Monday, November 28, 2005
I was reminded this morning of a wickedly funny Roald Dahl short story where a couple of guys hit upon the idea of taking out hits on mediamen who publish slanderous/scandalous stories about the rich and famous. Now, I don't advocate violence, and I definitely believe in freedom of speech, but I don't think I'll be very distressed if someone decides to land a punch or two on The Telegraph's senior cricket correspondent Lokendra Pratap Sahi. In fact, I might find it hard to suppress a smirk if that happens. Indian cricket, and indeed all of sport, can do well without people like that particular gentleman. - NK
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Pray, what about Balaji?
Such is the din created by the seemingly endless Sourav Ganguly saga, it has drowned out any other potential selection questions. I was watching a DVD of that historic series win in Pakistan in early 2004, and once again, it left me wondering why all of a sudden Lakshmipathy Balaji is out of the Indian squad and may be, even out of the reckoning. Not one commentator or media outlet has given much thought to this, and it just beats me. Balaji was superb right through that series and bowled like a dream in the first innings of the decider at Rawalpindi. Three of his four scalps were the result of fine swing bowling, the batsmen beaten fair and square in the process. Balaji has a natural out-swinger, which when used properly is also lethal against left-handers. He's also a disciplined bowler who doesn't seem to mind taking a big workload, a trait that was in evidence at Mohali early this calendar year in the drawn test, where he picked up nine. So what's gone wrong? Admittedly, there were issues with his action (nothing to do with the legality of it), but the word was put out that they were sorted out. He's also had his share of injuries and niggles, but then fit fast bowlers are a rare commodity these days. Besides, for a squad that is not exactly gifted in the fast bowling department with match-winners, Balaji is an asset. At the very least, there ought to have been an explanation for Balaji's exclusion from someone in the BCCI. Every 'stakeholder' (to use a term that Harsha Bhogle seems to prefer) in our cricket has been obsessed with Ganguly - will he, won't he? The BCCI and the selection committee have some explaining to do - if Ganguly's recent performances were indeed disappointing, as Kiran More was forthright enough to point out, why the U-turn now? If he wasn't good enough for the one-day side, he couldn't have suddenly become good enough for the test side (keeping in mind Sourav's record as a one-day player). So was it a decision that was prompted by the top echelons of the BCCI, in which case the selection is a farcical exercise? Why on earth should Ranbir Mahendra have weighed in with his opinions - completely out of turn - even before the selection process begun? People like Mahendra and Raj Singh Dungarpur, who have milked cricket enough to satisfy their egos, should have no place in the game, whatever else their contributions may have been. In any case, making a positive contribution to the cause of our game does not entitle anyone to a lifetime pass - everyone has an best-by date. That should apply in equal measure to Jagmohan Dalmiya and Sourav Ganguly. Dalmiya, N K P Salve and company did a fine job in raising the profile of India cricket and in showing the way to enriching the game by unleashing the commercial potential of cricket. Thanks Mr.Dalmiya, but we should really be saying good bye now. And Mr.Ganguly, however some may not like it, you're next (good luck for the series, though). - NK
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Nalbandian nails it, finally!
My friend and fellow blogmember Biswa missed the Masters final and was shocked to know Roger Federer was beaten, for it was but a foregone conclusion following all the withdrawals the tournament had to endure. Not that it would have made any difference to the odds, but at least there would have been some prospect of a serious challenge. Ironically, the only current pro with a positive head-to-head record against the undisputed monarch of men's tennis was not thought to be good enough to pull it off. Admittedly, Nalbandian had won the last of his five against Federer in the US Open in 2003, when he also famously choked in the semi-final against Andy Roddick. The larger issue here was not Nalbandian's talent or form, for he looked in good touch in this edition, and of course has oodles of talent and stamina to boot. It was whether he quite believed in himself. For a player of his talent, Nalbandian has only won three tour titles and that is too few. Not unlike that US Open encounter two years ago, he couldn't quite pull it off against Lleyton Hewitt in this year's Australian Open. But one thought his Davis Cup performance Down Under on grass in Sydney would be a turning point in his career. If it wasn't, this win should do wonders for him. As for Federer, Biswa, an unabashed John McEnroe fan (who isn't?), was quite happy that the staggering 1984 record of 82-3 has remained. I'm somewhat ambivalent about it, though somehow in my mind McEnroe stands out as a greater genius. It's impossible not to gush about Federer's talents, but may be it's just that we grew up in awe of Mac.
Pistons look good for another run
The Detroit Pistons may have been thumped (embarrassed would be a better word) by the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, but there is no doubt they are going to be the team to beat in the East. What a different start to the season this has been for Flip Saunders, who was unceremoniously dumped by the Timberwolves midway through the last. Saunders in place of Larry Brown is pretty much the only major roster change for the Pistons this season, and so they make another championship run with their nucleus of the two Wallaces, Billups, Hamilton and Prince intact. That line up, when healthy and in the mood (particularly for Rasheed Wallace), is one of the more formidable defensive formations the league has seen in the post-Jordan era. Add Antonio McDyess and Lindsay Hunter coming off the bench, and it’s easy to understand why Detroit has been able to keep opponents down to an average of 87 ppg, before the Dallas game that is. With Miami stuttering a bit (not unsurprisingly, given the situation), Detroit will take some catching up. A stark contrast to the buoyant start Detroit made has been the lackluster form of the Rockets, who lost both games in the one of the toughest home stands, back-to-back games against the Spurs and Pistons. The Rockets are too dependent on McGrady and Yao Ming even with the savvy veterans Wesley, Barry and Juwan Howard. And Yao, on his part, is in constant foul trouble and in fact fouled out of the Detroit game. When McGrady is not on the floor, the Rockets look pretty bland and seem to lack any spark. As for the Spurs, some strong words from Greg Pop Popovich may have done the trick, as they start on a streak. The Spurs are too good to be around the .500 mark and are now deservingly leading the South-West, where the Mavs are breathing down, despite having lost Finley to the Spurs. Since acquiring Erick Dampier, the Mavs’ defense has been transformed; and has also been bolstered by Dirk Nowitzki’s improving defensive prowess. What of my team, the Timberwolves, and my homeboy, KG? Well, as usual, they are formidable in the familiar environs of the Target Center, but are struggling on the road. I haven’t been able to catch a Wolves game so far this season, and it’ll be interesting to see how they go about under new boss Dwayne Casey (I know precious little about him). It’s been a while since I actually lived up there in the Tundra, but I’ll keep track of their play-off march (oh yes, I believe they will ;) ). - NK
Monday, November 21, 2005
State of Indian Cricket
Over at Cricinfo, some leading luminaries are weighing in on the current and future state of Indian cricket on the Wicket-to-Wicket blog. I guess I'll weigh in on the topic myself a little later, may be as feedback to the thoughts echoed by these gentlemen. To be honest, I'm a trifle disappointed so far, but cannot wait for Mukul Kesavan's take. He usually comes up with something special (and well researched). Update: I've learnt via Amit Verma that Mukul Kesavan has indeed posted his thoughts, but alas, access to Cricinfo is restricted in the office here. Calls for a visit to the neighbourhood Cybercafe...darn!
An endless tunnel
To anyone who knows anything about cricket, the story of the West Indies' shocking decline is old hat. Most of us who watched - and naturally admired - the great West Indian sides of the '80s nurtured a secret hope that somehow West Indies would regroup and become a decent force, if not the all-conquering one of the heydays. Except the odd Brian Lara inspired aberration, Winides' fortunes have continued their sharp southbound journey. I for one, miss a strong West Indian side, as I'm sure do most cricket fans. There is the odd Dennis Lillee, apparently frustrated enough having ended up on the losing side more often than not against the old masters, who takes vicarious pleasure at the plight of the current side (I'm not sure even Lillee feels the same now). Surely among a miniscule minority. In recent times, a number of young prospects have emerged, particularly in the batting area, thereby rekindling some hope of a revival; but none of them has been able to put together a string of performances that did justice to their potential. So far, and it has been a substantial period of time since, the ICC Champions Trophy triumph has turned out to be a false dawn. The sponsorship crisis didn't help, even if I'm not sure it had a significant impact in the long term. It couldn't have come at a worse time, though. No one typifies the problem with the younger brigade better than Ramnaresh Sarwan, who produces the odd sparkler amidst a series of disappointments. Wavell Hinds has been even more of a disappointment, though it has to be said Sarwan is much more talented than Hinds and hence the greater the sense of despondency in his case. The young quicks are all honest triers but they are nowhere near the top class bowlers in contemporary cricket, let alone be anywhere near their illustrious predecessors. Dwayne Bravo is a clever and talented cricketer, but he's not quite a gamebreaker. Only Chris Gayle has enhanced his reputation lately and is feared as one of the most destructive batsmen, certainly in the limited overs game. Certainly, there's a better ensemble of talent in the squad than three-four years ago, but somehow nothing seems to be quite working out. With the World Cup in their own backyard, one hopes West Indies cricket will have just the inspiration needed to kick-start something special. Cricket will certainly be better off for it. - NKPS: I drafted the post before Bravo's superb innings, but it wasn't enough to stem the rot.
Friday, November 18, 2005
Leander Still Gets It Done
It's hard to believe Leander Paes is already in the twilight of his distinguished career. He's unmistakably got on a bit, and his body has obviously not always behaved the way he would have wanted it to over the past couple of years. But there's still a competitive fire burning within his stout heart, that's for sure. Watching him in action after quite a while at the Masters in Shanghai brought a certain joy and many memories, some of them somewhat poignant but mostly delightful. To be fair, his Serbian partner Nenad Zimonjic was the sharper of the two in the thriller against the Bryan brothers and Leander's serve was easily the weakest in the field; however, there was the familiar Paes spirit on show besides some clever net play. He may have suffered a few injuries and a freak infection of the brain, but his fitness level is amazing considering he is well past the dreaded 30-year barrier. Playing only doubles has allowed Paes to concentrate on his strength and also ensured an increased longevity in the game. Although no longer a force to reckon with at the world group level because of Paes' decline as a singles player, his presence is still a morale booster for India's Davis Cup squad. One must admit though, that, it's now time to wonder what it would be like for the squad after the inevitable happens. For the time being, though, one can only enjoy what Paes serves up with considerable panache and passion. - NK
MindSqueeze - 6 : Answers
The Fortnightly Sports Quiz 1. Dick Motz was the first ever bowler in the history of Test Cricket to be suspended for running onto the wicket during his follow-through in 1968 against India. Which Indian cricketer was also suspended for the same reason in 2001 against Zimbabwe to become only the second ever to hold that dubious distinction? Ans: Ashish Nehra 2. Whom did Barcelona’s English manager Terry Venables (rather infamously for Barca fans) trade to accommodate his compatriot Gary Lineker in the side? Ans: Diego Maradona 3. This contemporary Basketball player once planned to release a RAP album “40 bars” under the name Jewelz. However the explicit lyrics created huge controversy and he had to re-title the album as “Misunderstood”. Eventually, though, he scrapped the album. He was the MVP in 2001. Identify. And: Alan Iverson 4. He was born in Bhopal (India) in 1850. He was the British Ambassador to Spain and USA. The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is named after him. Some of his famous books are “An Autumn Tour in Western Persia” and “Nadir Shah”. What did he start at Shimla (India) in 1888 (obviously something to do with sports) which is also named after him? Ans: Durand Cup 5. His father was a classmate of Ian Fleming and one of the most significant fictional characters in the James Bond stories is named after him. “An evening with Blowers” is a book based on him. Identify this colourful character in the world of cricket. Ans: Henry Blofeld 6. In the Tokyo Olympics, 1964 a student named Yoshinori Sakai was invited to light the Olympic flames. Why? Ans: A common man born on the day of Hiroshima bombing 7. Which contemporary Golfer is nicknamed “El Nino”? Ans: Sergio Garcia 8. He is the only athlete apart from Michael Phelps in the Olympic history to win eight medals in one Olympic Games. Out of which six came during the same day on 25th July. Who? Ans: Aleksandr Dityatin 9. Recently, there was a bit of a speculation as to who would succeed Alex Ferguson as the Man United manager considering their relatively poor run. Who did Alex Ferguson himself succeed? Ans: Ron Atkinson 10. Glenn Burke and Dusty Baker are often credited with having participated in the first incident of this kind in Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in 1977, after Baker scored a run, with Burke receiving credit for "inventing" this particular convention (in the context of sports). What convention? Ans: High Fives 11. A new concept called Powerplay was introduced recently in one-day cricket by the ICC, to offer fielding sides the choice of picking five-over blocks with restrictions. The term, however, is derived from another sport, where it has a completely different context. Which sport? Ans: Ice Hockey 12. This tennis player, somewhat notorious for his volatile temperament, was once infuriated when the umpire Bruno Rebeuh called his serve out in a Wimbledon game and promptly packed his bags and left the court. His wife added to the whole episode by slapping poor Rebeuh. Which player are we talking about? Ans: Jeff Tarango MindSqueeze-7 will be published on 25th November. - Compiled by Saby
Friday, November 11, 2005
MindSqueeze - 6
The Fortnightly Sports Quiz Apologies for the delay in posting this edition (if anyone at all is interested ;)). The festive season and a vacation apart, lethargy was the prominent reason. 1. Dick Motz was the first ever bowler in the history of Test Cricket to be suspended for running onto the wicket during his follow-through in 1968 against India. Which Indian cricketer was also suspended for the same reason in 2001 against Zimbabwe to become only the second ever to hold that dubious distinction 2. Whom did Barcelona’s English manager Terry Venables (rather infamously for Barca fans) trade to accommodate his compatriot Gary Lineker in the side? 3. This contemporary Basketball player once planned to release a RAP album “40 bars” under the name Jewelz. However the explicit lyrics created huge controversy and he had to re-title the album as “Misunderstood”. Eventually, though, he scrapped the album. He was the MVP in 2001. Identify. 4. He was born in Bhopal (India) in 1850. He was the British Ambassador to Spain and USA. The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is named after him. Some of his famous books are “An Autumn Tour in Western Persia” and “Nadir Shah”. What did he start at Shimla (India) in 1888 (obviously something to do with sports) which is also named after him? 5. His father was a classmate of Ian Fleming and one of the most significant fictional characters in the James Bond stories is named after him. “An evening with Blowers” is a book based on him. Identify this colourful character in the world of cricket. 6. In the Tokyo Olympics, 1964 a student named Yoshinori Sakai was invited to light the Olympic flames. Why? 7. Which contemporary Golfer is nicknamed “El Nino”? 8. He is the only athlete apart from Michael Phelps in the Olympic history to win eight medals in one Olympic Games. Out of which six came during the same day on 25th July. Who? 9. Recently, there was a bit of a speculation as to who would succeed Alex Ferguson as the Man United manager considering their relatively poor run. Who did Alex Ferguson himself succeed? 10. Glenn Burke and Dusty Baker are often credited with having participated in the first incident of this kind in Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in 1977, after Baker scored a run, with Burke receiving credit for "inventing" this particular convention (in the context of sports). What convention? 11. A new concept called Powerplay was introduced recently in one-day cricket by the ICC, to offer fielding sides the choice of picking five-over blocks with restrictions. The term, however, is derived from another sport, where it has a completely different context. Which sport? 12. This tennis player, somewhat notorious for his volatile temperament, was once infuriated when the umpire Bruno Rebeuh called his serve out in a Wimbledon game and promptly packed his bags and left the court. His wife added to the whole episode by slapping poor Rebeuh. Which player are we talking about? Answers would be posted on 18th Nov. - Compiled by Saby
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Ashes pictures for sale!
One of my best memories of the epic last Ashes would be the pic-of-the-day photos on Darryl's Ashes blog. I found these genuinely funny and suggested, half-seriously, that Darryl should put them up for auction on Channel Nine (God knows they have sold far worse for ludicrous sums of money and consequently have been the subject of jokes on TV). Anywho, Darryl has now put these up for sale on eBay and for a worthy cause too, with the proceeds going to to World Vision's Pakistan earthquake appeal. The bids started at about AUD $0.99, so they are quite a bargain ;) Here are the pics in question. I would have expected Billy Bowden's finger to be among the top five, but given that it's missed out, my favourite would be the last one in the list below. a. Lord's - "Adam Gilchrist celebrates the wicket of Freddie Flintoff - caught Gilchrist, bowled Warne for 3." b. Edgbaston - "Ricky Ponting trudges back to the pavilion after being dismissed for a duck." c. Old Trafford - "Michael Vaughan salutes the crowd after scoring a century at Old Trafford." d. Trent Bridge - "With a beer and a cigarette in one hand, and a ball in the other, Shane Warne very nearly won the game for Australia." e. The Oval - "Under dark and gloomy skies, Andrew Strauss is caught by Simon Katich close to the wicket. This photo is a re-enactment of the bad light."
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
A New Season
India failed to achieve the unthinkable, a series sweep of the Lankans, but that was probably only the second item on my wish list for the season. I would really like to see the focus back on cricket, and not on politicking, which our media (and to a large extent, even the public at large) seems to love to read/hear about. Starry-eyed kids don't take to a sport because of the various turf wars being fought between shady characters - in India, they do so despite the ugliness, which has in recent times spilled into living rooms thanks to an over vigilant and often times crass media. All of which means only one thing - that the game is the most important thing, however cliched that might sound. The way the team is doing in this series, I may well have my wish granted. That won't stop the media however, so given to hyperbole, from eulogising Greg Chappell and start painting a picture of a messiah. He may well turn out to be that in the long run, but in the meantime, we would do well not to lose our minds. A hat tip to the new India is in order though (I'm sick of the artifical Team India phrase). - NK
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Masters of the game?
It is that time of the year again, when the 8 best tennis players in the world congregate, to play the final event in the calendar, aptly called the "Masters". Like I wrote last time, this event should actually be for the best players in the world and not turn out to be a misnomer. The ATP, of course has a strange rule of automatically entering "grand slam" winners into this event, regardless of consistency or ranking points. Last year it was Gaston Gaudio. This year it is Marat Safin. I had made a strong case against the former, but on hindsight, the guy had at least managed to win a few tournaments besides Roland Garros. This time it is even more pathetic! Safin has been reeling under injuries and a slump in form (pardon the understatement) and one can safely presume that even if he does make it to the masters (he withdrew from this weeks TMS Paris) , he will be there to make up the numbers. Not done! Not when it is the premier event in the calendar, which is in question. There is no questioning the class and caliber of Marat Safin. Along with Federer, he is arguably the most talented player on the tour and one of the last true "characters". At his best, he would definitely have posted a major threat to the Swiss, who is now enjoying an almost unchallenged run at the top . But "could've and would've" are speculatory terms and Marat - as much as we love (or hate) him for being Marat - has been too temperamental and off the wall for his own good. It is a pity, but it is true. This rule of automatic qualification should be done away with, and the logic I guess, need not be explained. If at all, the ATP wants to give weightage to Grand Salms, it can consider performances over all the four put together and not just one. At least that will gurantee a 9 month period (Jan - Sep) over which a player is being judged and prevent two weeks' performance to gurantee a place in the masters. Otherwise, there's a possibility that we'll continue to have have punching bags (like Gaudio last year) in a tournament which you want to be as toughly contested as possible. -BB