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An Indian making the most of life in sports-crazed Melbourne

Far Pavilions

Watching the bulldogs bite, hearing the bulldogs roar

Monday, April 25, 2005

Saturday evening was the chosen date for my initiation into footy, the religion of Australia.

John, a friend and a genial supporter of Western Bulldogs, enlisted my wife and me to cheer his team in their match against Adelaide Crows at the Telstra Dome. The Telstra Dome incidentally, is a temperature controlled indoor stadium which will also be the venue for the 3 one-day matches between Australia and the ICC World XI in October.

Before I went to the match, I did my homework by spending 10 seconds of quality search time on Google to learn the footy rules. 18 players from each side try to kick an oblong ball between two of four goalposts on the opposite side.

Here are two enticing excerpts from a website that gives a light-hearted primer to the game:

  • No guns, knives, chains or baseball bats. Biting and kicking is punished. No tackling below the waist or above the shoulders. Other than that ... go for it!
  • High-leaping marks can be taken by climbing onto another player's back before catching the ball. If a player drops such a mark, a free kick is often paid to the player who was climbed upon. Basically this is to compensate for the inconvenience of having a 90-100 kg man jumping all over your back.

Footy, John informed me, is over 125 years old and was invented as a means to the keep the cricketers fit during the winter. These days, footy captures the imagination of Australia's youngsters as no other game does.

To me, a few things stood out about this amazing game:

The supporters
The 16 teams competing for the annual premiership come with a huge band of supporters who have stayed with the club (or its older forms) for generations. John's grandparents were supporters of this club and he now carries on the mantle. The supporters spend several hundred dollars a year in membership fees and invest considerable time and effort in travelling to various venues to cheer their team -- irrespective of how well or poorly their team performs. The Bulldogs, for example, last won the premiership in 1954. The followers may not always like the performance of some its players, but that doesn’t diminish their loyalty to the club.
In comparison, I think of the investment that most people make in following cricket. Often, it is little more than paying for a ticket to a match venue. The involvement is never as deep. It is a lot easier to criticise a team and stay away from supporting it in times of poor performance when you are not as involved.

Crowd behaviour
John, who has also spent two years in the UK, observed that the footy crowd is pretty well-behaved. He said, "In soccer, where the game is not as quick as footy, the crowd has the time to behave badly. In footy, you are so engrossed with the quick action in the field that there is no time for animosity between opposing fans". Quite true. Crowd-related problems are almost unheard of in footy matches. The MCG doesn’t have such a clean image with crowd behaviour when it hosts cricket these days.

The egalitarianism
The team that finishes at the bottom of the ladder is said to take the metaphorical 'wooden spoon' (It is not clear why or how the term came about). The good news for the wooden spoon team is that it has the choice of picking the best emerging talent to play for its team the following year. That way you don’t have one club dominating the game for a very long time.
I liked this idea a lot. I mentioned later to my wife, "Imagine if the ICC ensured that Nathan Bracken, Stuart McGill and Brad Hodge would play for Bangladesh. It would then take lesser time for Bangladesh to get their test victories against recognised teams". My wife gave me a dazed look. I think I impressed her with my insight and intelligence.

P.S. To John's delight, the Bulldogs won the game.

Ad, sound and vision-free TV

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Sometime back Rahul Bhatia, in an article in Cricinfo wrote of his frustrations in watching a viewer-unfriendly cricket telecast through Doordarshan. While watching cricket on Doordarshan is possibly an angst filled experience, in recent times, watching the performance of the Indian team on the field has been even more depressing. Either way, pleasing its viewers may continue to be an elusive dream for Doordarshan.

However, there is now a proven technique for Doordarshan to improve its viewership ratings. It only needs to take a leaf out of the books of Channel 7, an Australian TV channel.

Last Wednesday, a power failure at their broadcast centre forced Channel 7 to show a blank screen for 48 minutes during prime time (9pm onwards). In spite of telecasting nothing, the channel had at least 88,000 fans glued to the screen seeing the "ad, sound and vision-free offering". This even helped them beat the viewership ratings on SBS, another national channel. Using Dibertian logic, the blank screen is evidently an improvement over the regular programs.

Now, this technique has even been borrowed effectively by Kiruba on his blog. I do like Kiruba's posts that cover a wide range of entertaining and unlikely topics. Today, I visited his site to look for new posts -- only to be greeted by a completely blank white screen. And I have gone to his blog four times since then to see the blank screen. If ardent readers of his blog have been doing likewise, it might turn out that Kiruba's site meter shows the highest ever hit rate he has had!

Ghost Rider

Monday, April 18, 2005

My office is located in Southbank, a shopping and office precinct on the banks of the river Yarra. This morning I discovered that Flinders walk, one of the two bridges that connect Southbank to the Flinders Street train station across the river, is shut for the next four days. Four massive cranes are surrounding the bridge. No construction work here though. The bridge has been cordoned off to accommodate the shooting of some scenes for Ghost Rider, a movie starring Nicholas Cage. The cranes are positioned, presumably, to take overview shots. It is unlikely that many will catch a glimpse of Cage running across the bridge over this week, all of the shooting is scheduled for late evening. A peek into the story of Ghost Rider gathered from a movie site makes for interesting reading:

Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage) has a dark secret - he is the Ghost Rider - who can grab you and force you to re-live tenfold all the sins you have perpetuated in your life… if there are too many sins, you'll burn up and incinerate.

Extending the caveat from sins to other follies such as incompetence makes for some interesting possibilities in the real world. Among various scenarios, one such thought stood out for me:
Imagine Steve Bucknor reliving some of his own decisions by taking the place of Tendulkar at the crease. He is successively and repeatedly being given out
- LBW for shouldering a ball clearly missing the stumps
- caught behind for leaving with light passing between the bat and ball

Perhaps Bucknor would rather just burn up and incinerate?

The underarm problem

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Australia and New Zealand tend to think that their rivalry, at least in sports, is quite similar to that between India and Pakistan. I am not convinced it has the intense love-hate relationship that India and Pakistan share, but an event that caused a severe strain on the trans-Tasman relationship is the well-known underarm bowling incident.

For those not in the know, here’s the story. In the 1980-1981 World Series cup, New Zealand needed six runs off the last delivery to tie the third one-day match final against Australia. The Australian captain, Greg Chappell, instructed his brother, Trevor, to bowl underarm to the batsman and squash any chance of a New Zealand stealing the glory. Trevor bowled to the plan, with the batsman defending the rolling delivery. The bitterness that ensued was unprecedented. Even Robert Muldoon, the then prime minister of New Zealand, had acrimonious words to say, and it would be years before Greg Chapell would be forgiven.

But, more than 2 decades later, it appears the incident is still fresh in the Kiwi memory.

Sometime last year, an Australian executive travelled to New Zealand and was welcomed with the slightly unexpected gift of a deodorant. Imagine his consternation when he saw the inscription on the card:

"For help with the Australian underarm problem."

Leading the men and lagging with form

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Comparing Mark Taylor and Sourav Ganguly

When you think of how test cricket has been rejuvenated from the lethargic pace of the game in the early 90's to the more result-oriented contests in recent times, Mark Taylor and his team of prodigious performers should rightfully be credited for leading this revolution. With an imposing stature in physique and fortitude, Taylor was a cricketing Gorbachev, bringing in a much needed perestroika to the wan world of international test cricket. In a time when most teams idly contemplated compiling large scores over many days and looking at individual records as ends in themselves, Taylor brought back a forgotten tradition of dominating the opposition—often overwhelming them—with a scorching scoring rate, wicket-hunting field settings and a relentless pursuit of victory for his team.

In a different setting, India, reeling from the woes of the match-fixing scandal of 2000, found just the right man to rebuild its fortunes. With many stars in its batting galaxy and a comet-like bunch of inconsistent bowlers, the threat of implosion for the Indian cricket team could never have been greater than in the new millennium. In came Sourav Ganguly. A man who favoured the off-side with his willow and showed no favouritism to his players for their mother tongue or city of origin. Ganguly revolutionised the way cricket was played and talent was chosen at the national level. However, his most significant contribution over the last few years has been in channelising the energies of individual stars to produce winning results like no other Indian captain.

Taylor and Ganguly have both been talented southpaws. Both have drawn respect for their astute leadership. Both have also had criticisms levelled against them. Taylor was accused of being parsimonious in sharing the credit for his team’s success with his team-mates. Ganguly's ‘attitude’ has caused consternation to opposition and administrators alike. Of late, Ganguly has also drawn another dubious similarity he would rather not have—leading his team through a personal form slump.

From December 1995 to March 1997, Taylor led Australia through 13 tests without a century and a batting average 25.54. An opening batsman, he had an unmemorable time scoring all but two 50s in this 16 month period. What helped him survive through this phase was victories in 8 of those 13 test matches. He didn’t strive for many draws--he lost the other five matches.

For Ganguly, after the knock of 144 in Brisbane, which set the tempo of the classic 2003-2004 series against Australia, the 13 matches that followed for him has yielded 580 runs at a personal batting average of 32.22. Ganguly has had three 50s in this 16 month period. 6 of the 13 matches during Ganguly's poor run with the bat have resulted in victories, although two of those victories came against Bangladesh. Of the remaining seven, three have resulted in losses and four were drawn.

Taylor broke through his slump in form with a 2nd innings century in the opening test of the 1997 Ashes tour in June in Birmingham. After that effort, he went on to score 4 more centuries, the biggest of them being an unbeaten triple-century against Pakistan at Peshawar. The Peshawar match was made memorable by Taylor for his brilliant knock and also for a more old-fashioned gesture. Not wanting to surpass the highest test score of 334 by Don Bradman, Taylor chose to respectfully declare when he reached that same figure. Taylor retired in 1999 at the age of 34, leaving his team and personal form in a state of high, and passing on the mantle to his worthy successor, Steve Waugh.

Many of Ganguly's contributions to Indian cricket are not easily measured. Improving the team morale, identifying and nurturing talent, cutting down team politics--in these intangibles, Ganguly's contributions stand taller than that of most other Indian players of any era. One hopes that he will resurrect his personal form as Taylor did. It would be an unedifying sight to see the Prince of Kolkata leave the test arena with the batting form of a pauper.