fast, it would mean that they tried to lose deliberately. Forget about letting Windies or anybody else go through (at some other team's expense), its about your team, it was against rules, common sense and plain old logic to even think of scoring those runs fast. That the majority opinion was for batting fast is even greater indication that such a move is stupid. To me the only Indian captain who would have done what Waugh did was Rahul Dravid. Eventually the Ind Vs Aus tie became a knock out with the loser exiting (only a highly improbable chance remained) after the first game of Super Six. Waugh had this to say on the episode "It is hard to devise a fool proof system and a flaw in this one (tournament) meant that, after dismissing the West Indies for just 110, once we got close to victory it was in our best interests to slow down our run rate to help the Windies out. Bevo and I dawdled our way to the last 20 runs in 20 overs of unappealing, boring cricket, but I felt we owed it to each other to give ourselves the best chance of winning the tournament. This was one step along the way. I knew I'd cop a blast at the postmatch press conference and in the subsequent days, but I was steadfast, if not a little hot-headed, when I said "We're not here to win friends, just the world cup" ". This attitude and the 'dead rubber' focus was the main reason I rated Waugh highly as a captain.
Match Fixing:

On the match fixing controversy, Waugh starts with the first test match at Karachi after Taylor took over as captain. The sentence where he first talks about the episode taken out of context reads like this "and to cap it off Ian Healy missing a stumping chance when the home side needed three runs to win. The ball went for 4 byes and we lost after Pakistan put on a 57-run last wicket partnership. The match was tarnished forever by the discovery that Pak captain Salim Malik had offered $US200000 each to Tim May and Shane Warne to deliberately bowl poorly on day 5 of a match that at the time was balanced on knife's edge." He then describes how it probably all started "October 1, at the Pearl Continental Hotel, a phone call from Pakistan skipper Salim Malik, 'the rat with the golden tooth', had set the wheels in motion" but Waugh also has this to say about the way the allegations were handled "too much information was recalled from memory and not from documented notes; it was here that inaccuracies, discrepancies and conflicting information led to a clouded picture". Some of the information that Steve Waugh provides is "The first sign for me was an out-of-blue phone call from Pakistan's former test captain, Mushtaq Mohammed, to Allan Border at Trent Bridge during the fifth ashes test of 1993." Border who returned with a stunned look after the call said "What a twat. Tell him to piss off"

A year later he recollects that in a ODI in Colombo, when Pakistan was chasing 180 and were 2/80 in the first fifteen, Saeed Anwar retired with cramps, Waugh came to bowl and took 3/16 from 10 overs. He remembers thinking "Why are these guys blocking everything? Am I really bowling that well that they can't get me off square on such a flat, batsman friendly pitch?. Salim Malik was particularly watchful of my non-deviating medium pacers, and we ran out surprise winners by 28 runs". This wasn't Waugh's closest encounter with match fixing. He says that in a function in Rawalpindi, Warne and Mark Waugh came up to him and - " Into our group came Mark Waugh and Shane Warne, with body language suggesting that something was amiss. Warney pretty much came out with it straight away: 'Well, junior are you going to tell Stephen?'. Mark said looking at me 'Malik just offered $200000 to be split up among Maysie, Warney and us two if we played poorly tomorrow". Waugh's response to the offer was "Tell him to fuck off". On Mark Waugh's episode, Waugh has a lot of things to say but this one was particulaly funny - When the Waugh parents were getting a lot of heat from church gossip and neighborhood sledging, Waugh's father, who ran a news agency refused to sell papers that had negative comments about Mark at his own cost. On our Bai, he has this to say "Two guys who I would never never have imagined being involved in match-fixing were India's Mohd. Azharuddin and South Africa's Hansie Cronje." " Azharuddin was a shy, quiet, modest man blessed with extraordinary gifts for cricket and a common touch that enabled him to relate to the average guy on the street.". On Cronje, waugh spends 2 pages and describes all his interactions with him.
On Indian cricketers:

On Sachin, Waugh describes in great detail one of my favorite Sachin innings, the 90+ one in Bombay during 96 WC. He says the surfeit of ODIs is the reason why "many uplifting or inspirational segments of play have been lost over time. But listening to crowd urge on Sachin after he lost 2 early partners ... was enough to know this was one special occasion. After a shaky start Sachin came to life during an over from McGrath, in an assault that left everyone in the jam-packed stadium, including me with goosebumps. The atmosphere was charged and crowd gelled together in one animated mass. A savage pull shot that defied textbooks." " It was followed by a remarkably improvised hook shot off the front foot that only a man with an eye like dead fish would think of playing. " Two balls later we were...standing helplessly as he unleashed a scorching cover drive" - A truly fantastic innings. Waugh has been involved in Australia's really tense WC encounters with India - in 87, 92, 96 ( and then Aus destroyed Ind in 99, 03). On his first and last test games against India. He had this to say on the series and Indian team "We had to recognize that this wasn't the soft-underbelly Indian touring squad, but rather a hardened force forged by Ganguly, their feisty leader, who saw his own reputation being gouged out by the outcome of his team's duels with Australia." Waugh also points out the obvious flaw Australian scheduling team, which often left me wondering whether the BCCI pays extra money to schedule Australian test matches since 1992 " not helping us was the fact that no test in this series was played at the WACA, where a bouncy pitch meant a virtually guaranteed victory for us"

On Dravid, Waugh says "Rahul's batting was poetic, with flowing follow-throughs and easy hand-eye coordination. We'd formed mutual respect that started in 98 with a long dinner conversation about cricket, where he quizzed me endlessly about the mental side of the game. Rahul wanted that edge that would elevate his game to the next level, and at Adelaide, he completed the journey. As an opponent I respected his professionalism, and as a friend, I admired his balanced views and the way he treated people from all walks of life equally.". His comments on Indian team and their games against Australia are marked by 2 big strategic mistakes that the Indians did. Sachin Tendulkar stupidly opened the bowling with Saurav Ganguly in the post-lunch session on the first day of first test in 1999 with Australia at 50/4 and lost the match. Ganguly stupidly changed bowlers from Sanghvi to Sachin when Aus were 50'ish/4 in the post lunch session on Mumbai 1st test. India lost the match. It is ironic.

On retirement:
A test career, which began with his first test against India - "As I had always done, I took guard on center, for no other reason than my first cricket coach had told me to stand in front of the stumps and ask the umpire at the other end to tell me where the middle one was. I scratched a nervous mark in the soil and saw a sticky, thick mud cling to my half-spikes as I glanced around to get my bearings. I tried to avoid eye contact with eager Indian fielders who had gathered around me like seagull after a greasy chip. The keeper Syed Kirmani, and Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Mohinder Amarnath seemed relaxed and expectant in their semi-crouched positions, while the 'smiling knife', Ravi Shastri steadied himself at the bowlers end. My legs were weak, my breathing was shallow and my mind set was survival" - ended with 168 test matches with the last one against India "My last shot as an Australian batsman was a mistimed slog-sweep off Kumble that Tendulkar calmly accepted close to the boundary rope at deep square leg. My walk off the ground was surreal, with Indian players running up to congratulate me and the capacity crowd standing as one. I was pleased and satisfied that I'd helped save a test, glad we hadn't lost the series and humbled by the attention."

Monday, July 23, 2007

Hurricane Trip - II

Keralam:

Trivandrum: Poovar resort, Massage, Massage,

TN:

Nagercoil: Thiruparappu water falls,

Thirunelveli: Courtralam Water falls (Main falls, 5 falls, Old Falls), Palayamkottai, Thirukurangudi, SriVaikuntam, Azhwar Thirunagari, Thirukolur, Then Thiruperai, Perungulam, Rettai Thirupathi, Thirupulingudi, Natham, Naanguneri,

Trichy: SriRangam, Uthamar Kovil, Thiruvellarai, Anbil, Thiruper Nagar,

Ramnad District:Karaikudi, Ariyakudi, Devakottai, Pudukottai, ThiruMaiyyam

Thanjavur: Kandiyur, Thanjai Mamani Kovil

Kumbakonam: Adhanur, PullaiButhangudi, Kapisthalam, ThiruKoodalur,

Mayavaram: TherEzhanthur, SiruPuliyoor

Sirkazhi: Thiruvellakulam, Thiruthevanaar Thogai, Thiruvali, ThiruNagari, ThirupaarthanPalli, Thirukavalampadi, Thirumanikoodam, Thiruthettriambalam, Naangoor,

Kumbakonam: Thiruvinnagaram, Thiruvellyangudi, Thirukudanthai,

Nagapattinam: Thirukannamangai, Nagai, Thirukannangudi

Kumbakonam: Thirucherai, ThiruNiraiyur

1. 1 week trip into various parts of South India

2. Saw Kaveri river water get released and flow into Thamizhnadu

3. Visited 40+ temples

4. Saw villages that probably aren't in any map.

5. Sore back, sore legs, no sleep.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

On the subject of fight

All that talk about 'fight' in the Steve Waugh post reminded me about an old English lesson from CBSE class X prose. So I looked up the book from which the lesson was sourced. Class X CBSE English text was the best in the line of English text books that CBSE syllabus put out. Many lessons and poems, especially the lesson under question, majorly inspired me. The name of the lesson was 'In the Grip of Prejudice' - which is an excerpt from a book called 'To Sir With Love' by E.R.Braithewaite. The extent to which the particular paragraph quoted below impressed me is reflected by my enduring memory of that text book many years after I read it. I (think I) remember that English text book so well - Lesson 1 was 'The Gumdrop Affair' (The I-am-not-Addison-Barnaby-I-am-Frank-Guthrie story), Lesson 2 was 'In Celebration of Being Alive' (By Dr. Christian Barnard) and Lesson 3 was 'In the Grip of Prejudice', which was essentially chapter 5 of 'To Sir With Love'. It is an autobiography of a black man, an ex-army person, trying to get a job in London. He, in is his own words, is "too qualified for small jobs and too black for all the good jobs." During one of his despondent moods and strolls in Hyde park, a stranger in a park gives him the following advise on 'fight'. This advise changes Braithwaite's life. And if I am not mistaken, the 'Existence Vs Survival' came in the X Std Public exam in ERC.
"A great city is a battlefield. You need to be a fighter to live in it, not exist, mark you, live. Anybody can exist, dragging his soul around behind him like a worn-out coat; but living is different. It can be hard, but it can also be fun; there is so much going on all the time that's new and exciting"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Saravana Stores Prediction

Ranganathan Street will soon be named Saravana Street. Chennai will soon be named Saravanai. Tamil Nadu will be renamed Saravana Nadu. Soon Thamilians will start having surnames. It will of course be 'Saravana' for every body.

Monday, July 09, 2007

TVS Sport

TVS, many years ago, made just one vehicle in this model. After they made it, they laid-off every worker who worked on this vehicle, executed all the executives, the sales people ran away and admitted themselves into gunaseelam, the marketing people jumped into Mylapore tank. Then they burnt all the design documents and buried any piece of scrap metal, pertaining to the model, that remained. Even some of the Televisions that showed the TVS Sport Advt were burnt or thrown into the sea on Ganesh Chathurthi day.
My wife, many years ago, purchased that one vehicle.
My kostin to TVS is "Aren't you satisfied with the taaarchar your school students from marudhai are causing? Do you have to make vehicles like this?"

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Amrithraj

For some reason avar friendly neighborhood MI-6 agent seems to bite the head of co-host Alan Wilkins ( not Brian Langley) for no reason at all. Somehow there seems to be an underlying feeling that Alan ain't a Tennis player and so he does not get 'it'. So at any given instance our man contradicts him and snubs him. He is not letting even innocent jokes go by and seems (or pretends) to take everything literally. After yet another successful Nadal challenge and call-overrule, Wilkins says "a millimeter", more in awe rather than in a complaining tone. Avar man says "its IN, whether it is by a millimeter, centimeters, 2 centimeters" and goes on into the decimeter level of the units system until Wilkins says "point taken". Vijay has usually been, what people call, a 'happy camper'. Something biting our man or is he just playing hard to pull a prank on Wilkins?
Note: I'm stuck in cave man age so confused the name - thanks Nanda Kumar.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Book Review: Steve Waugh - Out Of My Comfort Zone - II

Previously: Book Review Part 1
What was Waugh's approach to batting? How did he get to his 'zone'? What was the secret behind those splendid revivals from 40/3? What about Ambrose? Waugh talks so much about the mental aspect in his book that it is difficult not to take away his learning to aspects other than cricket. Reading Waugh's book somehow gives you a feeling that you have befriended him for a week or two and it is sad to let that narrative voice go away once the book is done. One of the main characteristics of Steve Waugh as a batsman has been dour, un-stylish, and survive-consolidate-kill kind of batting. But it is his warrior like characteristics that made him famous. One of my favorite sports writer,Nirmal Shekar - whose keys strokes result in words that explode with power, ooze style, and pumps up the adrenalin - had this to say about Steve Waugh in a column that appeared on April, 1 2000. I printed the article and stuck this article on my room wall. I would read it every once in a while. This would pump me up every time I needed motivation;

"to equate Steve Waugh's success in times of grave crises to miracles would be an insult to an extraordinary sportsman simply because it would take away from the very essence of what he is a champion - an eternal warrior with a granite will. If nothing else, perhaps above all else, Steve Waugh is a fighter, a fighter to the point where his very identity as a sportsman is dependent on that virtue. He fights, therefore he is. Steve Waugh is one of the most brilliant representatives of a breed of sportsmen whose chief virtue and greatest claim to fame is their ability to fight."

How many times has Steve Waugh produced an innings such as his unbeaten 151 at Wellington after coming in when the team was four down for 275 or something? Surely, not many. When there is no need to fight, there is no need for a Steve Waugh. Lesser men can take over.
Makes your spine tingle and gives you goosebumps doesn't it? It had such an impact on me that I still read it once every two months or so. The biggest take away about Waugh from this book is summarized by Sekhar very simply "This is because, in sport, mental set is as crucial a factor as talent. This is why many talented players and teams do not win often enough.". A fact, Waugh repeatedly stresses in his book. Sekhar concludes by saying - ``People outside sport may see only the game, just as those outside of war only see the horror. Yet, in that horror a man may be better than he will ever be the rest of his life. And in that game a man may find what life is really about,'' wrote Dr.George Sheenan, a U.S. cardiologist. In modern cricket, no man might have found out as much about what life is all about as Mr. Steve Waugh.

Not How, How many?

This is the title of the Chapter where Waugh discusses his approach to batting. Apt Indeed. On the subject of Hayden and Slater competing for the slot of Taylor's opening partner, Waugh reveals his thoughts on the game "Cricket, like few other team sports, has a highly individual component, yet still relies totally on team commitment. This is one reason why it evokes fervent passion and such a variety of comment from observers, because often these two factors can clash and become blurred, depending on what spin is placed on a moment or segment of play." And then he talks about the way he built, what he calls his defining innings in the 93 Ashes test - "Up until that point I hadn't appreciated the satisfaction that comes with being technically sound in defense. It takes enormous self-control to defend a half-volley or let a long-hop go through to the keeper when the normal thought process is to look for a boundary. Doing this successfully was for me a new experience and meant my mind was the now the strongest facet of my game. If I could harness the power of my mind to block out an entire session and suppress my natural instincts to save a game, then anything was possible in the future. I'd completed a task I'd been unsure I could perform, as because of that I would never again doubt myself."

"Getting runs ugly is an art that all but the geniuses of the game need to master, so that they can attain consistency. Not only is it a learnt trait, it is one that so many players find hard to come to terms with." " It's a fine line between compromising your natural game and making the most of your abilities. Allan Border, David Boon and Mark Taylor were fine examples of 'not how, but how many' in order to maximize their potential. From 1993 I believed that it was a key element of my repertoire, because the odds were that it wouldn't be every day that you would walk out and feel on top of your game." - This to me signalled a gulping down of ego which many other players find it hard to do. An acknowledgement that the game had to be fine tuned to the circumstances. Another thing Waugh constantly talks about is tranquility. He uses the word so often that it made me curious. He talks about the serene feeling, he sometimes gets, when he arrives at the pitch. It appears that Waugh took that to be a sign of being ready to completely 'tune in'. He makes all these small little preparations to get there. His arrival at the crease was something ingenious. At the fall of the wicket, as the next batsman in, he would immediately run towards the wicket. This not only warmed him up but he entered the ground, the pitch, took guard and got ready, while the opposition players were celebrating the fall of the previous wicket. People who have experienced this, even if its at a colony level tennis-ball cricket, would know the feeling of walking in when the fielders are in position, bowler at the top of the mark - and then getting ready, taking guard while every body is watching you. A simple but effective idea.

During an innings he talks about a mini switch-off and switch-on, between every ball. Even in amateur tennis I felt that your skill level that takes you to 5-2 is remarkably different from the skill-level that ticks you ever so slightly from 5-2 to 6-2. He says "Ninety times out of hundred a batsman loses his wicket when he has been dwelling on the past, looking to the future or muddling the present". He adds "Clear and simple thought is the every essence of successful batsmanship". And Waugh is right. He mentions switching off at the end of the ball, virtually not think about cricket and switch back on the next ball at delivery stride. He jacks up his concentration levels tremendously when the ball is about to be delivered. He does this by saying a key word like "now" during every delivery he faces. This acts as a as sort of a trigger that sends him into full concentration mode. He talks about a process or routine being extremely important the day before the game and during the game. Over time he developed a list of things to do (20 minutes on nets, soup, shave, medicine, etc) that would make him feel prepared. It mental but then that's what counts. As he often says "I learned yet again that the game is more between the ears than..". On the importance of routines he says "Athletes often mention 'tapering', which, if done effectively, means peaking physically and mentally at the right time. Tricking the mind by conditioning it is all part of the knowledge that comes with experience. Watching the senior players prepare can be an invaluable tool for younger players to draw upon."

On Ambrose

Waugh confesses that Walsh never troubled him. But his battle with Ambrose - to me - defined Waugh as a batsman. This is one of cricket's fiercest rivalries that is probably hardest to surpass. Waugh describes my favorite bowler of all time;

"To me, Curtly Ambrose was the supreme fast bowleing machine. He moved with the ease and grace of a champion athlete across the ground, was beautifully balanced and coordinated, and could blast you out with pace if needed or revert to strategic assault. As well, he owned a trait every one wants but few possess: the gift of being able to shift into that extra gear when needed. His calling card when he thought he had you plumb LBW was a double clap of the hands that was as reliable as the umpire's finger going up. He detested singles going off his bowling believing the prey had escaped his clutches. The icing on the cake for Amby was his imposing physical presence - legs like stilts, arms that never seemed to end and pouting lips that looked like they'd been stung by a swarm of bees. When he stood a couple of feet away giving me his Clint Eastwood glare, I had the feeling he could take me down at any stage, but still wasn't quite sure which of his weapons he would employ to do the job" - This is an excellent summing up of the kind of bowler Ambrose was.

Steve Waugh's stand off with Ambrose at Queens Park Oval is cricketing folk lore. The confrontation has been interestingly described. This narration, to me, describes Steve Waugh as a person as a cricketer the best; "Ambrose, who cut me in half with one delivery and then forced me to jab at the next ball as it moved away from the outside edge. With each play and miss, he would pull up in front of me and glare; it was as if he thought I was purposely taunting his efforts. For me, a volcano of emotions was brewing: frustration at my inability to get on top of the situation, anger at the booing that had greeted my arrival at the crease, irritation after a restless night's sleep and now Amby's bloody stare. A steepling bouncer that flew harmless over the top of my head was almost a relief, because it didn't pose a danger, so when I saw Ambrose staring intently from close quarters I snapped back at him ' what the fuck are you looking at?' It was what I was thinking, but saying it took even me by surprise. It was pure instinct, as my survival mechanism took over;" "Ambrose was clearly stunned, most likely because no one had ever been stupid enough to employ such an aggressive measure against him. Furthermore respect is very important in the Caribbean ...in this culture profanities are rarely heard. Ambrose countered my bar-talk bluff by saying ' Don't cuss me man'. Common sense should have told me to leave it at that. But I needed to have the last say, to get all the anger out, clear my thoughts and start afresh. Unfortunately I... another piece of personal abuse 'why don't you go and get fucked?'. Curtly's eyes were spinning and the situation had rapidly escalated to the point of total ugliness. Thankfully Richie Richardson stepped in, and grabbed his great bowler by the wrist with both hands." "We needed to show the Windies it was our turn to dictate proceedings and that were weren't afraid to get in their faces and get our hands dirty." "I was totally unsure what to do if he lunged at me, because I'm certain he would have made short work of me even though I had a bat in my hands. I kept saying to myself, 'Don't move, don't move. Look tough, stay focused. He'll have to go away." " However, as he ran in to deliver the next ball I braced myself for an exocet missile at the throat. He put in the big ones, striding out to full pace before letting go an absolute scorcher of a bouncer that reared alarmingly of a shortish length and crushed my top hand against the handle, directly in front of my grill. Such was the venom in the execution that I was a foot off the ground at the time of impact. Again Amby was there menacingly staring me down, but this time my lips were sealed."

Whats more interesting is his assessment of that confrontation's mental impact on him "For many players, getting involved in a confrontation is a death sentence... as it consumes their thoughts. I didn't mind the clash with Amby because I knew I could forget about it after using the altercation as a motivation to do well.I never minded being the villain because it set me up against the rest - a scenario that turned me on." While the same concept worked for Ambrose as he finished 5/45 from 16 overs, Australia lost the game. However, Waugh describes his unbeaten 63 (team total 128) as "one of my finest test knocks." He also mentions Lara as a person looking for a cause, a reason to feel like a victim - a scenario that turned him on. Waugh knew it and carefully never gave Lara a reason. "Often he would initiate a conversation by being assertive and confrontational, to give himself a cause. I sometimes did the same thing. Out of the blue as he stood regally awaiting his next delivery, he slammed me for not walking during our first innings. I ...countered by saying 'At least I am consistent. I just don't walk when it suits me'. After a massive appeal by us for a caught-behind was denied by the umpire, I'd remind him "Told you so, you only walk when it suits you'. It seemed an alien took control of his being. The next 10 seconds went like this, with Lara screaming 'shut up' as Waugh shot back ' Told you!'; 'shut up!' 'told you' 'Shut up!' 'told you'. He then walked my way stood two inches from me, quivering as he said, 'C'mon, lets go, lets get it on right now!' "

Here is the clip of the above-mentioned Ambrose-Waugh confrontation;



To Be Continued...

Monday, July 02, 2007

Book Review: Steve Waugh - Out Of My Comfort Zone

Steve Waugh never said "You just dropped the World Cup". He didn't say it to Gibbs nor to anybody else. It was a ridiculous legend propagated by the media, surprisingly believed by some extremely naive people. The first time I heard it, I thought that it was an improbable thing to say in that situation (There were a couple games left for the winner to be determined). Steve Waugh, one of the better people in terms of coming up/back with pithy sledges and quips, would have certainly 'sledged' Gibbs but wouldn't have said something that fantastic. As expected he denied saying so (Only to use it later to put the 'wood' on Gibbs). In his book he claims to have said something more believable - 'When we crossed paths mid-pitch, I couldn't resist a jibe in our ongoing verbal battle. "Hey, Herschelle," I said, "do you realize you've just cost your team the match" - this seems appropriate. This was supposedly the end of verbal exchanges that Waugh started when Gibbs was batting; 'We had questioned his temperament by asking "I wonder why Herschelle isn't in the test team"... we'd answer ourselves: "he mustn't be very good at concentrating" Or: " I can't believe he is not in the Test team - he must be a bit soft". While that piece of sledging backfired against the Aussies, Gibbs welcomed Waugh at 3/48 chasing 272 with "Now its your turn, lets see how you handle the pressure" - which obviously backfired again. Anyway with that out of my way, lets get to the book.

Some questions formed the basis of the curiosity that led me to buy and read the book. Australian cricket moved from rags to riches during Steve Waugh's time. Waugh, seen as a synonym for toughness, ruthlessness and the Aussie way, is generally talked about as the symbol of that transformation. But what has Steve really contributed to this rise? At a personal level - What does Waugh think about his famous 'zone'? What was his mental thought process in getting and staying there? Australia had positioned itself to be a world beater in Mark Taylor's time. But it truly became the #1 Test and #1 ODI side, by a big margin, during Waugh's period. Was it because of Waugh or because Windies and English cricket completely declined in Waugh's period. The most impressive aspect about this mammoth 720 page autobiography by Steve Waugh is that there is no trace of humility in it. Really. He praises and criticizes himself with abandon. If you are tired of all the self-effacing lies that an author puts up in the name of humility, then this is a good book. Sometimes the exact truth or the real thought process comes out when the author isn't trying to be humble. You really get to know what he really thought. Many times, and this happens through out the book, I understood the unrelenting self-promotion (as a result of the very high esteem he holds himself with) to be reflective of his character as a person. Yes! he goes to great extents to justify his actions and there are points where you begin to roll your eyes, when he justifies field placements, run calling etc. But then I felt, I was listening to his side of the story for the first time and it should be given a fair chance. For 720 pages (including an interesting mini-autobiography by Lynette Waugh) this was a fast book. I didn't feel the lengthiness of it. Never got bored. The only chapter I skipped was the chapter on Udayan because frankly I wasn't interested. This review will probably take a couple of posts to complete. Some of the many sub-plots in the Waugh career was a vehicle for me to find the answers for the questions I had while buying this book. Let me first take up the most burning sub-plot in the Waugh career; Ian Chappell Vs Steve Waugh.

While in the process of reading Waugh's book, I also read Ian's book - 'Chappell on Chappell' - and in that collection-of-articles kind of book Ian dedicates 1 full chapter to criticise and butcher Steve Waugh. The name of the chapter itself is 'Steve Waugh'. It is surprising that Indians reacted badly (as in Home-Support-Ian) to Ian Chappell's criticism of Ganguly in the 2001 series. Because Ian was also Waugh's biggest critic. If Ganguly ever wrote an autobiography, all he would need to do is cut and paste from Waugh's to describe his feud with Chappell. So I wanted to juxtapose that chapter in Ian's book and Waugh's response and indulge in a little bit of compare and contrast. Among many things, Ian is particularly harsh on two self-perceived aspects of Waugh's cricket; (a) That he was an extremely selfish cricketer (Damien Martin's run out, walking in to crease early and diluting Langer's exit applause, giving strike to Stuart Mcgill in the 98/99 ashes boxing day test) and (b) All of Waugh's innings were technically built the same way - "if you'd seen one you'd seen everything". I felt the first quality was actually a positive one. Reading the book I clearly felt that at many points Waugh's self-determination and hunger would clearly be construed as selfish by the common man. Nothing wrong with it except for the negative connotation associated with a surprisingly positive quality - selfishness. Selfishness is just like any other attribute and is negative only if it found in excess. Something, which every great player who played the game possessed in healthy quantities and one that had a causal relationship with their success. The second criticism is so moot that it is not worth elaborating on unless you are measuring style instead of effectiveness.

But Steve counters Ian, in his book, at several different points; I only sort of agreed with "I would later learn that Ian's style of commentary was to never deal in shades of grey but always be very clear in his intent. Often though I found that there was no constructive element to his criticism"; Later Waugh develops conspiracy theories when he says "He labelled me 'selfish' on Sydney radio, which to a cricketer is tantamount to being accused of treason. To me his words seemed like a well-planned move, just when the question of who would succeed Tubby as Test captained was being considered. Chappell was a big Shane Warne fan and Shane, just back from his shoulder surgery, was the only real alternative to me as the new leader." And then finally Waugh is frustrated and recursively does what he accuses Ian Chappell of doing "To say Chappell's criticism irked was an understatement, though I knew that, like anyone, he was entitled to an opinion. I don't mind the fact that he criticised me - in fact, I would rather some one make a judgement than not - but I have always felt that a critic must either be constructive or base his comments on fact. I couldn't help but think about the reasons he was so down on me. It might have been that I praised the work of Bob Simpson, who was his sworn enemy" - this although makes some sense given that Ian hates the concept of a 'coach' - it is not a constructive response from Waugh as it brings in a Vashishta-cursed-Yagnavalkya-because-Vishwamitra-likes-Yagnavalkya kind of Upanishadic twist to the story. Then Waugh adds - in a if-you-can't-fight-em-join-em kind of way - "or that I didn't spend hours in the bar drinking and regurgitating old cricket stories. Or perhaps he wasn't keen on the coincidence of me being, like him, the older brother and combative in nature. Or maybe he didn't like the fact that I refrained from playing the 'macho' hook shot." -- hardly constructive response. Finally Waugh sees sense "Whatever it was, his was a personal attack, which came from a guy I didn't know and who certainly didn't know me. It was something I had to live with, and when I realized he was never going to cut me much slack, I decided that anything he said was positive would be a bonus and the rest just cast aside." This sub-plot alone, I felt, could have laid the foundation for a potential 'this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship' between Waugh and Ganguly.
To sum up, I found Ian's comments analytical, reasonably constructive but harsh. The individual arguments by Ian makes sense as it usually does. However, I never got a feeling of what standard Ian was comparing Waugh with. Is Waugh being assessed in relation with someone else? If the captaincy/batting-performance comparison was with Waugh's peers like Ganguly, Cronje, Pollock, Lara, Sachin, Atherton, Hussain etc - then I felt Ian was not-constructive. In my mind Waugh was clearly superior to most people in that group and at the least equal in terms of batting performances with Sachin and Lara. If Ian was comparing Waugh with the 'greatest teams ever' and if the imaginary peer group included Ian himself then the criticism appears to be a constructive one (except for the Pak tour) but an obviously ambiguous comparison. On Waugh's part, he does have as many constructive responses to Ian's criticism as the number of baseless ones. Some the Waugh decisions that were severely criticised were made in the context of the game situation, which is not immediately obvious to the media and was conveniently misunderstood by Chappell. Waugh and Chappell clearly are birds of the same feather not flocking together.
To be Continued