A tale of two debuts for Shikhar Dhawan

March 17th, 2013

Shikhar Dhawan made his ODI and Test debuts against the same opponents, Australia- albeit 2.5 years apart. In his ODI debut, he faced all of 2 balls and was bowled of the second ball he faced for a duck. Call it coincidence, but it was a game in which Michael Clarke scored a wonderful hundred (well, here’s another: Clarke got out for a duck in this game, while Dhawan eventually racked up the fastest ton on debut in the history of Test cricket!).

Today, when Dhawan went out to open the innings for the first time in a Test match, he may have well wondered if misfortune had cast her evil eye on him again. He was caught out of the crease, backing up too much at the non-striker’s end, when the ball accidentally fell on the stumps and dislodged the bails. Thankfully, for everyone who managed to watch the innings that followed (except for the visiting players and their traveling supporters), the Australians just let that incident be and moved on…. to be completely blown away by some amazingly dazzling strokeplay. The Aussie bowlers and fielders gave it their all– their commitment on the field was admirable, but towards the end of the day’s play, a look of helplessness took over; heads fell over in near-surrender as eyes followed the ball that inevitably raced past them with unbelievable frequency. A hundred in a session of play between lunch and tea, and a near double hundred within the end of the next session– that certainly belongs to the the rarest of the rare occasions.

If Dhawan is able to reproduce an innings even half as good in quality of strokeplay in future, he would have earned the right to twirl his moustache with pride!

P.S: On air, Sunil Gavaskar was tongue-in-cheek as usual poking fun at the tendency of Australians and Englishmen to focus on the Ashes even as they are playing test series elsewhere in the world. He kept emphasising the need for them to focus on the present. Fair point, but why do Indian commentators (Mr.Gavaskar is as guilty of this as anyone else) want to talk about a batsman getting double hundreds and triple hundreds even as they reach a hundred or a double hundred, respectively?

Online marketing for a ‘Godman’…. nearly!

February 11th, 2013

This happened a few years ago. At a search engine marketing conference in Singapore, I got acquainted with someone who had started his own broadcast media consultancy/ media sales company. A highly experienced media sales executive, he had worked in many cities around the world with reputed media companies and advertising agencies before settling down in Singapore and venturing out on his own. Owing to his contacts, he had already obtained the exclusive rights to sell ad slots for a sports channel in the Asia Pacific, where this channel didn’t have a significant presence in those days. He was nice to talk to and we spent quite a bit of time during the conference speaking to one another and agreed to stay in touch after the event. May be, we could help one another with some business, we thought.

A few days later, we agreed to meet up over coffee. After the initial pleasantries that centered around the birth of my daughter (which happened at about the same time as the above mentioned conference), he mentioned that his family is involved with a charity organisation connected with a Swamiji in India. He seemed extremely reverential towards the Swamiji and had a lot to talk about the effect the latter had on his family. The young Swamiji is a great thinker, a philosopher whose wisdom belies his age. Now, Swamiji was due to come to Singapore in a few months’ time and the charity wanted to plan for the event and make it extremely successful. The charity wanted to explore using online marketing to attract visitors to the 2 or 3-day event.
Would I be interested in pitching for the business, my new friend asked? And like most would be clients that we seem to deal with, he emphasised that the charity will not have a large budget for marketing! I agreed to give it a bit of thought, check out the Swamiji’s website and then take a call on whether my company would be interested in pitching to promote the young Godman.

As promised, I went back and checked out the website I had been referred to. The Swamiji was indeed quite young– he seemed quite boyish in fact. I patiently went through a couple of videos where the Godman articulated his views. To be honest, I was disappointed- I didn’t feel the aura of a very strong spiritual leader; his talks missed the magnetic appeal that I have experienced with a couple of other spiritual leaders whose talks on the Bhagvad Gita I had heard. My ‘research’ on this ‘prospect’ left me with a slight heaviness of some emptiness- that itchy sensation of ’something’s not right’. Nevertheless, I worked out a proposal for online marketing for the Swamiji’s programme in Singapore and sent it over to my friend.

Then came the follow-up stage. Every few days, I would touch base with my friend, asking about the status of our proposal. “It is still under consideration”; “The board of trustees will be discussing it” ; “Is there any scope for reducing the service fees and the advertising budget you’ve specified?”; “We are expecting a decision soon” ……. thus went the responses. Slowly, I cut down the frequency of my follow-up, thereby signaling the downgrading of the saintly prospect from a ‘hot’ one to a ‘lukewarm’ one.

A few weeks later, I saw the headline on Rediff – the God-man was caught in a video sting in a compromising position with an aspiring starlet! “Swamiji has been framed” was the immediate response from his Trust; however, he was soon in hiding. I am not sure how exactly the case panned out- and whether the young Swamiji still continues his practice (I haven’t bothered to check out his website even as I write this a few years after I had first heard of him and submitted my proposal to market his religious discourses in Singapore).

I look back with the realisation that it is better not to have some clients in your portfolio; thank God for saving me from that (God)man!

Facebook and more investor irrationality

June 9th, 2012

I’ve never understood the stock market and share trading. While I get the occasional itch to roll the dice and play the buy/sell game, my limited disposable wealth, fear of loss accentuated by my ignorance, and a general conservatism that overpowers any budding gambler’s instincts have combined to keep me a passive and cynical observer of the markets. I derive some pleasure in the roller-coaster ride of the indices; more so in the inexplicable causes that power such a ride. Honestly, I find the whole thing rather irrational- despite all the sophisticated charts and trend graphs that they show or the percentages and ratios that some ultra-bright people keep talking about.

The Faceook IPO is the latest case in point. Till about a week or two before the IPO, Facebook and Zuckerberg were the global darlings. There was nothing better in the world than the IPO! The media hyped it up; analysts hyped it up and other than a lot of envy for a 20-something to be joining the ranks of some of the world’s richest billionaires, it was THE event worth looking forward to. Then, the D-day(s) happened. FB got listed, Zuckerberg got married, encashed some of the paper worth (probably for a honeymoon somewhere), the stock plumetted and a new term ‘zucked up’ got added to the English language. More analysis and a single conclusion- Facebook is grossly overvalued!

C’mon! What really changed in less than one week to create such a radical shift in opinion? In my understanding of factors that could influence stock price— and let me remind you, this is not an expert view–nothing had changed. Let’s list some of these potential factors:

a) The business itself
b) Business performance
b) The business model
c) The people running the business
d) Legal/ regulatory framework
e) The external business/economic environment

Other than the founder getting hitched and offloading a tiny portion of his holidngs for a little bit of liquidity, the post-Facebook IPO world hardly looks any different. Yes, there may have been a couple of additional academic papers published on global warming and its damning consequences; news of an aspiring politician being questioned in a corruption case in India or that AIDS is still rampant in a certain part of the world. But if any of these were to have influenced the downward spiral of Facebook stock, then I understand the phrase ‘that’s a stretch’.

Hopefully, some of my bright friends- who spit out fundamentals, P/E, shorting with amazing frequency- will help me overcome my prejudiced view of the irrationality of investors and the stock markets (they will need phenomenal patience, though). Or, is this quite simply the stuff that only genius is entitled to fathom?

Mr.Reliable calls it a day

March 9th, 2012

It is a bit eerie. Ever since Rahul Dravid called a press release for today- Friday, the 9th March– the press worldwide has already been out with his cricket obituary. It has been written with almost absolute certainty that Rahul Dravid is retiring and that’s what this press conference is all about.

Nevertheless, as soon as I heard of the news, one of the first things that came to mind was to ask my friend Ravi–an ardent fan of Dravid, if ever there was one– to ask for a guest post for this blog. I was almost certain that he would be moved to put his dormant writing skills to use; yet, things slipped through the cracks during the day, and I missed dropping him that invitation. Just past midnight, I get a mail from Ravi asking me if there was some space on my blog to post his piece celebrating Dravid’s career!

So, here it is, posted verbatim. I am posting this before Dravid’s press conference; I’ll go with the rest of the world in concluding that today is the day when cricket lovers worldover say adieu to the “Great Wall”. I look forward to some original writing (not pathetically written ghost-written pieces like several other ex-cricketers) and insightful commentary from Dravid in his next avatar, which I will believe will begin very soon.

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All good things come to an end, so does the great career of Rahul Dravid. After a very impressive debut in England in 1996 he had to face the South Africans overses and showed a lot of resilience and spirit. Very early in his test career he had earned the reputation of being dependable or reliable. One of those guys when you watch for the first time gives the impression that he is 8000-10000 runs man. He did not let us down and always stood and fought in all situations without giving it away. He is undoubtedly one of the best batsmen the world has seen and I would rate him only second after Sachin Tendulkar among the Indians, and that’s only for skill. As far as his attitude goes he is right up there.

All along his career he played with some fantastic players in both forms of the game. Sachin, Saurav, Laxman, Sehwag, Yuvraj etc. These guys dominated and our man would quietly allow them the centre stage and silently do his job like a master craftsman. He never competed with these guys, but always complimented. He played in the larger interest of the team and therefore his 24000 odd runs in both forms of the game are priceless, as his presence in the middle brought out the best from his team mates. A few innings great innings I remember are Laxmans 281 at Kolkatta (2001), Sauravs 183 at Taunton (1991), Sachins 186 at Hyderabad (1999), MS Dhoni’s 183 at Jaipur (2005). The non-striker in all these great innings was Dravid. He scored 180, 145, 154 and I think 39 from the other end respectively. The first three scores were substantial ones, but they all got overshadowed, and he never minded that as he always played for the team. He has played in whatever position he was asked to, and even kept wickets when the team needed. He was not a naturally gifted stroke player as the guys listed above, but he made it up with grit, determination, discipline, dedication and tons of hard work. A classic and correct batsman who when got out bowled, one knew know that it was unplayable ball. That’s the reason I feel you will never produce a Rahul Dravid again as today’s system does not need a cricketer to toil hard to make a living in cricket.

India’s best period in test cricket coincided with his best batting. He averages more than 100 in all tests won under Saurav Ganguly. He was always questioned for his style of batting in the 50 over format, but he provided the solidity and sanity among all these stroke players and his aggregate of 10000 runs @40 reflects his contribution. His slip catching was another great contribution to the team. His time with Greg Chappell as coach was probably one of the most volatile period in recent times. There was so much written about RD as well, the man hardly ever spoke a wrong word. His conduct on and off the field all along has been almost immaculate. That’s the reason he has earned the respect of even the opposition team members. It’s been a privilege to watch his career and it has been a great lesson of building it brick by brick.

For ardent fans like me it’s hard to believe that there will be an Indian test team without RD at number 3. Let’s wish the Legend a great life ahead and thank him for his contribution to Indian Cricket and bringing innumerable smiles on the faces of Indian cricket fans.

Contributed by Ravi Kumar.

The myth of ‘free’ air tickets

March 6th, 2012

I keep telling anyone who cares to listen that nothing comes free. Yet, I found it difficult to prevent myself from believing that I could indeed get free air tickets when I redeemed my air-miles. It was expectation, perhaps, or may be sheer hope; nevertheless, as I reluctantly and dare- I-say unexpectedly shelled out my credit card twice in the last two weeks, my belief in the “nothing is free” truth has been vindicated once again.

Economy class tickets to Mumbai from Singapore typically cost me in the SG$450-SG$600 range, depending on how well in advance I book my flights. Now with Indigo serving Singapore, I have managed to fly to Mumbai and back paying about SG$350 or so, which I understand could be lower than a round-trip fare between Mumbai and Delhi or Mumbai and Kochi.

That certainly doesn’t beat ‘Free’ though; so for my trips to Mumbai in March and April, I decided to redeem some miles that have accumulated from god-knows-when (a lot of those are thanks to grocery shopping and other routine purchases and not just on account of being a real frequent flyer!). However, it was when I reached the second-last step of the redemption process that the myth of the free air ticket exploded. In addition to the 35000 & 40000 miles, both the airlines whose miles I was redeeming charged me about SG$350! Compared to rates on the “low-cost carrier” Indigo, the “free tickets” on the award-winning full-service carriers were a mere SG$50-odd cheaper!

All the excitement about flying free has died off; thankfully, heading off to Mumbai still keeps me excited!

Thirteen years… in a kind of exile..

September 13th, 2011

When I looked at the calendar today, I was taken back 13 years to the day to that Sunday evening when I moved out of India to pursue a career abroad. There was a brief stopover in Singapore on my way to Manila; as destiny would have it, I am posting this from Singapore which has been my home for almost the past 8 years.

Thirteen years have whizzed by and as is to be expected, life has changed a lot since then. I am grateful for the opportunity to experience the many worlds I have been fortunate enough to do so!

I am often asked if I’ll be returning to India permanently; my truthful answer has always been: “I don’t know!”. The urge has been there but it is yet to reach tipping point perhaps; or may be, it is the fact that I am not far away from home anyway as I keep visiting Mumbai every 2-3 months on work.

As I reflect today, a strange thought comes to mind. In the Ramayana, Ram was exiled for 14 years; in the Mahabharata, the Pandavas were exiled for 13 years (12 years plus one year to be spent incognito). My period away from home – the voluntary “exile”- is in that ballpark.

Is it time for a homecoming?

Delhi blast: does it matter if the act is ‘cowardly’?

September 7th, 2011

India’s PM Dr.Manmohan Singh reacted to the bomb blast in Delhi this morning in a fashion typical of politicians and big government officials, terming it a “cowardly act“.

Question is, who cares whether the act is “cowardly”? Does it matter? The only things that matter are that innocent lives are lost and that terrorists have been able to succeed in killing people and creating terror. To the common man, it is an act that makes him more insecure, unsure of whether the government and its security forces are capable of protecting him; for the perpetrators of the blast, it is an impactful act that screams out the loopholes in the fight against terror.

Hopefully, the government will spend less time in choosing from one of the three or four standard terms used to describe events like these and focus on bringing the perpetrators of the crime to justice and prevent more such incidents in future.

‘Serving customers’ is a strategy?

August 28th, 2011

“Bank of America is focused on their customers and on serving them well. That’s what customers want, and that’s the company’s strategy.”

Guess who said the above? None other than the great Warren Buffet, after Berkshire Hathway made its decision to invest $5 billion in Bank of America.

I am surprised. Since when did ‘focus on serving customers well’ become a strategy? Shouldn’t that be one of the primary goals of being in a business (any business) anyway?

Where joy abounds… Zindagi na milegi dobara

August 8th, 2011

Last night, Seema, Neel and I went for the late night show of “Zindagi na milegi dobara” which came highly recommended from lots of friends. It was a thoroughly enjoyable one with some genuine, fresh and youthful humour. Surprisingly, Neel stayed awake till the end (the show ended close to 1.30 am). He still doesn’t fully comprehend Hindi but seems to have understood enough to say that he wants to take part in the Tomatina festival and the bull run!

The movie and its core message reminded me of an e-mail I’d received from a friend over 13 years ago. Included in the mail were beautiful lines under the heading “Where joy abounds”, which I didn’t know then were written by Robert Hastings (and referred to as ‘The Station’ poem). The lines struck a chord then- I took a print-out and tucked it away. That piece of paper has moved with me over the years though the passage of time has left its stamp on it- it’s rumpled and yellow now. May be I am holding on to it in the hope that someday……. well, let’s not even go that way. For the present, I’d rather enjoy those heartwarming lines again.

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“Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long train journey. Through the windows we drink in the passing scene of cars on near-by highways, of children waving at us from a crossing, or cattle grazing on a hillside, or smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of maize and wheat, of mountains and valleys, of city skylines and village huts.

But uppermost in our minds is our destination. On a certain day at a certain hour we will pull into the station. Then wonderful dreams will come true, and the pieces of our lives will fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the loitering minutes – waiting, waiting …

“When I reach the station, that will be it,” we tell ourselves. “When I’m 25, ..” “When I buy a house, …” “When I get married, …” “When I’ve paid off the bank loan, …” “When I get that big promotion, …” “When I retire, I shall live happily ever after! ”

Sooner or later we realize that there is no station, no place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream that constantly outdistances us.

“Relish the moment” is a good motto. So, stop pacing the aisles and measuring the distance. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice-cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more. Live life as you go along, it will be spring.”

Rahul Dravid’s recall to the one-day team: a friend reacts

August 8th, 2011

My friend Ravi, an intelligent and knowledgeable cricket follower, sent me an e-mail yesterday after he heard of the selection of the Indian cricket team for the one-day series against England. He has always been an ardent follower of Dravid and is one of those who believe that Dravid is one of those cricketers who- despite his acknowleged greatness- has never really gotten his due. I present his mail below (with some minor edits), which perhaps echoes the sentiments of a large section of Indian followers:

Couldn’t help laugh when I read that RD was recalled for ODI series in England…. and I had to respond to this joke.

He was dropped in Oct’2007 as it was perceived that he does not fit into the scheme of things for India in the shorter version. This was after he had resigned abruptly from captaincy after coming back from England, where had scored a 85 ball hundred in an ODI….

He is then called back to ODIs in 2009 after a disastrous T20 WC campaign where the Indian youngsters could not handle “BOUNCE”. He may have played about 3 games and was again left out…… to be recalled now in 2011 since most of his team mates cannot handle “SWING, BOUNCE”. ….. maybe even “SPIN”. That’s about the batsman

The irony is that it’s a World Cup winning team……..The “WORLD CHAMPIONS”……… need a 38 year old …. probably not even to win … but to reduce their margin of defeat.

In my opinion no one would be laughing harder than the man himself for BCCI’s step in the wrongdirection.

Ravi wanted my views on it and I didn’t have a straight answer– I was just in one of those moods!

BCCI is showing that it is a flexible organization that can adapt itself very quickly; it is flexible and not as rigid as the rest of the envious world makes it out to be. They realize that Dravid is the man in form and they are adopting a horses for courses policy—he is the horse that can respond to swing, seam, bounce and spin. What’s more, he may well keep wickets, which will allow Dhoni to focus on his captaincy and also contribute a bit as the fifth bowler. That way we can have an additional batsman and really strengthen our already formidable batting line up.

You see, BCCI and the selection committee use hindsight and foresight in their selection; it’s bunch of smart guys we have out there.

Nevertheless, later in the evening, Rahul Dravid himself gave the best response to the selection panel- he announced his retirement from the shorter format of the game to focus on test cricket. Being the gentleman that he is, Dravid didn’t decline the opportunity to play in the forthcoming series– which he couldn’t be blamed for even if he had done it.