Thursday, June 30, 2005

Hall of Famers

Just as the announcement of Todd Woodbridge’s retirement was about to be consigned to the more volatile parts of my memory, Channel 9 stepped in with an (a rerun?) episode of ‘This is Your Life’ (a similar show used to run on Zee in India). It has been a truly incredible career for Woodbridge, and the Woodies certainly raised the bar for doubles achievements and have been, in a large part, responsible for whatever interest remains. The monumental record notwithstanding, that is perhaps the Woodies’ greatest contribution to the game. Doubles has seen better days, certainly in the days of ‘the Mac’. Some 83 titles, including nine at the All-England club, 21 doubles wins in a row, Olympic Golds and even singles titles – every thing one can wish for as a tennis pro, Woodbridge has achieved. He has also been an underrated singles player, having reached semi-finals at Grand Slam events twice and a high ranking inside the top twenty. If Woodbridge is an example of a player maximizing his talent/skills, Lindsay Davenport is somewhat of a profligate. Davenport has three slams to show among her collection of 47 titles on the tour, but her talent suggests she has definitely under-achieved. When in full flow, she is one of the most powerful, yet attractive shot-makers in the women’s game. Yet somehow, her touch seems to desert her on the really big occasions. As much as I am a fan of Serena Williams, I think Davenport really blew the Australian Open final. She almost gave it away against Alicia Mollick in the quarters and had a lucky escape. I imagine, though, that among loyal tennis fans Davenport is held in good esteem for her skills and particularly for the way she handles herself. She certainly has my vote for the Hall of Fame when she decides to hang up her boots. Woodbridge doesn’t need any – his very selection will lend credibility to the institution! - NK

The Swadeshi Mantra!

So the ‘Foreign Coach Syndrome’ is not a phenomenon just restricted to India and/or Indian cricket. Following a somewhat poor showing at the Confederations Cup, Socceroos (Aussie soccer team) team boss Frank Farina (a former international striker himself) resigned just months ahead of important World Cup qualifiers; then promptly proceeded to raise the old bogey. I’m sure Farina was speaking out of genuine concern – having played and coached the team, his passion is beyond doubt. In fact, his close attachment to Australian soccer may have actually clouded his judgment. The malaise is hardly rare or unique to a particular sport or country, I think, but countries with strong traditions are more susceptible to it. Sven-Goran Eriksson wasn’t exactly garlanded when he was offered and accepted the England job. Duncan Fletcher probably escaped the scrutiny because of the doldrums English cricket found itself in, and perhaps partly because he was involved with the county game for a long time. Coming back to the Socceroos, if they have to achieve their aim of reaching the World Cup, which they have a genuine chance of, the only constraint should be money. The only yardstick should be quality, not the type of passport. - NK PS: Swadeshi - Mahatma Gandhi brought the word into the Indian mainstream to invoke national pride in colonial India, urging Indians to boycott goods produced in Britain in favour of those produced at home. Man, I suck at history!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Beautiful Game

Watching Brazilian football sorcery, even at the worst of times, is one of the joys of life. To those who are oblivious of this pleasure, let it be simply said that their lives are in need of some enrichment. Exaggerations aside, it has been a real delight this past couple of weeks to have been able to partake in some of the delicious fare dished out by Ronaldinho, Adriano, Robinho and company in the Confederations Cup. Well, you could pick a member of a Brazilian side at random and not be disappointed by the repertoire of tricks at his disposal. Countries have all had their share of genius, some more than others - but it is the collective Brazilian artistry that elevates them a notch above all else. Pragmatic coaches in recent times have preferred a more cautious style, but the Brazilian game has managed to retain a touch of the Samba. When it comes to sheer natural beauty, Brazilian soccer has only one competition - their women who adorn the stands. - NK

Nirmal Shekar on Federer/Wimbledon

I have admired Nirmal Shekar over the years, having been a loyal reader of The Sportstar, and although the magazine itself has fallen into somewhat of a decline (courtsey the numerous columns by former or current athletes), Shekar continues to tickle the senses. In particular, his Shakespearean-drama style description of a game of tennis, or any sporting event for that matter, is immensely enjoyable. - NK

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Status Quo Restored

79 all out in 14.3 overs! Unable to defend 342 against Somerset!! Beaten by an Ashraful inspired Bangladesh!!! Shattered by Pietersen's heroics... Was Australia an over-hyped team of ageing superstars who had simply trampled over meek opposition? Recent evidence suggested otherwise - a series win in India after 35 years last fall; a 3-0 thumping of a Pakistan in rebuilding mode and the subsequent triupmh in the VB seris; annihilation of the Kiwis both home and away. But the most awesome win surely was the unprecedented three-test series sweep of Sri Lanka in their backyard - this despite being behind in each of the tests after the first innings. So it was just an aberration, and surely they would bounce back sooner than later? I for one think the current Aussies are stronger in the longer form of the game than they are in one-day cricket. But even so, it should have been a matter of when, not if, before they were back to winning ways. And with a little bit of tweaking to the team composition, they are. Sky's (and Channel 7 Down Under by implication) ex-England stars all plumped for Brett Lee to impart some much needed sting to the attack at the expense of the pedestrian looking Michael Kasparowicz. Ponting, Buchanan and co obliged. Andrew Symonds was back from the sin bin. And lo and behold, everything is hunky-dory again...well, at least it's better than before. At least, one will not have to contend with the live pictures of a glum faced Symonds as if apocalypse was upon the world - now! Not until Australia loses again, anyway. But England may have to wait a little longer than their cricket pundits may have imagined. - NK

Monday, June 20, 2005

Good Times, Bad Times

It's good to see the Bangladeshis explore the lighter side ;) And why not? All The pressure is now on the Aussies!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Celebrity Sighting

Speaking of Stuart McGill, as we were heading down Little Bourke Street (in Melbourne) on Friday evening towards our favourite Malaysian restaurant, guess who I ran into? For a moment, I wasn't sure if it was the Aussie test leg spinner, but as I got nearer, it was him! I resisted my temptation to say hello and rudely interrupt his conversation. I guess McGill is in town for his work as the studio analyst with Channel 7.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Nightmare in Ole Blighty

If ever there was a way the Aussies were to play themselves into form, it would have been to play Bangladesh - earn some valuable practice in the process, and fine tune their game for the real deal against England. I'm sure that's the approach the Aussies adopted in their game on Saturday, and who can blame them? Bangladesh were roundly trashed by England without breaking a sweat, and had shown dismal form all summer with the exceptions of Aftab Ahmed and Mashrafe Mortaza to some extent. That approach, I think, played a big part in the mother of all upsets international cricket has seen. Hats off to Bangladesh, though, for playing some scintillating cricket and holding their nerve when it mattered. They have gone through a wretched English summer and have had to cope with ridicule heaped upon them in all forms of media. Sporting sides, especially those representing a nation, thrive on a healthy dose of pride and this win will go a long way in providing a real boost in that regard for the Tigers. What of Australia? Ricky Ponting had to grudgingly concede it was time to press the panic button. The question on everyone's mind is, is this just a blip on the radar, or is this a pointer to a trend? Is a new world order emerging in international cricket? I think the status quo is safe as far as test cricket is concerned - with Justin Langer and Shane Warne stepping in, Australia will be a much more powerful side in the longer version. England's ability to counter Warne, or even Stuart McGill, remains suspect. But one-day cricket may have a different ring to it. - NK

Monday, June 13, 2005

A Real Hiding!

First blood to England, then. In the end, what promised to be a crackerjack start to a highly anticipated series fizzled out, but I’m sure England supporters wouldn’t mind it one bit. It’s hard to remember a similar atmosphere at an English ground in a game that did not involve India. The quaintly named Rose Bowl was absolutely abuzz with excitement from the word go and England more than obliged. They played a refreshing brand of cricket when batting in contrast to the Australians who looked rusty and half a step slower in the field. Jason Gillespie in particular looked completely out of sorts and bowled a fair dose of gimme balls, particularly to the rampaging Paul Collingwood. Kevin Pietersen showed why he could be the most important player for England in the one-day series with a fearless display of stroke play. I think the lack of fear is a key ingredient of Pietersen’s success. Then, of course, there was Darren Gough. Gough didn’t try to do anything spectacular, just used his experience and held his nerve even as the Aussies contributed with some strange strokes. In the midst of all the madness, Jon Lewis cashed in big time. It was amusing though, to hear Nasser Hussain proclaim about at least three times how Gough ‘enjoys taking hat-tricks’ against Australia. As if it was something Gough did every now and then (I know he’s done it once). If anything, the crushing defeat is likely to harden the Aussies’ resolve and they will come back, all guns blazing. They have looked vulnerable in the shorter form of the game in the last year or so, but their opponents haven’t been able to take the game to them when it mattered. England did that in the ICC Champions Trophy last year, and have done it again, even though it was only a Twenty20 game. That will give them confidence. - NK

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Battle for the Urn

English media, if not their public, are convinced that their side has a genuine chance of winning the Ashes back from the Aussies. This also seems to be the prevalent opinion among experts in and outside the game. Lately, nostalgic reminiscences have begun to flood the sports pages in leading English dailies, most of them dating back to about two decades ago when England last won the Ashes. Ah the good old days! Can England bring back the glory days? How much of a chance do they have against a marauding side that has swept all before them even while not being at their best? Make no mistake, the Aussies are as motivated as the England side – for, in the eyes of fans back home, losing the Ashes will almost certainly undo all the glittering achievements of the last few years. I agree with Ian Botham’s assessment that not selecting Kevin Pietersen in the test side was a blunder. The Ashes may prove to be the making of Ian Bell, and the selectors may have the last word in the matter, but it was a typically defensive step from the English establishment. Pietersen may or may not succeed if selected and he does have the odd weakness, but you cannot think about shielding talent when you are about to challenge the most ruthless side in cricket. And although the performances against Bangladesh count for nothing, England does look a solid side capable of at least causing some headaches for the Aussies. Smart money is, of course, on the Ashes staying Down Under. - NK

Ganguly's Rehab On Track

Sourav Ganguly's sound bites before he embarked on his stint at Glamorgan were rather predictable and somewhat mellowed, one might say. He was very optimistic about putting in good performances and getting back into form, and pointed to his superb record in English conditions. It's too early to say if the county stint has done the trick for him and if the selectors still have an open mind about his place in the overall scheme of things. At least Ganguly showed he has the motivation to get back into top flight. Firstly, by signing up for the Welsh county (which meant some non-stop cricket instead of time with family and friends); and then with a commanding performance against Kent, albeit in a losing cause. Performances in the county championships as we know all too well, do not automatically make it into the next grade. But runs always help. Let's at least hope so. - NK

Back, with an Agenda

Another long's become increasingly difficult to find motivation to keep the blogging going, especially when things have been heating up a bit on the work front.'s what inspired this post - a few weeks ago I discovered that Prem Panicker, (formerly?) of Rediff, has started a new blog, Sightscreen. I also found in the 'blogosphere', some effusive praise for Panicker's work in general and in particular about how he was the first real cricket blogger. I agree with the second part. As for the way writes - I don't like it one bit (doesn't mean I don't agree with anything he says). Now, we all play armchair analysts, but I always thought Prem Panicker was a real know-all. The less said about his "Panix Station" on Rediff, the better. I had the misfortune of listening in once. There - I said it. - NK