Saturday, October 27, 2007


Some commentators used to apply this epithet to Sir Vivian Richards when he was in full swing, carving up an English or Australian attack--and Viv is undoubtedly a cricketing immortal. Who could forget his fastest ever test century, in seventy minutes, on his home ground of Antigua against the long suffering English attack? However, since Viv's retirement, the West Indies team hasn't had so much to celebrate. Amongst the various whitewashes and humiliations one consolation has continually stood out: the consistently brilliant batting of Brian Lara. He started his Test career with an amazing 277 on the Sydney Cricket Ground that reversed the momentum of the series and allowed the West Indies to take home a 2-1 victory. Following on that monumental knock, he racked up 167 and his record-breaking 375 against England in the Caribbean. After this, Lara famously took a position with Warwickshire and ended up hitting eight centuries in nine innings: the first of these was his 375 and the last his mind boggling 501 not out against Durham. Lara has been a consistent scorer in all forms of cricket (including the one day variety) and when Australian Matthew Hayden beat his test record score by 5 runs against Zimbabwe, Lara merely steadied himself before responding with an incredible 400 not out against England; in the process becoming the first man to score 400 in a test match. All in all, Lara scored nine double centuries (and above) in test cricket--a figure only bettered by Don Bradman's twelve. Perhaps his best innings was the match winning 153 not out against Australia which, together with his earlier 213, allowed the Windies to draw a series they really should have lost.

Of course statistics are not everything. Indeed, if one looks only at statistics then one would have to conclude that Sachin Tendulkar was a greater player. However, the truly special batsman lingers in the mind like the taste of a fine wine lingers on the tongue--and one remembers the special moments. Lara has achieved so many of these that his batting has almost become a matter of popular mythology. How can anyone possibly score 501 in a cricket game? How could he have scored both 375 and 400 in test matches? Lara's final figures of almost 12000 runs with 34 centuries and an average of 52 might eventually be eclipsed by both Tendulkar and Australian Ricky Ponting. However, those two have not given us the same cherished memories of improbable possibilities transformed into the most amazing of realities. It is for this reason that I choose Lara principal "Master Blaster" of the present age; a worthy successor to the original "Master Blaster", Viv Richards.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


This is a worthy effort at trying to understand the internal dynamics of KSA. Everybody is seen to be at fault in some way and a real attempt is made to try and understand the Saudi mentality from its obsession with secrecy to its deeply held religiosity. All the main characters deliver reasonable performances and the story is hard edged and mostly realistic. Having said all this, the movie only works as a Western construction of the Saudi mind for other Westerners: the true Arab point of view lies somewhere "out there" in the interstices between myth and reality. Arabs watching this movie will learn nothing that they didn't know before about Westerners: they swear a lot, tell rude jokes and tend to be good in a firefight. Perhaps the sensitive portrayal of the central Saudi protagonist will create a new sympathy in the West for Muslims--but somehow I doubt it.

In the end this movie should be seen in the Saidian context of "Orientalism". It is a construct by the West that shows Arabs through the eyes of the unstoppable FBI: the dominated through the eyes of the dominators. Moreover, the FBI team has special knowledge that gives them power over the local Arab hierarchies completing the Foucauldian-Saidian discourse of "Knowledge as Power". Arabs are seen, even in their complexity, as people who make life difficult for Westerners: no attempt is made--or indeed ever could be made in what is essentially a Hollywood action movie--to allow Arabs to express their own points of view rather than the manipulated ones given to them by the script writers.

The Kingdom is a worthy movie. However, in its attempt to be impartial, it is blind to the fact that only one side of the equation is real: the other side is a construct which merely possesses the appearance of reality.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Sometimes a moment suddenly arrives which seemingly turns all past ideas on their head. Liverpool's 1-0 defeat to Marseille last night at Anfield was such a moment.

Before last night, the feel good factor was still there. There had been a few bad moments with 0-0 draws against Portsmouth and Birmingham, but nothing was considered to be fundamentally wrong. Torres was still firing on all cylinders and Rafa's technical astuteness had been proven by his second half substitution of Benayoun who had scored the winning goal against Wigan. Last night, however, the wheels finally came off. The growing frustration felt by supporters of the club at Rafa's sometimes inexplicable rotation policies became volubly expressed for the first time. Some supporters were muttering the unthinkable by the end of the game: "If Rafa doesn't know his best team by this time then he should go." How did such an unlikely state of affairs come about?

First of all, it's clear that Rafa badly underestimated Marseilles and put out a clearly under strength team. Marseilles HAD been going through a rough patch, languishing just outside the relegation zone in the French League and coming into the game at Anfield with a brand new manager. Furthermore, two of their best players--Zenden and Cisse--were Liverpool cast offs. Rafa could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that a team with some newcomers would be well capable of taking the 3 points. However, everything went pear shaped very quickly. Sebastian Leto was clearly out of his depth and this, in combination with Benayoun starting the game, gave a very lightweight look to the Liverpool midfield. Sissoko had a stinker and Gerard was under par (perhaps his car accident earlier in the week affecting his form). The overall affect was that Marseille was allowed to control the game and thoroughly deserved their narrow win.

Will the love affair between Rafa and the supporters ever be the same again? Probably not. After last night it's suddenly OK to criticize Rafa in a way that's never been seen before. Gerard Houllier reached a similar point several years ago before gradually sliding away into oblivion. Rafa will either follow the same path or prove once and for all that his rotation policies do work in English conditions. Even if he finally succeeds in winning the PL, after last night there will always be supporters around who are ready to remind him of how he once lost the plot entirely: it was, after all, an abysmal performance by both Rafa and his team.