Saturday, November 15, 2014

Shoestring budgets are here to stay for Indian research institutions

With the recent landing of Philae on the comet Rosetta, it is worth our while to go back to September 24 of this year, when the Indian Mars orbiter mission (MOM) successfully went where no other space mission has gone at the first attempt. The fact that the budget for the entire mission is less than the budget for the Sci-fi blockbuster Gravity is been touted as a proof of our ingenuity and thriftiness. It is indeed quite remarkable that Real Madrid FC transacted more money to sign Gareth Bale last year than ISRO allocated to the entire logistics and manpower of the Mars orbiter mission. And at the end of the day, this is how it is going to remain for the foreseeable future.

The reasons for the meagre allotment of the national GDP to institutional research can be clubbed into two separate categories: Practical and Emotional. The Indian economy at the moment gets it lion's share from the service and the IT sector, while manufacturing and agriculture have both tapered off their share in the recent years. Therefore, the two sectors that would typically demand innovation and greater scientific input are both minor contributors to the economic engine. Besides, a fair share of public and private investment is being diverted towards meeting the nation's infrastructure deficit, be it public toilets (Swacch Bharat Abhiyan) or the recent proposal to increase the average speed of India's crumbling railways. With only so much money to go around, India's research expenditure has suffered, and is currently at no more than 0.9% of the GDP

The emotional reasons are far more obvious to anybody interested in peering below the surface. Our society's priorities when it comes to education have swung diagonally in the last 20 years. More and more school kids are studying science in the 11th and 12th grade, but with the sole objective of attaining eligibility for engineering or medical entrance examinations. And this is due to no fault of their own. How many Indian parents encourage their kids to pursue a career in science? A very small fraction, and that too in the bigger cities. The vast underbelly of school kids are either not motivated enough to look upon science as a career option, or are hardly handed the tools to excel in one during their schooling.  The pittance to science education is even more clear when it comes to the elite undergraduate institutions like the IITs. Myself and numerous other IITians have chosen their campus or their department solely on the basis of its employability. Without a through introduction to career opportunities at the school level, you can hardly expect young 17 and 18 year olds to make a life-altering college choice without being swayed by the intelligent words of the cousin or the neighbor who-knows-somebody-who-graduated-from-an-IIT. Once there, the necessary exposure to scientific research is a formality for most students and faculty, coming during the final year through mandatory projects that amount to little in most cases. Even those who go on to pursue graduate studies are often looked upon with skepticism, or in some cases, with five troubling words-"Campus placement nahi hua kya?". We as a nation have been undervaluing our contribution to global scientific and technological advancements for a while now, and hence fail to anticipate the limitless opportunities that lie ahead in a more technologically challenging 21st century. 

There is some hope! For those who haven't being in the loop, the central government has established five Indian Institutes of Science Education & Research (IISERs) since 2006, with the sole objective of improving the quality of science education and increase the quality of research at an undergraduate level. Operating under the aegis of cutting edge research facilities, one could hope that with some increase in awareness, they will attract more applicants from the top pool of students passing the 12th grade. More recently, the attempts from the PM to highlight the achievements of ISRO has had a welcome effect, and honestly, we could do so much more to create interest and admiration for the Indian scientific community, which toils on under limited budgets and scarce public recognition, which adversely affects their morale. More importantly, we need to bridge the gap between the scientific community and the common man, who seem to inhabit two different islands in India. Historically, one feeds the other, as has been the case in countries like the US (the Apollo missions), Japan (consumer devices) an Europe (automobiles), and leads to a bette quality of life of the citizens. Here's one suggestion- Make short films that highlight the achievements of Indian scientists that are still active (there are quite a few), and broadcast them of national television and in schools. At the very least, this will educate the parents and inculcate a sense of national pride towards our scientific community. Here's another- Remove barriers to commercialization of a scientist's research, and give her/him full ownership pf the idea. This will foster competition and creativity, which are often ignored in the Indian diaspora. With this small foundation, one could then build towards a more holistic integration of science and society.

PS: Here's a fun video about sustainability, involving candy and the government. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Passions run high in a high-voltage election season

             It would be an understatement to say that social media has been hijacked by posts related to the upcoming general election in India. Every day and every passing minute, keyboard warriors take to their devices and plop out another in a long list of 'allegations' and 'expose' against a politician of their choice (usually a name starting with an A or a N). Somewhere in this huddle to defame the other camp, we are losing track of the bigger picture -This is the first real election a whole generation of millenials is looking forward to, and to make decisions solely based on rhetoric does not benefit our country as a whole.

            Let's look at some of the bigger issues that should be dominating this electoral contest. Economy would be the highest on anybody's list, especially since in the last 10 years, the Indian middle class has tasted the extravagance of air travel and leisure shopping, and we are in no mood to give it up. With slumping GDP growth and job creation, coupled with anemic inflation, these luxuries face the risk of falling off the accounting book of an urban household. Social equality would also be a important question, especially in the areas of women security and female foeticide. India's polity is sharply biased in the favor of continuing with the policy of caste-based (and now religion-based!) reservation in education and jobs, so that's a topic of concern for the educated voters. And finally, there is the issue of national security and maintaining the sovereignty of India in a hostile geography. With the Indian navy in dire straits after the recent unfortunate incidents, and the deal for the MMRCA fighter planes stuck in the limbo, we most certainly require an assertive government that goes beyond lip-service and meek surrender. 

          The two principle parties, the Congress and the BJP, have nuanced differences on most of these issues, such that you need a much deeper analysis of their positions to really identify a difference (it certainly doesn't help that voters in India don't like to be given contrasting choices, and almost every election in the past five years has been won or lost on the image of the party's leader). It all then comes down to the next in line to replace Dr. Manmohan Singh come June. Rahul Gandhi has had a series of unfortunates gaffes in the public sphere that have transformed him into an object of derision and ridicule on the social media. Moreover, his apparent lack of public pull and popularity has to be hurting the Congress party (look the electoral drubbing the party received under his command in Bihar, UP and Madhya Pradesh to name a few). With the lack of intestinal fortitude among other able leaders becoming more glaring, it seems like the Congress is saddled with his leadership until their numbers dwindle to obsolescence. 

         The BJP has finally been able to acquiesce its ever-growing band of prime ministerial candidates to come up with a clear number one in Narendra Modi. The three term chief minister of Gujarat has a battle going on at two fronts, against the opposition comprised of the Congress and other 'secular' parties, and a larger battle within the BJP's camp. If there ever was a problem of having too much intra-party democracy, the BJP is a fine example of it. To give credit to Modi, he has managed to put a curtain on the party's inner rumblings and has managed to set clear terms for his ascension to the chair of India's next leader. Moreover, he has a clear influence among urban and rural voters alike (something I managed to experience on my trip to India last month, when rural voters in UP were speaking enthusiastically of not voting based on the candidate's last name, but in the name of their children's future), which will help the BJP in expanding its influence beyond the urban constituencies it so dearly depended on for a long time. However, there are still problems within the party for the reasons stated above, and the BJP campaign has therefore amped up its message of development and opportunity in order to hide its inner deficiencies and fighting, often at the expense of exaggerating numbers and planting half-truths in the media.

         While the conclusion of this election is still pretty clear, in that the UPA is going out of power after 10 years at the center, the recent entry of the novice Aam Aadmi Party into the electoral battle has raised the pitch of allegation and counter-allegations to whole another level. Sadly, this election has now turned into a shouting match between BJP and AAP supporters for all the wrong reasons. While the AAP incited hope among young voters like myself when they launched their campaign for the Delhi assembly elections, it is at least clear to me that they really have no clue as to how they are going to run a government and what their priorities are going to be (not that their infamous 49-day rule in Delhi was especially reassuring). What then explains the poor choices made by Arvind Kejriwal when it came to incidents like this or this? No harm would have been done had Kejriwal not alleged that corporations are providing electoral benefits to leaders of other parties or that the current political crop is self-serving, if only he had the restraint to not do it himself. These are really non-issues when it comes to this election. Kejriwal over-staying in his official bungalow or cozying up to a particular Maulwi in UP is not going to change the destiny of this country. Unfortunately, nobody has really received a clarification from the AAP regarding its economic policies (although their withdrawal of support to the FDI in retail agreement when in power in Delhi provides some indication) or where it stands on the issue of national security (Prashant Bhushan and Arundhati Roy say 'plebiscite' everyone!). Maybe the AAP doesn't know either, and hence the constant throwback to its demands of the Jan Lokpal Bill and Swaraj (anarchic and archaic in this day and age). 

        Everybody, whether she supports the AAP or the BJP, can agree that the Congress is not going to be doing any good for the country in the next five years. With both parties jostling to occupy the anti-Congress space, the BJP has expectedly stolen a march over the AAP on the strength of a pre-existing organization and record. The AAP on the other hand is moving away from its simple messaging that proved to be so effective in the run-up to the Delhi elections, and is becoming the party that dominates the prime time news for all the not-so-good reasons (I agree that the media is biased, but the media has always been biased and opportunistic). Perhaps it is time to give the keyboard warriors, like this one, more to think about policy positions and less about which AAP candidate is going to be parachuted to take on another existing political heavyweight or where is Arvind Kejriwal going to show up next (if I may, there is a street circle in the heart of my home town that has seen no development over the last twenty years). In the same token, maybe Narendra Modi will conduct a few public interviews to clarify his stand on FDI in retail and sustainable economic growth, and shut up the critics who think they know more than the courts and are the last authority on conviction and sentencing. 

PS: I agree Arnub, the nation does want to know!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Protecting your turf, (and goodbye Jacques Kallis!)

So here it goes- 2014 is going to be a make-or-break year for a number of teams, and it could all hinge on who gets to play at home the most.

Many were expecting the Aussie leg of the 2013 Ashes to be a watershed moment for the English cricket team. They had just beaten Australia at home 3-0, not to mention having beaten India IN INDIA 2-1. Somewhere along the way, they had also thrashed New Zealand 2-0 at home through some brilliant bowling on their part and insipid batting on the Kiwis'. Could they go to Australia and leave with their heads held high? Sadly, the Aussies, who looked so woefully out-of-form in India and are still struggling with getting the combination right for the three major forms of the game, gave them a sound beating, and more importantly, raised questions about the lack of resilience in the English batting display. The Aussies eked out wins where it seems the game could be tied, and marauded the English when it came to their bowling. Could this be the new dominating squad from Australia? We will have to wait till February, when Australia attempts to beat South Africa away from home. Meanwhile, the English have an away series in West Indies, and then one at home against India. No predictions about either, because both opposition teams are unpredictably inconsistent!

The South Africans should be concerned about the apparent fightback they received from India in the just concluded test series. If it wasn't for the stupid concept of two games test series (and there are a few of those this year), we would have come to know who the clear victor was. For now, Philander & Co must be salivating at the prospect of showing Clarke and his men that their lack of form away from home is here to stay. The series of this year in my opinion!

Speaking of India, we will be playing away from home throughout this year, first in New Zealand starting this 19th, and then another English summer awaits us after the World T20 championship. New Zealand is not quite the resilient force it once was, thanks to the game of musical chairs at the top of their batting order, but they have some promising fast bowlers in Boult and Southee. While Pujara and Kohli looked to be in sublime touch against the Proteas, the chilly climes of Dunedin and Christchurch will be our real test, since the ODI World Cup is a year away  from now, and will be played in similar conditions. Expect Shikhar Dhawan to answer some of his critics, and Rohit Sharma to relapse to his miserable inconsistency. As far as our bowling goes, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar might have better luck in the swinging conditions of New Zealand than he did in South Africa. But Ishant Sharma deserves to go, and Mohammed Shami is clearly ready to take the reigns of our bowling attack from Zaheer Khan. As far as the tour of England goes, the scoreline would depend on how well our new batting lineup fares, but our performance in the Champions trophy 2013 should be a positive sign in the eyes of many fans.

Last but not the least, there is the T20 world cup. Now that the IPL eats into two months of international cricket every year, it is hard to take the putative T20 WC seriously. Very few casual viewers even know about the T20 WC this year, which says something about how strong of a brand the IPL has become over the years (On a personal note, I still believe that Brandon McCullum's 158 in the opening IPL game is the best century in IPL's history, because he really showed that there are no limits as to how much punishment can be meted out in this format). Anyhow, the slow pitches of Bangladesh again suggest a run fest, so whoever can hit the ball the hardest, and  keep Chris Gayle in his current form, should have a better chance. I think it is time the trophy comes back to the subcontinent, and it could be Sri Lanka's turn to win it this time around. Sangakkara and Jayawardene deserve a world cup of some form to cement their legacy, and both are in the dusk of their respective international careers. After Sachin and Saurav, this is one batting partnership for the ages!

Last but not the least, a fond farewell to Jacques Kallis, the greatest all-rounder this game has every seen, with a record for the ages, and an unsung hero of the South African cricketing triumph all these years. It is an overlooked fact, but this guy has seen the Cronje era as well as the Smith era of the Proteas, and has been a vital cog in both. Who would have thought that the man with the old school batting stance and bowling action will outlive a generation of South Africans in today's flash-in-the-pan nature of the game! You will be missed Kallis, and I will no longer hold my breath when SA lose their first wicket against India.

PS: Here's the ICC 2014 calendar from Cricinfo
And here's a highlight of Corey Anderson's magnificent ODI century.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Lessons for politicians from comic books

This is as joyous a time as any for people around the globe. The new year's celebrations are nigh, so is Christmas and India's drubbing at the hands of the South African cricket team. In this festive spirit, might I say that there is one family that is not having a joy ride right now, especially not after what transpired on the morning of Dec 8. I cannot even imagine anything they are going through! 

Now that Mrs. Gandhi's dream of seeing her innocent pubescent son as the Prime Minister of India is fading faster than Manchester United's hope of retaining their title this season, let's move on to the new developments of our political landscape. The Aam Aadmi Party made a astonishing debut in the quasi-state elections of Delhi, with the rout of the Congress being accentuated by the thrashing Mrs. Sheila Dikshit received at the hands of Arvind Kejriwal (and almost drew with the BJP guy who also ran). Now Delhi is stuck in an impasse. The BJP lacks the majority (and perhaps the will to buy some legislators), and the AAP is hard-pressed to believe that its dreams of capturing power might come true. The only comparable situation I can think of is when Uday Chopra realized that his brother won't stop making Dhoom movies, so the only way for him to quit acting was to admit this was his last!

"With great power comes great responsibility"
Beaten to death, this quote from Uncle Ben becomes the beacon that guides Peter Parker to his web-slinging, world-saving ways. Unfortunately, Peter Parker was not a little short of full spider powers, else we would've known what Kejriwal and Harsh Vardhan could do in their situation. However, it would be a shame is Delhi heads to another election in 6 months, not just because of the deemed expenditure (unless the elections are held along with the Lok Sabha elections, a scenario even AAP would not like to invite), but also because the two national parties are for the first time willing to let a newcomer form the government. We can all speculate the reasons as to why the BJP is willing to be a bystander, but at least to this aam aadmi, the AAP is slowly devolving into one of those idiotic debating teams that shout hoarse every evening on prime time news. We all know that the AAP stands by the slogan "Sab chor hain", but to also believe that "Hum jo chahte hair, wahi aam aadmi chahta hai" would be too dangerous of a ploy. The AAP needs to realize that it received a large number of votes from the traditional Congress and BJP vote banks, votes that will desert them in the Lok Sabha elections unless the voters feel that they'll not be wasting their franchise. One look at the letter Kejriwal wrote to the leaders of the two parties makes it seem like a ransom note Sadashiv Amrapurkar would write in the 90's to Anil Kapoor. The AAP should form a government and try and get the doable things done on priority, and by doable, I mean regularization of illegal colonies and improvements in public health and education. Delhi's demand of statehood needs to be recognized by the union government, and Jan Lokpal is a national institution, not a state one. Also, this infatuation with the Ram Leela ground is pretty cute, but assembly session are better conducted in the premises of the assembly. If Kejriwal manages to accomplish a fraction of his promises, it will only better the AAP's chances in Delhi in the coming years.

A united team of heroes is better than one mighty villain
As we learnt from the Avengers movie, ego can be a big problem as far as winning a battle goes. The BJP needs to realize that this is a golden opportunity for them to regain power in New Delhi after being in the doldrums for 10 years now. The effect of Narendra Modi and his mass appeal are something only the Congress party would not acknowledge, but it seems like Sushma Swaraj and L.K. Advani would like to give company to their old foes. It is one thing to not like the way somebody conducts their campaign, but it is trite to destabilize that same branch that gives you shelter. Mrs. Swaraj should introspect upon her own mass appeal (or the lack of it), since the Vidisha constituency she represents as an MP almost shifted out of the BJP's hands but for the CM himself to contest from this seat along with his traditional seat. And this election was not a fair fight ala Chattisgarh, it was a landslide in BJP's favor! The mood of the country is asking for a change, and it would be a crime to not give it to them by acting like a power center when evidence points to the contrary.

PS: Dhoom movies used to have kick-ass title songs. What happened to Dhoom 3?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Celebrating life on Rs.32 per day

India is a country of odds! We are geographically diverse, with the majestic Himalayas on one end, all the way to the pyramidal south on the other. We have more than a thousand languages and dialects, and are home to some of the most prominent religions in the world. In a country where the colour of the soil apparently changes every 100km, we do have one unifying truth. We are all revelers in the joy of being an Indian! Heads instantly go up high, chests puff out with pride. 'I am an Indian'. These four simple words seem to bring out the collective pride of being born in one of the hotbeds of human civilization. Thankfully, a lot of us also make more than Rs.1000 per month. Imagine the horror of cashing only Rs.990 as your monthly salary, if you are living in a metropolis like New Delhi or Mumbai. Those extra ten bucks can change your life. They can uplift you, from being defined as a poor person by the government of India, to the next strata of the Indian society. And we all agree, nobody likes to be poor.

It therefore came as a gargantuan relief to the crores across the country, when the Tendulkar committee wrote in its report that India is getting richer, and anybody making equal to or more than the princely sum of Rs.1000 per month in an urban area is no longer poor. Crores of beggars and daily wage-earners became rich overnight. Never has such a miracle been conjured anywhere across the world! More joy to being an Indian, a not-poor one at that.

As is the norm in a happy society, there are naysayers and skeptics, who claim that Rs.32 is too small of an amount to live satisfactorily in an Indian city, and that the UPA government is trying to save face by fudging with numbers and statistics. To those naysayers I say, that first of all, the current government is not smart enough to fudge with numbers, let alone statistics. Hell, half of their MPs may not even be able to spell statistics! Secondly, an honourable government official, who lives in a humble abode, and has no access to the glamour of foreign trips and vacations, has said that Rs.32 is 'not all that ridiculous'. This gentleman never complained of inadequate bathroom facilities in his office in New Delhi. He simply thought that spending more than Rs.35 lakhs on fixing some toilets in his department, could help relieve the stress his team goes through in keeping India rich. 

Now, we have more proof that you can have two full meals easily within the limits of Rs.32 per day. First Raj Babbar, and then another gentleman, Rasheed Masood, has laid waste to the argument that you cannot have two square meals in this amount of money. Babbar said that you can have a sumptuous meal for only Rs.12, which also comes with the delicacy of Sambhar and vegetables. You can spend the remaining amount on his or his son's films if you wish. If only I knew the location of this reasonably-priced eatery in Mumbai, me and my friends could have saved a fortune on mess expenses during our IIT days. That amount of money could've propelled us to the upper middle-class (maybe, just maybe!). What a waste of money all those years! 

So there lies the proof to the argument that half of the beggars and jobless roadside dwellers in our country are not poor. They are simply lazy. Maybe they should learn from our efficient MPs and ministers, who work so hard to earn their money. They have kept the government running like a well-oiled machine. Such is our faith in their capability, that a lot of parents tell their kids to grow up and join politics. 99.99% of those parents are themselves politicians.

PS: I love my country, and I hope that we will all take a step towards cleaning up the mess of the last 5 years in next year's general election.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mr. Advani, this is not 'Back to the Future'

Letting go can be hard, and even harder for individuals shored up in the lofty heights of fame and popularity. None of those criteria necessarily hold true for the Bheeshma pitamah of the Hindutva movement, Lal Krishna Advani. Advani, an octogenarian, who would be a nonagenarian by the time he retires from his dream of the responsibility of being the prime minister of India. Advani is, and will always remain a polarizing figure in the annals of Indian politics- often derided, yet well respected for stabilizing an opposition, to the Congress, and its Gandhi dynasty.

Getting back to the bidding adieu part, Advani has clearly missed a sizable chunk of the recent electoral results, for only then could he stubbornly stick to his demand of being acknowledged as the tallest leader of his party, the BJP. A party, which is facing somewhat of an existential crisis. A party, which has been reduced once again to ruling the hindi heartland, with virtually no presence in the south or the northeast. While the BJP has a plethora of local and national leaders of face value and recognition, it also has perhaps too many of them for its own good. Nobody saw the genesis of this crisis coming. After the shocking defeat in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections (which left me bewildered, and my friends at our coaching class confused), the outgoing prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, was forced to step aside due to health complications. As has been well documented, the opportunity was ripe for Advani to take charge, and tide over the embarrassment coming at the heels of the 'India Shining' campaign. Instead, Advani ended up committing a mistake that made him persona non grata in the eyes of the RSS. Calling Jinnah a respected lawyer and founder of Pakistan is one thing, to call him a secular leader, when he split India along the lines of religion and led to a still-persisting unease at the border, is career suicide. The Indian public and media took those comments for what they were: the desperate attempts of a leader who was finally given charge of the main opposition party, but had spent his career under the shadow of the more affable Vajpayee, still beloved to most Indians. The UPA I policies favored the masses, while the BJP faltered in chalking out a clear progressive policy to appeal to the voters. The result: Congress sailed past the 200 mark for the first time since 1991, while the BJP shrunk from 143 to 118, in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

Any other leader would have seen the writing on the wall. Unfortunately, Indian politics fails to throw up new leaders, unless they have their father or siblings in positions of power, and such leaders end up playing to the whims of seasoned politicians (look no further than Akhilesh Singh Yadav, or Omar Abdullah). Hence, Advani persisted. He was booted out of the post of Leader of opposition, but made the chairman of the NDA parliamentary committee. In the meantime, Narendra Modi was doing his best to cleanse himself of the taint of the 2002 riots. Gujarat was consistently growing, investors were flocking in, and his own personal clout was now beginning to overshadow the party in the state. No further proof was required of his growing popularity, than when the UK government decided to end its boycott of Modi, and open negotiations about business possibilities in Gujarat. The urban middles-class voter, tired of buying milk at Rs. 40/liter and pulses at Rs 120/kg, knew that Rahul Baba and his trite 'Discover India' tour just won't cut any more. Modi thumped the opposition in Gujarat in 2013, and is now looking set to give the ruling dispensation a mighty tussle next year.

This brings us to the latest, and probably the last controversy, Advani would ever stir. Man, this guys career is a roll-call of controversies, right from his early career to the last elections, so this sounds odd to me writing it! Advani is hoping that Modi would be unacceptable to the majority of the NDA alliance, which would be the need of the hour post-elections. The BJP can hardly dream of winning 272 seats on its own, even if it wins every seat in UP, Gujarat, MP, and Chattisgarh. However, it doesn't need to. Previous experience dictates that the fickle regional parties, that have no loyalty to anybody, but only their self-interest in mind, wouldn't mind supporting the BJP in lieu of rewarding portfolios, if it can get to the 200-220 mark on its own. That would mean that the urban voter would need to vote heavily in favor of the BJP, more so than it already does, in order to make that possibility come true. As stated earlier, Modi has the public in his hands right now. He has an agenda, even though critics would argue that it is simplistic in nature, but an agenda nonetheless, to give a boost to the slumbering economy, and regain the faith of the public that actually pays taxes and faces power cuts and water shortages in return. Advani on the other hand, has no appeal among the youth, many of whom will be turning out at the voting booth for the first time next year, and more importantly, already had his shot at immortality in 2009. The fire that Advani displayed in 1991, seems to have vanished altogether (not that there is anything unnatural about that happening with age). Modi is just firing up on the national stage!

There appears to be a ceasefire called for the moment, but the NDA alliance is already starting to fizzle. JD(U)'s impending departure will leave a deep dent in the party's prospect in Bihar, a state that voted in large numbers for the alliance in the last election. Moreover, both the BJP and the JD(U) run the risk of cutting into each other's vote share, much to the apparent joy of the RJD, and maybe Congress. The message from the BJP cadres is clear. Modi's ascension is a risk worth taking, for another defeat next year would severely dent any hopes of making a comeback to power in the future. For us masses, this will condemn us to a long period of the Gandhi family rule, one that seems akin to surrendering your democratic choice at the doorsteps of a dynasty. 

PS: Summer is a great time for going to the movies and picking up a book. Here are two personal recommendations in each category.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Domesticated warriors

The Border-Gavaskar trophy has changed hands again in the span of a year, and what a year it has been! After two back-to-back humiliating defeats, the Indian cricket team seems to have taken affront to the media ritual of labeling them as warriors only at home. How? Play like one and beat Australia in a home series. True, the current world number one, South Africa, have not toured India in a while, and the number two, England, left last year after extracting further humiliation on the test team and beating us at our own game. However, the fortress had to be resurrected, newly laid with a fresh set of soldiers to guard it after the old generals bowed out (or were thrown out), and most importantly, the Indian cricket fan had to be replenished with a cornucopia of hope and enthusiasm about our prospects in the crucial away tours coming up later this year. Let me just say, it has been a good one month of test cricket as an Indian cricket follower. 

The Indian cricket team, much like the Indian politics, is going through a period of major upheaval and shake-ups. While the UPA government is bracing up to the likely challenge of a Narendra Modi-led NDA in the parliamentary polls next year, the Indian cricket team is bracing up to falling expectations and glaring deficits in key areas of their game. The opening partnership of Sehwag and Gambhir, long been the Achilles heel of the Indian batting line-up, has been shunted out for a new-found Vijay and whoever-is-not-suffering-from-an-injury at the other end. Sehwag, who is now equipped with ultra vision and some extra inches around the waist, looked miserable the entire time he faced a delivery in this series, even during his rotation in the slip cordon. Never a bad time to consider other avenues towards optimizing your value to the team. Maybe he can turn into a Hafeez and work some spin magic! Gambhir, on the other hand, is still living in the Shahid Kapoor-fairyland: I will keep churning out bad movies and hope that you watch them, because you also watched Mausam and Badmaash Company with the expectations of a Kaminay. Vijay now has a golden opportunity to permanently scuttle Ajinkya Rahane's chances of upgrading from the 12th man to a regular in the test team, Poor Rahane! If he just collected the labels of all the bottles he has lugged on to the field in the last year and a half, he could have had a scrapbook thicker than all four years of an IITian's effort.

We have also reached a conclusion on the test future of Harbhajan Singh. Just in case you were living under a rock, he should cherish his 100 caps and not hope for another chance based on his current form. We are now living in the era of Sir Ravindra Jadeja, the goggle wearing, athletically daring, left-arm spinner who has taken more than a handful of all Australian wickets that fell in this series. I would not be shocked if Dhoni plays him as a specialist spinner in South Africa, where his batting would obviously fall well short of expectations. The Rajkot Ranji wicket, Jadeja's dreamland, is as far away from Kingsmead as Arvind Kejriwal is from Digvijay Singh. On a more positive note, Jadeja seems to have taken his online popularity seriously, and is on a mission to prove his detractors wrong. If only we could anoint Sir Rohit Sharma!

As a fan of the Indian cricket team, all I care for is some show of intent from our cricketers, which seemed amiss for the past year whenever we played a top tier test team. Remember how Australia are considered unbeatable at home, and how we complain about the English conditions favoring their bowlers every time? In my opinion, we should be unabashed in our proclamation of domination at home, once we are sure of it. One small step at a time towards the number one ranking!

PS: Siddle has done enough with the bat in this series to put Hughes and Warner to shame. In case you haven't seen this, he can also rip a mean one from the other end of the wicket.