Crank It Right Up

Pressure: Let's shake on it, say Justin Langer (left) and Daniel Vettori

Pressure: Let’s shake on it, say Justin Langer (left) and Daniel Vettori


Justin Langer was a tough opening bat in the great Australian sides led by Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, his flintiness often overshadowing a deceptively efficient strokemaker. In a team filled with marquee names, he seldom got the credit he deserved.

Daniel Vettori has been New Zealand’s outstanding bowler for the past 15 years, notching up 681 wickets in all formats of the game. His batting, however, still has the ‘what if’ look of Ridley Scott’s ‘American Gangster’. All those beautiful shots… if only we could have had a little more depth. With a bit more application, Vettori would have a much better batting average than 30.10.

So. An Australian and a New Zealander.

Besides a healthy antipodean dislike for each other, they share another common ground: pressure brings the best out of them.

Langer averages 68.75 batting in the fourth innings of Test matches away from home. That’s almost 23 runs more than his career average. Vettori’s fourth innings average away from home is (for a bowling allrounder) a very impressive 38.50, almost 8 runs higher than his career average.

Batting in the fourth innings of a Test is, by common consent, one of the more difficult tasks in cricket. By the time the fourth innings rolls around, it’s usually at least Day Four of a 5-day Test match and the pitch has more cracks on it than a Bollywood actress’s face without makeup. The ball turns, keeps low, spits up, reverse swings. It’s a tough grind at the best of times. When playing away from home, it gets even harder. The reputations of many a fine career have been dismembered in these sessions.

I am a fourth-innings man. I work best when under the pump. When working against an imminent deadline, sat in front of the computer, I go into a pensive mood, cradling my chin on my right thumb, with the index finger pointing to the skies in a classic Godfather pose. My family knows better than to disturb.

In a more serious vein, man is said to be at his most creative when faced with daunting odds. Even renowned business schools follow this model. Students are divided into groups, given minor sums of money and asked to multiply it within a particular time-frame, say 2 or 3 hours. Delhi University students recently generated Rs 1.22 lakh from just Rs 7,500 within six hours on the streets of Delhi. It’s a way to challenge yourself.

These past few months, I did some of my best writing when applying for admission into Master’s programs in journalism. I got into some, could not accept their offers because they didn’t offer a scholarship, and didn’t get into others. Regardless of the results, the experience of writing Statements of Purpose has proved to be unexpectedly enriching. The very name — Statement of Purpose — had suggested a drab experience wherein I’d furnish platitudes about how elite the Master’s program at a particular institution was and how privileged I’d be to be admitted there.

But it was, instead, a wonderful voyage of self-discovery. For instance, I realised that my father has been the most influential person in my life. (Easy to say, hard to realise); that David Halberstam’s ‘Summer of 49’, which I once picked up for Rs 100 (about USD 2 then), was the most important sports book I’ve read; that ‘The Verdict’ is my favourite movie and that Economics can actually be a very interesting subject.

Writing SOPs (Statements of Purpose) has resulted in a strange phenomenon. Nowadays, when I place my hands on my laptop, the left ring finger hovers over the Ctrl key and the right index finger deftly rests on the Left Arrow. This is because I edit stories backwards i.e, I move from the period, back to the part that needs correction by using the Ctrl+Left Arrow combination.
Once I finish the correction, I go back to the start of the paragraph and run over the entire content, from right to left, using the Ctrl+Right Arrow combination. My hands have become so used to the rhythm of this process that sometimes my fingers look as if they’re involved in a sexual act with the keyboard. Such is the plight of aspiring writers.

Anyway, here are the final couple of articles that were published at http://www.ibnlive.in.com in April. I couldn’t update them as I was caught up in the application process.

a) Why Barcelona Must be Afraid

This was written just before the UEFA Champions League semifinal clash between Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Bayern had just steamrollered Juventus, the champions of Italy, in their quarterfinal meeting and I had said Barcelona better watch out for the Germans. Bayern duly gave a footballing masterclass to the Spaniards, winning the tie emphatically by an aggregate score of 7-0. They also went on to win the Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund.

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64482/champions-league-why-barcelona-must-be-afraid.html

b) Bayern Flex Muscles, Real Just Glide
This covered the first leg of the quarterfinal clashes between Bayern and Juventus, and Real Madrid and Turkish side Galatasaray. Bayern were dominant even in the first leg and could have wrapped up qualification then and there. Juve were lucky to survive. Real strolled to an easy 3-0 win against Galatasaray, but would make life difficult for themselves in the second leg. They eventually went out in the semifinals, losing out to Jurgen Klopp’s underrated Borrussia Dortmund.

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64458/champions-league-bayern-flex-muscles-real-just-glide.html

Milan Find the Tables Turned on Them

Thanks for an online course I once did on sports writing, I’ve cultivated the (extremely useful) habit of jotting down important moments during a football match. It goes like this:

4′ – Arsenal score! Great cross along ground frm right by Walcott, Giroud scores. Wenger doesn’t celebrate.

6′ – Kroos long range shot, saved.

10′ – Bayern corner. Gustavo goes close, but strike goes over. Too high?

And so on. But on Tuesday, March 12, when Barcelona hosted AC Milan during the second leg of their Round of 16 Champions League match, I could barely take my eyes off the screen to jot down the important passages of play. There were just too many of them. That first half performance, which yielded Barca 2 goals, has been called arguably their greatest display in recent years — and that’s saying a lot, considering they’ve played in Champions League finals, semifinals and innumerable El Classicos during this period.

All Milan had to do was score once and Barca would have needed four goals to ensure qualification to the quarterfinals. Four. (Milan had won the first leg 2-0.) But the lone goal never came, and I gotta say it’s an absolute privilege we’re getting to watch this glorious team at its peak. (They can still cut out on the diving, though.)

That first-half display reminded me of another extraordinary first-half, by Milan against Liverpool during the 2005 Champions League final. Paolo Maldini had scored — his first goal in I don’t know who many seasons — in the 3rd minute, and Hernan Crespo had picked up a brace before the half-time whistle. When the players trooped off at half-time, Ricky Kaka had run Liverpool absolutely ragged from the middle of the pitch. It was of this performance that the great Brian Glanville wrote, “Milan had a great first-half. A half, but what a half!”

Liverpool fought back to eventually win the final, but that first-half remains one of the best displays of Carlo Ancelotti’s great Milan side of the early and mid 2000s.

I wrote on the same theme, along with another of this week’s Round of 16 tie, for my piece on the IBN blog. The other match saw Arsenal beat Bayern Munich in their own backyard, with a performance that left you shaking your fists furiously at the television screen, wondering aloud where all this guts and gumption had gone during their first leg, which Arsenal had lost 1-3. Wenger’s boys (and they’re still boys) won 2-0 on the night, but were eliminated on aggregate. What a waste.

The link:

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64413/champions-league-harsh-lessons-for-ac-milan-arsenal.html

Wenger: Not so clever, boy!

Im writing this on the night Tottenham have dispatched Internazionale 3-0 in the first leg of their Last 16 match up of the Europa League at White Hart Lane. Inter were so outclassed it was shocking. Spurs play a fluent, passing game with a lot of mobility in their shape but Inter looked like QPR on saline. It’ll take a historic performance in the second leg in Italy for Inter to qualify for the Quarters but I think that’s beyond this team on current form.

Anyway, four days before running the rule over Inter, Spurs dominated Arsenal in the North London Derby, winning 2-1 thanks to goals from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.

They could have scored much more. Following which, of course, Arsene Wenger claimed that all Tottenham had done after gaining a 2-0 lead was “defend well”. Nice try but unbecoming of a club like Arsenal. It’s interesting, but it’s extraordinary how Arsenal seem to be harbouring the same delusions that Milan did for the past 4-5 seasons, vainly claiming the club was good enough to challenge for trophies when it was clearly regressing.

On March 6, I wrote a piece on the Arsenal capitulation, and what it could mean for their future. It’s come out well. One of the rare recent instances in which I was kinda “alright'” with what I wrote.

Here:

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64373/epl-arsenal-in-freefall.html

The only glitch was that they failed to add the hyperlink I’d sent them to add in the 5th para. I mean it’s alright if people know Spurs are also known as ‘Lillywhites’ but the hyperlink was for those who didn’t. Anyway, I was promised it would be corrected, but it’s all helium so far.

A Beautiful Offer

The GRE’s over and Im midway through this admissions process. Did surprisingly well in GRE, and was over the moon with my marks till I discovered all scores are calculated only between 130 and 170. That was quite a blow. I was sitting in front of the comp after my GRE test like Ranbir Kapoor in ‘Rocket Singh’, staring at the figures that had come up showing my unofficial score. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I’d scored more than 90% in Verbal and about 85% in Quantitative.

Later, of course, I came to know how exactly these guys scored GRE and was brought back down to earth.

In the meanwhile, I wrote these blogs on Ibnlive.in.com. Football helps me keep my sanity, with its fascinating tactical theories of how space is used. As if to prove the point, I lost my copy of Jonathan Wilson’s ‘Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics’  and have been trying to forgive myself ever since.

Here we go, starting with the most recent blog and then working backwards.

1) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64334/serie-a-fiorentina-spice-up-italian-topflight.html

Vincenzo Montella’s team were fabulous against Inter, who looked out of depth and out of breath. They were probably exhausted by their Europa League match, but a big club can’t be citing fatigue as an excuse. Fiorentina’s fluid attacking shape, if in form, can trouble even the best teams, and Inter at the moment are not one of those.

2) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64301/steven-gerrard-still-pushing-boundaries-at-32.html

Gerrard has been playing deeper as he’s gotten older, probably taking a leaf out of Roy Keane’s book, but has not lost much of his influence of old. If Brendan Rodgers is to create a legacy of any worth at Liverpool, he needs his captain to be on the same page and he does seem convinced.

3) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64187/epl-robin-van-persie-leads-the-line-for-united.html

Van Persie’s already been compared to Cantona in terms of the influence he has had on United ever since he joined them. As of today, United are 15 points — 15 — clear at the top of the EPL. Much of that is down to Van Persie. Roberto Mancini, otherwise a decent man, has whined this season that his club did not adequately strengthen themselves in the summer and has cited that as the  reason behind a lacklustre season after City won the title last year. But Im only reminded of Brian Clough, who won the old First Division — twice — with teams he had led to promotion from Division Two, Derby County and Nottingham Forrest. Different times, yes, but somehow you’d think Mancini had a better excuse.

4) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64138/epl-united-silence-noisy-neighbours-but-city-still-in-this-fight.html

Highly charged match, with United leaving with the honours. I hate doing ‘I told you so’ but I did in fact say the effect of this loss on City could be more psychological. And so it seems.

Pick a Number.

Preparing for the GRE when you’ve been out of the loop for 10 years in mathematics is enough to make a grown man wince. At 27, I wince every day nowadays.

What on earth is the connection between journalism (the normal see stuff, observe stuff, reflect stuff, write stuff genre and not the astrophysics and gene mutation genre) and mathematics? Mathematics? As Thompson would ask, what in the name of crippled, half-mad jesus are they trying to pull?!

“That’s it,” I told my mom a couple of days ago. “Im not giving the GRE. What’s the connection between journalism and maths? It makes no sense”. I threw my mobile down and sat on the cot.

My mom is a chemistry major — no, wait — but she’s also my mom, so she understood. However, I’ve been banging my head against maths for a month now and she said I might as well give it a go.

So Im gonna give it a go, one-hard-spank-in-the-ass and that’s it.

In other news, here are two other articles I managed to push through for IBNlive.in.com. I had to blank it in one of the intervening weeks due to the ridiculous power outages in Tamil Nadu, thanks to dear old lady J. As Dame M would say, “you got a bloody cheek”. She can say that.

1) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64098/serie-a-capricious-milan-roll-over-mighty-juve.html

That went up today, and it was a fantastic match. Milan had looked lost as recently as two weeks ago, but they’ve started showing encouraging signs since the 2-2 draw with Napoli on Nov 17. Ricardo Montolivo has finally been handed the opportunity to play for a big club and he’s come of age this season, emerging as one of the real leaders of a still-evolving Milan. El Sharaawy, who has 12 goals already this season, didn’t score against Juve but his energy seemed to translate to the entire team. I still can’t believe he had scored only 4 top-flight goals before the start of this season.

2)  http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64080/la-liga-atletico-madrid-gatecrash-realbarca-party.html

This was a tribute to Atletico’s brilliant start to the season, in which they trail Barcelona by just three points. Falcao’s certainly the headboy of this team but they also got some serious talent like Arda Turan, Raul Garcia and Diego Costa. Add to that a coach that doesn’t seem to have a price, they’re certainly on to something.

Outage and Outrage

Tamil Nadu, one of India’s most industrialized states, has been suffering power cuts of 16 to 18 hours a day lately. By ‘lately’, I mean the past couple of weeks. This is inexcusable, and a similar callous government in the West would have been sued by now. This is a State — with a population of over 70 million — that suffered no power outage between 1987 to 2007, save for the weekly shut-down that was enforced to carry out maintenance work. Adding to the outrage among citizens here, Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, loses power only 2 hours a day. I mean, I know it’s the capital but this is grossly disproportionate and unfair. It’s even illegal, harming our fundamental rights. As things stand, the present government in Tamil Nadu is busy blaming the previous regime in the State and the Central government of India (we have a federal set up) for this almighty mess.

All of which makes watching a game of football, writing your blog or even taking a long, warm bath impossible. I can’t even watch Seinfeld. Yesterday, I read to my mom funny anecdotes from Reader’s Digest. It was fun, but the rate the power is failing on us I’ll run out of jokes soon. It’s a vicious thing wiling away your time cussing and bitching about your government. After a while, the rage and indignation fade away, replaced by resignation and negativity.

Anyway, I did manage to string along a couple of articles for IBNlive.in.com, and I have no idea how Im gonna turn in the one Im due tomorrow.  They’re killing Independent Arun!

1)The most recent article, on Nov 5:

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64042/rudderless-arsenal-exposed-by-clinical-united.html

It wasn’t a dramatic game, but the fascination lay with Wayne Rooney’s tactical evolution. As I’ve said in the article, he was everywhere. If United keep up this momentum and rate of scoring (Ferguson has targeted 100 league goals this season after 29 in their first 11 matches), they’ll be very, very hard to stop.

2) The previous article on Oct 29:

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64020/epl-david-moyes-brings-new-steel-to-everton.html

For the first time in many a meeting with their illustrious cross-town rivals, Everton looked confident and self-assured. The dramatic fall in quality in Liverpool’s line-up over the years also had something to do with it, but David Moyes would tell you it was more of a “mental thing”. Kevin Mirallas was outstanding on the left flank for Everton, and would surely have been Man of the Match had he not be injured just before half-time.

And Luis Suarez. What an utterly compelling whacko.

The guy’s still a cheating bastard, but seems to be one of those who’s at his best when goaded by the opposition.  He was brilliant against Everton. If only he could stop diving and winding people up — but you would’ve lost a matchwinner then.

I was with Two Italians, One Argentine, One Portuguese

Hey ya! Here’s the next batch of my blog posts on IBNlive.co.in.

1) I’ll start with the most recent post, and proceed backwards. It was published on Oct 23, focusing on Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea’s Italian hotshot who guided the club to its maiden European Cup win last season and has inspired an unbeaten start to the new EPL season.

Link: http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64007/epl-an-unlikely-saviour-rejuvenates-chelsea.html

2) The previous  post was published on Oct 8. Due to club football being suspended during the international break for World Cup qualification, I had to give the blog the slip for a weekend ending Oct 13th.

The blog was on the eagerly expected El Clasico face-off between Barcelona and Real Madrid. In a memorable match, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the two totems of present-day football, scored twice each to claim a 2-2 draw.

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/63970/el-clasico-messi-and-ronaldo-bring-out-the-best-in-each-other.html

3) The final entry, published on Oct 2, was about Juventus’ unbeaten start to the Serie A season. The Turin giants have picked up where they left off last season, which they finished unbeaten, and are now three points clear at the top of the table with 8 games played.

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/63945/serie-a-unbeaten-juventus-aim-to-keep-flag-flying.html

 

I’ll add my next blog in a couple of days, as soon as it’s up and running! Thanks for reading 🙂