A Mania filled Opening Night

Arsenal fans went through a variety of emotions on the opening night of Premier League. The new season got off to a flier, may be for a neutral viewer, but if you are a supporter of either of Arsenal or the Leicester you might have had moments when your blood rushed with excitement or heart felt like tearing open.

New Premier League is off and running. It didn’t just start but it was a night that might turn out to be the story of the season. The Foxes were asked to visit Emirates for their first outing of the season and it didn’t go that badly for them, even though the result was not in their favor.

 

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Lacazette, Welbeck, Ramsay, and Giroud scored goals for Arsenal | Source: Premierleague.com

 

The Gunners were forced to start the game with a makeshift defense, with everyone at the back playing out of position. But, the Arsenal manager made sure that he threw in all the attacking options he has in his armor, even pushing Ox to play in right back position.

The two new signings for Arsenal- Lacazette and Kolasinac looked really good with the new forward providing the early break through within 90 seconds of his debut. Kolasinac looked solid and he also contributed with an assist in the closing minutes of the first half which also marked the return of Danny Welbeck.

The hope and enthusiasm of early goal didn’t stay long as Leicester responded brilliantly with two goals from Okazaki and Jamie Vardy.  A lot of credit for Okazaki’s goal had to go to Harry Maguire’s brilliant debut with the Foxes making sure that the ball stayed in the game. It is also a lapse in concentration from Petr Cech who looked lot rusty.  Jamie Vardy shed off his agonizingly bad last season with a brilliant finish off the cross from Mark Albrighton.

At half time, both the teams leveled with two goals a piece.

The second half started off rather meekly with either side trying to calm the nerves but Riyad Mahrez’s cross supported by excellent finish by Jamie Vardy pushed Foxes into the lead and the Gunners fans into despair. What followed next is crazy 30 minutes of football. Arsenal subbed in Giroud, Ramsay and Walcott in quick succession which turned out to be a master move. This could have back fired for the team but the players ensured that they stayed switched on. A lion’s share of those final 30+5 minutes was played in the Arsenal half.

 

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Leicester might have lost the game but have a lot to look forward to| Source: Premierleague.com

 

It was a night that the Gunners might have avoided the scare but the poor passing and loose linking of defense would be something that they really need to address. All the goals scored by the Leicester City had something to do with the ridiculous passing or lapse in concentration by the Arsenal defense. They need someone to hold them through, but they might have to survive one more game before either of Mertesacker or Koscielny could come back.

And so the opening night of new Premier League season ended with a maniac driven 4-3 win to Arsenal.

This is Premier League back in style.

 

Match Facts:

Match: #1 | Arsenal vs. Leicester | Emirates Stadium, London | 11 Aug 2017

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Arsenal won the opening night fixture on Friday| Source: Premierleague.com

 

 

M S Dhoni – A Tribute

India’s most successful captain and probably the best in the present generation, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, calls it a day to the reigns of captaincy and he does it in his style – calm and simple. Multiple newspapers and digital media reported that he spent the day after his announcement playing PS with his Jharkhand teammates. It doesn’t come across a surprise for a man who always trusted his instincts and backed his decisions.

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My association with M S Dhoni is largely selfish if you might want to call it so. My journey with him, started back in 2007 when he was handed the T20I captaincy and I was going through a difficult phase of sorts.

10 years hence, the man had witnessed every success that you could think of for an international cricket captain. He won World T20 championship, followed it up with No. 1 Test ranking and completed the trio with ODI World Cup. It just doesn’t end there as India won Champions Trophy in England. The list continues with multiple IPL Trophies and Champions League title.

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I might not have seen success in the scale of his but I had won my own battles. The first and probably the biggest learning I had from him was way back in 2007 when he mentioned the reasoning behind why there is no point in worrying about the outcome. It might seem a simple proposition but the younger me needed someone to tell me that.

M S Dhoni might not be the most skillful or talented player of his times but he exactly knew where to put his money on. The question most people doesn’t often ask themselves is: if there is one attribute about you that you can bet your life on, what would that be? I asked the question myself and I do always now. Back yourself is what he always believed in.

As the limited overs formats started to reign over the longer format, it took a sense of adaptability not just for the players but for the viewers too. This is what M S Dhoni mentioned about the way to deal limited overs when you are constrained by your resources:

“In Tests, there is only one variable you can control – wickets and with limited resources, we had back then, it was often tough to manage the variable. Whereas in limited overs format, you have two variables to control – wickets and deliveries. The more variables you have, the easier it gets as long you have one variable sorted out.”  More variables are not always chaos; you just need to know the variable you can control effectively.

As the leader, he trusted his players. He wanted the ones who does the job for him- doesn’t matter if it was the most popular choice. The leader needs to do what it takes to get the job done which would often lead to unconventional decision making. “Think out of the box” is the most commonly and very abusively used terminology but to think what fits and ticks the box is not a common choice recommended.

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As like many admirers of his, I got into many arguments about why he is much resourceful than others. But, as time passed by, as the man transformed from being an example of machoism with his long hair and often references to his love towards advanced bikes, to a man of brains who brought the intellectualism to the game, I changed myself too.

He is a man who effectively helped transition Indian cricket from the generation of masterful Big 4 to the aggressive generation which demands them to be jack of multiple trades. The generation needed a leader that could choose the trade that is most needful and back it.

M S Dhoni is that mentor and role model for many of our generation as he is for me.

The Beginner’s Guide to 2016 Formula 1 Season

Even for those among us who always wanted to sit back and lead a calm and hassle free life, there would be some point of life  (even for a flash second) where in we craved for speed and mad rush. For others, who enjoyed a rough, on-the-go lifestyle, auto sport might be the first choice preference.

When we talk of auto sports, it could not get any bigger and better than Formula 1. And the new season is almost on us, with just three days to go before that chequered flag waves off in Australia.

The number of terms or glossary or rules that you were hit with whenever you read that article related to Formula 1, could make it intimidating, even for some core followers of the sport. There are few interesting things that you need to be aware of before the race cars hits those Melbourne tracks.

The Beginner’s Guide to 2016 Formula 1 Season includes five key aspects: Tracks, Teams, Points, Tyres and New Qualification Rules. For the rest of information, you will get a hold of them on the go as the season unfolds itself.

So, Let’s Go:

1. Tracks: 

“I love racing so we always welcome more racing. But, it is going to be grueling this season” Lewis Hamilton, the current champion, said during a candid chat for Mercedes’s YouTube Channel.

Yes. It is going one to be the longest Formula 1 season ever with 21 races, starting off with Australian Grand Prix on 18th March 2016 and signing off with Abu Dhabi on 27th November 2016. The previous highest for number of races in a single season was 20 races during 2012 season, which gave Sebastian Vettel, his third world championship. This time Lewis Hamilton is looking for his third consecutive world championship.

Here is the schedule for all the 21 races:

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2. Teams: 

11 teams take part in this season of Formula 1 with Haas-Ferrari being the new inclusion from the previous season. This would essentially mean that the number of drivers participating in this edition increase to 22 from 20.

This season will also witness a change in team name for Marussia to Manor Racing with completely new faces in their cockpits. It would also witness Lotus F1 being dismantled and renewed as Renault F1 with a new personnel.

Here is how the teams look like for 2016 F1 season:

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Last two years had witnessed an enormous growth and non intimidating emergence of Mercedes. This season,however, is expected to be a much closer contest between Mercedes and Ferrari. If the testing was anything to go by, Ferrari made a clear progress with their renewed version of cars.

3) Points:

There is no change in the points system in the recent years. The winner gets 25 points and the last position that could win at least one is number 10. Below that, you do not get any points.

Here is how the points table looks like, by position:

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During the 2015 season, Lewis Hamilton finished off with an aggregate of 381 points followed by his Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg, who accumulated 322 points. Excluding Marussia, Marcus Ericsson of Sauber could only post 9 points in total.

4) Tyres:

The dependency on rules for number of tyre sets that each driver could opt for had been reduced over the years. The number of tyre sets that a driver could opt to remains at 13. But, each driver is given a choice pick the ratio of the type of tyres, he would need eight weeks in advance. Pirelli expects this could promote heavy pre-race strategies, given the advantages that one version of tyres offer over others.

The tyres are categorized into: Medium, soft and super-soft depending on the types of compounds included. Of the 13 tyre sets which are allocated to a driver, three of them would be nominated by the tyre maker Pirelli.

Here is the tyre combination chosen by each driver ahead of Australian Grand Prix:

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Mercedes, Haas and Sauber are the only teams in which the team drivers opted for a different choice of tyre ratios. Depending on how they utilize these change sets and the progress they make, we are looking at a potentially great post season data analysis.

5) New Qualification Rules:

New qualification rules can be considered as one of the most revolutionary changes that is being introduced during this season. The organizing committee FIA approved of these new changes in qualification on March 4th, just 15 days ahead of the first race.

There were concerns raised by multiple parties about the new rules but there is some sense of renewed anticipation as to how this effect the race altogether.  It can be regarded as the single most rule shift in scoring system after 107% rule.

Here is how the new qualification rules shape up:

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So, that is it.

You now have enough knowledge to keep track of what would occur in the current Formula 1 new season.

Let’s expect this would a great racing season with grueling schedule and all those uncertainties lurking around.

Heavy Midtable fight expected in EAST Conference

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We are almost into that phase of 2016-17 Regular season for NBA with most of the teams aware of their to-dos in order to make it to the play offs. With the introduction of new qualification criteria, wherein any 8 teams in a particular conference, irrespective of their division, can make it to the Play Offs. Only key criteria that needs to be met is the ‘Win %’ followed by a series of tie breaks.

As the table stands, the eight teams with the highest Win % (also accounted for tiebreaks) in EAST conference are:

Cleveland Cavaliers [Win: 71.9% | Remaining: H-8, A-10, Total: 18]

Toronto Raptors [Win: 68.8% | Remaining: H-8. A-10, Total: 18]

Boston Celtics [Win: 59.1% | Remaining: H-7, A-9, Total: 16]

Miami Heat [Win: 57.6% | Remaining: H-8, A-8, Total: 16]

Charlotte Hornets [Win: 56.9% | Remaining: H-7, A-10, Total: 17]

Atlanta Hawks [Win: 56.1% | Remaining: H-9, A-7, Total: 16]

Indiana Pacers [Win: 53.8% | Remaining: H-11, A-6, Total: 17]

Detroit Pistons [Win: 51.5% | Remaining: H-11, A-5, Total: 16]

In order to predict the teams that could finally make it to the Play-Offs and the expected positions at which they could potentially finish off at the end of regular season, I used the differential of success between the teams that contest.

The success % at Home and Away are considered as a proxy for the strength of teams’ during their Home and Away games. This strength of the teams is compared to the opposition teams’ strength and the result is predicted.

As it turns out, the below table indicates current win % at home and away for all the 15 teams in EAST conference along with avg. estimated strength of the opposition teams they encounter in the remaining matches. 2.png

No change in the Eight Teams:

 Based on the predicted results, there would not be any difference in the teams that could make it to the Play Offs but expect to witness very tight tussle in mid-table between Indiana, Atlanta and Miami.

Cleveland Cavaliers could end up at the pivotal position in the EAST conference even though they could potentially face a setback in away games. They have a possibility of winning all games at home but could only win potentially 40% of games away. The more they could pull off these away games, the easier would be for them to buffer for Toronto’s upsurge.

Toronto Raptors could finish at the second position with a minimal difference from Cleveland. They need to play 10 games away from home and every game they play away would be crucial to bridge the gap between themselves and Cleveland.

Expect a really tight race for the Top position in EAST conference.

The bottom two teams that could make it to the Play Offs rather easily are: Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons.

But, the very interesting contest in the EAST conference comes from the mid-table, where Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat fighting desperate to move as many positions up as possible.

Predicted Table:

Here is the predicted table at which EAST conference end up:

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Warriors chasing the Big Dream

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20 long years since Chicago Bulls broke the record for most wins in a regular NBA season in 1995-96, Golden State Warriors is almost on the verge of chasing that Big Dream. The closest any team came in all these years was Chicago Bulls themselves, who almost broke their own record in 1996-97 season with 69 wins.

Ever since the team had changed themselves into ‘Golden State Warriors’, they won the championship only twice. Once in 1975 and the other in 2015. Warriors finished their previous season at 67-15 (81.7% win) and this time they carry the extra burden of expectations to win the league along with that big dream of recording most wins in a single NBA season.

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The Best ‘Curry’ ever:

They were just outstanding so far. They got one of the best players (or ‘almost’ a modern day legend) in the form of Stephen Curry, who contributed to 30.37% of team points so far. Klay Thompson (21.84%) and Draymond Green’s (13.55%) contribution could not be overlooked at all. Even in the absence of Stephen Curry, who missed out only on three instances or during those rare off days at office, these two players took that responsibility on themselves.

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The Tricky Phase:

Even though things look so bright for Warriors to break the record, they are entering into one of the trickiest phases of this season.

They have 19 games left to play and they need to register 16 wins, turns out to be approx. 84% success, a 6% less success rate than they currently stand at.

Of the 19 games that they play, they have 3 games left against San Antonio Spurs, which is the second best team in terms of success % so far this season. Spurs have registered 84.4% success with 54-10. Even though, Warriors have swept them with a huge 30 point difference win last time they played, two games away from home could be a bit tricky. Spurs is the only team that enjoys 100% record at home other than Warriors.

So, the biggest opponent that could hinder Warriors chances is San Antonio Spurs.

Northwest Division was a division that offered Warriors the least happy trips so far. They enjoy only 85% of success rate against these teams, which is second lowest after Central Division. With Central division games done with, Northwest Division would be a division Warriors would be cautious about.

The next game that Warriors play is against Portland Blazers, which is only team that had beaten Warriors in the Second game of duals after Detroit Pistons. Warriors now have a huge burden on their back to come back from a loss.

The Last Game Syndrome:

Having won first 24 games in the season, everyone waited eagerly to see where the first loss comes from for Warriors. It finally came after 24 games from Milwaukee Bucks. It didn’t take long for them to recover from the shocker as they returned back the favor in a week days’ time.

But, the last games that Warriors played against the teams had ‘relatively’ poorer performances. This is also one aspect that could make things tricky for them.

First game success percentage recorded was 93% (27-2), but the last game success (so far) stands at only 81.25%.

IMG_20160310_184430.jpgMay be fatigue or may be confidence or may be injuries could play a huge part in deciding these big games for Warriors.

Could they achieve the record for most wins?

How long can Curry go on in this injury stuck phase?

We can only wait and watch.

Games Remaining (Warriors % Win so far):

3 Games- San Antonio Spurs (100%)

2 Games- Memphis (100%), Dallas (50%), Portland (50%) and Minnesota (100%)

1 Game- Phoenix (100%), Utah (100%), Los Angeles Clippers (100%), New Orleans (100%), Washington (100%), Boston (100%), New York (100%) and Philadelphia (100%)

 

The T20 Saga- A change appreciated

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Aus vs. NZ – First T20I 17 Feb 2015

11 years and 10 days were passed since the cricketing world had experienced their first ever T20 International. In all these years, as many as 514 international matches were played with one more scheduled today (515th). The success of T20 cricket was not a real surprise – the time to be spent is cut down by almost half from an ODI international, more entertainment with mind numbing pace of scoring, and margin of difference is minimal, which increased the probability of close games drastically.

Cricket purists still complain about the technicalities of this format but everyone agrees T20 cricket was meant for a sheer sense of providing entertainment. The domestic leagues emerged in numbers over the years with almost every major cricket playing nation have their own T20 league fitted into their packed International calendar.

Promoted with a soul purpose of providing entertainment had its own pros and cons to it. The flow of money increased dramatically, cheerleaders and DJs became an integral part of the game. Celebrities on their day-offs visited the games and were interviewed in the commentary boxes.

For me personally, the key component of these T20s at domestic level was that it opened up the game for innovation – not only in terms of technology but also in the skill set.

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Technology penetrated deeper into the game – uninhibited- Umpire camera, spider cams, LED bails, virtual statistics, on field mics, batsman cameras and pet names on the shirts along with twitter handle names.

 

In the skill set, innovation was the word used more and more often in the game – even though it was biased to be a batsman game – with heavy bats and shorter boundaries- it was not taken for granted. Scoops, revere sweeps, switch hits, late cuts, helicopter shots or whatever you want to call it-everything came in- which the older format of cricket never needed. For bowlers, evolution of slower bouncers, slow paced deliveries, cross seam, carom balls, more flighted and more revs came into the game. The player’s mind had to race against the time and skill of the batsman.

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It is not just the batting or bowling that was scaled up. Fielding innovations came up. Strange field placements came in – right under the eye line of batsman, first slip on off side and leg side moved to boundary lines came up. No more classic 7-2 field or forward short leg limited only for spin. One aspect of fielding that pushed the game to its maximum was the boundary fielding – rebounced chances, relay catches and so on.

Three captain strategy evolved too in the process – many teams tried and tested it – succeeded to a fair level. With the # of games to be played by any professional team increased along with the talent available, the player needed to be at his best of fitness. You miss out due to injury on one format and you might not ever end up coming back – except in India. So, it demands a lot from the players, always on the watch out for their next big chance, not only off field but on field. That quick throw or that boundary stop could earn you more games.

The biggest worry for me is despite of heavy success enjoyed by the game, many questions still pop up about the relevance of international T20s- except for World Cup. Most bilateral series would include only one or two games and at the most three games which fizzes out interest from the game.  But, how does that matter now? With the leagues emerged like mushrooms, the players get their needed match practice. What else do we need?

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2007 was the year when the world had enjoyed their first T20 world cup and in almost 9 years, we are already into the sixth edition of the world cup. As we brace ourselves to yet another T20 World cup in less than a week, I am looking forward to see the next big thing of the game – where would the innovation come from? Batsman running between the wickets, variation of deliveries or the ridiculously reduced reaction time.

Here is what I am looking out from this year’s edition:

  1. New Champion to evolve.
  2. Bowlers take control of the game (In Indian pitches, I know that’s a huge ask)
  3. Tight games and few upsets
  4. Biggest sixes and
  5. Brilliant catches

T20 World Cup comes to India.

Aap Bhi Apni Taiyaari Karlo!