Friday, October 29, 2004

"Toe Crushers" - The Weekly Sports Quiz - Answers for Quiz 1

1. Which tennis player is nicknamed "Pim Pim"? Joachim Johansson 2. Which former Danish Davis Cupper's son is a part of a legendary Heavy Metal band?* Lars Ulrich - son of Torben Ulrich 3. In his book "Shaq Talks Back" whom does Shaquille O' Neal refer to as "Black Jesus"? Michael Jordan 4. Mast Wilander won 3 grand slams in 1988 (Roger Federer repeated that this year). But he lost in the Australian Open the subsequent year in the early rounds. Who was the person to beat him? Ramesh Krishnan 5. Which Tennis Player (male/female) has the highest winning percentage in the open era?* Chris Evert 6. Anna Kournikova made a guest appearance in which outrageous comedy by the Farrelly brothers? Me, Myself and Irene 7. Which NBA player was suspended for the rest of the 1997 season after he choked his coach PJ Carlesimo during practice while playing for the "Golden State Warriors"? (Later he deemed the punishment too harsh. "I wasn't choking P.J. that hard, I mean, he could breathe.")? Latrell Sprewell 8. Which recent Kurt Russel movie was inspired by USA's win over highly fancied USSR at the 1980 winter olympics at Lake Placid? Miracle 9. Connect actress Jennifer Connelly to Wimbledon! Paul Bettany 10. There have been only two instances of an NBA player drafted out of high school going on to become MVP of the regular season. Moses Malone is one. Who is the other? Kevin Garnett

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Curse, 1919-2004

An Obituary Not everyone could claim to have been so loved and yet so hated in their lifetime. Not many could inspire such raw emotion, the depths of which could never be measured, leaving millions to wonder as if destiny was always dealing them a cruel hand. Rational people tried to suggest it was all an illusion, that he was a myth, just a figment of their imagination! New England knew better. They had seen him in action, alive and well, bristling with malevolent intent which manifested itself time and time again throughout their tortuous history. 1946, 1967, 1975, 1978, 1986, 2003...There could not be redemption with this evil presence. In the end, it was a painless, quick demise that disappointed some in New England who thirsted for revenge. But mostly, it was relief all around - he had been broken in spirit days before just as he was about to see his designs played out in a perfect manner, these were just the last rites. So then to the end of a tyrant...But you couldn't help but think, life will never be the same without him. - NK

Monday, October 25, 2004

Back from the Dead

Even as the Boston Red Sox go 2-0 up in the World Series against the St Louis Cardinals despite four errors in each of the games, my mind keeps going back to the ALCS against the Yankees. So much so that I seem to have lost interest in the World Series. Suddenly, it's as if the curse has been broken - far from it. But somehow, the magnitude of that win just seems to have injected a huge shot of complacency in Red Sox fans - hey, I'm just a convert after all, from a land where cricket is king - think of the 'real' Sox fans! Speaking of cricket and comebacks, the thing that immediately spring to mind is the monumental Indian victory over Australia in 2001 against all odds - a series that could only be described as epic. It would be interesting to look at similar acts of resurrection - in cricket and elsewhere. Jimmy Connors' win over Mikael Pernfors at Wimbledon in 1986; Steve Waugh almost single-handedly taking on South Africa at Headingley in the 1999 World Cup; the Botham test at the same venue in 1981; India's improbable run chase at Lord's in 2002 where two young men challenged destiny; Goran Ivanisevic's fairy tale run at Wimbledon in 2001, when he was all but done. Back-from-the-dead acts that inspire a generation - or two. For all the awe that a sublime act of genius inspires, it is when the utter underdog, the absolute no-hoper, defies all punditry and conquers self-doubt to come up trumps that sport is at its absolute best. - NK

Friday, October 22, 2004

Who's your Daddy now?

As Pedro Martinez took the mound in the seventh innings of the decisive game seven of the ALCS, New York Yankee fans were desperately hopeful that somehow, the Red Sox would contrive to throw their 7 run advantage and perpetuate the myth of the curse (although, technically the curse has still not been exorcised - not yet with the World Series still to be played). Terry Francona's descision to put Pedro on in place of Derek Lowe who redeemed himself with six superb innings, was, perhaps the ghost of the Babe playing its dirty little tricks on the Sox. It was not to be. How the tables turned from game 3 to game 7 is now part of baseball and sport folklore. At every step of the way from game 4 onwards, Boston found a man for each moment - David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Mark Bellhorn, Derek Low and Johnny Damon all doing the star turn when it was needed most. But the biggest heroes were probably the bullpen of Keith Foulke, Alan Embree, Mike Myers, Mike Timlin. Even Tim Wakefield and Bronson Arroyo were pressed into relief pitching and did more than what was asked of them. As for NY, they're probably still in a trance - but they can take heart from the fact that it took the greatest come back in baseball to beat them. - NK

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A Question of Sport

Perhaps it did not surprise many that recently, Barry Bonds' former personal trainer Greg Anderson allegedly implicated the San Francisco Giants slugger in the BALCO drugs scandal that has become synonymous with sport's struggle against performance enhancing doping. But this little battle - for it is just that in the larger war - is far from over, with denials being quickly issued from both sides. To be fair to Bonds, nothing has been proven yet and his performance this year under intense scrutiny has silenced his critics, if only temporarily. Major League Baseball has not had a strong anti-doping policy and stars like Mark McGwire have admitted to steroid usage. The premature death of former NL MVP Ken Caminiti once again brought the issue into focus once again, although drugs of another kind apparently had a bigger role to play in Caminiti's case. It is worth noting however, that he admitted to taking steroids in his MVP year. The BALCO case, involving as it does a number of high profile athletes from various sports - not least track star Marion Jones and her fiance, the men's 100m world record holder Tim Montgomery, has seen the USADA take the bull by the horns, albeit with prodding and admonition from the World Anti-Doping Agency and it's head Dick Pound. Hopefully, the culprits would be identified and dealt with. The larger question is, though - will sport ever win this war? Stupid question? - NK

Another ALCS, another game 7

The Red Sox did what no other team had ever done in postseason history - come back from 0-3 down to force a game 7. It was the pitching that did the job, led by the league's winningest pitcher of the season. Coming into the LCS, it was the pitching staff that was supposed to give the Red Sox a slight edge over the Yankees. Three games into the series, it was a nightmare. Then, two successive nights, the Boston bullpen somehow pulled through, doing a spectacular job especially in game 5. Tonight, they did it again - but this time they had seven solid innings from Curt Schilling to thank, who seemed to be completely oblivious of his injury even as he was sporting specially designed shoes, such was his control. If Schilling solidified his reputation, Mark Bellhorn was an unlikely hero for Boston, on a night when the Big Papi was hitless. The crowd at the Yankee stadium was less than dignified for such a storied franchise, but given the magnitude of the rivalry and the game, it was understandable. It was great to see the umpires get together twice and make the right calls on both occasions, in the process overruling the initial calls. Something that cricket could take a cue from - what should be so sacrosanct about taking a ruling back? After all, getting it right is the most important thing. Anyways, it's on to game 7 - and may the best team win (on a personal note, may Boston be the better team). - NK

Monday, October 18, 2004


That was the predominant noise at Chepauk and elsewhere that fans felt coming crashing down to earth, after what promised to be a thriller of the Jeffrey Archer scale. The weather gods decided to play their own little game to deny either side a victory push. Each side surely believed they could win this thing on the last day, and with the pitch apparently easing out, India perhaps had the edge. Perhaps. The last time they chased a fourth innings total for a win against the Aussies in 2001, it was edge of the seat stuff as only some plucky late order batting by Samir Dighe and Harbhajan Singh saved the day and the series. And they were only chasing 160-odd. Anyhow, a golden opporunity to level the series was taken away. The nearest parallel would be Melbourne 1985 where India were cantering to victory and were stopped only by rain, almost cruelly. We're still waiting for a series win Down Under. It had been quite a build up thus far, with all those twists and turns. Ironically, the final twist was to be a rain marred test in Chennai - what were the odds on that, even in mid October? All those heroic performances did not mean anything in the end, and that must have been quite a let down for those who rose to the occasion. - NK

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Curse of the Bambino

Seventh and deciding game of the American League Chamionship series, 2003. The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox are engaged in an epic battle in the Bronx. The scores are tied in the 11th innings. Aaron Boone, the Yankees' third baseman, swings at the very first pitch from veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield...and it's high and handsome over the left field for a home run! The Red Sox go down to the Yankees again...the curse continues to haunt them. Or so some people would like to think. Anyway, for the uninitiated, the curse we're talking about is the Curse of the Bambino - or George Herman Ruth, aka the Babe. Beantown folks believe that at the root of all their baseball miseries is the blunder of epic proportions, one of the worst in sports history - to trade Babe Ruth to the Yankees. That was in 1920 - after the Sox had won the World Series in 1918. That was the last time they ever won it. The Yankees have gone on to win 26 times since, in the process inflicting many painful defeats on their AL rivals. Even when the Yankees did not beat them, Red Sox somehow found a way to self destruct, most notably when Bill Buckner let one through his legs. Will this time be any different? - NK

Monday, October 11, 2004

Men in white

Picture this... December 7th 2003: Sachin Tendulkar gets a leg-before decision in the Brisbane test which can be aptly described as 'bizarre'. Dizzy Gillespie could'nt believe his luck - he had got the best batsman in the world with what was visibly a reactionary appeal! January 6th, 2004: This could easily be considered one of the most disgraceful displays by an umpire on the cricket field. With thousands of spectators (besides the unforgiving Television cameras) at the Sydney Cricket Ground watching, the umpire wags his finger and rudely admonishes Parthiv Patel - a greenhorn who is on his first overseas tour - for excessive appealing. January 8th 2004: In the mandatory captains report to the ICC after the Sydney test, Sourav Ganguly rates this umpire as "very poor" for both his conduct on the cricket field and his "decisions". Unsuccessful leg-before appeals against Justin Langer and Damien Martyn on the final day were also cited besides the shocking incident involving Patel. January 22rd 2004: This one takes the cake. In another shocking display of imprudence, Rahul Dravid is taunted by the umpire - who rolls his fingers over the ball, looking at Dravid, as he walks in to bat. For the record, Dravid had been fined 50 per cent of his match fees by match referee Clive Lloyd for changing the condition of the ball during an earlier game against Zimbabwe at the Gabba. When the Indians lodge a complaint, the match referee "promises" to look into it! If you are still wondering what this collage of incididents is all about - let me introduce you to the legend of "slow death". Steve Bucknor, who is going on 92 (tests umpired, not age thankfully!) is the man who connects all the afore-mentioned incidents. Without going into hysteria and citing causes like racism, bias and the like, these can still be put down to the most damning reason - incapability. Bucknor may have been one of the best umpires around once, but he is aging. He is 60 for god's sake! That's not the best age for watching a cricket ball thudding into a pad at 100 miles per hr. My father - who, by the way, is not myopic - will tell you that! In Harsha Bhogle's words (which also fills you in on another Bucknor gaffe) : "And I’m afraid the time has come for Steve Bucknor to look inward. When he made his reputation, he was a quiet, dignified man, someone whose presence on the field you felt reassured by. Increasingly he has grown intrusive and bossy and while he got two wrong as well, his gesture to Zaheer Khan when he ran onto the pitch on his follow through was offensive. Good umpires are firm and friendly but if you saw Bucknor you would have thought Zaheer had pinched his wallet. A judge cannot have the demeanour of a lawyer." What is more baffling is the ICC's decision to stick to Bucknor when it comes to a series involving the Indian team. This, even as there's obviously no love lost between the two parties. Common sense says that they would be better off without one another! During the Pakistan Series, Amit Varma, managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India, wrote: "It is scandolous that despite the Indian team's complaints about him, based on an entire series and not a handful of stray understandable mistakes, the ICC has taken no action on this matter. John Wright, India's coach, reportedly complained to the match referee yesterday about the poor umpiring, and Bucknor gave India more reason for anguish today. After not upholding a number of good appeals during Pakistan's innings, he gave Aakash Chopra out lbw, after Chopra had inside-edged the ball. Given that Rahul Dravid was out immediately afterwards, run out without facing a ball, Bucknor's mistake had a huge impact on the game. It is unfair to Bucknor that his legacy as an umpire should be tarnished by his performance when he is clearly past the peak of his powers, and it is unfair on the players as well." All said and done, I would'nt yet be a Dilip Sardesai and say that "Bucknor is Useless"! I wound'nt yet be a Wasim Akram and ask "What's wrong with Steve Bucknor"? But if these incidents pile up and I start to think otherwise - you should'nt blame me. After all I am - like Mr. Bucknor - very very human! - BB

Saturday, October 09, 2004

The princess and the showgirl

For one day, a doting mom returned to what she did - and did best - not many years back. Also back was her erstwhile rival - a Latin American glamour girl who, perhaps, broke more hearts than serves. The only aberration in this eighties revisit was the ocassion. There was no Grand Slam for the taking. This was a benefit match in Berlin for an organization named "Children for tomorrow". Once on court, however, "Fraulein forehand" turned it on - this once, for old times sake! Using her familiar - and much feared - weapon to devastating effect, she overwhelmed the "pearl of the pampas" 6-1, 7-5. As they confided later, both prepared well for the match, the former even training with her husband's coach Daren Cahill! The Fraulein was very much the center of attention. The court on which she beat Navratilova in The German open final in 1986 and won 8 more titles, was named after her. And like old times, the Argentine played the perfect foil! - BB

B'lore Test : First Round to the Aussies (Day 4)

It's almost all over the first test after another collapse in the second innings. Sehwag got a rough decision, Chopra failed again, Ganguly was run out (in a test match?). And then, for the second time in the game, Shane Warne got Laxman! How the hunted has become the hunter...the win now looks a formality, and only weather can decide otherwise. Of course, there's still a long way to go in the series. There will now be the same old story about how India cannot win without Tendulkar, repeated ad nauseum. Obviously, it was a big blow for the team, but if the team does not believe they can win without him, they're in trouble. They pulled off a win in Adelaide in the last Aussie summer with an attack that was well below full strength and without much contribution from the master. On the plus side, the Turbanator is back. Let's hope he's back for good. Yours Truly...

AL Division Series: Familiar Story for Twins (so far)

For the second year in a row, the Minnesota Twins beat the Yankees in the Bronx and then fell behind 1-2. The difference this year was that they had game 2 in the bag...well, almost. Ron Gardenhire's decision to persist with Joe Nathan for that fateful 12th innings may well have ended the Twins' chances of advancing to the ALCS. Of course, there's no telling how the 12th innings would have gone anyway what with A-Rod, Jeter and Sheffield due up. In any case, that was the turning point. But let's hope the Twins can pull one back at the Metrodome and set up a game 5 at the Bronx - the pressure should then be on the Yankees because they would be expected to win! On the other hand, the Red Sox may really break the curse this year, the way they've gone about their business since August. Of course, they're likely to once again run into the Yankees, but on the surface that's what the Red Sox want (at least the fans do!).

Friday, October 08, 2004

India in a precarious situation - B'lore Test

Well, Parthiv Patel and Irfan Pathan did their best on Day 3, but it wasn't quite enough to offset the lame top order performance (even though Pathan was decidedly unlucky). The Aussies are in a really commanding position now and it is diffcult to see India saving it from here. Oh yes, I said that - I know we have Dravid and Laxman plus Sehwag and Sourav, but can we really have another miracle of Kolkata 2001 proportions? At least to save the game if not to win it! As things stand, the Aussies need to put on another 150-200 runs on the board to be safe and they need to get that quickly to have enough time to bowl India out. The chances of a draw, therefore may not be as remote as they seem on the surface, especially if Australia struggle to score quickly. All in all though, India are in a real corner! Yours truly...