Friday, June 26, 2009

Wimbledon Six Packs

Wimbledon 2009 looks more open than any of the earlier years.Whatever the experts might be saying about this year's men's open being a two horse race, I believe there are more contenders than that. And they are not the usual suspects.I am backing Tommy Haas to cause a few upsets at Wimbledon this year. He has been in tremendous form and it just requires him to translate that and his quiet confidence into results. He almost did that at Roland Garros and it was almost as if history intervened. Fernando Verdaso - as surprising as it might sound - is another man who I am picking to cause a few flutters. And then there is Roddick who warrants an obligatory mention at the big W. That makes it 5. If there is a 6th man to be picked, I would go for Cilic, who is on the verge of justifying his immense talent.
In the women's event, Venus remains a firm favorite followed by Serena. Safina will find Wimbledon a tough nut to crack as she is yet to attain high comfort levels on grass, but being number 1 gives her a big mental edge in close matches. So she is in. Caroline Wozniaki and Sam Stosur my 4th and 5th picks in the women's draw. And the 6th pick is the only one for which I let my heart overrule the head. Who else but Ana.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Leave Her Alone

Yesterday's Times of India carried a profile of Saina Nehwal. Starting from what she eats during the day - and what she doesn't (ice cream etc.) - they chronicled her sacrifices as a teenager, her sleeping habits and her punishing schedule. For Saina's sake, I hope these guys stay off her.
Why does the media make a big deal about these? Every one of the things that they portrayed as a "sacrifice" or some kind of superhuman self-control is actually the regimen of every sportsperson who is out to win. And make no mistake; in individual sports, the break-through age has gone down drastically. You just have to look into a tournament draw to realize that. The most prominent example is the seemingly endless army of Russian teenage tennis players in the top 20. Kournikova, Dementieva, Myskina, Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Safina, Chekvatadze; the list just refuses to end! After being done with them, as an afterthought, you could also think of names like Michael Phelps, Rafa Nadal and now Saina Nehwal.
Just because teenagers being achievers - and winners - has not happened in our country on a regular basis does not mean we have to romanticise these moments. Maybe I am being too harsh, but these kind of reports carry a "happy-with-little-things" undertone. Just like reports which went gaga over Sania Mirza being the first Indian to reach the top 32! For heavens sake, it has only been a few years that seedings are done till 32. Otherwise it is just another number in the ranking computer which when translated in english means "also ran". To put the whole thing in perspective, Sania Mirza and Jelena Jankovic started out at (pretty much) the same time. Jankovic has since reached the top while Sania still remains the undisputed queen of the outside courts. A definite victim of the "happy-with-little-things" syndrome.
Cricket apart, Saina is arguably the biggest bundle of talent - and ability - from India since PT Usha. So she should aim right for the top and nothing less. She has miles to go and that she will, provided she keeps the focus. Firstly, she needs to shed a few more kilos during the next year for her on-court movement and also in order to keep injuries away. She needs to keep making it to the weekends at tournaments and the grand prize (read All England/World/Olympics) will definitely come somewhere down the line. The mini-biographies and anecdotes can wait till such time.
- BS

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Game, Set, Match - The Sports Quiz

At the "Space Circle", in an auditorium teeming with 35 teams, the best informed sports lovers fought tooth and nail for top honours in "Game, Set, Match"; a sports quiz presented by "Adverb" and sponsored by "JP Realty", "Space Circle" and "Sugandha Garments".
In their new avatar as quizmasters were Mr. Ashok Sanyal and Mr. Somnath Chanda; otherwise team-mates in the prominent quiz outfit "Quizzing Unlimited". And they did not disappoint with their content - which covered an entire gamut of sports, incidents, achievements and trivia.
The written preliminary round was a 30 question knockout to decide the 8 teams who would qualify for the finals. The usual suspects were all there in fine fettle but there were a few rookie teams in the final as well.
The questions for the finals were designed to challenge even the stalwarts at their own game. "Which Sportsman was a weakling as a child before going on to excel in his family sport, having taken it up as a mark of respect to his brother who died in the field of play"? "What connects (in form of pictures) Zaheer Abbas, Deutsche bank, Somerset County(logo) and a West Indian calypso?"Which term in sport is technically a movement between 0.1 seconds of a certain sound having reached the human ear?"
In case you were clean bowled, the answers are Jahangir Khan, Sunil Gavaskar and "False Start". The Audience was knowledgable; grabbing some questions which the teams on stage could not answer and in the process, some nice audience prizes!
The battle hung in a fine balance right till the very end and all that seperated the top two were a mere 2 points. "Byapok Byatha" (Souvik, Soubhadra and Titash) finished on the wrong side of those 2 points, being edged out by the champions "Ump, Bump, Fizz" (Deepanjan, Debopam and Sounak). "Inmaniacs" (Gautam, Anirudh and Abhijit) finished second runners up.
The top three teams received generous cash prizes from the prize sponsors "JP Realty". "Adverb" promises to be back with more such events in the near future.

Know-it-alls or Poor Losers?

Actually Both! Indian cricket fans are a bunch of know-it-alls and more importantly, poor losers.
Admitted - no group of supporters or perhaps a few react kindly to defeat. However, most sleep over it and let it pass, instead of trying to pull down individuals and strategies over a million reams, reels and forums (the new age tool). Unsuccessful cricketers turned commentators - with either a legendary surname or some Ranji success as their credentials - fuel the fire over inane panel discussions, misleading the common cricket fan. Knowing the country's passion for the game, it is only natural that people should discuss cricket at "addas"; everything from what Dhoni did wrong to the best possible combination or batting order. However one expects the media to show these obsessed but illiterate cricket fans some perspective instead of going blatantly for higher copies/TRP.
Lets face it. There have been bigger shocks this year in sport.Rafa losing at Roland Garros and Celtics crashing out in the NBA (with the uncanny resemblance of having an injured key man) being the two which come to mind immediately. India losing in the T20 world cup does not even qualify along with these upsets (however upset we may be, emotionally).
Indian cricket has seen a lot of success in recent times. So lets not get greedy. MS and team India will have an odd bad day or 120 bad overs. But as long as they are putting in the effort, they are too good not to get back to winning ways. Lets say Vamos India! instead of being poor losers.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Weirdly Wired

Trust the Indian mind to reach conclusions based on 'hunches', aka pop-psychology of the Indian variety. Throw in mild esteem issues or just pure defensiveness some cases, and the conclusions and implications are plain absurd and downright reprehensible. TOI / IANS, in their infinite wisdom, bring up, even though it's utterly irrelevant, the issue of 'proper behaviour' among some Indian students. 
Firstly, the worthies quoted as expressing concerns are probably 'embarrassed' by the behaviour (in their perception) of some students who they may see as relatively unsophisticated or even downright uncouth (that is hardly ever the case). This reeks of utter condescension on the part of Indian immigrants or residents who almost recoil at the prospect of being identified with the 'student' crowd. In any case, the whole issue is brought up as if to suggest 'these people invited trouble'. If the argument was for taking a pragmatic view and maintaining a low profile, it may have made sense, but to assume an admonishing tone betrays insecurity and lack of empathy for the victims. No matter that often the worst behaviour comes from 'locals'.
Secondly, there is no question that there is indeed a racial element to at least some of the attacks. Non-whites have had to deal with such behaviour in many predominantly white societies over the years and still do. As in other places, this kind of thuggish behaviour often emerges not from some ideological moorings or brainwashing, but from problems within, particularly in urban environments. But each of the incidents has to be looked at separately and investigations must be thorough. Now that would be a victory for some of the student bodies that have rallied around the issue. I have respect for students who have been bold enough to try and make themselves heard in the face of apathy - bearing in mind, administrations are an end in themselves these days.
Third, Victoria Police have no business telling people to not speak in their 'native language' or loudly (a lot of Indians are actually quite soft spoken). The problem is the thugs who commit these acts, and if the police really wanted to do something, they had better go about it instead of throwing subtle hints at how people ought to conduct themselves. Practical tips are useful but they ring hollow when not backed by action.
Lastly, for emphasis, none of the victims was ever an aggressor - these were unprovoked incidents from what has been reported so far. They deserve commiserations, not a judgmental tone.
- NK