Monday, May 21, 2007

another shoaib post

Here's a well-articulated argument on Five Rupees against Shoaib Akhtar's inclusion in the Pakistan side. Well, far be it from me to shy away from an opportunity for such ripe debate.

I'm not sure I can pick holes in Ahsan's individual arguments per se. In any case, as he says, it's unlikely that either of us will change our opinion. But I can say that I am one of the few remaining Pakistanis who are just not ready to cut the cord. And in this capacity, I have a few points to make:

1. Maybe Shoaib does play 29% of our cricket. But more often than not, when he plays, he delivers. Bear with me while I do a bit of math. If he puts in a great performance 75% of the time he plays, then he delivers on 22% of the days on which Pakistan plays. That is probably more than Razzaq and both our openers put together.

I watch cricket to be excited. To feel it in my gut when a Pakistani shatters an Aussie's stumps, for example. And no bowler, as you mention, has been able to make me feel that more effectively than Shoaib over the past 10 years. If 29 out of every 100 days of cricket I watch is exciting, then so be it. It's better than the tepid half-ass way our team usually plays (the recent two-game streak excluded).

2. Yes, Shoaib is a prima donna. Yes, he has had problems with drugs. And yes he has, for lack of a better word, grown somewhat corpulent over the years. I have made this point before, but to me that sounds a lot like Shane Warne, minus the match-fixing allegations. Besides, isn't it the job of captain and coach to tame stupidity and bring it in line? Perhaps we need to focus on good leadership, rather than hoping for a team that is easy to lead.

3. The unfortunate reality is that none of our current players is about the nuts and bolts of the game. A simple look at our fielding will attest to that. What has plagued Pakistan most since Imran gave up the captaincy is a lack of focus on the nitty gritty of the game, and an over-reliance on talent. We have seen repeatedly with this team that talent can only take you so far. Can any of us say with a straight face that Inzamam was an "athlete"?

4. We may not have issues with his supposed playboy lifestyle, but sadly, (and as much as I am an Inzi fan) I suspect that this is a large part of why Inzamam took offense at his presence. I believe that the team is a perfect microcosm, a scale replica, if you will, of the rest of the country. What we see could be Shoaib taking out his frustrations at this ideological divide. Of course, nobody can be sure, but I do know this much: If I were kicked out of my job because I liked playing Grand Theft Auto in my free time, for example, I would be pretty frustrated too.

Friday, May 18, 2007

a new look

So Pakistan beat Sri Lanka today. Quite convincingly at the end, but it was a good match all the way through. I have grown so used to supporting the Lankans that at the start of the match I honestly wasn't completely sure who to support. By the middle of the day I had found my loyalties again.

I wasn't quite as impressed with the performance of our team as I was with their attitude. There was a new look about them. They looked fresh, excited, and upbeat. Afridi played an awesome innings, Akmal supported him with his own 50, Asif bowled well, and Malik captained cleverly, changing his bowlers around and setting more aggressive fields than we've become used to seeing from Pakistan.

At the presentation, both Malik and Afridi were relaxed and seemed to be having a good time. There was none of the ritualistic and showy God-thanking and overt deference to the captain. Just 11 guys who won a game and were happy.

There were a couple of mistakes, of course. Some very bad running in particular, and the top order didn't fire as usual, apart from an initial burst from Nazir. But for some reason it all seemed okay. I was happy to support the team wholeheartedly again in a way I haven't for a while.

So is this the beginning of a new era in Pakistan cricket? I don't want to jump to any conclusions just yet, but from this one match it certainly seems possible. Let's just hope it lasts.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

an allegorical account

Here's an article about how the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) has declared Inzamam (the team captain) an out-of-control tyrant who ruled the team with an iron fist and ran it into the ground.

So let me see if I've got the sequence of events straight.

1. You have a traditional governing body (the PCB) that bumbles and fucks around and makes money off its public (cricket fans) without really giving them a whole lot in return (in terms of a better team, improved training facilities).

2. So a man with some authority (the captain) takes matters into his own hands. He gets hardcore, gains the trust of the team and the public, and shuns the governing body.

3. Eventually he gets a little too hardcore for his own good, and starts making some inexplicable decisions. The team suffers, and there is a final showdown as a result of which the fans realize his time is up. This results in mass chaos, at which point the man is shamefully deposed.

4. The traditional governing body screams "I told you so!" The public is placated.

5. More bumbling and fucking around ensue (see point 1).

Sound familiar?

Pakistan zindabad.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

brokeback mountains out of molehills

This post might seem a bit dated by now, but I randomly came across this article in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day and it made me think. As the article exemplifies, it has become common for people to assume that males who do not want to watch the movie Brokeback Mountain are homophobic or "insecure". This is both unfair and erroneous. Has it never occurred to people like Mr. Hartlaub (the author of the piece) that there may be other reasons for some males not wanting to watch the movie than the mere fact that it has a few gay sex scenes?

Think about it. It is a 134-minute-long "tender, complex" love story directed by Ang Lee and based on an Annie Proulx story about cowboys. Now I know three things about my taste in movies: (1) tender, complex love stories, especially 134-minute-long ones, are generally insufferable (see Remains of the Day- enough said); (2) The last movie Ang Lee made was The Hulk; and (3) The Shipping News, the only other movie based on an Annie Proulx work, was boring, meandering, and pointless. Plus, I can’t even pronounce her name. All in all, I would be a complete idiot if I didn’t learn from my mistakes and still watched Brokeback Mountain, when it is a composite of all the types of movies that I just don’t enjoy.

But Brokeback Mountain isn't just a movie, it's a "phenomenon". And that is the genius of it. Making a movie seem more than what it is is a brilliant marketing tool, because it ensures that even people outside your target market will watch it in droves. Yes, many people watched Brokeback Mountain because they like movies like it. But we all know people who watched it because they felt they had to - to show themselves to be "open-minded" or whatever. That is absurd. I shouldn’t have to watch movies to be proving shit to anyone.

And it has nothing to do with the sex scenes. I admit, I (a heterosexual male) am likely to be a bit squeamish about them - I can’t help it. But I was also squeamish about the scene in American History X in which Ed Norton jams a man's head (teeth first) into the curb with his foot. I still half-close my eyes at that scene. Yet, I consider it to be a fantastic film. And what about the scene in Pulp Fiction where Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames are kidnapped, strapped up, and raped by rednecks? As far as I am concerned, that is a far more disconcerting (albeit less explicit) depiction of gay sex. Yet, there are tons of guys (myself included) who would rather watch Pulp Fiction than Brokeback Mountain.

So if you tell me, Mr. Hartlaub, that Brokeback Mountain isn’t just a gay movie, then you should be able to accept that I may still not want to watch it, for reasons other than its depictions of gay men. The fact that you are so quick to judge me for my decision says more about your insecurities than it does about mine.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

world cup woe #6 - cricket at a crossroads

A couple of weeks ago, we (Omar and I) had a few lengthy discussions about why it is that we found this World Cup so boring. It must be understood that we are a pair of die-hard fans who grew up on the game; fans whose earliest cricket-watching memories are those of Imran Khan lifting the coveted trophy in 1992. So if we are left horribly unsatisfied by the sport’s premier event, then how can we expect the Scots and the Dutchmen of the world to chance upon the tournament on TV and suddenly start giving a shit about the sport?

Is it even possible to spread the game of cricket?

Therein lies the strange vicious cycle-esque dilemma. Imagine, for a moment, that the ICC isn’t a money-grubbing pack of wolves, and then ponder its dilemma about the nature of the game itself. Should it try to spread the game to all corners of the world that are even remotely interested, or should it maintain cricket’s status as a strange exclusive club of 9 or 10 countries and leave it at that?

Here’s the catch. The more countries the ICC tries to include, the more boring the World Cup, and the more frustrated people like us get. And the fewer countries it includes, the more it alienates the rest of the world.

Where does this leave ODI cricket?

ODI cricket is at a funny stage in its life. A stage at which it needs to decide its identity once and for all. If it is to stick around, then countries need to be granted ODI status the same way they are given test status, otherwise it is just making it more painful for the rest of us. Besides, just because these teams are in the World Cup doesn’t mean their countries are watching. Take a survey of Canadians and ask them if they even know about their 3 Cricket World Cup appearances. Then ask them how proudly they all watched their team get knocked out in the first round of their only FIFA World Cup. For that matter, Pakistan has won four Hockey World Cups and I’ve never seen a single hockey match from start to finish.

So the way to win these countries over is not to invite them to a boring party, but to leave them at the window looking in on a proverbial bash and trying desperately to get fake IDs. Cricket is an unusually technical game, and the closest it has ever come to being accessible to the casual viewer is twenty20. And let's face it, twenty20 is the only form of the sport that is likely to spread to countries that don’t currently play the game.

Can twenty20 be cricket's savior?

The immense popularity of 20-over-a-side cricket is still a bit disconcerting to the traditionalists amongst us, but its appeal is understandable. It offers sustained excitement and a shorter game that one can actually watch without taking a day off from work. Most importantly however, the shorter time-span makes the game a great leveler. It is way easier for a minnow to win a shorter game against an established team. So if minnows want to play, they should play twenty20s and leave ODIs to the big boys.

So does this mean the rise of the twenty20 and the death of the ODI as we know it? Well, if it does, then so be it. Everything must evolve. As the World Cup and also a recent Cricinfo article showed, fewer and fewer ODIs are tight contests these days. As far as tactics go, there isn't a whole lot of mystery left. Teams know how to win from a winning position, so that a 7-hour game is often decided in the first 45 minutes. And if this trend continues, then what’s the point? This isn't even something we can blame on the ICC or the television companies, as we have become so wont to do these days.

The ICC often comes under fire for packing in tournaments close together, but it's interesting to note that nobody is complaining about the twenty20 World Cup which is to be held in South Africa in September. The cricketing community is yearning for change, excitement, and something to look forward to. Perhaps we are quietly confident, after the series of disappointments that the ODI World Cup became, that the shorter version will be the explosive revival our sport desperately needs.

Cricket needs to either change as rapidly as the world around it - with increased globalization, shorter attention spans, and less leisure time to watch sports - or else stubbornly refuse to ever change and stay put firmly where it is. This slow crawl into the 21st century is neither here nor there, and it’s leaving us all frustrated.

Co-authored by Omar.

For more World Cup Woes, click here.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

only the nandrolonely

These steroids sure are taking a long time to wear off. It's been nearly a year now. He must have taken enough to kill about ten horses. Either that or he's been popping pills the whole time he's been away from cricket.

Either way, it is an impressive dosage, and if he can still play cricket after this, I can only applaud him. Only Shoaib could pull off a feat like that.


Friday, May 11, 2007

where there's smoke, there's ire

Here's an article in the New York Times about how the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) has been persuaded by anti-smoking groups to consider the prevalence of smoking (of tobacco) in movies when assigning ratings. That is to say, a movie that depicts no sex or violence, but merely some guys lighting cigarettes is unlikely to get a PG rating.

This is ridiculous, and it's the kind of thing that makes anti-smoking groups lose their credibility. Those who know me know that I (a non-smoker) am a proponent of the campaign to ban smoking in bars, and may wonder how this is any different. Well, it's not that I don't ever want to SEE anyone smoke, or because it may influence or tempt me, but simply because second-hand smoke bothers me personally. I shouldn't have to pay a potential health cost (however miniscule) for somebody else's (voluntary) actions.

Watching people smoke in movies, on the other hand, does NOT affect anyone directly. By upping the rating, the MPAA is merely saying that you should watch a movie in which people smoke only after you are old enough to decide whether or not to smoke yourself. If that's the case, we may as well not allow PG movies to depict drinking, driving a car, or for that matter, working for a living. Our kids, since they run out and do everything they see in movies, may become alcoholics, underage drivers, or child laborers. Or all three. In fact, we should all watch Sesame Street for the rest of our lives. That way we won't ever be exposed to anything untoward.

Strange how through all this, a movie like Home Alone will retain both its PG rating and its status as a children's classic, despite the fact that in it, we root for a child who assaults a man by hitting him in the face with a hot iron and jamming a nail through his foot.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

arcade fire sets the crowd alight

Okay, corny title, I know. But in my enthusiasm to write about this I haven't bothered to stop and conjure up something suitably subtle.

I went to the Arcade Fire concert last Friday. And it was awesome and fantastic and better than almost any other concert I have ever seen. Around two-thirds of the way through the show, the singer was like "Hey, I apologize to security, but you guys gotta dance to music, so come the fuck on down." And that's when we rushed towards the stage like madmen and jumped and screamed and danced our asses off.

I place into evidence here exhibit A, a video of the encore from that show, taken by some random guy standing in front of me (and diligently recording the show rather than enjoying being two rows away from the stage). Listen to how the crowd goes insane and sings the whole song. Also, listen carefully for a crazy loud voice that shouts "Wake Up!" (as a request) before the song starts. And guess who that is.

Immortality through Youtube. Awesome. I'm never going to achieve it through so I may as well take what I can get.

searching for answers

A while ago I wrote about how people were finding my blog by searching for the word "choot."

Of course, in most juvenile fashion, I found this incredibly funny back in February when I started my " a choot" series. (Incidentally, this is still true. Six hits last week were accounted for by the keywords "choot", "indian choot", "choot video", and, wait for it... "blood choot". Disgusting, I know.)

Also in February, I discovered that it is widely known among Pakistani internet users that if you isolate google keyword searches by region, you will find that the word "sex" is most widely searched for in Pakistan, and "animal sex" is particularly popular in Karachi. (I just came across an excellent post on this at Five Rupees).

Allow me now to point out yet another bit of googling hilarity. This one comes from Google Zeitgeist, which publishes a country-by-country list of the 15 keyword queries that have most gained in popularity over the course of each month. (During May in France, for example, you might expect a huge jump in searches for "Sarkozy"). Well, it turns out that in Pakistan, during March, the #10 query on this list was "male models". Above "cricket world cup 2007", which came in at #11.

Again, I leave the analysis up to you. I am merely a purveyor of facts.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

world cup woe #5 - lankan whining

I teared up when Sri Lanka lost the final. I was supporting them all the way after Pakistan lost. If the match hadn't been interrupted, it may have been a tighter game. And yes, maybe Jayawardane wasn't out. But all this is moot, because shit happens, and the Aussies won fair and square.

The question du jour is: Was it legal for Adam Gilchrist to put half a squash ball in his glove when batting? There is a lot of talk about this, and the Sri Lankan cricket board is whining away. I even received a forwarded email originated by some random Sri Lankan guy which was a petition to the ICC to ask that Lanka be awarded the World Cup because what Gilchrist did was illegal. "In the event I do not hear from [Percy Sonn]", writes R. Goerge Manuelpillai, "Legal Action will be meted against the ICC."

I am disappointed. This sounds like how the Aussie crowds whine repeatedly about Murali's action even so long after it's been cleared. Part of the Lankan mystique is that they let their on-field accomplishments do the talking, and they play the game their own way. That they are now resorting to fighting fire with fire in this totally inelegant manner is annoying.

Here's what I want to know. If Gilchrist had put a pineapple up his ass instead, and it helped him, would we still be talking about this?

For more World Cup Woes, click here.