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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ponting v Vaughan: there is no argument

This winter's Ashes in Australia has taken a new look.

Nothing sums up the difference between both sides than the state of both captains. Since that awesome Ashes series last summer came to a euphoric end at The Oval in September, Ricky Ponting
has gone from superb talent to virtual phenomenon, while Michael Vaughan has slumped from leader of a new era to hobbling, crippled has-been. Ponting's brilliant face-saving hundred against Bangladesh in early April was his ninth in 14 Tests - including an average of 76 in his last 10 - and the manner in which he scored those runs has been incredible. Forget Tendulkar, Lara, Hayden, whoever. Ponting is the most dangerous batsman in world cricket.

His jaw-dropping run began with a magnificent 149 at the Gabba against West Indies - none of his team-mates went past 50 - and progressed to a superb hundred at the MCG on an opening day when eight wickets fell, a double-bill at Sydney (his 100th Test), and culimated with two more hundreds against South Africa at Durban to seal a series win. It all starts at Brisbane on November 23. No matter how many runs he scores, and how many centuries he makes Ponting's destiny is irrevocably tied to the fate of the Ashes.

Across the oceans, in cold, dreary England, a dodgy knee has been the topic of speculation and ridicule for much of the last six months, ever since Vaughan was troubled in Pakistan and forced home from India. As captain, he has been only a moderate batsman: if you take out matches against Bangladesh, his Test average has been 32. In his last three series, against South Africa away, Australia home and Pakistan away, it has slipped to 29. Although he has been playing for Yorkshire for the last month, Vaughan is still troubled by the damn injury. England have had three different captains in the meantime - Trescothick, Flintoff and Strauss - and won two, lost four, and drawn three. In comparison, Australia have not lost a Test since surrendering the little urn.

Physios have gone from confident to disappointed to downright shaky about Vaughan's chances of a recovery before the Ashes. The latest report is that surgery is required - the suggestion is an American expert who has worked with other English mishaps - but this would sideline him for nine months. Vaughan, aside, England will be without Simon Jones and Ashley Giles. Jones was a superb performer with the ball, confounding the Aussies with his manic reverse swing, while Giles' talismanic presence - this after being rubbished by many for being included in England's side - was one that proved all too precious for England.

As Duncan Fletcher watches his Ashes-winning side fall apart day-by-day, it is hard to envision another thrilling contest.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The 1975 World Cup final: How it all began

World cricket was tried in 1912 in a three-way series among the Test playing nations of the time - Australia, England and South Africa. Hubris and poor weather torpedoed the tournament. The failure was salutary; it was not tried again until 1975. The first World Cup Series in 1975 gave formal status to this shorter version of the game.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Kunderan is no more

Budhi Kunderan, the dashing wicketkeeper-batsman of the 1960s, passed away at the age of 66 today. He had been suffering from lung cancer, diagnosed in October 2005.

Against England in 1963-64, he became the first wicketkeeper in history to pass 500 runs for a Test series. Looking back at the series, the 1964 edition of the Indian Cricket almanack writes:

"It was strength and depth in batting that made India look a shade stronger than England. They were given a splendid start in the first Test itself by Kunderan, who played a breath-taking innings of 192, and Manjrekar, who hit up a classic hundred. India were indeed lucky that Kunderan played instead of Engineer who hurt his finger on the eve of the match, and Kunderan never looked back. He went on to play another three-figure innings, in the fourth Test. It was different in character, being more controlled and more responsible, but throughout the series he remained a most colourful batsman."

His rivalry and camaraderie with Farokh Engineer, another great 'keeper-batsman, was fabled in domestic and Test cricket. Perhaps there was no other intense yet healthy rivalry. Both kept wickets very well, to pace and spin alike and both had the ability to smash a hundred in a session.

Kunderan's rollicking 192 against England is regarded as one the greatest innings from an Indian 'keeper. Kunderan was, in some ways, the original MS Dhoni.

In The States of Indian Cricket, Ramachandra Guha introduces Kunderan, who he admired greatly:

"Once or twice a year I take what must be one of the loveliest short drives in the country, the fifty-mile road that runs from Mangalore’s Bajpae airport to the university town of Manipal. Keeping the sea on the left, the road passes through acres of paddy fields, interspersed with areca gardens and the odd remnant of rain forest. Every five miles or so we drive over a river, a leisurely boatman in the water. The artefacts of man that one encounters include mosques, churches, Jain monasteries, and Hindu temples. Here in western Karnataka cultural diversity matches ecological diversity, the D’Souzas mixing with the Alis and the Raos, the forests with the fields and the ocean.
The names of the towns en route are charmingly quaint too. There is Parbidri and there is Kapu and, exactly halfway between them, there is Karnad. Whenever my taxi enters this settlement the driver will surely tell me, ‘Saar, Girish Karnad coming from here.’ I can sense and share his pride in the achievements of the writer-actor, a man who has brought lustre to his town, his state, and his country. But I wish I could, at least once, summon up wit to tell the driver, as he passes through the next town on our way: ‘Saar, this is Mulki. Budhi Kunderan coming from here."

The best movies of the year

Truth hasn't just been stranger than fiction this year; it's been better, with documentaries emerging as some of the strongest -- and best-reviewed -- films so far.

Forget blockbusters -- go for documentaries.Read more

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wade leads Miami to first title

I'm eating my words, my hat. The Miami Heat came back from behind to defeat the Mavericks 4-2 in the NBA finals. Dallas paid the price for some sloppy ball, and Miami got their best from Dwayne Wade. He is a true superstar. Period.

I thought Miami would lose, but hats off to them. And to Pat Riley. It's back to waiting for next season to see if Dallas or Phoenix can come up trumps.

Lets go Red Sox!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

For whom the bell tolls

Well, it looks like Screech may need some cash. Saved By the Bell star Dustin Diamond is selling shirts on a private website in an attempt to collect $250,000 and save his house from being foreclosed. The Boston Globe decided to take a look at the rest of the cast, and see how well they're getting along.

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The Second Coming of Pearl Jam

A decade after turning their backs on fame, Seattle's grunge survivors are ready for Act Two

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kissa kiss ka

So you must have heard about the infamous Mika-Rakhi Sawant 'smooch' from last week. This must be the longest kiss goodnight ever given. It's not over....ho-hum...

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Hazaaron khwaahishein aisi...

One of the guys at work brought in the dvd of the old television show Mirza Ghalib starring Naseeruddin Shah. Great show, great acting. Reminded me of the first time I heard Ghalib:

"Hazaaron khwaahishein aisi ki har khwaaish pe dum nikale
Bahut nikle mere armaan lekin phir bhi kam nikle

Nikalnaa khuld se aadam kaa sunte aaye hain lekin
Bahut beaabroo hokar tere kuuche se hum nikle

Mohabbat mein nahin hai farq jeene aur marne kaa
Usi ko dekh kar jeete hain jis kaafir pe dum nikle

Khudaa ke vaaste pardaa na kaabe se uthaa zaalim
Kahin aisa na ho yahan bhi vahi kaafir sanam nikle

Kahaan maikhaane ka darwaazaa 'Ghalib' aur kahaan vaaiz
Par itnaa jaante hain kal woh jaataa thaa ke hum nikle"

And one more for the road....

"Maut ka ek din mu'ayyan hai
Neend kyon raat bhar nahin aati ?

So you think you can do a better job than the boss? You're right

The corporate world is obsessed with leadership. What makes a fine leader? Why do successes such as Jack Welch and Richard Branson become cult figures? Why are psychologists still squabbling over whether great leaders are born or made?

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Sox rally, hold on for sweep

Boston puts up a six-run eighth to shut the door on the Braves...

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Consistently different

With Rang De Basanti and Fanaa being unequaled blockbusters, Aamir Khan never had it any better.

Shah Rukh Khan may still draw the crowds with Karan Johar's help, but Aamir is the most dependable star around. Dependable is a word that is often fickle in Bollywood, and many will gladly throw up Salman Khan's name before Aamir's. Where SRK will always only do well in YashRaj films and will remain out of synch in any other role, Aamir has, since the brilliant Rangeela way back in 1995, made a conscious effort to do cinema that excites and challenges him.

It's his constant need to reinvent himself that has seen Aamir stand apart from his contemporaries. The chocolate lover boy of the 1990s has made way for a serious, thinking, perfectionist who has attempted to keep himself ahead of the rest. He has faltered, on occasion (Mann, anyone?) and not all of his experiments have worked. Mangal Pandey - The Rising opened big, but failed to captiviate the audience for long. It took a while to make, and was Aamir's first release in four years. Yes, four years. Overtly choosy, Aamir put his blood and sweat into the film but the final result was cliched and lacking in plenty.

Recreating history is no easy task but Aamir and director Ketan Mehta did not do justice to the story of India's first revolutionary. While Aamir was, as always, sincere in his efforts as the legendary title role, the film did not come across as entirely believable. A bumpy narrative did little to bolster the weak character sketches. Gyrating belly dancers, a low-grade Umrao Jaan private-mujraa rip-off and the mis-cast Rani Mujherjee and Amisha Patel didn't help.

He more than made up for that indiscretion with Rang De Basanti, a film that pricked the conscience and challenged the viewer to think outside of the box. Best of all, he didn't entirely hog the film, and the ending, critically, was not all about him. He had a deft director, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who was thankfully allowed to be the boss and weave his craft as he had invisioned it.

Far from your run-of-the-mill Indian movie, RDB successfully weaved historical facts with contemporary themes. While I do not agree entirely with the film, I think it was a landmark film in Indian cinema's history. It was a sincere attempt at making a pivotal, social point, and it does what few Indian films in recent times have done - make you pick a side.

Fanaa however, is an interesting case. The film made Indian cinema history when it recorded the best opening ever. But the film is far from a classic. The screenplay is riddled with loopholes - Aamir passing off as an international terrorist mastermind, the manner in which he effortlessly joines the Indian army, the second half and its mockery of the Indian Intelligence - the soundtrack, barring 'Chand Sifaarish' is mediocre, and the supporting cast lacklustre. The saving grace is the fantastic Aamir-Kajol chemistry.

Frankly, I think Aamir was out of place in Fanaa. Something about him being in a Yashraj production feld odd from the start, and seeing him try to carry off a role perhaps more suited to SRK was odd. As the incorrigible flirt-cum-tour guide Rehan, Aamir carries the first half admirably. But in the second half he just doesn't convince, and a weak screenplay doesn't aid him any. The success of the film cannot be denied, and Aamir has again proved that whatever the role, banner or director, he is a big, big draw.

In my mind, the summer of 2001 was Aamir's finest. The season opened with Lagaan, a sweeping epic that rode high on brilliant cinematography, fine performances, taught direction, a fine soundtrack, and most importantly, a plot that was different. Simple though it was - the poor rebel against the suppresors and come up trumps - it was Aamir's role, his best to date, and his hand in the production that set Lagaan apart. Bhuvan was believable, even when he hit that last-ball six.

And not two months later, Aamir was the gregarious, flirtatious, non-believer Akash in Farhan Akhtar' debut film Dil Chahta Hai. An incomprehensible about-turn from Lagaan's Bhuvan. Two films from different worlds, with different budgets, casts, and storylines. What they had in common were high production values, superb direction, great music, and Aamir. The best actor of the lot in DCH, Aamir portrayed the character of Akash brilliantly. You're only as good as your script, they say, but Aamir was ahead of all. The manner in which he evolves from a give-a-damn slacker to a friend insulted to a man who finds love in the oddest of places was awesome. The finest scenes in the film were when he realizes he loves Preity Zinta's Shalini in the Sydney opera house and the following when he drops her home just after, and is caught between the old Akash and the new.

There are plenty of performances that come to mind when you think about Aamir. Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin's Raghu Jhetly, Munna from Rangeela, RDB's DJ, the hilarious Amar from Andaz Apna Apna, DCH's Akash, ACP Rathod in Sarfarosh, the jilted Dilnawaaz in 1947:Earth, Bhuvan from Lagaan, and Akele Hum Akele Tum's estranged husband, Rohit. Can you imitate one of these performances, like every child or comic can SRK's Rahul or Raj from any number of films?

Today, Aamir seems to be at the top of his game. He combines being a star and a fine actor in ways that his two nearest challenger, SRK and Salman, do not. And he's bankable in the overseas market, a must in these global times. Like 2001, 2006 was Aamir's year. Let's hope we don't have to wait another five years to toast his talent.

Fandemonium

When Dan Shaughnessy examined the Boston sports fan in 1990, the Bruins were contenders, the Celtics were chic and the Sox were cursed. Times have changed.

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Six of the best: too many Ashes Tests is never enough

The Big Fella's gone now, and even He didn't reckon He'd be staring down at us from the celestial corporate box at the SCG. So I don't need to whisper it: I WANT SIX ASHES TESTS! Umm, back.

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Good Cinema, haazir ho!

Had the pleasure of watching a selection of the late Renu Saluja's finest works - she was one the best film editors Indian Cinema has seen - during a nine-film festival at Fun Republic this weekend. Didn't catch all nine, but the ones that I did were special.

The one that stood out - I hadn't seen it previously - was Saeed Mirza's under-rated social satire Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho!, translated as 'A Summons for Mohan Joshi'. A parody on housing legislation, this film was based on a simple yet taught screenplay, deft direction, an ensemble cast that turned in wonderful performances, and cinematography that captured the city of Bombay brilliantly.

The plot, in brief: Joshi, a retired clerk who lives with his wife and family in old Bombay tenement - a chaal, to use Mumbai-speak - sues his landlord, which starts a complicated and expensive legal procedure. Eventually Joshi realises that one cannot win against entrenched economic powers.

Released in 1984, the film still rings true in 21st century Bombay. The same troubles, foibles, corruption, filth, and nature of man. I thought the casting was impeccable: Bhisham Sahni, as the title character, evokes sympathy in the viewer in a restrained performance based on mere expressions and body language; his wife, the late Dina Pathak (a fabulous actor), is his rock; Naseeruddin Shah, as the conniving, slick, shamefully dishonest laywer Malkani, is all scum yet you wait for him to return in the next scene; Satish Shah, as his partner in crime, fits hand-in-glove; and the late Amjad Khan, a revelation as the corrupt property developer Kundan Kapadia. Khan seems like a miscast in a small-budget film like this, but he is hilarious. (Note the shaving scene).

Even the back-up cast, from the two "investors" (read thugs) in suits n shades; Joshi's son and daughter in law; the two young lovers caught in their parents' animosity; the bumbling prosecutors; the supportive butcher, Kareem, who stands by Joshi in his attempts; and all the chaal-dwellers. I suggest you go out and buy the dvd, if available, or vcd. It's worth it.

Of the others I saw, Parinda and Dharavi were also supreme works. In fact, these three movies, made in the early and late 80s, and early 90s, were better than the last five Bollywood movies I've seen. Dharavi, set in Asia's largest slum by the same name, is a stark, gut-wrenching tale of a taxi-driver (the awesome Om Puri) who aspires to own his own textile factory but whose dreams take a severe beating in the face of corruption, poverty and communal violence. And little needs to be said about Parinda, Vidhu Vinod Chopra's best film and a masterpiece from its era. Arguably the the first realistic gangster film in Indian cinema - this was years before Satya, Vaastav, Company, Sarkar, D, and the rest - this film succeeded with its gripping screenplay, excellent direction, and powerhouse performances. That Chopra was unable to make another film of this magnitude is a bittersweet tragedy.

But this got me thinking: what happened to directors of the 80s who started out brilliantly but faded away? Look at the case of Kundan Shah. His situational comedy Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, released in 1983, is regarded as the best comedy ever made in Indian cinema. Made on a budget of just seven lakhs, this movie gathered cult status and is revered to this day for the effortless manner in which politics, corruption and slapstick humor were melted together.

After such a promising start, however, Shah fell from grace, big time. After falling into the trap of mainstream Bollywood cinema, Shah never came close to the magic of his masterpiece. Ten years on from Jaane Bhi..., Shah made the quirky Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (one of Shah Rukh Khan's best performances) a simplistic, subtle and circumstantial comedy, but that was it. Does anyone even remember Hum Toh Mohabbat Karega?, Dil Hai Tumhara and Ek Se Badhkar Ek? Does this support the theory that a filmaker cannot survive on individuality and that he will succumb to Bollywood's big-star-bigger-budget ploy? Though he got surprise success with 2001's Kya Kehna, the film was far from decent cinema, and when compared with his first work, hardly appealing.

Even Govind Nihalani, who shook the system with Aakrosh, Ardh Satya, Drohkaal, went awry with Takshak and Dev. Ushering in big names such as Ajay Devgan, Amitabh Bachchan, Fardeen Khan and Kareena Kapoor, Nihalani was unable to convey his gripping realism and imagery in the way he did with his old hand.

Whatever the reasons, such realistic cinema as witnessed at the festival has taken a beating and is hard to find. Bollywood simply does not want to break the mould and support such cinema. Vinay Shukla, who made the Shabana Azmi powerhouse Godmother in 1997, has not made a film since. Only Sudhir Mishra's Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi comes to mind. And Mishra is someone who has managed to stay clear of Bollywood's sterotypical trap. I wish Bollywood would get its thick head out of the run-of-the-mill escapist hole its in and support attempts such as these.
Carpe diem.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Two beginnings

Harsha Bhogle reflects on two Indian debutants in the summer of 1996.

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The Heat is on....

Dwyane Wade scored 36 points on a sore knee to help the Heat even the series. Okay, I'll retract some of what I said earlier about Miami being chokers. A few days ago this series looked to be over, now it's more than alive.

And hey, did you hear about the Red Sox? Yeah, they dropped three games to the Twins. Jason bleepin' Kubel homered for the third straight game as the BoSox went down 5-3. We're a freakin' game away from dropping to third in the AL East. It was the first four-game losing streak for Boston in more than a year. Come on, up on your feet!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Pietersen finds perfect belief system

There is no room for doubt in the world of England’s most destructive batsman, writes Matthew Syed in The Times.

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Jhalak dikhlake, aashiq bana diya...huzoor!

Is Himesh Reshammiya the guy India hates to love, or loves to hate? Are his tunes everyone's guilty pleasure?

That nasal twang, those jhankaar beats, those gawdy pop videos, the cap, the sometimes-stubble-sometimes-beard, the long coats....this guy is different.

Whatever it is, this dude has India rocking to his beats. Though he had composed random hits in various Salman Khan movies, as well as a surprise hit in the Humraaz OST, it all exploded with 2005's Aashiq Banaya Aapne, a soundtrack that was "inspired" by Arabic and Pakistani originals but which catapulted Reshammiya into the big league. The rest, as they say, is history.

In an industry which is dominated by Anu Malik and AR Rehman, Reshammiya has certainly made a niche for his own kind of music. His compositions for Aksar, 36 China Town, Chup Chup Ke, Phir Hera Pheri and that controversial additional theme song for Humko Deewane Kar Gaye had the country either tapping their feet, gyrating their hips, or running for cover. And then there's his first pop album, Aap Ka Suroor. The word 'suroor' took on new meaning when Reshammiya first unleashed his damning croon and MTV, Channel V, B4U and the rest sent it out to the far corners of the country.

Perhaps the most significant, albeit unexpected, example of his popularity is the story of how his smash hit 'Jhalak Dikhla Jaa' invited ghosts - or incurred their wrath, depending on how you see it - in a village in Gujarat. How many music directors or singers can check that down on their CVs?

His new work in the small-budget film, Aahista Aahista has shown a marked switch from pure jhataak beats to a restrained, passionate touch. The title track and the 'Allah Kare' song are good compositions, really.

I don't think this is simply a phase. As long as this guy can keep churning out hits, banners are going to keep signing him up. People can cringe, crib and complain, but Reshammiya is around for the long haul.

Check out his work here.

too much happening these days...

Bloody rain robbed India of a win in the St Lucia Test. And a fine piece de resistance from that man Brian Charles Lara. Awesome innings from him. Two Tests, two classic escape acts from West Indies.
And yes, the Sox dropped another to the Twins. Again, Matt Clement was the guy who messed it up - he tossed eight consecutive balls at one point - and left the mound injured. The Red Sox offense struggled for the second straight game, totaling five hits . Sad.
And what about the Mavs? Dropped one to the Heat to open up the finals. Interesting.
Soccer still the thing to watch nowadays, though.
More later...

Monday, June 12, 2006

Dallas on the road to glory

The Mavs lead 2-0 in the finals. Suh-weet. My man Dirk came back strong in Game 2 and smothered those damn Miami kids. Shaq, sorry - you ain't getting another title anytime soon. Wade, buddy, move to another city.

Anyway, kudos to Avery Johnson, who gave this team what Don Nelson couldn't in his ripe old age. "We're not playing perfect basketball..if you don't play perfect basketball and still can win another game like this - they score 80 and 85 points - we'll take it," Johnson said after Game 2. Dude, you guys can hold of Miami. Stick to the basics, back yourselves, and the title is yours. Go Mavs!

And as for the dear Red Sox over in Bean Town, they went down 6-13 to Texas in the second game of a double-header. COME ON! Wake up and play ball! Dont' give the lead to the Yanks - who lost 3-0 to Oakland - again....aye!

Thats it for my US sports brief....back to India v West Indies, day three in St Lucia...Kumble!

adios

Kaif's coming of age

Mohammad Kaif finally got a Test hundred. Whew. Here's a guy who has been on the cusp of the Test side for a while now, but who has had to sit and watch other more favorable batsmen get chance after chance even though coming up short. But on the second day of the St Lucia Test against West Indies, Kaif took his career by the reins and got to the landmark.

Impressive about this particular innings was how straight he played. Competent against both the quicks and the spinners, Kaif used his feet well to move down the track and meet the ball. His running between the wickets was good and together with Rahul Dravid he forced the scoring rate.

Everyone will remember his awesome Natwest innings back in the summer of 2002, but maybe not so many his maiden ODI hundred in his next match, against Zimbabwe in the ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka. That was an innings in which he bettered his famous 87* at Lords. believe it or not. Batting at the No.7 spot, he hit an unbeaten 111 from 112 balls and spared India's blushes by helping them to 288. The match was won by 14 runs in the end, and India would go on to share the trophy with the hosts after rain played spoilsport in two aborted finals, but Kaif's role in setting all that up was immense.

A chalky performance in his first English county stint, with Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, and later Leicestershire, and a horror run in the 2005/06 season, came to an end with some good scores in the ODIs against West Indies, and then this hundred. There was something fulfilling about watching him in this match, the way he batted and ran and partnered his team-mates.

Kaif needs to be in the Test side, for he brings some enthusiasm to proceedings. His fielding is exemplary and he is definitely a motivator. He hasn't been a permanent fixture in the Test side, but should have been following his crucial 91 in the first Test against England at home. He was dropped for the remaining two Tests in favor of a far-from-positive VVS Laxman. Sad to see such treatment being meted out to such a valuable player. This hundred will do wonders to his confidence and he should stay on in the side. Hats off to this UP kid.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Aamchi Mumbai

And so I am back in hot, humid Bombay. Three weeks away and your realize how hot it gets here. The news from here? 'Fanaa" has garnered a historic opening at most centers, despite the Gujarat fuss, the rains have threatened to cause havoc once again, and the World Cup fever has hit big time.
Back to work - yay CMS - and the second Test between India and West Indies begins tomorrow.
Dying to watch the NBA finals - go Mavs - but dont know if ESPN is going to show all the games.
Redsox dropped their series against the Yankees. Whats that all about?
Watched "The Omen" and "Inside Man"...the first was good, couple of good moments, while the second caught me napping...though that was probably the jetlag.
Anyways, more later.
Adios

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Adios, Boston

And so my time in Boston comes to an end. A good time was had with friends new and old, as well as the crazy cousins, Jay and Shibs, and being back in the city was great.

Got to watch tons of baseball and basketball - but not enough - and the food, as expected, was awesome. A big thanks to everyone who chilled. A special holla to my man Sid, who was up for anything at any time, and who put up with three Alters. Whiffle ball, the batting cage, the cricket, it was good. 10 cent wings and pitchers of Molson, and of course those cheap Brubakers, at Our House - sweet. The Imrie three, thanks.



Covering the India-West Indies one-day series was fun, even though India lost badly. Put that aside, and the time was better. Didn't get to see everyone I would have liked to, but hey, whatever.

I'll take back to India some good memories of this trip, and rekindled love for certain things here.

Can't wait to come back in a year.