Monday, April 18, 2016

Kannur: At Road's End

Quite literally the end of the road.
Now, to sell Blue Mermaid to you, I could exaggerate to the level where it may sound akin to poetry. But that will either be insufficient or rendered redundant. Surely, if there is ever a place which can goad you into a romantic, this is it. Yet, I will restrain my literary pursuits for another place. Along with the place I will also like to talk about the people around because a place can only be as good as its people (or the lack of it!).

If you are on this page, you must have set your sights on Kannur. To get done with the essentials:
  1. To truly enjoy – drive, ride or hike down. Train should be a distant second. Although I have overheard that an airstrip is in place, I am hoping you find flights as boring.
  2. If you are travelling by train, do not take a cab. Take an auto rickshaw a.k.a. ‘tuk-tuk’, from the station. Cabs are mostly Ambassadors (Indian classic Austin) and without AC. They will charge you a bomb of Rs.500. Practically useless. The auto ricks can be pre-booked from a counter adjacent to the station’s ticket counter. They will take Re.1 to book. The rest of the money will be written in the token, which one has to pay once you are your destination. The printed amount on the token was Rs.118. It took Rs.150 to make the drivers leave contended. Deal done for an airy, fun ride. For directions, seek help from your very graceful host, Indu. Call up and put her onto your rick driver. For desperate times (read, when something has gone abjectly bust and you cannot connect with her) ask to be taken to THOTTADA beach via ADIKADALAI village market. Insist on the latter because there is another route to THOTTADA beach – one in which you take a right from THOTTADA town market. But, on the latter route, you will have to walk across a backwater to reach your destination. A walk too long to take on after a journey. So, ask to be taken to the beach via ADIKADALAI village market. You will be at your destination at the end of the road.
  3. If you are a student or running on super thin budget and adventurous enough, you can even try the bus. Come out of the station on to the main road. There will be many private buses plying (really colorful ones at that!). You have to wave and ask for the place ADIKADALAI. If the conductor nods you board it. Ask them to drop you at the ADIKADALAI market bus stop. In 15-20mins you are there, all for Rs.9 per person. There will be auto ricks at the ADIKADALAI market bus stop. Ask to be dropped off at the nearest end of THOTTADA beach (hardly 2 miles from the market place). You have to take a left from the main road and wind down to the beach. Blue Mermaid is at the end of the road. It should not take more than Rs.50.
  4. Alternatively, travelling by bus, you can ask for THOTTADA market. You get down there and ask a rick to take you to THOTTADA beach via ADIKADALAI market (as described above). An auto will take Rs.80.
Now that you are at Blue Mermaid, let’s talk about it. First thing you know about Blue Mermaid is that you don’t talk about Blue Mermaid!

No, really. You don’t want to. It’s that good. You just hope, beg, pray that it doesn’t change one bit. We were there in the craziest of summers. The heat was at times unbearable and otherwise obscene. However, on my way out, I can only talk about the wonderful experience I carry forth.

If you are looking for white collar service and luxurious hospitality, look for somewhere else – maybe The Taj, Bekal. But if you are yearning for an unforgettable experience, it has to be Blue Mermaid. Overlooking a near pristine beach, wedged between nook of a backwater and the sea, the location can get you doing this.

Indu and Pradeep has been the most generous hosts. They have been frank and forthcoming with their limitations and hospitality. Being a culinary enthusiast myself, I have nothing but adoration and regard for Indu’s culinary skills. The chicken in coconut curry was satiating, the ginger curd was delectable and the grilled Meen fish was divine! You rock.

I have spoken about the people and the place. Now let me put before you the place and its limitations. Let’s agree to a fact that for an experience there are extents to which you will be ready to compromise and work around a few things:
  • It’s a home stay – not a hotel, a fact that our host has made aptly clear. Do not set expectations on room service at your beck and call. But the couple of boys who run the errands for Indu are more than helpful when you ask them politely. Yes, that forgotten art of politeness – never harmed anyone and takes you places, smoothly.
  • There are 4 AC rooms and 4 non-AC rooms for two people. Except for that there’s an isolated wooden cottage, again for 2 and much envied. There’s also another larger non-AC room that can accommodate around 4 people.
  • Breakfast is complimentary and dinner is Rs.300 per head. Indu herself cooks these fantabulous delicacies. Based on your preferences the per head cost might differ if you want something special. They don’t serve lunch. You either have to inform Indu a day prior to enjoy her home-cooked delicacies. Else, you put forth what you want before her and she will arrange for the same from one of the town side restaurants.
  • If you are from abroad, you will have no qualms about the place. Enough said.
  • If you are an Indian, you will need to adjust your meal timings. You have to understand and acknowledge the fact that most of the tourists that Blue Mermaid entertains are from abroad. Majority of them belong from England but I have noticed left behind paraphernalia, in form of books and magazines, from France to Scandinavia.
  • The folks from outside usually have a strict meal regime. They have early breakfasts, skip lunch, delve in snacks and are done with their dinner by 6:30-7:00pm. If you are expecting to come down over winter or the New Year’s you will have to be amenable to these timings. You see, it’s a homestay which becomes unmanageable for Indu, if she has to cook round the clock just because someone feels like having brunch or midnight diner.
  • You might be welcome during off season or when there are no people from abroad. Till then you will have to hang on to your odd gastronomic timings. That’s why she prefers not to entertain Indians in the peak season. However, if the timings are amenable, I am sure with reasonable politeness they will welcome all and sundry. You will be getting to meet wonderful souls from across the world.
    Iona from Leicester, it has been an absolute pleasure. What a season for the lads! This season my bet’s on them (except for the matches against us!) and do connect when in Bangalore.
    I thought I will never see this in my life but thankfully I have met a sensible Manchester United fan at last. And that goes much beyond football. George from Manchester, I look forward to more such intriguing conversations. Check your mailbox. 
Lastly, but the most important bit. See it to believe it. So, I leave you with only a whiff of the amazing we witnessed on our trip to Blue Mermaid, Kannur.

Thanks Indu and Pradeep. Update your calendar. We are coming back this winter.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Best Guess: LFC Lineup for GW2

So, I will try to best-guess the lineup for LFC week-on-week and see if things add up. We play AFC Bournemouth in Game Week 2 (GW2) and I am trying to predict the lineup based on a few things we have picked up from opening GW1.

Understanding of Away Side:

1) They possess a strong right-wing; so a decent balance of experience and legs is required to check this.
2) Although overall solid, the break for goal happened from a defensive lapse through the middle

Understanding of Home Side:

1) Lovren gave a solid performance against a relatively better team in GW1 which deserves a second look-in. Overall the defense looked balanced and narrow down the middle
2) Considering the away side is a newbie into the league and travelling, it is a good opportunity to get some part of the bench exposed to the season - especially the youth
3) More playing time for Benteke is obvious and immensely important
4) Introduction of deep-lying Can and attacking Firmino, added pace and movement through the middle, freeing up the wings a bit more.

Considering all these I felt the following lineup looks interesting blend of solidity, experimentation and exposure. What do you think?

(You can share your own from here:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mario Balotelli to LFC and life ahead in UEFA Champions League

I would like to agree with Jim, here. But let's first track back and look at the overall scenario. Balotelli is a bankable name when it comes to business. However, if the club is looking to step up to the next level, the key objective of BR will be - keep appearing in CL consecutively for the next 3-4 seasons. Then, the scenarios we are looking at are:

75% lesser tally of goals can do but we cannot afford to allow more than 60% of the goals conceded last season.
RATIONALE: I am taking a comparative look at AM's 2013-14 season. The similarities abound. They were in the hunt and it was their stand-out season. Our scoring rate was 2.26 while conceding at 1.40 per game. They were much tighter. They scored at the rate of 1.62 per game but conceded less than a goal every game, 0.82 to be exact. Comparatively, across the season RM scored at a rate much higher - a phenomenal 2.67 per game, they also conceded 0.78. But that's largely due to their impeccable CL run. In league, however, they conceded 1 goal per game, which meant, even when they had the a scoring rate of 2.74 (higher than their season average) and goal difference almost 30% better than AM, they conceded the league and had to settle for 3rd place.
Getting back to EPL, checkout MC's comparable scoring rate of 2.68 per game (compare with RM) but appreciably thrifty 0.97 rate of conceding per game (compare with AM).

Suarez accounted for 32% of the total goals scored last season. As reasoned in previous scenario, we need 75% of what we scored last season in EPL and 25% of it in CL, so that we can play CL 2015-16.
RATIONALE: This is again comparable to AM's scenario. They had a 99 goal season (excluding 5 own goals). So, if we score say 75-80 odd next season and an additional 20-25 in rest of the tournaments, we have a decent chance, considering the above scenario is met. Are we in a position to accomplish that? Let's see.
If i write off 31 goals and 12 assists of Suarez, we have 54 goals. With Lallana (G-9+A-5), Balotelli (G-13+A-6), Lambert (G-13+A-10) and a much improved Sterling (G-9+A-5) we have a possible 44 goal an 26 assist cover. This quite fits the Scenario #1.
Also, consider this - Serie A as a league has top 6 teams conceding only 21% of total goals scored in the league to around 23% in EPL, 24% in La Liga and 25% in Bundesliga. Similarly, the top 6 in Serie A accounted for 40% of total goals scored whereas it was 43% in EPL-Bundesliga and 47% in La Liga. Guess how many goals JUV conceded per match in the entire season? 0.65 per match! Better than anybody else across the 4 leagues!
Essentially, top teams of Serie A find it tougher to score compared to EPL or La Liga. So, it can be expected that a striker coming out of the Serie A scenario can get more opportunities to score. It will not be unfair to expect Balotelli's scoring form to be much better.

So, we will need a strike force which individually is comparable to any team, but cumulatively accounts for 60-65% of all goals scored in the season. Also, we need to know how the defence can contribute 10-15% of the tally while ensuring the goal cover needed. How do we compare?
RATIONALE: Learn from JUV. 5 of their defenders were on scoreboard last season - more than 4 each for AM, LIV, MC and RM. They gave them 12 goals - more than that from the defenses of AM, LIV and RM. Add to that their fresh additional/substitute legs for a rock solid defence. Did they fare well? They qualified for the 7th straight CL season, didn't they?
Now, consider the squad. If we consider how many scorers shared the team's season goal tally, this is how it looks - MC-14, AM-17, JUV-17 and BAY-16. Guess what LIV's looked like - 13! Post season this number is now down to 7. Suarez, Agger, Moses and Aspas (believe it or not he scored 1 in FA cup!) are gone. Considering the new entrants like Mario, Lallana, Lambert, Lovren, Markovic and Moreno fire - we still have only 12 potential goal scorers. We need a defensive dynamo more than anything else!
Finally, about the forward line. MC, AM and JUV employed 4, 5 & 6 FWs respectively to carry the burden of 55-60% of the tally. Guess how many LIV had? 2 (I am rightfully ignoring Aspas' single goal season). You might say, 'But BAY had 2 too - Mandzukic and Pizzaro'. My answer is, well, none of the teams mentioned here had a MF 9 of whose members scored across the season. AM went nearest and they had a scorer list of 8 MFs.

How does Balotelli's career track look like vis-a-vis the best in business as an out-and-out SK and on that basis, what can we expect?
RATIONALE: To fully predict Mario Balotelli's influence in LIV's quest to survive in top 4 - which will eventually aid them in acquiring more 'marquee' signings in 2-3 subsequent seasons - we should take a look at some most influential SK's in modern era and how they have performed with age. Why age? Because performance level has a well known correlation with age of any sportsman, especially in the world of contact sports. Then, what better than comparing with the best? They are Messi (27yrs), Ronaldo (29yrs), Suarez (27yrs) & Aguero (26yrs). Mario is 24.
Also, as a SK there is a primary objective of scoring goals and two secondary objectives a. creating actual goals (not opportunities) and b. ability to stay fit or eligible to play for the team maximum amount of time.
Here we take a look at few figures in graphical format for an easier overview.
i) The graph below shows the appearances of these five players across their age.
It is interesting to notice the almost optimized appearance level of Suarez. Trust me this is because of not being able to play in a team in CL. He deserves to be in one and I am not going to cry over spilt milk. Similar trend is seen for Mario as well. But that's more to do with his on field transgressions and attitude which has been vilified by many coaches and pundits. Having said that, remember, he is a good 2-3 years younger to Messi, Suarez and Aguero. In essence he has these years to mature. So, when his agent MIno Raiola advises Mario, "Make it or break it", he knows that in its truest sense.
ii) The following graph shows the number of goals and assists that these maestros have gifted their respective team with age.
Let's put aside Suarez's unbelievable season at Ajax. What's interesting to note here is that Aguero - a more gentle character, in fact has a marginally better future than the former. Balotelli's trend is also comparable but at a lower scale which is attributable to the trials and tribulations while playing for MANCs. But is this scale comparable to EPL? In comparison to previous graph, the following one takes into account the rate at which these players impacted the team outings.
Now the picture clears up a bit more. Mario's ability to score or create goals per match is at par and comparable to likes of Ronaldo, Suarez and Aguero, over the last two seasons. This means an issue of consistency - a problem area for BR to sort out. This is not new to him and nothing different to Suarez's scenario couple of seasons back (which he did manage to sort out to an appreciable extent).
iii) Finally, if we look at the sheer scoring ability as a SK as in the following chart, we find Messi and Ronaldo miles ahead. So, we will restrict our comparison of Mario to Suarez and Aguero.
Here, too, we find Aguero's striking trend much better than that of Suarez. Really? Not exactly. Let's look at the rate of their scoring per match. Hola! Suarez rises above rest to join the top 2. But this isn't a true picture either. We haven't seen him play as many matches in a season as Aguero. To fathom, refer back to the first chart of appearances. So, at peak fitness there's trouble for any European big clubs playing against MANCs with a relentless SK running behind their lines.
What about Mario? Not so much really. He's a SK who might improve but greatness is something better left for Messi's and Ronaldo's to be born with.

To sum up, we Scousers, still need to hunt for another 15-20 goals per season striker and a defensive dynamo who can shadow Skrtel.