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And so, after almost two months of cricket, Australia and New Zealand will battle it out for the World Cup this weekend. New Zealand won a nail-biter over South Africa in one semi-final while Australia won comfortably over India in the other.
While I was rooting for New Zealand from the beginning of the tournament, I had some doubts over who would provide a sterner test for the Aussies: the Kiwis or the Proteas. South Africa, I felt, had the more powerful, better balanced side. New Zealand, I thought were too dependent on Brendon McCullum. Well, they certainly proved me wrong. First, Martin Guptill smashed an unbeaten 237 against the West Indies in the quarterfinal and then Grant Elliot kept his cool to steer New Zealand to victory in the semifinal with an electrifying 84. What impressed me no end was that he crashed a Dale Steyn delivery for six off the penultimate ball rather than going for a safe four that would have given them a tie and still left him the last ball to get the winning runs. I have no more doubts about them now: they can beat anyone in the world.
Enough has been written about the NZ-SA semifinal that I don’t want to add to it. Glad as I am that New Zealand won, spare a thought for gallant South Africa. They gave it their all and came so close to winning. I really feel for them. After the match, De Villiers said rather plaintively that he hoped that the country was proud of them and their performance. He need not wonder about it. South Africa gave it everything they had and, together with NZ, played a match that will long be remembered not just for the quality of the cricket and the nerve wracking finish but for the sportsmanship with which the game was played.

In the other semi-final, Australia were too powerful for India. I had wondered at some of the pre-match predictions that said India should be considered a favorite for the match. India did extremely well to win decisively over South Africa and Pakistan in the group stage matches and to make it the semi-finals. Their only chance to beat the Aussies was to play a perfect game and get a couple of breaks. It didn’t happen as the batsmen let India down once again even as the bowlers bowled their hearts out. Still, India have nothing to be ashamed off and can hold their heads high. Farewell to M.S. Dhoni, who has been India’s best captain ever. He has already retired from Test cricket and will probably announce his retirement from the other two formats soon. Whoever follows him will find it difficult to match his achievements.

Why do Australian cricketers sledge ? They have had unparalleled success for a long time now and they are very, very good. Why can’t they just stick to playing the game. For Faulkner to say that sledging is part of the game is rubbish. Yesterday, when Oz was well on the road to victory, Mitchell Starc felt it necessary to spew venom at Suresh Raina and was duly reprimanded by the umpire. Such behavior is why the rest of the world will be solidly behind New Zealand in the final. Rarely has there been a confrontation in which the good guys and the bad guys were so clearly distinguishable. Go New Zealand.

Unlike the first two quarterfinals, the Australia-Pakistan match proved very competitive. if it had not been for a dropped catch, Australia might have been in deep trouble even though I have no doubt they would have pulled it out. What sets Australia apart from the other teams ( in addition to the quality of their pace attack) is their batting which goes all the way to number 9; even numbers 10 and 11 can put some runs on the board. Still, Pakistan must rue Rahat Ali’s costly drop of Shane Watson when the batsman was just in to bat. All credit to Watson for weathering a torrid spell from Wahab Riaz and playing a mature innings to guide Australia home. It was scary watching the replays of him swaying and ducking Riaz’s barrage of bouncers.
Earlier, Australia backed up their bowlers with some excellent catching to dismiss Pakistan for a modest total of 213. After Pakistan’s openers were dismissed cheaply, it was slow going, All the Pakistani batsmen, except the tail enders, got into double figures but were unable to convert their starts. Shahid Afridi smashed 23 of 21 in a typical cameo but the others were unable to force the pace and 213 was never going to be enough.
As for the sanctions against Watson and Wahab Riaz: Not knowing what exactly was said by the players, one has to go along with the fines. Riaz’s actions were very visible but the instigation by Watson and other Aussie fielders was more subtle. The amount of the fines seems about right. Good to read that after the match the two main protagonists shook hands and made up.
This of course was the end of Misbah-ul-Huq and Shahid Afridi’s careers. Misbah has been a great captain for Pakistan, calm and collected in moments of stress, and did not often get the support he deserved from his players. He will be very difficult to replace. Shahid Afridi , however, was long past his sell-by date and should have been dropped at least a couple of years earlier. He long ago stopped being ” Boom Boom Afridi” and his bowling too had deteriorated markedly. He was a colorful character but also a handful to manage.

The other quarterfinal between New Zealand and West Indies was never in doubt after Martin Guptill’s violent double century. Poor West Indies. They must have felt great at getting Brendon McCullum out cheaply and then dismissing Kane Williamson with the score still below 100. What a downer to have Guptill take their bowling apart. They don’t have to look far for reasons for their defeat. Dropped catches, slipshod fielding, wayward bowling and some poor tactical decisions by the inexperienced Jason Holder are some of them. They were never going to win this match but at least they could have made it more of a contest. Unfortunately, things aren’t going to get better soon. Chris Gayle’s departure is not exactly a loss. He had some explosive moments as a batsman but was a liability in the field. And some of the others did not play hard. Still, where are their replacements? Jason Holder has a tough time ahead of him.
My favorite moment of this match was Daniel Vettori leaping high in the air to grab an amazing one-handed catch and still keeping inside the boundary line. It was a catch that a much younger man would be proud of; for him to pull it down was phenomenal. It was heartwarming to watch the rest of the Kiwi fielders rush to the outfield to hug him and to see the joy of the New Zealand crowd and the pride they have in their team. Bravo!!

While South Africa’s victory over Sri Lanka was not unexpected, no one could have foreseen the manner in which it was achieved. South Africa utterly demolished Sri Lanka and the outcome was never in doubt. From the moment Abbott and Steyn removed the openers, Sri Lanka was on the back foot. Try as Sangakarra did, he was unable to break the shackles as wickets fell at regular intervals. Much has been made of the fact that the spinners, Imran Tahir and J.P. Duminy took seven wickets between them but, as they themselves will probably acknowledge, their job was made easier by tight spells bowled by the pacemen and the smothering fielding of the Proteas. Together, those two factors caused the pressure to mount and the Sri Lankan batsmen fell trying to force the pace and put up a total their bowlers could defend. Props to Duminy, but he is the last person I’d have expected to take a hat trick.
That South Africa would knock off the required runs was a certainty, a mere formality. The South African innings was important however because it enabled opener Quinton de Kock to regain his form. His unbeaten 78, following some dazzling glove work behind the stumps should cement his place in the side and play the way he is capable of, and as he showed in his hard-hitting innings.
Most importantly, this decisive win has enabled the Saffers to get the monkey of their back. No more can they be taunted as chokers, a tag which was most unfair and which I’m very happy they will not have to hear any more. This is a powerful side, excellent in all departments and, in my opinion, the only one that can trouble the Australians. The only thing holding them back was the memory of previous losses to less accomplished sides that they were expected to beat comfortably. I hope that is now consigned to the rubbish heap and that they play to their abilities.
As for Sri Lanka, they did well to get as far as they did and all credit to them. They were missing their frontline spinner and their spearhead Lasith Malinga was not fully recovered from his injuries. Also, I think it was unnecessary to tinker with the side as they did. Dropping Lahiru Thirimanne down the order after he had had so much success as an opener was inexplicable. Still, I don’t think that would have made any difference to the outcome. South Africa had just too much firepower. Sorry to see the last of Kumar Sangakarra and DPMD Jayawardene who have had such long and illustrious careers. They will both be missed , especially Sanga who was such a good spokesman for cricket.
The other QF between India and Bangladesh was not as one-sided as the score seems to indicate. Bangladesh bowled and fielded accurately for the most of the Indian innings and had India in some trouble. Rohit Sharma, given a reprieve when he was 90, finally showed what he was capable of ( Hope he doesn’t now go back into his shell for the rest of the World Cup). Largely due to his late innings aggression, India were able to put 302 on the board, a score which would have been unassailable for most teams on this ground. Once Mahmudallah was removed thanks to a fantastic juggling catch by Shikhar Dhawan at the boundary line, the chances of a Bangladesh victory went from slim to none. BTW, I know that every situation that can possibly occur is discussed among the players before hand but still I have to admire Dhawan’s presence of mind. Realizing that he was close to the boundary line and not in full control of the ball, he threw the ball forward and upwards, stepped over the line then back again to effect a marvelous catch.
Bangladesh fans are understandably furious about the umpiring decision that gave Rohit Sharma a second chance. As an Indian fan, I would have been similarly upset if such a decision had gone against India. However, let’s look at the facts. At the time, Rohit Sharma was batting on 90 and there were 10 overs left. He went on to add 47 more runs. If you were to delete those 47 runs, India would still have had a total in the neighborhood of 255, even assuming that the remaining Indian batsmen did not pick up the slack. Yes, this total would have meant Bangladesh had some chance but a Bangladeshi victory was still iffy. It is not as if the umpiring decision robbed Bangladesh of a certain victory. I understand that a protest has been lodged with the ICC by the Bangladesh Cricket Board, as is their right, even though it is largely academic; the match result is final and cannot be reversed. What I find reprehensible is Mustafa Kamal, the current ICC President hinting that the umpiring error was deliberate, and then saying that he was speaking as a fan and not as the ICC president. That suggestion has no merit and is a disservice to all and an insult to the umpires. All his posturing will do is inflame Bangladeshi fans and sour cricketing relations between the two countries. I have no love for the BCCI and it is true that they throw their weight around but sometimes they are blamed unfairly. Just like the CIA is blamed for everything that goes wrong anywhere in the Mideast or the developing countries. How much more dignified the behavior of the Bangladeshi fans at the game and the Bangladeshi players who regretted the decision but took their loss sportingly. Bangladesh did well to get to the quarterfinal stage and to put up such a good fight against India. They can certainly hold their heads high.

We have begun playing at a contract bridge club in Bridgewater and I am once again struck by the number of players in their late seventies and eighties. It was the same at the Scotch Plains bridge club where we used to play previously. There, two players were in their nineties and one of them even filled in as the director. In a larger context, it is true that bridge is not growing in popularity among the young but it also leads me to wonder if there is a connection between bridge and longevity. I think there is.
In our senior years, two of our biggest enemies are boredom and isolation. As we age, many of the recreational sports that we used to indulge in are no longer possible. With retirement, many of office friends fall off and it takes time and effort to develop new ones. It is difficult to find like-minded companions who live reasonably close by and have time for you. To maintain a lasting relationship, you need to have things in common and one of the best is contract bridge. Golf is good too, and I do know some golfers in their seventies, even one in his eighties, but they are exceptions. Not many people continue to play golf in their seventies. Besides, golf is expensive and does not suit most pockets. That is not the case with contract bridge.

Bridge can be played at home with friends or on-line. Online bridge is great , particularly for those who are home bound or otherwise restricted. They can play with people from all over the world or, if they wish, co-ordinate with their friends so that they can play at the same table. By playing online, they can even make lasting friendships with people from different countries. But, as good as the online experience is, it does offer the same warmth of human contact that live play does.

Social bridge played at home with friends is fine but duplicate bridge has the advantage of eliminating the element of luck. Since everybody is playing the same deals, you don’t care if you have a bad run of cards. Playing duplicate at home is good but playing it in a bridge club is better. There is an added competitiveness in club play which causes players to concentrate more and gets their juices flowing. The mental demands of bridge keep the mind sharp, something I have noticed in the eighty and ninety year old players we have encountered. Playing in bridge clubs also allows one to make lasting friends. Some of the pairs we know have been playing together for twenty years or more. Many of them play four or five times a week in different clubs sometimes and compete in sectional or regional tournaments where they can accumulate master points towards becoming Life Masters. One 89-year-old I know has a set regimen : In the mornings he works out at the gym, in the afternoons he plays duplicate bridge at the club and in the evenings he goes out to dinner with a lady friend, not always the same one. The guy is sharp as a tack and going up against him at the bridge table is a challenge.

Competition, mental workouts, social contacts , all of them important for those in their senior years. Is it any wonder that so many of them are active in bridge ? Is it perhaps what keeps them young?

Note to myself: Must play more bridge.

“How long do you want to live?”
The answer , most people will say, is easy.
As long as we still have responsibilities to fulfill, are not a burden on others and are in good health.”
However, when the question posed is ” To what age do you want to live?” the answer doesn’t come as easily. It is very difficult to put a number to the life span we desire. The young may be quick to answer this question because 65 or 70 or 75 seems so far away when one is just twenty-five or thirty but, when the deadline approaches, it seems to come all too soon. At that point, the usual reaction is to want to extend it. ” I’m feeling fine. Another three years is reasonable… maybe even another five… or ten”. It is rare to find a mature person of middle age who says that he wants to live to a certain age and no more.

One such person is Ezekiel J. Emanuel a physician, bio-ethicist and author of ten books who currently is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School of Business. He comes from a distinguished family. His younger brothers are Rahm Emanuel , Mayor of Chicago and formerly President Obama’s White House Chief of Staff, and Ari Emanuel, a Hollywood talent agent.

In an article in the October 2014 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Dr. Emanuel, age 57, states that he wants to live to the age of 75.A photo accompanying the article shows him whipcord lean and obviously in great shape. He writes that he is very healthy, with no chronic illnesses, and that he has just climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with two of his nephews. He then goes onto justify ” Why I Hope To Die At 75″. His main points are:
1. While life expectancy has increased drastically, from 59.7 in 1930 to about 78 today, most of the increase has been achieved by extending the lives of those over 60. In effect, old age is being stretched out and most of our “extra” years are spent in a state of decline. As one researcher put it, improved healthcare has slowed the aging process not so much as it has lengthened the dying process.
2. Human productivity peaks at around age 40 and declines steadily afterwards. This is a statistical truth and, as much as we may want to believe that we are among the outliers, it will almost certainly be true of us also. Our later years will be a waste in respect to our contributions to society.
3.By continuing to hang on to life , we place great burdens on our children and inhibit their growth. We also degrade their memories of us. Do we want to be remembered as active, engaged, vigorous elders or as sluggish, forgetful and repetitive?
4.By setting a definite date for the end our lives, we can make the most of our time on earth. Specificity forces us to think about what we want to accomplish, about what is really important and what we want to leave as our legacy.

Once he reaches 75, Dr.Emanuel intends to stop all except palliative care. In fact, he writes that will refuse colonoscopies and cancer screening tests even earlier. He also feels that biomedical medical research should focus on Alzheimer’s, the growing disabilities of old age and chronic conditions and not on prolonging the dying process.

Dr. Ezekiel’s excellent article is well-reasoned and logical, his conclusions impossible to refute. Based on the article, it seems very likely that he will stick to his guns, that he will not change his mind as his deadline nears. But then he is the exception, not the rule. Most of us lesser beings, the vast majority of humans, cannot think of our approaching dissolution with such equanimity. When I was young, my mother told me of a distant relative, an elderly gentleman who lived with his son and daughter-in-law. He was an expert amateur astrologer and had accurately determined the hour of his death. That morning, he asked his daughter-in-law to phone her husband at work and tell him to return home immediately. He would not give her a reason but something in his earnestness led her to do as he asked. He also requested her to make him a strong cup of coffee and as she complied, he had a shower and dressed himself in his best clothes. She took the coffee to him in his bedroom only to find him lying peacefully in bed, his soul already having departed. They did not even have to prepare the body for the cremation. Few of us have such strength of mind.

Unlike Dr. Emanuel, most of us want to hang in there and enjoy ourselves as much as we can. Yes, we want to be useful, to be contributing members of society, to justify our existence, but we also want to keep on living even when we are not. We do not ask “whether our consumption is worth our contribution.” Unless we are in great pain, we want to cling to life as long as we can. I am reminded of the story of a man being chased a fierce tiger. In his panic, he falls off a cliff but manages to grab on to a bush . He looks down and sees that he is suspended over a river in the middle of which is a crocodile, waiting with jaws wide open. Then his dire situation becomes worse. He feels the bush beginning to give way. As he looks about frantically, he sees a raspberry plant in a fissure on the cliff. It has one ripe red raspberry growing on it and, as he feels himself beginning to fall into the jaws of the crocodile, he makes a last desperate lunge for the raspberry. This story perfectly illustrates the human predicament.

Intellectually I, and most people , may be in full agreement with Dr. Emanuel but, in practice, it is very difficult to follow his path. The experiences of family members stuck in nursing homes have made it abundantly clear that prolonging life with heroic measures is not worth it but, faced with such a choice ourselves, will we have the courage to do any differently.

Asked” To what age do you want to live?” most seniors will probably respond ” Five years more”, an answer that they will repeat next year… and the year after that.. and…

Harper Lee is of course known for ” To Kill a Mockingbird”, her one and only novel which was published in 1960 and became a classic. A searing depiction of race relations in the South of those times, it was ground breaking in the way that Uncle Tom’s Cabin had been a century earlier. It was all the more remarkable for having been written before the civil rights movement and that too by an author from the Deep South. It helped shape the views of a generation and brought a new awareness of the deplorable state of civil rights in the South.
In the fifty years since, Harper Lee never published another work and the public had given up on hearing from this gifted author. Then, last year word came out about the discovery of ” Go Set a Watchman”, a novel written prior to To Kill a Mockingbird, ( hereinafter Mockingbird) . The novel appears to be the original draft of Mockingbird, one that had been rejected by Lee’s editor back in the fifties and which Lee refashioned into the novel that she is famous for. Go Set a Watchman is written in the voice of a grown up Scout and ( I think) it covers the same events as Mockingbird.
Naturally, a new novel by Harper Lee is pure gold to the publishing industry ; its commercial success is guaranteed. A publisher, Harper Collins, is on board and it is expected the novel will be published this summer. However, there is some murkiness surrounding the provenance of this new novel. Harper Lee suffered a stroke in 2007; now 88 and in failing health, she lives in an assisted living home and there are many who question whether she is aware of the brouhaha surrounding this new novel. They worry that she may not want it to be published because she may feel that it cannot possibly live up to the standard set by Mockingbird, and that she may not be in a position to make a rational decision. Ranged against these critics are Miss Lee’s lawyer, Tonja B. Carter, her literary agent, the publisher and others who say that Miss Lee is perfectly capable of making decisions and that it is her right to have the novel published. Alabama’s Human Resources Department interviewing Miss Lee, her caregivers and friends and is expected to rule on the matter soon.
So, to publish … or not to publish…
Personally, I think Watchman will be published. I also do not think it will be a critical success. How can it be? If this is a rejected first draft, it cannot possibly be the caliber as Mockingbird. Also, fifty years later, much has changed even in the South and the topics that Mockingbird brought to the fore are no longer as compelling. At best, Watchman may be interesting to scholars and critics who can study the genesis of a masterpiece. For others, it will have only curiosity value. To think of Watchman as a new work by Harper Lee is disingenuous.
At the same time, I do not find myself sympathetic to those who argue that the publication of Watchman will be harmful to Miss Lee’s reputation. Her place in American literature is secure. She will forever be known for To Kill a Mockingbird. Also, I do not know Miss lee’s financial circumstances. Assisted living homes are expensive and perhaps publication of this book will make he circumstances more comfortable, shore up her finances. Others may benefit more from the publication but she will too. If it makes her remaining years more comfortable, why not?

What an uneventful week of cricket this was! None of the matches held much interest except for the supporters of the teams involved. Seven of the teams for the quarterfinals had been set before the start of week 4 and the only question was whether Ireland would be able to pull off a monumental upset against either India or Pakistan and get the last spot ahead of the West Indies. I think most followers of cricket were rooting for the Irish to make it through because of the spirited devil-may-care brand of cricket they play but it was not to be. We had to wait until the very last match to find out and the Irish went down with guns blazing. All credit to them for a terrific performance; they will be missed.
With the quarterfinal line-up now set, thoughts now turn to which four teams will make it to the next round. The match-ups are NZ vs. West Indies, Australia vs. Pakistan, India vs. Bangladesh and South Africa vs. Sri Lanka. Easily the most intriguing of the contests is the SA- Sri Lanka clash and the result hinges entirely on which team takes the field for the Proteas. If it is the one that lost to Pakistan ( and to India before that), they lose; if it is the one that demolished the other teams in their other matches, they win. Sri Lanka’s bowling attack is not top drawer except for Lasith Malinga but their batsmen, led by Sangakarra, have been awesome in chasing down 300+ totals. But then again, they will have to contend with a potent SA attack with Steyn, Morkel, Imran Tahir and co. The south Africans seem to have regained their self-belief and their team looks better with the additions of Rossouw and Behardien. I think they will take this one.

On paper, Pakistan would seem to have no chance against the powerful Aussies but they too have re-made themselves. Their battery of pace bowlers is formidable, even in the absence of the 7′-2″ Mohammed Irfan. Bringing in Sarfraz Ahmed to replacing Umar Akmal behind the wickets seems to have solidified the fielding and the batting is no longer a one-man show starring Misbah-ul-Huq. If they can effect a couple of early breakthroughs when the Aussies bat, they could still make a game of it.

As for the other two matches, India and New Zealand should have an easy time of it. However, India’s performance against Zimbabwe was anything but impressive. One hopes that it was because they had already qualified for the QF’s and did not play with the sense of urgency that they had earlier. Well, they are now in the knock-out stage and they had better not pull their punches. The Bangladeshis are a spirited team and. on their day, are capable of troubling more talented teams. I hope also that Ravindra Jadeja begins to pull his weight. So far, he has been a disappointment with both bat and ball.

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