Saturday, May 25, 2013

Being CouchScribe

It is day-1 of the 1st test match of the Test series. The sun is shining hard today. The players are warming up. The captains are inspecting the pitch. They have a job on their hands today.

I receive my Couch Talk assignment from Mr. Subash Jayaraman (Mr. Cricket Couch). I play it once, listen to it, get myself accustomed to the accent of the guest, learn about the guest, and understand the discussion. I prepare for the task ahead- to transcribe the whole conversation.

The openers start the innings watchfully. The batsmen are keen on concentrating first up and see the new ball through. They are examining the pitch, the cracks and grass on it, and levelling them as they play on. The bowlers are getting some help off the pitch and have beaten the batsmen a couple of times already. It is an interesting start already.

I am not a stenographer. My typing pace is not as fast as people speak. I need to slow the tape down to a speed that is reasonably slow to memorize a good length of (running) words at a time and type, but also fast enough to keep it as a decipherable audio. Different speakers need different pace adjustments. Some speakers are slow and soft, while some are fast and sharp. I am well adjusted to Mr Subash’s speech, and am comfortable with his speech speed (~ words/min). So, it comes down to adjusting to the guest’s pace.
It is always a bit difficult to start the work, since it involves all the adjustments and it is just not all that easy to suddenly try to speed-type. So, either of those would make me rewind the tape back a couple of extra times to play-back and type it out.

Spin is being introduced for the first time in the day. It will be interesting to see how the batsmen will cope with the turning ball. They did well against the medium pacers today. But now, the pitch has dried up and the ball will turn a bit. How well can the batsmen play the variations? They will need some adjustments now.

Every subsequent guest on the show would bring in a new accent. I didn’t know that many existed. It was/is a learning experience for me. Sure, I have been to places in India and heard people from different places speak English; and have heard cricket, football and basketball commentaries. But, that was just very little of it. Every Indian’s accent is different from the other. Australian, British, South African, American... They can’t be generalised. I used to say “My cousin has American accent.” Or, “I listen to NBA commentators. I can understand American accent.” When I met Subash last year, he told me more about region based accents in the USA, and that what I hear on TV is probably the clearest ones of all.

The accent makes some pronunciations sound different. I have made several errors because something sounds one way when you hear it, but the speaker meant something else. Sometimes I don’t understand what was said. I would leave a blank, or would mark the text that I feel might be wrong, or confusing (because the phrase made little or no sense). I am thankful to Subash for painfully proof-reading 8 or 9 page long transcripts and correcting the errors in them.

Gawn. That is splendidly done by the bowler! A googly that the batsmen just did not read. It beat the bat, flew past the front foot, and crashed into the stumps. The batsman had no clue to that.

I have some weaknesses. (Yes, chocolate is also one of my weaknesses.) Case in point: some accents are hard for me to decipher. I think it was Dirk Nannes’ podcast, which I was transcribing and I just couldn’t do that. He has a Victorian accent, a really strong one. It was alright to listen to, but not so easy when you have to pay attention to every detail of it. Subash was kind, and he complete the rest of it for me. It is good to have a boss who can cover up for you! Ha!

Jarrod Kimber’s was tough, but I have been hearing him for a long time (Two Chucks), and I was able to manage that better than I though. Jarrod Kimber was a guest (along with Sampson Collins) on my first assignment. Some New Zealander accents are also tough.

And, some South African ones. I had a tough time transcribing Paul Harris. The playback button on my laptop got bruised that night. There were a couple of other South Africans on the show, and I have had my share of luck and gratitude there. Mrs and Mr Couch transcribed Firdose Moonda’s, and Ant Sims contributed a podcast (Niels Momberg) along with the transcript.

I am hoping Subash doesn’t bring in a Keiron Pollard or Chris Gayle on the show anytime soon. I don’t think they attempt enunciation of words.

The middle order batsmen have now picked up the pace. They are reading the bowlers and the pitch better now. Runs are coming in easy. They look like they will put on a big score before the session break, which they will very much need on this hot day.

Once your fingers are well flexed, and you are past 20-30 minutes of typing, it is easier to continue typing from then on. I get accustomed to the speech speed and typing speed by around half hour mark, by which time I would also know how fast I am typing. I used to take around 6 minute to transcribe 1 minute of the tape. Now, it has come down to 4. Of course, that is a variable. The speed has more to do with deciphering the tape than typing speed.

Taking a break is also important. Body would ache if you sit in the same posture for hours together. Fingers need rest, and that headphone needs to come off your ears for a while. A little break every hour or so does well. A long break would mean starting slow again, so, I try avoiding that as much as possible (except when I am late from work, when I break my work to over two days).

The players are practicing a bit before the break ends. The coach is giving some inputs to the batsmen, his batting technique is being polished. The fielding captain is discussing strategy with his bowlers. They will certainly need all the inputs coupled with hard work to win the next session of play.

Subash would tell me who is next on the show, and when. Then, he would send across the podcast and we would agree on a submission deadline. Sometimes, when it is urgent, he would share the load too. Once transcribed, I would send it over to Subash, who would proofread it, edit and publish.

I have received a lot of help and recommendations regarding transcribing. Subash recommended the transcribing software that I now use (Express Scribe). A friend of mine, Monish, recommended and shared transcribing software, techniques and information. I didn’t know you can get subtitles to some videos on youtube. Another friend, Zenia, and I have spoken at length about transcribing different accents. It all helps. I have enjoyed doing this, and would love to do better.

It has been an absorbing day’s play, and it is trudging to close of play. Both sides seem a bit relaxed now. Part time bowlers are bowling to batsmen who are playing for stumps. They are having a bit of fun before seriousness creeps in again later. Both teams will carry forward a lot of lessons to the next day’s play.

Finishing the transcribing work has almost always been easy. The questions are lighter. My ears can be relaxed, and still take in all that is being said. I slow down a bit towards the end, unlike how I wrote exams in school and college- where I would scribble at rapid pace to squeeze in an extra line or two of information that the teacher would later describe unnecessary. I will then proof read it once, and correct any errors that I am able to spot. I will laugh at myself for not able to speed-type some words properly even after so many months at it (Austrlaia, Paksitan, taht, etc). Once that is done, I would submit it to Subash.

I too have learnt a lot doing this work. First of that is trying to listen to what is being said in all completeness. I have learnt how each accent is different from the next, and how people speak the English language, especially when it is not their mother tongue. I have learnt (from Subash) about paragraph breaking, improving quality of the transcribed work for better readability. I have, at some level, been able to manage time better that how I used to, by planning out when to work on this, and figuring out how long it would take to finish the job.

I have also been able to listen closely to how Subash hosts his podcasts. He puts in a lot of efforts to get people on his show. The guest on the show will mostly have something to do with the cricket that is happening currently. But, the variety of guests on board is vast – fans, officials, players, ex-players, support staff, journalists etc. He has the right set of questions, and always manages to handle any turn or twist on the show. He makes sure the guest is comfortable on the show. He interviews people from Australia to India to England to the USA. He is there to host the guest at their favoured timing, no matter when it is. He also involves the listeners in the podcast, by inviting questions to be posted to the guest. So, the listeners are always there, waiting for their questions to be answered. The interaction fuels the podcast ahead. And they are not let down by the quality of it.

In Subash’s words, “It has been an absolute pleasure” for me to be a part of this. It is like the game of cricket itself.

Couch Scribe

Sunday, March 10, 2013

On Kobe's retirement (if and when)

Kobe Bryant exults after winning Ring # 5, beating the Boston Celtics in 7 games.
(photo credits:

As a young rookie out of high school, Kobe Bean Bryant told everybody that he would want to retire at the age of 35. He was about half that age when he made that statement.

Kobe Bryant is 34 years today.

When Yahoo Sports' Graham Bensinger reminded him on that statement last July, Kobe's reply was,

"That's a long time to be playing. It'll be the last year of my contract. I don't know if I will play any longer than that. I don't know. It's just a possibility. It's not something I even give it much thought to, but it's a possibility. It could happen."

This statement was made after Kobe clocked 38.5 minutes (4 minutes more than previous year) a game in a very congested shortened season in the new system installed by Mike Brown. The Lakers could not find a way to contain his minutes (like how Spurs have been able to cut down Ginobili/Parker/Duncan trio's). Kobe, pushing 34 years, had the 2nd most points per game that season.

The Lakers traded for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in the off-season. The Lakers' front office was trying its best to help Kobe get a 6th (and more?) ring, and get some hungry ring-hunters aboard. The Lakers starting line-up had atleast 4 future Hall-Of-Famers.

When the pre-season training began amidst injuries, Kobe made another statement on his retirement. Speaking to CBS Sports, Kobe said,

"It's just that three more years seems like a really long time to continue to stay at a high, high level of training and preparation and health. That's a lot of years. For a guard? That's a lot of years."
A week before that, he told the media that he wouldn't be in the league for long. And when he leaves, he wanted to hand the reins to Dwight Howard.

The Lakers start horribly, sack coach, recover, get a shock coach replacement, walk on one foot again, gain parity by New Year and plummet to an abyss to start 2013. 

But, that is not because of Kobe, not the way he played the game at-least. He was in line for shooting leader for the season, had an insane December on the record books. At 34 years' age. Here's a comparison - Kobe was drafter with Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Derek Fisher among others. Allen Iverson walked into oblivion after a beautiful career in NBA. Ray Allen is a help-guy on Miami's bench. Steve Nash is looking for the eluding ring, and as Kobe's teammate, is looking at his best shot. NBA Players' Association president, Derek Fisher is now with Oklahoma City Thunder after a short stint with Dallas.

Kobe Bryant is a force. Every peer is a blur.

In early February, Kobe tells T. J. Simmers of L.A. Times (L.A. Times is an excellent source if you want to keep tabs on the Lakers), when asked about his insane production even at this age and usage,
"Realistically I have only one year left, so I'm trying to enjoy myself."
Lakers improved in February. Kobe Bryant changed his role late January. The Lakers, on the back of the distributor in Kobe, went to the All-Star Games being 4 games back of .500 record. 4 better than what they were after a 3-game road trip that ended at Memphis, bringing out the necessity for a team meeting, and some heart-to-heart.

Lakers have been rolling better since the All-Star Game. Kobe changed his role, and is now back to the Kobe we know. The monster on offense. He has been exploding for dunks every now and then. Even in clutch.

Kobe was on The Jimmy Kimmel Show recently, after he led the Lakers to win a game in New Orleans after being 25 points down, and he was again asked about his retirement. He gave a simple reply.

"It's going to be soon."
A day after that interview, Kobe came up with another barrage of insane, inhuman shots and marked it with an exclamation point dunk that gave Lakers the win over the Raptors. He has scored 83 points (42, 41) in the last 2 games, 12 assists in each. First since Jerry West to do so over 2 games at LALA land. Jerry West got Kobe Bryant to the Lakers.

Kobe dunks on the Hornets to seal the win for Lakers.
(photo credits:

34 years and a half years old. 27.8 points per game. Good for 3rd in the league, with 20 games to go.


That was about what Kobe had to say about his retirement plans. It has sent many people wondering why? Why soon? Why when you are in the best form of your life? Why when there can be more years of such productions?

Kobe Bryant is among the best in the league. And as inhuman as he seems on the court during the game (or 3 hours before the game in preparation or the day before the game in practice), he IS a human. The miles totaled by his legs are more than Michael Jordan had accumulated over his entire career.

Kobe had to deal with multiple injuries over his career. None threatening major off-loads, but has been curtailing him from being 100%. The most amazing thing about this is that in-spite of all these injuries, Kobe finds a way to fight through it all and go for the win. As recently as last week, Kobe hurt his right elbow in a game against the Thunder. He returned and played almost exclusively with his left hand and dropped 30 points (in vain). Not the first time.

His fingers are taped, his knees have been operated multiple times, his ankles are tired, his arms have seen bruises. Yet, he walks through all the pain like they are invisible. And he is 34 years old and in his 17th season. It is not like the injuries heal any sooner when you are that old.

Kobe has the mental toughness of a winner. That keeps him going mentally, never give up. But, that is not enough when you have to stay healthy and fit in the league that has now shifted its image from skills to speed. There. Right there is where Kobe has pulled himself apart from the rest of his peers.

Kobe Bryant has been sacrificing all the worldly pleasures to keep his body in shape, remain fit and fight like he is no older than the young guard he is defending. Recently, he told a So Cal reporter, Mark Medina,
"There's a certain commitment, a lot of sacrifice and attention to detail that goes into trying to play at a high level for a long, long time. To me, it is worth it."
He has mentioned how he has cut down on sugar. He keeps that going in the off-season too. "I may eat a sugar cookie once in the summer", he would then admit. He trains harder just to keep his body in shape. He takes ice-baths after games to get his legs going. He sometimes does that before media appearances. I can't put a finger in a glass of ice and not scream in pain. What feels like pain to me, is relief to Kobe.

As much as we would like Kobe Bean Bryant to be in the league for as long as basketball heavens would let it happen, I feel it would be unfair to force him to put himself through this for more. Not that he would take it that way, Kobe loves to do anything to stay the best. But again, that is the point - he is stacking future miles and using them for a couple of more season so that he is as competitive as the new comers and not just a passenger player with a good past and old legs. Kobe has, is and will only be a winner, not a 2nd option.

MVP once, 2x Olympic Gold Medalist, 5 NBA rings, a Dunk Champion, multiple All-Star first team, multiple defensive team of the year appearance. Legend.

I want Kobe to earn back all that he missed because of these sacrifices. I want him to enjoy his life in So Cal. Maybe, in Hawaii. Or, in Philly. Or in Italy. Let his daughters spread his legend wherever they go. I want him to come to dunk contests as judge. I want him on more Turkish commercials. I want him to talk to Olympic players about his gold medal tales. I want him to enter the Staples Center in suits, occupy a seat by the court-side and listen to the crowd lose its mind. I want Vanessa to then kiss him on his cheek as they sit to watch the Lakers demolish their opponents. Oh, and yes, with that charming smile on his face, of course.

In his interview with Jimmy Kimmel, he admitted that he is putting all his eggs in this season and the next (contract expires next season). He admitted he will retire soon. He admitted he will never play for any other team.

When Kobe's era finishes, it is not an end. It is a celebration of a magnificent era. An era that eluded all logic, so much that it seemed right to appear illogical.

He ain't retiring from my heart. Let's enjoy the legend he is.