Cricketers need to augment their skills for greater success and longevity

Playing a sport is demanding. Playing a sport for your country is even more demanding. The game of cricket has seen so many players represent their country with distinction, some of them even playing for as long as 15-20 years. Today, cricketers rarely play beyond 2-3 years for a variety of reasons, not having contributed enough to leave their indelible mark on the game. I could not help but think what action cricketers could take to increase the chances of their success as well as the length of time they play for their country (not by too much, but sufficient enough to reap their potential). The response that my mind gave me was a cricketer needs to cultivate new skills.

Augmenting the skills that a cricketer possesses is vital in determining the career success that he achieves. It could also be an indication of the length of time that he could play for his country. A batsman or a bowler should not be at ease with the skills that he has. In improving those skills, there is the advantage of surprise that you can give your opponents. Of course, these improvements or augmentation cannot happen overnight but the earlier a player takes the effort, and prepares his mind for it, the better the chances of success. A cricketer who is past 30 may not be as successful in this exercise as one who has just turned 20, but the efforts could be well worth it.

For a batsman, this could mean learning to bat both ways – right handed as well as left handed. Every batsman has an innate side and should choose that, always. But it would be a whole lot better to become skilled at batting the other way round as well. It is not as simple as altering the bat grip, but it is as hard as conquering the mind. The view from the opposite side can really do wonders to your game.  The different perspective could serve in strengthening the skills and ironing out the weak spots. It helps to keep a positive spin on things – for example, if you are out of form batting right handed, switching to left handed may be the solution to find the runs flowing again. Of course, sheer hard work would be the motto to get to a level where you can bat both ways. This is an invaluable asset and the earlier this is perfected, the better.

Bowlers are a bit of a difficult proposition. Because there are different kinds of bowlers, it is important to discover what you really need to learn. Obviously a spinner cannot choose to toggle between fast bowling and spin as the demands are poles apart. However, there is nothing that prevents a spinner from switching between off spin, leg spin and left arm spin or a fast bowler to switch from seam to swing or even go ambidextrous. Again, there is a massive adjustment required to the technique. The body should be equipped to master these additional skills. Also important is the judicious utilization – a bowler has a greater chance of getting it wrong than a batsman. Therefore, for a bowler, these skills need to be acquired much earlier than a batsman. Just imagine the advantages of catching your opponents on the wrong foot just when your team needs that extra fizz! The moment predictability is taken out of the equation, the game becomes much more intense and competitive.

The benefits that come out of augmenting these skills could be mind boggling. It is very evident that coaches have a very important role to play in grooming cricketers for this radical change in their technique as well as mindset. Players always look to their coaches when something like this needs to be done. This is hard to implement, but certainly not impossible. The BCCI as well as all the other cricket boards have the responsibility to see that the coaching manuals give due weight to the aspect of improving skills. The coaches need to be effectively educated to enable them to make their wards grasp the importance of an approach that constantly challenges the skills they have and aim for something extra. This is a crucial step in ensuring that we continue to turn out great players who can challenge the records and achievements of those who have walked before them.

Like in any aspect of life, unless we improve upon what we have, things tend to be mundane. With the proliferation of so many international games and a packed cricket calendar, it is no wonder that cricket boards are forced to rest some of their best performers from some of the matches in an effort to keep them fit for more important games. I believe cricketers can appreciate much more about the game and strategize with greater effect if they possess a basket of skills that they could use, rather than just one or two. It is challenges like these that bring out the best sportsmen and let us hope that we continue to have legends in the game of cricket. The next 10 years will no doubt be about cricketers who have multiple skills to adapt to the demands of a game that just keeps on growing. The cricket boards the world over have an unenviable task to ensure that the system recognizes this aspect right from the grassroots.

My 5 favorite dishes from MasterChef Australia 2012

Hope you enjoyed reading my last post on MasterChef Australia. Last week, I had promised this week’s post would be on my five favorite dishes on the show. Picking five dishes out of hundreds I watched on the show is a bit tough, actually. My methodology in picking the five dishes I love the most is simple – I’ll choose three savory and two sweet dishes. These dishes were so much a treat to my eyes that it pains me that I could not taste any of those!

Eight Textured Chocolate Cake – the first dish that I pick from the show has to be this. A connoisseur’s delight, the presentation of this dish was simply awesome. Peter Gilmore, the renowned chef, brought this dish as a challenge in one of the eliminations. Each of the eight textures complements the others so well that the balance of the dessert as a whole is perfect. There is something heavenly about the eighth texture – the hot chocolate sauce. You have to see it to believe it – when you pour the hot sauce on to the middle of the cake, the cake caves in a little – a beautiful sight to behold!

The next dish that I pick as my favorite is a savory dish – Modern Seafood Basket. This probably clinched Andy Allen’s title as the presentation was very beautiful and spot on. It is a marriage of some of Australia’s well known seafood – marron, oyster, abalone and flathead. Of course, each of those has to be cooked to perfection to make the dish a success. The oyster emulsion is just spooned over the dish at the end so as to give the dish a real kick. Breadcrumbs and potatoes give the dish the crunchiness needed.

It was a pity that the contestant who made the next dish did not make it to the finals week. The dish was so out of the ordinary that I questioned whether it would be liked by the judges. To my surprise, they seemed to love this very much. The dish that I pick as my third favorite on the show is Tea Smoked Duck Breast with Chinese inspired Salad by Amina Elshafei. It looked like an amalgamation of the different techniques that Amina was exposed to – Mediterranean, Middle East, Continental Europe and Asian. The choice of tea to smoke the duck breast is probably the trick in the dish as too much strength would give the dish a burnt taste that does not go down well in the mouth and tea that is very light would be overpowered by the taste of the duck. To Amina’s credit, the dish was a great hit on the show. On the MasterChef website, this dish receives a rating of 4.5 on 5 which speaks volumes.

Ranked fourth on my list is a dish that seems so simple in its concoction but looks very beautiful in presentation. Contestant Sam Davis’s Seafood for Two was too good to pass. For me, this is a romantic dish that you can have with your true love on your wedding anniversary. The champagne jelly gives the dish a very subtle edge. The caviar crème fraiche goes well with the dish and it was no wonder that the dish rocked the judges’ world. The presentation of the dish was so out of the world and I actually did wonder whether the dish would fill the appetite of a hungry and love smitten couple. There is no doubt that this dish brings a lot of love to the table!

Lastly, I pick a dish that is a dessert. Melting Moments Biscuits by Julia Taylor established her as the dessert queen on the show. As the name implies, this dish is supposed to melt in your mouth and I’m sure the judges would vouch for this fact. The biscuit itself is a light brown which suggests it needs to be baked for just the right amount of time. Too much of a brownish color would rob the dish of the aesthetic beauty it gives. What melts the mouth is what is sandwiched between the biscuits – vanilla butter cream and raspberry jam. The combination of vanilla and raspberry was a revelation to me. I never thought these two would work together. My mouth is watering as I’m writing this so I can imagine how good it would be to actually eat this.

Having selected my five favorite dishes, it would not do justice if I did not mention the dishes that almost made it to the top five. They are:
Rack of Lamb with Lemon Myrtle and Macadamia Crust
Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Cherry Soup
Prawn Stars
Salmon Sashimi with Korean Dressing
Sticky Fig and Caramel Cake with Vanilla Custard
If food had eyes and ears, some of them would forgive me for not listing them in the top five or the ones that almost made it. I’m sure all your mouths would be big oceans now! What are you waiting for, cook yourselves some of those and know how it tastes as well as looks! The recipes for these dishes can be downloaded from the official website of MasterChef Australia – http://www.masterchef.com.au.

A culinary adventure that is a joy to watch

I was never a big fan of cooking. I considered cooking nothing more than a painful chore. I did not care about the ingredients that go into the food or about the balance and the texture of the food. My mind was not of a food critic and was rather of a person who would eat good food whether it is vegetarian or non vegetarian. Of course, I was critical of food that was not cooked properly or that did not taste right, but not like a food critic. That was until I began seeing the show – MasterChef Australia from 2010.

MasterChef Australia is a cooking contest to determine Australia’s best amateur chef every season. From thousands of applicants, a few are shortlisted for the contest and the show proceeds with an elimination process at every stage of the competition. By the process of elimination, the number of contestants is whittled down to a competitive few and the grand finale is to cook a hatted dish – a dish that is worthy enough to be served at hatted restaurants. The winner takes away the title of MasterChef Australia, the opportunity to write their own cookbook plus multiple other benefits.

It really is a pleasure to watch these amateur cooks slug it out on the show. Even though these are amateur cooks, they have the burning desire to become professional cooks one day. It is this desire that attracts them to the show. There is joy in knowing that the dish they cooked was the dish of the day and despair in knowing that the dish was not up to the mark and is a ticket to elimination! The contestants for Season 4 which was aired on Star World till last week came from varied backgrounds such as an electrician, school teacher, account manager, hair stylist and so on and so forth. They all share a common passion – food and cooking – and this is what holds them together. The friendship and bond shared by the contestants was endearing, especially the one between Andy Allen and Ben Milbourne.

Unfortunately, I cannot taste the dishes – the honors for that go to the three good judges – Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston. While Gary and George are embellished chefs themselves, Matt is a well known food critic. It really is worthwhile to hear from them about balance, texture and other techniques of food. The food that is cooked on the show is encouraging; it is not junk food, but very healthy food. The contestants sure have a fair idea of what is good for the health when they set out to cook. I’m sure millions over the world watching the show will be as inspired to devour healthy food that is good for their body and mind.

The title of MasterChef Australia 2012 was coveted by an electrician named Andy Allen who cooked his heart out in the grand finale against the dessert queen of the show, Julia Taylor. The final itself was aired in three episodes – one for the entrée, one for the main course and one for the dessert. Andy said post winning that nobody would have bet on him winning the competition, which was true. I had my favorites on the show – Dalvinder, Debra, Beau, Emma (despite her inability to not cry in front of cameras!) and the big Wade and never expected Andy to clinch the deal. Of course, this impression changed first on the Italy week (the contestants flew to Italy to cook Italian food for Italians!) when his presentation skills improved dramatically. From then on, I knew he was a serious contender for the title. Julia surprised with her ability to cook savory dishes in the finals week but honestly, I did not expect her to make the grand finale. Andy was a worthy winner in the end as his main course outscored Julia’s and his dessert was, surprisingly, better than Julia’s as well.

There is so much to tell about this show that one post would hardly be enough. Next week, I’ll talk about my five favorite dishes on the show. For fans of cooking out there, it’s an opportunity to try out some mind blowing dishes! Don’t miss it!