Man and superman

Here, read.

It’s Brazil

So you can wait 22 days, and follow World Cup soccer excitement here [our colleagues in the US are providing us a World Cup site for the Yahoo India portal, will link as soon as it is live] — or you can skip right ahead to the final result [spoiler alert], and get on with your life. You chose.

Making babies, going to the movies

Because every country is good at something. [Relevant data here]

Addendum: Team of Rivals

Further to the earlier post on Anand and his “human cluster”, this: in the interview, Vishy acknowledges the work put in by Anish Giri, the Dutch chess prodigy who in January 2009 became the youngest ever grandmaster. For the chess fans among you — and it’s a pleasant surprise to see how many there are — one of Giri’s hobbies is annotating great chess games. And here, with his commentary, is game 12 of the FIDE face off between Anand and Topalov. Here’s Giri on game 2, when Anand played a beauty to level the scores. [Bonus — a database of 150 of Giri’s tournament games to date].

The real ‘match ka mujrim’

On Y! Opinions, Amit Varma on the tendency on the part of the cricket media to craft ‘narratives’ out of whole cloth, and to never let facts get in the way of a good ‘story’. Read. Here’s the set up:

What is the job of a journalist? An idealistic reader would say that it is to report the news, to put the facts of the world on record. A jaded news editor would say, it is to tell stories, ideally sensationalistic ones, that capture the attention of the reader. These stories are often a spin on the truth; and sometimes they may be outright false. A reporter’s brief is often to turn banal facts into gripping drama — and if there is no easy story to be had, then to manufacture one.

We see this in the way sports is covered in India. You might think that a sporting encounter is dramatic by itself, and does not need embellishment or hyperbole. But news editors seem to believe that readers not only want dramatic narratives, they want those narratives to be simple. (I wrote about this in the inaugural Viewfinder as well.) A cricket match may be decided by a number of complex factors, and the loser most often does not play badly, but simply gets outplayed by a better team. But this complexity does not make for a good story.

Cricket clips

On a lazy Thursday marked by to-die-for weather, random clips from here and there:

#1. You never thought to hear this, but Dileep Premachandran makes a case for why Indian selectors could take a page out of the book — in fact, the entire book — of their English counterparts. Elsewhere, Lawrence Booth gives the credit where it’s due: to coach Andy Flower trusting his thinking, and being radical with selections were necessary [what a contrast, incidentally, to the Indian situation where coach Gary Kirsten read about the team picked to tour Zimbabwe, along with the rest of us, in the morning paper].

But England under Flower have barely put a foot wrong – and when they have, redemption has been swift: Ravi Bopara was dropped for the Ashes decider, Owais Shah booted out of the one-day team, and Paul Collingwood rested from the NatWest Series. There is a decisiveness about Flower that makes the old days of wrongly aligned planets and Calcutta smog look like low farce.

Selection for the World Twenty20 was neck-on-the-line stuff too. What previous regime would have dared drop their shop-window fast bowler? Or drafted in a pair of relatively untested openers? Or encouraged the slow bouncer? Mike Yardy as a second spinner? Luke Wright at No 6? These were all products of a coaching mind that knows itself and isn’t swayed by others.

What’s the relevance to Strauss? Only this: Flower is no mug and no sentimentalist. If, as he is stating for public consumption at the moment, Strauss remains in charge of the one-day side, it will be because Flower doesn’t buy Collingwood’s argument that 50 overs is “only” 30 more than 20 – in other words, he doesn’t believe Twenty20’s do-or-die philosophy can simply be reworked in the longer format.

For a counter-example, consider the run up to the 2009 edition of the T20 WC. Then, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan were injured/unfit, but the selectors picked them anyway, gambling on names and reputations rather than match fitness. Replace names for the 2010 edition: the hamstrung Gautam Gambhir for Viru Sehwag [the opener’s footwork, and his running between wickets, clearly showed that he was a long way from full recovery] and, in a case of not learning the lessons of history, Zaheer Khan for Zaheer Khan.

When debating selections, we often discuss the names that have been left out of the cut — but rarely, if ever, do we look at those names that made the cut, and ask if they are match fit and match ready. That kind of hard-nosed pragmatism, which Flower brought to the picking and preparation of the England team, maybe the lesson the Indian selectors want to absorb.

#2: MS Dhoni is not the only one facing knee-jerk reactions to the latest defeat — over in South Africa, Telford Vice wonders whether it’s the end of the road for Graeme Smith. Here’s a clip that should, for various reasons, resonate with Indian cricket followers:

Life for Smith, as for any other modern captain, can become a marketing, business and political minefield. Then there’s the basic stuff to worry about, like winning. When you lead a team that represents a country in which one issue frequently morphs into several others until all that’s clear is that nothing is certain, things get even more complicated. Welcome to the life of Graeme Smith.

As if it isn’t enough that his men have the reputation for possessing all the guts and grit of a packet of freshly microwaved marshmallows and will, at the merest sign of pressure, choke as surely as a baby left alone with a bag of buttons, Smith also has to contend with those who reckon he is the wrong man to lead this flawed team. Then there are those who think the side is either not black enough or is black beyond merit.

Of course, Smith doesn’t have to bear these burdens alone. But his name is most often the first to be spat out of the mouths of the malcontents. He is a big man with a big bat, a big personality, a big public persona, and occasionally a big mouth. That means Smith the bloke is the target almost as often as Smith the captain or Smith the batsman.

#3. Aakash Chopra continues his ‘Insider’ series with a sharp piece on the art and craft of playing spin.

#4. For those of you who have time to spare between 3.30-4.30 this evening, I’m live again on the Yorker chat show. Come on over. Or if you like, post your comments/queries in the comments field below, and I’ll try and blend those into today’s show alongside the usual live interaction.

Later, peoples.