As Shelby Ford v Ferrari so shall be India v Australia!

The Indian cricket team recorded one of the most remarkable come-from-behind victories in sports by beating Australia in the recently concluded Test Match series. πŸ‘ Made all the more memorable by the fact Indian team was playing away, with Australian team having the advantage of home conditions and crowd support, and by the time the last match started the Indian cricket team had lost more than half their starting eleven to injuries sustained in games played during the tour or in training! With injuries mounting Team India was akin to an undersized Joe Frazier taking on much bigger and much more fancied Ali in “Thrilla in Manila” and fighting the last few rounds virtually blind due to his eyes closing from Ali punches in earlier rounds. Under the circumstances it would have been expected that the Indian management might throw in the towel to prevent more serious injuries like the Foreman team did then. Instead the Indian cricket team rose up after each knockdown and took the fight to the Australians till the end, emerging bruised and battered but not broken and eventually victorious πŸ‘Œ (Trivia: If Frazier corner had let him fight as he wanted to he would have won Thrilla in Manila as Ali was so drained out he could barely stand up and fell down in the ring after the 14th round when he was announced as the victor πŸ˜“)

The series victory would be akin to a Porsche getting lapped in NΓΌrburgring, no less, by a car barely put together with whatever spare parts were available! Or, the real life equivalent of Shelby Ford emerging victorious over much more fancied Ferrari in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. As in that race the underdog team, the Indian cricket team, started the tour disastrously and still found enough strength and resolve to defeat the Aussies confidently and convincingly. It was as if God ordained “As Shelby Ford v Ferrari in 1966 so shall be India v Australia in 2021”! πŸ™‚

The quality of cricket itself was far from perfect, yet the battles to gain supremacy were riveting and thrilling throughout. So much so that the series went full distance with the final battle still being fought till the last fifteen minutes of a four-month long tour. The ebbs and flows add to the beauty of 5-day cricket Test matches when the two sides keep trading blows and battle fair and hard to force a result. The Aussies are great front runners and play aggressive cricket. They deserve credit for playing fast cricket and taking risks in pursuit of victory. The times when 5 days of cricket were producing dull draws are pretty much gone, save for a few when weather curtails play. The cricketing world can thank the trash-talking (they call it sledging Down Under), sports-crazy Aussies for possibly saving the longer form of cricket. The way the Aussies play their cricket their Plan A-Z all involve aggression. This is also their Achilles’ heel as they find it hard to adapt and change to a more defensive play during the course of a game when things don’t go their way. This trend has become more noticeable in recent times. I have maintained, past few years, the Australian cricket team are very much beatable at home. What it requires is a mix of caution (to frustrate) and aggression (to prevent them from getting on top). The way they play their cricket and the Indian team does too plus the dry conditions which swings the cricket ball less gives India a chance to stay competitive if they combine caution and aggression and maintain discipline. Not easy but doable if maintained consistently at a very high level even though results are not guaranteed. That’s what the Indian cricket team managed to do in this tour and fortune favors the brave. πŸ‘

Ultimately it’s just a sport, albeit being a glorious sport, and sporting achievement is about teams and individuals getting sporting glory which is theirs primarily. πŸ‘ Doesn’t solve any major problems or save lives but what it does is expand our understanding of possibilities for individuals and teams in terms of what is achievable. During these turbulent times that’s priceless πŸ™

Memorable chess game!

The game of 64 squares is about as bloody any non-contact game can get. But it’s much more than that. Involves knowledge, strategy, patience, stamina, calculating ahead, waiting for the right opportunity, knowing when to attack and when to defend and most importantly knowing how to put available resources to good effect. At the highest level it’s a game of lyrical beauty and balance with top players having almost same and similar pieces on the board for most part of a game. It’s in how the pieces are positioned that makes a difference. Controlling the 4 central squares is crucial to gaining upper hand. For interested and casual observers like me most top-level games appear balanced (and at times it can be boring when a player appears to take forever to make a move). When you replay the game on the computer move by move, and especially if there is expert comment along with it, that’s when the almost imperceptible shift in advantage of one player becomes somewhat clear. Growing up when I used to read about a player being a pawn up I used to wonder what is the big deal, a pawn is just a loyal foot soldier. Later I realized why that could translate into a decisive advantage. When the players start exchanging pieces rapidly (generally it’s like for like or pieces considered of equal power) the board starts clearing up and the game could reach a stage where a player with extra pawn could have a king and pawn while the other player could just have a king. In such a scenario the player with extra pawn could advance the pawn (under protection of their king) to the other end of the board and promote the pawn to a powerful piece, for example a queen! All married men know how powerful queen of the home can be πŸ˜€ Jokes apart the queen is the most powerful and therefore coveted piece on the board that can move straight up or down and diagonally across end to end and capture other pieces coming in the way.

One memorable chess game that comes to mind is the final game of World Chess Championship in 2016. After the regular games ended with both Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin tied with the same # of points they had to play set of tie-breaker games to determine the winner. Tie-breaker games tend to be with stricter time control. Meaning each player should make at least N moves within a time limit. Just for the sake of example let’s say 30 moves in 30 minutes. That could translate into a player under time trouble making a serious blunder that could lead to a disastrous result and the player resigning if the position is hopeless. In serious competitive play the game does not continue till a player makes a final move and announces “Check and mate!”. The # of games in a championship are a even number to give both players potentially the same # of games with white and black pieces.

Coming back to that game Magnus Carlsen playing white in final game of tie-breaker retained his World Chess Champion title with a move that was stunning. He offered to sacrifice his queen with a check and won immediately which is considered ultimate winning move and a beauty in chess. That move had both chess experts and non-experts gushing πŸ™‚ Not a bad return at all for a 26th birthday gift πŸ˜€ If you look at the attached image it shows where the white queen was moved. Player with black pieces (Karjakin) has 2 options for next move
1) Capture white queen which is moved to H6 with pawn which is on H7. This would result in player with white next moving rook from F5 to F7 and giving check to black king that cannot move to open squares on row 8 as that would be check from white rook placed on C8. Black king cannot move to G6 either as that would result in check from white pawn on H5. Black checkmate would be the end result
2) The other possible move is capturing white queen on H6 with black king on H7. If that move is made, white rook on C8 will be moved to H8 resulting in instant black checkmate as black king cannot evade check by staying in column H with white rook at H8 nor can the black king move to G6 as that would be result in check with pawn on H5!

Needless to say Karjakin resigned immediately as soon as white queen was moved to H6. Of course The Raj had to work out all possible moves by black to figure out why it was a certain loss for black πŸ˜€

Ironically for Karjakin without a check Carlsen would have lost to opponent Karjakin’s next move either by giving check moving black queen from F2 to G2 or moving black rook from A2 to A1 😦

As in life it helps to stay ahead one move in chess too!

The Last Dance: Life lessons

It has been more than a week since the last 2 episodes of the 10-part series ‘The Last Dance’ aired, chronicling the Chicago Bulls multiple championships won in the 1990s with primary focus on Michael Jordan’s journey to greatness. Now that the dust has settled down a bit here are some thoughts. I had watched the last 2 championships won by the Bulls against worthy opponents, the Utah Jazz, which were very well fought and absolutely riveting to watch. After watching those triumphs it appeared that Mr Jordan was capable of rising from deathbed to win against the strongest teams, so strong was his will to win. Watching ‘The Last Dance’ just reinforced that feeling. While I love sports I don’t look at sporting greats as anything more than human beings with highly developed skill in their trade/profession. Beyond that if there is anything positive it’s a bonus. Fascinating as it was to watch how it started and unfolded, for me the most significant part were life lessons learned watching the episodes. Below are some of them, a mix of positive and negative, not in any specific order of importance

1) Being blessed with transcendent talent means nothing if it’s not allied with burning desire to excel and work hard
2) Succeeding in team sport requires understanding role and importance of teammates and reposing trust in them
3) Many of us are Scottie Pippens in a way: underappreciated, undervalued and have to be prepared for the possibility of employers letting us go
4) Caring parents willing to offer sincere and sensible counsel helps in keeping one grounded and focused on the task at hand. MJ’s parents came across as decent, cultured, classy folks with a big role in his success. His mom forced a reluctant MJ to listen to Nike’s pitch which has resulted in MJ laughing all his way to bank ever since and Jordan Sr was a regular presence at Bulls’ practice sessions staying back afterwards to offer kind words of encouragement and support to the team after practice
5) One can get away with bad behavior if it’s perceived as coming from a winner with ultimate intent to improve and win
6) Success in one area of life is no guarantee for success everywhere else
7) Success extracts its own price like broken relationships, personal tragedies
8) If having a chip on the shoulder helps provide motivation to succeed in some aspect of life carrying it forever makes one come across as a small person
9) Living in the moment, unaffected by past failures and worries about future, is key to success
10) Some exceptional talents need to be given more freedom and do things their own way for them to give their best and succeed
11) Persons considered winners get to write/rewrite history from their own perspective which may not reflect full reality. Unvarnished truth is not always attractive and more difficult to sell πŸ™

Great day for sports fans!

An incredible day for sports fans! A major winner in individual sport and Super Bowl champion in team sport. What more could any sports fan ask for?

Woke up this morning and read Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open Tennis tournament. Was too early to watch the match live. Had to be content reading the reports. After having watched live on earlier occasions Djokovic win a few majors and pull out victories in tight matches it came as no surprise he won despite trailing two sets to one in the match. Champions always find a way to win!

Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl later this evening led by Patrick Mahomes, their charismatic QB with never-say-attitude, oodles of talent and loads of confidence belying his age. The way he plays the sport it seems he plays the Super Bowl everyday. Watched this game live. In the fourth quarter, with his team trailing, Mahomes wanted to be in the thick of action while 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo wore an expression that looked like he would prefer to be anywhere else. Not to suggest that’s how he felt. Just that different people react different to pressure.

In both finals the eventual winner trailed well into the 2nd half of their matches and still found that something extra to up their game to win it. That’s what great champions do. When they are in tough situations they seize the moment, can win ugly and do enough to finish better. Just couple of major finals in sports and for the rest of us reality beckons tomorrow, there are more important things that matter in life. Tonight though sports is king and that is all that matters. At this moment πŸ™‚

Ken Jennings is officially Jeopardy! GOAT πŸ‘

https://www.today.com/popculture/ken-jennings-officially-greatest-jeopardy-contestant-all-time-t171828?fbclid=IwAR32xND90sjb4eIWOZpEiNusK_me-J7aSIbZrsl51YGFcTa_MfGqkxr4w1I

Ken Jennings is officially Jeopardy! GOAT πŸ‘
In an increasingly fraught world, replete with natural and man-made disasters in recent times, it was good to see some things stay the same in a positive way. Way to go, champ!πŸ‘Œ
Throughout the 4 days of the tournament the respect and admiration Ken, James and Brad have for legendary host Alex Trebek, for each other and the host for the three of them was in full evidence along with good-natured ribbing! πŸ‘

Kobe, Shaq and Kobe beef

https://www.gq.com/story/prime-shaq

Interesting read on Kobe, Shaq and Kobe beef with Shaq!
At his peak (and pretty much most of his career) Shaq was a force of nature.
When he was playing in the NBA and taking all the punishment from “defenders” of opposing teams I was always amazed at his restraint and not retaliating back as many were throwing themselves at him to stop him and fall like flies πŸ˜€ If he retaliated it would have probably resulted in involuntary manslaughter πŸ™‚ Wise of him not to retaliate!
Kobe was quite good too but I think Shaq made getting his first three rings easier

This is crazy, stunning and beautiful!

https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/_/id/27462347/ben-stokes-asserts-greatness-blossoming-heat-competition-just-others-wilt

Snatching victory in 2 matches that England had technically lost is incredible. Stokes can walk on water 😊 What a summer for a guy who got tonked for 4 consecutive sixes in T20 WC final 3 years ago and whose career appeared to be derailed after a barroom brawl a year or two ago. Pontingesque resurrection of career πŸ‘ When greatness unfolds like this all one can do is stand and applaud πŸ‘ Fortune favors the brave πŸ‘

Raj Rules : Dynamic Duo

Last Sunday, July 14, cricket world cup ended. Whilst it was a great tournament with many exciting finishes, tightly contested games and even the last regular match prior to knockout having significance the way the tournament ended was a tad disappointing. The final itself was a great contest, both England and New Zealand providing great entertainment to all fans following the final. The match was so close it ended in a tie during regulation time and even after a Super Over to break the tie the game was still tied even! That’s when tiebreaker rule kicked in and England team were declared winners as they scored more boundaries in the match than New Zealand team. An anticlimactic ending to a close final that was shaping up to be quite an advert for the sport. It left many with an empty feeling 😦 Any championship decided by rule book is less than ideal. Apparently the organizers (and pretty much everyone) were not expecting a tie in regulation time leave alone a tie after Super Over.
Hindsight is 20/20 but I would have preferred to have the following rules in case of a tie:
1) In the event of a tie during regulation time tiebreaker will be played as it’s a new match. Nothing will be carried forward from regular playing time
2) Play shall continue till there is an outright winner
3) Tiebreaker will be 2 overs/side instead of one Super Over/side. This is to increase the chance of producing a result. 2 batsmen (or more if someone gets out) will get a chance to bat and 2 bowlers will get to bowl. Tiebreaker will be named Dynamic Duo as 2 players from each side could potentially change the dynamics of the game
4) If a tiebreaker results in a tie any player who has batted in previous tiebreaker/s shall not bat again and any bowler who bowled in earlier tiebreaker/s shall not bowl again. This will have 2 effects
a) Most likely the game will end with a result within 5 tiebreakers (as there are 11 players/side)
b) The prospect of bowlers batting and batsmen bowling during later tiebreakers will make the match unpredictable and exciting for the spectators
5) If one side doesn’t have 2 players who did not bat in previous tiebreaker/s the other side will be declared as winners
6) If after 5 tiebreakers both sides are tied (or both sides do not have players who had not batted in tiebreakers) entire match shall be played afresh the following day
7) After 2 days of cricket if there is no outright winner or in the event of a washout both teams shall be declared as joint winners πŸ™‚

Guts and Glory, Grace and Misery!

July 14, 2019: Absolutely fantastic day for sports fans!
Fitting finale for two major sports events: Wimbledon Men’s Tennis Final and Cricket World Cup Final! Both matches totally riveting, nerve-wracking, filled with twists and turns, culminating in a pulsating finish πŸ™‚
It’s beyond me to do justice with words both finals which were throbbing with excitement and suspense right till the very end. I hope writers, photographers and movie makers work together to create a work of art to capture the essence of both games, juxtaposing exquisite prose with beautiful images and stunning video clips that bring to fore the ebbs and flows, never-say-die spirit and soul-stirring emotions that were on abundant display throughout. Congratulations England for winning one championship and thanks for giving us fans two memorable matches that will stay etched in memory for a long time.

First the contrast: One an individual sport the other a team sport. One played and followed in most
countries the other played and followed in much fewer countries but enjoying rabid following among the fans

Next the commonality: Riveting from the start both matches featured sensational shot-making, jaw-dropping action in plenty and some sensational play by protagonist/s on both sides

Watched the tennis match on TV and followed the cricket score online. Boy, I never knew following the score could be this exiting and filled with tension πŸ˜€ I had my Sunday morning routine that meant I couldn’t catch the start of tennis match. But I made sure to have the DVR on just before the start of the match so that I could catch up on the action with my son as soon as possible. We started watching the match from the beginning. Son couldn’t resist checking the score and said the match was tied at one set apiece. So, we fast forwarded to the most notable moments of the first two sets and within a few minutes started watching live action. Federer turned back the clock and as usual his play featured sublime strokes and incredible skills that had to be seen to believe. Djokovic was not his usual efficient self, mixing breathtaking returns with unforced errors, grit with with some ordinary serving at times. After 4 sets of action it was locked at 2 sets apiece. I looked outside and in contrast to the well manicured lawns at Wimbledon my lawn needed some work. So, I stepped out at the start of 5th set and instructed my son to give me a holler when it was at a decisive point. After few minutes of trimming the lawn edges I heard my son shout “Dad, it’s 4-2 with Djokovic leading!”. Lawn beckoned but lawn tennis beckoned even more. No prizes for guessing what won πŸ˜€ Expecting the action to not last more than 20-30 minutes I dumped the weed whacker and headed back in. What followed was absolutely sensational. Both the players were trading shots of brilliance that had the spectators at the venue and viewers elsewhere rising to their feet to applaud the warriors laying it all out and refuse to be beaten. Federer was magnificent and making the sublime look very normal but Djokovic showed why he is the #1 now. Despite being outplayed almost the entire match he hung in there and managed to stay on. Federer had his hands firmly on the winner’s trophy and it took an almighty effort from Djokovic to metaphorically snatch the trophy from Federer’s grasp. The great thing about champions is that even when they appear to be outplayed and on the losing side they find inner reserves of strength and determination to do just enough to win. Djokovic managed to just about do that and emerge the winner finally.

Even as I was watching live tennis action I was following the score of cricket world cup final during
changeover and between points. England were struggling to chase a respectable but modest target set by New Zealand. The Englishmen was hanging in desperately trying to not lose wickets and at the same time trying to ensure the required run rate did not get out of hand. The hardy antipodeans as usual were amazing in their resilience and efficiency, using their talent and resourcefulness to the max. As the tennis match ended the cricket final was nearing conclusion too. The ending overs had everything: frenetic action, heroic play (from both sides), oodles of courage, some mistakes induced by tension of the moment and scarcely believable role of Lady Luck. The end of regular play resulted in both sides tied even (a first in Cricket World Cup final). An extra over for each side in the form of overtime ended again in a tie. Ultimately the winner by the team with the most # of boundaries in the game (rough equivalent of team that scores more 3-pointers in NBA being declared winners). England finished as winners on that basis. Hindsight is 20-20, it now appears a fairer rule might have been to continue playing overtime till there was an outright winner.

I am not into cliches but not only did worn out phrases like “The game is the ultimate winner” and
“It’s a pity there could only be one winner, both were winners” not only rang true but sounded profound πŸ™‚ on this day that showcased the very best that sports has to offer!