Monday, January 31, 2005

Quiz - 3

1. He is the only golfer to win the grand slam (in 1930). His autobiography, is titled "Golf is My Game". Who is the legendary golfer? 2. "Golf Digest", the American magazine uses a product called "Hulcher" for what purpouses? 3. In the early eighties, who were referred to as "Bear Apparents"? 4. Give the golfing terms for: a.) A condition that involves a tremor, freezing or involuntary jerking of the hands when attempting golf shots, particularly short putts. b.)A severe mishit in which the golf ball is struck by the hosel of the club. 5. This PGA statistical category refers to a birdie being scored right after a bogey. What is the Stats category known as? 6. Who, as a junior won all 33 of the tournaments he entered in a year? 7. Whose various nicknames (other than the most famous one) were Blob-O, Whaleman and Fatboy? 8. Which Golfer, perhaps because of his mixed descent, referred to himself as "Calbanasian"? 9. Connect the following: Two and One, Five and Three, Ten and Eight, Dormie. 10. Which are the two most common grips in golf? 11. When Lee Eldren qualified to get an invitation to the Augusta Masters, what first did he achieve? 12. Which legendary boxer played at the 1952 Phoenix open tournament organized by the PGA?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

State of the Union

If things weren't so outrageous, they would be downright hilarious, almost straight out of the National Lampoon series of slapsticks. Of course, I am referring to the state of the various "Sports Bodies" in the country. The BCCI and the IHF, being the two most important of these bodies, natually lead the way. We don't have Chevy Chase or Judge Reinhold, but no worries, mate. We got Dalmiya, Gill, Mahendra, Muthaiah (he's still hanging in there somewhere), Rungta et al who can do more damage. Throw in a few fringe characters like Azharuddin, Gerhard Rach and Batra; corporate 'khandaans' like Zee, ESPN and Doordarshan. You have a complete package. We're talking some serious fun stuff here. Name calling, court cases, elections and bloody palace coups. And sports to top it all off! Okay, okay...I guess it's not that interesting. In fact it is utterly frustrating. But hey, like they say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em...which in this case would be to see the funnier side. You see, it's an existential comedy, so the plots are not readily obvious. So play along, and somewhere down the line, you'll get it, even as the central cast continue to lose it (that's the whole point). We'll leave the criticism to passionate (like us) but serious (very unlike us) people like Harsha Bhogle on ESPN-Star. Oh by the way, Jason Dasey has a nice piece on an NFL player who does not quite fit the mould and has a global outlook. - NK

Friday, January 28, 2005

Tennis Anyone?

There was a time when the status of the Australian Open as a Grand Slam event was in serious doubt. It was played in a continent that seemed far away from Europe and America and was played on grass, the same as Wimbledon and in those days, the US Open. Most of the top players began shunning the event – some of the names on the winners’ roll in the late seventies and early eighties hardly ring a bell. Then the event reinvented itself. The venue shifted to Flinders Park (now Melbourne Park), the surface changed to a more universally appealing rebound ace and the prize money was increased to lure the top stars. Massive improvements in the aviation sector and technological changes over the years helped as well. Now the Australian Open is firmly established as the first major on the calendar. No one complains these days about having to make the long trip Down Under. Andre Agassi has gone on record saying it is a regret that he chose to skip it for about eight or nine seasons – one can see why, given his phenomenal record here. In contrast to the pretty low profile tennis enjoys in the US, here in Australia, and particularly in Melbourne, the Australian Open is ubiquitous. There are promos everywhere, everyone is talking about it at the office, and the newspapers and television are full of it. The average fan is refreshingly knowledgeable. On my first day here, the cab driver said he thought Federer wasn’t going to win this one – “Too much talk about him, mate”. I think he picked Hewitt and Safin, if I remember correctly. They are playing the final this Sunday. - NK

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Safin Rises to the Challenge, Federer IS Human

Before the Australian Open began, the one question that was on everyone's mind was, who could beat Roger Federer? Tennis had not seen dominance of the kind enjoyed by Federer since twenty years ago when John McEnroe was at the peak of his genius. Not when Pete Sampras was chasing down Roy Emerson's record of thirteen slams with ruthless efficiency, not when a rejuvenated Andre Agassi challenged Sampras and took on the mantle of the best player in the world; not even when Mats Wilander won three slams in a year, the last before Federer to achieve that. On the top of the very short list of names that cropped up was Marat Safin. He had the game to beat anyone - everyone knew that. May be Agassi, although Federer had gotten the better of him the last few occasions. May be Hewitt or Roddick or Nalbandian, on a bad day for Federer. No one else even had a prayer. But could any of them actually pull it off at this tournament? Some of the streaks that Federer was running were 'ridiculous', as Jim Courier put it. Courier should know. Federer had not lost since the Olympics, when he somehow lost to Tomas Berdych (who?); he had not lost to a top ten player since late in October of 2003 (!) and had won the last 11 finals he had contested. When Agassi survived a fearsome display (not just of the serving kind, believe me) from Joachim Johansson, he was a contender. By the time he had played his quarter-final against Federer, he was an aging former champion. Or so it seemed. Agassi made Johansson and Taylor Dent look a step slower than him, in his 20th season on tour, when it mattered. True, Agassi did not quite elevate his game to the levels that he was capable of, but then Federer pretty much shut him out of the game, with an awesome all-round display, including a Sampras-ian serving performance. It is in this context that Safin's conquering of the indisputable champion of the tennis world has to be seen. Safin seems to have a knack of rising to the occasion on such big occasions. Last year he ended Agassi's streak at Melbourne Park. It is absolutely unfathomable how he lost the final three years ago to Thomas Johansson. Safin has surely not forgotten that let down, and has another chance to redeem himself. As for the game itself, well it was a classic that will be in the memory of those who were fortunate to witness it for some time to come. There was everything in the game, superb groundstrokes from both and glimpses of genius from Federer, bold attacking play from Safin to take the match by the scruff. And of course all the drama in the seesaw fourth and fifth sets. Federer was not at his best, but not well below his best either. In any case, Safin was the better player on the day. He should be the odds-on favourite for the summit clash - he has to make this one count. - NK

A Throwback...

It was the summer of 1992. In what was destined to be his last dance, John McEnroe had reached the semifinals of Wimbledon and was two steps away from what would have been a fairytale championship. For huge McEnroe fans, like me, it was the day of reckoning. Between Johnny Mac and the King George Cup stood a brash young man of 21, who along with his Vegas disposition,brought a game unconventional to the grasscourts of Wimbledon, but deadly anyhow. It would be fair to say that Agassi destroyed McEnroe in that contest and by the end of it all, McEnroe looked an old man. For the record, Agassi went on to win the final and claim his first major. 12 years and 8 grand slams later, Agassi is now the elder statesman of tennis although, in no way,a spent force.But his face off with Roger Federer in the Australian open quarter finals,was definitely a throwback on that day of June 1992. For huge Agassi fans like me, it was another day of reckoning. Agassi was up against a 22 year Swiss, who is taking tennis to sublime levels, not seen since John McEnroe started dating Tatum O'Neal. It would again be fair enough to say that Federer destroyed Agassi - as ruthlessly as Agassi had McEnroe - in this, thier latest encounter and could go on to take his 3rd major in a row. Of course there are fallacies in this analogy. At 34, Agassi is one of the fittest men on the tour -perhaps fitter than McEnroe ever was (not that Johnny Mac needed it much!). He is still on top of his game and is arguably one of the two men - the other being Safin - who can pose any kind of threat to Federer's 'A' game. But it was Deja vu, all the same! BBS

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Australian Open Diary - Sania makes a splash

Many of my friends who knew I was in Melbourne and was watching a few matches at the venue all wanted to know one thing: had I seen Sania Mirza playing? Had I met her? I regret to say the answer to both those questions is a no. A combination of factors conspired, including my work hours (I have a job where I’m supposed to work, once in a while). I only came to know about Sania’s match against Serena the previous evening and desperately wanted to support her, even as I was aware of the impending fate. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not among those who don’t believe in upsets, but hey, we were talking a miracle here. In the end, Sania (I’m already on first name terms with her!) put up a worthy challenge and caught the attention of more than a few people, not least in India. Her famous opponent was also impressed, not withstanding some naïve comments from Sania about all the pressure being on the former number one. But at least it showed the girl has some spunk to go with talent, and that is a good sign. Quite frequently, there is talk about lack of support and encouragement for female athletes or aspirants in India, especially at the grassroots level. Mirza is no doubt fortunate to have a family that supports her as well as they do; but it also shows that if there is enough perseverance to pursue their dreams, there is no reason why they cannot come up. After all, we have had women carry our flag so many times in track and field sports at the highest levels. And after all, barriers are meant to be broken down. Go Sania! - NK

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Australian Open Diary – Day Two, Jan 18, 2005

It’s almost impossible to be able look at the Arena and the outside courts all lit up from your hotel room and resist the temptation. So I decided to surrender (surprise, surprise!!) and venture out to the venue. The local boy Lleyton Hewitt, one of the strong contenders, was up against the finalist from a few years ago, Frenchman Arnaud Clement at the Rod Laver Arena in the last match of the night. Clement hasn’t really done much since that final appearance, although to be fair, he hasn’t fallen as badly as another surprise Australian Open finalist, Rainer Schuttler, who was ranked sixth in the world not long ago. Clement didn’t do much wrong, but then that wasn’t nearly good enough against Hewitt, who was absolutely relentless. Being my first ATP tour action in flesh and blood, it was quite an education to watch these guys trade groundstrokes of great power and accuracy. In the end, Hewitt just had too much firepower for the Frenchman and won easily in three. PS: Schuttler was mauled by Agassi. No surprise there.

Australian Open Diary – A World of Difference

What a difference a day – or two – makes. Last Saturday, I watched the Falcons rout the Rams and the Jets squander opportunities their biggest game in a few years. And then we had Indy and New England going against each other in the most anticipated match up of the season…so on and so forth. Three flights (totaling about 23 hours) later, here I was in Melbourne on Tuesday, Jan 18, where the Australian Open was just a day old. The first thing I did on checking into my room was take about a thousand pictures of the MCG and the Rod Laver Arena, the MCG being right opposite the hotel and Rod Laver Arena adjacent to it. This was a dream come true. I have always wanted to watch Grand Slam tennis, but somehow come US Open time, my plans never quite worked out. This time, official business forced me to travel Down Under, not that I have any complaints.

Friday, January 21, 2005


First off, it comes as a major surprise that this blog was nominated for Best Sports Indiblog of the year in the India Weblog awards and has actually managed to garner some votes, considering we are up against Amit Verma’s (of Wisden Cricinfo) 23 Yards. We express our gratitude to those who deemed this blog worthy of this honour. Needless to say, this will inspire us to work harder to make The Blockhole better. In the recent past, pressures of the day job have made it difficult to focus on this, but we’ll definitely be more motivated and when that is the case, finding time should not be all that tough...

End of the Wild run

After an unprecedented divisional championship weekend when three wild card teams triumphed- incredibly all on the road- to repeat a cliché, sanity was restored to the NFL playoff proceedings. The New York Jets nearly upended the top seeded Steelers and most of the pundits, but in the end Doug Brien’s inability to put away field goals cost them the game, a place in the AFC Championship and of course, the Superbowl pursuit. Boomer Esiason said he thought the Jets were best placed to upset the seedings, even though a majority of commentators favoured the Vikings to keep the Eagles out of the NFC title game. Ultimately the Steelers prevailed – but they know they had tons of good fortune to thank and will no longer be the runaway favourites against the New England Patriots. Speaking of the Patriots, what is it about Manning and the Colts that bring out the best out of the Pats? True, this game was more about the Pats’ pride and self-belief than it was about the powerful Indy offense. The Colts were generally considered the favourites for this game, despite Manning’s miserable record at Foxboro. Instead, another nightmare endured. But even those who thought New England were better may have never imagined the scale of the disaster! Not a single touchdown pass for an offense that had the record setting Manning, three wide receivers who each had more than one thousand yards and an outstanding back in Edgerrin James. For those who hoped that this would be Manning’s vindication and his crowning glory, it is a bitter pill to swallow. Indy has to do it all over again next year and come back even harder – that is the only way. After all, John Elway had to wait 14 seasons. The Rams and Vikings were just beaten by better teams, although in the Rams’ case, words like crushed, thumped, walloped etc. would fit better. The Falcons’ DVD (Dunn, Vick and Duckett) pounded the Rams’ defense all day and in the end the Rams offense had to do too much to even keep within striking distance. The Falcons’ defense looked just as mean as they have all season, with Patrick Kerney outstanding. Allan Rossum had a record setting night in the special teams, which have been stellar. The Vikings continued to make mistakes as they have all season and against this Eagles defense there simply was no way back. Now Donovan McNabb gets another shot at taking them to Superbowl, and nothing less would suffice for the Eagles fans, even without Terrell Owens.

Friday, January 14, 2005

A New Era?

The Premier Hockey League has played its first game of the season. The Hyderabad Sultans edged out the favoured Sher-e-Jallandhar 1-0 in the opening game. Next up are the Maratha Warriors against the Chennai Veerans. And then there are the Bangalore Hi-Fliers to come. Sohail Abbas and Waseem Ahmed will play for the Sultans, and Juan Escarre, the Spanish veteran, is turning out for the Veerans. Wow...have I been dreaming? Apparently not. The IHF, in collaboration with ESPN-Star and its own marketing partner, Lesiure Sports Management (LSM), have launched with a certain amount of style India's first professional hockey league. There are teams with exotic names, colourful attire and young blokes as captains, something that was desperately needed in the country's sporting landscape. There are even the pom-pom girls! The traditionalists will scoff at the marketing gimmicks as will (even) some of the players involved. But hey, if all of that manages to get a few butts on the seats in the Gachibowli stadium, it's all worth it. For this is a sport that currently needs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, in the face of the onslaught from cricket, other forms of entertainment and the continued under performance of the national team! Dreaming Hockey Fan: Ah...all's well. La la la...

DHF: (whistling cheerfully...) Cynic: (Distant voice shouting) Hey hold on...! DHF: Grrr....these cynics! Never ones to let a good thing going! Cynic: Sorry to throw in a spanner in your party, sir, but it's not all hunky-dory. Let me explain.

You see this is a league that is not really a league. It comprises of teams that have been artificially created, a motely crew, one might say. So are all pro teams, aren't they? Not quite. Usually, there is a club that has an owner or patron, a business model (even if it is not on PowerPoint presentations) and a fan base. I won't give you the cliched, oft-cited examples of NBA or EPL clubs. Look closer home, and you will find that these hold true for own NFL (albeit a poor distant cousin of the more famous NFL) teams. The problem is not new or unique to hockey - no sport in India has ever had a professional league with a fan base and an ownership that gives a damn about the team - except for football (soccer, to be clear). Even given our cricket crazy populace, no Ranji team has had any real following in the state or region that it is attached to. And only Mumbai can claim to have some sort of history, tradition and pride. Otherwise, it is just an amateur show with a place in the national team being the only incentive. All of the blame lies with the administrators, who are trapped in the bronze ages, except of course, when it comes to money. That's not the only issue. The players in the league don't earn their livelihoods from the league, given that it lasts only a month! The other scary thing is that this is the IHF's baby...this is the IHF's show. Passionate followers of Indian hockey will have very little to say about the IHF that is complimentary. Mr. K P S Gill has managed to squander every last ounce of goodwill that he enjoyed when he took over the reigns. Despite all that, however, one wishes the league all the success. Hopefully, the paying fans (God knows there aren't many for hockey) will get their money's worth. Even if I'm not convinced this is the answer to Indian hockey's problems, I pray that it is. And I promise not to be a party pooper.... ....till end of the season. - NK

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Wolves in deep funk

Having started out as one of the preseason favourites for the NBA Championship, no less, the Minnesota Timberwolves are no looking at having to dig deep just to make the playoffs. And they can't take that for granted either, given that the rapidly improving Grizzlies and the currently underachieving Rockets are snapping at their heels. Last night's game against the Lakers typified the problems that the Wolves have had recently, when they let a 16-point lead slip away. Playing with an almost unchanged roster from last years' conference finals, the Wolves failed to beat the struggling Lakers at Target Center - one would have expected them to win the season series pretty handily given the Lakers' own problems. Instead, they managed to lose for the eigth time in the last 10 games, a period in which they have been giving up more than 101 points per game and shooting 30% from outside the perimeter. Not something one would expect from a championship contending team. The most worrying aspect is the seeming inability to defend the pick and roll or at the perimeter and opposition stats reflect that. The defensive problems seem to be only one of the various issues that the Wolves have to contend with. There is discontent brewing over within the team over the composition of the staring line up as well as contracts, in particular concerning Wally Szczerbiak, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell. Cassell and Sprewell helped Minnesota get over the playoff first round hump last year on their seventh attempt and brought their experience and savvy to a team much in need. One would like to think that as experienced as they are, these two are professional enough to go out and do their best despite the contract issues. But the team chemistry and lack of intensity right now suggest otherwise, although to be fair Sprewell has been dogged by injury and Cassell seems to getting back to his best recently. Szczerbiak's problems on the defensive side are well documented, but he's been the second most consistent player on the team for a while and hopefully all the talk about Isiah Thomas luring him away to New York are just rumours. In the midst of the turmoil around him, Kevin Garnett has been having another MVP type season, but given Minnesota's struggles, an encore looks unlikely. - NK