Friday, August 14, 2015

Did The Joker kill Heath Ledger?

Rhetoric question, you may ask. Did I hear someone say "absurd"? You may even take offense to it. That’s exactly the way I felt when I heard about a new documentary titled “Heath Ledger: Too Young to Die”.

I am a big fan of the Batman trilogy. I am a fan of Christopher Nolan. And a huge fan of “The Joker” character from “The Dark Knight”. Joker is the only reason why I love watching the movie again and again. Heath Ledger took the character to a level where, I felt, that Joker was the real hero rather than Batman. His presence lit up the screen and his next move was always a surprise / shock. The dialogue delivery, the make-up, the laugh and other expressions made The Dark Knight a must watch – many times! And the fact that we didn’t see the actual death of the character prompted me to believe that Nolan will bring him back in the 3rd edition “The Dark Knight Rises”. However, that was not to be; primarily, for reasons well known to all of us.

In one of the interviews in 2007, Heath Ledger said the following about his role and the preparation involved – “It's a combination of reading all the comic books I could that were relevant to the script and then just closing my eyes and meditating on it. I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices - it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath - someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts. He's just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown.

Now, we have a German documentary (yet to be released) that claims to reveal the details of the diary maintained by Heath Ledger. They claim the details in the diary are shocking and, perhaps, have a link with his eventual untimely death. Heath Ledger’s father is also part of this documentary which, some may believe, gives the documentary a certain amount of credibility.

From what I can gather, the documentary is totally based on two aspects of Heath Ledger’s life – 
  1. A diary maintained by Heath Ledger while he was preparing for his role as Joker. He was living inside a hotel room in London for almost a month trying to get into the much-acclaimed character. He practised with various voices, conceptualizing and interpreting the comic strips and developed that iconic laugh. All this has been jotted down on his diary with pictures etc. 
  2. Heath’s health Issue: If you read about his health issues on Wikipedia, you will realize that he had sleeping issues and would usually fall back on medications. The autopsy report also suggests the same as the possible cause of his death. 

Health Ledger documentary - Too Early to Die - screenshots

Add 2 and 2 together and you get a probable conspiracy theory, which is what, I think, has been highlighted in the documentary. Personally, I don’t want to believe the documentary, especially the emotional side of me. If the sacrifice for making an iconic, epic, memorable and once-in-a-lifetime character was one's own life, I would have been content with the “scarecrow” and “Bane” type of villains (no offence to these characters) for Batman trilogy with Heath Ledger alive and kicking. If the documentary starts making sense, then Heath has literally sacrificed everything, even his own life, for his role as The Joker. 

I will sign out using one of Joker's most memorable quotes -
Joker Quote We stopped checking for monsters under our bed when we realized they were inside us

Long live ‘The Joker’. Long live Heath Ledger. His legacy lives on, with / without documentary.

Friday, August 07, 2015

EPL 2015-16: The season begins!

Stat Alert: 76 – number of days since the last EPL weekend.

That’s quite a lot of days in a calendar year!

A football league where there are more clubs vying to win the league is exciting in my opinion. This is why I consider the English Premier League the most exciting Football league of them all. Yes, a couple of Spanish clubs (Barcelona and Real Madrid), one German club (Bayern Munich) and one Italian club (Juventus) are top clubs in Europe. But there’s hardly any competition to them in their respective leagues. I know, many will have a difference of opinion on this, and I completely understand the reasoning. It’s just that competition excites me. And as a matter of extension, EPL excites me.

The Interlull before the storm – 

If you were tracking personnel changes (player / manager) during this ‘vacation’ period, you found a way, not a legit way but something nevertheless, to remain in touch the sport. And by now, you know that statistically 99% of the transfer articles are fake / opinions / only written for clicks. The remaining 1% is what matters. I don’t know a way to decipher the 99% from 1%. There are some trusted sources and there are a lot untrusted ones. Being an Arsenal fan, I found my club (virtually) tracking every other footballer on this planet whose names are not Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. If these fake transfer news sites are to be believed, Arsene Wenger (Arsenal’s manager) is a fan of anyone who’s young and even remotely plays football. Nevertheless, many clubs have taken advantage of the transfer window and sold fringe players and strengthen their team with newer ones. Manchester United and Liverpool have led the buying spree and have almost changed their entire team. League champions Chelsea, FA cup holders Arsenal have not been too active as on date. Manchester City, as are expected from them, did their bit of overspending on one player and thereby inviting criticism. The mid-table teams have been smart enough to pluck low hanging fruits at a bargain and hoping that one / few of them make it to count.

How the top 4 teams are preparing for the new season? (arranged in the order they finished last season)

1. Chelsea: Chelsea ran away with the league last season. They were the best team of the season, and by quite a significant margin (8 points adrift from 2nd place Manchester City). They lost less games last season (3) which is quite a mean feat considering the 2nd placed teams in terms of matches lost were Manchester City and Arsenal (7 each). Considering what Chelsea achieved last season, it’s safe to say they have the best team even for this season provided there's no high profile exit. Also, if they can have their top performers fit, they are early season favorites to repeat the feat. One possible blip is their poor form in pre-season matches. But a Jose Mourinho team is not to be under-estimated at any level.
EPL Chelsea transfer business 2015-16

2. Manchester City: Manchester City finished 2nd in last season but hardly competed for the 1st position. They have an ageing squad which needs tweaking and future planning. Manuel Pellegrini is one manager who has to perform this season, failing which the much maligned axe will make an appearance. But then, even if he performs, the axe may still appear (*cough* Pep Guardiola *cough*). They have been relatively quiet in the transfer window but made the biggest transfer this season till date – in Sterling (the player, I mean). 49M for a 21 year Englishman who scored 7 times in 35 league games for Liverpool last season. The numbers don’t add up right? Another Englishman in Fabian Delph and you know the additions are not only strengthening the team but also adding local players to fulfil the English quota. As always, a lot will depend on regulars like Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany will up the ante. Don’t count out buying another world class player. Why? Because they will always have the money!
EPL Manchester City transfer business 2015-16

3. Arsenal: Every new season starts with lot of hope and then it fizzles out one way or the other, mainly due to injuries piling up rather than lack of performance. This season is different, in a sense. Arsene Wenger has finally strengthened that one area which needed a world-class player. Welcome Petr Cech. Arsenal’s approach in this transfer window proves they mean business. Apart from Cech coming in, Wenger has allowed some top (but fringe) players to leave – Podolski (sold) and Szczesny (loan). The current players are upbeat; they can sense league success and their performance in pre-season also proved that they can make it happen. One addition in defensive midfield and the team is ready for the league as well as Europe.
EPL Arsenal transfer business 2015-16

4. Manchester United: Louis van Gaal is a task-master. The way he sidelined and sold his once-favorite striker in Robin van Persie proves it. They have been the busiest team in the transfer market. Memphis Depay was signed as soon as the last season ended. Sergio Romero was bought as backup of David de Gea. Add to it one defender in Darmain and two midfield stalwarts in Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin, you already have a top team on the field. And the business in not yet done. By the time the window closes, expect some significant changes in the first team lineup. The problem doesn’t lie in attracting top talent for Manchester United, the problem lies in making them play cohesively as a unit. That was the challenge in front of van Gaal last season and it remains the same this season.
EPL Manchester United transfer business 2015-16

Special mention: Liverpool is another club buying and selling frantically. The owners gave Brendan Rodgers a long rope and a flexible budget. But time is running out for him to perform. Perform or perish will be the mantra for Rodgers at Anfield.

I can’t wait for the league to begin. It’s time for all the shocks and surprises, the ups and downs, the counter-attacks and parking the bus. Oops. Did I just cross the line? Who cares? Let the games begin!

Transfer source: Wikipedia

Monday, August 03, 2015

Thank you for everything, Dr. Kalam!

It’s been a week since the unfortunate incident. And the mourning hasn’t stopped one little bit for the majority of Indians. It’s like losing one of your own and knowing that life won’t be the same again. That’s the impact Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam had on the entire nation. He loved us and we loved him. Before being the president (first citizen of the country) to being the President and even afterwards, he was always interested in meeting people and sharing his words of wisdom. Despite all the accolades that came his way, he still remained humble, true to his roots in a world filled with greed for money and hunger for power. 

I wonder how the students and faculty members of IIM Shillong might be feeling right now. They were listening to him intently and were about to be overpowered by his awe and persona when the unfortunate incident happened. I was tracking the news on Twitter but thought this might be another rumor. After all, twitter has reported death of a lot of celebrities / popular figures only for them to tweet proclaiming they are alive. Deep down, I was hoping it to be true even for Dr. Kalam. But it was not to be. News channels started their “Breaking News” stuff and in no time, the news I didn’t want to hear, started appearing in all news channels. Dr. Kalam was 83 years old.

A tribute to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam by White thoughts and Branding
Image: Kind Courtesy - White thoughts and Branding

Isn’t it poetic that he left us for heavenly abode doing what he loves doing?

Dr. Kalam was born in a poor family and was the youngest of 4 brothers and 1 sister. Due to the poor background, he started working to support his studies. By now, everyone knows he used to be a newspaper boy. He went on to graduate in Aerospace engineering. He joined DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organization) as a scientist then went on to become a project director who successfully launched the satellite ‘Rohini’ in the year 1980 while working for ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization). He was conferred with “Padma Bhushan” in 1981, “Padma Vibhushan” in 1990 and the biggest civilian honor “Bharat Ratna” in 1997 by the government of India. His story is a ‘rags-to-riches’ one with the only different being that his “rich” was more in terms of knowledge and compassion than money and power. He has and will continue to inspire millions to become the next ‘Kalam’.

Dr. Kalam had listed the following areas Indian need to focus on to become a "knowledge superpower" in his book “India 2020” - 
  1. Agriculture and food processing 
  2. Education and healthcare 
  3. Information and communication technology 
  4. Infrastructure, reliable and quality electric power, surface transport and infrastructure for all parts of the country and 
  5. Self-reliance in critical technologies.
..and he added one more in his recent book (Transcendence) – “Faith in God and spirituality”.

These aren’t just 5-6 pointers every other leader makes every other day in every other meeting. Dr. Kalam actually connected them and cohesively growth in these areas will make India a superpower in the real sense of the word. The essence of the above mentioned points is to become self-reliant and actually lead the world as the first mover – be it technology, infrastructure, education etc. It’s now up to the government, leaders and citizens to unite and fulfil the dream he had set for our country.

The subsequent generations will learn and know Dr. Kalam as one of the truly greats who walked the face of the Earth. His stories, the lessons to be learnt from him and his life, his witty and life-defining statements, his reign as the 11th President of India and he being known as the “People’s President” will all be part of the history books. I lived in an era when he was alive. My only regret is not being able to meet him or see him. But one day I will, for I will meet my maker one day and am sure my LORD will ask me what do I want to do first and my answer will be, “Can I meet the person who inspired millions of people on Earth, a leader who practices what he preached, a leader so rich in knowledge but was always ready to share?” 

When a well-respected and renowned person loses his life and we experience personal loss, then that’s a life worth living!

Long live, sir. Forever.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

What goes along comes along? Isn’t it IPL / Kochi Tuskers?

Once upon a time, not so long ago in 2011, there were a group of investors who wanted to get involved in a lucrative, high visibility, highly marketable sporting event and went on to bid a mind blowing Rs. 15.33 billion for owning a team. They selected Kochi as their base city and hence the team’s name became “Kochi Tuskers Kerala”, the tusker part derived from Elephants in Kerala. 

Kochi Tuskers Kerala logo comeback in IPL

But this agreement was by no means, a “happily ever after” scenario. Immediately after the deal was won, Kochi Tuskers Management developed internal ownership issues. This was, after all, a franchisee owned by many owners in unequal measure. Only after BCCI gave them a 30 day termination notice, Kochi Tuskers management prepared a revised structure of agreement. This was then agreed by BCCI and Kochi Tuskers were allowed to play in the IPL of 2011. 

Phase 1: Upper Hand – IPL / BCCI.

One year later, Kochi Tuskers were eliminated. BCCI were of the opinion that Kochi Tuskers for breaching its terms of agreement.  The issue was something related to the bank guarantee. The case went to court and the franchisee’s plea not allowing BCCI to encash the bank guarantee was rejected. BCCI gleefully did the needful. Part of the bank guarantee went to fund the salaries of the players who now don’t have a team.

Phase 2: Upper Hand – IPL / BCCI.

And now brace yourself for another twist!

Kochi Tuskers then challenged the withdrawing of bank guarantee in court. The final verdict happened this month (July 2015). Kochi Tuskers won the verdict and the court ordered BCCI to pay up the bank guarantee with interest! The amount comes to around Rs. 550/- Crore (other sources have calculated the amount to be closer to Rs. 900/- Crore). If the BCCI doesn’t pay up, the amount will increase by 18% annually. This has come as a big shock for BCCI who are already feeling the pressure of playing the next edition of IPL with 6 legit teams after Chennai and Rajasthan were suspended by Justice Lodha committee.

Phase 3: Upper Hand – Kochi Tuskers Kerala.

There’s one way BCCI can reduce the pressure significantly. BCCI needs 2 teams to replace / substitute for Chennai and Rajasthan so as to play IPL-9. Broadcasters and advertisers won’t allow IPL-9 to start or will negotiate for a reduced telecast / spot rates which BCCI won’t allow. Now, the twist is Kochi Tuskers have expressed interest to come back to IPL and are ready for BCCI to adjust the penalty amount from the annual franchisee fee. BCCI are left with no other option but to concede to Kochi’s request. I don’t think BCCI will take this up legally since with every passing day, the penalty amount is reaching unpayable proportions. The only option left is an out-of-court settlement which is where Kochi can make a grand comeback!

Life has come a full circle for Kochi Franchisee. But, in all fairness, Kochi deserves a Cricket team. They have a football team with Sachin Tendulkar as the owner. The same level should be present in Cricket too. Yes, there are logistical issues, but those aren’t something that can’t be sorted out.

But hey, the story’s not over yet. 

Phase 4: Upper Hand – To be decided.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Zimbabwe – India series: Who made it count?

Zimbabwe vs India ODI T20 series 2015 series review

Things (almost) worked out the way Team India anticipated. A 3-0 whitewash in the ODIs and 1-1 stalemate in the T20 format. When BCCI decided to send a second string team to Zimbabwe, two things were certain – one, to fulfill an obligation to a fellow Cricket playing team of a tour and thereby, some revenue and two, to rest key players so that they are fit for bigger challenges. This allowed the players outside the playing 11 to show their mettle and stake a claim in the playing 11. After all, if some players in the playing 11 are banned (after their names are released in the IPL spot fixing and betting sham), there are places up for grabs, right? (sic)

Anyway, many players tried to make the most of the opportunity at hand and some succeeded – 

Batsmen – 
  1. Ambati Rayadu (Runs: 165 | Average: 165) – With scores of 41 and 126 not out in the 2 matches he played, Rayadu was easily the star batsman of the series from Team India’s perspective. He topped the batting chart. He proved once again that he deserves the spot in the playing 11. Rayadu can be utilized at number 4/5 depending on the situation and be act as a perfect support for MS Dhoni towards the end of the innings. 
  2. Kedar Jadhav (Runs: 126 | Average: 63) – Kedar Jadhav scored a match winning 105 not out which propelled him to be among the top 3 batsmen of the series (Rayadu and Chibhabha being the top 2). His century came in under difficult circumstances, which is why I feel he made the cut. The only negative factor is his age (30 years). Now, I am not saying people who crossed a certain age should not be considered. After all, we are living in an era where Pravin Tambe (age: 43) is making younger spinners work hard for their pay-check!
  3. Manish Pandey (Runs: 71 | Average: 71) – Manish Pandey made his debut in the 3rd ODI. He came in when the chips were down for Team India (82/4). His composure in the middle stood out in perhaps the toughest of circumstances possible. In other words, he made it count. At only 25 years, he still has a long way to go and despite playing only one game, I feel BCCI should give his candidature serious consideration and should at least include him consistently in the India ‘A’ setup coached by Rahul Dravid.
  4. Notable omissions – Ajinkya Rahane (112 at an average of 37.33), Murli Vijay (86 at an average of 28.66), Robin Uthappa (44 at an average of 14.66) and Manoj Tiwari (34 at an average of 11.33) are the players who missed out on making their mark. With Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma as regular openers, there is no space for Murli Vijay / Robin Uthappa. With MS Dhoni having his aspersions on Rahane, he hardly did anything that can make Dhoni think otherwise! 

All-Rounders – 
  1. Stuart Binny (Batting 120 @ 60 / innings | 6 wickets @ 25.16 apiece) – Stuart Binny had a lot of negativity surrounding his inclusion in the World Cup squad. He was considered an alternative to Ravindra Jadeja who had cemented his place in the playing 11. With Jadeja “dropped” from the tour of Zimbabwe, Binny had a genuine chance to occupy the vacant all-rounders’ spot. And boy, did he grab it with both hands? Roger that!

Bowlers – 
  1. Bhuvneshwar Kumar (Wickets: 5 | Average: 16.0) – Team India’s pace department needs a spearhead. A bowler who can bowl quick (as per Indian standards), swing both ways and most importantly, pick wickets. If statistics are to be believed, B Kumar seems to be that guy. But that is where it’s stuck. He always “seems” to be that guy; he has never actually grabbed that position. With age (25) on his side, he still has time though. His performance in Zimbabwe will go a long way in instilling confidence among the selectors.
  2. Axar Patel (Wickets: 5 | Average: 24) – R Ashwin finally has some competition! A young left arm spinner from Gujarat is spinning his way into the Indian team. His performances are demanding attention. He definitely needs to remain in the squad and can be included in the playing 11 based on the pitch conditions. If only one spinner is needed, Axar needs to match Ashwin for performances to be considered as Team India’s #1 spinner.
  3. Harbhajan Singh (Wickets: 4 | Average: 27.5) – From a future #1 spinner to an ex #1 spinner. “Turbanator” has taken his second comeback a lot seriously and is apparently enjoying his stint. No aggression over dropped catches, no frustration over not able to take wickets every ball. It appears that he is just enjoying his second innings in international cricket. And this attitude is actually helping him perform. Although I am not very sure if this performance (and also in Bangladesh) will help him win a permanent slot in the playing 11, but he is doing himself huge favour by performing at the highest level. Along with Axar, he can provide support in the spin department.

Despite India winning the ODI event 3-0 and not losing the T20 event, the highlight of the series will be Zimbabwe winning the final T20 match to make it even and thereby forcing Indian fans to view our team through the prism of doubt. But all that’s done and dusted. Most of us immediately move on to the next battle. Some of the players mentioned above are already part of the Indian squad and should continue to play a part based on their recent performances. Others can continue performing hoping for the selectors’ attention. 

Next up is the series against Sri Lanka. Wonder how often do we have to play each other till we realize that there are other teams as well? It shouldn’t always be about friendly relations, right?

Monday, July 13, 2015

OnePlus is taking the market for a “Disruption” ride…

I am sure by now you may have come across a brand by the name “OnePlus”. If you haven’t, then read the next para, else skip the next para and read on. End-if. Phew, you can take your life out of programming, but you cannot take programming out of your life!

{OnePlus is a smartphone brand from China. Their first product (and as on date, their only product) is curiously named OnePlus One. They came up with an audacious claim that their smartphone is a flagship killer and guess what, they delivered! With features that match the flagships when it was launched and price that’s a fraction of what these flagships demand, they literally took the telecommunication world by surprise. They even introduced the invite system to buy the smartphone which led to an increasing desire in the consumer space. This strategy balanced the demand-supply equation. They are now coming up with a new product, OnePlus 2, with even better features with price less than $450/-. The wow factor is the launch – it can be viewed on a VR cardboard – what a way to use Virtual Reality!}

If you are reading this line, then I am sure you know something about the brand. But there are reasons, I believe, why OnePlus is actually disrupting the smartphone industry. I have touched upon them in my post I wrote on IdeasMakeMarket. Please do read and let me know your thoughts.

How OnePlus is disrupting the Mobile Handset industry screen grab ideasmakemarket

I am using their product – OnePlus One – and it’s a stunningly powerful gadget without burning a hole in my pocket. I simply cannot wait for OnePlus 2. The expectations are sky-high, hope the brand lives up to it. 

July 27th, that’s the date.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Lawn Tennis or Formula-1 - which one to support?

Back in the day, I used to be an avid follower of many sports – Cricket, Football, Lawn Tennis, Formula-1, WWE (then WWF – yes, I used to consider this as a sport too). Managing studies and following my passion for sports was a tough ask, but I guess I managed it well. Adding more sports was also a possibility. So now you know how much I prioritized one over the other. Cricket happens throughout the year. Almost same is the case with Football, with European leagues running for 9 out of 12 months and a World / Continental event happening roughly once every 2 years. There are 4 Grand Slam events in a year for Lawn Tennis each running for 2 weeks and then certain ATP masters tournaments featuring the best players at the end of the season. Formula-1 has around 18-20 races running for 18-20 weekends out of a possible 52 weeks in a year. 

And then we have to study round the year for our academic growth and career development. Phew!

Those were the days. Now things have changed. A lot. Now my selection of games have reduced to a select few. For instance, Cricket matches that actually makes sense and has a history / rivalry attached to it. India-Pakistan, if and when it happens; Ashes, not watching it live, but keeping a track of the updates; The semi-finals and finals of Grand Slams in Lawn Tennis; Formula-1, only if the conditions are fluctuating like bright sunny skies followed by moderate rains (rare instance) and WWE when the superstars of the “attitude era” returns for a night. Bane of corporate life, maybe.

Lawn Tennis and Formula-1 are on the cusp of being eliminated from my list and my paucity of time has nothing to do with it. Here’s why I feel like ceasing to be a fan of these games – 

Lawn Tennis: I used to be a “die-hard” fan of Andre Agassi. And by “die-hard”, I truly mean “die-hard”. And by the way, I still am. Although Lawn Tennis has become more and more competitive every year, I still feel the Sampras-Agassi era was the best. Add players like Goran Ivanisevic, Greg Rusedski, Michael Chang, Petr Korda and others to this equation and you have an exciting mix of top talents fighting it out for the crown(s). For me, Agassi truly was one of the world’s best and his matches with Sampras were truly a delight to watch. His comeback from 150+ ranking at one point to reach the pinnacle is the stuff of legends. Today, there are world class talents in today’s Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Murray, Wawrinka. However, I am finding it difficult to “replace” Agassi or to even find a new “Agassi” in the current crop. The problem lies with me more than the current state of the sport. Although I keep up with the updates, I wait till the semis of a big event to even switch on my television. My bad.

Lawn Tennis or Formula 1 - which one to support

Formula-1: If it was Andre Agassi in Tennis, it’s Kimi Raikkonen in Formula-1. I started watching Formula-1 only because I realized there was someone who was competing tooth-n-nail with Michael Schumacher in racing. Although Schumacher was winning, Raikkonen’s never-say-die attitude towards the race grabbed my attention. But this is not about Raikkonen. Formula-1 is a technology dependent sport. A lot of upgrades that happen are technologically inclined. The game also went through various changes, one of which was the no-refuelling rule. In my opinion, this rule (along with many others in the recent past) has spoiled the competitive atmosphere. For the past few seasons, the only competition we experience is between the two drivers of the best team. Rest all is academic! I don’t think this is good for the game. There’s lots of money involved and maybe, just maybe, the top echelons who run this game aren’t ready to take preventive action to correct the wrongs. Many of the fans, including me, need a compelling reason to watch the next race. If we know it’s again going to be a 1-2 to the Mercedes F1 team with a Ferrari or a Williams coming third, then there’s no element of excitement left in the sport.

I still don't think I will stop watching these sports altogether. My current adjustment of watching only key matches / races will continue to work. Till the time I sort out my problems with Lawn Tennis and Formula-1 sorts out its own problems, I am left with nothing but prioritizing Cricket and Football in my spare time. No regrets though.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Dropped in a match, becomes captain one match later...

Welcome to the Great Indian Cricket circus. 

Dreams do become reality.

Never give up – No matter what!

{Add your own one-liners about comebacks here. It will all mean the same}

Ajinkya Rahane has had one explosive week of witnessing the "yin and yang" of an Indian Cricketers life. He was dropped by the current Indian captain MS Dhoni for the 2nd and 3rd ODI under the pretext that Rahane does not rotate the strike on sub-continent pitches. While I find the argument highly debatable, I trust the decision made by a captain who has helped India achieve success in all formats in his captaincy tenure. And now, for the Zimbabwe series, Indian selectors have decided to rest all ODI regulars and have decided to reward Ajinkya Rahane with a captaincy role. His team will comprise of a “second string” ODI team that involves popular T20, domestic ODI players and one experienced bowler (in Bhajji) who are trying their best to push for a place in the Indian team. Quite a turnaround, I must admit! 

Ajinkya Rahane being picked for the Zimbabwe series makes a lot of sense. For one, Rahane is a top batsman who is destined to have a great career in Cricket. He is dedicated to the core and hates losing / non-performance. Also, if Dhoni’s analysis is to be believed, Rahane will thrive in the conditions on offer in Zimbabwe. The series, notwithstanding the defeat Team India has had at the hands of Bangladesh, will help him regain his touch and composure again for the long season that will follow. It will also help cement his position as a top player in the Indian team setup, if that has not happened already!

But is he captaincy material? That’s a big doubt going into the series. As per stats, Rahane has hardly had any opportunity to captain a team, either domestic or international. This could well be a case of a top player being rewarded with a captaincy role, something that we Indians are well accustomed to. Although statistics provide information on what has happened in the past, it gives no indication on the future. So, another way to look at this stat is that Rahane never got an opportunity to show his leadership skill and this series could be that opportunity. I, personally, would like to believe the second argument. But this doubt will remain till the end of the Zimbabwe series and maybe, even afterwards. I don’t foresee Rahane taking over the reins after Dhoni decides to hang up his boots even if he scores a hundred in each of the 3 ODIs. For Rahane, this series is only to access if he is capable of handling pressure of captaincy at international level.

Either ways, I must admit this is a great opportunity for Ajinkya Rahane to make it count and thereby throw his hat in the proverbial “future captain of India post Dhoni battle”. Virat Kohli is leading that race with no one in 2nd position and seems destined to take Dhoni’s captaincy place in the near future. But there’s no harm in having more options, right? For Team India, it’s always better if Virat Kohli is considered as the best option among other suitable candidates rather than Kohli being the only viable option in the team to replace Dhoni. Any form of constructive competition within the team, either for a spot in the playing 11 or a leadership role, will only help the team in the long run. 

So, Ajinkya. The ball is in your court now. Or, in cricketing terms, it's a half-volley for the taking!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

India Bangladesh series outcome is a surprise, not a shock

All hail Bangladesh – the new Asian tigers on the block. They whitewashed Pakistan 3-0 in the recently concluded ODI series and are now just one win away from doing the same to Team India. This was labelled as a revenge series based on what happened in the quarter-finals of World Cup 2015. And revenge is what they got. If I had given you scorecards of the first two ODIs after masking the team and player names and asked you to guess the teams, 9/10 people would have opted for India on the winning side. And why wouldn’t they? Team India is a top team in Cricketing circles. This is how big the result has been for Bangladeshis. Now they know, after defeating Pakistan and India convincingly, they are truly on the World map! Asia cup tournament, which happens once every two years, will no longer be a 3-horse race.

Team India, on their part, have only themselves to blame. Notwithstanding the level of performance brought to the table by Bangladeshis, Team India couldn’t cope with the pressure and succumbed, despite having a cool captain in MS Dhoni, top ODI batsmen and decent bowling attack. This is perhaps an apt scenario to apply the “falling like a pack of cards” adage.

Bangladesh vs India ODI series 2015 - The reaction says it all

What’s going wrong for Team India? – It’s a collective failure. Captain failed tactically, players failed to deliver. The batsmen are finding it difficult to play on familiar Asian pitches. And mind you, this is not a second-string team. This is the present and future of Indian Cricket. And both the losses have been nothing short of convincing. Maybe, this Indian team took their opponents a little less seriously. Who knows? One look at the scorecard and you know that their batting has been much better than ours and their bowlers picked up wicket every time the situation demanded. 

So, what’s next? – At this stage, lets not jump to conclusions and say we need dramatic changes in the team setup, like a change in captain, sacking some players simply because the series is lost. I also don’t see any problems with Ravi Shastri continuing his role or even being made the team coach. Tactically, I felt MS Dhoni missed a trick by dropping Ajinkya Rahane for 2nd ODI. Rahane is the closest among the current lot to replace Rahul “The Wall” Dravid. Rahane has been the main stay of an IPL team mentored by Dravid. Rahane (like Dravid) provides that stability when the chips are down. Rahane must be included in the batting order at number 3/4, even if he’s had an off day. Players like Rohit Sharma, Dhawan, Kohli, Raina will help accelerate the run rate while Rahane will play the anchoring role. Meanwhile, our bowling unit is a developing one. We don’t have someone who’s experienced enough in the bowling line-up whom the captain can fall back on for quick wickets. The current lot are great in patches, but they seldom hunt in pairs (remember Srinath-Prasad / Kumble-Bhajji?). Till the time we find and develop bowlers of such class, we will have to make-do with the current group. Fielding is definitely not a problem, in my opinion. We are at par with the best in the business in the fielding department.

Lets not take anything away from the successful Bangladeshis. They deserve every bit of success after coming out of the shadows of their Asian neighbors. Bangladesh has now become what Sri Lanka became after World Cup 1996. And believe me, it’s great news for World Cricket.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Red Chillies and Trinidad & Tobago – What’s the deal?

T20 is the in-thing. The top players are much sought after across the Cricket playing nations. Some of these top players have happily ended their commitments towards their respective national team in order to focus on T20. The fans love the hustle and bustle of “rapid-fire” version of Cricket. There’s non-stop entertainment, loud music, dancing, cheer-leaders and – most of all – umpteen sixes! So, if you are a Cricketer, this is one area you need to excel to rake in the moolah and big bucks. For many, this format has also opened up opportunities in the ODI and test version which, without T20, would have been a distant possibility. For the owners, this is one business idea which they can utilize to diversify and market their brand to a larger audience. For the ground-owners, this is another revenue stream and a significant one too. For the politicians, this is... Oops, let’s not traverse this road (sic).

So, it comes as no surprise that Kolkata Knight Riders’ owner Red Chillies Entertainment decided to buy a West Indian local T20 team, Trinidad & Tobago. It’s a business deal that has money and future profits written all over it. West Indies Cricket Board also stands to gain as popular public figures invest in their T20 teams. Shahrukh Khan is not the first celebrity to invest in a T20 team in West Indies. Hollywood stars Mark Wahlberg bought Barbados team and Gerard Butler bought Jamaican team. 

Red Chillies Entertainment buys Trinidad & Tobago T20 West Indies team

What’s in it for all stakeholders?
  • Red Chillies Entertainment – One word, diversification. Red Chillies are into movie production, allied industries in relation to movies, Cricket team in IPL and now another cricket team in West Indies. They are simply hedging their bets and investing in long term profits from T20 format. Shahrukh Khan owning and producing his own movies is always a win-win situation for the group. This deal also gives Shahrukh Khan an entry into West Indies possibly to increase the fan base for his movies. A fan of one venture of a corporate biggie will have a natural inclination to support the owners’ other ventures. It’s a bold decision, but will reap rewards in the medium to long term.
  • West Indies Cricket – Any investment of this kind in a country is always beneficial for that country. West Indies Cricket in general only stands to gain from such an investment. This means there’s a corporate house ready to invest in the ‘unofficial’ hub of T20 Cricketers. West Indies Cricketers are one of the reason why IPL has succeeded the way it has. Can you imagine Mumbai without Pollard and Simmons, Kolkata without Narine and Bangalore without Gayle. This business deal will possibly unearth more such gems from the T20 production headquarters, which is the Caribbean. And they are likely to get more spotlight now with CPL (Caribbean Premier league) now on global map. 
  • Kolkata Knight Riders – This is a long shot, but I think Kolkata will be the eventual gainers from such a deal. Here’s how. The core team that handles Cricketing activities for Kolkata team are more likely to be a part of the Trinidad and Tobago team too. Don’t you think they will have direct access to raw talents from Trinidadian origins? Any sports team needs to have the right balance of top players and future prospects (at relatively lower price, I might add). Any player who has a breakout season can then directly be poached by Kolkata and the transaction will be relatively smooth since both the buyer and the seller are the same. Add to that the fact that IPL and CPL don’t happen at the same time, and the T20 contracts are usually renewed on a yearly basis. Such a situation will allow for frequent shuffling of players from one team to other team under the same ownership umbrella. Kolkata and T&T can not only “share best practices” but also “best players”.
  • IPL – IPL is not a direct stakeholder, definitely not at this point in time. But I feel IPL will stand to benefit from this deal in the long term. Any idea evolves over time. IPL as a concept is fantastic primarily because it has copied been inspired from the most successful English Premier League / European Football leagues. So, it’s only natural for IPL to adopt more features from the Football leagues, one of which is the loan system. Don’t be surprised if players from one team are loaned to another team in a different country. This is especially possible when the owners of both the teams are same. Also, raw and young T20 specialists from West Indies may now move to the “more lucrative” IPL. 

I see this as the next step in the evolution of T20 league. Expect more corporates to join the bandwagon and own a T20 team in different countries. Australia, New Zealand, England and Sri Lanka could be the next destinations. The existing IPL team owners or their competitors or the bidders who lost out on IPL teams are more likely to invest.

But then, all the above points are likely to change if (and it’s a big IF) the rumors of a rival Cricket league becomes a reality. Remember Zee group? 

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