Tuesday, December 28, 2004

England 2K

Not withstanding India's robust performances Down Under and the conquest of Pakistan at the start of the year, the international cricket story of the year has to be the re-emergence of England as a force to reckon with, at least in the longer version of the game. Having showed signs of promise early in the new millennium, they did not quite escalate their game to the levels that the Barmy Army may have hoped for until this year. They summarily dispatched a depleted New Zealand side and expectedly made short work of hapless Zimbabwe, but their walloping of the West Indies, admittedly one of the weaker sides around, was stunning. This was a West Indies that was showing some signs of revival, at least on the batting front. To win seven out of eight tests against them surpassed all expectations anyone may have had, including Vaughan and his men. England have always been a hard working and professional side, but Nasser Hussain was instrumental in instilling a toughness and competitive edge that was missing since the Botham, Gatting, Gower and co era, when there was talent aplenty. That he never won any popularity contests obvious didn't really bother 'Bunny' much. That attitude could come in handy when they take on the all conquering Aussies in next summer's Ashes, a series that is already being hyped up. England are well aware of what they would be dealing with, and must be firmly grounded about the prospects. The Aussies, though, will need to watch out, for they would be playing worthy opponents. Ironically though, the English media tried their desperate best to ensure that the Zimbabwe issue was the top story. Of course, they never had qualms about their cricket team touring Pakistan, a known (?) sponsor of terrorism. But that is a whole another issue, for a whole another forum. - NK

Monday, December 27, 2004

Magnificent Manning

NFL action this past weekend was devoid of any great excitement - particularly as my team, the Vikings, blew their chance of winning the NFC North and Michael Vick's Falcons looked a pale shadow with Vick himself sitting out. However, the one thing that has seemed inevitable over the last few weeks finally happened - Dan Marino's 48 is now only second on the all-time list for a single season touchdown pass record. Since about midway through the season, Peyton Manning has been on pace to beat the record. But it is one thing to be hot for a while and quite another to sustain that kind of form all season. Daunte Culpepper was on pace for 56 in the early stages of the season (not that he's done too badly for himself). In the process, Manning and the Colts also rallied to overcome a strong challenge from the rejuvenated Chargers who at one point threatened to ruin Manning's party. The Colts' explosive offense made up for their well publicized defensive problems and as the season has gone on, the defense has got better. Winning does make a lot of difference. The Colts certainly have all the offensive weapons to go all the way, but they'll have to get through at least one of the two strongest teams, the Steelers and the Patriots. - NK

A New Low

It seems small-minded to be talking about a game of cricket when an entire sub-continent is mourning a tragedy of epic proportions, and I guess the tragedy has helped divert the focus to the infinitely more important things in life. However, looking back at the loss at the hands of Bangladesh in the second ODI, one cannot help but wonder, just what is wrong with the Indian team right now? Sourav Ganguly admitted they had reached a new low in an already dismal season, but I suspect that will not really assuage the fans at home. It is in fact a new low in India's international history. The fact that India chose to 'rest' several players for the game adds fuel to the fire and actually may have helped spur Bangladesh into playing their best cricket. Ganguly needs to tread carefully here and has to motivate the team into performing on a regular basis failing which, the knives will be out - not for the first time. - NK

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Vikings continue to disappoint

The Minnesota Vikings had a golden opportunity to put their season back on track by beating the Green Bay Packers and winning the NFC North. A play-off spot is still on the cards, as wide open as the NFC is. But this was a game the Vikings were supposed to win. The Metrodome was supposed to be Brett Favre's bogey, coming in on a 3-9 record. Instead, Green Bay wins the North for the third successive year, and the Vikings are left playing for scraps. In Daunte Culpepper, the Vikings have the second best quaterback in the game right now. For those who keep saying he hasn't won the big games, well...he didn't lose them. The guy has thrown seven TD passes without an INT in the two Packers games this season and the result - Packers won both by a field goal. Minnesota has the best offense in the league, overall. They have one of the two best wide receivers in the game (despite Moss's injury problems this season), they have a deep rotation of running backs as well as wide receivers. Nate Burleson and Marcus Robinson have done a great job, as has tight end Jermaine Wiggins catching the ball. Burleson is also a versatile player who can make plays coming off special teams. Yet, the Vikings cannot realistically hope to achieve great things with their defense. As good as they are (and as good as Favre is), Jeovan Walker and Donald Driver always found space to make catches and gained big yards in the process. Ahman Green didn't have a big running night, but it didn't matter. The offense did all they could in the those two losses and also in the loss to the Colts, which was also lost by single field goal. The defense has to step up now, against Portis and company. Or else...deja vu (all over again!).
- NK

A Tamasha called Indian Hockey

With due respect to our hockey players who, I am sure, have the potential to compete with the best in the world, I have to say things have come to a pretty ridiculous pass. Our performance in the Olympics was nothing short of pathetic, the fourth place finish in the Champions Trophy was bogus and there is utter confusion regarding the team composition as well as the coaching position. Mr. K P S Gill may have been a highly successful police administrator, but the team has continued to underperform during his reign at the IHF. And this has been a team with a lot of promise. It continues to stumble, and I suspect the IHF has a lot to do with that. Gill, Jyothikumaran (who has been with the IHF forever) and their cohorts have not only bungled time after time, they have blatantly influenced selection policy - or so it seems. In fact, until recently when the sports minister, Mr. Sunil Dutt, expressed his dismay over the seemingly arbitrary selectorial decisions, there was no selection panel! Now that is something that's unheard of in any team sport and Mr. Gill still has the cheek to make sarcastic remarks about the mental make up of our cricketers. It is just another illustration of the arrogance of the IHF as an organisation and perhaps, Mr. Gill personally. Of course, accountability is not even on the radar as far as the IHF is concerned. One wonders who Mr. Gill is accountable to. Even now, the seven member panel consists of four ex-players and three "file pushing" bureaucrats, reports BharatiyaHockey.org. I wonder why any selection panel has to comprise of anyone other than (former) players or coaches, that is, people with hockey credentials. I guess these gentlemen (or ladies, as the case may be) bring something to the table - dang...can't think of anything. May be it was the idea of one of these 'honourable' (a word that we are so fond of) people to make Gagan Ajit Singh cool his heels while our team struggled at the Champions Trophy. And this is one of two Indians who was nominated for the World Player of the Year. It is time for Gill, Jyothikumaran et al to go...or to be shown the door. Now, if I only had a gun... ...I would shoot myself watching our team collapse in the final seconds. - NK