The Physics of Bodyline

[This post is dedicate to my physics teacher at college, who always encouraged us to find joy in the physics of the everyday. He sadly passed away in 2012.]

The Bodyline series of 1932-33 where England skipper Douglas Jardine employed questionable tactics (at least for that time) of having his quick bowlers, specifically Harold Larwood, bowl bouncers at the body of the Australian batsmen in an attempt to contain them in general and Don Bradman in particular to win the Ashes back, is one of those divisive chapters in cricket that changed definitions of cricketing laws in both letter and spirit.

Newtonian Laws of motion weren't very kind on Australian batsmen in the summer of 1932-33

Newtonian Laws of motion weren’t very kind on Australian batsmen in the summer of 1932-33

However, this post is not about examining the social or cultural impact of Bodyline on the game. (Incidentally, I did that for the website cricking.com here.) This post is about examining the physics of the Bodyline tactics. Because cricket is as much about the laws laid down by the MCC as it is about Newton’s Laws of motion. Bodyline created such an upheaval that not only did purists think bouncers hurled at the batsman’s body at serious velocity would tear apart the fabric of the spirit of cricket, but maybe the more relativistic physics oriented among them feared that a cricket ball delivered close enough to the speed of light would tear a hole into the space-time continuum. As of now, the fastest recorded cricket delivery remains at around 100 miles per hour, thus keeping the current universe intact. But the physics is still interesting.


Technical note: For the sake of the casual reader who does not need the horror of high school physics triggered in them, I will be skipping formulas and calculations for the most part here, focusing on just the fundamentals; however, more technical treatment for similar ideas can be found here and here.


The whole Bodyline tactic, or Fast Leg Theory as Jardine called it rested on the idea of a bowler being able to hurl the cricket ball at a batsman’s body at pace and at an uncomfortable height (somewhere around the chest ideally) with a packed ring of fielders close on the leg side ready to pounce on catches if the batsman fended the delivery poorly with his bat. I checked Jardine’s educational background and he was no physics genius but coincidentally or by design, two key ingredients needed for the physics of this to work came together for him in Australia that summer. To understand why, we first need a quick primer on cricket balls, their speed and their bounce and something called the coefficient of restitution (COR). Don’t worry, it might sound science-y, but it really means ‘bouncebackability’ of the ball.

A cricket ball is delivered with force (generated by the bowler’s run up, his arm movement and wrist action) on to the pitch (i.e. the playing surface) and then it bounces on its way to the batsman. How high it bounces and how fast it goes depends on its COR which is basically the ratio of the velocity at which the ball is hurled on to the ground (let’s call it vg) and the velocity at which bounces off the pitch (let’s call that vp)

[For you formula nuts, that translates to COR = vp /vg]

The surface plays an important part in what the COR is like. Higher the COR (i.e. closer that ratio is to ‘1’) the more the ball will bounce up; the lower the COR, the less it will bounce. In 2011 at the International conference of mechanical engineering research, Adil Haron and K A Ismail presented a paper titled “Coefficient of Restitution of Sports Balls: A normal drop test” where they detailed results of a vertical drop test they conducted on two different surfaces – wood and steel – with four types of sports balls – golf, table tennis, hockey and cricket. The golf ball showed consistently high COR (bounced a lot and with almost the same velocity that it was dropped at; the drop height varied from 1.2m to 1.8m) regardless of surface, though as expected it bounced back up less and slower on wood than it did on steel. Its COR was about 0.8. In similar experiments, the COR of a tennis ball was found to be 0.75. Cricket ball’s COR? On the steel surface around 0.6 and on wood around 0.35. On a cricket pitch, a reasonable assumption is that the COR would be around 0.5. So, the only thing you need to remember right now is that the ball will leave the pitch at about half the speed it was delivered at.

The second piece of this puzzle is the delivery speed. At the page on the University of Sydney website called ‘The Physics Of Cricket’ they mention that if we drop a cricket ball out of a “helicopter hovering 300m above the ground it will accelerate up to 123km/hr in about 5 seconds falling through about 100m” (the acceleration is due to gravity – the force, not the Sandra Bullock movie). It will fall through the rest of the 200m without accelerating any further because the drag force of the air that pushes the ball up balances gravity which is pulling it down, thus hitting the ground at 123km/hr or the approximate speed of a Bhuvaneshwar Kumar delivery or a Wahab Riaz delivery circa 2008. Now unless you are Mohammed Irfan delivering the ball while stacked on top of Ishant Sharma standing on a step ladder that is on an elevated platform on the Qutub Minar, it is impossible to ‘vertically’ drop the ball on to a cricket pitch.

Thus it is delivered at an angle in between being perpendicular to the pitch (90 degrees) and parallel (horizontal) to the pitch, so rather than have a vertical or drop velocity it will have an angular velocity (which is a mix of the ball’s horizontal velocity component and vertical velocity component). The angle of delivery also affects the COR, and on a typical surface the COR would drop somewhat but for simplicity’s sake we will continue with the nice, semi-round number that is 0.5.

There are just a couple of final things to consider before we dive into the final calculations of how a cricket ball turns into a weapon of intimidation. First the mass of the cricket ball. A cricket ball, if you recall an infamous sledge from Greg Thomas of Glamorgan to Viv Richards after he had played and missed at a couple of his deliveries, “is red, round and weighs about five and a half ounces, in case you are wondering”1 That’s about 160 grams (an ounce is 29 grams approx). Lastly, there is air resistance that creates drag force on the ball when delivered horizontally or at an angle. At usual bowling angles, the ball slows down by about 10-12% on delivery, i.e. the speed with which it hits the pitch is that much slower as compared to the speed at which it leaves the bowler’s hand.

And now for our finale, let’s welcome into the studio, the great Seventeenth Century cricket pundit and all round scientist, Sir Isaac Vivian Richards Newton. Newton’s second law of motion was about how much force a body would have when in motion based on its mass and its acceleration.

[Hi formula nuts, you surely remember the formula Force = mass X acceleration]

That force plays an important part in the intimidation of batsman, but more on that in just a bit. Here’s the thing – the bowler delivers the ball with a certain acceleration (depending on his action and strength – think Micthell Johnson vs Stuart Binny – and the higher the acceleration the more would be the force (the mass being constant). So to strike fear in the hearts of the batsmen, the bowler needs to be able to apply a fairly large acceleration in a short amount of time; maybe impart enough speed to beat Stuart and his dad’s delivery speeds combined.

In 1932-33, Jardine consciously or unconsciously solved this part of the problem by scouting Harold Larwood to be his main man to implement the Leg Theory. Larwood bowled at speeds (i.e. the speed at which the ball left his hand) of almost 100 mph, much faster than almost all bowlers, so could whip in that extra bit of acceleration needed as per Newton’s second law’s equation.

But once released, remember the ball hits the pitch and loses velocity, partly due to the air resistance and partly due to the COR. Nevile Cardus, one of the greatest cricket writers to have ever lived, observed that Jardine may have succeeded because he got an assist from the COR of the pitches in Australia that summer. He wrote:

“For years and years, the Australian turf in good weather has been all against the rising fast ball…Even MacDonald could not bump the ball breast high is Australia…(but) Australian wickets today (i.e. at the time of that series) are not what they were: different soil is used in preparing them. This enables the…fast bowler to “lift” more than formerly.”

That ‘lift’ was because of a higher COR on the new surfaces – think of it as shifting from wood to steel in that vertical drop test. Incidentally in that paper the authors mention in the introduction that ball-surface interaction can have a great “effect on the style of play adopted by players” and even affect “the outcome of a match”. Or, as was in the case in 1933, the outcome of the Ashes.

So, finally this brings us to the Force. (The Newtonian variety, not the George Lucas variety.) Once the cricket ball has been delivered at a speed close to 160 kmph (100 mph) it will lose about 40% of its speed thanks to our friends, the COR and air resistance, but still reach the batsman in less than half a second. So, when a Shane Warne raves on air about Mitchell Johnson getting a ball past a batsman at 90 miles an hour, he is plain wrong, it is more like 60 miles an hour; still fast enough and deadly though, as we will soon find out.

A tall bowler will deliver at an angle close to about 60 degrees and the delivery will pitch and thanks to the jiggery-pokery of angular velocity and momentum, leave the pitch at a slightly lower angle (what they call ‘skiddish bounce’ in the comm. Box or studio analysis) but have enough distance to travel so that the arc takes it into the rib cage or the head of the batsman. That’s why the bowler has to bowl ‘short’, that is closer to his end of the pitch than the batsman’s. The vertical speed a cricket ball gets when dropped from about a 2m height is about 6.3 meters/second and after bouncing it becomes about 3.6 meters/second accounting for the slowdown because of COR. A bowler will bowl it also at similar speeds. Even with a COR of 0.5 and air resistance, our cricket ball will gather a lot of momentum (mass X velocity) as it leaves the pitch and heads towards the batsman. At the other end the ball will either come into contact with the bat, zip through to the keeper or hit the batsman if he is in the way or too late in getting out of the way.

The moment it hits something, there will be a ‘transfer of momentum’ (momentum of the colliding body i.e. the ball will transfer onto the body it collides with, say, the batsman) and the force with which it hits will depend on the change in velocity i.e. the acceleration of the ball. Usually when it hits a dead bat or the body of the batsman, for all purposes practical, the ball comes to a complete halt. That is pretty rapid reverse acceleration; think of it as what happens a car going from 60 to 0 in 3 seconds but only in case of the ball it is 8,000 to 10,000 times faster because all of it happens in the fraction of a second, about 0.001 to be precise.

That exerts a force of 8000 Newtons (N) [basic calculation of force = mass X acceleration], enough to lift a small car off the ground. Even at the reduced speed, that’s a lot of concentrated force. Which is why it is so dangerous to get hit by the ball2 – Bert Oldfield’s skull suffered a fracture when he was hit by a Larwood delivery, Chris Rogers suffered a bad blow to the back of his head during the recent Ashes Test match at Lord’s from a Jimmy Anderson delivery, and we all know the tragedy that befell Philip Hughes.

While the laws of physics are universally constant, as a tennis player, Devashish Joshi, who is on the Caltech team that competes in the College tennis circuit in the US and has members who are incredibly smart with rattling off physics equations and quick calculations, put it “I never think about science when playing.” That’s because out there in the middle, there is too little time to do all the calculations. Indeed, during the Bodyline series, Jardine’s tactics hit upon a fortuitous mix of the right physics in the right conditions and became important in winning the Ashes back, but it’s preposterous to think that he methodically put the pieces together with a copy of Principia Mathematica in his hand.

  1. Viv, as usual, had the last laugh by hammering Thomas’s next delivery out of the ground and replying “Greg, you know what it looks like, now go and find it.”
  2. In fact, the force is dangerous even at way more reduced speeds. I was casually bowling in the nets once to a friend of mine and got one delivery to rear up from a good length and it hit him on the ribs. I am barely 100 pounds and hardly generate any express pace but the next day I found out, my friend had suffered a fractured rib!

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WHY I BECAME A HINGIS FAN AGAIN

"It ain't about how hard you hit..."

“It ain’t about how hard you hit…”

When she first emerged on the professional tennis scene, Martina Hingis was an immediate sensation. I remember dabbling with putting together a sports magazine every week as a hobby project (this was 1996/97, i.e. back in the 20th Century, and the internet was still scientific jargon and phones had to be fixed on a corner shelf in the house) and one of the first ever covers I made was a photograph of a beaming Hingis, holding the 1997 Australian Open trophy, cut out of the newspaper and I put the clichéd headline ‘The Swiss Miss’ beside it. Inside, I had a lead story about her first Grand Slam triumph in Melbourne (at 16 years and 3 months she had just become the youngest Grand Slam champion in the 20th Century) and a single page feature on the tennis player destined to become a future great.

But things were to turn out very differently for the Czechoslovakia born naturalized Swiss tennis star and for my fandom of her. At a time when Steffi Graf and Monica Seles were slowly fading away the tennis world was screaming out for a new star and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Hingis was born to be that replacement. Born to tennis crazed parents, who named her after THE famous Czech tennis star – Martina Navratilova – she held a racquet at age two, entered her first tournament at four and was a pro by the time she turned 14. She won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon at the age of 15 years and 9 months (in 1995) – the youngest of all time – partnering with Helena Sukova and winning the ladies doubles at The Championships. She won the singles title at Wimbledon in 1997, a year when she also added the US Open title to her tally along with my magazine featured triumph Down Under. She would go on to be the No. 1 ranked female tennis player in the world for 209 weeks and land another handful of Slam titles and finals. But my wide eyed wonder at that flashy smile, the quick movement around the court, the clever strokeplay and smart tennis began to wane triggered specifically by the final at Roland Garros in 1999.

She was a set up and three points away from victory against Steffi Graf in the final of the only Slam she was yet to win when she suffered an epic meltdown. Part of it was over frustration at a line judge call about which she had a nasty exchange of words with the umpire, part of it was the unforgiving Roland Garros crowd and how they reacted to her behavior, which, in her defence was mostly teenage petulance. She broke down and went on to even serve underhanded (if you want a sense of what an affront that is in pro tennis, the cricket equivalent would be Trevor Chappell’s underarm delivery against New Zealand when the Kiwis needed 6 runs off 1 ball) and finally lost the match. It left a very bad taste because she wasn’t being very generous to her opponents – including Graf, who she had dissed before the French Open saying “her time has passed” – in the press. She often made abrasive and insensitive statements, perhaps an unrefined verbal manifestation of the fierce competitive fire that burned inside her.

That fire, sadly, would burn her out as the new power tennis brigade led by the Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters and others began to leave her behind. I pretty much ceased being a fan of Hingis at that point. My loyalties had always been with Graf, and after the Roland Garros incident, I did not think Hingis would ever endear herself to me as a tennis fan again.

Meanwhile, troubled by injuries she called it quits in 2003, at just 22. Then, in 2006, she made a comeback to the pro tour and picked up a title in Rome (she was, incidentally beaten by a young Sania Mirza at Seoul) and clawed her way back into the World Top 10, ending the year at No. 7. I was still a disinterested former fan. Disinterest turned to disgust when in late 2007 it was revealed that she was being investigated by the ITF for testing positive for traces of cocaine. She was handed a two year ban. The little girl who would chase every ball down, unleash backhands when her opponent least suspected it and hustle at every point seemed to have just given up and let it go. Why should I even care about her at this point? We expect our sporting idols to be Gods; but idols often have feet made out of clay.

By 2009, Hingis was ticking all the boxes in the ‘former celebrity desperately trying to cash in on past glory’ playbook as she participated in a couple of reality shows (the high profile one among them was of course her much publicized stint on “Dancing With The Stars” where she was voted out after the first week) and playing the occasional exhibition and invitational match. Her personal life was creaky too as she racked up a list of high profile relationships that flamed out. She married in 2010 but the marriage was soon on the rocks supposedly because Hingis cheated on her husband and there was a lot of acrimony between Thibault Hutin (her husband) and her mother, who had been her first coach and constant companion in her tennis journey. The couple separated in 2013. Amidst all this, she returned to doubles tennis and even won the invitational doubles at Wimbledon but I took almost no notice, to be honest. I had stopped paying attention since the 2007 ban.

I noticed Hingis back on court after she announced her pairing for women’s doubles with Sania Mirza. I have always followed Mirza’s career and more so since her smart pivot in 2009 at becoming a doubles player only to both prolong and enrich her career which worked very well. I’ll leave the technicals aside of how these two make a complementary pair on the court. But what struck me was Hingis’ body language. She looked relaxed and truly enjoying the game. She would flash that trademark smile almost after every point regardless of whether it was a great volley she had pulled off at the net for a winner or an embarrassing error from her or her partner. She would hustle for the point, giving us glimpses of the Hingis of old who moved so fluidly across the court. And I spotted flashes of that backhand that was so well known. After all she had been through – the multiple cycles of rise and fall from grace, the public scrutiny, the moral outrage – she had somehow found tranquility in the same endevaour she at one point absolutely loved and also the endeavour that threw a young girl into flaming mess that instant stardom usually fuels.

Is she seeking redemption through the tennis she is playing now? I don’t know. But watching her through Wimbledon 2015 where she has been stellar in her doubles title victory with Sania Mirza and her mixed doubles matches with Leander Paes has made me a fan again. She doesn’t have the perfect discipline of a Roger Federer, the open earnestness of an Andy Murray, the imposing record of a Serena Williams, the humility of a Rafael Nadal. She is pushing 35. (She once dropped her second doubles partner Jana Novotna saying she was “too old and too slow”.) So, what is there to root for her?

Maybe it is a way for making up for the unreasonable expectations everyone (yours truly included) had of her when she burst on to the scene 20 years ago. Maybe it’s a way of reconciling our own imperfections as we see someone emerge from them and kindle some kind of a hope for redemption, when about 8 years ago she seemed destined for a life in the former celebrity wilderness wacko zone that, say, a Britney Spears inhabits. There may be a million things wrong with the trajectory Hingis’ career and personal life have followed so far. As the great Rocky Balboa told us:

The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!

Watching Hingis on Saturday night as she squeals in delight and jumps in joy as he rushes to hug Sania Mirza realizing she just won at Wimbledon again after 17 long years gives you some kind of rush; the kind that comes from seeing a fallen champion make an effort to rise.

Go Martina! I’ll be at your corner. Cheering.

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MAD MAXES: THE FURY ROAD RUNNERS

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Valar Gelyni. Which, translated from it original High Valyrian means “All (wo)men must finish.” Ok, I just made that up. But to participate in and conquer a road race like Bangaloreans do with aplomb each year at the World 10K does require you to have the a training scheme to rival the planning acumen of Littlefinger, a contempt for laziness rivalling Cersei Lannister, a determination to overcome every weakness a la Tyrion Lannister, the adaptability to the conditions of a Jamie Lannister and the gumption and ambition of Arya Stark. And still, despite your best laid plains vetted by Lord Varys himself, the moment your shoe sole hits the tarmac, the course seems to scream back at you – ‘You know nothing, Jon Snow!’

Whether you are a seasoned runner who has been training in the punishing heat in Delhi, or a regular at Cubbon Park who decided that for a change this Sunday, let’s put on a bib with a number on it and run with 25,000 others or the casual runner who is testing waters or the hipster who was just told ‘You know what is cooler than a hipster beard? Running with a hipster beard!’ all of us have our reasons to run. I have been a part of this race since its inception in 2008 and have seen it grow tremendously. Yet, everytime I walk into the holding area before the race I get a distinct vibe that everyone is just as agog as they were during their first time. It gets me everytime, like some familiar movie trope that always makes you smile or brings a twinkle to your eye.

Last year, at the starting line Carl Lewis, the race ambassador (this year’s was Marie Jose Perec) flagged us off and waved at every Open 10K participant as we crossed the start marker. If someone had told me back in 1988 when one afternoon I strained to listen to the radio in my grandparents’ courtyard, trying to follow the Seoul Olympics 100 meters race, that I would be flagged off by Carl Lewis in a road race about a quarter of a century later I certainly would not have believed them. I had never considered running seriously until I gave it a go at this World 10K and its infectious enthusiasm brought to the course by its tireless and genial participants keeps bringing me back each year.

Raceday dawns each year with a mixture of dread and anticipation, both not great things if you like your stomach area mostly knot free. This year, given as it was Steven Gerrard’s last game at Anfield, I had stayed up past midnight to watch the match (a poor Liverpool defeat). The race was to start at 6am and we had to report at 5:30. The result was barely four hours of sleep, not the best of preparation for a task requiring physical and mental fortitude next morning. But then I remembered that even Sachin Tendulkar had not slept too well the night before the game against Pakistan at the World Cup in 2003.

I was at the venue by 5 and decided to do a limbering up walk around the stadium. And by limbering walk around the stadium I mean ‘had to walk around the stadium twice like an idiot because I reached my designated gate too early, then took a detour and entered a restricted zone and missed the location of the gate on my second approach’. Nonetheless without much further incident I had reached my designated holding area just in time for the official warm up that the Nike Run Club people were making everyone go through. It was like being back in physical education in school, the only difference was that at school we usually started at 4:30 am.

I had spent a good part of the last year and a half in the United States as a Graduate student. That meant I was mostly sedentary and had absolutely zero preparation or practice for this race. But as the warm up went on I felt better about myself by the second. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing and it was my only hope to clocking a respectable time in this race. But before I talk about timings, I would like to draw your attention back to the opening fake Valyrian phase I cooked up. A race’s beauty lies in the fact that you are essentially competing against yourself and the course, much like golf. And unlike golf there is no par score to be reached. Before you set any goals for any race, the simplest one you set is to finish the race. Regardless of your timing, the feeling that comes over you as you cross over the finish line, to the applause and encouragement of strangers around who are totally emotionally invested in seeing you leap over the line, is incredible. I would run a 100 miles for that one moment. Today, we only had to run 6.3.

The race started at exactly the designated time of 6am and as I trudged out sandwiched between other runners in a crowded corner with the DJ’s music blaring I remembered that I would be without my most important motivator this year – my playlist. I had lost my iPod and had no music on my phone; it was as if they had decided to have no water stations at the race this year, that’s how much my playlist was a part of my races. Nonetheless I labored on and in the early part was delighted with the pace I was setting, keeping right up with the pace setter who was carrying the 55 minute marker and flag. Overnight rains had meant the weather was the most pleasant I remember in all 8 races since ’08 and that meant everyone was running at a great pace. As spirits began to flag a little around the 2km mark, motivation was easy to find in the form of the tireless and selfless spectators egging us on. Or if that wasn’t enough you only had to look around at fellow runners. One had a ‘Runner for Life’ tattoo on his right calf, another was wearing the national flag across his chest where the bib usually is (his bib was pinned to the back of his t shirt). And there were tons of motivating messages – “Leave your devils behind, outrun them”, “Run like you stole it”, “Only runners have real balls, others just play with them”, “Hanes. Tag free comfort.” Ok, that last one may not have been a motivation message.

By the 4km mark I was feeling rather good as to how my feet were settling in a rhythm and I was on track to finish with a good time. I took a gulp of water and as I turned around to throw the bottle away, I saw someone diminutive with a fair complexion just whizz past me. I must have seen the guy in a movie or six. And he plays rugby too. I could barely believe it. I was keeping pace with Rahul friggin Bose! But the feeling of that high did not last long as the star of such classics like ‘Pyaar Ke Side Effects’ ‘Mr & Mrs Iyer’ left me way behind in the next half a kilometer as I began to slow down a bit in that dead zone of a 10k race just past the halfway mark. I was still going steady, but steadily slower. Around the 7km mark is when tiredness really sets in for a non regular runner like me and the temptation is greatest to just give up. (I call it the Seven Kilometer itch) But then I look around at fellow runners who are always there with a kind word and encouragement if they see you losing steam. (If we always behaved like we do during this race, the world would instantly approach utopia.) And I remember Steven Gerrard and how commentators in his Anfield farewell game pointed out that if he is to be remembered by one quality it is that he never gave up. I soldier on and receive a boost from the riffs a live band at the 7km marker is playing. I applaud them and move on crossing the 8km marker soon.

Last time there was a puddle of water just past that point and there was no way around it. We all had to run into the water like we were on commando training. Thankfully this time, it is way smoother as I round the bend that takes me into the final kilometer. The pace is just a tad behind my target of an hour thanks to my slowdown between 6 and 7 km but it’s still good. I search for a pacemaker to match my strides with and find myself side by side with a tall and hefty middle aged Australian. (Not Tom Moody.) He & I amble almost synchronized across the finish line and that high comes over again. The one that tells you that you could have given up but you didn’t. The one that tells you that in a race you should always remember Aristotle’s line ‘Don’t be afraid of going slow; be afraid of sanding still.’

At the recovery zone another Australian Shaun tells the TV interviewer this is his personal best. Then he adds with a laugh ‘Of course it’s easy to get your personal best when it’s your first race.’ You will never see grumpy faces past the finish line, everyone seemed to be smiling. That is what attracts me back to this race every time. I exchange times with another friend who is running. Both of us realize the official timing is about a couple of minutes higher than what we times ourselves at. But at this point it doesn’t really matter. As I go towards the counters to collect the refreshments and the finishers medal I help a few people capture their moment of glory as they pose for photos as finishers. The calf muscles ache and feel tight but I feel lightheaded, almost floating. As I bite into the apple in the refreshments bag I remember one banner I saw along the route. It said “In it for the banana.” In a Minion (of Despicable Me fame) sense I would completely agree. The Minions are at their productive best and happiest when they have a purpose (unfortunately their purpose involves serving an evil master). The same way running helps you focus reminding you that we are all in it for our own versions of the banana. And we are all in it together to gee each other across the finish line. And that spirit makes this Bangalore World 10K so very special.

Once again this year that spirit was on show; Bangalore ran as it always has at this race. Unbent. Unbowed. Unbroken.

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THE SPARK PLUG & THE LIGHTNING ROD

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I have been a Liverpool supporter since 1997, a year before Steven Gerrard made his debut. I have watched him every year since, often in awe, as he became the marshall of Liverpool’s midfield, keeper of the Kop’s spirit, the highest calibration on the passion and intensity meter. (He went all the way upto Eleven.)

On this day, as he says goodbye to Anfield, I am not here to write a paean to him. I don’t have the coherence of thought or the requisite vocabulary. There are millions of others who will write those. I am writing this because somewhere I had to document what Steven Gerrard meant to me as a Liverpool fan. And a football fan.

His spectacular free kicks and goals and obvious inspirational leadership apart, what I have always been in awe of is the weight on his passes. They were wickedly precise and measured – always the mark of the best schemers and midfielders in history (Cruyff, Maradona, Messi). But beyond that I know very little of football technicalities to say anything meaningful or insightful. Gerrard’s presence on the pitch was always a galvanizing moment for Liverpool when it needed that moment of inspired brilliance; he always was ready to give it his all.

From his autobiography you get the distinct impression of a proud man who was always confident about his ability and always proud about his loyalty. Those who look for the irony in that he is leaving the club that he was supposed to have retired from have to consider that this season his pride in his ability made him reconsider the loyalty side of it. Gerrard is not someone who can do this inspiring thing from behind the scenes and in the background. He needs to be in the thick of the action.

For a decade and a half he has been the spark plug that has brought to life the spluttering engine that Liverpool have often been. He loves the electricity that flows through his veins as the becomes the cynosure of home and opposition fans alike. Many think he is a media darling, overhyped as England’s greatest midfielder. Many point out his lack of Premier League accolades. Many conflate the man with the team and the team with the man. That’s how powerful a talisman he became. For opposition fans he is a lightning rod – their frustrations often directed at him not because, say, he beat their team but because of some level of resentment as to how someone could be that ridiculously good.

He is not a saint in footballing terms but despite the lows, he always will be an incredibly inspiring sight on a football field. He bleeds for football, to be able to own the stage he marches in. That has always been his driving force, that has been the secret behind inspiring his team mates. If you had ever been to Anfield during a Liverpool game and Gerrard was on the pitch you would hear his mates on the field receiving a earful from their captain for every poor tackle, for every misplaced pass. In the movie ‘Iqbal’ there is a line Naseeruddin Shah says to Shreyas Talpade “Jab dil aur dimag ek hoke khelte hain to fark nahi padta dimag kaun sa hai aur dil kaun sa” (When your heart and your head play in unison, it doesn’t matter what is driven by heart and what by your head.). Gerrard took the game to that level where the spark plug began to operate off the lightning rod.

With a player like Gerrard you do not talk about regrets, because he always did it his way with his team as the paramount consideration. He and his team fell short many times, but the intensity of the man each time he took the field never did. Adoration brings its own admonishments. Expectations sow the seeds of discontent. But here is the thing about Gerrard – even his most hard core fans will find it hard to switch clubs and loyalties once he moves to LA because as you watched him, he did not pass on to you his spirit, he passed on the team’s spirit. He is a Liverpool Legend, born, bred and forged in Liverpool. You, dear Stevie G fan, will find that you can take Steven Gerrard out of Liverpool FC but can’t take Liverpool FC out of you. And no matter whose side you are on, you will miss the spark plug. And the lightning rod.

You’ll Never Walk Alone, Stevie.

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10Y OF T20

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February 17, 2015 marked an important date in the life of cricket’s most nascent form – Twenty20 international cricket completed ten years on that day. The format has exploded and caught the public imagination thanks to the Indian victory at the inaugural T20 World Cup and the consequent invention of the IPL, now in its eighth season. But what of those more innocent times when T20 still had that new format smell and Mohammed Asif was still playing cricket? I present to you an article I had written about the format & its coming World Cup for The Sunday Indian magazine in September 2007. It is always fascinating to see what we thought then, and what came to pass.

Would You Like Fries With The Cricket? By Tareque Laskar

There was a time when getting to 300 runs in a 50 over limited overs cricket match was considered a towering task. Now, as recently as last week a Sri Lankan, Dhanuka Pathirana, smashed the last remaining reservations with a mind numbing 277 off 72 balls (29 sixes and 18 fours) helping his side Austerlands (a minor county in Lancashire’s Saddleworth league) to 366-3 in 20, yes twenty overs! That, in short, is the frenzy of the latest brand of cricket to hit the international block—the ever exciting truncated form known as Twenty20. And the frenzy builds up to a crescendo as we approach the inaugural Twenty20 world cup in South Africa, featuring 12 teams. As you read this, the excitement would have begun to unfold in the fast paced and action packed world of the brave new frontier of cricket playing itself out on the gorgeous grounds in South Africa. Coming as it does only a mere 4 and half months after the ‘real’ world cup, the tournament is whipping up rapture and resentment in equal measure. Experts are split down the middle between those who see it as indulging in excess despite a packed international calendar, and those who consider Twenty20 as the format of the future. The fans wait with an equal measure of anticipation and apathy. There are ones who can’t get enough of the big hitting and the others who feel it’s a travesty of the game. And the analogies don’t seem to stop—the McDonaldisation of cricket, they have called it. And if One Day cricket earned the nickname ‘Pajama Cricket’ Navjot Sidhu called Twenty20 ‘underwear cricket’!

At the time of writing, the number of Twenty20 internationals held stood at a mere 19 since the first match (a fun and frolic filled hit about at Eden Park in Auckland between Australia and New Zealand) back in 2005. Originally a county innovation implemented in 2003 by the England and Wales cricket board that met with rousing success (fulfilling the administrators’ mission to broaden the audience and rekindle fan interest in the county game), the format only grudgingly gained international acceptance.

But soon, it was on its way to becoming serious stuff. England took their Twenty20 match against Australia very seriously in the summer of 2005 and their win turned a remarkable summer on its head as they went on to reclaim the Ashes. India too have had a taste of Twenty20, though only once against South Africa which ended in a win. And if you take a look at the squads of the 12 teams at the competition (10 full ICC members by invitation and the associates went through a qualifying process), the youth factor is prominent. Twenty20 has become ideal grooming ground for youngsters (Zee with its proposed Indian Cricket League also envisions the same, though so far mostly retirees have signed up) both technically as well as psychologically to steel them to face the pressures of bigger games.

Although underestimated, the cerebral aspect of the game in T20 cannot be ignored. The thinking will be pushed to a whole new dimension lending new meaning to the phrase ‘thinking on your feet’. And of course, the regular cricket skills will have to be sharper (hence the youth) especially fielding which most experts reckon will be the thin line dividing the good teams from the great teams in the T20 arena. The craftsmen most under duress would be the bowlers who will be put to the sword as dashing batsmen go hell for leather. But bowlers, especially high impact ones like a Shoaib Akhtar or Mohammed Asif (who’s bowled the only T20 maiden so far) can still swing things with a quick wicket or two. Expecting the batsmen to go after the bowling with a mixture of extravagant and inventive shots would be par for the course, but those who can do it with chutzpah will emerge the batting stars at the tournament.

Whether Twenty20 becomes the new global face of cricket or remains a fad, only time will tell. We do not know as yet if this form becomes a force to reckon with or is reduced to a farce, but one thing is for sure—it’s like the quintessential Hollywood summer blockbuster; leave your intellect behind, fasten your seat belts and get ready to enjoy some blazing action!

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VOX AUREUM

"Put your brain into gear and if you can add to what's on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up."

“Put your brain into gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up.”

I first heard Richie Benaud during the 1991/92 tri series between India, West Indies and Australia in Australia. A few days later I heard him in a rerun of the 1975 World Cup final. I remember being amazed at how long he had been commentating and the fact that he sounded virtually the same seventeen years on. His voice had a mesmeric quality, a silky smoothness that wine tasters will claim only the finest vintages have. Amidst the unfolding cacophony that a cricket game could often be, his narration provided almost meditative pause, never looking to force the action at you, but always setting up context that you as a viewer sometimes wanted but did not exactly crave every ball.

Benaud was the only commentator whose silences added more to the action than his utterances because he knew how to use the pause and silence to great effect. That didn’t mean he wasn’t quick with a turn of phrase or did not possess a sharp wit. But he always, like the devoted cricket fanatic he was in all senses, deferred to the game in the middle. His measured tone and grandparently twinkle in the voice that everyone of the current generation remembers seem to run contrary to the narrative of him being a risk taking captain (Australia never lost a series under him) and cricketer (a fine legspinner, at that). But perhaps having played the game, he knew exactly the distance he had to accord to it as a chronicler to let people soak the visuals. During the 1992 World Cup final, when Wasim Akram’s scorcher cleaned up Alan Lamb, only Benaud could have come up with a line so beautiful in its banality – “Left arm round the wicket…Alan Lamb has been cleaned up and so too, perhaps, England.” Rightfully, he let the moment have its own limelight. Thankfully Rameez Raja was on the field playing, and on field cricketers would not be miked up till about 20 years later.

When he was on the mike, Richie Benaud was not watching the game to you; he was watching the game with you. That realization came to me as I was watching the 1996 World Cup. India were playing the West Indies at Gwalior and Azhar just introduced the offspinner Aashish Kapoor as Shivnaraine Chanderpaul looked threatening. The over began and as Kapoor delivered his first ball, there was silence on air. Chanderpaul was dismissed. Azhar completed the catch. Chanderpaul started his walk back. Benaud just said “And he’s got one, straightaway.” The pithiness and succinctness of it all was mind boggling to me. The moment was not the most crucial one in the game, let alone the tournament, yet it sits easily accessible in my bank of memories precisely because the commentator on air let me experience that for myself before he came in. I always marveled at how he would keep quiet during a glorious shot and then offer about four precisely measured words in praise of the shot.

My next important Benaud tryst was when I tried the videogame Brian Lara Cricket. Many things about the game did not feel cricket-y enough to impress me, except one thing – Richie Benaud’s voice. The moment he’d describe even the most ridiculous cheat-code aided six you hit, the cricket would suddenly feel brilliantly authentic.

And my most recent admiration of him comes from digging up some archival footage on YouTube of Kapil Dev’s famous running catch to dismiss Vivian Richards in the 1983 World Cup final. In a game that was seminal for India and maybe one day cricket, Kapil’s catch was the seminal moment. Benaud’s description of it was classically Benaud. “Shot…” he said as Viv ferociously pulled a short one from Madan Lal and then paused as the camera panned to midwicket and a running Kapil, who slowed down, adjusted and caught the ball just over his shoulder. Still silence. Kapil celebrates and Benaud completes his sentence with the post-hoc correction “…not so good”.

Much as the commentary box has been richer for a Bill Lawry’s enthusiasm and a Tony Grieg’s unbridled joy, nothing says warmth and fondness like Benaud’s ‘Good Morning, Everyone’. And nothing ever will.

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IN THE HEAT OF THE HOT TAKE

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In my time in the United States as a Graduate student, I became familiar with a style of American sports analysis that was called the ‘hot take’. A hot take was essentially a viewpoint idiosyncratic to a pundit or a talking head on the panoply of channels on talk radio or on television in programs like ESPN’s ‘Around The Horn’ which used to usually idly play in the background during most afternoons I was home. The ‘experts’ on these programs would talk about players, teams and coaches discussing endlessly what they thought of their latest performance or failure. Some segments specifically put the pundits in the spot to express his or her viewpoint one way or another, often right after something has happened – say a fancied team lost a playoff game – giving them no time or chance to reasonably and critically analyze the event.

The hot take is a much derided style among those who care about things like facts, data, objectivity and sanity. After India’s semifinal loss to eventual champions Australia at the World Cup last week, the hot take syndrome hit right home when one of the major Indian cable news channels, Times Now, (owned by the same group who owns The Typo Times Of India) started viciously crticizing the team in general and captain M S Dhoni on particular for the defeat and branded their bit of analysis, as is their wont with most stories they cover, with a banal and stupid Twitter hashtag. The hashtag #ShamedInSydney did not go down well with grieving fans coming to terms with a hard loss to a tough opponent.

An exit from a major tournament for a fairly talented team will always attract post mortem, some of the criticism will be justified, some just rants and hot takes. You don’t usually expect mainstream media to go the way of hot takes and that is the line Times Now crossed. Most of their criticism went ad hominem, attacking or example, Dhoni’s purported lack of emotion after the loss. But most hot takes work because they find some support among some segment of fans. In this case the uproar against the hot take was instantaneous and there was virtual consensus.

The casualty as usual was the idea of a measured and objective debate and critique of where India may have gone wrong in that game. This is a worrying trend, not because we need to eliminate armchair fans debating their team (it is one of the quirks of sport that keeps it so exciting and entertaining), but because it begins to erase the line between vendetta and critique. Lost in the hunt for TRPs, eyeballs and the need for instant incitement and ‘outrage’ is the art of actually having a debate.

I have been watching cricket for over 25 years now. Defeats still hurt. Wins still give me a heady high. I vent frustrations out at the television and social media often during games. And I am acutely aware of how they represent my failings from being an ideal cricket fan. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stand to see the same thing becoming institutionalized. I stopped watching the news almost 15 years back. Maybe you should too.

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