Sunday, October 26, 2008

News from the India versus Australia test series 2008 - Border Gavaskar Trophey

Australia are in India to play the 4 match test series. The first test match was a draw. Although, in my opinion, had there been no rain, and had the teams achieved higher over rates, then Australia could have had a chance for victory. As it happened, both the teams were defensive. Just trying to read each others' games at the start of a very high-stake series. The slow pitch at Bangalore also played its part in the tame draw.

Come the second test match. Australia were outplayed from the first to the last session. In batting, bowling, fielding, sledging, offense and captaincy. This was one of their worst defeats in the last couple of decades. All their weaknesses were exposed as they fielded one of their weakest teams to visit India. Indian spinners were good, fast bowlers were superior and their captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was always one step ahead of the game. After the match, the Kangaroos mad a lot of noise about the reverse swing that the Indian duo of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma were able to generate. However, I think that Australia had lost the battle in their minds. They were too defensive, both while batting and bowling. And were one bowler short.

There is now a long break before the next test match starts in Delhi on the 29th of October. I feel this break is turning out to be in India's interest. As the Australians try to over analyze the reasons of their failure. Too much focus is on Brett Lee, who has been below par. The controversy around why he didn't bowl early on 4th day of 2nd match must be distracting him. The captain Ricky Ponting and the coach Tim Neilson gave two different versions of the reason. There have been calls for Andrew Symonds' return, but they have been silenced by the coach. Their real problem has been the top order. It will be very interesting to see how they face up to this intense pressure. In my opinion, if Australia manage to win/draw this series, they will undoubtedly retain and remain the best team on the planet by and far. But if they loose the series, then their invincibility will reduce.

India need to decide on whether or not to play Anil Kumble. I think it would be a wise decision not to change the winning combination. Even if he plays, I think he should hand over the captaincy to the champion Dhoni.

- Ashutosh

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The tennis tournament - ATP Masters Series in Madrid

This is about the Mutua MadrileƱa ATP Masters Series, currently in progress at Madrid, Spain. This is a very interesting tournament. Mainly because, all the top ranked 12 ATP players (men) play here. This is a really rare event and not like the Grand Slams, where they have their own seeding which can be different than the world rankings.

Surprisingly though, I noticed that the official website of the tournament mentioned above is not good at all. Some of the links don't work. They don't maintain good news or columns. They do not provide good player rankings and schedules. And in comparison, I observed that the official ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) tour website gives a much better analysis of the Masters Series.

I will be personally looking for the Roger Federer vs. Rafel Nadal rivalry. I just hope that they both reach the finals and produce another one of those stunning, awesome display of contrasting tennis styles, that has made them a unique pair. Throughout the last 15 years, I have not observed any rivalry in professional sport that can be compared to Federer vs. Nadal in terms of their skills, Quality of their games, Difference in style and dominance over everyone else in their sport. What do you think?

Long live the champions.

- Ashutosh

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

World Chess Championship 2008 in Germany - Anand Vs. Kramnik

This is an interesting event to track and watch out for. The World Chess Championship is currently in progress in Germany from October 14 to November 2, 2008. Vladimir Kramnik from Russia will take on the world champion Vishwanathan Anand from India. It is being claimed that this is the most anticipated tournament in the history of world chess.

The official website of FIDE is here. This is the official website of the championship. It shows either live or recorded version of the last game played in this 12-game championship. The chessboard shown on this website is nice, it allows us to browse through the whole game from start to finish - any number of times. Its a good learning point for chess lovers.

I am looking for a good website that analyzes these games along with the positions of the game. That will be absolutely awesome.

- Ashutosh

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Should Anil Kumble resign from the Indian Cricket Team?

In the 1st test match of the India Vs. Australia Border Gavaskar series, Kumble went wicket-less. Its the first time that this has happened in India. There is a clear cut case of Anil being in the playing 11 only because he is the captain and not because he belongs to the best 11 in the country right now.

On top of that - he carried an injury in this test match. Did not bowl when he was needed the most. And when he returned back to the field, he reversed Mahendra Singh Dhoni's aggressive field placements. All and all, a poor performance form the veteran. I think Saurav Ganguly has made a right decision in calling it quits. And Anil Kumble needs to take a clue. In the last test series for India Vs. Sri Lanka, Anil Kumble took 8 wickets in 3 matches at an average of 50 and a strike rate of 100! Prior to that, in the home series against South Africa, he took 4 wickets in 2 matches at an average of 60 and a strike rate of 150!!

At the start of this series, Anil announced that this would be his last test at Bangalore. However, at the end of the match, he made a shocking statement "One bad game doesn't make you a bad player". Maybe, his manager or someone else needs to remind him of the above statistics so that he can find out how many bad games he has had in the last year or so.

I am a firm believer of performance dictating selection, and on basis of both - current form, and captaincy skills - I would choose Mahendra Singh Dhoni as the skipper and Piyush Chawla as the leg spinner to play against the Australian team in the remainder of the series. It will be interesting to see what the Indian selectors say. Incidentally, the team for the last 2 test matches against Australia should be selected soon, so we will come to know what their opinion is.

Of course it goes without saying, that Anil Kumble has been India's only match-winning bowler on all wickets for the last decade or more. However, I think the age is taking its toll and he is near the end of his career.

- Ashutosh

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Kayaking @ Panshet near Pune (continued)

My first kayaking experience was more of - leaning, adventure and then enjoyment. But I was not satisfied and wanted to take one more chance at the kayak. I asked them to bring it back in water. I was trying to decide what next? Having learnt the art, how should I make the most of the next trip? I finally set a goal for myself for that 15 minute kayaking trip. We were on one side of the riverbed. I looked at the other side, spotted a tree and made it my target for the next few minutes. I decided to take a shot at the following: Drive the kayak at the best speed possible, take it to the other of the river, touch the soil on that side, and then come back on this shore. All this in 15 minutes. I had to be on my toes always in order to make sure that I kept the time.

My Timex digital watch came to the rescue. I set the timer on and started kayaking with all strength possible. I realized that it was easy to attain fairly high speeds. And now that I knew what my target was, it was much easier to maintain the direction.

But maintaining the direction was still a fairly non-trivial activity. I assumed that since I was applying equal force on the right and the left hand sides, the kayak will always go ahead in a straight line. But when I started staring at the tere, I noticed that all the time, I was either moving too much to the left or too much to the right. And then, I had to make appropriate adjustments to ensure that I was chasing the target tree. I realized at that point, how difficult it must be to paddle the kayak in the sea when there are no visible targets in any specific direction. You would require a magnetic compass and that would be your life line.

I first checked my wrist watch timer at around 2.5 minutes into the drive. I was stunned to see that I was almost half the way into the breadth of the river. I decided to keep going full steam and paddled hard for the next minute or so. Once I stopped momentarily after 3.5 minutes, and estimate that I was 2/3 of the way into the breadth. I was sure that I would be able to make it - touch the other side and come back. At this time, I just tried to soak in the moment a bit. I observed that the constant chatting of the people on the original side of the river had now stopped. I was surprised because there were many people on the shore. And so far, I could always here many of the talking simultaneously. Then I realized that I had come far enough from them to be able to hear their voices. That pleased me a bit :-) But then, I concentrated a bit and found out that I could now hear so many other natural voices. Birds were really singing wonderfully. I could hear some voices from the other side of the river bed. I was absolutely delighted.

I decided to stop at this place for the next few minutes or so. And dropped the plan of touching the other side of the river. Just wanted to relax more. I looked at the river and saw that it was really huge. I could see the river leading into the dam and its gates about 500 meters or a kilometer away from where I was. Which meant - that the only time we could go kayaking here was when the water was calm. I just though we were lucky enough that there were no rains or strong winds that day. And it also gave me an indication that I can come here in the future only when the weather is as calm as it was on today. Otherwise, kayaking would become very risky.

Most of the river had beautiful, blue water. But somehow there was a patch where the water was green, had some weeds and leaves and that looked odd. I tried to wonder about this patch. I would have understood if it was near the shore, but near the shore, the water was very clean. Once that bad patch ended, it was again clean and beautiful. I could now see some speed boats making rounds one after another at some distance from me.

Whenever a boat went from anywhere nearby, it would send a series of waves in the water. The waves would spread and hit my kayak. This was a scary moment. The people had told me that I would have to balance it when the waves are hitting. Once such speed boat sent very strong waves. My kayak started shaking up and down, and for the first time, I was nervous but still not scared, though. The only problem I saw with a kayak is that - it can flip and turn turtle easily - with a few strong ripples/waves. But once that happens, it would be difficult to turn it around while swimming. And then even more difficult to climb on it from within the water.

Once the waves started hitting, I decided to move. I thought - while moving, the kayak might be able to handle the waves better, and I was right. After around 8-9 minutes since I had begun, I started on my way back. This time, I really stepped up the force and attained tremendous speed. I was now able to observe how to voices of the people on the shore had started to reach me again. I was kind of sad that my kayaking trip was about to end. I again tried to soak in each and every part of my vision and the sounds. I looked at all the surrounding mountains again and allowed myself to be stunned by the awesome beauty of nature once more. Finally, I decided to park. My speed was so high, that I had to reverse peddle in order to slow down so that I could hit the shore. This time, I could park perfectly and single handed, without any help.

I knew that I had stumbled upon a new passion. I vowed to come back here once every month or two. I started to share my experiences with everyone on the shore and explained to them the mind blowing experience. My shoulders had started aching a bit and I was really hungry now. It had turned out to be a really nice exercise. I wished I could have a house near a river so that I could go kayaking every day :-)

If anyone of you know of other good places to go kayaking, then please let me know. And if you can swim, then try out kayaking. It will refresh you!

- Ashutosh

Kayak Boat experience at Panshet near Pune

This was a nice Sunday morning. We started from our house in Pune around 8 am in the morning. Reached Panshet at around 9.30 am. Panshet is around 45 Kms away from the heart of Pune. It is off the Sinhgad Road. Panshet is the name of a dam and supplies drinking water to the Pune city.

We were 5 persons + 3 kids. So the plan was to enjoy the natural surroundings, play with the kids, have a heavy breakfast and come back home after noon. As usual, as soon as we reached Panshet everyone was hungry.

A little bit about how to locate the best boating location in Panshet. There are quite a few locations here from where one can do boating. The best one is the biggest one. It has a covered parking lot, a small restaurant. When you reach Panshet, you will find many different boards pointing towards boating locations. At the main junction, there are 2 roads - and each one of them leads to a different boat club. The turn to the left takes us to this good place with parking etc.

Once there, we ordered tea and breakfast. The food at the place is not that great. So its better if you take some home made bread/butter or any other breakfast. Whatever food is available is very costly and probably extremely un-hygienic.

There are some small horse, camel, elephant shaped games for kids. All 3 of them loved those :-) But everyone was now looking forward to the real stuff: Boating.

We first tried the simplest option. A large ride for all 8 of us in a medium paced motor-boat. It was for around 15 minutes. Very nice, clam, relaxing and enjoyable. The kids loved it, too. We were able to dip our hands in the river bed and sprinkle some of that water in the boat. The water was blueish and clean at most of the places in the river bed.

Next, we tried a speed boat with all of us in there along with the kids. This was a wonderful experience for us, but a scary one for the kids. I personally didn't find it worth the cost (of 60 Rs per person). But it was good fun.

I next asked them what other options are available for boating. He said - speed boat for a couple. A scooter boat - which is a very high speed boat with their driver and a passenger. I had seen a friend riding this earlier, and he had lots of fun. The guys then mentioned about a boat known as Kayak. They said, it takes you alone in the river bed. And that's what spurred me on. On asking further details, they said that it does not run on any fuel. And needs a paddle which is used to move the boat in the water.

I knew instantly that I was excited. I asked them to put it in the water. Since there was no fuel involved, the cost for 15 minutes was very less - 30 Rs. This was even better. I sat in the kayak - this was not easy though. It had a very small weight. And there were holes in the kayak for the water to flow in/out. It was somehow able to maintain its buoyancy. Being a very good swimmer and having the life jacket on - gave me enough confidence. For people who don't know how to swim, it can be a dangerous option.

I started with the paddle. 4 years ago, at the same spot, I had tried a rowing boat with 3 other people on board. We had erred at that point - in the sense that we did not try to understand the technique. There were also synchronization problems. And hence, this time round, I knew what should not be done :-) First, I tried to control the kayak by randomly moving the paddle in the water once to my left and then right. I realized that if not controlled, I would keep round and round in circles. Hence I tried to focus on how to crack the technique. I realized the following two tacts:

1. I stuck my legs to the grooves. This gave me some more force to use on the paddle. I pushed my legs while paddling and it was very helpful.

2. I made sure that while paddling on the right hand side, the paddle touched the outer border of the boat on that side. And then the same on the left. This was crucial because now, there was no randomness and I knew I was onto something special.

Very soon, I was traveling at quite a good speed, and in almost a straight line. For the first time, I looked around me. I was amazed by the beauty of the nature. Away from the busy roads, traffic and noise, away from the tensions of day to day routines, here I was - surrounded by a beautiful blue river bed. In the middle of lush green mountains. Birds singing sweet sounds. Clean air, no pollution, pure bliss. To top all that, I was out there on my own, without any fuel and having learned and mastered something new and adventurous, it gave me a phenomenal kick. I promised myself that this was only the first of many many times that I would go kayaking.

I knew that the time was limited and hence tried to turn reverse. Just paddled on the left hand side. After rotating by 180 degrees, I started on my way back. In the middle, I just used to stop, drop the paddle and just relax. Enjoyed the moment, the surroundings, the quiet and the nature. Finally, there was another boat passing by and the driver shouted at me saying my time was already over. On coming back, I was surprised that I could even park the kayak without many hassles. I told everyone that this was one of my most enjoyable moments ever and I had already started thinking about when should I go kayaking next?

The next time was only 10 minutes away :-) And even more enjoyable. Details to follow in the next post.

- Ashutosh