Practical tips before undertaking a short vacation/trip/visit.

Why do we need a vacation? How often do you need a vacation?What are the  benefits of vacations?Do vacations make you happier?

The value of vacations is well realized by Westerners, and also by Indians abroad. They work hard and use vacations to rejuvenate themselves before they ” are back to the grind”. Of course this is not true for all, and studies have shown that even in the USA, the average employee utilizes only 50% of his/her vacation time. Even amongst those who do take a vacation, as many as 60% do some work while on vacation. A large proportion of as much as 20%, are contacted by co-workers and 25% by supervisors/bosses, even when they are on holiday.

We in India tend to get tied down by our official and personal responsibilities to the extent of neglecting breaks/vacations. We are also in the habit of postponing our vacations, even after planning them. However, Indians too, like Westerners, are nowadays realizing the importance of both vacations as well as small breaks to rejuvenate and re-energize.

The word re-energize makes me digress for a minute. 15 years ago, I was the HQ officer of one of the best-ever IRS officers, Shri DK Das, who was from the 1970 batch of the IRS. A brilliant HQ Colleague, Shri Sridhar Bhattacharya, had applied for earned leave. Before sanctioning the leave, DK Das Sir called him, and all of us, and asked him to speak aloud for the benefit of all, the purpose of leave written by him in his application. Sridhar Dada was a bit surprised and he said, “Sir, I have simply written in the column pertaining to purpose of leave, “rest and recreation” as the purpose”. Sir said, “Yes, and I am very happy that you have done so instead of giving some made-up excuse. Many do not realize that recreation means to re-create, and the rest will help you do that. You are doing very well as an officer in my team, and this leave will help you do even better”.

Sir went on to say, “In any case it is Earned leave. You have earned it, and you should take it and spend it constructively”.

What an inspiring leader. I do not know if Sridhar Dada remembers this incident, and I will certainly send a copy of this blog to him to ask him if he does.

Unfortunately, most of us do not take vacations or even small breaks, and often pride ourself on not taking leave at all, and only working, working, and working.

This is certainly avoidable, and there is a need to achieve what is called work-life balance, a state of equilibrium where an individual equally prioritizes official and personal responsibilities. An example of that can be Virat Kohli, who came back after the 1st Test of the last away series to Australia, to be with his wife Anushka, for the delivery of their 1st child. In any case, all such decisions are purely personal in nature. In contrast, in a similar situation, Dhoni had continued playing for India, and Sakshi had her delivery alone.

Dhoni was right, Virat was right as well. This decision is their personal one. The important point is that there is a need to achieve work-life balance.

Once again we are digressing; Back to the topic- the need to take short visits, and practical tips for the same.

Now, short and sudden visits are unavoidable. It could be a vacation, it could be a visit for a social function or it could be a visit for an official program or conference.

Here are certain tips to plan these short visits better. For the sake of convenience, I am jotting them down in one place.

Ticketing; If dates are fixed, do the ticketing well in advance. You will save a lot of money. However, take into consideration, exigencies of work which may come up, for which you may need to cancel your tickets as well. My suggestion would be to take a calculated risk if your dates are known well in advance. It may be a good idea to to take a risk and book your tickets, since tickets booked in the last minute, or a day or two before the visit could be prohibitively expensive. The equation is simple, say flight tickets are available for 4000/- per head, for a family of 4, the cost will be 32000/-. In worst case if the visit is cancelled, the “damage” will be 24000/- which no doubt is big. However, the chances of cancellation could be less, and if one books tickets at the last minute, the same ticket could be 9000-10000 per head and overall ticketing cost could be well above 65-70000/-, which is well above the possible damage of 24000/-. One more important point is that most airlines also allow rescheduling of dates. In any case, take your own call wisely.

Road Journey, of course means that the ticketing issue is not there. Here you have to ensure that your car is in optimum shape for the journey. Have things like PUC certificate, fast-tag, etc ready so that at short notice, you can go for a trip by just topping the fuel tank and checking the tires of your car.

Traveling light is a must. This is applicable for both flight and road journeys as well as journey by train. Plan/visualize what you will be wearing and pack accordingly. Comfortable footwear is a must too. It will add to the pleasure, since you may need to walk a lot. Basically, plan from head to toe. Shirts/tee-shirts, jeans/trousers, shorts, night-wear, socks, handkerchiefs, and yes, foot-wear, both sports wear, official foot-wear and slippers inside your room.

Slippers for inside the room use will be a very useful addition to your luggage. In fact, nowadays, most hotels, in these pandemic times, have stopped supplying the same.

Do not take costly sunglasses and watches etc. It would be disastrous if you leave them behind. In any case, before vacating your hotel/guest-house room finally, check and cross-check that you haven’t left any thing behind. Often human tendency is not to see anything that one’s brain does not want to, so it would be a good idea to also ask someone else to check as well.

It may actually be a good idea to have a list and tick mark the items off, both before leaving for your break, and while returning from one. For instance cell-phone charger. You certainly need to take the cell phone, as you will, if not for anything, need it for google maps. Hence remember to charge your phone before departing, and also charge your power bank as well. Then take them and keep them handy. Even in flights, if traveling alone, you may like to keep yourself occupied by watching a movie on some OTT. Hence remember to download them in advance so that you can watch them at convenience. Very imp- take earphones or headphones so as not disturb your fellow passenger. Specifically remember not to keep the power bank in checked in baggage, but in your hand baggage.

In pandemic time, check the COVID-19 rules of your destination, and make sure you are complying with the Government rules and regulations. This is essential. Earlier for domestic tourism, it was not required, but now different States have different rules, so please check them before planning.

These are some illustrative examples. Every person will have his/her own list. However please give it a bit of thought since 5-10 minutes of planning, and 15 minutes of proper packing will help you hugely.

I will also like to point out that there are four scientific reasons why vacations are a must. These are (i) stress reduction and lesser stress related issues such as headaches and backaches, (ii) heart-disease prevention, (iii) higher productivity, and (iv) Better sleep. Hence please keep this in mind as well as it will be helpful to you before ‘getting back to the grind’.

Dear friends, do work hard, but take a vacation once in a while, to ensure better health and better productivity.

Pic credit; research gate.net

“Blaze, A son’s trial by fire”. An inspirational true story by Nidhi and Sushil Poddar. My Book review.

Blaze is the true story of Divyansh, a prodigy who was in this world for just 22 years but struck a chord in the lives of all who came across him. Nidhi Poddar Ji, his brave mother, is the author. His father, Shri Sushil Poddar has also collaborated with a special section by him in which he has written about some noble persons who were with them in this long journey.

Kudos to both for this act of extreme courage to bring their and son’s evolutionary journey to the entire world.

A book is required to write about Blaze. A short review of 1000-1200 words is certainly not enough. However, it will be my humble attempt to so for two reasons- Firstly, even if a few of the persons who read this review of mine buy the book, then my blogging the review will be worthwhile. I assure them that reading the book will provide to them a new meaning and perspective to life. Incidentally, Blaze is already a best-seller, with all copies of the 1st print sold out in the 1st month itself, and it has gone for re-printing. The second reason is that I genuinely felt inspired and motivated on reading the book, and I want others to do so as well.

Divyansh was the son of Sushil and Nidhi Poddar. Why am I saying WAS?. That is because he is unfortunately no more, and moved on, when just 22, after a long and brave medical battle of ten years. However, he is only physically no more in this world, while his thoughts, his views and his poems and blogs are there with us and will always remain so. For that we are indebted to his brave parents for writing this book to bring Divyansh’s thoughts to the world on a larger platform.

Sushil Poddar, referred to as Sir from now on, is a very senior IRS officer, working as a Commissioner of Income Tax. He is someone I know from 2002, and he is a mentor to me and many of my colleagues. I have been fortunate enough to succeed him in three important assignments, one at Kolkata and two at Mumbai, and in each of the three, I could see that he had left a benchmark for future officers to match. I could also see that he had made a deep impression on his team-members and colleagues( he does not like the word subordinate). His hallmark is composure, calmness, tranquillity and equanimity.

All these qualities, he displayed hugely, while embarking on the journey and battle to save his son Divyansh, from the dreaded C. It is so dreaded that I find it difficult even to spell the word.

Nidhi Poddar, referred to as Bhabhi from now on, is a home-maker. She, as one can know on reading Blaze, is one of the bravest ladies one can ever come across. It takes a special bravery to be with a child in his battle against C, and to try and explore all medical options possible. It also takes bravery to bring details of the fight to the world, in the form of a book, in which one reveals one’s anxieties and even one’s fears. However Bhabhi has done that, and this book will be an inspiration to all- not to give up and to keep one’s hopes and beliefs alive, even in the face of unsurmountable mountains of difficulty.

Bhabhi maintained her cool throughout the tough battle, and only once did she confront a doctor for his medical negligence, and which was due to her love for her child, and after pent-up dismay of a few months that the doctor concerned had done a blunder. (The medical negligence aspect was informed to them by another doctor), However, both Bhabhi and Sir have taken care to use pseudonym, which is praiseworthy in itself. Like Neelkanth, they drank the poison.

Bhabhi and Sir have also sought to bring a larger point for the world- which was told to them by another legendary doctor- that in sensitive treatments involving possibly dangerous side-effects, it is the duty of a doctor to explain the pro’s and con’s, before starting the treatment. Another larger point brought by both Bhabhi and Sir to all of us is that “who has seen the future, maybe some treatment will come, or some new discovery may come, so do not give up, come what may, continue the fight”. This point can actually be a life principle, not just for fighting for good health, but in all aspects of life.

Why the title Blaze. This struck me when I first came to hear about the book. On reading it, I came to know that it is a poem written by Diyansh, one of many he has written. He was a prolific poet and writer, and that too of a very high quality. As a young schoolboy, he was part of 100TPC, 100 Thousand poets for change, a global movement of poets, whose works are compiled in a book form and archived by Stanford University. One can unhesitatingly call him a prodigy.

To give just one example of his brilliance, a top American hesitatingly asked Bhabhi whether Divyansh was born and brought up in India. When she said Yes and then asked why, he said that the level and quality of English was very high and it reflected the mind of a genius, and the ease with which Divyansh, as a poet, played around with words, that too at such a young age, was an ability he thought, someone whose mother tongue is not English, cannot have. This stranger asked Bhabhi to get the works copyrighted, and she replied that this had already occurred to them, and had been done (by Sir).

Thank you Sushil Sir for getting these valuable works of Divyansh copyrighted. These will ensure he remains in this world always. It would also have been a shame if these pure and divine thoughts had been plagiarized by unworthy thieves. Incidentally, for the benefit of my readers, Divya means “pure or divine”, and Ansh means “a part”, and certainly Divyansh is a part of divinity.

Incidentally, Divyansh was a wonderful student as well. When he was giving his class 10 Board exams, he was undergoing unimaginable suffering (strict treatment protocol with its terrible side effects was on) and he could not attend school for a single day for more than a year. Yet he got 94% and came 6th in one of the best schools in the country, St Mary’s. The school authorities honored his extraordinary achievement by instituting the St Mary’s School Special Award despite some form of disability and Divyansh was the 1st awardee. After one year of doing Engineering in a Mumbai college, he secured admission in computer science in a top American school (he got offers from 3 other USA schools as well) and in an extraordinary and unprecedented recognition of his talent, the US school gave him direct admission in second year.

Sad that God had different plans for him, or maybe he is doing great things in a better world.

Blaze is a story of various journeys, a journey of a family from Kolkata to Mumbai, from Mumbai to Israel and back, and a journey of Mumbai to the USA and back. Sir was working in Kolkata in the IRS and was transferred to Mumbai and Bhabhi and the kids joined him. Four years after working in Mumbai, the family got the worst news possible, that their son Divyansh was diagnosed with C. This was in December 2009 and he was just 13. Blaze is the story of how the family bravely faced the disease and tried to fight it out. He was given the best of medical treatment possible in India. Sir and Bhabhi, also took him to Israel, and later on to USA.

Blaze is the journey of a fight. It is the fight a young boy carries out against all odds, and the equanimity with which he faces that he is fighting an adversary much more powerful, vicious and unpredictable. It is also the journey of parents who had to fight along with him. They had their own mini-battles and they emerged victorious, be it Bhabhi wearing Jeans for 1st time rather than her preferred Indian attire so that she could face Immigration authorities of Israel and USA better, or be it Sir, who had not cooked a single day but took baby steps to learn, since for Divyansh, home-cooked food was a must, and Bhabhi was often required to be with Divyansh’s younger sister. Incidentally, he became an expert cook quite fast.

Blaze also provides us a glimpse of Sir’s and Bhabhi’s evolution as the primary caregivers, and the evolution of Divyansh as well. The journey was very long- as much as ten years. There were moments of extreme happiness when the cancer was gone and Divyansh was cured, and there were moments of panic, when it came back. Again and again Divyansh improved, only to slip back. Sometimes the doctors had given up as well, and so had medical science, but somehow, defying all scientific parameters, Divyansh used to recover, until the dreaded disease would strike back, like the Lernean hydra-headed monster. Unfortunately, ultimately the Lernean hydra which is supposed to have one immortal head out of its nine, won the physical battle. Divyansh, helped by his brave dad and equally brave mom defeated eight heads but the 9th one won and Divyansh no longer remained in this world. Physically.

However, the thoughts of Divyansh remain, as does his poems and writings and therefore, in a way, like Hercules, he too defeated the Lernean Hydra and emerged victorious, since he and his thoughts will always be a part of us. He has therefore vanquished the Hydra-headed monster.

Blaze has published some of his poems in this book, and these deserved to be read word by word, line by line, and then only one can appreciate the stunning and exceptional depth of his versatility as a poet par excellence. I am taking the liberty of presenting just small excerpts, which convey the genius and versatility of Divyansh;

Adversity is a poison with its own antidote”

and;

Are you a Hindu or a Muslim? I am hungry.

Amazing depth indeed. Kudos, Divyansh.

The book has drawn high praise from some top personalities such as Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Pritish Nandy, Sudha Murty, Khalid Mohammed, Farhan Akhtar, Paresh Maity, Vikas Khanna, and many more stalwarts from diverse professions. Mr Bachchan has also released a video in which he has read out Divyansh’s poems and also excerpts from Blaze.

Let me quote what my favorite actor, Mr Bachchan says; “Blaze is a story that comes from extreme courage… this is an emotional read, but one shall emerge transformed by the triumph of the human spirit”.

Let me also quote my favorite cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, “The never-say-die attitude of Divyansh should be an inspiration for young and old people from all walks of life. The body may be diseased but, in John Milton’s words, “the mind is its own place and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. Despite his critical illness, Divyansh was able to achieve so much. Truly inspiring and moving. May he continue to find peace wherever he is now”

Wonderfully expressed, Amitabh Sir and dear Sachin.

Amitabh Ji has also said that he has acted in movies where he has lost his child, and that was too emotional for him, and he cannot just imagine what must have gone through Sir and Bhabhi, and he compliments their bravery and their courage in writing this book which will give courage to many others.

Other greats have also spoken well about the book. The wonderfully versatile genius Pritish Nandy has said that this book is a must for all parents who have lost their children. I slightly differ with you Sir for a change. This book is a must for all (and not just those parents who are grieving)- since it is about bravery and courage, and these qualities are essential for all.

The book is available on all leading portals such as Amazon and Flipkart and in all book-stores. It also has Kindle edition. I urge you to read it to be a part of this extraordinary journey of Sir, Bhabhi Ji, Divyansh and his little sister Ananya.

Thanks a lot Sir and Bhabhi Ji, and thanks a lot, dear Divyansh for teaching us what courage is.

Congrats Medvedev. 20-20-20 continues. My Comprehensive review of the US Open 2021.

Daniil Medvedev Performs 'Dead Fish' Celebration Post US Open 2021  Championship Win: Watch

It is clear that we have to get used to tennis tournaments without one or more of the big three not playing in them. World Number 1 Novak Djokovic played in the 2021 US Open while Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal opted out. Hopefully we will see all three competing at the 2022 Australian Open.

Novak was attempting to be only the 1st player since Rod Laver in 1969 to win a calendar Grand Slam. He was also aiming to win his 21st Grand Slam title which would take him ahead of his great rivals Nadal and Federer.

This was not to be. Russian Daniil Medvedev played inspired tennis to defeat Novak and win his 1st Grand Slam title This was his third attempt at any Grand Slam Finals and he had lost once each to Nadal and Djokovic. Medvedev became just the 3rd Russian after Kafelnikov and Marat Safin to win a Major.

Here is my comprehensive review of the US Open 2021.

At the 2021 US Open, Novak, Medvedev, Tsitsipas, and Zverev were the top four seeds. I take a look at the tournament, focusing on the upsets and comebacks, the performance of the top four seeds and the route taken to the semi-finals by the four semi-finalists.

I finally mention exciting new stars before discussing the semi-finals and the finals.

Upsets and Comebacks

1st round; There were an unusually large number of five set matches. These matches were as follows (winner name in front). B. Zapata Mirales-Feliciano Lopez, Kevin Anderson-Jiri Vesely, Seppi-Fucsovics, A Ramos-Vinolas-Pouille, Dominik Koepker-Quentin Halys, T.Griekspoor-Struff, Jordan Tompson-Gianluca Mager, and the best one of them all, Tsitsipas-Murray.

In addition, the following 5-set matches saw the winner coming back from a 2 set deficit to win three sets in a row. The winners name is in front. The matches are as follows; Mannarino-Herbert, Andujar-Kukushkin, P.Martinez-J.Duckworth, Kecmanovic-Rinderknech, van de Zandschulp-Carlos Taberner,

Following were the upsets in five sets; P.Gojowczyk-U Umbert (23rd seed), Maxime Cressy-Carreno Busta (9th seed, comeback from 2 sets to love down), Lloyd Harris-Karen Khachanov, Trungelliti-Davidovich Fokina (29th seed). Pospicil-Fognini(28th seed) (also a comeback from 2 sets to love down)

There were three other upsets in the 1st round. 14th seed Alex de Minaur bowed out to American Taylor Fritz in four sets. 19th seed Isner lost to fellow American, Nakashima 7-6,7-6, 6-3. It was the second consecutive year that Isner lost in the 1st round. 30th seed Cilic lost to Kohlschreiber. The former champion won two sets but then lost the next two, before withdrawing at 0-2 in the 5th set. It was the 1st time in more than 800 matches that Cilic had ever withdrawn from a match.

As many as 10 seeded players bowed out in the 1st round.

Special mention; Feliciano Lopez, who extended his world-record streak of consecutive Grand Slam tournaments to 78, lost to lucky loser B. Zapata Mirales in five sets after leading 2 sets to 1. Lopez is one of only five players to serve more than 10000 aces in his career, the others being Isner, Federer, Goran and Karlovic.

Second round; Botic Van de Zandschulp followed up his five-set win in the 1st round with a 4-set upset of the highly rated 8th seed Casper Ruud. Henri Laaksonen defeated Christan Garin in four sets. Alex Popyrin won two tie-breaks against Dimitrov who gave a walkover after being 0-4 down in the third set. Andreas Seppi upset Hubert Jurkacz also in four sets.

The second round also saw many five set matches. Gojowczyk defeated Dusan Lajovic after being two sets to one down. Alex Molcan too was one set to two down before defeating Brandon Nakashima of the USA. Aslan Keratsev, after losing the 1st two sets, won the next three to defeat Jordan Thompson. Technically Jack Sock defeating Alexander Bublik was an upset as well, as Sock is currently unseeded and Bublik was the 31st seeded player. However, Sock is a former world number 8, and an ATP Masters Champion (2017 Paris Masters), and has won 4 Grand Slam doubles titles as well. He prevailed over Bublik in five sets. Five-set king Nishikori also defeated Mackenzie Macdonald in five sets.

Special Mention; Nishikori won his 27th five set win in 34 matches. He has the best ever percentage of five set wins in history.

Third Round;

In the biggest upset of the tournament, 18-year Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz defeated the 3rd seed Tsitsipas in five sets Tsitsipas won the 4th set 6-0, but Alcaraz showed remarkable composure to win the 5th in a tiebreak.

In other 3rd round upsets, Tiafoe defeated Rublev in 5 sets. The 5th set saw an astonishing display from Tiafoe, who had 69 winners in the match including 14 winners in the 5th set which he won 6-1. Before this match, both players had poor 5th set record, with Rublev at 3-5 and Tiafoe at 2-10, but in this match, Tiafoe had an awesome 5th set.

There were as many as four 5-set wins for higher ranked players in the 3rd round. Berretini defeated Ivashka, Felix Auger-Aliassime defeated Agut, Evans defeated Popyrin and Sinner defeated Monfils

Therefore, after 3 rounds, as many as 23 seeded players were ousted, and just 9 seeded players progressed to the last 16. These, in order of seedings, were Djokoviv (1), Medvedev (2), Zverev (4), Berretini (6), Schwartzmann (11), Felix AA (12), Sinner (13), Opelka (22) and Evans (24).

Special Mention; Carlos Alcaraz became the youngest player to reach the 4th round of a Grand Slam since Andrei Medvedev in 1992. He also became the youngest to defeat a world number 3 since Michael Chang in 1989. Chang that year had defeated both the world number 3 Stefan Edberg and the world number 1 Ivan Lendl at the French Open.

Fourth Round; Botic Van de Zandschulp upset the feisty Diego Schwartzmann in 5 sets. The Dutchman had 2 match points in the 4th set which were saved by Diego, who then won the 4th set. However Zandschulp had an excellent 5th set to pull off a wonderful win. Unseeded Lloyd Harris defeated the big-serving Reilly Opelka in 4 sets after losing the 1st set tie-breaker 6-7. Once he sorted out the big serve of the American, he demolished him.

A notable 5-set match in the 4th round was Alcaraz defeating the qualifier Gojowczyk, coming back from a two sets to one deficit to win the 4th and 5th sets 6-2 and 6-0. Felix had an excellent 4 set win over Tiafoe

Special Mention; Carlos Alcaraz became the youngest Quarter-finalist at the US Open in the Open Era. He also became the youngest Quarter-finalist at any Grand Slam since Michael Chang in 1990.

Quarter Finals, As expected Medvedev won his QF vs the qualifier Zanschulp to set up a meeting with Felix, who won the 1st set against the yound Spaniard Alcaraz who then withdrew in the second due to injury. Zverev continued his impressive run by defeating Lloyd Harris in straight sets, while Novak won in 4 sets against Matteo Berretini, whom he called Hammer of Tennis for his thunderous serve and awesome forehand.

Special Mention; The Quarter Final between Felix and Alcaraz was the youngest QF at a Major since Nadal met Novak in the 2006 French Open.

Performance of the top four seeds.

Novak has not lost in the 1st round of a Major since the 2006 AO, where he was world number 76. He dropped a set against the Danish teen, Holger Rune to advance to the second round. In the second round, he defeated Tallon Griekspoor of Holland comfortably, losing just seven games in three sets. The 3rd round opponent was Nishikori who had defeated Novak in the semi-finals of the 2014 US Open. However, after that upset, which had given Nishikori a 2-1 hth head, Novak won 16 matches in a row. He made it 17 in a row, though Nishikori played stunning tennis to win the 1st set in a tie-break, after which Novak played solid tennis to win the next three sets. In the 4th round, Novak once again lost the 1st set, this time against the young American wildcard Brooksby, who played a stunning 1st set to win 6-1. However, Novak rallied to win the next three sets and enter the QF, just 3 wins away from a magical calendar Grand Slam and 21st Major. It was the 8th time in 25 Grand Slam matches that he came back after losing the 1st set, which shows his mental strength. Novak’s QF opponent was Berretini whom he had defeated at the French Open and at Wimbledon. The 1st set went to Berretini, but after that it was Novak who displayed outstanding tennis to win in 4 sets.

It was Novak’s 42nd SF in 66 appearances in Grand Slams. Astonishing consistency indeed.

Medvedev started with a convincing 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 win over the stylish French player Gasquet. It was his 200th win on the circuit. He followed it up by crushing German Dominik Koepker 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 for his 42nd win of the calendar year. His third match was versus Pablo Andujar and Medvedev continued his relentless march, winning the match by losing just 7 games. The score was 6-0, 6-4, 6-3. In the 4th round, Medvedev put in yet another commanding performance to defeat Evans 6-3 6-4 6-3. Medvedev seemed to be in a hurry in the QF, and won the 1st set 6-3 6-0 before Zandschulp won the 3rd, helped by some unforced errors from the Number 2 seed. Medvedev however improved his game and while the Dutch played good tennis to take it to 5-5, in the 4th, Medvedev’s greater experience helped him great at 6-5 to win the 4th set 7-5.

Tsitsipas started his campaign by playing former champion Murray. In a five-set epic, Tsitsipas came back from a 1-2 deficit in sets to defeat Murray in their 1st ever match. This was the 1st time in 15 years at the US Open that Murray, who has slipped to 112 in the world lost in the 1st round. After this 5-set win, Tsitsipas had a 4-set win over Mannarino, where he lost the 3rd set in a tie-break, but recovered quickly to win the 4th set 6-0. As mentioned earlier, he lost to the 18-year teen Alcaraz. US Open has been disappointing for Tsitsipas and he has never progressed beyond the 3rd round. This year was no different. He lost in the third round again.

Zverev had a potentially tricky 1st round match against American Sam Querrey. He however advanced with a straight set win. It was his 12th straight win on the tour and he made his intentions clear by announcing that while Novak was the favorite, he would like to end the US Open with a 18 match streak. In the second round, Zverev had an awesome performance, defeating the tough Albert Ramos Vinolas with the loss of just four games. He won 6-1, 6-0, 6-3. Jack Sock, winner of a Masters 1000 and a former world number 8, but currently world number 162 who had a 2-1 h2h against Zverev was next. Sock raced to a 6-1 win in the 1st set, with as many as 18 winners. However, he then had an injury and Zverev too changed his game plan and made Sock run around. Zverev won the next two sets and at 1-2 in the 4th, Sock withdrew. It was Zverev’s 14th win in a row. He made it 15 when he defeated Jannick Sinner in straight sets. The third set went to a tie-break and overall Zverev saved 5 set points which made his win over the talented Italian even more impressive. Zverev opponent in the QF was the unseeded South-African Harris. In the 1st set, Harris broke Zverev, and at 5-3 was serving for the set. However, he was broken back. He had a second chance with a set-point on serve in the tie-break but he could not convert it. Sascha won the 1st set 7-6, and then rushed through the next two sets. It was his 16th straight win.

Let us see how Felix Auger-Aliassime entered the semi-finals. The young Canadian had an impressive tournament. He defeated the unpredictable Evgeny Donsky in the 1st round in four sets before having a straight sets win over Zapata Miralles in the 2nd round. The tough Agut and the dashing Tiafoe stretched him to five and four sets in the 3rd and 4th round before he won the QF after his opponent Alcaraz gave a walk-over after losing the 1st set. Felix became the 1st player, born in the 2000’s to enter a Grand Slam Semi-final.

Before reviewing the SF and Finals, let is have a look at the exciting new talents this tournament has given us.

Exciting new talents

At the French Open, I had identified Casper Ruud, Jannick Sinner and Musetti. At Wimbledon, I had identified Korda, Felix Auger Aliassime, Mikael Ymer and Carlos Alcaraz. Here, at the US Open, let us first see how these players fared.

Ruud and Ymer lost to Van de Zandschulp and Brooksby respectively. These two are in my list of exciting new talents for the US Open.

Musetti lost to the big-serving Opelka while Korda gave a walkover to Basilashvii. Jannick Sinner had a good tournament, in which he defeated Monfils in five sets before losing to Zverev in the 4th round.

Felix and Alcaraz had excellent tournaments. Felix became the youngest back to back Quarter-finalist at Grand Slams since Del Po in 2008-2009, and thge 1st ever Canadian to enter the SF in the history of the US Open.

Alcaraz became youngest Quarter-finalist ever at the US Open in the Open Era ( Thomas Koch, at 18, was younger and had entered the US Open QF in 1963). The youngster had a great tournament which sadly ended in an unfortunate way as he had to retire in the QF due to right adductor injury. He later accepted that he was not used to playing series of best-of-five matches continuously and his back to back five set wins against Tsitsipas and Gojowczyk had also made it tough for him to recover. Alcaraz was ranked below 200 a year ago, and was ranked 55 when the US Open 21 started and he reached the QF. He indeed has a great future.

The new talents I have identified in this years’ US Open are Jenson Brooksby, Botic Van de Zandschulp and Lloyd Harris.

Brooksby was not even in the top 200 in the 1st half of 2021 but has made rapid strides since then and reached the 4th round here and won the 1st set 6-1 against none other than Novak. His unconventional game and smart play make him a player to look out for in the future. One thing he has to work on is his serve.

Van de Zandschulp had an amazing tournament as well, and interestingly before this he had seen USA and New York only on Netflix. It was a terrific tournament for him, and after winning three matches to qualigy, he went through to the QF, be defeating four higher ranked players, including 8th seed Ruud and 11th seed Schwartzmann, and in the QF too he took a set off Medvedev. His unique style of play of taking the pace off and keeping the ball very deep, surprised higher ranked opponents in this tournament, and it remains to be seen whether it will continue to be effective in future. He became the 1st Dutch Quarterfinalist at any Grand Slam tournament since Sjeng Schalken in 2004. He was also the 1st qualifier to reach the QF at the US Open since Gilles Muller in 2008.

South African Number 1, Harris played terrific tennis throughout, defeating Khachanov in the 1st round, Shapovalov in the 3rd and Opelka in the 4th. Harris earlier had an excellent Dubai Open where he lost to Aslan Karatsev in the final but before that he defeated Thiem Nishokori and Shapovalov. He also had the biggest win of not just his career but most careers when at the Citi Open, he stunned Rafael Nadal. At the US Open he defeated three seeded players Khachanov, Shapovalov and Opelka. He has a good serve and effective groundstrokes. He will certainly not just be a seeded player in future Grand Slams but has a good future as well.

Review of semi-finals.

Medvedev and Felix had met just once before, which was at Toronto 3 years back, with Medvedev being the winner in a 3rd set tie-break. In the first set it was Medvedev all the way and he won it comfortably. The second set saw Felix having two match points on serve but he could not convert, and duly paid for it. Medvedev broke back, held comfortably, then broke again to win the set. The third set was once again one sided.

Novak and Zverev had met nine times and Novak had a positive 6-3 hth. The first three times they had met had seen Zverev winning twice and both were in Finals, one at the Rome Masters and once at the Nitto ATP Masters. After that, Novak had five wins in a row, including twice each at Grand Slams and at the Nitto ATP Masters. Their last match had ended as a win for Zverev, which was in the SF of the Tokyo Olympics.

It was therefore not that Zverev had no chance against Novak, but as the younger player himself said before the match, anyone, to beat Novak, has to play perfect tennis, and since most of the time, one cannot be perfect, that is why most of the time players lose against Novak. Calling Novak the best player in the world, Zverev accepted that he was very difficult to defeat.

The match was a memorable one. Zverev’s booming serve helped him win the 1st set before Novak came back to win the second and the third. Once again Zverev’s served got him back in the match and he won the 4th set. However, in the 5th set is was Novak all the way. Later Zverev summed it all, “He is number one, for a reason.”

Review of finals.

The h2h between Novak and Medvedev was 5-3. However, in Grand Slam tournaments, Novak had won both their matches, which were at the Australian Open. In hard-courts, Novak led 4-2, while he won their only match on grass, and Medvedev won their only match on clay-courts. This was Medvedev’s 3rd Grand Slam final, and he had lost the 1st two to Nadal and Djokovic. He was seeking to be the 1st Russian winner of a Grand Slam tournament since Marat Safin in 2005.

As for Novak, this was his 31st Grand Slam final, same as Roger Federer, for whom the stats were 20-11. The stats before this final for Novak were 20-10, and he was focused on making it 21 and going ahead of his illustrious rivals Rafa and Federer. As he himself said, “I am going to put my heart, my soul, my body and my head into that one. I am going to treat that match like it is the last match of my career”. He also drew parallels with Kobe Bryant interview during the 2009 NBA finals where he said, “Why should I be happy right now; job is not done

The outcome of the finals was however quite unexpected. Most had expected a win for Novak and while some had thought Medvedev may win, they were sure that while Novak may have an easy win, Medvedev would have to fight it out. The contrary happened, to the disappointment of Novak’s fans.  

The finals started with Novak being broken in the very 1st game. Thereafter his serving was terrific, but so was Medvedev’s who held serve again and again to win the first set 6-4. In the second set, it was Medvedev who was under pressure but he saved as many as five breakpoints and it was Novak who was broken first, and once again, Medvedev served out the set. His serve in both the 1st sets was at a different level. The 3rd set continued in the same fashion with Medvedev racing to a 4-0 lead. Novak held twice, but so did Medvedev and he served for the match at 5-2 in the 3rd set. Medvedev double-faulted at match point and was then broken. Novak held and once again Medvedev served for the US Open. At 40-15, he had 2 more championship points and once again double-faulted. It was third time lucky, and fittingly, a monster of a service winner gave Medvedev his 1st Grand Slam title. 

Rod Laver’s Grand slam record was not to be broken. However, it was a magnificent year for Novak, and ultimately, it took an inspired opponent to defeat him. To celebrate, Medvedev did the dead fish celebration of his off-court passion, the play-station FIFA game. He later said that he had been thinking about it since Wimbledon, and he wanted to make his 1st celebration of a Grand Slam win legendary for himself.

Congrats, Daniil Medvedev for your 1st Grand Slam, and certainly there will be more to come. 

Pics credit; US OPEN on Twitter.

India’s wait for a test win at Manchester continues for some time. 2021 Test match cancelled due to COVID-19.

Virat Kohli's trumpet celebration after Hameed and Bairstow's wickets  sparks debate on social media | Cricket - Hindustan Times

After India’s tremendous win in the Oval Test, India took a 2-1 lead in the 2021 series for the Pataudi trophy. The pic above is of Virat Kohli’s trumpet celebration which sparked a debate as to whether the skipper was mocking the Barmy Army. Virat of course, as always, would be least bothered about “the noise” and will be focused on continuing the hard cricket his team has been consistently displaying for quite some time now.

The 5th test was scheduled to start at Old Trafford, Manchester on 10th September, 2021 and India has never won here. Virat was seeking to get the 1st ever Indian win here while Joe Root was hopeful of continuing the history of English successes at the and trying to square the series 2-2.

A great test match was awaited but due to fears of a further increase in the number of COVID cases inside the camp, India was unable to field a team and the 5th Test was cancelled.

Let us take a look at the history of the 9 test matches at this venue, 4 of which resulted in wins for England, while five were draws. I will mention the brief scores, the highlights, the notable batting and bowling performances, and the series result. I will give some special mentions of the test match being discussed. Finally, I will take a quick preview of the forthcoming test match here on 10th September.

First, let us take a look at the four English wins at this venue.

1952 Series, July 17-19

This was a humiliating defeat for team India. Skipper Len Huttons’s 104 and ’50s each by Tim May and Godfrey Evans took England to 347/9d. Ramesh Divecha and Ghulam Ahmed took three wickets each. Freddie Trueman’s 8/31 reduced India to 58 all out. The second innings was only statistically slightly better, and this time Bedser took 5 wickets and Tony Lock took 4, and India was 82 all out.

Brief Scores; England 347/9d. India 58 and 82. Result; England won by an innings and 207 runs. Series Result; England won the four test series 3-0.

Special Mention; Trueman bowled one of the best spells seen in test cricket. At one point in time, his field setting was three slips, three gullies, two at short-leg, and a short mid-off.

Special Mention 2; India was dismissed twice in one day. I do not think there is any other instance in test cricket post world war 2.

1959 Series, July 23-28

Geoff Pullar (131) and Mike Smith (100) hit centuries while Ken Barrington and Colin Cowdrey scored 87 and 67 to take England to an imposing 490. Surendra Nath took five wickets for India. Chandu Borde was the only Indian batsman to play well for his 75 and the Indian reply was a disappointing 208. England chose to bat again and scored 265/8d to set India an impossible chase of 558. The second innings saw a better batting performance by the visitors. Abbas Ali Baig and Polly Umrigar scored 100’s while opener Nari Contractor scored 56. However, India still lost the match by a big margin.

Brief Scores; England 490 and 265/8d. India 208 and 376. Result; England won by 171 runs. Series Result; England won the five-test series 4-0.

Special Mention; Abbas Ali Baig hit a century on debut. He was just 20 and was playing 1st class cricket for Oxford University when he got an SOS call, as the great Vijay Manjrekar was injured. He responded with a ton.

1974 Series, June 6-11

Keith Fletcher’s 123 and 50’s by Dennis Amiss and Tony Greig took England to 328/9d. India scored just 246 in response, which was due to Sunny Gavaskar’s 101, GRV’s 40, and Syed Abid Ali’s 71, batting at number 9. In a wonderful exhibition of batting, Gavaskar was 8th out, and he was run out. Mike Hendrick and Bob Willis took 3 and 4 wickets respectively. England declared at 213/3 with Edrich getting 100, and setting India a target of 296. Gavaskar and GRV once again played well to score 58 and 50 respectively. However, none of the other batsmen played well. Chris Old and Tony Greig took 4 and 3 wickets respectively to get England a won by 113 runs.

Brief Scores; England 328/9d and 213/3d. India 246 and 182. Result; England won by 113 runs. Series Result; England won the three-test series 3-0.

Special Mention; Sunny Gavaskar considers this 101 of his as one of his finest test innings.

2014 Series, August 7-9.

Batting 1st, India was quickly reduced to 24/4, and only a fighting 71 by Dhoni and a calm 40 by Ashwin took India to 152. Anderson and Broad combined beautifully, with Broad taking six wickets and Jimmy three. England scored 367 with Root top-scoring with 77, and super contributions from Buttler (70) and Ian Bell(58). India once again collapsed to 161 all out to have an innings defeat Ashwin top-scored with 46 while Moeen Ali took 4 wickets.

Brief Scores; India 152 and 161. England 367. Result; England won by an innings and 54 runs. Series Result; England won the five-test series 3-1.

Special Mention; Stuart Broad hit Varun Aaron for successive sixes but was then hit on the nose. He retired hurt and was taken to hospital. He was in the hospital bed when he was informed that England had won easily and he had been awarded the man of the match award for his magical 6/25 in the 1st innings, even though he did not bowl a single ball in the second innings.

We now look at the five drawn matches at this venue.

1936 series; July 25-28

Batting 1st, India were 203 all out with Hedley Verity taking four wickets. England piled up 571 with the great Wally Hammond top-scoring with 167. England were 376 for 6 at one stage but the tail wagged merrily. Walter Robins at number 8 and Hedley Verity at number 9 scored 76 and 66 respectively, while in the middle order Stan Worthington and Joe Hardstaff scored 87 and 94. This was a 3-day test match, and India responded strongly with centuries by both openers Vijay Merchant (112) and Mushtaq Ali (112). Thy had a 203 run opening partnership and India reached 390/5 to draw the match.

Brief Scores; India 203 and 390/5. England 571. Result; Draw. Series Result; England won the three-test series 2-0.

1946 series; July 20-23

England batted first. Half-centuries by Hammond, Hutton and Len Hutton took them to 294. Lala Amarnath took 5-96 and Vinoo Mankad too took 5/101. In response, India had an excellent opening stand between Vijay Merchant(78) and Mushtaq Ali (46) but then collapsed to 170 all out. Dick Pollard took 5/24 in 27 overs while Alec Bedser took 4 wickets. England declared at 153/5 with Denis Compton scoring 71 not out. The target for India was 278 in 61 overs, and somehow India escaped with a draw with a solitary wicket remaining to be taken. Alec Bedser took 7/52. This was his debut series and he took 22 wickets in two test matches.

Brief Scores; England 294 and 153/5d. India 170 and 152/9. Result; Draw. Series Result; England won the three test series 1-0.

Special mention; Denis Compton was an accomplished football player as well. He played for Arsenal.

Special Mention 2; Dick Pollard, like many accomplished players, lost many years to the world war. He became an army officer and played only four test matches in which he took 15 wickets. This was his debut test match and he could play only after successfully negotiating/pleading with his army bosses.

1971 series; August 5-10

Batting first, England put up 304. At one stage they were 223/8 but John Snow at number 9, hit 73. Alan Knott too scored 66 while for India Bishan Bedi, Chandra and Venkat took 4, 3, and 2 wickets respectively. Ajit Wadekar (85), GRV (68) and Eknath Solkar (67) took India to 313, which gave India a slender 9 run lead. England was shot out for 191 with Venkat, Bedi, and Chandra taking 4,2, and 2 wickets. India had a target of 183 in 50 overs. Sunny Gavaskar scored 54 and Farokh Engineer 35, but after Gavaskar was 6th out at 113, chances of a win vanished and India held on for a draw at 145/8. Norman Gifford took 4 wickets for England.

Brief Scores; England 304 and 191. India 313 and 145/8. Result; Draw. Series Result; India won the three-test series 1-0.

Special Mention. Norman Gifford could not play much test cricket since Derek Underwood was preferred over him. He had an interesting ODI career. At 44, he made his debut as Captain in the 1984-85 Rothmans trophy. In one of the two matches, he took 4/23 including Imran Khan for a 1st ball duck. These were the only two ODI matches he played.

1982 series; June 24-28

The weatherman played a spoilsport in this test match. England scored 425 with a century by Ian Botham (128) and notable contributions by Geoff Cook (66), Tavare (57), and Geoff Miller (98). For India, Dilip Doshi took 6/192. India scored 379/8 with Sandeep Patil top-scoring with 129. GRV, Kirmani, and Kapil contributed effectively with 54, 58 and 65 respectively, and India reached 379/8.

Brief Scores; England 425. India 379/8. Result; Draw. Series Result; England won the three-test series 1-0.

Special mention. Derek Pringle used to wear an earring. Once he was asked why he wore it. He said, “because I will look silly if I wear two”. Once the conservative Chairman of selectors told him that if he wore an earring, it would affect his balance at the crease. Pringle ignored him.

1990 series Aug 9-14

This test match will always be remembered for Sachin Tendulkar’s arrival on the test scene. Batting first, centuries by openers Gooch (116) and Atherton (131), and middle-order batsman Robin Smith (121) helped England pile up 519. India responded well with 432. Azhar scored a magnificent 179 while Sanjay Manjrekar and Sachin scored 93 and 68. A century by Allan Lamb (131) and 78 by Atherton took England to 320/4d, giving India a target of 408 in 90 overs. Manjrekar again scored 50, but at 183/6, it looked like England would pull off an easy win. Tendulkar with 119 and Manoj Prabhakar with 67 not out took India to safety and a highly creditable draw.

Special Mention; This was the test debut of Anil Kumble. He took 3 wickets in his 1st bowling effort and his 1st wicket in test cricket was that of Allan Lamb. Kumble would go on to be an all-time great of world cricket.

Special mention 2; Allan Lamb said that those days there was no video analysis etc and when Sachin came out to bat, he said, “who is this little toothpick’, we will see the back of him pretty soon“.

This is the history of the venue so far. It has clearly favoured England. Either they have won or dominated in drawn tests here.

The stage was set for an engrossing final test of the Pataudi series 2021. Indian batting looked good in the second innings of the Oval test after three successive batting failures. Rohit Sharma looks in fine fettle and with Pujara and Kohli showing signs of coming back to form, India would be hoping for a big knock from them. Ajinkya will surely be replaced for the final test, and it will likely be by Hanuma or Mayank, though some want the swashbuckling SK Yadav in the team. The bowling looks fine, and Shami coming back will be helpful to the team’s cause. The puzzle of Ashwin not playing will remain unsolved. If the captain did not play him at the Oval, it seems probable that he may not play at Manchester as well.

What about England. Despite the loss at the Oval, they look a settled team and have got over the absence of Stokes, Archer and Stuart Broad pretty fast. Heartening for them has been the form of the openers and the fluency of Malan at number 3, while Root is in the form of their life. Ollie Pope also had an excellent 1st innings and was only undone by the genius of Bumrah in the second. Their quick bowlers did not fare well in the second innings at the Oval, and will be looking forward to better bowling conditions at Manchester.

The above two paras were written before the start of the Test match and all of us were looking forward to a great test match and a fantastic end to the test series.

Regrettably, the match was cancelled. The BCCI gave a statement that the 5th Test has been called off and in view of the strong relationship between BCCI and ECB, the BCCI offered to ECB a rescheduling of the test and both Boards will work together towards finding window to reschedule this test match. Possibly, next year, in 2022, India has a 6 match white-ball cricket series, and the Manchester Test may be played that time.

The Indian wait for a win at Manchester, Old Trafford will continue.

Andy Roddick won US Open in 2003, Will Brooksby be the next American winner?

Andre Agassi: 'I would have been a worse player without Pete Sampras'

21 years of Grand Slam Tennis is almost over in the 21st century. The years 2000-2003 were dominated by American Champions (this article focuses only on the men’s Grand Slam events). In this period of 2000-2003, Andre Agassi won the Australian Open 3 times and reached the US Open Final once. In addition to his six previous wins, Pete Sampras won Wimbledon once more, won the US Open once more as well and also reached the finals of the US Open twice as well. Andy Roddick won the US Open in 2003. This was an excellent show by American champions, carrying on the tradition of giants like Jimmy Connors, John Mcenroe, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. In the 1990’s, the USA had such a surfeit of tennis riches that Pete Sampras had been reduced to playing doubles with John Mcenroe in the 1992 Davis Cup Final with Courier and Agassi playing the singles. USA defeated Switzerland 3-1 in that tie. An amazingly pleasant selection headache for any Captain.

Men’s Grand Slam Tennis has not seen an American Grand Slam champion since Andy Roddick in 2003. That’s 18 years now. We have not seen an American champion now for the last 70 Grand Slams. This is not acceptable for a country which has won 52 Grand Slam titles, more than any two tennis playing nations put together. Next is Spain with 26, Sweden with 25, Switzerland with 23, and Serbia with 23. Of course, the numbers of Spain, Switzerland, and Serbia have been swelled with the extraordinary performance of Rafa, Federer, and Novak who have won 20 Grand Slam titles each. This however, also means that the USA has given us many more tennis champions than other tennis-playing countries.

Let us see if any male tennis player has entered the finals at the Majors since Roddick’s US Open triumph in 2003. Well, it is none other than Roddick himself, which was in the 2009 Wimbledon final. In fact after his 2003 US open win, Roddick had 4 Losses in finals of Majors, 3 at Wimbledon and once at the US Open, and all 4 were to Federer.

This means that the last time an American male was in a Grand Slam final was 12 years back. We also do not regularly see Americans at the semi-finals or even the Quarter-final stages. The focus clearly has shifted to Europe.

Certainly not acceptable for a proud sporting nation with such a rich tennis playing – and winning history.

The decline of American tennis is certainly puzzling since tennis has seen an increase in popularity worldwide.

There is a constant increase in prize money. The top sponsors such as Nike, Adidas, Fila, Lacoste, Asics, Uniqlo and Lotto for instance are steady in their support, and there are newer sponsors every year.

Top players like Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic are amongst the highest-paid athletes in the world with only top football players like Messi and Ronaldo, and top basketball players and boxers like LeBron James and Floyd “Money” Mayweather ahead of them. Even in 2019, Federer was the 5th highest-earning athlete on the Forbes list with an earning of 93.4 Million$. Only Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, and boxer Canello Alvarez were ahead of him. In 2020, Federer became just the 9th top earning athlete on the Forbes list since they started rankings in 1990.

The sport is certainly flourishing everywhere else in the world. Is it struggling in the USA? and if so, why?

USA hasn’t won the Davis Cup since 2007. No American male tennis player is in the top 20. The highest ranked American player is Reilly Opelka at 23 followed by John Isner at 26. Taylor Fritz, Sebastian Korda, and Francis Tiafoe are in the top 50. Tommy Paul, Mckenzie Mcdonald, Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson, Denis Kudla, Tennys Sandgren, and Brandon Nakshima are other American players in the top 100. There is one more, Jenson Brooksby, who at 20 has broken into the top 100 after entering the semi-finals of the Citi ATP 500 tournament. While there are many who are in the top 100, for the USA, that is not good enough. Top 20 is minimum, while top 10 or rather, top 5 would have been not just desirable, but expected.

Can Sebastian Korda or Brooksby be the exciting young talent who will help invigorate American tennis to earlier glory, or will it be Reilly Opelka. An American playing even a quarter final of a Grand Slam is a surprise and a talking point. That certainly should not be the case.

Apart from the absence of an American male superstar, a possible reason for the apparent decline in tennis in America could be that it is a costly pursuit. There is also a huge percentage of tennis scholarships going to non-Americans and there seems to be a sudden decline in Americans playing college tennis and breaking into the pro level. Let us compare with the past.

John McEnroe came from Stanford while Connors, and Ashe came from UCLA. However no top player in recent times seems to have come from the American colleges, barring John Isner and Sam Querrey. Isner who is from Georgia has breached the top ten just once and has a solitary Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon and just two Quarter-finals at the US Open so far. At 36, maybe his best days are probably behind him, though now also he along with fellow-American Reilly Opelka are the best servers on the circuit. Sam Querrey in 2017, became the 1st American to reach a Grand Slam semi-final in 8 years. However, he has only that semi-final appearance at Wimbledon and a QF appearance at US Open in the same year. He has not reached a QF after that.

Reduction of major tennis tournaments in the USA is also a factor. California has only one major tennis tournament which is at Indian Wells. Cincinnati and Miami Open are the only other important tennis tournament one can think of. More pertinently, reduction of important tournaments in the USA has coincided with increase of tournaments in Europe and Asia. Some tournaments have shifted from the USA to Rio and even Tokyo. In 1990, 16 out of 77 ATP events were in the USA. Currently, it is 11 out of 63. Even in ladies events, in 1990, 24 out of 55 WTA events were in the USA and now it is 11 out of 55.

Do all tennis players make money?
A closer look reveals that only three of the top 25 earners in sport are tennis players. No surprises that these three are Federer, Novak and Rafa. While Federer is the Numero Uno, Novak is at 23rd and Rafa is at 27th. Serena, Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori are also in the list of top 40 earning athletes. They are the only 6 in the top 60. Notably, there is no American male, and Serena is the only lady tennis player from the USA.

It is my strong belief that lack of a Champion is not motivating youngsters who are preferring other sports over tennis. One more reason could be the growing perception that tennis is becoming an increasingly elite sport. Cost of coaching, traveling and tournament participation could cross $100000.

If someone breaks into top 50 and preferably top 30 in the world then the returns will be certainly be worth it. For instance, Reilly Opelka is just 23 and at rank 31 has already earned more than 2.5 million dollars. Taylor Fritz , at 23 has earned above 4 Million dollars. But it is not easy to be among top 50 and top 30 in the world. It requires investment, it requires coaching, and it requires focus. It is true that there are hundreds of free tennis courts everywhere but then that leads to a fitter culture, which of course is super in itself. However, recreational tennis is different from producing Grand Slam Champions.

Hope for the future however remains. The USA is a great sporting nation will definitely not like to see this decline continue. In recent times there has been an increase in tennis at the junior level.

There has been a renewed interest in tennis in New York at junior level, which probably is one of the greatest tennis cities in the world. This may well see a growth and revival after a few years. Until then, America is likely to see no champion – which is not great news.

Can Reilly Opelka be that American champion, the USA wants to see as early as possible or can it be Jenson Brooksby or Frances Tiafoe?

Reilly Opelka blasts into 2021 US Open fourth round - Official Site of the  2021 US Open Tennis Championships - A USTA Event

The 6 foot 11 inches giant seemed to be in the form of his life and serving really well. He also improved upon his groundstrokes and temperament as well and this helped him to defeat world number three Tsitsipas in the semi-final of the 2021 Toronto Masters before he lost to Medvedev in the final. However Grand Slam involves different mental skills as well apart from the physical aspect of winning 7 best-of-five matches in a single tournament over a period of two weeks. Can Opelka take the next step. Can he become the 1st male American Champion since Andy Roddick in 2003? If so, he will be the tallest male Grand Slam champion af all time, with the tallest record shared by DelPo and Cilic, who as 6;6 each. Well, as we saw at the US Open 2021, it takes more than a monster serve, because , if the served can be sorted out then the match can quickly be over- as a loss. Harris withstood the heavy barrage of serves, lost the 1st set 6-7, then won comfortably

Frances Tiafoe: I was in dark place pre-pandemic

If not Opelka, who else can take the next step, the ultimate one, of winning a Grand Slam tournament. Can it be Tiafoe. He certainly is a swashbuckling and charismatic superstar and he proved he can be a winner too by defeating Rublev in the 3rd round of the US Open 21. He did lose to Felix in the 4th, but did not disgrace himself. This year he has won against Tsitsipas, Shapovaloc, Murray and now Rublev. All these four wins were in different tournaments. To win a Grand Slam, he has to defeat four similar opponents in one tournament over two weeks. Can he do that? Let us wait and watch.

Jenson Brooksby speaks on facing Novak Djokovic at US Open

What about Brooksby. He was not in the top 200 of the world in the 1st half of 2021. and suddenly broke into the world top 100. At 99, he got a wildcard for the US Open and progressed to the 4th round to become the youngest American in the 4th round since none other than Andy Roddick. He also played an electrifying 1st set to win 6-1, before Novak scripted a comeback to win in four sets. However, Brooksby showed that his earlier performances such as reaching the finals at Newport, semi-finals at Washington, and now 4th round at the US Open including a win over Aslan Karatsev showcase him as an American hope for the future.

The youngster also got words of praise from Novak who said, “He is so crafty from the back of the court and he is only 20. There is a lot of time ahead of him. America has got a great future in tennis, thats for sure”.

However, the bottom line is that another year has gone by without a male American Grand Slam champion, and another Grand Slam has gone by without a single American in the Quarter-finals.

Looking forward to the Grand Slam tennis tournaments in 2022 and hopefully a breakthrough year for the exciting Jenson Brooksby.

Jeeva(Tamil). Thought-provoking movie on politics in cricket and inter-religion love.

Jeeva'

In 2014, director Suseenthiran and producer Arya (who pays Kabilan in the boxing movie Sarpatta Parambarai) had made Jeeva, a movie about cricket in Chennai. It had explored the topic of politics in cricket selection. However the director does not say that the talent of those who are selected is at question, he says that meritorious others should be given a chance as well.

Possibly, this is the only movie which has touched upon this sensitive topic. It was a commercial success and was well-acclaimed.

Here is my review of Jeeva where I take a look at the plot/story-line, and discuss the main actors and the director. I will also mention some classic moments of the movie.

The Story-line; Jeeva, a poor Hindu boy, inspired by none other than Sachin Tendulkar wants to take up cricket. He is extraordinarily talented and very hard-working as well. As a school-boy cricketer, he gets an offer to join a local club, where the coach is a former Ranji player. However his father wants him to study and get a job. Jeeva and Jenny, his 17 year Christian neighbour fall in love. However her father sees them and he sends her away. Jeeva takes to alcohol, and to get him back on track, his father relents and allows him to take up cricket. Jeeva and his foe-turned-friend Ranjith quickly rise through second division, first division, Buchi babu and U-22 to break into the Ranji team. He is united with his childhood sweetheart as well, who has now joined the software firm Cognizant.

The two newly-minted Ranji cricketers feel they have made it. However their coach drops a bombshell that selection politics may finish their career. Indeed it does, as in two seasons, they get just three games, and then are dropped despite doing well. This is also a result of turning down the offer of a powerful club, owned by the Secretary of the TNCA (is the character modelled after the powerful N.Srinivasan?)

Ranjith cannot take the shock, but Jeeva decides to continue his fight. He gets a lucky break with the opposing captain of one of the three Ranji games he had played in giving him a recommendation and a just reward for an entry into KPL (seems to be the movie name for IPL). Sparkling success gets him an entry into the National team. He is an India player finally.

The movie ends with Jeeva telling his and Ranjith’s story very frankly to reporters without mincing words. He says that his cricket future may suffer for speaking out the truth, but someone has to do so.

Some classic moments; The movie has some classic scenes. It shows a family switching off the TV when Tendulkar is out, which pretty much reflected the mood of the nation then. The director has made the cricket scenes very authentic, such as showing the difficulty faced when “graduating” from matting tracks to turf wickets. Some technical aspects of “politics of selection” have been well pointed out, such as selective use of averages to select or drop, or even after performances force a selection in the squad, how one simply benches the non-favored player, or plays him in tough conditions. While some aspects are predictable and formulaic, they are realistic as well, such as parental opposition to inter-religion love, or a parents insistence for a child to focus on studies rather than sports, or when the son gets a Ranji trophy, a relative comments that now a job in bank or railways or customs or Income-tax is assured, these have been sensitively handled. Another recognition of reality is that IPL can offer a route to Indian team selection. Whether that is good or not is a different matter, but that has been correctly shown.

Actors; Vishnu Vishal plays the role of Jeeva. Vishnu, whose real name is Vishal Kudawla and is the son of Shri Ramesh Kudawla, an IPS officer of the 1987 batch, was a cricket player himself and played at State level before a leg injury derailed his career. He then took up movies. Vishal is better known as Vishnu and had made his acting debut in Suseenthiram’s debut movie Nennila Kabaddi Kuzzu. He was a kabaddi player in that movie. In Jeeva, he does an excellent job, and it is clear that his cricket background has helped him for the role. He does both the romantic scenes and the cricket scenes convincingly. Vishnu has recently married badminton Champion Jwala Gutta who has won laurels for the country in many International events.

The role of Jenny is played by Sri Divya, who has been seen in leading roles in many movies and who started her acting career in television serials when she was free and in films as a child artiste when she was seven. Her elder sister Sri Ramya also acts in Telugu and Tamil movies.

Actor Soori plays David or Senior, and he is simply super in the movie in his brief role. Soori and Vishnu have acted in seven movies and were good friends in real life as well. Sadly, that friendship is over, since Soori has filed a case against Vishnu’s father for non-payment of remuneration and police have booked the former DGP. The roles of Ranjith, coach and Parthasarathy are played by Laksman Narayan, Ravi and veteran Madhusudan Rao respectively.

Director; Suseenthiran shot to fame with his 1st movie. His father was a kabaddi player and he incorporated his father’s real-life experiences. His third movie, Azhagarsamivin Kudhirai, won the National film award for best movie providing wholesome entertainment. He is a prolific director and has already directed over 10 movies with many of them having sports themes. For Jeeva, the story is by him and so is the screenplay. Apart from directing it, he is one of the producers as well.

If you like sports movies, watch it on Disney Hotstar.

Wishing my batchmate, Rajiv Kumar a terrific career, beyond the IRS.

On September 4th, 2000, I reported for duty at the LBSNAA, Mussoorie as an officer of the IC and CES. Those days, Customs services was known as the Indian Customs and Central Excise service, and later on, the service was renamed as the IRS(Customs). On day one, I made a lifelong friend in Sorabh Babu, my roommate and the all India topper of our batch. He is like a younger brother to me and we are very fond of each other.

In the 1st week of December, i was upgraded by the DOPT to the IRS, which was my higher service preference. I was asked to report at the NADT, Nagpur. There, 25 of us would spend the next 16 months together. We were 18 male officers and seven lady batch-mates. Being a tiny batch, we were, and are like a family. Many of these friends were in the FC at LBSNAA, but some had directly reported for the professional training after taking an exemption from the FC.

One such batchmate was Rajiv Kumar. Today, 3rd September, 2021, is his last day of service, since Rajiv has opted for VRS. I wish him the very best and am sure he will have a terrific career, beyond the IRS, and he will shine in whatever he chooses to take up.

This blog is my tribute to you, dear Rajiv.

Rajiv had not done the FC, and like a few other batch-mates, he reported directly at NADT. Rajiv is an Engineer from IIT- Delhi, and has an MBA from FMS, Delhi University. He was one of the many Engineers in our batch. If I recollect correctly there were 10 Engineers ( and one doctor) in our batch of 25 and all were from prestigious Institutions including IIT Delhi, IIT Kanpur and Delhi College of Engineering. Rajiv, being professionally qualified from two top Institutes was obviously expected to be very brilliant. He indeed was, and what was different about him was that he was also very sharp. While he was serious as a person, he had a terrific sense of humor, which often came out in a very striking, and memorable manner.

At NADT, our entire batch had an excellent time together. Two fond memories of Rajiv are his singing and his cricket. He is an excellent singer with a nice voice and could sing both Kishore Kumar and Mohd Rafi songs confidently. My wife, Milly is an excellent singer as well, and I remember her and Rajiv singing duets in the Cultural functions at NADT. They beautifully sang the mesmerising RD Burman song, “Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko”, with Rajiv singing the Rafi part “Sajaunga lut kar bhi tere badan ki daali ko” with ease. The duet was a huge hit and well appreciated by the audience. A huge hit too was Rajiv singing the famous Kishore Kumar comedy song “Aake seedhi lagi dil pe jaise” from the movie Half-ticket. It is an amazingly difficult song with Kishore Kumar singing in both male and female voice and Rajiv brought the house down with a flawless performance.

Cricket is a passion for me, and it was extremely heartening to learn that Rajiv was a very good cricketer. He was a right arm leg spinner which is a very tough art, and he was very good at it. We had a nice time playing at the Vidarbha Cricket Association ground. Our captain Sobhan and Rajiv bowled beautifully, the fast bowler and leg-spinner complementing each other to bundle the opposition (Ordinance Factories team) out for a small score and make it easy for us to chase it successfully. I had batted well in that match, apart from keeping the wickets. Ajay Kumar put in his customary polished performance, both with the bat and the ball, apart from his electrifying fielding. A life-time memory will be Hari Rao Bhai hitting a huge six into the stands, in a Test match stadium. Remember, those were the days of normal bats, and it was no mean feat.

Later Rajiv played for the IRS Delhi team several times and as Sobhan, his captain there as well adds, he switched to being an off-spinner to have better control, and protect his wrists so that his sublime tennis strokes would continue. Sobhan gives Rajiv the compliment of being a brilliant officer who contributed significantly wherever he worked. Wonderful words of praise from one brilliant officer to another.

A spinner is always happiest when he gets the batsman stumped. Rajiv, being a spinner also stumped us all with his decision to opt for VRS.

Rajiv is married to one of our batch-mates, Aashna, and they are a very dignified couple. Professionally, both are very successful. They started their career in Punjab and then shifted to Delhi. Rajiv was known as an ace investigator and initially worked mostly in the Investigation department, at various places including Amritsar and Faridabad. Later at Delhi, both had diverse experiences. Rajiv worked in various challenging assignments, including in the CBDT, in the TRU and TPL, and also on deputation to the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

I wish Rajiv the very best in whatever he decides to take up. I am certain, that with his academic qualifications and his professional expertise and diverse experience gained in these two decades in the IRS, he will be successful in whatever he does.

I also wish Rajiv, Aashna and their two young children, Ivan and Enya who are in the 7th and 11th respectively the very best and I look forward to our friendship continuing forever.

All the best, dear Rajiv, for a terrific career, beyond the IRS and a happy and fulfilling life as well, with lots and lots of lovely vacations like the one in the pic above, shared with me by the PMC of our batch, Deepshikha.

Lots of love and regards, Ritesh Bhai.

Virat and his boys win at Oval after 50 years to take a 2-1 lead. Congrats team India.

The crowd surrounds the players and officials at the presentation

England fought back in the Pataudi Trophy, 2021 after the disappointment at Lords to have a convincing win at Leeds and square the series 1-1. Joe Root continued his Bradmanesque form and the English top 4 batsmen combined well to give hope for the next two Tests and the forthcoming Ashes as well. In the absence of fancied team-mates, Root’s fast bowlers Robinson and Overton joined the party as well, giving much-needed support to the great Jimmy Anderson.

The Kennington Oval hosted the 4th Test of the 2021 series. This venue has not been a happy hunting ground for team India that has lost 5 Test matches here. This included the last three tests played in the 2011, 2014, and the 2018 series.

India won just one Test match at the Oval in the last 50 years while as many as seven tests were drawn. It was therefore natural for England to feel they had the at the Oval, where they lead 5-1. India’s only win came in the historic 1971 series when India won a series in England for the 1st time under the captaincy of Ajit Wadekar. Virat was looking forward to leading India to only a second win at this venue while England were also be hoping to make it four wins in a row, to give them a tennis score of 6-1 at the venue.

More important, a win for either team would see them take a 2-1 lead. It was team India which played spectacularly to come back from a 99 run deficit in the 1st innings and take a 2-1 lead in the series, with just one Test to go.

I take a look at the matches played here at the Oval and then take a quick review of the Oval test.

English Wins

The details of the five English wins are as follow;

1936 Series; August 15-18. England won by 9 wickets.

Wally Hammond’s 217 and Stan Worthington’s 128 took England to 471/8 declared. Mohd Nissar took five wickets for team India. In response, India started well with a 81 run opening stand between Vijay Merchant and Mushtaq Ali, both of whom scored 52 each. India folded up for 222 after they were out. Jim Sims had a fiver. India followed on and scored 312 in the second innings with CK Nayudu scoring 81. Gubby Allen took 7/80. England scored 64 runs for the loss of one wicket to win by 9 wickets.

Brief Scores; England 471/8d and 64/1. India 202 and 302 (followed on).

1959 Series; August 20-24. England won by an innings and 27 runs.

This was a disastrous series with India losing 5 Nil. At Oval, Freddie Trueman took 4/24 in 17 overs and India was 140 all out. England scored 361 with 98 by Mike Smith and 94 by Raman Subba Row being the 2 highest scores. Army officer cum cricketer, Surendra Nath took 5 wickets for India, just his second fiver in the 11 tests he played for India. In the 2nd innings, India once again folded up for 194, with Bapu Nadkarni top-scoring with 76. Fiery Fred and Brian Statham took three wickets each, to hand India an innings defeat.

Brief Scores; India 140 and 194. England 361.

2011 Series; August 18-22. England won by an innings and seven runs.

England won at this venue after five drawn matches in a row. This too was a disastrous series for India who lost all 4 matches. Ian Bell (235) and Kevin Pietersen (175) helped England pile up 591/6d. India was 300 all out with Rahul Dravid carrying his bat for a terrific 146*. Following on, India were all out for 283, with Tendulkar scoring 91 and Amit Mishra 84. Swann took 6 wickets to end with 9 wickets for the match.

Brief Scores; England 591/6d. India 300 and 283.

2014 Series August 15-17. England won by an innings and 244 runs.

An all-round bowling performance by Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, and Chris Jordan saw India collapsing to 148 all out, with only Dhoni scoring a valiant 82. Joe Root (149*), Alastair Cook (79), and Garry Ballance (64) batted India out by taking England to 486. In the 2nd innings, India was blown away to be 94 all out. England won the series 3-1.

Brief Scores; India 148 and 84. England 486.

2018 Series; September 7-11 England won by 118 runs.

While England won the match, this was a relatively closer contest though England ultimately won by over 100 runs. Batting 1st, England were 181/7 aat one stage and 214/8 as well but recovered to put up 332. Jos Buttler scored 89 and Stuart Broad at number 10 scored 38. Bumrah and Ishant took 3 wickets each while Jadeja took 4 wickets. India scored 292 with Ravindra Jadeja, batting at number 8, scoring 86 not out. The lead for England was just 30. However, Cook (147) and Root (125) took the game away from India. England scored 423/8 and set India a target of 454. Jimmy Anderson’s opening burst reduced India to 2/3 and the match was virtually over. KL Rahul scored a fighting 100 and Rishabh Pant had a ton as well. India ended up with 325 to lose by 118 runs. This series was won by England with a 4-1 margin.

Brief Scores; England 332 and 423/8d. India 292 and 325.

Drawn Matches Let us now look at the seven drawn matches at this venue.

1946 Series; August 17-20.

India scored 331 with Vijay Merchant hitting a hundred. England scored 95/3. This was a 3-day test match and there was no play on day 3. In the early days of test matches, there were many tests which were of 3 days or 4 days margin, and there were some timeless tests as well.

Brief Scores; India 331. England 95/3.

1952 Series; August 14-19.

Batting 1st, England scored 326/6 with David Sheppard scoring 119 and Len Hutton scoring 86. India was all out for 98 in just 38.5 overs with Bedser and Trueman taking five wickets each. However, there was no play for almost 3 days out of the five and India got away with a draw.

Brief Scores; England 326/6d India 98.

Special mention; English opener David Sheppard became an ordained minister who went on to become Bishop of Liverpool.

1979 Series; August 30-Sept 4

This is one of the finest test matches for India in its cricket history. England scored 305 and in response, India scored just 202. England piled up 334/8 with Boycott scoring a century and wicket-keeper David Bairstow scoring 59. India’s target was 438 and it seemed that it would be an easy win for England. Sunny Gavaskar played one of his finest innings. His 221, Chetan Chouhan’s 80, and Dilip Vengsarkar’s 56 saw India at 366/1 at one stage. Kapil Dev was promoted to number 4 and was out for 0. Gavaskar was the 4th batsman out at 389. India ultimately finished at 429/8, just 9 runs short of what would have been an unbelievable win.

Brief Scores. England 305 and 334/8d. India 202 and 429/8.

Special mention; Wicketkeeper David Bairstow is the father of current English batsman/keeper Johnny Bairstow. David sadly suffered from depression, drink-driving charges, financial troubles and was also disheartened with his wife’s illness, and at just 46, was found hanging in his house.

1982 Series July 8-13

This match was a high-scoring draw. Ian Botham’s belligerent 208 in 226 balls, AllanLamb’s 107 and Derek Randall’s 95 took England to 594. India scored 410 in response though Sunny Gavaskar was absent hurt. The reason was that he was hit by a ferocious drive from Botham at silly point ( Pic above, pic credit; Times of India). For India, Shastri, GRV, Sandeep Patil, and Kapil all hit 50’s with Kapil missing his ton by just 3 runs. England scored 191/3, setting India an impossible target of 376 in 36 overs. India scored 111/3 with GRV scoring 75 not out.

Brief Scores; England 594 and 191/3d. India 410 and 111/3.

1990 Series August 23-28

Once again, Oval provided us with a high-scoring draw. Centuries by Shastri (187) and Kapil (110) took India to 606. England scored 340 and was asked to follow on. India had 154 overs to bowl out England, but superb batting by Gooch (88), Atherton (86), and David Gower (157 not out) saw England score 477/4 for an honorable draw.

India 606. England 340 and 477/4

2002 Series Sept 5-9

The trend of high-scoring draws at this venue continued in 2002. 195 by Vaughan and ’50’s by Trescothick and Cork took England to 515. Harbhajan Singh picked up 5 wickets. India’s Wall, Rahul Dravid batted more than ten hours to score 217 and Sachin, and Saurav scored 50’s as well. India’s 508 ensured a draw. England batted again to score 114 for no loss.

Brief Scores. England 515 and 114/0. India 508.

2007 Series August 9-13

An amazing batting performance where all batsmen from 1 to 8 contributed saw India pile up 664. The highest scorer was Kumble with 110 while Dhoni, Dinesh Karthick, and Sachin scored 92.91 and 82 respectively. England were 345 all out with Cook, Bell, and Collingwood unable to convert their 60’s into hundreds. Kumble and Zaheer took 3 wickets each. India scored 180/6 to set England a target of 500 in 110 overs. Excellent batting by the English top 6, led by a ton by Kevin Pieterse reach 369/6 for an honorable draw.

Brief Scores; India 664 and 180/6d. England 345 and 369/6.

Solitary Win by team India

1971 Series; August 19-24. India won by 4 wickets.

It was a memorable win for many reasons. India used to regularly lose to England. The English side was a strong one which had won the Ashes in an away tour to Australia and had also defeated a strong Pakistan side at home. In contrast, India had zero wins and as many as 15 losses in their last 19 Tests in England. In their last two series, they had lost every match and the series 5-0 and 3-0.

Batting 1st, England put up 355, with contributions from John Jameson (82), Alan Knott (90), and Richard Hutton (81). At 125/5, it seemed the same old story. Dilip Sardesai with 54 was the highest scorer so far. Eknath Solkar and Engineer put up a crucial partnership of 97. India was 230/7 but useful ’20’s by Abid Ali, and Venkataraghavan took India to 284. A 71 run lead was handy for England but still kept India in the game, while a lead of 150 or so would have ensured England was comfortably ahead. The English Captain, Illingworth took five wickets.

In the 2nd knock, England was 23 for no loss when a stroke of luck helped team India. Chandra deflected a drive from Luckhurst onto the stumps with Jameson out of the crease. Thereafter, it was Chandra all the way and his 6/38 saw England collapsing to 101 all out, and leaving India with 173 to win. India was not to be denied. Skipper Wadekar (45), Sardesai (40), and GRV (33) played crucial knocks. Farokh Engineer scored a most valuable 28 runs and when Syed Abid Ali hit the winning boundary, jubilant Indian supporters ran in to celebrate.

Brief Scores; England 355 and 101. India 284 and 173/6.

A pic from ESPN-Cricinfo is below.

Abid Ali takes the winning run

Special Mention One; On the day Chandra weaved his magic, it was Ganpati day and local Indian supporters had got an elephant named Bella from Chessington Zoo to parade around the outfield in lunchtime.

Bella, an Indian elephant from Chessington Zoo, makes an appearance on the final day, as part of a celebration of the Indian festival of Ganesh Chaturthi

Special Mention Two; Indian Skipper Wadekar, went off to sleep and was woken up by Ken Barrington who told him that India had won. Ajit Ji said, “I always knew we will win”.

2021 Series

The stage was set for a fascinating 4th test of the Pataudi Trophy 2021. England got in Ollie Pope for Buttler who was away on paternity leave. They also got back the ever reliable Chris Woakes. India got in Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur for Ishant and Shami. Ashwin was once again not selected and Virat gave the interesting explanation that with four left-handers in the English side, Jadeja would exploit the rough the fast bowlers would create. This was puzzling, since Ashwin is the only bowler in the history of test cricket with more than 200 wickets of left-handers.

Anyways, put in to bat, India were quickly 69-4 and later 127-7. The ploy of Jadeja at number 5 did not click. However Virat with 50 and an entertaining 57 by Shardul took India to 191. Shardul’s 50 was the fastest ever in England. Woakes and Robinson took 4 and 3 wickets respectively. England were 62/5 at one stage but recovered to put up 290. This was mainly due to Ollie Pope (81), Bairstow (37), Moeen (35) and Woakes (50). Umesh took 3 wickets for India and others shared the spoils.

A terrific opening stand by Rahul and Rohit followed up by highly effective batting from several Indian batsmen saw India put up 466 and effectively bat England out of the match. Rohit Sharma hit his 1st away century. His 127 was classy. Pujara (61) and Kohli(44) played well, and it was an excellent show by Rishabh (50) and Shardul (60 in 72 balls) which put India in a commanding position. Chris Woakes again was the best English bowler, taking three wickets.

England started well with a 100 run opening stand. However the departure of Burns to Shardul and a run-out of Malan saw them lose two wickets before lunch on the 5th day. The post lunch session saw four English wickets fall in a heap. It was a terrific team performance from the Indian bowlers with Bumrah getting devastating reverse swing, Jadeja bowling in a miserly manner and exploiting the rough, and both Shardul and Umesh getting crucial breakthroughs. England were all out for 210 in 92.2 overs and India won by a huge margin of 157 runs. Umesh took 3 wickets and Bumrah, Jadeja and Thakur took 2 wickets each. For his wonderful century Rohit won the man-of-the-match award. It was a terrific team effort by India. Well done. A win after 50 years is simply amazing and kudos to the skipper Virat Kolhi and his boys.

Pics credit; ESPNCricinfo.com, Cricketmonthly.com , Times of India, Getty Images

Oculus, a very, very scary psychological, and supernatural movie on Netflix.

Review: Why 'Oculus' Is One of the Scariest American Horror Movies In Years  | IndieWire

I first saw a few horror movies as a kid. The Omen, Damien Omen II, Omen III-The final conflict and Omen IV; The Awakening come to mind. Thereafter for many years, I did not see any and then saw a few (like an 11 pm showing of Woman in Black) with my elder daughter when she was 13-14. Now, 9 years after that, I am again seeing movies from the horror genre with my second daughter, when she is 13-14. The latest one we saw is Oculus, and it is at her behest that this review is being written.

This one is for you, Anvita.

There is a distinction between a horror movie and a psychological movie. The latter plays with the mind. It does not need gruesome and grotesque figures, or lots of bloodshed or dead coming back or ghosts jumping out at you to evoke fear in the mind. A psychological movie seeks to unsettle the mind by playing with its mental and emotional states. Hallucinations and delusions play a major part in most psychological movies. The intention could be to evoke fear, and on that sense, it can be called a sub-set of the horror genre.

In 2013, a psychological movie had come out named Oculus. It is an extremely clever psychological thriller and a part two is expected in 2022.

Here is my review of Oculus, wherein I tell you about the plot, the actors and the creators.

Plot/Story; The director tells the story about the main characters in two timelines, the present and also of 11 years ago. It is a story of Kaylie, a sister who wants to prove that it was not her 10 year brother Tim, who killed their father but it was a mysterious mirror which was responsible for the tragedy. We go back in time to 11 years back and we are told of a very happy family, consisting of a successful software developer, his pretty wife and two beautiful children. Things go wrong for the entire family and in a terrible tragedy, the father shoots dead his wife and in turn is shot dead by his ten year son, who claims he is not responsible.

The son is taken to a mental asylum and comes out fully treated, 11 years later. His sister is 23, and she has spent the entire last 11 years doing research on the mirror. She finds out that there have been many mysterious deaths in the families which owned the mirror. Some of these are horrifying, and to give just one example, a young lady had hit herself to death using a hammer, and her hand which has wielded the hammer is the only body part which does not have broken bones. Kaylie has a plan in mind. She has alarms of all kinds to remind her and Time to eat, drink water and so on. She has cameras everywhere. She has a death switch as well- for the mirror, and she intends to destroy it, after documenting and recording Tim’s innocence.

Tim, after 11 years at an asylum, is convinced there is nothing such as ghost or evil power or supernatural forces. He in fact gives the fuzzy logic concept and says that the mind is unnecessarily accepting what is false since one is looking for it. Kaylie convinces Tim to stay with her in the room where the mirror is- and then the drama unfolds. Slowly Tim starts getting convinced that the mirror indeed has evil powers. He then pleads with Kaylie that they should just leave. However a point comes when, even if they want to, they can’t.

The suspense, the horror and the sheer terror is very cleverly and skillfully maintained by the director till the end.

What happens at the end? Who emerges the winner? Do the siblings win or is it the mirror who emerges triumphant?. A sequel is expected, and so it is clear that it is the mirror that has won. The ending has however been very cleverly curated. Please watch the movie to enjoy the terror, and to properly enjoy the sequel, expected to be released soon.

The actors; Karen Gillan plays Kaylie. We have of course, seen her as Nebula in the Marvel super-hero movies Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers series. She has also acted in the Jumanji action movies and has featured in Broadway plays as well. She is just 33, and we will certainly see a lot of her in the years to come. She is just super as Kaylie, the young and beautiful girl, who is willing to sacrifice everything, including her comfortable life with her fiancee, and their life too if required to establish the innocence of her brother.

Brendon Thwaites plays Tim, and does a good job as the younger brother who initially says that nothing supernatural is there and slowly and steadily undergoes a 360 degrees transformation into someone totally terrified and petrified. He has been seen in The Blue Lagoon; the Awakening and Pirates of the Caribbean; Dead men tell no tales. He too is just 32, and certainly has a terrific future ahead.

Crucial roles of Marie Russell, Alan Russell (the parents) and Michael Dumont (Kaylie’s fiancee) have also been played by Katee Stackhoff, Rory Cochrane and James Lafferty respectively.

The Director; This is out and out a Director’s movie, and Mike Flanagan has excelled. This is his 2nd movie and thereafter he has made a name for himself as a director in the horror/supernatural genre. Mike has received praise from illustrious names such as Stephen King, Tarantino and William Friedkin (director of the Exorcist). No wonder he was chosen to direct Doctor Sleep in 2019, the sequel of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece The Shining, and helmed the masterpiece Netflix shows- The Haunting of Hill House, and The Haunting of Bly Manor.

I hope Mike continues to direct movies and shows alike of this genre- as he transcends the bridge between Film and Art. He will do a phenomenal job if he returns to direct the Oculus sequel!

Looking forward to Oculus Part 2 (wishful thinking for a less mind-boggling ending?). If you like horror/supernatural movies, I strongly recommend you to see the 2013 movie Oculus before seeing it’s sequel in 2022.

England’s huge win at Leeds squares the series. A look back at all Leeds Test matches.

India cricketers to travel with families to England, hard quarantine in  India to enable bubble transfer - Sports News

India was in an enviable and unfamiliar position of being 1-0 up in an away series in England at the end of two tests. It could very well have been 2-0 as well. However, Virat was certainly happy with the 1-0 lead, since the win came after a spectacular final day performance at Lords in the second Test. First, the Indian tail put up an amazing batting performance after a gritty partnership by Ajinkya and Pujara. The pace attack destroyed the English batting with focused hostility and aggression, reminding one of a pack of wolves.

The stage moved on to Leeds, Headingley. The two teams squared off on 25th August for the 3rd test of the current series. They have met here six times so far with the 1st three tests won by England and the last two by India with a draw in-between. India was hoping to make it 3-3 at the venue, but Joe Root and his boys had different ideas. A comprehensive win saw England square the series 1-1 with two test matches left.

Let us have a quick look at these six tests and then have a quick review of the Leeds test match.

Test Number One. June 5-9, 1952, England won by 7 wickets.

Batting 1st, the two Vijay’s took India to 264/3 before a spectacular collapse saw India folding up for 293. Vijay Merchant scored 133 and Vijay Hazare scored 89. India lost 3 wickets at 264, that of both the Vijay’s and C. Gopinath. The last 4 wickets added just 29 more. For England, Jim Laker took 4 wickets, while Trueman and Bedser took 3 and 2 wickets respectively. England was 211/6 at one stage, but the tail wagged and England reached 334. Tom Graveney was the highest scorer with 71 while Godfrey Evans scored 66. Ghulam Ahmad took 5 wickets for India. A lead of just 41 meant that India had a chance. However, India was reduced to 0-4 and 26-5 and that effectively killed the contest. Finally, India reached 165, courtesy 56 by Hazare and 64 by Dattu Phadkar but the victory target was just 125 which England knocked off easily, losing three wickets. Trueman and Jenkins took 4 wickets each while Beder took 2 wickets. Truman made a terrific debut with 7 wickets.

Special mention. Sadu Shinde played for India. He is the father-in-law of top political leader Sharad Pawar.

Test Number Two, July 2-4, 1959. England won by an innings and 173 runs.

Batting 1st, India scored just 161, with as many as five Indians being out in the 20’s and Polly Umrigar being the highest scorer with just 29. Harold Rhodes took 4 wickets while Trueman took 3. England batted India out of the test by scoring 483/8 with Colin Cowdrey top-scoring with 160. Ken Barrington scored 80 while the openers Gilbert Parkhouse and Geoff Pullar scored 78 and 75. Subhash Gupte took 4 wickets for India. India fared even worse in the second knock and were 149 all out, with Umrigar scoring 39 and Chandu Borde top-scoring with 41. Brian Close took 4 wickets and John Mortimore took 3.

Test Number Three. June 8-13, 1967. England won by 6 wickets.

Batting first, England piled up 550/4 with Geoff Boycott top-scoring with 246 not out. Basil D’Oliviera scored 109 and Ken Barrington scored 93. India were 164 all out and asked to follow-on. Tiger Pataudi scored 64. In an extraordinary 2nd innings batting performance, India scored 510 with Pataudi scoring 148, while Engineer, Wadekar and Hanumant Singh scored 87, 91, and 73 respectively. However, India’s poor 1st innings performance meant that England needed just 125 to win and they did so, winning by 6 wickets. It was their 3rd consecutive win at this venue

Test Number Four. August 16-21, 1979. Match drawn.

The winning streak of England came to a close. Day 2 and Day 3 were totally washed out. England was 80/4 at the end of day one and on the 4th day ended up with 270. Ian Botham top-scored with a terrific 137. India was 12/3 at one stage, but gritty batting by Sunny Gavaskar (78), Yashpal Sharma (40), and Dilip Vengsarkar (65 not out) saw India reach 233/6 at the end of day five. Botham was the man of the match.

Test Number Five. June 19-23, 1986. India won by 279 runs.

India won a test at Leeds for the 1st time with a convincing all-round team performance. Batting 1st, India reached 272 with Dilip Vengsarkar top scoring with 61 and useful ’30s by Gavaskar, Srikkanth, Shastri, and More. India bowled out England for just 102 with Binny and Madan Lal taking 5 and 3 wickets each. 170 was a huge lead, and Dilip Vengsarkar with 102 not out took India to 237. Vengsarkar came in at 9/2 and India was 70/5 at one stage but expert batting with the tail and a useful 31 by Kapil saw India set a huge target of 408. England once again collapsed and was 128 all out with Maninder Singh taking 4/26. Vengsarkar was the man of the match.

Test Number Six. August 22-26, 2002. India won by an innings and 46 runs.

India had their second consecutive win at this venue, once again with an all-round performance. Dravid (148), Tendulkar (193), and Ganguly (128) took India to a humungous 628/7 declared. England scored 273 with the spin twins Kumble and Bhajji taking 3 wickets each. Following on, a Nasser Hussein century (110) took them to 309 but could not prevent an innings defeat. Kumble took 4 wickets to end with 7 in the match. Dravid was the man of the match.

This then is the history of England-India test cricket at this venue.

Coming to the 3rd test of the current series, Mark Wood joined the injury list of Archer, Broad, Stone, and Woakes. Ben Stokes’s unavailability to focus on mental well-being adds to England’s woes. Further, only Joe Root seems to be in batting form and Jimmy Anderson is the only threat with the ball.

In contrast, India had pleasant selection headaches about who to select and who not to. Shardul Thakur is fit again and incredibly Umesh Yadav is the 6th fast bowling option. However, it seemed that India may well go in with the same pace quartet of Shami, Bumrah, Ishant, and Siraj who were so menacing in the 2nd test win at Lords. What about Ashwin?. That will be the captain’s call, and it looked like Virat would prefer to go in with Jadeja once again. As regards Indian batting, the form of the openers was heartening. Virat was looking to have a big one, while Pujara and Ajinkya had more confidence after their dour batting helped India immensely from a position of stress (at 28/3) to one of relative comfort. Rishabh Pant was also due for a big knock as well.

It looked like India could well win the Leeds test to go 2-0 up in the series.

Winning the toss, Virat decided to bat, after going in with an unchanged side. He said that he had thought about Ashwin, but then preferred a 4th quick option. This was only the 4th time that Virat was going in with the same team in consecutive test matches.

Jimmy Anderson showed why he is still considered by many as the best in the business. India were bundled out for just 78 in 40 overs with only Rohit and Ajinkya reaching double figures. Jimmy’s opening spell saw a tennis scoreline of 6-3-6-3 and he ended up with 3 for 6 in 8 overs and the other English quicks bowled well as well. England put up a strong 1st innings score of 432 with the top 4 shining. Openers Burns and Hameed scored 68 and 70. David Malan made a successful return to test cricket with 70, while Captain Root scored his third ton of the series. His 121 came in just 165 balls and it was an exquisite knock.

In the 2nd knock, India were 215/2 at one stage. Then came a stunning collapse. Rohit (59), Pujara (91) and Virat (55) did their bit but after the second new ball was taken, none had answers, including Pujara and Virat. Ollie Robinson took 5 wickets and Overton 3 and India was 278 all out to lose by an innings and 76 runs.

Congrats England for a great win.