Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Play and break the thinking loop"

Arindam Ghosh reveals the sportsman behind the scientist.

Interview by Lalit Patnaik
23 October 2010,
few days after IISc made it to the Super League stage of the KSCA Metro Shield 2010

[Download pdf file of this interview article here]

Arindam Ghosh, Assistant Professor of Physics, Indian Institute of Science is an accomplished scientist in the field of low-temperature nano-electronics. Amidst all the duties and responsibilities that entail his position, he always manages to find time for sports. The IISc cricket team has had his distinguished services for fourteen years now. Here's an attempt to get to know his story as a researcher who never gave up sports, more so cricket.

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon when we met up at his office for this hour-long tete-a-tete. I'd known him only as a team-mate in the IISc cricket team, but here I was sitting in the chamber of a physicist, an altogether different person may be. So we started out trying to track his professional growth.

While in his final year of BSc at Kolkata University, Arindam was inspired by a presentation made by Professor D. P. Sen Gupta from IISc. In 1992, with his eyes set on building a career in Physics, Arindam joined the newly introduced Integrated PhD program at IISc brushing aside an IIT seat. "The first thing I noticed in IISc was the maturity - a breakaway from the conventional university mentality where if you damage an apparatus you can be happy about a laboratory session being cancelled", he reminisced. He completed his PhD in low temperature solid state physics in 1999 and moved to the hallowed portals of Cambridge University for a post-doctoral stint. "It was a lovely experience at Cambridge with the beautiful country side, playing league cricket and five-a-side football", he fondly recalled. In 2005, Arindam came back to India giving in to IISc's offer for a faculty position.

Scientific journals and magazines carry the details of his research findings. I was there to tap into the other side of the story - the sportsman behind the scientist. "Since school, I have always been actively involved in all kinds of sports. And the affair continues till date, be it cricket, football or even tennis. My parents had always backed me in all my pursuits and playing sports always helped me do well in my academics", says Arindam. "Sport rejuvenates the mind. In research or, for that matter, any profession that involves a fair deal of thought, it is very easy to get stuck in a thinking loop. Sports helps break that loop so that you can start your thought process afresh, from a new perspective", he avers.

Next we zeroed into his exploits as a cricketer and his experiences with the IISc cricket team. During his B.Sc days, Arindam played 2nd and then 1st division cricket at Kolkata. He was in one of the top three clubs there. When he moved to IISc, his evenings were spent at the gymkhana ground from day one. Straddled over his stay at Cambridge, he has a total of fourteen years of experience playing for the IISc cricket team. "Sport is most enjoyable when it is very competitive and aggressive", he asserts. Of all the team-mates he has had in IISc cricket, he rates Sujay Subbaiah as the best all-rounder, KV Venkataraman as the best batsman and Shyamsundar as the best bowler. "The team during 1992-93 was very good. We made it to the semifinals of the 4th Division league that season. But the period from 1995 to 1997 was perhaps the best ever for team IISc. In the 1996-97 season, we lost only in the finals of the league. In those days, Ranji players such as Rahul Dravid, Venkatesh Prasad and Sujit Somasundar used to turn up in the closing stages of the 4th Division league. We still competed very well".

Then comes the lamentation. "Over the years though, the standard of IISc cricket has gone down. Getting good cricketers for team IISc has become more and more difficult - good in the sense people who have played some university cricket or club cricket before they join IISc. This has got to do with the way the society has changed. Unlike our times, there's a lot of pressure on youngsters of today to perform in academics and to stay afloat in the cut-throat competition". But the present team at least gets a thumbs up. "We have an excellent team this year. In fact, the last two years with team IISc have been as enjoyable as it was playing in the 1992-93 team".

Talking of his most memorable performances, Arindam vividly recalls his back to back centuries followed by a 70 in the St. Joseph invitational cricket tournament in 1995. "I remember Rahul Dravid playing that tourney. It was just before he got his test call up", informs Arindam. Then came the staggering figure - Arindam has scored as many as thirty centuries for team IISc. "I used to be far more aggressive earlier", he quips. That's quite hard to imagine considering how he spanks bowlers all around the park even to this day.

On-field anecdotes are a part of the folklore of any cricketer. Arindam shared a few of them.

In 1998-99, one Mr. Paneerselvam - with shaved head and stocky build a la Vinod Kambli - volunteered to keep wickets. He employed one of the most extra-ordinary methods to stop the ball. He used to literally kick the ball rather than holding it! That always left the rest of the players in splits.

Chanakya and Simha - who are now faculty members at IISc - used to open the fast bowling for IISc. Opposing batsmen were scared at their very sight. Once, after getting beaten several times, a visiting batsman decided to remove his helmet in the hope that he could see the ball better. The very next ball he got hit on his left ear. As everybody rushed to help him, they were shocked to find him bleeding profusely from his right ear. What could explain such a bizarre incident? As it turned out, when the batsman fell to the ground, he had hurt his right ear and hence the bleeding. He was fine though; no worries at all.

Long back, there used to be a triangular tournament between students, faculty and staff. In one such tourney, one Mr. Das got hit on his mouth. As he was carried off the ground, one of the players came up to him to hand him over his two teeth that were lying on the pitch. That certainly was a funny and embarrassing moment.

During his stay at Cambridge, Arindam played in the East Anglian Premier Cricket League. He got the opportunity to play with or against some professional cricketers, the likes of Stuart Williams, Matthew Sinclair, Grant Flower, Steve Stubbing, Jason Marquette and Devon Malcolm among others. "It gave me the chance to see professional sports from close quarters. The frustration of not having scored for 2-3 matches is huge - much like it is for us when a research paper isn't accepted", reveals Arindam.

In a match against the Norwich CC, Arindam faced giant fast bowler Jason Marquette who used to be Adam Gilchrist's team-mate. He bowled at 85 mph and from the batsman's perspective, his arm went above the sight screen at the point of releasing the ball. Arindam scored 120 in that match and the following day all newspapers in Cambridge carried descriptive encomiums of the remarkable innings.

In another memorable encounter, Arindam hooked England fast bowler Devon Malcolm for a boundary off the first ball of a match. He went on to score 40 odd runs and Cambridge won. After the match, Arindam walked up to Devon to get his autograph. Devon said, "The first ball changed the match". That was a lesson learnt. "Sometimes it could be one moment that could win you a match. Do your thing. The opponent doesn't matter", Arindam advised.

The stories were many, but we were running out of time. The chat concluded with a couple of beefy quotes. When asked for a message to all IIScians, Arindam pleads "Do something other than your research - be it sports, cultural, reading or anything that interests you. It will help your research has well!” As far as advice for the current IISc cricket team is concerned, he recommends "Everyone in the team should just make themselves available. If we are at full strength, we'll certainly go a long way in this year's Metro Shield. And as I've already emphasized, don't worry about the opposition. Just play your game."


  1. Looking at his workload it always amazed me that how he managed to get time for playing a 50 over match. Must say its really admirable.I wish it will inspire some more beautiful minds in IISc!
    Its good to be a part of such team and i hope you guys are all njoying that. Win the league this time.all the best.
    and lalit good job! why dont you make your blog a part of gymkhana website? its the most active blog i think..

  2. cooolll lallu boiiii... "I used to be far more aggressive earlier" ha haaa.... cant stop laughing. even now i feel only the 1st ball he plays a defensive stroke... hi hii n a " film star like" photo

  3. @ Santonu: Yes, that's why I thought he'd be the right person to interview. Thanks for the wishes and compliments. Regarding making the blog a part of the gymkhana website, I can only say that it already carries a link to this blog here: http://www.iisc.ernet.in/iiscgym/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=57&Itemid=28

  4. @ ASR: Yeah, that was a surprising quote! And I picked up that photo from his homepage: http://www.physics.iisc.ernet.in/~arindam/Profile_AG.htm

  5. LOL... Used to be far more aggressive.... hahahaha Hats of to the Sachin Tendulkar of IISc... 30 centuries!!! :)
    Hope he improves upon that figure by the end of this season... :)

  6. @ Teju: I was looking for the 'like' button for your comment ;-)