Wednesday, March 30, 2005
One of the major differences between the way tennis was played in the 1980's and even the 1990's and now has nothing to do with quality of tennis itself. Yes, racquet technology has improved by leaps and bounds. There are hardly any players without their own personal trainers and players are much more powerful; the ground strokes are well-honed, and monster forehands abound. Now, I'm not on a trip down memory lane here - I'm not going to argue that the game was better then or it is better now. But I wonder why, if the current players are so much fitter than their preceding generation, do we see so many injury time outs, especially in big games. Yes, I'm being pretty cynical about this - I think some players (male and female) are faking it! Witness the final of the Australian Open where Marat Safin took an injury time out and called out the trainer for what appeared to be just a case of nerves causing tightness. The game turned on its head after the break. I was delighted with Safin's victory as he so clearly was the best of all, but the fact remains that he asked for and was granted a timeout for no real reason. Not to be outdone, the women's final had its share of injury drama. Serena Williams did appear to be genuinely bothered, but once again, the match was the never the same once play resumed after the break. I did feel sorry for Lindsay Davenport as she had great momentum and Serena looked desperately short of rhythm. These are not isolated events - one of the more controversial time outs in recent memory was in the French Open of 2003 when Justine Henin-Hardenne beat Serena Williams, almost driving the younger Williams sister to tears. There were plenty of such moments throughout this tournament, which makes one question, how many of these were genuine injuries that needed attention and how many were minor niggles that players once used to take in their stride? Worse still, how many of these were deliberate tactical ploys? One hopes not (many). On the other side of the story, what could/should umpires and tournament referees do in such situations? Currently, there seems to be a lenient view of it all. Is that a tacit acknowledgement on the part of ATP and WTA that players these days play far more than it makes sense to? - NK
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
The Melbourne Park Experience
Almost two months after the Australian Open saw its last action, I still can't get over it! The experience of watching a Grand Slam in flesh and blood was a memorable experience, especially in the first week when I had to walk for barely ten minutes from my hotel to get to the venue. As it turns out, that was not quite my last 'Melbourne Park' experience. This evening, I had an opportunity to actually play a game on court 9, one of the outside courts. Admittedly, the tennis was of a significantly inferior quality than that dished out in the last two weeks of January, but it felt somewhat surreal to be playing in the backdrop of the Rod Laver Arena. I once felt pretty good about playing on the CCFC ground in a corporate six-a-side tournament! I couldn't agree with more with my customer/colleague Steve Wallis, who (co)incidentally beat me handily, when he said this was the advantage of being in a city like Melbourne with such facilities. For a rank amateur like me, the surface itself didn't seem to be much different from the hard courts I've played on in some apartment complexes in the US! But I suspect Lleyton Hewitt would have an entirely different view of the matter! It was also nice to watch youngsters hone their groundstrokes and volleys, which actually looked pretty solid to me, considering their age. But then, catchin' 'em young is often so vital to success. For interested parties, the charge for an outside court is $32 (Aus) per hour in the evenings and is only about $20 per hour during the day. It's definitely worth it for a one-time effort, if only for the bragging rights! For more information, look at the Melbourne and Olympic Parks website. - NK PS: I never made much effort to play tennis at the South Club in Calcutta (or anywhere else in the city for that matter). I'm not sure why.
Compulsive Obsessive Nation
When I read Harsha Bhogle's article on espnstar.com, I felt as if he had read my mind. Before people start interpolating, let me say two things. Firstly, it seems almost unfair that we should talk about this in the context of another blunder by Steve Bucknor that sent Tendulkar packing even as he was scripting a gem. Luckily for the team, there were other heroes. In the process, Bucknor ruined his milestone appearance and also the day, for expectant Tendulkar fans who would will him to his record-breaking hundred if they could. But then, Bucknor is not the only official who has erred, so endemic has bad umpiring been. Secondly, 'the' hundred will eventually come. The brouhaha is unwarranted, even though the expectations are understandable. The master batsman has been in good form and has only been overshadowed by spectacular performances from Sehwag and Dravid batting wise. It seems somewhat silly to be obsessing over individual records, and in a way, we look like willing conspirators in proving Matthew Hayden, who made known his thoughts on the matter, right. Not that the Aussie has a final word on these matters, but there is some truth. Kapil Dev's record-chasing in the early 1990's stands out as an example of pursuit of individual interests over team objectives, but then that was quite noble compared to some of the inglorious chapters of our cricket. I have felt distinctly uncomfortable whenever Sunil Gavaskar, such a titan in our sporting history, advocated the importance of reaching the 'three-figures'. Nothing should come in the way of team objectives, and I'm proud of the current squad where everyone has contributed to whatever success we have had in recent times. Surely, a winning team will mean more records for the players as well. More power to the team concept. - NK
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Running on Empty
For the first time ever in his amazing career, Andre Agassi could not start a game because of injury. It is a testimony to his work ethic and his work with Gil Reyes. Conversely, it is perhaps an evidence of the ravages of time. When I watched him take on and tear apart Taylor Dent at the Rod Laver Arena in mid-January, Agassi was as fit as ever. I found the press reports of his trimmed body, which suggested he had shed weight, to be quite accurate. He looked to be in near-perfect shape. Perhaps it was just one of those things that happen from time to time in a career, which made Agassi pull out from the Pacific Life open at Indian Wells this past week. Perhaps not. It would unwise to speculate regarding his fitness without more knowledge. It would be inifinitely unwiser to write him off. But could be this be the swansong? There are indications which suggest so. - NK
Back In Black?
A year ago, the frontier finally fell - not the final frontier of the Australian media making (somewhere down the line, Waugh dissociated himself from that phrase), but the one to our Northwest. It was a day of celebration, a day to remember and etch in Indian cricketing history, alongside the World Cup triumph in distant 1983. The Indian team had managed to exorcise the ghosts of the awful Sharjah surrenders and the heartbreaks in Bangalore and Chennai more than a decade apart in the space of just more than a month. We'll never know if it was complacence (after that tour, it'd be understandable, if not justified), or just collective bad form, but our cricket this season seemed to be going back to the dark era, beaten four times in succession by the arch rival and letting the final frontier fall to the Aussies. It was a combination of recognition of the talent in the team and the decline of Pakistan cricket that India were considered favourites once more. One has to hark back a long way, if there was one, to recall a state of affairs where India were favourites home and away to Pakistan. But being favoured poses its own peculiar little problems and it were perhaps these factors that were at work, apart from Akmal and Razzaq, that prevented a facile victory at Mohali. The Eden Gardens game was threatening to slip away when the old warhorse and the consummate pro, Kumble and Dravid, turned it around. Of course, there were contributions all around, as there are to be in a win. But one suspects the bowling and batting revolved around these two, as they have for a while. It's a touch too early to celebrate, but no one should mind if I have a drink or two secure in the knowledge that the series cannot be lost now. Well, hold on a moment here...now wasn't that how we USED to think? Go get Bangalore, boys. And don't forget the one-day series, too. - NK PS: Ganguly and Laxman are still a worry, although Laxman was unlucky second time around.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Dancing on Thin Ice
No captain is good enough to be in the side for just being a captain. Now, I'm not suggesting that Sourav Ganguly is not a good enough batsman to warrant a place in the national side, but in his current form, he isn't quite leading from the front. And that is important. I believe Ganguly is treading on somewhat dangerous territory here, since the home defeat to the Aussies and the embarrassment in Bangladesh are probably not distant memories in the selectors' minds. Nor should they be. Add to the whole mix the personality of the captain (the tendency to be his own man) that tends to rub some people the wrong way, and you have a minor crisis every time the captain goes through a lean patch. To be fair, since the inspirational century at the Gabba that set the tone for an entire season, Ganguly has not quite made a hefty contribution in test matches. So far the selectors have shown faith in his abilities both as a batsman and a captain, but there should be no doubt as to what his primary role in the team is. For what it's worth, in my opinion he is the best captain India has ever had - certainly on par with Pataudi, if not better - and that has been reflected in recent results, although dizzy highs have been interspersed with disappointing lows. It would be a shame if his batting form were to come in the way of his ability to lead and even if there is no need for panic, there is certainly cause for concern. - NK
Sunday, March 13, 2005
A Lost Opportunity
For the first four days, the first Test between India and Pakistan at Mohali followed the script Sourav Ganguly and John Wright may have conjured up, to a T. Except for a slight hiccup on the third afternoon. India was firm favourite to wrap it up on the last day, and series looked like starting on a very similar note to the way the last one ended. Some of the protagonists were also the same, namely Balaji and Sehwag. Unthinkably for Ganguly and co, Kamran Akmal and Abdul Razzaq had the steel to play out a major part of the final day. Looking back in the end, that third afternoon which looked like no big deal, was to prove crucial. At a stage when India should have mercilessly driven home the advantage, a mere 129 runs were scored off 59 overs. And this when our best attacking players were at the crease. Admittedly, Ganguly was woefully out of touch, but it is not clear why the others slowed down or what the team strategy was, given that a bit of time was lost on the second day. Sehwag and Gambhir more than made up for the lost time, but the change in gears in the opposite direction was somewhat perplexing. The team indicated it wanted to grind the Pakistan attack and team to despair. Instead, what could have been a 250-300 run lead ended up at only about 200. It would be unfair to blame the inability to secure the win on that stretch of play, given that the bowlers were unable to dislodge Razzaq and were taken to task by Akmal. But it once again highlights the benefits of a positive approach, so well epitomized by Sehwag. Not everyone can or should bat with the same devil-may-care attitude, but it pays to play your own game. - NK
Sunday, March 06, 2005
Well, finally it was time for the Australian GP and what a thrill it was to see the super quick F-1 cars whiz past! Despite the difficulty in following the race from a vantage point, it was exciting nevertheless. Made all the more special by the fact that there was an Indian driver for the first time. Here are some pictures. - NK
Saturday, March 05, 2005
As I passed through Gate 2 at Albert Park this afternoon, I started to hear the typical roar that Formula-1 engines produced. It was exciting to have a chance to catch these machines from up close. But nothing could prepare me for the next few minutes as I made my way towards the viewing area beside the fence right next to the track. As Jensen Button passed the section before heading for a sharp bend, I felt a chill down my spine. The awesome speed and the power of the car left me numb and shell shocked. The sharp, deafening sound the engine produces only adds to the effect. As driver after driver passed the section in Saturday's qualifying session, the challenge of being an F-1 driver became somewhat apparent to me. This is not for the faint hearted. More importantly perhaps, the engineering has to be absolutely precise - at these speeds, the slightest hiccup could be catastrophic. In this context, one cannot help but feel proud of Narain Karthikeyan, who on his debut finished ninth after the first qualifying session. He had the advantage of the dry conditions, but he did make it count. A few Australian people asked me if I was there because of Karthikeyan. One young 'bloke' who obviously had too much Foster's lager thought Karthikeyan should go back to Bangalore and 'do' IT! Others were much more well mannered, being well informed and travelled people. One such gentleman, I learnt, has worked in Minneapolis for Cargill (the Agri giant) and been to India 33 times. It really is a small world these days. I'd have gone regardless as this was a great opportunity to catch F-1 action (normally, I would have had to travel to Indianapolis to do this), but it added a new dimension. It's always a great feeling to be able to cheer on your compatriots at international events. Even if the sport is F-1, where it is barely possible to do so. I realized by the end of the afternoon that the best place to watch F-1, for serious followers, was on your couch. For Michael Schumacher, it was a day to forget. Actually, it was an abysmal day overall, and Melbourne actually felt more like Manchester at its worst. People who've been in the Northwest of England would know what I'm talking about. It was cold, and it was pouring in between spells of bright sunshine. Most of the spectators had general admission passes and had to scamper for cover every time the downpour came in, umbrellas and macks notwithstanding. Of course, the organizers tried to put up a brave face as they were wont to do. But it got so bad that the Formula-3 competition late afternoon was cancelled midway. There was some solace for them though, in the good show by local hope Mark Webber. Tomorrow is supposed to be better and the qualifying session and the race are not expected to be affected by rain. Fingers crossed...for the weather and Karthikeyan's performance. - NK PS: The post title is a borrow from an old Michael Jackson number. Not a politically correct choice, I suspect.
Friday, March 04, 2005
Australian Open Pictures
It took me a while to figure out how I could do this, but here they are finally...pictures from the Aussie Open I'd taken. These are the ones from my 3.2 Megapixel Nikon, so they're readily available. Getting digital copies of ones on my SLR will take time ;) Here they are. - NK
Being Randy Moss
So Randy Moss is finally a Raider. After weeks of speculation that began as soon as the Vikings were dumped out in the Divisional playoffs by the Eagles, the trade finally materialized. As they would have said in soccer, Oakland 1 - Minnesota 0. The whole drama surrounding Moss' late season on-field antics has been rather bizarre. I don't know if Moss was really a disruptive influence in the Vikings' set up, what I do know is they couldn't have achieved half of what they did without him. Even with a bum ankle that bothered him almost all season, Moss was one of the two most influential guys on the field, the other of course being Culpepper. No one felt Moss' impact more than the Green Bay Packers. But the faux mooning incident was blown out of proportion by the entire media, most of which ignored Moss' stellar effort despite injury. Fox's Joe Buck, of course, takes the cake for his over the top reaction. I think that was as 'disgusting' as the mooning, if not more. It's not as if this was Moss' first brush with negative publicity - he'd unceremoniously walked off the field with seconds remaining against the Redskins and he compounded matters by dismissing the punishment meted out by NFL for the mooning incident. But was all of that really so much that the Vikings had to deal him? - NK
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Lee the Bully
There has been a minor controversy in the on-going one-day series between Trans-Tasman rivals Australia and New Zealand, a storm in a tea cup. In an otherwise dull and one-sided series where the most interesting action was seen in the unofficial Twenty20 game, Brett Lee's beamer directed at Kiwi keeper Brendon McCullum have sparked off some indignation. From Peter Roebuck, for example. The retro, '70s-style hairdos sported by the Black Caps in the opening exhibition game still remain the highlight of the series, though. I watched the confrontation that Roebuck mentions, between Abdul Razzaq and Lee in the recent VB series and I thought Lee was vengeful and boorish. Razzaq genuinely appeared to have lost control of his attempted full delivery, but when it happened twice in the same over, he was given marching orders by the umpire (Rudi Koertzen, I think). When his turn came, Lee didn't hold back and extracted retribution. I remember Tony Greig was quick to denounce Razzaq's act as malicious, but I don't recall him being so stern about Lee. But that is besides the point. It has been par for the course for Australian cricketers to feel indignation when they're on the receiving end of on field incidents while turning a blind eye to their own. Ricky Ponting has indicated he'd be taking no nonsense, but one suspects it will be a slow process. - NK