Saturday, September 22, 2007

Is the Problem Technical or Managerial?

I was invited to a very distant relation's home for Iftari yesterday. Apart from a lovely traditional Iftari with chick peas, butter milk, dates, and fruit, I enjoyed pleasant company, and a family environment.

I met a fellow by the name of Mustafa, who was working in alternative energy in Bangladesh, particularly in biogas. It was heart-warming to hear people on the ground realizing what I read about on the internet so much. It's the common folk such as him who make the realities of solving our social problems a reality.

As usual, in our five-minute conversation, the topic veered toward the state of Bangladesh. Systemic corruption has crippled the country, and Mustafa suggested a sentiment shared by many Bengalis: all we needed was one good leader. Malaysia had Mahathir, Oman had Sultan Qaboos.

It's a common enough sentiment among the common folk, but that, of course, doesn't mean its necessarily true. Pakistan had General Musharraf, who, at the time, was welcomed almost unanimously. Power does corrupt, and politics will be politics.

But there is truth behind it. I wouldn't fully agree with "just one person" being sufficient. One person need not be the be-all and end-all; I think South Asians are too quick through the door into hero-worship, and just as fast to put a bullet in him. But the spirit behind the sentiment is the same as mine: the problem is, and always has been, leadership.

This belief was vindicated by the newspaper headlines just today. In Bangladesh, power load shedding has decreased from a 1,200 megawatt nationwide energy deficit, to a 200 megawatt deficit. The solution? Good management.

27 power plants last year generated 2,800 megawatts of energy, against a demand of (approximately) 4,000 megawatts. Those same 27 plants today, with the exception of one additional 70 megawatt plant that was installed earlier this year, are generating 4,100 megawatts of power, reducing the national shortfall of energy to a mere 100 to 200 megawatts.

The problem wasn't technical. The gas and oil was there to be burned, the transducers were there. It was managerial.

Solutions involved staggering holidays in industrial zones, stricter controls on bill collection, decentralized decision-making. With that, they fixed a problem that had threatened the economic development, the sacrosanct goal of any developing nation, of a 150 million people.

Like the Bengali saying goes: obhab na; shobhab. It's not poverty. It's attitude.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Twenty20 Cricket: My Thoughts

Cricket was never really my forte; Bangladesh never had a team while I was young, and the India-Pakistan animosity/competition never really trickled down to me, and so cricket was never in my mental map of "things to note."

I learnt as much about the technicalities and mechanics of the game in the World Cup earlier this year as I had learned in all my time watching the Sharjah Cup on television on lazy Friday afternoons in Abu Dhabi.

But I'm still a (potential) customer to the ICC. So my opinion ought to count for something, I hope!

In short: I quite like the game. I have a penchant for structure, skill, and sophistication, and cricket has all three in truckloads. I quite especially relish the commentary, especially if someone intelligent is doing the talking, like John Wright (such a nice guy!), Ian Chappell, or Tony Greig (very opinionated!). I love their insight into the game, and really, it's folks like these that stand testament to the elegance of the game.

But I think it's the faux bourgeoisie that irk me. I think they're trying to put up barriers for casually interested folk like me to take an interest in the game.

The current Twenty20 World Cup has provoked a lot of ire from players and commentators alike. Players are saying they don't like the format, because it doesn't give them enough time to think, and devise action strategies. Commentators, though they won't say it, strongly suggest shortening the game cheapens it. Other commentators are suggesting (again, very subtle-like) that Twenty20 is somehow inferior, because it seems to level the playing field between teams of highly differing skill levels.

Perhaps it was the (deserved) surprise win of Zimbabwe over Australia in the South Africa Twenty20 that has turned heads, or the fact that they feel they're being robbed, since what they believed only them and a limited circle of enlightened gnostics enjoyed is being usurped by the fickle adoration of the unwashed masses.

I don't know what it is, but I don't like that attitude!

Let's call a spade a spade. Cricket is a sport, and honestly, I'm not willing to spend five days watching a game before I know its outcome (the bona-fide format of Test cricket). It's not because I have an attention span deficit, but because it's simply not the amount of time I'm willing to devote to it.

I'm a wage slave, not unlike most folk out there. I simply don't have the emotional and mental manna at the end of a 45-hour work week to offer the sport, or almost any other activity, some of which are far more important than sport. And let's face it, for a sport to survive you need spectators.

The players should suck it up, I'm afraid. Soccer players do much more in much shorter time than cricketers do, and despite the deceptive simplicity of soccer, a lot of strategy goes into it, as much on-the-spot, thinking-on-your-feet sort of stuff as preparation. The spontaneity gives it beauty, and sometimes produces strokes of genius.

And if Twenty20 levels the playing field a bit more, so be it! I've yet to hear of a match that a team was about to win, but lost because of the format of the game. Australia lost to Zimbabwe earlier this year, because Zimbabwe played better cricket. Upsets are fun, and honestly, Australia's domination in the sphere of cricket for the past 7 or so years is probably the strongest argument not to care about the game. It's almost become a no-brainer as to who'll win the World Cup, or who the best team is, since Australia hasn't lost a single World Cup game in three World Cups! That's no fun!

The commentators will lament the Cricket of Old. I can see how it must have been fun, I really can. Old men spending five days in the sun, their women and children sipping tea and playing in the grass while other people (the colonials, perhaps?) cooked, cleaned and tilled the earth. I really don't share their nostalgia.

I like cricket. I like the fact that every spot in the cricket ground has a name, every stroke of the bat has a name, every technique of throwing the ball and each speed of throwing it has a name. Typical English bureaucratic thinking, and quite sophisticated at the end of the day. I just don't like the arrogance senior aficionados of the sport in the media seem to have for it.

Let it go, let Twenty20 grow, because the fans are the future of the sport, and we want something we can enjoy, and something we don't have to dedicate significant portions of our time on Earth to experience.


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I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)