All Hail Greg Chappell – The Destroyer of Cricket Teams!

Few people associated with the Indian Cricket scene are as reviled as Greg Chappell, the former Australian batsman and captain, later the coach of India preceding over a disastrous World Cup in 2007. In fact the only other person who has been despised more is probably Mohammed Azharuddin in the aftermath of the match-fixing scandal.

Chappell took over the reins of coaching the Indian team in May/June 2005 after John Wright’s long and successful stint. John Wright, it must be remembered, forged a combination with Sourav Ganguly that helped take India to the finals of the 2003 World Cup, and pushed India up the test and ODI rankings. Under his tutelage and Ganguly’s leadership Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman became the architects of many groundbreaking victories (2001 Eden Gardens, 2002 Headingley, 2004 Adelaide), Virender Sehwag became the first Indian to score a test triple century and the Indian batting order morphed into the juggernaut that it always had the potential to become.

Tracing the Roots

During the halcyon years of the Wright-Ganguly partnership, two tours stand out: India in Australia in 2003-2004, and India in Pakistan in 2004. During the former everybody expected Australia to stomp over India. However what took most fans by surprise and changed the tone of the series was the very first match – a rain-marred drawn fixture at Brisbane. The match featured a stunning innings worth 144 runs of counterattacking brilliance from India’s captain, Sourav Ganguly. The innings was surprising because it came from the least expected link in the Indian lineup: prior to the series the batting hopes had been pinned on Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar. Ganguly was seen as an asset on the team more as a captain who could bat rather than as a pure batsman. It was before this innings that Ganguly took some suggestions on playing on the bouncy Aussie wickets from Greg Chappell. Chappell was a legendary left-handed batsman in his day and his advice to Ganguly proved invaluable.

Convinced that Chappell would be of immense help as a coach, Ganguly proved to be the catalyst in hiring Chappell when Wright retired. And so Chappell started amidst a lot of fanfare in a role that must rank as one of the toughest in all of Cricket.

Initial Successes

Things weren’t all bad when Chappell started out. It is an oft forgotten fact that he was the coach when India strung together a remarkable record of 17 successive victories while chasing in ODIs, starting from September 2005 and running up to May 2006. India won ODI series at home very handsomely against Sri Lanka (6-1) and England (5-1) and trounced Pakistan in Pakistan (4-1). In tests the showing wasn’t very good: 2-0 against Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe, 0-1 against Pakistan in Pakistan, 1-1 against England in India and 2-0 against Sri Lanka in India. One test result worthy of mention was the 1-0 victory over West Indies in West Indies: India’s first test series victory outside the sub-continent in a country other than Zimbabwe in a long time. The other test achievement of note was the 2-1 defeat against South Africa, where India managed its first test victory on South African soil.

Premonitions of a Debacle

What the sensational 17-match chasing streak successfully hid however, was a simmering discontent in the team. There were reports that all was not well between Chappell and the seniors of the team. The strife within the team and the management was hidden for the most part by the victories, but cracks in the team’s capabilities on the ODI front were there for critics to see. It was chastening to lose 4-1 to West Indies, and a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of South Africa was all the more humiliating.

However, with some token victories India landed in the Caribbean for the World Cup in 2007 tagged as one of the tournament’s favourite teams.

The Tipping Point

All issues of infighting and conflicts aside, matters came to a head after India suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Bangladesh in its very first match in the 2007 World Cup. This resulted in putting a lot of strain on the team in its last league match against Sri Lanka, and India spectacularly crashed out of the World Cup in the first round for the first time since 1992.

As a post-mortem Chappell prepared a report slamming eight seniors in the team for not allowing younger players to grow: Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, VVS Laxman, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Ajit Agarkar.

At this point things boiled over. A player like Tendulkar, who is well-known for his frustrating levels of equanimity, felt compelled to express hurt at Chappell’s insinuations. And in India if Tendulkar says something against you, you might as well leave the country or create a new identity for yourself and start afresh in life for, his fans will not let you live in peace.

The Backlash

If the board is happy with a coach, it tries to retain him when his contract comes up for expiration. Chappell’s contract ended right after the World Cup and neither did the Board consider renewing it, nor did he request an extension. Indian fans, who aren’t exactly renowned for moderation, tend vacillate between extremes of adulation and castigation. During his spat with Ganguly he was vilified in Bengal (Ganguly’s native state) and by Ganguly’s supporters, and yet he found appreciation in other places in India (where people felt less charitable towards Ganguly). However, after the debacle in the World Cup an abhorrence for his methods spread across all of India. The dislike worked both ways – while an Indian fan hit Chappell on the back in Bhubaneswar, Chappell returned the gesture by allegedly showing his middle finger to the Kolkata crowd from the team bus (he didn’t deny showing the finger, but claimed that the media maliciously misinterpreted what he did).

While most of India was up in arms against him, the rest of the world looked on in bemusement wondering what the fuss was all about. And quite expectedly Australian cricketers and fans did jump to his defence.

The Chappell Dossier of Offences

Chappell’s failure as a coach stemmed from several corners, primary among which was poor man-management. Of course, there was ego too, but the Indian team wasn’t really low on that front.

A Clash of Personalities

The most notable fight that Chappell picked was with Ganguly, the man responsible for hiring Chappell. There were several leaked email transcripts highlighting how Chappell wanted Ganguly out of the team. The Board, toeing the line Chappell had drawn for them, first stripped the captaincy off Ganguly, then yanked him out of the team. This was of course compounded by Ganguly’s loss of form. But compelled by cricketing and non-cricketing factors Ganguly had to be brought in again. However the damage had been done.

Of course, to have a “clash” you need to have two personalities. Ganguly, having been at the helm of affairs for so long felt he deserved some slack to help him recapture his form, but Chappell would have none of it. The result was, obviously, quite a lot of bad blood.

Breach of Confidence

Chappell and his staff struggled with keeping things to themselves. Private conversations between players and the team psychologist would become matters of public record. From an interview with Sehwag in 2009:

PTI: And Greg Chappell wasn’t quite like that? He also tried to change your batting style?

Sehwag: He had his view on my front-foot play, my footwork. The thing with him was that whatever you shared with him, it was promptly disclosed to media and selectors. He talked and that hurt the trust. I wasn’t comfortable with him.

PTI: He made you visit psychologists. The most uncomplicated of batting stylist was made to curb his instincts?

Sehwag: I never went alone to psychologist Rudi Webster. In a session with Webster, we all had our chunk of time. I am one who believes that if you open up your thoughts to someone you trust, you feel lighter and thus better. But I found out that Webster couldn’t keep things confidential.

Making matters worse were Chappell’s open criticisms of the team members. These typically happened after defeats, and often were handed out “off the record” as juicy nuggets to the rabid media. He had also been accused of breeding his own coterie of journalists to whom he would leak out any story of any player who expressed any sort of dissent towards his methods.

Mixed Signals

The biggest fallout as a result of Chappell’s team-development plan was Irfan Pathan. An enthusiastic young bowler who could bat a bit, Irfan had made a very strong impression in Pakistan in 2004 under Wright-Ganguly. The Pakistan coach and former batting legend Javed Miandad had disparagingly said prior to the series, “Your Irfan Pathans are in every gully and mohalla of Pakistan. We don’t even bother to look at them”. The test series obviously showed that Pakistan was to master the art of playing their own gully and mohalla players, as Pathan picked 12 wickets at 28.5 in the series, only bettered on either side by Anil Kumble.

A couple of years later India again visited Pakistan, but this time under Chappell-Dravid. In a sensational first over in the third test at Karachi Irfan became the first bowler in the world to take a hat-trick in the first over of a test. And, quite curiously, this match showed that all was not well with him. By the end of the match he and the entire Indian bowling attack was panned for being totally unthreatening with the ball, and within the timeframe of one match Irfan transitioned from an ace bowler to the gully-mohalla player of Miandad’s appraisal. In the meanwhile, Chappell tried to actively transform Irfan from a bowler into an all-rounder by making him bat at different positions. Towards the end of it all, Irfan couldn’t find place in the team either as a bowler or as a batsman.

Fostering Instability and Insecurity

A lot of other established players started having their places in the team questioned on a daily basis. The BCCI policies forbid players from airing current grievances in public, so anything that came out did so via the grapevine. Several players recounted their troubles later.

Sehwag mentions in the same interview linked above:

PTI: You cut your teeth under Sourav Ganguly. He was the one who made you an opener?

Sehwag: Yes, it was in Sri Lanka I hit gold in the third match with that blistering century off 69 balls (against New Zealand). A lot of youngsters, including me, came to the fore under Dada. Remember, when he took over world cricket was reeling under the impact of match-fixing.

He always backed us. For instance when I was Man of the Match against Australia early in my career, he assured me that I would play in at least next 30 one-day matches. Even when he promoted me as an opener, he told me to bat without worry as he wouldn’t touch me for the next 30-35 games.

When your captain backs you in this manner, your confidence is sky-high. He was also an extremely aggressive captain.

More criticism of Chappell flowed from other players, notably Harbhajan Singh, who rarely got along well with him:

(Under him) our mind was not working properly. He put a lot of doubts in my mind and in other players’ as well. That you know you are not good enough.

Lot of things were happening and we were not happy with lot of things.

He (Chappell) just wanted to say whatever he felt and didn’t want to listen.

As told to the Times Now channel

Another player anonymously said:

Give us a foreigner, give us an Indian, give us anyone but him. Chappell was a great player, he’s a brilliant batting coach, but he has not done any good for this team. He has no respect for the players and looks to blame one of them any time the team loses. A coach is supposed to give the players confidence, not create insecurity in the team.

And then there was Zaheer Khan’s latest salvo:

It was as if you’ve been framed. It was like “We don’t want you in the team. It’s not about performance, we don’t like your attitude, you’re stopping the growth of cricket in the Indian team”. I felt it personally because I was dropped straight after the Sri Lanka tour, even though I had not performed badly.

As a part of an aggressive chop-and-change policy a well-functioning batting order was changed innumerable times. Well-playing members of the team were “rested” to try and blood younger players. The stated reason was the formation of a core for the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, never mind that the frequent rotation created an alarming instability in the team and the team didn’t really get its core defined. The proof of the pudding lay in India’s crashing out in 2007, then winning the 2011 World Cup with pretty much a team built by Wright-Ganguly. The only player of prominence from the Chappell era who finds a place in the team regularly is Suresh Raina.

An Unintended Casualty: Dravid

Perhaps the most unintended and tragic casualty of the Chappell fiasco was Dravid. In the first half of last decade Dravid as a batsman had no peer anywhere in the world. During that period the only persons who could give him a run for his money were Brian Lara and VVS Laxman on their days. But there was none as consistently brilliant as him for such a long time. Purely statistically, his test average went over Tendulkar’s and it was befitting of him as a player.

As a part of Chappell’s political machinations Dravid was made captain of the team, displacing Ganguly. Whatever the intentions, this was a good choice, for given Tendulkar’s slump (and general disinclination towards captaincy and his poor performance therein) and Laxman’s not being a permanent fixture in the ODI side, the only other choice would have been Anil Kumble who was the oldest of the lot.

Now, cricket captains can be compared to train engines. The first is a “Lead by example” kind, where the captain is the best player in the team or close to the best. If the rest of the team can keep up with him the team does well, but otherwise the captain cuts a forlorn figure. This is the most common kind of captain, and in the Indian context Tendulkar was the clearest example of this kind of captaincy, where his teammates simply couldn’t match up to his high standards. Brian Lara too would fall in this bucket. In the train analogy the engine would be at the front of the train, but the train would only move as well as the links between the coaches let it move. Tendulkar and Lara would be really powerful engines, but the rest of the train would have a tough time living up to the examples set by their illustrious captains.

The second is a “Push the team forward” kind of a captain. Ganguly is the best example of this kind of captaincy. If he were a train engine, he would be at the back of the train, pushing everybody else forward. The train would move, but the engine itself might perform at a much reduced level. Case in point: Ganguly’s return to cricket towards the end of his career showed what kind of a batsman the team had forsaken for captaincy skills. In 2007 Ganguly finished as the second highest scorer in tests and the fifth highest in ODIs. A few more batsmen in this mould would be Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, both of who were instrumental in taking their teams to the top.

The third kind would be the captain of a team where everybody is an engine. Ricky Ponting reaped the benefits of this sort of captaincy for a long time, when he had a team of champions bequeathed to him by Steve Waugh. It didn’t matter if you didn’t play well: every person in the team was capable of turning a match on its head. When Ponting lost the champions on his team, the Australians started looking a lot less like the all-conquering team it used to be.

There is a fourth kind of captain: one of a team where everybody is an engine but is running on a different track. To be a captain of that kind of team you would have to be Imran Khan, who led a bunch of supremely talented and equally uncoordinated players to World Cup glory.

Though Dravid played the role of a captain of the first kind with aplomb, he really started out as one of the third kind, where his team was packed with match winners (not as good as the Aussies, but good in their own way), all on track. And yet, due to Chappell’s divisive and disruptive policies, the team morphed into one where each team member had to fend for himself, and basically started running on different tracks. The media stoked the flames by putting forth unsubstantiated reports of the players revolting against both Chappell and Dravid making it a battle between Tendulkar and Dravid. A cohesive unit painstakingly constructed by the Wright-Ganguly pair was now a chaotic mess for little fault of the captain or the players. Dravid’s got caught in the crossfire and his own form kept crumbling, and barring the priceless contributions in the test victory in West Indies, he had very little to write home about.

Following the World Cup debacle Chappell was gone, but Dravid was allowed to continue. A few months later Dravid led a coach-free India to a glorious 1-0 triumph in England. And then he resigned. It seemed like the English tour was his catharsis – a way of atoning for all the bad things that happened under his reign, and he simply wanted to go out on a high. People felt that free from the shackles of captaincy he would be able to recapture his batting form. Though the old Dravid does make an occasional appearance, gone is the consistency or the reliability. It has been a while since he has set up or won a test match for India, particularly against opponents of high calibre. Combined with Tendulkar’s renaissance and Laxman’s emergence as India’s Houdini, Dravid might soon find himself staring at retirement. That will be one sad day for Indian cricket.

Chappell Vs Wright

Taken in isolation the coaching efforts look bad enough, but Chappell’s stint looks decidedly terrible in contrast to the ones that immediately preceded (Wright) and succeeded (Kirsten) his. To understand why, you need to see how each approached the same issue.

In John Wright’s Indian Summers, Wright recalls an incident from the 2003 World Cup days. As the Indian team was trying to build a winning mix, some players were slotted into uncharacteristic roles. Notably Dravid was made to double up as a wicketkeeper to accommodate an extra batsman, and Tendulkar was asked to bat at number 4. Both had been fairly successful in their roles, and more importantly the team did quite well with this arrangement. In particular, Tendulkar scored some sparkling centuries in the NatWest series in 2002 batting in this position. So the preliminary draft of the World Cup team had Tendulkar slotted at #4. However, when India fared disastrously in a warm-up match, Wright had some interesting discussions (quoted verbatim from John Wright’s Indian Summers):

I consulted Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble, two wise old heads, telling them I had enough; the batsmen had been batting like lottery winners for months, and it was time they were told a few home truths. They advised me to hold fire, but if it happened again, then by all means let rip.

They had a question for me: where did Tendulkar want to bat? Their view was if we were going to do well in the World Cup, our best player needed to be batting where he wanted to bat. The issue wouldn’t have come up if we were playing well, but we weren’t, and what we needed above all was some leadership with the bat.

That evening I went to see Tendulkar and put the question to him. “I’ll bat wherever the team wants me to bat,” he said. “Wherever they need me most.” “Fine,” I said, “but forget the team for the moment; where do you want to bat.” After some toing and froing, he finally said, “Well, if you really want know, I’d like to open.” The next step was persuading Ganguly and Rahul Dravid that that was the way to go.

Contrast this with Chappell’s approach to the 2007 World Cup. In a book titled “SACH” by Gautam Bhattacharya, Chappell offered his views:

It wasn’t just me alone. Rahul Dravid was also involved in the thinking which felt the matches were going to get decided in those middle overs and you needed the brilliance of either a Sachin or Sehwag to play in that position.

Sehwag didn’t seem very keen. So we sat down with Sachin who in any case was the first priority. We put it down to him and he seemed reluctant. He thought top-of-the-order was the best place for him as it has always been.

But we were still in the discussion as Rahul and myself were convinced no other batsman in the team would be able to do it. Sachin finally agreed. Next day he got back to Rahul.

Though he made it known that he was not happy doing it. He felt that his reputation demanded two places higher in the order.

This was four years after the World Cup, and you can still see a dig at Tendulkar (“He felt that his reputation demanded two places higher in the order”), in spite of all his assurances that he admires Tendulkar’s commitment.

Wright wasn’t a soft person by any stretch of imagination. In his book he talks about various disagreements he had with team members at different points. But he also describes how the conflicts were resolved, either by having one-on-one chats with the players, or by someone else educating him about some aspects of Indian social mores so that he could work things out. As a net result, none of any of the players with whom he had any tiffs ever has had anything bad to say about him. Chappell, of course would have to walk to the ends of this world barefooted to find such appreciation.

Chappell Vs Kirsten

As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20: five of the players whom Chappell reported for not kowtowing to him were later core members of the victorious 2011 World Cup team – Tendulkar, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Zaheer and Harbhajan. Tendulkar ended up as the second highest run getter in the tournament, Zaheer finished as the joint top wicket taker, Yuvraj was the Man of the Series and Sehwag finished with the top score in an individual innings in the tournament (175 against Bangladesh). Of the remaining three members, Laxman continues to be the world’s unarguably best fourth innings batsman in tests (he has never played in the World Cups) and Ganguly had a second coming that even his most vociferous critics are compelled to appreciate. He eventually retired happy and content.

The players were effusive in praise of Kirsten and his approach to coaching. To quote Sehwag:

He is the best coach I have ever seen. He doesn’t force things on you. His basic premise is: you all are international cricketers and you know how to succeed and how important it is to succeed. So I won’t thrust myself on you. But whenever you need me, for practice, throwing balls, sharing ideas, worries, I am always there.

And Zaheer:

He has given everyone their space. He’s understood the Indian culture and how we do things. He’s taken that step of coming closer to us rather than dictating. He was our friend, not a coach.

After the World Cup victory the Indian team carried Tendulkar and Kirsten on their shoulders to show their love and respect. Kirsten’s good coaching credentials aside, you could almost sense that the team was giving him a lap of honour as a cathartic release of the gloom of 2007, as if to tell Chappell to shove it.

Chappell – Mark II

Chappell’s stint in India was painted by many as a failure due to clash of cultures. Supporters of his methods said that the Indians couldn’t adjust to the Australian way of professional sports, and that it was the Indians’ loss.

Creative supporters claim that it was due to his “innovative” methods that players were unable to take their places for granted, hence they started playing better, and therefore Chappell is indirectly responsible for India winning the World Cup in 2011. That is an apologist’s defence at best, and a Neanderthal one at worst. It is almost like saying, “A rapist is to be given credit if his victim comes out of the rape ordeal with a stronger character”.

If Chappell’s methods were indeed beneficial, the team would have played better while he was coach, and wouldn’t have to wait for him to leave and the older nucleus to re-form to start playing better again. After all, he had 2 years at the helm and the team went from  being good to very mediocre.

When Chappell was made a selector in the Australian side in October 2010 a lot of Indians rubbed their hands in glee, as seen in evidence on Cricinfo’s forums. While India-Pakistan matches still stir up extreme emotions particularly in World Cups, a lot of Indian fans relish the prospect of a match with Australia a lot more, because at the time of Aussie domination in tests India was the only country that had an enviable record against the champions. Seeing Chappell join the Aussie selectors therefore gave Indians visions of Australian humiliation.

And true to form, the once invincible Aussies now find themselves 5th in the test rankings and for the first time since 1992 weren’t able to reach the finals of the World Cup. Of course, this is not Chappell’s fault – he is only a selector.

What really thrills most Indian fans today though, is Simon Katich’s reaction to his own contract not being renewed. Over the past few years Katich has been the best and most consistent test batsman for Australia, far ahead of Clarke, Ponting and even Mike Hussey. Furious with not getting a renewed contract, Katich made a statement:

He is an inspiration to all of us older guys, because he was written off a couple of years ago, ironically by one of our selectors, and the fact is he has proved him wrong.

No praise is higher than that bestowed by a worthy opponent, and no indictment more damning than one provided by someone close. The “he” above is Sachin Tendulkar, and “one of our selectors” is, obviously Chappell. After Chappell questioned Tendulkar’s commitment and motivation following the 2007 World Cup (and then ceased being the Indian coach), Tendulkar’s resume reads 4000+ runs in tests with 16 centuries (and 2 double centuries) at 63.87, and 3200+ runs in ODIs with 7 centuries at 51.00 with a gasp-inducing ODI double century, the first of its kind in men’s cricket. Obviously Chappell’s policies don’t cut it amongst people of his own country too.

These are still early days for Chappell as an Aussie administrator. On the face of things he seems to have already made one bad decision. Time will tell if he ends up wrecking the team of his home country, though his countrymen will be thankful he is only a selector and not a coach. A lot of Indians (myself included) believe he got away lightly after his Indian debacle. If he succeeds in destroying the team of his native country, the circle will be complete indeed.

Thoughts on the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup

28 years after Kapil Dev led an unfancied India to a sensational World Cup triumph at the Lord’s 25th June 1983, M. S. Dhoni led a thoroughly efficient Indian outfit to repeat the feat.

When Kapil won:

  • I was as old as my son Aikataan is at present: not yet 5.
  • Colour TVs weren’t in vogue in India. You had to place an order for one and it could take up to a few months to get one, as my father found out when he tried to buy one before the LA Olympics in 1984.
  • The only sport where India had previously made a mark internationally was hockey, where it had won the Olympic gold medal 8 times (3 times as British India, including Pakistan). This happens to be a record not yet broken.
  • ODI matches in cricket had 60 overs a side and they were played in whites with a red cricket ball.
  • Cricket World Cups were named after their chief sponsors. The 1975, 1979 and 1983 trophies were called the Prudential World Cup, the 1987 trophy was called the Reliance World Cup, in 1992 it was the Benson & Hedges World Cup and in 1996 it was the Wills World Cup. Only from 1999 did the trophy start being called the ICC World Cup.
  • India were beyond rank outsiders, quite in contrast to being the favourites this year. In fact David Frith, the founder-editor of the Wisden Cricket monthly had claimed he would eat his words if India won the World Cup. He famously kept his word.
  • Broadcasters were too few and Kapil’s breathtaking knock of 175* against Zimbabwe was lost forever due to a BBC strike.
  • The Man of the Match for the Finals took home £600. In contrast the BCCI has promised $200,000.00 to each member of the winning team this year.
  • There was no concept of a Man of the Series.

I haven’t a recollection of the 1983 World Cup (we didn’t have a TV then), and I am pretty sure Aikataan is too young to have a recollection of his parents celebrating this World Cup. One of our lighter moments throughout the World Cup was getting him to say “India will win”, or “India has won”. Whoever the opponent – Australia, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, he was always giving two thumbs down to India and saying that the other team would win. The superstitious lot that we are, whenever India’s fortunes were on the downturn my wife and I prodded him for his opinion as to who the winner would be. He would promptly answer “Sri Lanka” and immediately there would be something good happening for India.

Continue reading Thoughts on the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup

Autos on the Go (Franklin, Michigan) – Avoid the Guttersnipes Like the Plague

I normally don’t do this through my blog, but this time the circumstances were just too much to keep quiet.

A few months back I moved from San Jose, California to Vancouver, British Columbia on a new assignment with my employer. One of my considerations was that I wanted to move my car, because it was just 2.5 years old, it had been driven just about 40% of the national average, and most importantly it was the metaphorical brand-new-looking car.

So I put out a request for quotes and received a few. One of the companies that responded was Autos on the Go, a company based out of Franklin, Michigan. A person called Mirel Molnar, who some claim is the owner of this company got in touch with me and sent across the forms required. This wasn’t the cheapest quote I had (though it was close), but what convinced me to go with this company is that Mirel seemed pretty professional. This company was a broker rather than an actual mover, and basically arranged for door-to-door service, doing everything from the pickup of the vehicle to the delivery and insuring the move.

The Contract

The contract I signed was pretty straightforward and among other things it had the following clauses:

Damages and Required Documentation. Neither AOTG nor carriers will be held liable for damage caused by leaking freezing, exhaust systems, acts of God, or flying objects from the road or objects falling off of cars. In the event a vehicle is otherwise damaged during transport, the carrier’s insurance is the primary insurance. Shipper agrees to fully inspect the vehicle at both pickup and delivery and denote any and all damages on the carrier’s bill of lading/condition report BEFORE the driver leaves.

Damage must be properly noted while the driver is still there, regardless of the time of day or dirty condition of the vehicle. Signing the carrier’s bill of lading at the destination without specific notation of damage shall be evidence of satisfactory delivery of the vehicle.

Claims for Damages. Shipper’s vehicle will be transported by a trucking company and the carrier actually transporting the vehicle shall be liable for any and all damage claims arising from transport. Shipper is responsible for getting an inspection sheet from the driver both at pick up location and delivery location. Shipper agrees to release and hold harmless AOTG from any damage claims. Upon request, AOTG will furnish Shipper with name, address, and phone number of the carrier and provide a copy of the carrier’s Certificate of Insurance. In the event of damage, shipper is to provide AOTG a copy of both inspection sheets from the pickup location and the delivery location within 48 hours after receiving vehicle at the delivery location. All claims are to be submitted directly to the carrier within 7 days of Shipper receiving vehicle unless noted otherwise on the carrier’s bill of lading.

Any claims for damages not noted on the bill of lading/condition report will not be honored by the carrier’s insurance company. Department of Transportation regulations require that all claims be filed in writing and all tariffs be paid in full before claims are processed; therefore, Shipper agrees he/she will not seek to charge back a credit card or stop a check to offset a dispute for damage claims. AOTG will support you in filing claim against a carrier should a problem occur, but in no way will AOTG accept responsibility for any negligence of the assigned carrier.

The above clauses are very significant in the context of what transpired.

Continue reading Autos on the Go (Franklin, Michigan) – Avoid the Guttersnipes Like the Plague

An Aside on Tendulkar

It has been a while since I have wanted to write an article on Tendulkar, however other priorities have taken over and I have not been able to spare the time to do it. However, I recently had the opportunity to post a comment on the great man in response to Steve James’ post in the Telegraph. It is no substitute for the real thing, but given the circumstances this is the best I can offer as of now.

Changed Perceptions

As any loyal fan of Indian cricket would agree, we have our fair share of biases and perceptions. That is why we love to see our favorite players win and hate it when they are beaten by anybody. And as any sports fan would agree, many of these perceptions change over time, mainly due to a renewed perspective and some rather heart-warming incident on or off the field.

I was a fan of Tennis before I became a Cricket fan. My idol growing up used to be Boris Becker. Steffi Graf was soon added to my list of idols thanks to her outstanding play. As a result whenever Becker or Graf played a match I never supported their opponents and if my favorites happened to lose, I was never sporting enough to admit that they were beaten by a better player. Two players who often got the better of Becker were Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. And I never liked them for it. But as a few years went by and each established his status as a world-class player I became more appreciative of what they had achieved and I even became quite big fans of them.

In cricket too the tale was similar, with my perceptions changing about three different entities. The first of these was the former Pakistani captain Inzamam-ul-Haq. India and Pakistan being traditional rivals in cricket, I never really saw why Pakistan (and Imran Khan in particular) kept talking of Inzamam as one of the best batsmen in the world. Apart from some very good performances in the 1992 World Cup, he never seemed like a player in the same league as Brian Lara or Sachin Tendulkar. He relied so much on his skill with the bat that he tended to ignore the other attributes of a batsman, like running between the wickets. This insouciance endeared him to many, but it often made him a comical figure on the field, responsible for running out himself or his partners several times. Added to this was the fact that prior to 2000 he had very few “big” innings in tests and ODIs, and he had a disastrous showing in the 2003 World Cup with just 16 runs – tragic for a person talked of once as Pakistan’s answer to Tendulkar or Lara.

Continue reading Changed Perceptions

Plagiarism, Copyright and Licensing

I recently received a message on FaceBook that quite literally horrified me. It said that I was using Steve McCurry’s picture of the Afghan Girl in my WordPress design and that since it was a copyright violation the least I could do was to acknowledge who the photographer is. So I immediately responded with the background: I had written a very laudatory post about a year back called Haunting Photos on this very blog, complete with references of who took the photos, where it was originally published etc, and provided links to all the original articles.

I explained that what had happened is when I provided a screenshot of Suffusion to WordPress, there was a screenshot of the original “Haunting Photos” post (which had proper crediting) and unfortunately the credit information did not appear on the screenshot. I immediately apologized and within a day got the screenshot for the theme changed on the official WordPress site. Steve understood that this was an honest mistake and appreciated the fact that I had always had the credit information on the post and gotten the image removed from the screenshot almost immediately when notified of the copyright violation. So I could breathe easy.

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Beautiful Numbers

While reading the The Da Vinci Code a few years back, I came across this passage:

He felt himself suddenly reeling back to Harvard, standing in front of his “Symbolism in Art” class, writing his favorite number on the chalkboard.


Langdon turned to face his sea of eager students. “Who can tell me what this number is?”

A long-legged math major in back raised his hand. “That’s the number PHI.” He pronounced it fee.

“Nice job, Stettner,” Langdon said. “Everyone, meet PHI.”

“Not to be confused with PI,” Stettner added, grinning. “As we mathematicians like to say: PHI is one H of a lot cooler than PI!”

Langdon laughed, but nobody else seemed to get the joke.

Stettner slumped.

“This number PHI,” Langdon continued, “one-point-six-one-eight, is a very important number in art. Who can tell me why?”

Stettner tried to redeem himself. “Because it’s so pretty?”

Everyone laughed.

“Actually,” Langdon said, “Stettner’s right again. PHI is generally considered the most beautiful number in the universe.”

The laughter abruptly stopped, and Stettner gloated.

As Langdon loaded his slide projector, he explained that the number PHI was derived from the Fibonacci sequence – a progression famous not only because the sum of adjacent terms equaled the next term, but because the quotients of adjacent terms possessed the astonishing property of approaching the number 1.618 – PHI!

Despite PHI’s seemingly mystical mathematical origins, Langdon explained, the truly mind-boggling aspect of PHI was its role as a fundamental building block in nature. Plants, animals, and even human beings all possessed dimensional properties that adhered with eerie exactitude to the ratio of PHI to 1.

– From the Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

That passage set me thinking about other numbers considered pretty or at least very interesting. As an Indian I can point to quite a few numbers that we can be proud of. At the top of the list is Aryabhata’s invention of the most famous number of them all – 0, which by helping establish the place value system and the decimal number system made innumerable mathematical and scientific discoveries possible and practical. Just imagine having to write a number like 999,999 in the Roman Numeral system. You would need to write CM XC IX CMXCIX. And if you weren’t aware that adding the “overline” multiplies a number by 1000, then you would have to struggle significantly more to represent a number such as 999,999.

As an ex-IIT’ian I have had a fascination for numbers and so have many of my classmates. Both during and after life at IIT I have seen my friends use one particular number quite often – 1729. I myself used 1729 as my page id when I was building my hostel’s website back in the days when you needed to sign up for a free web-page at sites like GeoCities. A few years after graduation my friend asked me to unlock his bicycle. The code – 1729. A few more years later another friend sent out an email saying that his previous email id had been handed out to several mailing lists and he was receiving a lot of spam. So he changed his email id to something that had the number 1729 in it. If you are not very mathematically inclined you might think of 1729 as a very weird number to be fascinated with. But there is history behind it. 1729 is in fact called the Hardy-Ramanujan number, following a very famous conversation between G. H. Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Hardy used to visit him, as he lay dying in hospital at Putney. It was on one of those visits that there happened the incident of the taxi-cab number. Hardy had gone out to Putney by taxi, as usual his chosen method of conveyance. He went into the room where Ramanujan was lying. Hardy, always inept about introducing a conversation, said, probably without a greeting, and certainly as his first remark: “I thought the number of my taxi-cab was 1729. It seemed to me rather a dull number.” To which Ramanujan replied: “No, Hardy! No, Hardy! It is a very interesting number. It is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.”

That is the exchange as Hardy recorded it. It must be substantially accurate. He was the most honest of men; and further, no one could possibly have invented it.

– Foreword by C. P. Snow, to G. H. Hardy’s “A Mathematician’s Apology (Canto)

For those trying to figure out what Ramanujan meant, 1729 = 123 + 13 = 103 + 93. Not only is this number an Indian favorite (Ramanujan was Indian), but mathematicians worldwide recognize it for the brilliance and simplicity of the discovery. This number is also referred to as a Taxicab number due to the associated incident, though the unique property of this number was actually discovered by Bernard Frénicle de Bessy.

There is another number that piqued my interest, however, when I was preparing for the Indian National Mathematics Olympiad in 1994. I came across a number that was referred to as the Kaprekar Number – 6174. In later years I came to know that the information was inaccurate, because this number was called Kaprekar Constant, and Kaprekar Numbers referred to a separate category of numbers. A Kaprekar Number is a number that is thus defined:

A Kaprekar number for a given base is a non-negative integer, the representation of whose square in that base can be split into two parts that add up to the original number again.

As the Wikipedia article states, 45 is a Kaprekar number because 45 = 20 + 25 and 452 = 2025. These numbers were discovered by another Indian mathematician Dattaraya Ramchandra Kaprekar, who had a penchant for discovering several results in number theory and was very well known as a recreational mathematician. Funny what people come up with during their free time!

But back to the Kaprekar constant – 6174. Again, this falls wholly into the category of an unremarkable-looking number. But there is a lot more to it. Arrange the digits of the number in descending order: 7641. Arrange its digits in ascending order: 1467. Subtract the two: 7641 – 1467 = 6174. This happens to be the only 4-digit number that exhibits this property. If you think that is surprising, there is more. Take any 4 digit number with at least 1 digit different from the rest. Repeat the operation of subtracting the ascending order of digits from the descending order. After a finite number of iterations you will hit 6174!! I was so impressed with this number that I couldn’t rest till I had established the proof of this. Yutaka Nishiyama has a well-documented proof, which is much more rigorous than what I came up with (plus I am too lazy to type out my proof in HTML here).

There are other Kaprekar constants when you change the number of digits to 3 (495) or something else.

I am sure there are several other numbers that have even more quirky properties. Having had an affinity towards mathematics in general since a young age and towards number theory in particular since I was 15, I know that I am missing out on such a huge treasure by pursuing a career in something so far removed from mathematics.

Wimbledon – My Pilgrimage

It just so happened that my project and my client decided they wanted me in UK in a week when England was on the brink of elimination from the Football World Cup 2010 and when John Isner and Nicolas Mahut produced an 11 hours 5 minutes long monster marathon in the first round of Wimbledon.

I had spent close to 8 months in London from early October 2001 to late May 2002. But my main regret from trip was that I had no photographs from the more touristy places of London thanks to a rather debilitating bout of illness that killed my will to venture outdoors for the last few weeks of my trip. So when I got the opportunity to travel again, I was determined to fill up the missing pictures from London in my photo album.

If you know me well, the only sport I enjoy following more than Tennis is Cricket. Since India doesn’t have any matches scheduled in Lord’s next week, I accepted Wimbledon, the Mecca of Tennis with open arms. A couple of colleagues from work, Gaurav and April picked today for the visit. The plan was to get there after 5:00 PM when ticket prices go down. I was apprehensive, however, since today was a Friday and last year’s Champion Roger Federer and the runner-up Andy Roddick both had third round matches. I was expecting long queues.

Given that I was changing hotels today after an unsatisfactory experience at Hilton Croydon, I decided to first drop off my baggage at Hilton Euston. The journey from Croydon to Euston took me time because I had to familiarize myself with the Oyster ticketing system that did not exist back in 2001/2002. After checking into the hotel it took me some more time to top up my Oyster card so that I could travel to Wimbledon. It didn’t help that the queues were long at rush hour and my credit card got rejected for some arbitrary reason the first time I tried to buy.

Anyway, I reached Wimbledon station at about 5:25 PM. By then Gaurav and his brother Saurabh were already in the queue for tickets, which by their estimate was at least 500 people long. I still hadn’t gotten to the stadium, so this was depressing news. But I anyway decided to take a shuttle from Wimbledon station to the park. After I disembarked I asked one of the people there as to where I could buy tickets. Thinking back, his directions were eerily similar to what the bystanders at Surat Railway Station had told me when asked where the bus stop was. I walked a good amount and at a pretty brisk speed, passing the stadium on my way.

The Stadium from outside

The Stadium from outside

The price list

After walking seemingly endlessly I finally reached the entrance of Car Park 10, where the queue started for the tickets. Actually the queue started at least 200m inside the car park. By the time I joined the queue, though, it was 6:00 PM and Gaurav and Saurabh were already chugging along. To give you an estimate, right about the court entrance where you purchase tickets, the queue index is A, where I was standing was K9 and Gaurav was probably around F. It had taken him an hour to get there.

Continue reading Wimbledon – My Pilgrimage

The Legend of the “Interview Shirt”

I grew up in an era punctuated by the liberalization of the Indian economy and India’s subsequent ascension as a power in the world economy. During the years that I was an undergraduate my peer group was comprised of people from Indian upper middle class families. So most of us, while not really starved for means, weren’t exactly rolling in money either.

We used to start the semester with a wardrobe that stayed reasonably constant, unless we happened to venture to Palika Bazaar or SN Market during a weekend and spent a couple of hundred rupees getting ourselves some T-shirts. Occasionally when one of us had an expected or unexpected windfall we went to South Ex because the shops there were otherwise beyond our means.

Once we reached our final year, of course, we had to prepare for placement interviews. A typical firm doing a placement interview had 3 rounds: a preliminary CV screen, a written test and an in-person interview. Some firms did one of the first two, some substituted them with a group discussion, but all firms had an in-person interview.

Now, people had clothes for different occasions. There was the regular stuff that you would wear in the hostel and that could range from something that looked like a dirty rag to a half-decent T-shirt. Then there were clothes you wore to class and they were somewhat better, in the sense that they did have encounters with a bar of detergent once every few weeks.

Next came “date clothes”, which were essentially an assortment of clothes that you thought looked cool on you and you wore them on those special events where a girl was probably milking you for all your pocket-money’s worth. A lot of us didn’t have the need or the luxury to worry about date clothes though, because the prerequisite of having a girlfriend, real or purported, was never met. Nonetheless I could regale you with tales of some gentlemen, who would shave only on date days, thereby never letting their girlfriends form even casual acquaintances with their raging stubbles, but that is a tale for another day.

Last came the “Interview Clothes”. This was a tricky category. Some people were dead sure that they would go into academia after graduation, so they never bothered themselves with mundane matters like their appearance in an interview, and as a result they never had anything different or unique to wear for an interview (some such people didn’t even bother themselves with job interviews!). Some were certain they wouldn’t graduate in four years, so they too never bothered. But there were others who were very, very serious about job interviews. But even here you had groups. First came the people who made several attempts at interviews, but started getting dispirited after multiple failures. Such people typically paid attention to their appearance initially, then lost enthusiasm. Then came people who made it to the interview round of their dream jobs, and they, naturally, had to look their best.

So what really comprised the “Interview Clothes”, or more particularly, what was the “Interview Shirt”? In the most general sense, this was supposed to be one shirt that you wore once a semester, if not once during your entire four years in college. Shirts hardly ever strictly met this condition – in most cases you would end up wearing your interview shirt about 5-6 times a semester. Some people liked calling it their formal shirt, but they would have been the only ones calling it that. Some people simply reused their “date shirt”, if the date involved going to an upscale restaurant. Simply put, this was the one shirt you possessed that met all these criteria – long sleeves, cleanest of the lot and most importantly, hadn’t been worn after being last ironed.

Given the economic era we were in, a formal shirt would cost you equal to your entire semester’s tuition fees. You see, the market had been liberalized allowing consumerism to rise, but our families didn’t really fit into the category of the targeted consumers. Moreover our college hiked fees tenfold the year after we joined, making us the last batch to pay a total of around Rs. 8920/- (approximately US $255 those days) for four years of India’s best undergraduate education. So spending more on a shirt than you would spend on half a year’s fees was tantamount to sacrilege. Of course, some saw this as money well-spent and they not only had a designated “interview shirt”, but also had a suit or a blazer and a tie to go with it. Given the heat in Delhi, interviewers never actually expected you to wear a suit for an interview, but the people owning one felt obliged to wear it.

Wearing a suit absolved you of owning a decent “interview shirt”, because your shirt would essentially get covered by the layer above. But for people who preferred comfort during an interview, the shirt was mandatory. People were generally okay with wearing a long-sleeves shirt without lurid patterns, and which showed prominent creases from ironing. Checks were generally considered a no-no, and some people even excluded stripes from their consideration. Solids, particularly those in light colors were most welcome.

People who didn’t possess a shirt that met their own definition of an “interview shirt” usually borrowed one from a friend. Some people also wore ties to interviews, but the opening up of the Indian economy made sure that ties that were in vogue at the start of our education were considered passé by our fourth year. As kids we considered it fashionable to wear a tie in school with a four-in-hand knot, which we referred to as the single knot. Later we figured out that the formal way of wearing a tie was the Windsor knot (what we called the triple knot), or the somewhat less time-consuming half-Windsor knot (aka the double knot). Without intending to lace the statement with double-entendre, it wasn’t the length (of the tie) that mattered, but it was the thickness (of the knot).

Times have changed. In my first job the emphasis was on feeling comfortable, so wearing jeans and T-shirts to work was considered the in-thing. My second job being in consulting, the emphasis was on dressing “smart” (read Business Casual) for regular work and formally for client presentations. So my definitions have changed. What I revered as “interview shirts” during my college days is now a part of my everyday wear. But I still have interview shirts – plain, expensive, clean and well-ironed.

Saving for a Bicycle, Ending up with a Harley

If the title sounds familiar, you must be watching Smallville with great attention to detail.

A lot of us, growing up have fond desires that we are never able to fulfil. As a kid I had numerous hobbies – reading, badminton, tennis, philately, numismatics: you name it. But in each of my hobbies I stopped short of having what would be uber-cool, mainly because of my upbringing. I was always taught to save money and spend with caution and never to have my grasp exceed my reach. Coming from a middle class family I couldn’t really afford expensive hobbies. To cite an example I had a Badminton racquet (a DSC Colt, to be specific) that had cost me Rs. 135, which as per the conversion rates of those days must have been worth around US $4.5. This was the most expensive racquet I had owned and more importantly, it was bought with money I had earned. I had always dreamt of a better racquet like a Yonex or a Carlton with a graphite shaft or with a graphite body, but such racquets never cost less that Rs. 1000. Heck, even the high-end models of Silver’s seemed out of reach. So it was my desire to buy one when I grew up.

Ditto for tennis, where I had a Symonds’ wooden racquet that I really liked. Tennis balls in India used to cost around Rs. 50 each, which was very expensive. Whenever I played tennis with my friends we did so on a clay court where it was a struggle to see the lines and we played with threadbare tennis balls that had been handed down by my friends’ fathers after weeks and weeks of play. But we still had fun. My dream those days was to have a Silver’s Headley, an Indian racquet that cost around Rs. 700, because I simply couldn’t dream of getting a Wilson or a Dunlop that would cost no less than Rs. 2000.

As an aspiring philatelist every kid has a dream – owning a Penny Black. Unfortunately this was an even more ambitious dream than my other ones, given that I had never come across a person owning a Penny Black, so this was the stuff of legend for me. I had no idea how much it cost, but it surely couldn’t be something that years of pocket money could afford. Philately has a sister hobby, numismatics and though I had no specific dreams there, I had a fascination for coins of the old and rare variety. Here luckily I wasn’t so hard done and I had access to some outstanding Indian antiquities thanks to my grandparents. The numbers, though were quite small.

I was an avid book reader as a kid. It never was about novels, though. I could read anything you gave me – a book on general knowledge, a book about past civilizations, a book to study, a telephone directory, anything. This bibliophilism served me very well as I managed to read all my study material while preparing for my engineering entrance examination. That was no small feat considering that I must have had to read not less than 50 books for this. But if there was something that I lamented, it was the lack of story books as a kid. I really cherished the handful that I had won as prizes in different contests at school.

And so time went by and I joined my first job in June 2000. When my first paycheck came in July, here is what I did. I went to a sports goods store and bought myself a Yonex Carbonex 7000 DX, a graphite-bodied Badminton racquet that I absolutely love even today, apart from the fact that isometric racquets came up after I purchased this. I guess it felt so much better to buy it by myself rather than have my father buy it for me!

During those days dotcom startups were the in-things. There was one rather interesting startup called Ticklewit, whose business model I never succeeded in deciphering. Ticklewit published a variety of puzzles daily – crosswords, quizzes etc. If you succeeded in cracking those you got points. And you could redeem points once you had accumulated at least 1000. The redemption was in the form of gift certificates for an erstwhile company called Fabmart. Not one to let this opportunity go, I got started and made a significant amount of money by doing something I loved – more than Rs. 20,000/- in Fabmart gift certificates. Given the type of merchandise that Fabmart offered, I built up a significant collection of books with this money. Another dream fulfilled.

Given the expense of tennis in India I held off buying a tennis racquet. Moreover I wasn’t really sure that I would get a good racquet in India. But when I got a chance to travel to London in October 2001, I bought a Wilson Europa there. Unfortunately I never got to play with it very much, so I gave it to my brother so that he could make better use of it. When I moved to the US a few years later, though, I purchased a Wilson nCode n6.1 and boy! Did I use it!

Then it came down to philately and numismatics. With some rather smart hunting and judicious spending I managed to lay my hands on not only the Penny Black, but also the Two Penny Blue, the Penny Red (perforated and unperforated), the Bull’s Eye (30 Réis and 60 Réis) and the entire Trans-Mississippi Issue, including the rare Black Bull. And it sure felt good.

So I guess it is okay to have a ton of unfulfilled desires as a child. If you want something with a passion as a kid and that passion survives the test of time, when you are finally able to bring it to fruition the results are truly sweet to savour. I never regret not having any of these as a child, because when I finally was able to get them I got more than I had dreamt of and I felt it was well worth the wait!