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

Advertisements

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.

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.