Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What Color Food Should You Eat?

In traditional Chinese medicine the color of the food you eat plays an important role in terms of health. Foods of a certain color target or are good for specific organs inside the body. Additionally you should consume more of a certain color depending on the time of the year.

Here's how it breaks down:

Green - good for liver function; eat more greens in spring.
Black - kidney; winter. Think black beans. Bonus points for kidney-shaped beans?
Red - heart; summer. Watermelon for example, which incidentally is also a good thirst-quencher.
White - lungs; autumn. A time when radishes are in season.
Yellow - spleen; long summer (or the period between summer and autumn).

All this was related to me by a coworker of mine who is from mainland China. Said coworker recently also gave me a kind of tea to drink when I had a cold, which had a bit of a joshanda feel to it. It worked, sort of, though I cannot vouch for the taste.

I believe it all. Also I just wanted to save this before it gets lost among my notes about how to set interest crediting rates on fixed annuities.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dot Ball Analysis - India, South Africa, Australia, Pakistan

So last week after I shared the numbers on Pakistan’s percentage of dot balls, a number of people asked to know how it compared with some of the other teams. I looked at the top 3 teams in terms of win/loss percentage over that period - Australia, South Africa, and India - and pulled some more data.

Here’s what it looks like (Pakistan's numbers having been updated to include the last 2 one-dayers):

June 2001 to present:
RSA66549 35071 21515 3650 491 5088 8 726 55036 82.7 52.7 38.6 8.7 47.3
AUS88237 46940 27568 5235 847 6617 12 1018 73215 83.0 53.2 38.1 8.7 46.8
IND93224 50434 28742 4897 534 7568 24 1025 76680 82.3 54.1 36.7 9.2 45.9
PAK78799 43567 23852 4312 598 5601 9 860 61879 78.5 55.3 36.5 8.2 44.7

So the average for these four teams is around 54% dots, with South Africa and Australia above, and India and Pakistan below this number. India is able to beat the average strike rate because of its high boundary rate, though more interestingly South Africa and Australia are able to do the same with just an average boundary rate, because they have a greater proportion of 1s, 2s, and 3s. 

In the last post in an effort to save space I had combined the 1s, 2s and 3s, and the 4s and 6s together. I think it's more helpful to split these out because they affect the strike rate differently, and doing so can help answer questions such as why Australia has a slightly higher strike rate than South Africa even though their scoring shot percentage is lower.

June 2001 to present:
RSA82.7 52.7 32.3 5.5 0.7 7.7 1.1 47.3
AUS83.0 53.2 31.2 5.9 1.0 7.5 1.2 46.8
IND82.3 54.1 30.8 5.3 0.6 8.1 1.1 45.9
PAK78.5 55.3 30.3 5.5 0.8 7.1 1.1 44.7

Australia score fewer singles, and are also a touch lower on 4s, but more than make up for it because of the higher percentage of 2s and 3s, and a hair's width increase in the number of 6s. So, score more of shots that produce more runs and you can afford to pick up fewer singles without hurting your strike rate. Hopefully that's easy enough to understand.

Also, if you want to take one of these differences and translate it into a strike rate differential, the math is very simple. For example, a 1% increase in the number of 4s hit means a 1% x 4 = 4% increase in strike rate. Looking at India and Pakistan's numbers, that pretty much explains the difference in strike rates.

Now, given that the above is over the last 12 years, how about more recent numbers? What do things look like this decade i.e. 2011 onwards.

2011 to present:
RSA85.0 48.7 36.8 5.4 0.8 7.3 1.0 51.3
IND85.7 50.2 34.6 5.7 0.5 7.9 1.1 49.8
AUS81.9 53.1 31.7 5.9 0.9 7.0 1.2 46.9
PAK75.9 55.3 31.4 4.8 0.7 6.8 0.9 44.7

Difference between 2011 - and 2001 -
RSA2.3 (4.0)4.5 (0.1)0.1 (0.4)(0.1)4.0
IND3.5 (3.9)3.8 0.4 (0.0)(0.3)0.0 3.9
AUS(1.0)(0.1)0.5 (0.0)(0.1)(0.5)0.1 0.1
PAK(2.6)0.1 1.2 (0.7)(0.1)(0.3)(0.2)(0.1)

South Africa are still top and they've gotten a lot better. They now score on more than 50% of balls faced. India have improved a lot as well, and are almost at the 50% mark. The largest difference for both teams comes in the 1s column, with a very noticeable increase of around 4% in the number of singles both teams take. This offsets the small drop from scoring fewer boundaries, and helps increase the overall strike rate.

Australia see their strike rate decrease slightly mostly because of fewer 4s hit. 

Pakistan as I had mentioned the last time see a drop in their strike rate even though the overall SS% hasn't really moved. But what has changed is the actual composition of their scoring shots. Previously I had said it's the fewer boundaries. Which is true when looking at 4s and 6s combined. But the single biggest driver is actually the lower proportion of 2s, something I didn't pick up on the last time because I was too focused on dot balls. In this time period (mostly under Misbah if you ignore the first half of 2011) this 4.8% of 2s is the lowest out of all the other Pakistani teams I discussed. Is it because of the older legs in the middle order of the current lot? Grounds aren't that big where they play? Or is it related to fewer boundaries i.e. they're just not hitting the ball far enough? I don't know the reason but my guess would be it's more to do with lazy running.

Anyway the main point here I guess is that it's not good enough to maintain status quo if you're Pakistan. It's great that the number of dot balls hasn't increased but they need to go further down. Other teams are moving in the opposite direction, and in South Africa and India's case it's simply by scoring more singles. Which I would imagine involves taking fewer risks than trying to hit more boundaries. This last point largely addressed to those who were questioning the case for Fawad Alam by pointing out his low percentage of boundaries. He more than compensates for it with his high ratio of 1s and 2s.

Now, on to the individual players themselves. I had to put a qualifier of 'balls faced 3000 or greater' otherwise it would be too many. But you can see the complete list in the tables I post at the end.

 June 2001 to present (qualification: balls faced > 3000):
1 Duminy40.083.644.842.
2 Afridi23.2126.845.
3 Amla58.892.245.637.
4 Hussey48.287.245.739.
5 ABdeV50.293.846.936.
6 Boucher31.789.447.
7 Raina32.191.647.936.
8 Kohli42.186.048.536.
9 Dhoni48.287.648.636.
10 Symonds42.191.050.631.
11 Gambhir41.485.
12 Razzaq32.
13 Younis33.277.451.535.
14 Clarke44.778.251.634.
15 MoYo43.577.552.
16 Inzi37.879.152.534.
17 Kallis47.676.652.635.
18 Malik33.778.953.
19 Misbah41.273.953.
20 Martyn41.475.553.333.
21 Yuvraj44.787.353.630.
22 Sehwag37.0104.553.624.75.10.514.41.730.316.146.4
23 Dravid45.073.854.
24 Watson42.188.854.
25 Kaif35.
26 Ponting42.583.354.
27 Gilchrist37.0102.
28 Sachin42.585.655.527.55.50.710.20.733.610.944.5
29 Haddin32.181.756.
30 Smith38.981.256.427.
31 Gibbs38.286.857.724.85.10.710.31.430.611.742.3
32 Kakmal26.483.857.824.
33 Hayden45.
34 Dippenaar44.668.758.
35 Butt36.876.359.924.
36 Ganguly42.173.960.526.
37 Hameed36.967.063.422.
38 Hafeez27.369.163.922.

The top 5 has three South Africans, plus Afridi and Hussey. I would've expected Hussey to be #1, JP Duminy came as a complete surprise. Since he's been out of action of late due to injury, I haven't really seen him play.

Rounding out the top 10 are Raina, Kohli, and Dhoni, who form the backbone of the Indian middle order, with Gambhir not far behind at 11. Except for Gambhir and Hashim Amla, the top half is almost all middle order batsmen until you get to Sehwag at 22.

Amla's position at 3 is an anomaly almost of Bradmanesque proportions. The fact that he's so far ahead of other openers is pretty astounding. I think it points to his ability to convert his starts into high scores with great consistency. His last innings being a good example. After the first 10 overs he was 11 off 19 with 2 fours and 5 scoring shots in total i.e. 14 of 19 were dots. Of his next 94 balls only 23 were dots and he completed a half century just in singles. (Of course being dropped before 50 also helped.) Him and AB de Villiers are the best partnership in ODI cricket - possibly ever - and it's easy to see why. There's just simply no way to keep them quiet. They can reach the boundary regularly and also pick up singles with the utmost of ease.

Don't laugh when you look at Hafeez at the bottom. Seriously, his problem is the exact opposite of Hashim Amla, which is that he wastes too many good starts. What ends up happening is he plays a greater proportion of deliveries in the period where the ball's newer and there are more fielders in the ring, and just never gets to the point where run-scoring gets easier.

In general for Pakistan, what they have currently out there - Younis Khan the highest ranked frontline batsman at 13 - just isn't good enough. In order to keep up with other countries they need more busy bodies in there, especially in the middle order.

Addendum: One thing I'd like to add is: the South Africa effect. Their batsmen are consistently above the 50% scoring shots level, especially the middle/lower middle order. Some of the players I wasn't able to show here because of the 3000 ball qualifier are guys like Jonty Rhodes, Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock, Albie Morkel, Nicky Boje, Johan Botha, and from among the newer guys Faf du Plessis. They're all above 50%.

South Africa have always had a very clinical, professional approach, especially to ODI cricket. Just looking at the numbers and seeing how many of them score so efficiently, I think this reflects on how those players are coached.

India's ODI surge one can argue began under the MS Dhoni captaincy, which started right after they won the T20 World Cup in 2007. Who did they hire as coach soon afterwards? Gary Kirsten from South Africa.

Is it a coincidence that India's scoring shot percentage has now started to trend upwards? I would put my money on no. I think this is the result of Kirsten instilling the same professional approach in India's ODI batting, especially among the newer guys like Raina and Kohli, that has been part and parcel of South African cricket throughout this time. And now even with Kirsten gone this approach is flourishing.

People had also mentioned trying to do this analysis based on over splits (e.g. what is the dot ball percentage between overs 15-35) but I'm afraid I don't have the data for that at the moment. I imagine for something like that I would need to parse Cricinfo's ball-by-ball commentary, but I haven't quite had the time to figure that out. The problem is deciding how nimble I want such a system to be. For if I'm collecting data on how batsmen score their runs, might as well analyze it from the perspective of bowlers as well. And extras, which are completely ignored here. Etc, etc. The more I want it to do, the more complex it'll be. Anyway, probably something to look for in the future.

Here's a zip file containing in CSV format the full list of 120 players (30 per team) as well as all innings data that I collected.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How Pakistan Scores Its Runs In ODIs

Fawad Alam has a very high percentage of scoring shots. Image source: ESPN Cricinfo
Here’s some data on how Pakistan as a team and players individually score their runs in ODIs. The goal of this exercise was to try and answer the question: what percentage of balls faced do players score runs on? One of the frustrations many people have with the current team under Misbah-ul-Haq is that they waste a lot of deliveries in dot balls and seem inept at turning the strike over. I wanted to analyze this in somewhat of a historical context, comparing the current team’s stats with its predecessors to see how bad this tendency was. I also wanted to look at how the individual players stack up, and separate the ball-hoggers from the strike-rotators.

Data has been gathered from the Player v player tab on Cricinfo’s match scorecards, as that’s the only place you can get a breakdown of how many dots, ones, twos, etc. each batsman scores. At the moment this data goes all the way back to the NatWest Series in the summer of 2001. I’m not sure if this is something that they are gradually updating for older scorecards, because ideally it would be nice to have this kind of information for all games. Of course in an ideal world this data would also be integrated into Statsguru and be easily retrievable. Anyway, the available data covers 287 matches, 76 batsmen, and over 78,000 deliveries faced in 3,000+ innings. So it’s a fairly rich sample and covers a wide variety of opponents, pitches, and conditions. (A download link to a CSV file with all the data is provided at the end.)

Here’s what the aggregate data looks like over this period:

Aggregate78273 43276 23705 4287 596 5557 9 843 61398 78.4 55.3 36.5 8.2 44.7
SR% = runs/balls; Dot% = 0s/Balls; 4,6% includes 5s as well; SS% = 1 - Dot% or 123% + 4,6%

This was a bit surprising to say the least. On average the team doesn't score on over 55% of balls faced, highlighted by 'Dot%' above, which is simply 0s divided by Balls. This translates to 10 dot balls every 3 overs. And the counterpart to this number is SS% - the percentage of scoring shots - coming in at 44.7%.

How do these numbers look batting first vs batting second?

Bat_1st4233922602135272461310294744883411580.6 53.4 38.5 8.1 46.6
Bat_2nd3593420674101781826286261053552728375.9 57.5 34.2 8.3 42.5

Batting first and setting targets the team does better than aggregate. Batting second and chasing, the team wastes more balls, rotates the strike less, and even though it scores a few more in boundaries, the overall strike rate is lower. This goes hand in hand with what we already know to be the team's problems with chasing targets.

Next, how do aggregate figures look for the different teams? The time period covered corresponds to the following captaincy periods:
  • Waqar Younis (2001 - 03)
  • Rashid Latif (2003)
  • Inzamam-ul-Haq (2003 - 07)
  • Shoaib Malik (2007 - 09)
  • Younis Khan (2009)
  • Mohammad Yousuf (2010) (just for the Australia ODI series)
  • Shahid Afridi (2010 - 11)
  • Misbah-ul-Haq (2011 - present)
I made some adjustments to these groupings. For example, this Asia Cup ODI against India in 2008 counts as a 'Malik' game even though Misbah was the captain, since this was really a Shoaib Malik-era team. Making this adjustment helps me to keep the numbers separate. There are other similar instances during Inzamam's captaincy with Razzaq, Younis, or Yousuf sometimes filling in.

Malik9979 5080 3243 649 79 816 0 112 8714 87.3 50.9 39.8 9.3 49.1
Afridi8749 4669 2841 459 66 608 2 104 7023 80.3 53.4 38.5 8.2 46.6
Inzi25793 14242 7719 1463 215 1854 3 297 20503 79.5 55.2 36.4 8.4 44.8
Aggregate7827343276 23705 4287 596 5557 9 843 61398 78.4 55.3 36.5 8.2 44.7
Misbah8838 4922 2790 410 62 588 1 65 6543 74.0 55.7 36.9 7.4 44.3
Waqar14894 8436 4351 782 105 1035 1 184 11479 77.1 56.6 35.2 8.2 43.4
Younis5556 3206 1579 285 34 414 0 38 4135 74.4 57.7 34.2 8.1 42.3
MoYo1039 627 263 62 11 63 0 13 750 72.2 60.3 32.3 7.3 39.7
Latif3425 2094 919 177 24 179 2 30 2251 65.7 61.1 32.7 6.2 38.9

The above is in descending order of scoring shot percentage, and I've added the Aggregate line in there as well to see where teams place in relation to it. Again, none of these teams break the 50% mark, with the Malik team coming closest at 49%. That team leads the rest by some distance in all scoring categories - strike rate, strike rotation, boundary hitting. If you look at scoring shots and strike rate simultaneously and go down the list, you can see an almost direct relationship between the two. Waste fewer balls and you'll score quicker, seems to be. Except for when you get  to Waqar and Younis Khan's teams, both of whom have a lower SS% than Misbah's team for example, but a higher strike rate, which owes to their higher proportion of boundaries.

This of course brings us to #TeamMisbah. When doing this analysis I fully expected their dot ball percentage to be through the roof, along with an abysmal strike rotation score, what with Mohammad Hafeez hogging the strike at the top and Misbah himself in the middle order. As it turns out, this isn't the case. The current team is just about on average in terms of wasting deliveries, and in fact, strangely enough, does better than average in strike rotation. What leads to the lower strike rate, however, is the lower than average proportion of boundaries hit. At 7.4%, they are third from the bottom in that respect, and this hurts the overall scoring rate.

Let's take a bit of a closer look at this. I'll split the batting order into top, middle, and lower, using Cricinfo batting position conventions (top = 1-3, middle = 4-7, and lower = 8-11). And further split the data between the current team and all data points excluding the current team.

Rest307981843877781517283253742412327575.6 59.9 31.1 9.0 40.1
Misbah43072547118519535326019309871.9 59.1 32.9 8.0 40.9

Rest3134215937109111909208198343902564581.8 50.8 41.6 7.6 49.2
Misbah38371994138817125222136291475.9 52.0 41.3 6.8 48.0

Rest729539792226451434490147593581.4 54.5 37.3 8.2 45.5
Misbah6943812174424001053176.5 54.9 37.9 7.2 45.1

It's pretty much the same pattern as the overall picture shown earlier. The current team's SS% and 123% are always there or thereabouts - even higher for the top order, in spite of Hafeez, go figure - but the lower percentage of boundaries across the board means that the strike rate is always lower by around 5 points.

Why is this? What is the point of comparison between the current team and Shoaib Malik's team for example, which is streets ahead of everybody else in strike rate and boundary hitting? Well, start with openers. Malik for the most part had Kamran Akmal/Nasir Jamshed together with Salman Butt. They struck at 90+ and 80+ and always with 10% or more in boundaries. At 3 was a younger and fitter Younis Khan also batting at 90+. 4, 5 and 6 were Yousuf, Malik, and Misbah, at 80, 90+, and 90+, respectively. Followed up with Afridi who went at a million miles an hour, always. Of course, something also has to be said about the docile bowling attacks this team faced on batting-friendly sub-continental pitches.

Still, compare with the current team. Nasir Jamshed is back, and is playing extremely well. Hafeez with his ODI form having regressed in the last year and a half doesn't replace Butt or Kamran Akmal (and of course the current version of Kamran Akmal himself doesn't replace Kamran Akmal). Younis does better now at 4 than at 3 where some combination of him, Azhar Ali, and Asad Shafiq combines to scratch around at a strike rate of 66%. (Push Younis down to 4 and he goes to 90+.) Misbah has a safety-first approach, Malik and Afridi are out of form, and there's no Razzaq either with the lower order big hitting. So while there doesn't seem to be a lack of 'let me dab it and run' especially in the middle order, they are definitely missing someone who can take the initiative from one end.

This will be abundantly clear when you look at the individual player data.


These are the top 30 batsmen in terms of balls faced over the last 12 years, but ordered again in terms of scoring shot percentage. Once again, I was surprised to find that all but 2 players were below 50%, I would've expected the number to be higher. Shahid Afridi has the highest at almost 55% but that means that even someone like him doesn't score off more than 4 of every 10 balls faced.

Afridi's high scoring shot rate is down to his insane boundary hitting ability (which has dipped of late however). To put it in some perspective, he is responsible for close to 25% of the total number of 6s (843) hit in this time. But the lowish average of 23 indicates that this is a very high risk strategy.

Next is Fawad Alam at 52%, and this is due to his high strike rotation rate of 47%. Because of his low boundary proportion (lowest of the 30) it means his strike rate isn't as high as such a high SS% would indicate. But his ability to turn the strike over means he's the ideal guy to have around with a bigger hitter at the other end.

Someone like Umar Akmal who comes in at 3, and as the overall line indicates is the best middle order ODI batsman the team has at the moment. He combines a decent boundary hitting ability with excellent running between the wickets, and, well, nothing more to say other than it's absolutely criminal that someone like Asad Shafiq or Azhar Ali (16 and 17) is preferred over him. If in the current team you swap in Fawad Alam and Umar Akmal for any two of Misbah, Asad Shafiq, and Azhar Ali, that goes a long way towards helping increase the scoring rate.

At 4 is Moin Khan, there as a reminder as to what he used to bring to the lower order. He was one of my favorite guys to watch back in the day (even as I preferred Rashid Latif over him as a wicketkeeper) because of how busy he always was at the crease. I had to hide the column due to space issues but Moin leads this list in terms of percentage of 3s scored. Just noticing that brought a smile to my face. A single meant a double and a double invariably meant a triple when he was batting.

At the other end of the list are the ball-hoggers, guys who get under your skin by their lethargic attitude at the crease. 7 of the bottom 10 are openers, which in a way makes sense that they have to be more watchful than say a middle order batsman, but really you have to question what this particular group, all with very similar sorts of low strike rates, averages, strike rotation, SS%, contributes to the team. (Saeed Anwar is a bit unfortunate to find himself so low on this list, his last couple of years he was but a shadow of his former self, with his strike rate here a good 10 points below his career figure.)

And all this makes you realize the worth of Nasir Jamshed at 12 that much more. He is an opener but with a line that makes him look like a middle order bat. It's still early days in his career but let's hope his form continues.

So, finally just to recap as I realize I've kind of rambled on:
  • Since 2001 Pakistan's percentage of dot balls is 55%.
  • The current team under Misbah is no different.
  • The current team is slightly above average when it comes to picking up ones, twos, & threes. So strike rotation has not fallen under Misbah.
  • The current team is below average in scoring boundaries in pretty much every batting position.
  • Because of this last point, they don't score as fast as the teams that came before.
  • Two players who don't waste too many dot balls are Fawad Alam and Umar Akmal. Both need to be permanent members of the middle order.
  • Most of our openers over the last 12 years have been ball-hoggers who are crap at their job.
  • Except for Nasir Jamshed, who's a gem.
Lastly, just a quick note about the aggregate number of runs, balls, etc. here. As mentioned at the top these were taken from the 'Player v player' comparison tab. As it turns out, the figures there are not always in accordance with the actual scorecard, which is where Statsguru pulls its queries from. So for example if you do a Statsguru query on Mohammad Hafeez, his total number of runs and balls faced are slightly different than what's shown here, because of this discrepancy between scorecards and the 'Player v player' tab. The overall difference however is very small - less than 0.1% - and has no material impact on any of the calculations.

You can download the data I used from here.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hiroshima: Khamosh Chaltay Jao

I'm off to Hiroshima tomorrow for the weekend. I'm reminded of this poem by Junichi Mizuno, translated into Urdu by Yutaka Asada.

I will try and pay heed.

Hiroshima after the bombing. Source: Wikipedia

Also while doing some research for the trip I came across a crazy (in a completely heart-wrenching way) story about a man named Tsutomu Yamaguchi:
In August 1945, Yamaguchi was sent to Hiroshima on a business trip. With the job done, his co-workers left, but Yamaguchi realized that he had forgotten his personal seal for signing official documents, so he headed back into town to pick it up. That's when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Badly burned, deaf, and partially blind, he spent a night in the ruins of the city, and then found a railway station on the western edge of the city that was back in operation. He managed to catch a train home to Nagasaki, where — as Yamaguchi explained to his disbelieving boss what had happened in Hiroshima — the second atomic bomb was dropped.

In 2009, the Japanese government certified the still-living Tsutomu Yamaguchi as the first known person to have been at ground zero of both atomic blasts. A year later, Yamaguchi passed away from stomach cancer at the age of 93.
Just to get some perspective on what it means to have a bad travel story. Next time your plane's delayed or you lose your luggage or something, try and remember the story of Tsutomu Yamaguchi.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Book Excerpt: The Tipping Point

I have been on a bit of a Malcolm Gladwell kick lately. This passage in The Tipping Point about the origins of Sesame Street characters I found interesting:
Sesame Street's creators were the power of television commercials. The sixties were the golden age of Madison Avenue, and at the time it seemed to make perfect sense that if a 60 second television spot could sell breakfast cereal to a four year old, then it could also sell that child the alphabet. Part of the appeal of Jim Henson and the Muppets to the show's creators, in fact, was that in the 1960s Henson had been running a highly successful advertising shop. Many of the most famous Muppets were created for ad campaigns: Big Bird is really a variation of a seven foot dragon created by Henson for La Choy commercials; Cookie Monster was a pitchman for Frito Lay; Grover was used in promotional films for IBM.

Naturally right after reading this I YouTubed 'Jim Henson Muppets commercials'. Here's the precursor to Big Bird, the La Choy dragon, who actually doesn't look or sound anything like Big Bird.

This next one is a funny little spot called Cookie Monster-IBM Training Video.

And this is what sounds exactly like Kermit the Frog plugging Wilkins Coffee.

There's a lot more of them, some that never made it on air, but all fascinating to watch. These commercials definitely show the muppets in a darker light than the versions finally seen on Sesame Street, which makes sense since the target audience was obviously different. But pretty interesting that educating children through the medium of television was thought of as analogous to advertising or selling products to people.

Gladwell's a great writer. I'm at the point where it's hard to remember whether I read something in Blink or in The Tipping Point or in one of his New Yorker articles. Everything's kind of muddled together, which I suppose is natural given the overlap in ideas and the fact that I'm reading things back-to-back. But so far really enjoying everything I've read.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

My 15 Most-Listened-To Nusrat Qawwalis

What it says on the tin. On the occasion of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's 15th death anniversary today, thought I'd post some music of his that I like. The list is from my iTunes most played. This is a somewhat personal list so I'm sure there will be plenty of other people's favorites that I'll miss out on. That plus the fact that given the amount of music he recorded even a top 100 wouldn't cover everything.

I began to listen to Nusrat in earnest around 5 years ago after happening upon my brother's rather large collection of his music. Since then his qawwalis have been a non-stop soundtrack to my life, initially helping me through some tough times, and over the years getting to the point where now it's really the only music I listen to on a regular basis. Inspired by incessant listening I bought a harmonium in 2008 so I could try and play along (having long abandoned the notion of singing along). Which made me appreciate even more both the complexity of his music as well as the complete mastery over the art that he and members of his qawwali party exhibited.

Anyway, let's get right to it.

15. Man Atkeia Beparwah De Naal

Part of my obsession with Nusrat carried over to trying to figure out whose poetry was being sung and to see if I could get my hands on the lyrics. Countless hours were pored over sites such as the Academy of the Punjab in North America, which provides complete works of a select few Punjabi poets. Thankfully, one of them happened to be Shah Hussein, two of whose kafis make up this wonderful qawwali. The first is the same as the title, Man Atkeia Beparwah De Naal, while the second is Sajan Bin Raatan Hoyyan Waddian. Since I'm not a native Punjabi speaker I found the explanations below the verses to be extremely helpful.

One thing I like about this qawwali is Rahat Fateh Ali backing Nusrat up. Early on I only liked Rahat in small doses but he sounds really good here.

14. Kivain Mukhre Toon Nazran Hatawan

Other than the fact that it's awesome, I don't know much about this qawwali. I think the poet is Anwar Jogi, given the takhallus in the last verse. It's off the album Nit Khair Mangan - Vol 17, released by Oriental Star Agencies in the UK. (As an aside, what I wouldn't give to have access to their Nusrat collection, both audio and video. YouTube will have to do for now.) This qawwali - like many others - gives me the sensation of being on a long bus ride, where the path from A to B isn't direct, instead involves a fair few scenic detours. And these are taken seemingly on a whim, with no prior planning.

This also features in my opinion the best party lineup ever assembled by Nusrat. More on this later.

13. Mein To Piya Se Naina / Chaap Tilak Sab Cheen

This one is a bit unique in that it's a medley of two qawwalis, both featuring the kalaam of Amir Khusro. It's not uncommon for Nusrat to blend two qawwalis together but usually one is contained within the other. For example, the hugely successful and popular Akhiyan Udeek Diyan was initially a sub-qawwali (or a scenic detour if you will using the analogy above) within Ni Main Jana Jogi De Naal. But here the two parts are distinct. There is a bridge that connects one to the other but once Chaap Tilak starts Nusrat doesn't go back to Mein To Piya Se Naina.

When I first heard this piece I was mesmerized by the opening verses. Especially:

Khusro darya prem ka, jo ulti va ki dhaar
Jo ubhra so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar
(Khusro, the river of love flows in reverse
He who floats will drown, he who drowns will cross)

Here is a much older version of the same qawwali, featuring quite audible audience interaction. I'm not positive but this could very well be the legendary Nusrat performance from the 1975 Amir Khusro festival, held to commemorate the 13th century genius' 700th anniversary.

12. Aankh Uthi Mohabbat Ne Angrai Lee

The early 80s were a good time to be a Khan from Pakistan in England. Jahangir Khan had begun his dominance of the British Open squash tournament in 1982, and he'd go on to win it a record 10 consecutive times. That same year Imran Khan went mano-a-mano with Ian Botham in a 3-Test series starting in Birmingham, and while he may have ended up on the losing side, with his superlative performance with both bat and ball (21 wickets at 19; 212 runs at 53) he firmly announced himself as the all-rounder of the decade. And in the same city of Birmingham in 1980, Nusrat held his first British concert, which so captivated the audience that the organizers Oriental Star Agencies had him come back year after year.

Coincidence? You decide.

Anyway, the above video is from a live concert in Wolverhampton, not far from Birmingham, in 1983. This qawwali follows a classic Nusrat template. Initially there's about a 3-minute instrumental intro or a sazina, where the main melody is laid down (the harmonium intro here is possibly my favorite). Followed by an alaap and opening verses, which is sort of like a tuning session for the main vocalists, and where they introduce the raag or scale the qawwali is in. And then slowly the party, led by Nusrat, launches into the main body of the song. This is an Urdu ghazal penned by Fana Bulandshahri, although the first few verses during the alaap are by Saghar Siddiqui. Both these poets feature heavily in Nusrat's ghazal pieces. 40 minutes of unadulterated joy, this one.

11. Tu Rahnawarde Shauq Hai Manzil Na Kar Qubool

Another live concert in Birmingham, this time from 1985. The full video is here but I'm particularly fond of the qawwali above. This is kalaam-e-Iqbal and as Nusrat says in the beginning, it's a very traditional piece done in the style of Nusrat's father Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and uncle Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan. Long before Junoon - in fact during Iqbal's own lifetime - it was these maestros who began performing qawwalis using Iqbal's poetry and helped popularize his message. Their skill and artistry lay in combining the poet's smaller verses and ghazals together with bigger pieces, and forming a coherent and consistent theme.

Watch out for when in the middle of this qawwali Nusrat demonstrates how the notes of Raag Pahari would sound if sung by a western artist.

Other great Iqbal pieces by Nusrat are Javed Nama, Kabhi Ai Haqeeqat, and of course the classic Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa.

10. Munadjatt de Djelalleddin Rumi (Poeme Persan)

The actual title of this poem is Na Man Behooda Girde Koocha-o-Baazaar Mi Gardam. The title in French above comes from the album this is from, a 5 CD live concert set from Paris. A great collection and a pretty good representative sample of Nusrat's repertoire, including hamd, naat, marsiya, ghazal, manaqib, Iqbal, Bulleh Shah, and of course Rumi. This is a beautiful rendition, and I really like the melody. Sounds a lot like another Farsi qawwali, Nami Danam.

An interesting thing about the word "behooda" as used here. In Urdu this word is synonymous with "vulgar" or "obscene". Indeed, largely used to refer to either language, movies, clothes, etc. In its original Farsi form, however, the word simply means "aimless". (The opening line translates as "I'm not wandering aimlessly through the streets and bazaars.") Perhaps a truer Urdu translation of "behooda" then would be "faltu" or "bekaar".

9. Yaara Dak Le Khooni Akhiyan Nu

Just when you start to think you've heard everything by Nusrat come along 15 albums of new material. I first heard this qawwali a year ago, randomly browsing videos on Nusrat's Facebook fanpage. Can't believe such a gem escaped me for so long. I couldn't get the melody out of my head for days. At the time I had just moved to Japan, and didn't have among other things my harmonium with me. I remember just itching to play this tune, but had to contend with listening to it on repeat.

This qawwali also has what I'd call Nusrat's Greatest Lineup™, something I mentioned briefly earlier. I'm not sure about exact dates but I guess sometime from the late 70s to mid 80s, this is what the front five of the qawwali party looked like:

There's Nusrat of course. Next to him is his younger brother and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's father Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan. Harmonium player extraordinaire and a voice that was heaven-sent. Unparalleled in his ability to match note for note the complex, improvised patterns being woven by the vocalists, himself included. To say nothing of his harmonium solos. Had he not been Nusrat's brother he would surely have been leading his own qawwali party.

Next to Farrukh is Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan, son of Nusrat's uncle Mubarak Ali Khan. He had the deepest voice among these five, and specialized in classical, sargam interludes. A good example can be found around the 19-minute mark in Aankh Uthi (#12) above. Nowadays, Mujahid's sons Rizwan and Muazzam are carrying the family tradition forward. Along with Rahat of course who has his own thing going, though one wonders why these guys don't team up like their fathers did.

On second harmonium and vocals is Atta Fareed, easily recognizable in these videos because of his left-handed harmonium playing. Another wonderful voice, and a great complement to Nusrat. Usually the backup vocalists repeat lines after Nusrat but in Atta Fareed's case he would frequently get to solo. He sometimes also alternated with Rehmat Ali (in #11 for example), who in fact later on was almost a permanent fixture in the party.

And finally always on stage left is Maqsood Hussain. He has one of the most metallic voices I've ever heard, it goes through you like a shot of electricity. Frequently he's the one that steps in right before Nusrat leads the chrous either back on to the main melody or away from it, acting as an anchor of sorts for the party. Later on his place would be taken by Rahat Fateh Ali, though the role wouldn't exactly be the same.

This is just one of several ways in which Nusrat differed from other qawwals. While a qawwal party usually has just one or two main singers and from among the rest of the chorus it is hard to tell one from the other, this group at its peak had five unique voices blending together. You can't go wrong with any qawwali that has these five in the game. The chemistry and interplay they have together, and just the sheer skill on display, is very hard to match.

Then there was the tabla player Dildar Hussain who along with Farrukh Fateh Ali was with Nusrat from start to finish. Terrific rhythm player who knew exactly when to speed things up or slow them down.

The thing that saddens me is that not much is known about these guys, especially the last three of the front five. I came across a biography of Nusrat, written in 1992, and while it has some information about the party, there's nothing about these key members. Nobody knows what happened to them, when they got replaced or why. Which is unfortunate, because I believe these are our national treasures and we've let them fade away into obscurity.

The rest of Nusrat's party

8. Behad Ramzan Dasda Mera Dholan Mahi

Another Fab Five tour de force, this one doesn't bother with intros or alaaps; it's pedal to the metal from start to finish. This is kalaam Baba Bulleh Shah, and tracking down the lyrics was a fun project. I didn't get everything but some of the pieces are Behad Ramzan Dasda, Lantarani Das Ke Jani, and Ki Karda Ni Ki Karda. Trying to understand the lyrics was a different thing though, almost like taking a class in Punjabi and Sufism together. For instance the concept of the alif arriving wearing "meem da ghungat" or being hidden in the meem - a metaphor for the oneness of Allah and his Prophet, which is pretty central to this piece - was new to me. An instructional qawwali if you will.

7. Hai Kahan Ka Irada Tumhara Sanam

Back to Urdu ghazals, this is again one by Fana Bulandshahri. This is fun to listen to, because you can tell the crowd is having fun and, comfortable in that knowledge, the artists are having fun as well. Probably the qawwali that forced me to pick up the harmonium, as this was the first tune I started practicing on a friend's keyboard. Fab Five again.

6. Dam Mast Qalandar

The qawwali that made Nusrat a household name in Pakistan in the early 90s. This video isn't the version I have but it's close enough. A very energetic piece, and I love the game of repeat that's played between Nusrat, Rahat, and Dildar Hussain.

5. Mera Eh Charkha Naulakha Kuray

More Bulleh Shah, although this time I was unable to find any of the poetry either in poetry books or online. I did however come across a great article that talks about the social/historical context of the charkha (spinning wheel) and the art of weaving in the Punjab.

This qawwali is from the same concert as Aankh Uthi on #12 above. And it recently gained national attention as it was redone on Coke Studio.

4. Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai

A classic. And a long, epic piece, about three or four different qawwalis rolled into one. In fact at 68 minutes this is the longest Nusrat recording I've come across. Rumor has it that at Rishi Kapoor's wedding in 1979 he performed this qawwali for two and a half hours straight. Sadly no recording exists. But this gives a good idea of what it might have been like. An intimate setting with people jostling up front for a seat; that is, when they weren't too busy dancing. Seriously, half the fun in watching these videos is how the crowd interacts with the singers. Poetry by a few different people, including Jigar Moradabadi, Abdul Hameed Adam, and Anwar Jogi.

3. Mera Piya Ghar Aaya

After the longest qawwali comes the shortest of this list. Another very famous piece, the first version of this that I heard was one of those early 90s remixes. Which at the time I thought was the coolest thing, though listening to it now it's hard to imagine that this is also sufi poetry. Although, as Nusrat himself said these songs were meant to attract a younger generation to qawwalis. In my case it was hook line and sinker. Slowly towards these 7-8 minute songs that are like the T20s of qawwali and then on to the more traditional versions.

2. Bujhi Hui Shama Ka Dhuan Hoon

I have a strange fascination with this qawwali. Partly just because of the setting. It sounds like Nusrat is performing in someone's house. And is under the weather. The recording quality is average, and other than Nusrat the singers all sound distant, far way from the mike. Then in the opening lines Farrukh Fateh Ali messes up the lyrics a little, and Nusrat sort of grunts his disapproval. We can also clearly hear Nusrat's prompter Alyas Hussain letting him know in advance what line's next, so that he doesn't mess up. So all in all it doesn't really sound like anyone is on top of their game.

But then it sort of grows on you. There is a certain sadness about this piece, surely aided and enhanced by the poetry. They open with Faiz's Raat Yun Dil Mein Teri (the only time I've heard Faiz's poetry in a qawwali), and then slowly work their way to Bujhi Hui Shama, a poem by Iqbal. About halfway through they're in full flow and you forget all about the bad sound. And are maybe reaching for the tissue box instead.

1. Tumhein Dillagi Bhool Jani Paray Gi

My most-listened-to qawwali, by some distance. It has such a tight sound. The beat from start to finish is fairly consistent. A beautiful composition and some excellent, excellent backup vocals. The chorus has never sounded better. Incidentally this is not a Fab Five song, but Rehmat Ali on 2nd harmonium really shines through, and his alaaps just melt your ears (for example, listen at the 4:15 mark). Great poetry as well - a ghazal by Purnam Allahabadi.

With a lot of these songs it's a bit of a self-perpetuating thing: the more I listen to my most-played songs, the higher up the list they go. But Dillagi will always remain special for me.

Total songs: 15 (Here's a playlist)
Play time: 6.5 hours
(Total time I've spent listening to these 15 songs, not counting YouTube: 230+ hours)

Special Mention: Biba Sada Dil Morr De (Live in Birmingham 1985)

I don't have an audio version of this song otherwise this would've been high up in the play count as well. This has to be one of the best live recordings Nusrat ever did. There are maybe 50 people in attendance, it's a very small mehfil. And yet they are performing as if playing at the Royal Albert Hall. Once again feeding off the energy of the crowd, especially the two Sikh gentlemen at the front. If I could time travel this concert is where I'd want to be. Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Do you have a favorite Nusrat qawwali not mentioned above? Would love to hear about it. Please leave a comment.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mobile Phone Payment System in Japan

I was reading an article today on The Economist about how the banking industry is headed for a shake-up, as more and more people access the internet from their phones. The passage below caught my attention (emphasis added):
The revolution will be most visible on the high street. Branches will become less important and there will be far fewer of them. Those that remain will look quite different. Instead of walking into one to deposit cheques or get statements, most people will do this on the fly from their mobile phones. Instead of opening wallets in shops and being confronted with a choice of whether to pay by cash or plastic card, they will wave a phone at the checkout. On it will be a virtual wallet provided by a firm such as Google, PayPal, Square or some company that hasn’t been thought of yet.
SIR, I present to you the mobile phone payment system in Japan. The 'future' has been here for quite some time. As you'll see in the YouTube video below (which itself is a couple of years old now), you can use your phone to pay for stuff exactly as described above, and just about anywhere: convenience stores, restaurants, vending machines, taxi cabs, buses and subways, you name it.

These phones run on a system made by Sony called FeliCa, short for Felicity Card, which links up different service providers to your phone's account. These phones are called osaifu-keitai or wallet mobile, first introduced by NTT Docomo but now supported by most mobile phone operators in the country. And they're quite ubiquitous, especially in Tokyo.

So your phone basically acts like a charge card, and money gets deducted every time you wave it at a checkout counter. If you're running low and need to recharge, you can either do it through a linked bank account or via credit card, all directly from your phone. The system works remarkably well and compared to the rest of the world is way ahead of its time.

The challenge for Sony will be to figure out how to export this technology elsewhere. For a company that has lost money four straight years, who knows, this might be their ticket back to the show. Although, it seems in the US Google's already leading the way with Google Wallet, which at the moment is only available through Sprint but I'm sure other providers aren't far behind.