Different Stories, Same Ending

Image Courtesy: AFP
South Africa beat India in Centurion to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-Test series.

It happened once again, only the margin of defeat got wider-from an achievable 72 runs to a yawning 135 runs, the twin defeats not only cost Indian Cricket team a chance to win a series abroad, but also raised questions about the team’s ability to perform outside its comfort zone of home turf. Adding trouble to the woes, it was not the expert pacers Dale Steyn or Van Philander who did the damage but relative newbies like Rbada and Ngidi who ripped apart the much famed Indian batting line up.

Now fans have always enjoyed the dominance of India over Sri Lanka in the repetitive home and away (in Sri Lanka) series, but some of them have always questioned about the ability of likes of Rohit Sharma and Ashwin to prove their mettle abroad. Their doubts just proved to be true.

The consecutive, convincing test defeats handed the second overseas series defeat to captain Kohli besides putting question marks over team selection along with individual performances. Ajinkya Rahane, who has pulled India out of unpleasant situations more than once, was dropped unceremoniously even after Rohit Sharma failed in first test. Cheteswar Pujara, normally a solid middle order player found himself struggling under new conditions, while the openers Vijay, Rahul and Dhawan never looked comfortable against the opposition attack.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who took five wickets in first test and faced more balls than any other batsman was dropped for Ishant Sharma, someone who did not had a great time in recent past with the ball. Also, Saha was replaced by Parthiv Patel (due to injury) who let some chances fly past him.Hardik Pandya, dismissed by ridiculous mistake, and was left wanting with his role with bat and ball. Only Kohli managed to avoid a complete whitewash with his innings of 153.

India now have  not won against South Africa, Australia, England or New Zealand since 2014.The fact that India did not arrive early enough in South Africa to play practice matches and get acquainted with the pitches does speak of the confidence of the team, but it is now turning out to be cocky confidence instead of pragmatic confidence. Also, the ability to bowl long spells accurately by Indian seamers seems to have been paled by better performance by their counterparts.

With the troika of Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar gone India seemed to have found able replacement in likes of Kohli, Pujara and Rahane along with having a bench of good seamers and spinners-Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya along with Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav. But the best performance of these people have come at docile, friendly pitches and a big series win overseas still remains a distant dream. For Both captain Kohli and Coach Shastri the third test at Durban will be an acid test.

A win will at least validate their point regarding team selection and tactics, a defeat will once again put the tag of paper tigers abroad on the team. At the moment, the hands of these two men are full-they have to not only select the right team, but to make sure that the boys gather back their self-belief and fulfil their roles with more than expected commitment.

Welcome to the Super Blue Blood Moon

In 2017, the world witnessed one of nature’s most awe-inspiring phenomena – a total solar eclipse. It became the subject of curiosity and anticipation for stargazers globally. On August 21, 2017, after nearly 99 years, all of North America was covered by this eclipse from coast to coast, making it one of the rare celestial events.

This year, however, is bringing in its first month another such rare event that will be experienced by the entire planet: The Super Blue Blood Moon. This celestial event – which will be occurring on January 31st – last occurred on March 31, 1886, nearly 136 years ago. It is a rare convergence of a blue moon, super moon, and a total lunar eclipse.

Super Moon:

The orbit of the moon is shaped like an oval. This allows for the moon twice during its revolution to come to closest to the earth. When the moon is closer to the earth, it looks a lot brighter and larger. According to NASA, it appears 14% larger than usual, and 30% brighter than usual.

Such a moon is called ‘Super Moon’.

Blue Moon:

Blue moons are another rare phenomenon, occurring once in 2-3 years. A blue moon is simply the second full moon within a month. The term blue moon does not in any way signify the change in color reflection of the moon, but simply means the second full moon of the month.

Blood Moon:

A Blood Moon is a phenomenon when the moon is undergoing a total lunar eclipse. Total lunar eclipse occurs when Earth’s shadow falls entirely on the moon, and is completely blocked by the sun’s spotlight.

This phenomenon is known as Blood Moon.

Super Blue Blood Moon:

When all of the aforementioned phenomena take place simultaneously, the resultant is the Super Blue Blood moon: a moon at its closest to the earth, experiencing total lunar eclipse, and at the full moon phase for the second time in a month. An extremely rare phenomenon, this is said to be occurring once in 150 years.

The total duration of the event is 77 minutes; in India, the eclipse is expected to last for an hour, beginning at 6:21 PM on January 31. According to Australian Astronomical Observatory, Australia and Pacific will best experience this phenomenon. In Western Australia, it will be followed by a Black Moon – lack of a full moon in a calendar month – with no full moons until March 2.

Being Positively Sceptical – Bengal Global Summit

Image Courtesy: The Indian Express
The state government in the third edition of Bengal Global Summit in 2017 had garnered investment commitment worth Rs 2.35 lakh crore.

West Bengal is not exactly known for its industrial competence, and the reasons for its dismal performance are manifold- militant labour activism, lack of investments in core industrial sector, microscopic interest and investment by private sector players, failure to develop a prominent service sector like tourism or the decline of traditional stronghold sectors of Jute and tea-the list is long and continuing. Almost 14 years ago, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya tried to break the shackles by bringing TATA group to the state, a first of its kind commendable move.

But the move backfired badly, the whole Nano Car Project turned out to be a dismal failure and the state was tarnished with an ignominious tag of “Unfriendly to Industry”. The chief architect of the protest and the current chief minister, Mamata Banerjee who took over the office in 2011, raised a lot of apprehensions especially after her vocal protests towards the land acquisition process and her cool attitude towards industry towards her first term.

However, better sense prevailed and the government began to take slow, yet steady steps for setting up an industrial base. The prime example was seen soon- a state of art, massive convention centre was set up on outskirts of city within a record 3 years.

On Tuesday, at the fourth Bengal Global Summit held for the first time at the convention centre,when Mukesh Ambani announced an investment of Rs. 5,000 crore, the harbinger of good time for Bengal just seemed to have arrived. The announcement follows a string of promises-all large ones, a commitment of Rs 10,000 by Jindal Group for setting a new steel plant (it has already set up a cement manufacturing plant at Salboni, West Bengal), promise of scaling up power distribution business by Sanjiv Goenka Group along with venturing into food processing industries and increasing capacity of its stronghold of Philips Carbon Black business across the state.

But, the most surprising announcement came from Ajay Singh of Spice Group who stated that it is considering the state as a hub for manufacturing sea planes.

While the chief minister is upbeat about the promises and describes the investments as certificates of confidence by the industry, due to near absence of industrial strikes in last couple of years, it remains to be the seen as how much the promised investments will actually deliver on ground. The opposition has accused the event as an empty show and the promises as rhetoric, but one cannot deny the fact that the government has made a pitch for industrial development.

In a state which enjoys a location advantage due to strategic location of ports and railways, coupled with availability of both blue and white collar workers such investments can solve the twin problems of unemployment and image development of the state. However, it remains to be seen in the coming years, as whether the event was an actual indicator regarding the winds of change for the state or just another photo opportunity at the cost of state exchequer.

Haj Subsidy Canceled, Funds to be used for empowering Minority Women

Image Courtesy: Reuters
Around 1,75,000 pilgrims to visit Haj this year from India.

On January 16th, the government decided to cancel the historical Haj subsidy. The subsidy given to Haj pilgrims can be dated back to 1932. The Port Haj Committee Act was adopted by the British to encourage the Muslims to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Over the decades, the policy was greeted by a number of changes. And in contemporary times it had turned into a matter of criticism. Though the initial discussions to do away with the Haj subsidy began with a Supreme Court order in 2012, it was only in 2017 that the Central Haj Committee decided to abolish the subsidy with start of a new year in 2018.

With the government announcing the withdrawal of the Haj subsidy, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Minority Affairs Minister stated that the funds used for the subsidy will now be directed towards education. He claimed that the objective was to empower the women hailing from the minority section. It also interesting to note that the verdict to eliminate the subsidy came a day after the government permitted Muslim women over 45 years of age to perform a Haj yatra, in groups of four, without being accompanied by a male guardian.

However, regardless of the decision to cancel the subsidy, Naqvi told the media that around 1.75 lakh Muslims might be undertaking the Haj pilgrimage through the course of the year. He also added that the Saudi Arabian government is in talks with India to permit Haj pilgrims from India via ships.

Concerning the cancellation of the subsidy, makes one question the actual intention of the government. Did Air India and a Saudi airline feed on the subsidy arranged by the Centre for Muslims to fly budget to Jeddah? The truth is that the Haj subsidy was surrounded by numerous layers.

According to reports from Outlook magazine, in 2017 the pilgrims were required to pay a subsidized return airfare amount of Rs 45,000 for Air India. This advance booking was expensive as the Delhi – Jeddah return ticket was available at Rs 30,000 during the peak season. And in August, again during the peak season, Etihad provided tickets at Rs 39,846.

These figures reveal that the amount paid by the pilgrims was equivalent to or higher than the market price. Thus making the subsidy a financial excuse to keep Air India afloat.  However, Air India stated that the definite rate fluctuated between Rs 63,750 to Rs 1,63,350 based on the ports of embarkation.

Since 2012, there has been a decline in the amount of subsidy allocated. In 2016-17, the Centre released Rs.450 crore towards Haj. Reacting to this, Asaduddin Owaisi, leader of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen insisted on the cancellation of the subsidies as he was convinced that they were used as an armour to benefit airline companies.

Keeping the matter of airlines aside, Congress positively reacted to Modi government’s decision and demanded the successful utilization of money towards education. And since the government also supplies subsidies for Hindu pilgrimages like Kumbh Melas and the Kailash Mansarovar yatra, the Vishva Hindu Parishad requested the allocation of funds utilised for the education of poor Hindu girls.

 

Source: The Wire, The Indian Express

Watching Virat Kohli bat in South Africa – when TNT meets Dynamite

Image Courtesy: BCCI
After Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli first India captain to score a Test century in South Africa.

Scoring 153 runs out of team total of 307 is no mean feat, especially when you are batting in tablelands of centurion and likes of Rabada and Morkel breathing down your neck. Add on to the pressure of being the captain, wrong team selection and a hostile press back home-not to speak of the Himalayan expectations of the fans.

But, Virat Kohli is no ordinary batsman or a captain or a mortal being. His intensity during his stay at crease is akin a mixture of rage and performance. It’s like accelerating a sports car towards its peak speed, for hours. Watching a cricket test match almost after a year, partly due to predictable India- Sri Lanka Series had and partly due to absence of any good competition, it was certainly a treat to the senses. And what a sight it was to see Kohli in his elements on a sunny day in South Africa. Not only he took Indian side to a respectable total, he also stamped his authority over the African soil- thereby silencing his critics regarding his batting technique-at least for a while.

But more than his batting skills, what highlighted Kohli’s stay at field was his never ending enthusiasm. He jumped in the air as he crossed past 100 mark, only to return back for an extra run gifted by an overthrow-all in less than 10 seconds. He applauded every time his partner at other end hits a four and slapped his bat to his pad when a wicket falls. It looked that his veins would burst out when Hardik Pandya ran himself out in a stupid manner.

He played shots by dragging himself wide due to lack of movement in the pitch, almost repeating his Cape Town action, but this time he pulls them through elegance. The fact that his strike rate his over 70 and he has faced just under 45% of balls that the whole team has faced, with a contribution of over 50% to the total score speaks volumes about his skill.

It almost seems that Virat is undoing all his mistakes for himself and the others. He seems to cover up for everything by his batting – constant failures of Rohit Sharma, dropped catches by Parthiv, poor deliveries bowled by Shami and yet stay at the crease with all his grit to partner with Ashwin to hit the three figures. He might have made his mistakes of field too-poor team selection, wrong fielding placements, but today on 15th January, 2018, Kohli makes South Africa fight for every minute he stays on the field. Who says the enfant terrible of Indian Cricket can’t put up a show in Dark Continent?

P.S.- Almost an hour after the end of his innings, Kohli breached ICC Code of Conduct for fair play, by disagreeing with the umpire and stomping the ball to the ground. He was fined, yet again, 25% of his match fee for his over-aggressive behaviour.

The Man Who had ‘All the Money in the World’, and the One Who Lost it all

Ridley Scott, the director who gave the world Alien, Blade Runner, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, and many other masterpieces, came up last month with a biopic on the life of American gazillionaire, J Paul Getty. Until recently, the man who was portraying Getty in All the Money in the World was none other than Kevin Spacey.

Following the sexual assault allegation against Spacey, Scott’s decision to replace him was immediate. In a span of nine days, Scott managed to assemble his cast and crew, acquire permissions for all locations in England and Italy, and reshoot all scenes which initially featured Spacey. Christopher Plummer, the Sound of Music fame actor replaced Spacey, and confessed of this being common in theatre, but rare in films.

In the light of this controversy, it would be interesting to understand about the cold-hearted gazillionaire who negotiated his own grandson’s kidnapping.

Life of a Miser Gazillinaire

An American-born British industrialist, J Paul Getty was the founder of Getty Oil Company. In 1956, Fortunes Magazine declared that he was the richest living American and in 1966, Guinness Book of Records named him as world’s richest private citizen. His worth at his death was more than $2 billion (approximately $8.60 billion). However, the old man was infamously as miserly as anyone could be.

In 1973, Getty’s 16-year-old grandson, John Paul Getty III was kidnapped by an organized crime group in Italy, known as the ‘Ndrangheta’. They demanded $17 million from the oil tycoon, but he refused to pay. The family suspected a foul play, a ploy by the teenager to pull out money from his tightfisted grandfather. Consequently, the family received an envelope with a lock of hair, and human ear.

Despite this development, Getty senior did not relent to the kidnappers. When the kidnappers finally reduced their demand to $3 million, he acceded, however to pay no more than $2.2 million – the maximum that was tax deductible. The rest he lent it to his son at an annual interest of 4%.

In his autobiography, As I See It, Getty defends his initial refusal to pay the ransom on two points. First, he argued that to submit to the kidnappers’ demands would immediately place his other fourteen grandchildren at the risk of copy-cat kidnappers. He adds, “the second reason for my refusal was far more futuristic. I contend that acceding to the demands of criminals and terrorists merely guarantees the continuing increase and spread of lawlessness, violence and such outrages as terror-bombings, ‘skyjackings’ and the slaughter of hostages that plague our present-day world.”

An eccentric who kept a pet lion, Getty senior was among the greatest art collectors of the 20th century. He read voraciously, engaged constantly with experts, and counted Rembrandt’s The Night Watch as his favourite movie of all time. Within the autobiography, he recalls how he’d “spent countless hours, during any number of trips to Rijks museum (in Amsterdam), just looking at it, losing myself in it”.

Getty believed in the impact art could have in civilizing humanity. “Twentieth-Century barbarians cannot be transformed,” he wrote, “until they see, begin to understand, and finally savour fine art”. Through Getty’s perspective, sculptures and paintings could save the world.

This certainly does not absolve Getty of the “inhumane” emotions that he showed towards people. A rampant womanizer, an indifferent father and grandfather, John Paul Getty lived two completely opposite sides: one that of apathy for his family and people around him, and that of relentless generosity for the world of art.

Downfall of Kevin “I’m sorry for assaulting you, but I’m also gay” Spacey

On October 30, Buzzfeed News did an interview of Anthony Rapp, an American Broadway and film actor. Nothing much was special about this interview, some theatre talks here, some film gossip there. Little did anyone know that Rapp was about to drop the bomb, leaving the film industry and the world stunned to the bones.

Spacey, a two-time Academy Award winning actor, was accused of sexual assault by Rapp when he was 16 years old. In the interview, Rapp publicly alleged for the first time that in 1986, he was invited to a party by Spacey to his apartment. At the end of the night, Spacey, 26, picked up Rapp, placed him on his bed, and climbed on top of him, making sexual advancements. For 31 years, Rapp remained silent, witnessing the meteoric rise of Spacey, something he coveted himself.

Not only has Spacey lost credibility in the industry, but is now losing out on films that he had contributed to. Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World released in the United States on December 25. However, around two months before the release, the allegations were made public. To add fire to the fuel, Spacey’s media team came up with an apology that appeared more like seizing the opportunity for the actor to come out of the closet. Spacey attempted to apologize “sincerely” for an encounter which he “honestly, did not remember”. Justifying it with confessions of his previous relations with men while also simultaneously revealing his homosexuality lost him whatever credibility he was left with.

When Rory Carroll of The Guardian asked Ridley Scott if the allegation had created a dilemma for him, he just shook his head. “My decision came without any anguish,” he said, informing he had almost immediately decided to meet with Sound of Music fame Christopher Plummer. Ridley Scott, the director who gave the world masterpieces like Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, among many other films, termed it as entirely “a business decision”.

“Whatever you do in private is none of my business. It only becomes my business if it infects the business that I’m in.”

Christopher Plummer’s performance in All the Money in the World is being appreciated by film critics across the industry. Kevin Spacey, on the other hand, apart from this flick, lost out on the much-acclaimed Netflix series, House of Cards, and Gore, another Netflix movie that the production house decided to shelve. After so much hullabaloo, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that curtains are being drawn on Spacey’s career.

Under 17 WC, India’s chance to skyrocket in the global picture

Alien to the current ears, India had once finished at 4th place in football at the Olympics. It was a time when all team greats like P.K Banerjee and Late Kesto Pal had the capability to tear through any defensive structure of the opposite team. 1956 Melbourne Olympics was a staggering example of what Indian football could have been if pushed into the right direction. Kolkatan’s still reminisces the legends of Late Sailen Manna who could stop incoming forwards with a neat slide tackle barefooted.

In these fond golden memories of Indian football, today India has a miserable FIFA ranking of 137. It is still better than what it was a couple of years back when India slipped down to 170’s due to lack of international exposure.

The fall that led India to this 170th spot in international rankings can be attributed to one historical indecision by the All Indian Football Federation.

In the year 1948, India got a chance to play the World Cup hosted in Brazil, the federation decided not to send the team since in two years Helsinki Olympic was coming up and for the federation the Olympics was bigger than the football World Cup. The word that still goes around the Kolkata street is that they could not participate since they were used to play barefooted and FIFA did not accept that. The legend itself goes onto say that what great capabilities were these footballers gifted of.

Not only did the federation failed to gauge the importance, but it utterly failed to measure the consequences that the team and the country suffered from that horrific decision that still makes India suffer in terms of infrastructure.

70 years ahead into the mortal timeline…that generation has passed. The generation that refused a direct qualification to the world cup; today in 2017 India has received another direct qualification to the under-17 world cup for this time it host to the tournament. For we had learnt the art of throwing the cap from our ancestors this time we made sure that we grab onto this invaluable opportunity. But is India ready?

It’s a no brainer that India is leagues behind in developments related to football against the major playing nations, can this be an opportunity to revamp itself and arrive at the world stage?

Once a continental powerhouse, India with all its glories in the rear view mirror is moving towards an uncertain future. Indian football in the 2000’s and in the early part of this decade didn’t have a proper grass root development structure.

What the federation sew 70 years back is what India is reaping currently. That one decision sent India 100 years behind in football from Europe and rest of the western world.

But then again the Indian spirit has never quite been a quitter. India in the past decade has produced legends like Bhaichung Bhutia, Subrata Pal and Sunil Chhetri. Since the inception of ISL many experts hope that India just might come out of its downward spiral and as we speak it truly is.

The steady flow of funds to the league from major franchises along with television rights has turned quite a few heads in the western world.

Fortune favours the brave; India has been given a chance to host the Under-17 football world cup, the largest football tournament that India will host in its history. This is the best thing that could have happened to India at this time as the sport is gaining popularity in the country and the standards that FIFA sets for its tournament will give India a huge benefit from the infrastructural and exposure point of view. The grounds, the training facilities are being revamped to set European standards and in their last visit the official have returned to the head-quarters without any complaints. AIFF only needs to make sure that they are able to hold onto these standards in the future.

For the under-17 players for India who have received a direct qualification the exposure is certainly going to be a big factor. Playing in such a huge tournament at this age not only builds character but also expands the dimensions of the experience that is required in the future.

This is the first Indian team to play the football world cup and that itself can be daunting; but Eugeneson Lyngdo, India’s mid-field powerhouse is hopeful “At such an early age, they would have already gained such valuable experience. I am sure some of these players can end up playing in Europe someday. And when it happens, playing alongside these players will benefit the senior Indian players and the team.

He is of the view that this tournament will have a ripple effect and the future Indian team would be destined for great things to come. In terms of infrastructure Lyngdo believes “Eventually and hopefully, India will follow all these, so the infrastructure of Indian football will grow,”

This is truly very exciting times for Indian football, with more and more players coming to Asia to play football at their prime, India is also garnering some exposure from the legends and former players. Imaging a Roberto Carlos taking a free kick would have been impossible a decade back but today it is a reality that the ISL has achieved. English Premier League’s one of the topmost clubs, Liverpool has set up its grass root academy with Pune’s DSK Shivajians. It would not be very wrong to predict that India will very soon arrive at the world stage knocking the doors of major competitions.

The ISL is going to be instrumental in this development since it has the money, the ability to get exposure and the big guns of the world and finally the inherent structure in its regulations that brings out talent from the remote parts of the country.

Known as the sleeping giant of Asian football, the under-17 world cup could just be the trigger to wake up, with ISL doing a fantastic job in parts like the North-East where football has been very popular, but lack of funds has always been a huge issue for players to come up. The state of art infrastructure provided by FIFA could just be the perfect complement for the footballing fraternity of the country and could ricochet into the big launch that the country has been waiting for.

In October the Saltlake Stadium awaits.