India Uncut

This blog has moved to its own domain. Please visit for the all-new India Uncut and bookmark it. The new site has much more content and some new sections, and you can read about them here and here. You can subscribe to full RSS feeds of all the sections from here. This blogspot site will no longer be updated, except in case of emergencies, if the main site suffers a prolonged outage. Thanks - Amit.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

One-third of the briefcase

Bibek Debroy speaks out against the fringe-benefits tax here.

And, to get to an older piece of writing with a broader theme, Madhu Menon speaks out against all income tax here. This is not a flippant rant, but an argument that I find persuasive. Read it for yourself, and feel free to point out any flaws in it.

Update (April 1): Arun Simha, in an email to me, writes:
A key point is the perverse nature of income tax. Perverse, because we get taxed multiple times. Earnings and consumption are taxed. In other words, not only do we pay income tax on our earnings, but also pay taxes whenever we buy a packet of biscuits, or go to see a film or buy a tablet.

That to my mind is a violation of my rights. That fact alone makes me unequal as compared to, say a wealthy farmer who gets taxed only on consumption.
amit varma, 11:47 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Mobile phones and earthquakes

Arun Bapat, the well-known seismologist, has an article today in the Indian Express in which he talks about the lessons we can learn from previous earthquakes. The bit that I found most interesting:
The long-term effect of changes in the geomagnetic field is also seen in telephone communications. The geomagnetic field starts changing about six to eight months before the occurrence of an earthquake. Take the data I had collected on the Latur and Andamans temblors. Though the number of telephone connections remained more or less same in the area, the number of complaints went on increasing. At Latur there were, say, 100 complaints per month from January to April 1993. Subsequently, the figure kept increasing — to touch 150 in September 1993. The Latur earthquake occurred on September 29, 1993. Similar was the case in the Andamans. If data from telephone exchanges in seismically vulnerable areas are examined, some useful clues may emerge. These were landlines. Mobile telephony may provide even more accurate clues. It was seen in Gujarat, the Andamans and in locations in Turkey, Japan and China that — about 50 to 100 minutes before the earthquake — mobile phones started to malfunction even though there were no electrical, electronic or mechanical failures in telephone exchanges.

Strange animal behaviour is also considered an indicator of earthquakes, but this is something that is always noticed only in hindsight. No one collects data on how animals are behaving through the day. Mobile malfunctions, on the other hand, can be monitored in future, and if a trend does emerge, we might be able to actually predict earthquakes. You will, of course, need large sample sizes and clear trends to make any use of this information.

So the next time your boss bothers you when you're chilling out at a pub, make spluttering noises and hang up. He might just jump up and leave the building then.
amit varma, 11:27 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

High marks for safe sex

"Students use condoms to cheat at exams," a news story on reveals. It says: "Invigilators at Jai Narain Degree College were baffled to find eight condoms hidden inside the underpants of a boy taking BA-II examination in Jai Narain Degree College. Inside the condoms, chits with short answers, tips and formulae were neatly packed."

This is, it seems, quite a common phenomenon. And there's more. The story reveals: "At Eram College, a girl was found hiding her chits in what the invigilators called 'an unmentionable place'. When the chits were recovered, she swallowed them."

amit varma, 11:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A matter of national importance

Is Shah Rukh Khan joining the Congress? Or is he the Brad Pitt of India? Either way, he's thrilled.
amit varma, 11:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The Jinnahs of Iraq

"In Iraq, attempts to make it a modern democracy seem to follow the early years of the Indian state," says Raja Menon in a column in the Indian Express. Read why.
amit varma, 11:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Insecure nation?

Consider these following news headlines:

Indian pontiff may succeed Pope
Indian to umpire at Wimbledon
Why India can be a major financial centre

So desperate are we for validation from outside. No wonder this hurts:

No US tourist visas available till July
amit varma, 11:03 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Back in Mumbai

I'm finally back home after 25 days of travelling, too tired to blog much right now. Picked up an engrossing book in the airport on my way here, one that I'd recommend highly to fellow journalists: The New New Journalism. I shall resume blogging tomorrow, and cricket will go on the backburner (see, cliche!) for a while.
amit varma, 8:42 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, March 28, 2005

The delights of geometry

One of the things I’m enjoying most about the Pakistan bowling performance today is the close-in field positions. The one with most symmetry was when Arshad Khan was bowling to Dinesh Karthik, with the wicketkeeper and the batsman being in the middle of a perfect hexagan, with three close-in fielders on either side of the wicket. That became a pentagon when Shahid Afridi was bowling to Anil Kumble, with four men close-in on the off side, one man on the leg side. Danish Kaneria, meanwhile, has been bowling with an unequal heptagon, with five men on the off side – two slips, silly point, silly mid-off and short extra-cover – and two on the leg. Hexagons, pentagons, heptagons, fluid shapes with their corners moving as the batsmen change, or the bowlers change their tactics, and the two men in between, concentrating intently on that round piece of leather that follows a geometry of its own. This is Test cricket. Marvellous.
amit varma, 4:07 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Running into happiness

This first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

Shahid Afridi ran, ran, ran, ran, ran towards square leg and punched the air with a divine joy and turned around, and then they fell onto him, one by one, a swarm of Pakistanis homing in on happiness. Sachin Tendulkar had played a ball from Afridi, just short-of-a-length, to Asim Kamal at short leg, and Kamal, who had dropped him earlier, held on. And then he watched Afridi run past him, and keep on running. What could stop them now?
amit varma, 4:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Captain falling

This first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

When Sourav Ganguly came out to bat, sections of the crowd shouted, "We want Karthik, we want Karthik". Less creative sections just booed. It was sad: such a fine batsman in his prime, perhaps the best captain India has ever had, now reduced to a poor parody of his former self. He pottered around for a while, then tried to drive a ball from Shahid Afridi that pitched wide outside off, and missed. The ball came into him viciously, and bowled him. As the fielders celebrated, Ganguly stood around wondering what had happened, unable to fathom that he was out, thinking perhaps that it was a stumping attempt and his foot was in the crease, or that the ball had rebounded from Kamran Akmal's pads. He had been down for a while; and now the umpire said that he was out. He walked off; was it for the last time in a Test match? The crowd didn't care. They booed him.
amit varma, 2:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 35

A test of character

Rahul Dravid just got out, and this is now "a test of character" for the remaining batsmen. Pakistan (cliche coming up) have their tails up, and are (one more) within sniffing distance of victory. Sachin Tendulkar has often been criticised for not delivering (cliche again) when the chips are down, and this is his chance to show that he is (another cliche) as hard as nails.

A couple of these cliches, again, courtesy Sid.
amit varma, 1:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 34

Meandering towards a draw

Some journalists are no doubt saying at this very moment that this Test is "meandering towards a draw", or even drifting towards it. This fifth-day pitch isn't quite (cliche coming up) the minefield of a wicket that some would have hoped for, a (another one) mouthwatering prospect for the spinners. India seem perfectly capable of (two more) shutting shop and pulling down the shutters.

(Some of these cliches courtesy Sid and Osman, fine press-box brainstormers.)
amit varma, 1:09 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Anything is possible

This was written a couple of hours back, and first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

VVS Laxman had said yesterday, "The way [Virender] Sehwag plays, anything is possible." Well, Sehwag was 38 off 53 balls, playing with controlled aggression, when Danish Kaneria bowled to Gautam Gambhir. Gambhir pushed it to mid-on, Sehwag casually backed down the pitch, Abdul Razzaq raced to the ball, Sehwag turned, Razzaq threw, and leather hit timber. Sehwag didn't even have time to try to get back, he just walked to the crease and past it to the pavilion. Razzaq windmilled his arms, and Inzamam-ul-Haq came, a wide smile painted on his face, and lifted him up.

And then Rahul Dravid walked in.
amit varma, 12:49 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The men to watch

Yesterday, at the press conference, VVS Laxman said: "We will go for a win. The way [Virender] Sehwag plays, anything is possible."

Meanwhile, Danish Kaneria said that the batsman Pakistan were most worried about was Rahul Dravid. "Dravid is a big wall," he said eloquently, "and we must break the big wall."

That sums up the situation today. If India is to win, Sehwag is the man; if they find themselves trying a to salvage a draw, Dravid's the guy.
amit varma, 10:37 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Desert storm

My Guardian report of yesterday's play is up here.
amit varma, 10:34 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Cricketing Cliche 33

When you're in form, make it count.

Younis Khan made 267 and 84 not out in this game, thus pleasing the pundits who say: "When you're in form, make it count." In the second innings, in fact, it could be said that he (cliche coming up) carried on from where he left off in the first innings. He is certainly (one more) in the form of his life.

The form-and-counting cliche was suggested by my pal and colleague, Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, who mentioned in a moment of whimsy that he would write an article slamming Sachin Tendulkar. "Be prepared for death threats," I told him, and he replied: "No problem. If I get death threats tomorrow, Younis Khan will [variation on cliche coming up] bat for my life.
amit varma, 5:07 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A time to declare

So when should Pakistan have declared? A perfect time would have been after passing 350, with about 12 overs to bowl on the day, and 90 the next. India would hardly come close to it on the last day, and even if they did, Pakistan could always dry up the runs with defensive fields and negative bowling.

Instead, they waited till they were 382 ahead, and the batsmen wasted more time than the bowlers did, with repeated mid-pitch confabulations. Why so, we wondered. The only logical reason was the prospect of Younis Khan's second century of the match. But the batsmen kept talking, and trying to hit out, and the century didn't come. Eventually, Pakistan wisely declared.

So now Virender Sehwag will walk out, and so much will depend on him. If he blazes away for a session-and-a-half, India could even think of winning. If he gets out early, the rest of their batsmen will be under pressure, an Indian win would be out of the equation, and Pakistan would have a great chance of drawing level.
amit varma, 4:56 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Defence is attack

Sachin Tendulkar is bowling to Younis Khan, as I write this, with six men on the boundary, four of them on the leg side. He's bowling a negative line from round the wicket, outside the leg stump, angling across the batsman. Anil Kumble, bowling from the other end, is using the same tactics. The Indians are slow and easy between overs. Are they being too defensive? I think not. Is this how the game should be played? Why not?

The more India play defensively in this situation, the more likely they are to win the Test. At some point, Pakistan have to declare and give their bowlers enough time to get the Indians out. The smaller their lead then, the more chance India have of getting to that target. Wickets don't matter now; and the time when Pakistan must declare depends not on the lead on the board, which has already justified a declaration, but on the time their bowlers need to take 10 more wickets. So India's negative play, in this context, is actually positive play. Play to win, dry up the runs. Defend now to enable a successful attack later.
amit varma, 4:37 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Glorious certainty

This was written a couple of hours ago, and first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

In an unpredictable game, there is at least one element that is always predictable, though not monotonously so: Shahid Afridi will attack. The first time he gets strike in Pakistan's second innings is off the last ball off the first over, from Irfan Pathan. Pathan drops short. Afridi pulls him for four.

He comes on strike to play the fifth ball of Lakshmipathy Balaji's over. No-ball short outside off, Afridi slashes and misses. Next ball, drifting down leg, glanced for four to fine leg. Last ball, lofted off-drive for four. That's now 12 off 4, an average of 3 runs per ball. But don't be misled – Shahid Afridi does not deal in threes.
amit varma, 3:15 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Predicting Afridi

All through lunch we criticised two moves that Pakistan made: one, taking the new ball, which made strokeplay easier; two, delaying getting Shahid Afridi into the attack. Afridi's faster ball, delivered with a dubious action, is always good against tailenders, but the innocuous Arshad Khan bowled instead.

Afridi was brought on after lunch, though, and a journalist I was chatting with commented, after three balls of the over: "Here comes the chuck." It duly came, and Kumble was duly bowled.

Now Afridi will come out with the bat. And he will, I suspect, be quite as predictable.
amit varma, 12:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Achievement and appetite

My comment on yesterday's play is up here on Cricinfo. It uses a bit from a post I wrote during the day on Virender Sehwag, and though I rarely use my blog as a scratchpad for bigger articles, it is now beginning to seem like a good idea. I didn't have the Guardian piece to do yesterday, of course, as it was a Saturday. Today and tomorrow, and then back home.
amit varma, 11:03 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 32

_____ lost his head.

Wouldn't it be nice to see decapitated players go for wild slogs? Harbhajan Singh will rightly be criticised in the papers tomorrow for the manner in which he "lost his head", and (cliche coming up) threw his wicket away. He (one more) threw caution to the winds, and that means that VVS Laxman, playing a fine innings at No. 6, is again (again) running out of partners. Ah, the joys of batting at No. 6.
amit varma, 10:38 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The tactics of diarrhoea?

Coming to think of it, my last post may be unfounded in fact, and Dada could just have had the loosies. He'd be sitting in the loo when Sachin Tendulkar was out, and VVS Laxman would have gone and knocked on his door.

"Dada, Sachin's out, come out and bat," Laxman would have said.

"Splitter, splutter, splat," the noises would have come from inside. "Splotter sploot." And then Ganguly would have said:

"No, Laxman, you go. It's what the team needs right now."

Update: A friend and colleague just remarked: "Stunning decision to send nightwatchman in an hour early."

Update 2: Nightwatchman is out. One ball after being dropped, he stepped out to Danish Kaneria, and was beaten by a googly and stumped. What an extraordinarily stupid thing to do, stepping out like that. What an embarrassment Ganguly's batting is becoming to the side. He was such a fine batsman, and a great captain, in his prime, but he's tarnishing his legacy with such rubbish.
amit varma, 4:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Here, take my place

What comes first, the man or the team? However much one criticises
Sourav Ganguly, for his petulance, the decline of his batting, his
bull-headedness, it's undeniable that he has built a team with better
team spirit
than any other Indian side before it. These men would do
anything for each other and the team, and while Ganguly has often
asked his men to make sacrifices, he has also made them himself. Part
of the best opening pair in one-day international cricket, he dropped
himself down the order so Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar could
open together. And later, he dropped himself from No. 3, the other
position to which he is well-suited, so that VVS Laxman could play.

And today, after Tendulkar was out, he sent Laxman out at No. 5. Both
Laxman and Ganguly have been out of touch; both have had their place
in the side questioned; both needed to rebuild their confidence on a
pitch like this; and it was Ganguly who was the incumbent No. 5. But
he shifted it around, presumably because he felt it was the right thing
to do for his side. The crowds cheered when Laxman walked in, as
much for Ganguly as for VVS.
amit varma, 3:55 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Normal blogging service

I've had many mails from disappointed readers asking when I'll stop blogging about cricket and get back to my normal mix of politics, economics, literature, films and other trivial matters. Well, I've only been blogging on cricket because while covering this series, I wouldn't have had the time to blog on anything else. But I'm not covering the one-dayers, and will be back in Mumbai on the 29th. So my usual mix will resume on March 30. There will still be some cricket, but it'll be mostly other stuff. In case this has been frustrating, thank you for your patience.
amit varma, 3:33 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Like making love

This first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

Virender Sehwag plays cricket as if he is making love, with lust and abandon. He does not think twice when the moment is there to do what just has to be done, and where some other men would be cautious, he goes right ahead and does it. Slow down approaching the end of the day? Not Veeru. Be cautious approaching a landmark? Remember Multan. Cautious on 147 as his 150 comes up? Ha.

So he plonked his right foot down as Danish Kaneria bowled it where Sehwag wanted him to, and heeeeaved it over long on for six, a puff of dust coming from the pitch, as if it was gasping. The crowd went into raptures, their most basic instincts aroused, and sated, by this amazing batsman, who has now crossed 150 the last six times he has crossed 100. It is good, but for Virender Sehwag, it isn't enough.
amit varma, 3:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The qualities of watchfulness

The term "watchful", when applied to batsmen, often evokes images of dour defensiveness. It has become almost a cliched way of describing defensive play. That is a pity because, scoring at a strike-rate of more than 80, Virender Sehwag is playing a watchful innings.

Sehwag's watchfulness is predatorial: he waits for the right moment to pounce on his moving dinner. It is an aggressive watchfulness, not a defensive one. It intimidates the jungle, because when he gets the opportunity, he strikes with speed and finality. The rest of the time, muscles taut, mind relaxed but alert, smelling prey, he is watchful.

Update: One of the many things a journalist can do with a blog (I had listed some others here) is use it as a scratchpad. I used the jotting in this post, for example, in my Verdict on Cricinfo, "Achievement and appetite".
amit varma, 11:07 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Hey, I didn't write that

I have praised the Guardian's editing in the past, and accepted minor lapses because, well, shit happens in the relentlessly hurried environment of a newspaper desk. So when cliches have been inserted or the best portions of the writing cut, I've taken it in my stride. But what they've done to my latest piece is quite shocking.

Read my report of yesterday's play here. You will notice a line in the first paragraph that says that Younis Khan's innings comprised "more than 11 hours of diligent scratching". Well, firstly, I did not write that line; secondly, it couldn't be more untrue. Younis's innings was one of the most fluent I've seen, and only someone who didn't watch the game, or doesn't understand cricket, could call it "scratching".

The start and end of the piece is chopped rather badly, but all of that I can accept. But not the insertion of untruths in my copy. People will now read that piece and think what a bad writer this Amit Varma must be, and how poor his knowledge of the game.

Update: A birdie in the know tells me that the senior Guardian guys often don't do much editing on Fridays, for the Saturday paper, and it is likely to be some junior sub who made this mistake. I'm quite inclined to believe that, as the editing of my pieces has been good before this. You can't judge an organisation by what some trainee down the line does in a careless moment, unless it happens too often.
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Friday, March 25, 2005

Not Virender

The short ball directed at the body, I had speculated earlier, would be Pakistan's weapon against Virender Sehwag, but for it to work, Pakistan's pace bowlers would have to bowl accurately to him. They did not do so at Kolkata, and it isn't working here. Sehwag pulled Abdul Razzaq to the boundary when Razzaq pitched short at his body, and weaved out of the way of a couple from Mohammad Sami that were drifting down the leg side before dabbing one to fine leg.

And then Danish Kaneria came on to bowl and Sehwag hoicked him into the crowd over long-on. Play out the overs until the end of the day? Not Virender.
amit varma, 5:14 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

You want what?

Gautam Gambhir comes on strike and the crowds starts to holler, "We want sixer. We want sixer." Hello? It's Gambhir on strike, gentlemen, Virender Sehwag is at the other end.

Or maybe I've misheard, and they're really screaming, "We want single. We want single."

And Gambhir duly gives them that.
amit varma, 5:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Beating Kanhai

Younis Khan's amazing innings of 267 has just come to an end, and his score is the highest by a visiting batsman in India, beating Rohan Kanhai's 256 in 1958-59. I have my peg for today's report, of course, but I can't quite figure out what superlatives to heap on this innings. Outstanding? Superb? Glorious? Everything seems so banal.
amit varma, 4:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Two plans

As I type this, Pakistan are 519 for 7, at about 3.25 in the afternoon, and the last two overs they have played have been maidens. So what's going on? Well, there are two possible plans they can have at this stage.

Plan one: declare after a few overs, and give India about 40 minutes, or ten overs, to survive till close of play. That plan would require them to attack the bowling now. They are not doing that.

Plan two: Bat out today, and perhaps even a bit of tomorrow. The idea would be to bat only once in the match, and to hope to make India follow on. Sometimes this strategy can backfire, because even if they got the Indians out once, their bowlers might not have the energy to take 20 wickets. But Inzamam-ul-Haq has three spinners at his disposal in Danish Kaneria, Shahid Afridi and Arshad Khan, and all of them can bowl for hours at a time, even 35 overs a day. As Harbhajan Singh is demonstrating – see the ball with which he bowled Kamran Akmal – there's plenty of spin in the pitch, and though it is good for batting now, it will spin more and more as the game progresses.

Going by the languid pace at which Pakistan are playing, they seem to be following the second strategy. That might also enable Younis Khan to get a triple-century. What an achievement that would be.
amit varma, 3:27 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Carrying helmets

When he sleeps at night, do Rahul Dravid's hands sometimes slip down the side of the bed in search of a helmet? One of the things that he's been doing in this Test, in his capacity as what Rameez Raja would no doubt describe as "the first slipper", is carry helmets, over after over after over. A spinner finishes an over, Dinesh Karthik runs to the other end, Dravid picks up the helmet (or helmets) behind him, and jogs along. Sometimes Karthik takes the helmet; sometimes the close-in fielder it is intended for already has it on, and runs along. Monotonous, yes. But it's better than carrying the drinks.
amit varma, 3:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Recognising Kaif, writing on Tendulkar

Here's some thought-provoking blogging on cricket: Gaurav Sabnis writes about the team-spirit of the Indian side; and Jai Arjun Singh reviews the latest Sachin Tendulkar biography in the market.
amit varma, 11:29 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Opportunity and ease

For a No. 6 batsman in a Test side, the opportunity he gets to make a big score is inversely proportional to how easy the conditions are. If the conditions are easy, as they are here at Bangalore, he could be walking in to bat at 500 for 4, with his side needing quick runs (as I'd earlier speculated might happen to VVS Laxman in this Test). The best he can do, in those conditions, is make an attractive cameo that will look like a failure on the scorecard.

If he gets in early, with a lot of time to build an innings, the chances are that the conditions are tough, or the bowling attack is good. Coming in at 50 for 4 gives him a good opportunity to play a big score, but he's only got that opportunity because the batsmen aren't having it easy. Plus, he might have to bat with the lower order, and they would find those conditions ever harder.

There are exceptional circumstances, of course, such as when the top-order batsmen, lulled by easy conditions, play impetuous shots and get out. But by and large, I think, No 6 batsmen are plagued by this inverse proportion of opportunity to ease of batting. And when their place in the side is being questioned, often for questionable reasons, it is even harder. I feel for Laxman, who would make a great No. 3, but just happens to be in the same side as the greatest No. 3 India has ever had.
amit varma, 10:28 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The roar, and the prospect of more

A massive ear-splitting roar went up at the Chinnaswamy Stadium a short while ago as the players walked out to field. I called someone on the phone, and could barely hear what was being said on the other end. Horns and whistles and drums and screaming, screaming, screaming. I am a man who likes my quiet, but on a cricket field, this is quite what I enjoy.

As I type this, Inzamam is out, lbw to that excellent trier, Lakshmipathy Balaji. Bummer. He's such a beautiful batsman to watch that I would have been glad to see him bat all day today as well. Well, Dravid, Tendulkar and Sehwag will get their turn, and should enjoy themselves on this pitch. It will be a good chance for Sourav Ganguly to play himself back into form as well. I suspect, though, that by the time VVS Laxman comes in to play, India could be 500 for 4, hunting quick runs. No chance to play a big innings. Isn't that how it often is?

My Guardian report of yesterday's play is up here. A largish descriptive para I'd written describing Inzamam's play has been shortened because of space, so that part reads a bit abrupt. Well, that's part of the trade.
amit varma, 10:00 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, March 24, 2005

A golden peg

All the journalists here are delighted at Inzamam's adjective-defying innings, and his partnership with Younis Khan. (Not because it is adjective-defying; most journos here are quite happy with cliches.) The reason is that it gives them a peg for the reports they will write after the game. A peg, in a journalist's lingo, is the central theme around which the rest of the narrative revolves. It can shape the headline, and once you have the peg in place, writing the rest of the story becomes a breeze. It gives the story direction.

In contrast, consider what would have happened if Pakistan ended the day on 320 for 4, with four of the batsmen having got scratchy fifties, and all the main bowlers having got a wicket each. What's your peg then? Both sides would have had a reasonable first day on a pitch that was good for batting, and no player would stand out. What headline would sum up the day's play and draw the reader in? What one strand would hold the story together, giving you an opening para and an ending para?

Yep, that's why, whenever someone scores a hundred or takes five wickets, or a dramatic fightback or collapse takes place, all the journalists smile in contentment. "We've got our story for today," they say, and begin tapping away on their keyboards, like Ray Charles with a riff stuck in his head.
amit varma, 4:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A generational shift

I was just having an interesting chat at tea with Ramachandra Guha, the fine historian from Bangalore. He made an interesting point about Rahul Dravid.

"Dravid," he said, "is the only vice-captain in India's history who has never schemed for the captaincy." And in the same breath he added, "[Sachin] Tendulkar is the first Mumbai cricketer who is not parochial."

Well, I believe that it isn't just these individuals who are exceptions, but their generation that is different. And I think satellite television had everything to do with it. The generation of Indians who matured as cricketers after satellite television came into India, in the early 1990s, imbibed an entirely different set of values than the ones previous generations grew up with with. They watched teams like Australia and South Africa (at their pre-Cronjegate peak), and heard commentators like Richie Benaud expound upon the importance of things like professionalism, fitness, running between wickets, and so on. They watched Mark Taylor declare his innings when he was on 334 not out, they saw the athleticism of the top sides, they saw the pride for the Baggy Green that the Australians had, and it made an impact.

There used to be a cliched belief that Indians don't dive on the field because Indian grounds are hard. Well, the grounds haven't changed, but Indians have. Go to any under-19 match on any of the "hard" fields of India, and you'll see the players are harder, and without exception ready to dive. All young players work hard on fitness now, spending hours in the gym, and the pot-bellied Indian batsmen of the 1980s, the likes of Ashok Malhotra, would never get a look in today.

The change shows in more than just their cricketing skills and their fitness. The players of today aren't as parochial as before because their horizons are broader, and one reason for this is satellite television. Another possible reason is that many of these players have come from smaller towns, avoiding the cliques and prejudices that may form around lobbies based around the big cricketing centres.

One remarkable thing about the Indian team today, in fact, is that all the senior players are nice guys. Dravid, Tendulkar, Kumble, Laxman, even Ganguly when he is not being petulant, are good men, always willing to support each other, and whoever is captain. That is one way in which, perhaps, they truly are a seminal side.
amit varma, 3:09 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

100 in the 100th

With Inzamam-ul-Haq in sublime form, journalists across the press box are trying to find out which cricketers have made a century in their 100th Test. Well, the list is here.

And then after they've done their research and written their first three paras about the hundred, the fellow will go and get out on 92. Wouldn't that be a bummer?
amit varma, 1:10 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Blue on green

Nah, no mushy Indo-Pak dosti-dosti symbolism coming up. The green I refer to is the green of the cricket field in front of me. It's not all lush green, but it's deep enough for enjoyment, and the whole scene is spoilt by the ugly blue of the advertising logos at each end on the grass, behind the bowlers. (There's some white also, but the blue, a faded greyish blue, stands out more.) At the end near me, there's Videocon; at the other end, there's TVS Victor. And there's another ugly one near cover (or square leg, if you're bowling towards me), but I can't make out what the brand is question is there.

Now, I have nothing against commercialisation. In fact, I am ardent supporter of it, because it helps the game flourish and reach larger audiences. But the beauty of a cricket field is marred by these logs, and I think some places need to be out of bounds. Who would want to climb or gaze upon a snow-capped mountain with giant logos all across it? Would you want to see Stonehenge with banners slung across the stone columns there?

I suppose the television version of this would be those ugly advertising scrolls and logos that wipe out a fifth of the screen when wickets fall or boundaries are hit. But those, at least, are not there all the time.
amit varma, 12:53 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


For all the advantages of this press box, the one thing it doesn't have is enough televisions. From where I'm sitting, for example, I cannot see any TVs at all, and the big screen for the ground shows only random replays, and a lot of commercials, and the scorecard. That means we have to be more alert than at other press boxes, where if we miss a ball live, we can always catch it on TV.

It also makes it especially difficult to observe someone like Anil Kumble closely, with the complexities and subtleties of his bowling. Reporters of the past, relying on just what their eyes could see from a distance, must have had a hard time getting into the minute details of what was happening out there. That might explain, I think, the excessively poetic flourishes of Neville Cardus; when reality isn't vivid enough, imagination must be brought into play.
amit varma, 11:19 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 31

A Batting (or bowling, or spinner's) Paradise.

Bob Woolmer, Pakistan's coach, had referred to this pitch as "a batting paradise", and it does, indeed, look like it will offer little assistance to the bowlers. Inzamam-ul-Haq and Younis Khan are playing with complete ease, and unless they (cliche coming up) play a rash shot, they could just go on and on and on, like a battery or a blog. This seems a perfect pitch for a high-scoring draw (and what is a low-scoring draw, someone tell me), with only Pakistan's propensity to collapse and the quality of India's spinners coming in the way of that. If Pakistan make 450 or more in this innings, though, they should be safe. And they only have to (another cliche) keep their heads for that.

Well, yes, but keep them where?
amit varma, 10:57 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Catching sixes

The press box at Eden Gardens was really far from the action, high above the field and far from it, enclosed in an allegedly airconditioned glass-fronted cabin. The one here is quite different, though. It's open air, and just above the sightscreen at the Pavilion End. Where I am sitting, in fact, is just above a right-hander's straightish long-on when a bowler is bowling from this end. It's close to the action, the noise is fabulous, and the breeze is superb – I've already lost one pen, kept on the table, blown away. There's just one problem: the press box is in the six-hitting zone of a number of the strokeplayers in these sides.

Shahid Afridi and Virender Sehwag could go over long-on, and Sourav Ganguly could hit it over long-off, which would be especially ironic given the criticism he's got from the media – including me, I admit – about his batting form. "So you think Kaif should be in the team in place of me," one can imagine him saying. "Ok, take this." Thwack. One journalist carried away in a pool of blood. Thwack again. One more gone.

"I don't play for records," he could say later at the press conference. "I play for revenge."
amit varma, 10:26 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Eagles circling overhead

I'm sitting at the press box at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, and it's a fairly surreal scene out in front of me, though I'm not sure TV audiences will see the same thing. A vast number of eagles are circling the ground, some swooping down dangerously close to the ground. It isn't so much the eagles as their shadows which have an impact, the bird-shaped specks of fluttering black which move around furiously, as if this is the negative of a laser show. To add to that, the crowd is screaming, and all of that must make it pretty ominous for the batsmen. The likes of Marshall and Thompson and Wasim and Waqar bowling to batsmen in this kind of intimidating environment would be quite something to watch.

Shahid Afridi and Yasir Hameed don't need that lot, though. They've been dismissed cheaply by Lakhsmipathy Balaji and Irfan Pathan respectively, and Younis Khan just played and missed at a ball from Balaji. An awful start on a pitch that Bob Woolmer had described as "a batting paradise". The eagles are circling.
amit varma, 10:12 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Blogacity postponed

I had a marvellous dinner a short while back at Shiok, Madhu Menon's restaurant in Bangalore. The food was great, and the company was excellent. I have that to blog about, and eight other things in my notebook, including the cops who took me out of the press box in Kolkata for mysterious reasons I shall reveal, the haunted colonial hotel I stayed at in Kolkata, the tailor who wanted to cut my nosehair with a pair of scissors the size of my arm, and the cops in Bangalore who show more anger at people who can't speak Kannada than at rapists.

Yes, quite a lot to blog about.

But I still have that splitting headache from my Sunday illness, and I need to get up early tomorrow (today!) to go to the stadium where the players will practice. Then I have to file two pieces, and I'm not yet sure what one of them is supposed to be about.

When all that is done, I shall blog. As the doctor's secretary used to say to visitors in a hurry, please be patients.
amit varma, 1:08 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, March 21, 2005

In transit

I just arrived in Chennai via an Air Deccan flight from Kolkata, and tomorrow morning I have a train to Bangalore. Why this circuitous route, you ask? Well, it was cheaper. A flight from Kolkata to Bangalore cost almost 10k, and this works out to less than a third of that. Air Deccan service is non-existant, and the check-in took ages, but when for two-and-something thousand, I'll take it.

One doesn't have to bother with all this when company pays, of course, but I get paid per piece by the Guardian, and have to take care of my own travel and hotel. From Cricinfo I get the laptop and the monthly thingie. All in all, it's a good deal, though I rather like Chennai and I feel bad moving through it so quickly.

I have a few posts planned in my notebook, but they will take some writing, and I still have a headache from that stomach upset I'd had yesterday. So more later.
amit varma, 10:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Retired hurt, but returning

I had a fairly lousy day, getting a bad stomach upset in the morning, that stopped me from going to the stadium. I watched the game on TV from my hotel room, and after my lunch bulletin from Cricinfo I got a really bad headache, along with weakness, bodyache and all the usual. I had to pass on the bulletin to young Anand Vasu, who did a fine job of it. I managed to stay awake and take notes until India won, then I crashed out till evening. Despite the remnants of a headache, I then did my Guardian report ok. I'm much better now, though still rather weak.

I shall be blogging at full strength during the Bangalore Test. I don't have to do the Cricinfo bulletin for that, and other things I write for Cricinfo will be sporadic, as Sambit, Dileep and Osman will all be there. So watch this space.
amit varma, 10:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The snarl

It is often said about spinners that they "tease" the batsman. Well, Anil Kumble doesn't do that; he snarls at them.

Kumble's bowling a lethal spell here, and he's just got rid of Inzamam-ul-Haq, who was playing him with some discomfort. The bounce, the pace, the rip off the wicket: the snarl. Outstanding bowling.
amit varma, 10:11 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Dosti dosti

This series, it will later be said, was played in an atmosphere of fabulous goodwill, just like last year's. The Pakistan side certainly seems to be taking that seriously, if one goes by all the gifts they are giving the Indians in the field. Many of their first-innings wickets were thrown away, and Shahid Afridi was pretty benevolent yesterday, playing a ludicrously loose shot with minutes left for the end of play.

Well, Younis Khan gave India a morning present a short while back, getting himself stumped off the first ball of the day, from Anil Kumble. Dinesh Karthik did a great job behind the stumps, but it is baffling how Younis could leave his crease like that. The pitch hasn't deteriorated much, but could the cracks in the Pakistan pysche win India this game? It will be a shame if it does. I'd like to see every wicket earned.
amit varma, 9:41 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Kitty Cow

Happy birthday to the best baby in the world.
amit varma, 9:38 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Loose deliveries

The occupational hazard of a travelling journalist has struck me down, and I'm sitting in my hotel room with a virulent stomach upset. I can't go to the ground, obviously, because there is just one filthy Indian commode for a few thousand people in the stands where the press box is located (thank you Mr Dalmiya), and I'm feeling too weak to climb the stairs anyway. It's a bummer, being here on what could be a great final day, and having to watch it on TV at the hotel. The service here is so marvellous that these guys have refused to get me medicine because "we don't have manpower, sir". So if my bulletins suddenly stop appearing today, you know why.
amit varma, 9:24 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, March 19, 2005


Everyone in the press box, barring the Politburo, has been talking about a certain Indian batsman they refer to only as "Nightwatchman". Ah, you wonder who this is. Well, he came out as a nightwatchman yesterday when Sachin Tendulkar was out. That's right, it's Sourav Ganguly.

Ganguly's batting has fallen to such abysmal levels that it's sad for someone who was a fan of his, as I was, to see him poke around the way he does. I believe his captaincy has affected his batting; and now his batting is affecting his captaincy. He was India's finest captain, and a beautiful batsman to watch, but that's all past tense now.

As a colleague and friend put it about today's play: "When players like Pathan and Karthik were batting so well, Nightwatchman was dancing as if he was on a Pol Pot minefield." So there is, you see, a future for Dada in the performing arts.
amit varma, 6:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Porky Pig goes out to bat

I just thought of the phrase Hindi commentators use so often, "salami ballebaaz", and thought instantly of a pig going out to bat, pink and podgy, wearing slim, made-to-fit pads. Fine image.

Yes, yes, I know "salami ballebaaz" means "opening batsman". But I like salami, and I adore pigs.
amit varma, 3:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 30

______ showed a lot of character.

Dinesh Karthik, who made an excellent 93 and was out unselfishly trying to (cliche coming up) up the tempo for his side, "showed a lot of character," it will no doubt be written. Heck, anyone who spends a lot of time at the crease is accused by cricket writers of showing his character. But if you're out early, does that mean you're characterless? I can almost imagine an old Bengali father in a starched dhoti screaming at his plump wife: "I will not let my daughter marry that boy. He has no character. All he makes is quick cameos of 30 and 40."

Karthik batted just like a specialist batsman, and played some lovely strokes. My favourite moment of his, though, was when he bumped into Steve Bucknor while completing a run. He could so easily have disabled Bucknor with a flick of his wrists and everyone would have called it an accident. But he didn't. Now, that's character.
amit varma, 3:19 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Danish pastry

India have always enjoyed playing legspinners, so it was a bit of a surprise when Danish Kaneria troubled some of the Indian batsmen at Mohali. Well, no more. He's been sorted out now, and all the Indian batsmen played him comfortably at Kolkata. Kaneria was eventually reduced to bowling a negative line down the leg stump from round the wicket, which at least kept his figures reasonably economical. Many of the wickets he's got have been of batsmen in a hurry, and he's looked about as lethal as a baby with a water-pistol. Tasty.
amit varma, 2:52 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 29

_____ have their work cut out for them.

India are 360 ahead at the time of writing, and commentators are no doubt saying, and writers writing, that Pakistan "have their work cut out for them". It is (cliche coming up) an uphill task, and they will have to (one more) grit it out to draw the game. India are in (more) command of the game, in the driver's seat, though it's not yet all over bar the shouting.

Shravan Enaganti suggested "work cut out".
amit varma, 2:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sourav Ganguly and the Politburo

As with professionals of any sort, there are groups and sub-groups within the community of cricket journalists. And one of the most prominent groups is known as the Politburo.

The Politburo is a group of Bengali journalists, who work mostly for Kolkata-based newspapers, who have unhindered access to Sourav Ganguly. This makes them a powerful clique, for they can get exclusive quotes and interviews from him at any time they want. They are also used by him to plant stories in the press, and they are fierce defenders of him. At Ganguly press conferences, they often bother not to show up. They know they can get better quotes from his hotel room. In fact, when Ganguly misses a Test, they sometimes bother not to turn up at all.

Well, the Politburo is a worried lot these days. Ganguly has declined as a batsman alarmingly, and his captaincy seems to be winding down as well. And with every poor stroke he plays out of his dazzling arsenal of bad shots, the politburo gets worried. Ganguly gone means no access to the captain, or, in fact, to anyone in the team. The glory days will be over.

So here's their tactical ploy: Every time Ganguly fails, they all write acrid comment pieces about how VVS Laxman no longer deserves his place in the side. Constantly, over the last year, they have carried out a campaign against Laxman, so that the attention is deflected off Ganguly. It is a cunning ploy. But will it work? I hope not.
amit varma, 10:08 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

That notional Eden Gardens

I have never been to Eden Gardens before this trip, and I was looking forward to seeing it. I had heard so much about this place: the massive arena, the 100,000 screaming people, the amazing ambience. But what an underwhelming experience it turned out to be.

When I first entered the stadium the day before the Test, I was astonished at how much smaller the stands were than in my imagination. It looks more substantial from the press box, which is located at the highest and furthest end of the ground, but still short of what I'd expected. And the crowds haven't poured in.

Of the seats that I can see from here two-thirds are unoccupied. (It might go up as the day goes on, but will not go below half.) Locals tell me that this is because of the examination season, but that surely can't account for all of it. After all, there wouldn't be so many kids in the stadium at normal times, would there?

For an association with so much money, Bengal's cricket board maintains this stadium really badly. It is spectator-unfriendly and shockingly filthy. It is a massive contrast to Mohali, where the first Test was, and Bangalore, where the next Test will be held. And it lends weight to a point IS Bindra made when I chatted with him in Mohali.

I asked him, pointedly, on what he felt about Jagmohan Dalmiya being given credit for bringing money into Indian cricket and being a good administrator. Without criticising Dalmiya, he made two points: one, Mohali is a far better ground for spectators, players and the press than any other in the country; two, it also makes more money than any other association. The subtext of that was: you tell me who's the better administrator.

Looking at the real Eden Gardens, so disappointing when compared to my cherished notional Eden Gardens, I am in no doubt about the answer to that question.
amit varma, 9:41 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, March 18, 2005

The heart of greatness

What makes an innings great? Is it context: the situation of a match, the quality of the bowling etc? Or is it the control that a batsman demonstrates during the course of his innings, the matching of intent with execution?

Don Bradman often said that his 254 at Lord's was a greater innings than the 334 at Leeds that came later in that series, because every ball went just where he intended. So it was in Rahul Dravid's first-innings 110 in this Test. "I got into my rhythm quickly," he told reporters after the game. "I was in complete control all through. It was one of my better innings."

How did it compare to the 180 he had made at this ground during that classic comeback Test against Australia in 2001? "I wasn't in control for the first 50 runs of that innings," he said. Which was greater? Looking at context, I would opt for the 180. But for the sheer pleasure of watching a master at his peak, I'd pick the 110.

He's in lovely touch now, and so is Sachin Tendulkar, as I type these words. Must I keep typing. No, I shall watch.
amit varma, 2:47 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 28

It's all happening here.

Pakistan all out after lunch, Virender Sehwag hitting Mohammad Khalil for three fours in his first over, Gautam Gambhir yorked by Mohammad Sami; as so many commentators would gleefully bark, "It's all happening here".

Dileep pointed out during lunch that I was amiss in not talking about this cliche so far. But it wasn't all happening here until now. Now it is.
amit varma, 1:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Battle of the offspinners

With his two wickets today, Harbhajan Singh has passed the wicket tally of Erapalli Prasanna in Tests; he has 191, at the time of writing, to Prasanna's 189. Prasanna took 49 Tests to get there, while Harbhajan is playing his 44th.

Prasanna, of course, has been romanticised endlessly through rose-tinted glasses. Harbhajan's achievements are fresh in the memory. So who is greater? That's hard to say. One thing is certain, though: Harbhajan wears a more fetching patka.
amit varma, 1:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 27

Held the innings together.

It will no doubt be said of Younis Khan that he "held the innings together" as the (cliche coming up) wickets fell around him. In the morning, he (cliches ahead) carried on from where he had left off, standing firm and holding one end up, though there was a danger that he would run out of partners.

Update: Younis got out as I was typing this. Could this be (two more) a decisive blow, even a turning point?
amit varma, 12:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 26

Hold the key.

A newspaper headline today declared that Younis Khan and Yousuf Youhana "hold the key" for Pakistan. This is terribly common usage, and in every match, someone or something always holds the key for both sides. These could include (cliches coming up) the lynchpin of the batting, the tireless spinner, the pitch that would deteriorate on the fourth and fifth days, and even the threat of rain.

There's a blockbuster film in this somewhere, with terrorists kidnapping a scientist who holds the key to a rain machine and threatening to rain out a Test match. The film could end with a wet item number on an erotic 22-yard strip.

Or maybe not.
amit varma, 10:35 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Don't let it go

Is there a difference between knowing and knowing? All the Pakistanis know, from last year's series, that Lakshmipathy Balaji moves the ball both ways. Why then have Younis Khan, in the last game, and Yousuf Youhana, moments ago, shouldered arms to balls pitched just outside off? In the first case, Younis was bowled. And now, Youhana was trapped lbw, hit outside the line but, decisively, not offering a shot.

He brings it in, you know. And gets you out.
amit varma, 9:44 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Younis's redemption

And to think we called him "Useless". Younis Khan played a lovely innings yesterday, and my Guardian report on the day's play is up here.
amit varma, 9:21 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Cricketing Cliche 25

Positive frame of mind.

Younis Khan said today in his press conference that he was in a "positive frame of mind", which basically means that he was positive. After all, you cannot be in a positive frame of body. I see nothing wrong in Younis using this phrase. Firstly, it is more important for writers to avoid cliches than other non-writing souls. Secondly, English is not his first language, and he is, by all accounts, eloquent and articulate in Urdu.

But when writers use the phrase repeatedly, then it gets a bit much. "Younis Khan was in a positive frame of mind," they will write, "and was [cliche coming up] quick to pounce on whatever bad balls came his way." Words like "punish" and "merciless" and "brutal" will be used, and you'll feel like you're at school again, and anybody with loose balls will be "put away".
amit varma, 8:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Silent Mediaah!

I have had many readers write in to me moved by my post on the predicament of Pradyuman Maheshwari, who terminated his blog, Mediaah!, because of legal notices sent to him by the Times of India. Well, if you'd like to support him, do read this petition that his wellwishers have put together, and sign it if you agree with it.
amit varma, 8:24 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 24

Feeling the heat.

With Yousuf Youhana and Younis Khan (cliche coming up) stringing together a fine partnership, India could be said to be "feeling the heat". Writers particularly enjoy using this phrase when it's not just a metaphor but also a pun. Yes, it is rather hot and humid in Kolkata, and it is hard for any fielding side, especially their captain, to stay focussed and energetic on a day like this. It's hard for me, too; my longish hair gets all messed up in this sweat and pollution, and I yearn for shampoo as much as the Indian bowlers must be wanting a wicket now. Pakistan doesn't stand between me and my Garnier, of course.
amit varma, 3:04 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 23

Keeping the scoreboard ticking.

Yousuf Youhana and Younis Khan, after the dismissal of the openers, are playing quietly, "keeping the scoreboard ticking". They're not hitting too many boundaries, and are taking the occasional single while batting carefully. In Tests, the scoreboard ticks, as if it's a time-bomb; in one-dayers, the batsmen (cliche coming up) milk the bowling, as if it's a cow.

Basically (one more cliche), it's a batsman's game, even when they're not (and another) hitting it to all parts of the ground.
amit varma, 1:04 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Not so useless after all?

None of the journalists I spend time with refer to Younis Khan by his name; to us, he's Useless Khan. His batting has always been something of a joke for us, and his being made vice-captain, we all thought, was foolish. It was important to see, first, if he could keep his place in the side.

Yesterday, though, an interesting thing happened. Inzamam-ul-Haq went off the field for a while, and things started happening. As my colleague from Pakistam, Osman, pointed out, Useless made things happened, changed the field often, consulted his bowlers, and gave a sense of energy and activity that one rarely sees from the languid Inzamam. And, as it happens, Pakistan had a great session under him.

Now, all this may not have much significance. The increased energy could just be an attempt to show that he tries new things as captain, and Inzy's alleged lethargy could be a sign of a mature composure. Also, India's collapse was sparked off by two terrible shots, from Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. But it was still interesting, and it ensures that whenever Inzy goes off the field next, everyone will be watching that much more closely.
amit varma, 12:24 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 22

Needless run-out.

Many newspapers tomorrow will describe Dinesh Karthik's dismissal as a "needless run-out". Now, what kind of run-out is it, I wonder, that is not needless.

Pakistan (cliche coming up) have their tails up, and Shahid Afridi must be looking forward to come out and tonk them around. I am certain he is going to fancy having a go at Lakshmipathy Balaji; I am equally certain that Balaji is looking forward to that battle. But, at the moment, he is perhaps looking forward to scoring some runs. First Afridi to Balaji; and later, Balaji to Afridi. I can't wait.
amit varma, 10:00 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The occupational hazard

My Guardian pieces of the last two days are here and here. The day before yesterday I was asked to give 600 words, to lead with Bucknor's 100 Tests and put in a bit of match preview material. I delivered 800, they used 400. Yesterday they asked for 500, leading with Sachin Tendulkar's 10,000 runs and then a bit about the match. I gave 500, they used 350.

Five years ago this would have upset me, but once you actually understand what goes on at a newspaper desk, you realise how tough it is. The racing season is on in England, football's on, cricket news about England keeps coming in, and India-Pakistan Tests are naturally not such a high priority. The pieces, of course, read a bit disjointed, with some of the best bits cut, but under the circumstances the editing work has been skillful. I've seen far worse, and my fellow writers who are covering this series for England's other papers are suffering similar excisement, if not worse.

My Guardian reports, by the way, generally go online in the early morning, India time. You will see reports on the site before that, but those would be website only, culled from agencies. The newspaper reports replace those.
amit varma, 9:33 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 21

Chopping and changing.

For years, cricket writers have bemoaned the "chopping and changing" that goes on in the Pakistan side, the unwillingness of the Pakistan selectors to give young players (cliche coming up) an extended run in the side. In today's papers there were comments about the dropping of Salman Butt, but I felt that he needed to go. Once a guy's been found out, you can destroy him by exposing him repeatedly. Better to send him back to work on his game, and get his head sorted out if that, too, is required.

But the trend that cliche talks about exists in Pakistan cricket, and it's sad. Talents such as Mohammad Wasim and Hasan Raza, to name just two, have been lost to the game, and that's a shame. Wasim may soon qualify to play for New Zealand, I hear, and he's (one more cliche) miles better than some of their current players. After the way his countrymen treated him, I wouldn't consider him a traitor for taking that step, for taking the only route that would do justice to his talent and hard work.
amit varma, 9:09 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Boredom, and pregnancy

Nick Hoult, who is covering this series for the Telegraph, just commented to me how strange it is that here we are, watching two of the greatest batsmen of all time bat, and it's so boring. That's exactly right. And they're playing beautifully, too, both Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. Milestones are being passed, the score is climbing, and we are all sleepy here.

If only there was a Wasim, a Waqar and a Shoaib here to spice things up.

Meanwhile news has come in that Inzamam-ul-Haq, who has been off the field for much of the day, has been feeling dizzy, with "vomiting sensations". Clearly he's pregnant. Must be Woolmer.
amit varma, 3:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A long way to run

At 2.39pm, Sachin Tendulkar clipped a ball from his hips to fine leg to bring up his 10,000th run in Test cricket. If he'd actually physically run each of them, and assuming 20 yards to a run, that works out to around 183 kilometers of running, or about 4.35 marathons. Such are statistics.
amit varma, 2:50 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wanted MORE

Every time a four is hit, the giant scoreboard at the Eden Gardens flashes this sign:
Wow !
Wanted MORE

And moments later, the ad is completed with the next frame:
Get MORE every day
The Telegraph

There, the sign flashes again as Rahul Dravid hits his 12th four of the day, one MORE than Virender Sehwag.
amit varma, 2:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Not mordor, but torpor

Virender Sehwag's out, and Sachin Tendulkar just opened his account, off the 19th ball he faced, with a spanking cover-drive off Shahid Afridi. There is a certain torpor in the air (as opposed to an uncertain torpor), and I wish to sleep. Wakey wakey, Rahul Dravid's in the house, and he's played some fine strokes today.

I've got a five-pound weight attached to each eyelid.
amit varma, 1:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 20

Foot to the pedal.

Many cricket writers are no doubt wondering if Virender Sehwag will "put his foot to the pedal" after the lunch break. Will he (cliche coming up) up the tempo, perhaps, and (one more) take the attack to the bowlers.

From what has happened in the morning session, he is quite capable of doing that. Kaneria, especially, looks set for a tonking, with both Sehwag and Rahul Dravid playing him comfortably. Of course, Pakistan began badly in Mohali as well, and fought back well. Can they do so here again?
amit varma, 12:05 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 19

Sped to the boundary like a tracer bullet.

Virender Sehwag just brought up his fifty with a boundary through midwicket, and many will no doubt describe the ball as having "sped to the boundary like a tracer bullet". Jai wrote to me to point out that this is a particular favourite of Ravi Shastri, and could, in fact, be his epitaph.

Sehwag's 50 came off 67 balls, and he simply wasn't tested enough by the fast bowlers, who were wayward. As at Mohali, he is reading Danish Kaneria beautifully. Kaneria's bowling to him is like (cliche coming up) candy to a baby. But it's bad for the teeth, and Sehwag may well relax in the knowledge of how well he's playing Kaneria, and (one more cliche) lose his head. At a ground as large as Eden Gardens, they'll never find it.
amit varma, 11:00 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A new adjective

In the days of my childhood, "spanking" was a verb or a noun. Now, it's an adjective. "Oh, Sehwag has played a spanking cover-drive," they moan. "Oh, that's a spanking straight-drive," they sigh. And if you're into that kind of pleasure you could also wheeze, as you bend submissively in front of your object of desire, "Oh dear! That was a spanking spanking."
amit varma, 10:41 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On the bulletin train

Besides the reports I file for the Guardian at the end of each day, I shall also be doing the bulletin for Cricinfo during this Test. What is a bulletin, you ask? Well, it's the ongoing report of the match. It starts in the morning with a toss bulletin, continues with a lunch bulletin (that replaces the toss bulletin), continues with a tea bulletin (that replaces the lunch bulletin and encapsulates the day so far) and ends with a report at the close of play, that replaces everything that came before it, and sums up the day.

That's a lot of writing, and it can get tough, and my connectivity is so damn awful that I may not be able to blog much, though I'll do all I can. My bulletin for today, meanwhile, will appear here.

The bulletin, typically, contains just the description of what happened on the day, with little comment. The commenting is left to the verdicts, Pakistan view etc that appear at the end of the day. So if Bucknor screws up, there's a limit to how trenchant I can get.
amit varma, 10:10 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The futility of strategy

There's no point in planning if you can't execute what you plan, and Mohammad Sami and Mohammad Khalil haven't made the best of starts against Virender Sehwag. Sami repeatedly strayed down leg in his first over against Sehwag – his first ball was a no-ball full on leg. Khalil, meanwhile, bowled a couple of good short balls on target, but strayed once, and was tonked for four past point. His first ball was a short, wide ball outside off. The first two overs yielded 8 and 7 respectively.

Early nerves? Probably. But if they don't recover and get on line and length fast, Sehwag might run away with it.
amit varma, 9:42 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The battle resumes

India won the toss and will bat. That means Virender Sehwag, once again, will have to counter Pakistan's strategy against him, which I'd outlined here. Bob Woolmer had said in a PC a couple of days back, when asked what plans his men had for Sehwag: "We won't give him a car. We won't let him drive."

Of course, such a ploy needs immaculate control, because if the bowlers stray in line too far outside the off stump, Sehwag will pump them to the boundaries on either side of point. Mohammad Khalil is the new kid on the chopping block, and it will be interesting to see how it goes.
amit varma, 9:22 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Be still my beating heart

My heart is pumping as I sit here at the Eden Gardens press box. No, excitable young reader, it isn't because of the occasion, but simply because I had to climb four long floors to get here. The press box is at the highest point of the stadium, and the panoramic view is outstanding, but getting here with a laptop on one's back is hard for one such as me. As for those with cardiac problems or other disabilities that prevent them from climbing stairs, forget it, watch the game on TV.
amit varma, 8:46 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Will it swing?

As I entered the press box at the Eden Gardens, I overheard one journalist saying to another, "I wonder if there will be moisture in the bitch."

Well, that depends, doesn't it?
amit varma, 8:35 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The city of Burg

At my old colonial haunted hotel, which I shall blog about in detail later, and which deserves a novel of its own, I felt hungry. So I looked through the menu card, and decided to order a chicken hamburger. I called room service.

"I'm calling from Room XXX," I said. "I'd like to order a chicken hamburger please."

"I'm sorry sir," the disembodied voice said, "we don't have chicken hamburger. But we can send you a chicken burger."

"Wha," I wha'd. "What are you talking about?"

"Sir we don't have ham," the voice said. "So we can't give you chicken hamburger. But chicken burger is available."

I sighed, and ordered. Kolkata's old-world charm is, well, charming, but surely they'd know by now that hamburgers were named thus because they originated in Hamburg, not because there's bloody ham inside. And the said item, when it came, was greasy. And three types of taxes were charged, including a hefty service tax.

The greasy waiter hung around after putting the plate down. "Wha?" I wha'd.

"Sir, your blessings," he said.

"Yeah, right," I replied. "Aayushman bhava, dude."
amit varma, 11:15 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Meeting Beer

I met the very talented Bridal Beer this evening for coffee, and as such meetings tend to go, serendipity kept happening. Along with the coffee that was planned, coke and chicken sandwiches came. We spoke about many things: Kolkata, Mumbai, New York, the writing of books, families, and suchlike. And yes, about Brian.

Those were the best moments. Each time she mentioned Brian, she leaned forward, stared into the distance, and her eyes sparkled, and all of her smiled, and the thought of happiness made her radiate such joy that I couldn’t help smiling as well. I hope she ends up with a permanent fridge-full of what she so aptly describes as Amul Happiness. (If not, there’s always the Imaginary Boyfriend.)

Go read her entire blog, archives and all, from the start. These are the first stirrings of a future chicklit giant.

After the sandwich I returned to my hotel and got down to writing a piece on Steve Bucknor (combined with a match preview) for the Guardian, because it’s his 100th Test tomorrow. I had to write nice things about him, and as anyone who has read my earlier piece on him will understand, I had to grit my teeth and do it. Karela Unhappiness? Ah, never mind.
amit varma, 11:04 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Love does this

I called my wife last afternoon to chat with her, and she later told me that there was an earthquake in Mumbai as I was speaking to her. Yes, dearest, I miss you too.
amit varma, 12:21 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Woolmer mark

Here's a routine report I filed for the Guardian yesterday from the business centre of a Delhi hotel, in between trains from Chandigarh and to Kolkata. Also read this excellent piece by old colleague and brief chess companion, Lawrence Booth: "Test cricket's top 10 rearguards".
amit varma, 11:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

My Bengali secret

There was a secret I brought to Kolkata with me, that I thought might help me: I can speak Bengali.

From my name, most people assume that I must be a Punjabi or a UP-ite, but my mother is Bengali, my father was born in Lahore but brought up in Kolkata, and I grew up speaking Bengali at home. So when Bongs bitch about me in my presence, I can understand just what they're saying.

Well, so I was checking in at the Great Eastern Hotel, and as I was standing at reception, one of the two ladies there said to the other: "a-kay chhoto ghaur ta diye dao." ("Give him the small room.") I immediately remarked, "na, please aamaake chhoto ghaur ta na deen." ("No, please don't give me the small room.") The ladies burst out laughing, and the first one said, "Eta tho mooshkeel hoye gaalo." ("Now we're in trouble.") I got a big room.

Later, sitting in a cab on the way to Park Street, I thought I'd try bonding with the taxi driver, and started speaking to him in Bengali. After a couple of sentences I realised that he couldn't understand a word of what I was saying, and was a migrant from Bihar. Exactly the same thing happened to me on the cab going back to the hotel. (I had a similar experience when I first went to New York, and the first couple of stores I entered were manned by Latinos who couldn't speak English properly. I assume that was an aberration, as was this, presumably.)

So if you're a Bong, and you want to bitch about me in my presence, well, you know my secret. But go ahead anyway; it's fun.
amit varma, 11:00 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


The television set in my hotel room at Kolkata is one of those old 80's-style sets, which has ten buttons you press on the top for channels, and that's it. I thought I'd check out Mona Singh's new look on "Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin", but sadly, Sony wasn't one of those ten.

There was, however, a Bengali channel that had this feed from the home of a family somewhere in Kolkata. A young girl sat on a sofa, with all her assorted relatives around her. She was the winner of "Pepsi's lucky draw", the presenter enlightened us, and surely a celebrity in her own right now, at least in her neighbourhood. And what was her prize? A visit from Inzamam-ul-Haq and Rahul Dravid.

The presenter asked the winner's mom how they were planning to greet the guests. "Roshogolla debo," she remarked. ("I shall give them rasgullas [a popular Bengali sweet]"). The guests duly came, and Inzamam was shown helping himself to a roshogolla. Dravid, always the gentleman, was shown making polite chit-chat with the winner, who had a large, satisfied smile on her face. Then the presenter went to Inzamam for a soundbyte.

"I've seen Kolkata before only from the stadium and the hotel," he said. "This is the first time I've come to somebody's house, and I feel great."

Despite the fact that the occasion was manufactured, there was something in the way he said it that seemed genuine. Inzamam wasn't just being polite, you could tell; he sincerely wanted to reach out. He is a great batsman, a fine captain (I know that's a controversial statement, but wait a couple of years), but more important than both of those, he is a good man.

The first and the third of those qualities suit Dravid as well, of course, and I hope he soon gets a chance to show that the second can also be true.
amit varma, 10:37 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thomas Jefferson and his naughty cherub

Jai has blogged about our recent meeting, and you can read about it here and here. He has encapsulated everything we spoke about beautifully, and I have nothing to add to that. And yes, I shall go back home and visit my Dylan back pages. Maybe between 30 and 40 I can recapture the youth I lost between 20 and 30. And maybe lose the paunch as well.

No, I am not posting any pics.
amit varma, 10:25 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Non-Cricketing Cliche: Just Not Cricket

It's just not cricket, the cliche goes, and it would apply perfectly to the situation Pradyuman Maheshwari, the blogger behind Mediaah!, now finds himself in. I had met Pradyuman last month, and he had told about the problems he was having with with mainstream media (now known as MSM, the acronym of the year). A media house had just sent him a legal notice, asking him to remove a post from his blog, and apologise. He apologised, but was determined to fight on.

Well, this battle is over. The Times of India (TOI) sent him a legal notice recently, asking him to remove 19 posts. He chose, after much deliberation, to shut the blog down. His reasons are, for the moment, given here. It is a decision that has upset a lot of his fans, including me – but a man’s peace of mind is his most important possession, and only Pradyuman could have judged what he needed to do to maintain it.

A senior journalist I was speaking to recently told me that Mediaah! was doomed from the time Pradyuman took them on. “A chap called Vijay Jindal is now in charge at TOI,” he said. “He used to be in Zee, and is known to play dirty. He’s the kind of guy who, if he wants to mess with you, will go to Shillong and file a case against you. What can you do then? You’re fucked.”

What amazes me is why TOI took umbrage at Mediaah! As I told Pradyuman recently, it is testimony to the reach and influence of his blog that the giant should bother with this pesky dwarf. But it was rather silly for TOI to do so. Pradyuman was a reasonable journalist, always willing to represent both points of view on anything, and he never went overboard with his criticism. He barked, but he was a responsible watchdog. TOI should have been relieved that he existed, for criticism can get far worse on the internet. It can be anonymous, venomous, and libellous. Mediaah! was none of these things.

To judge for yourself, visit this site, set up by an anonymous wellwisher, and read the 19 posts that offended TOI, as well as the letter they sent him. Don’t trust me on this: make up your own mind. Is it libellous? Is it unfair? Wasn’t such a voice a good one for readers, journalists and publications alike?

Most bloggers put a lot more of themselves in their blogs than most journalists do in their day jobs, and Pradyuman must now be feeling that a part of himself has died. I know I’d be shattered if I had to shut India Uncut down.

(Thank you, Peter Griffin, for alerting me to what happened, and for fighting the good fight.)
amit varma, 9:12 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, March 13, 2005

This is a moving post

No, I'm not going to play with your emotions and move you to tears or something. This is a moving post because I'm blogging from a train. The Rajdhani from New Delhi to Kolkata, in fact. I reached Delhi in the morning from Chandigarh, had a nice lunch with, and finally met, one of my favourite bloggers, Jai Arjun Singh, and must submit this post soon as the train gathers speed and leaves Delhi. More tomorrow.
amit varma, 5:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Young and fearless

As cricketers grow old in the international arena, they grow wary of the media. In press conferances they choose their words with care. In private, they open out only to journalists they trust. A few words quoted out of context can cause immense harm to a player's public image.

It is refreshing, thus, to see the way Pakistan's young players handle the media. The other day Danish Kaneria gave a press conference, and was straighforward and bold, giving journalists plenty of juicy quotes, and speaking openly of his ambition to be the best spinner in the world.

At one point, a journalist began a question to him by mispronouncing his name. Kaneria waited for him to finish his question, then said: "First you pronounce my name properly." The nervous journalist pronounced it properly. "Daa-nish," he said. (The "D" is a soft "D", as in "Daman" and "Diu", and "they".) "That's right," said Kaneria, "Daa-nish. Now repeat your question."

Kamran Akmal is made in a similar insouciant mould. Asked at the prize distribution about the pitch, he said: "Wicket tho bahut hi achha khela, hundred kiya." ("The wicket played very well, [after all] I made a hundred.")

When asked what his plan was during his innings, he said: "Pressure nahin loonga, wait karoonga bad ball ki. Bad ball mil gaye, hundred ho gaya." ("I won't take pressure, I'll wait for the bad ball. The bad balls came, I got my hundred.") Sadly, I can't translate the tone for you, but the manner in which he said it had a refreshing swagger about it.

The kind of brashness both men display can be both good and bad. It can be bad if their success goes to their heads and they become complacent. It can be good if it is accompanied by a proper work ethic, because their natural aggression on the field then helps them perform better. From what I've seen of these two fine players, it will work out well.
amit varma, 6:47 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 18

No praise can be too high for ...

Pakistan deserve (cliche here) the highest praise, and many people will no doubt write tomorrow that "no praise can be too high" for Kamran Akmal, for the manner in which he helped Pakistan save the Test. Any writer who writes this, frankly, is just being lazy. He can't be bothered to come up with the words that would do justice to whatever he's praising, and that is a disservice to his readers. He is (universal cliche) taking the easy way out, and not (one more) putting in the hard yards.
amit varma, 6:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Where's that burning desire?

My comment on the Indian performance is up on Cricinfo. Read it here.
amit varma, 6:33 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The battle of the series

Virender Sehwag v the short ball directed at his body. In my match reports for the Guardian for the second and third days of play, I'd mentioned that Sehwag does not pull or hook short balls directed at his body, presumably because he has decided that they aren't percentage strokes for him. If he gets width outside off, he slashes like a serial killer, but otherwise goes on the back foot and defends. It rarely gets him runs, and sometimes, when the ball rears up or comes in, is ungainly.

This is not the first time Sehwag has had a problem against such balls. During India's last tour of Australia, for example, he seemed to have a blind spot against bouncers directed at his head, and was hit by one such ball. But it has never been used consistently as a strategy against him. Until now.

Pakistan got him out in the first innings to just one such delivery, which Sehwag decided to pull and miscued, and they have peppered him with these deliveries through the second innings. His battle against Mohammad Sami was interesting, as Sami kept pitching short to him, without giving him width, and Sehwag kept stepping back and defending. He was thoughtful in between deliveries, clearly aware that this is a challenge he will have to find a way to win. And he found it hard to score: at one point he had 4 runs to Gautam Gambhir's 31.

Sehwag lashed into the spinners after the fast bowlers were taken off, and has been reading Danish Kaneria well since the third morning of the match. But that is not the battle to watch, as it was once expected to be.
amit varma, 4:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The 450th time

This first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

Pakistan had pretty much saved the game, but Anil Kumble kept running in hard. Mohammad Sami thought he'd have a go at this tired man, took a step-and-a-half down the pitch, and drove him powerfully through mid-off. Er, it should have gone through mid-off, but a hand appeared in the frame and caught the ball, and Kumble's body followed to the ground, his mouth opening in astonishment as the ball settled in his hand. Then he sat cross-legged and started laughing, his shoulders wiggling gently. This was his 314th ball of the innings; far more importantly, it was the 450th wicket of a great, under-appreciated career. All the players gathered around this man they loved and admired, and waited for the action replay on the big screen.
amit varma, 4:52 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The new-ball pair

At lunch the Indians would have hoped that Mohammad Sami and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan would be operating by tea. Well, they are. Only they're batting, not bowling.

The game's pretty much a draw now. Abdul Razzaq and Kamran Akmal added 184 in a partnership that I think we'll remember years from now. The Indians lacked a strike bowler, but it was really their dismally slow batting on the third day of the game than denied them the win. They showed no initiative then, and they're paying for it now.

More on this later.
amit varma, 2:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 17

A gritty customer.

Kamran Akmal is battling cramps and India to save the game for Pakistan, and he will certainly be praised in tomorrow's papers as "a gritty customer". Now, I have no objection to "gritty", though it's often misapplied to instances where "patient" would suffice. But why a "customer"?

Anil Kumble's trying hard to be a customer, actually, battling to (cliche coming up) buy the batsman's wicket. Unfortunately for him (one more), no cigar.
amit varma, 1:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Beverage, beverage

Kamran Akmal has been suffering from cramps for a few minutes now, and there was a brief interval now as the physio with some drinks went on the field for him. And the crowd was chanting something that sounded just like "Ice tea, ice tea! Ice tea, ice tea!!"

Surely not.
amit varma, 1:05 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing cliche 16

An innings of character.

Many will write of Abdul Razzaq today that he played "an innings of character". He was not (cliche coming up) tempted into indiscretion, and he (one more) held the innings together. He (another one) stood like a rock between India and victory.

Kamran Akmal has played some lovely strokes, and has outscored his senior partner. But for some reason, when people are fighting to save a match, we praise stodge more than we do strokeplay. Akmal's been immaculate in defence, though, and is so good behind the stumps as well that I can't imagine Moin Khan or Rashid Latif making yet another comeback anytime soon.
amit varma, 11:25 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Butt for Sehwag?

One look at the scoreboard will tell you what the difference between the two sides is: Virender Sehwag. Take away Sehwag's 173, and there's little difference between the two teams. In fact, exchange Sehwag for Salman Butt, and Pakistan are well on top.

Would the Indians be okay with such an exchange? Butt of course not.
amit varma, 11:16 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Lower order?

Abdul Razzaq and Kamran Akmal are putting up a much better fight than many expected, and this win might not be so routine for India, if it comes at all. It has become a regular affair now, Pakistan's lower order putting up a better show that their top order. This reminds me of Sardar Vallabhai Patel. No, not because he was known as an "Iron Man" and all that, but because of a comment he once made about India.

The Indian cricket team, in those days, often collapsed in the first innings and fought back well on the second. That prompted Patel to say: "Maybe they should play their second innings first."

So if he was still around would he have said of Pakistan that their lower order should bat before their top order? Perhaps. As in the case of his previous statement, of course, it wouldn't be a suggestion but a lament.
amit varma, 11:07 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cliches and common usages

My colleague and friend, Chandrahas Choudhury, a fine writer who shuns cliches, has a grouse with my series on Cricketing Cliches. In an email to me, he writes:
I think you should make a sharper distinction between cliches on the one hand and commonly used expressions on the other. For instance you cite as cliches, in one post, the two expressions "on a knife's edge" and "having it all their way". If one understands a cliche as a trite or hackneyed idea or characterization, one immediately sees why the first phrase is a cliche. It must be noted that "on a knife's edge" is actually an excellent characterization of a situation that is so delicately balanced that it rests - and here we are asked to make a mental picture - as if one a knife's edge. But through repetition and overuse the expression has become what one calls a 'dead metaphor' - it no longer stimulates us to make a mental
picture through which we understand how tense the situation is, and the writer would be better off thinking of some other phrase. The same applies for phrases like "taking the bull by the horns". In general, the more metaphorical the phrase, the more likely it is to become deadened - and thereby give us the sense of being trite - by use.

"Having it all their way," by contrast, is to my mind merely a commonly used expression. If a team really is running away with the game, then I think this is a phrase that expresses the situation quite accurately; and if I were to write about ten games in a row, and all ten games were one-way affairs, then I see no reason why I should not use this phrase every time with justification (of course, I would ideally not want to do so, for variety is the spice of language as it is of life). The same goes for "elegant cover-drive". A writer is perfectly entitled to call cover-drives 'elegant' as long as he does not believe that all cover-drives, just by virtue of being cover-drives, are somehow elegant. 'Elegant' is such a general phrase that one can often use it safely without really falling into error; as a parallel, we often say that 'it's a beautiful day', but are we using a cliched expression then?

Fair point, but I would argue that even a commonly used expression becomes a cliche with repeated use, especially in particular contexts. A cliche is essentially a lazy shorthand that a writer uses, whether it is metaphorical or a commonly used phrase. They deaden prose, and a writer should aim to describe everything he sees in a fresh manner. When he instead uses cliches, he does his readers a disservice.

Consider the "elegant cover-drive", for example. I have seen cover-drives by Michael Vaughan, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Yasir Hameed described in that manner. Now, while all the cover-drives in question were no doubt elegant, they were also different from each other. Surely the writer's duty is to convey that difference, rather than use a broad phrase that tells you nothing. "Elegant" is not a cliche by itself, but it becomes cliched usage in the context of a cover-drive. Every cover-drive deserves better.

Of course, in the course of a report where a writer has no space for detailed description, such shorthands are forgivable, if avoidable. "On a knife's edge", however, is inexcusable. On that, I agree with Chandrahas.
amit varma, 10:24 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 15

It ain't over till the fat lady sings.

Pakistan are just 77 ahead as I type this, with four wickets in hand, and most of the day still left. But fans of Pakistan will surely console themselves by thinking: "it ain't over till the fat lady sings." Others would argue that (cliche coming up) it's an uphill task for Pakistan now, and (one more) only a miracle can help them save this Test.

I believe that India have (one more) the upper hand, though I have a wary eye on Cricketing Cliche 7.
amit varma, 10:11 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Of reports and suchlike

My Guardian report of the fourth day's play is up here.

A reader asked me if I also supply the headlines. I don't; newspaper desks everywhere give the headlines themselves. I just send in the copy. The Guardian's been quite generous with the space they've given this series, by the way. The Times carried just 60 words of Dileep's report of the third day's play! That was an aberration (lots of soccer that day, perhaps), and between 500 to 600 is customary. I've been getting between 600 and 750, though I'm told by grizzled veterans here that they might lose interest in the third Test if India win the first two, as the series wouldn't be alive.

Of course, that doesn't mean that I'm going to hope for Pakistan to fight back. I wouldn't mind an Inzi masterpiece in Kolkata, though. There are few more sublime sights in cricket than Inzamam-ul-Haq getting it on.
amit varma, 9:58 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, March 11, 2005

Two giants

This first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

So there they were: India's would-be matchwinner and Pakistan's would-be matchsaver. Anil Kumble came in to bowl to Inzamam-ul-Haq, who was 86, having added 139 with Yousuf Youhana after Pakistan were 10 for 3. The match hinged on this partnership, and Inzamam was batting beautifully. All afternoon Kumble had toiled, and now he got his man. The ball pitched just outside off, and went straight with the angle to hit Inzamam, who took a big stride forward, in line with the off stump. He was quite far ahead, but was hit low on the pads. It was a fair decision.

Kumble jumped up and punched the air with both his fists, in childlike glee. Inzamam turned slowly and walked back to the pavilion, laboriously, in little baby steps. He had been out in a similar manner in the first innings, and this was quite the worst kind of deja vu.
amit varma, 2:59 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The reasons journalists have

Yesterday when Sachin Tendulkar was out for 94, the relief in the press box was palpable. Most of the journalists smiled. Strange, you'd think, because almost all of them were Indian. So why were they happy?

Well, if Tendulkar had got his century, it would have been a world-record 35th, and every newspaper and TV channel would have had to do a special story on him. Lots of research would be required, quotes would have to be hunted. Everyone was dreading the effort they'd have to make. (Not me; I'd have just an extra 100 words to add to my Guardian report.) But Tendulkar postponed their misery for later.

And today, a select group of journalists is hoping that the Test lasts till tomorrow. These are the men who write for the English Sunday newspapers. All of us writing for the English papers get paid per report; if the match ends today, there's no play tomorrow, and the Sunday papers will not want a report. No report, no money.

Dileep is writing for the Sunday Times, while Osman is writing for the Observer. As for me, I write for the daily newspaper, the Guardian, which does not come out on Sundays. (The Observer is their Sunday paper, and they generally don't like to use the Guardian reporter.) So Osman and Dileep are getting rather distraught at the fall of each wicket, while I have nothing to lose, and a day of hanging around in Sector 17 and the lake to gain. C'mon Indians, bowl them out!
amit varma, 2:29 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Colours of Mohali

It's refreshing that most of the stands have filled up now, to see Inzamam and not Sachin. He's batting beautifully. The delightful thing about the stands is the amount of colour there. Red, green, orange, yellow, blue, violet, mauve, purple: I can see them all from where I'm sitting. This is something you'll see far more in the subcontinent than in grounds elsewhere. And note, most of the people in these stands are men, not women. We have colourful men in India; and sometimes the cricket is good too.
amit varma, 2:16 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cliche voice bot

Gaurav Sabnis writes in suggesting that Ravi Shastri be replaced with a voice bot that generates cliches according to context, as Shastri does. A couple of Shastri cliches that Gaurav cited: This will do his confidence a world of good; and it will do him no harm whatsoever. Both could be applied to Yousuf Youhana and the extended stint he's having out in the middle (two cliches gone by).

I'm sure an automatic cricketing cliche generator could easily be designed, that takes Cricinfo ball-by-ball details and generates cliche-filled commentary out of it. A similar nonsense generator was once written for postmodernism, which, as Richard Dawkins once pointed out in a marvellous essay called "Postmoderism disrobed", is a giant academic sham. Here, give the Postmodernism Generator a spin.
amit varma, 2:05 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 14

On a knife's edge.

That is exactly how we would have liked this match to be, a close encounter, continuously "on a knife's edge". The air should have been (cliche coming up) thick with tension. But instead, India are (one more) having it all their way. Only Inzamam (yet another) stands between India and victory. Pity.
amit varma, 12:00 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bala, Bala

This first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day. (Update: Then it disappeared!)

Who could resist the Bala chant after he got into the act with the ball? Sourav Ganguly gave Lakshmipathy Balaji the new ball in the second innings, and Balaji rocked the house. First, he had Taufeeq Umar caught-and-bowled off a ball with what was inswing for the left-hander. Then he got Younis Khan out with an inswinger to the right-hander. Younis shouldered arms, the ball, pitched on a perfect length, swerved in and grazed the off stump. Balaji lifted both his arms, and every arm in the house went up.
amit varma, 11:58 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The satisfaction of a long-distance bowler

This first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

VVS Laxman rocked back to cut; the ball, a googly, came into him, caught the edge of the bat and hit the stumps. Kaneria exulted; this was his fifth wicket, in his 54th over. Now, which should one clap for more? Those 54 overs under the sun? Or the five wickets (that became six when he had Zaheer Khan caught-and-bowled soon after)? Those overs, unquestionably, for it was his endurance, his ability to keep bowling with guile and accuracy over after over, that got him those wickets. He strode back towards the dressing room a satisfied man, no doubt looking forward to lying on the massage table, with the contentment of a man who had done a job only he could have performed for his side.
amit varma, 11:56 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

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