Wednesday 21 December 2011

Lost Track: Circuits of the Yore VIII - Boavista Portuguese Grand Prix

Well past the Christmas and into the new year, the season of 2003-04 was not going the way  Manchester United hoped for. Arsenal were continuing their unbeaten streak in the Premiership and then came knock out stages of Champion’s League.  United’s record at  Champion’s League looked good until the last-minute tackle by Phil Neville (which was so silly and needless), free-kick by Costinha, half-hearted save by Tim Howard and the goal, the elusive away goal powered Porto to quarterfinals and they went on to win the Champion’s League.
Jose Mourinho became a legend and very soon became the toast of European football, known as one of the ‘thinkers’ of the present day football. That was his time at Porto. 2004 apart  I can recall from my interest in Champion’s League winners history,  Porto had also won the 1986-87 Champion’s League. Football and Porto have a long history.
In search of more sporting history at this fanatic city in North of Portugal, I found Oporto (other name for Porto) hosts alternatively (Lisbon and Porto) an annual cricket tournament that awards the Kendall Cup to the teams formed by the representatives from Lisbon and Porto. The tournament traces its history back to 1861 and it became a regular event in 1920 when the man himself Mr. A.C Kendall presented the trophy in memory of Lt. Rawes, a WWI martyr who lived and played cricket in Portugal. Barring the 5 years hiatus during WWII, this tournament has been a regular to this present day.

Alongside cricket, I also managed to dug up the fact of Oporto being the first Portugal city to host a F1 race. In the eight part of the ‘Lost Track’ series I put forward my views based on what I have read on races that took place in Boa vista circuit in Porto.
Since its start, F1 World Championships has attracted many cities across Europe; like every other European country even Portugal wasn’t far behind. Boa vista circuit (Porto) and Monsanto circuit (near Lisbon) were the early players under the banner of Portuguese Grand Prix welcoming many sports car competitions in the 1950’s. Although, the races were unofficial it did generate a lot of interest and paved the way to host the inaugural F1 Portugal Grand Prix in the year 1958 at Boa vista. The circuit included the famous ‘Esplanade do Rio de Janerio’, a harbor front in Porto continued along the Avenue of Boa vista, narrow twisting roads on small neighborhoods before reaching the start-finish line.

Pole and the race belonged to the Brit driver Moss; his fellow country man and title rival for 1958 Mike Hawthorn came in second. The race was not just about Moss and his drive but the other side of it, the humane side and the sportsmanship he displayed. During the course of the race, Hawthorn had an off-road excursion disrupting the normal traffic (since the track featured roads connecting tram lines, small roads and cobble stoned roads) which prompted the race officials to disqualify from his second place. Moss persuaded the officials to not take such an action and in the end Mike Hawthorn kept his second place and more importantly the 6 points. At the end of the season, Mike Hawthorn ended up winning the championships by a mere one point over Moss.
Sir Stirling Moss is arguably considered the best driver never to have won the World Championships and such was his passion for racing that, he took it seriously, was ruthless in his driving but fair when it came to approaching the sport in general.  
After the inaugural edition at Porto, it was the turn of Monsanto Park at Lisbon to host the second edition of Portuguese Grand Prix. The race returned to Boa vista in 1960 where Jack Brabham, the reigning World Champion won the race in his Cooper-Climax, helped by many retirements owing to engine failures and few accidents.
The 1960 race was the last time a F1 race was held at Boa vista. The Formula One Portuguese Grand Prix discontinued after 1960 till its revival in 1984 at Estoril. 
The revival of Boa vista track happened in the year 2005 and since then it has hosted auto-shows, the FIA WTCC Race of Portugal (2007, 2009 and 2011) which includes racing programs such as International Formula Master (formerly Formula Super 2000) and other Portuguese national competitions. 

Sunday 18 December 2011

Lost Track: Circuits of the Yore VII - Ain-Diab - Moroccan Grand Prix

Ain Diab Circuit 
The year was 2006 and I was on a self-exploration trip across few places West of India. It was during this trip I came across the quote (the one I had read previously in the books) inscribed on a wooden plate next to Mahatma’s room at Sabarmati Ashram – “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” After some travelling to places away from home I now can sense that quote well and interpret it better.

In the seventh series of ‘Lost Track’ I will talk about the racing in the Arab world. Currently the FIA World Championships feature two races from the Arabic speaking world - Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. However, it dates back to 1950’s when an Arab country hosted an F1 race, which also happened to be the first time a championship race was held in the World’s second largest continent, Africa.

Morocco is famous for its literature, rich culture, European influence in social life, blessed landscapes, picturesque valleys, mountains, archaeological sites and last but not the least the cuisine. Although I am a vegetarian, but I do know from few of my friends about the Moroccan food which includes my favorite couscous.

The most famous place isn’t the capital Rabat but happens to be the city which is also a name of the 1942 Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman starrer blockbuster movie. ‘Casablanca’ amongst all the other famous associations was the city that hosted the first Moroccan Grand Prix.

The racing at Casablanca dates back to 1920’s when the French and Monegasque drivers dominated the races which were driven mostly by the touring cars. At the start of 1950’s, racing cars started making their presence felt. Inspired by the world championships, a circuit at Ain-Diab (near Casablanca) was built. The first race at Ain-Diab was held in 1957 and following the popularity, an official sanction was made and thus 1958 Moroccan Grand Prix became part of the F1 calendar. The 7.6 km circuit resembled a quadrilateral in shape with dimples and pimples on all sides of the track was designed by the Royal Automobile Club of Morocco and given a full blessing from Sultan Mohammed V. It took merely six weeks to construct the circuit. 

Ferrari driven by Mike Hawthorn took the pole position. Hawthorn leading the championships needed just a finish the race in points scoring position and while the second placed Moss needed a victory and some luck with Mike not finishing  (the best six results counted towards the championships). Stirling Moss in his Vanwall took the top step but to Moss's ill fate, Mike finished in second and took the Driver’s World Championship.  However there was a consolation for Vanwall as they took the Constructor’s championships.

The race, first one to be hosted in Africa was impaired by the death of an English driver, Stuart Lewis-Evans who died in London six days after crashing heavily and succumbing to burns caused by his car’s seizure and hitting the barriers of this dusty circuit. After hosting races for 33 years, the first F1 race happened to be the last time Morocco ever hosted a race. There is nothing as exciting as a comeback. It remains to be seen if and when does Morocco get to host racing cars next. 

Monday 31 October 2011

Lost Track: Circuits of the Yore VI - Adelaide Grand Prix

As a cricket enthusiast, South Australia reminds me of the Test cricket ground Adelaide. In the last few years, whenever I have mentioned my little knowledge of Adelaide to the Aussies I have met, they ask me do you follow cricket? And there you go; it is easy for them to fathom why I know few things about Adelaide.

My exposure to Adelaide in my childhood days was strictly restricted to the Channel Nine coverage of the Australian cricket. Adelaide Oval, home to the South Australian State team boasts many champions, none more famous than the legendary Sir Donald Bradman who adopted Adelaide to be his home since 1933. In the sixth part of the ‘Lost Track’ series, I write about Adelaide and my knowledge of it beyond cricket.

Few years and at the turn of this millennium, when I started researching about Formula 1; I got to know Adelaide hosted Australian Grand Prix prior to Melbourne. Called Adelaide Street circuit also known as Adelaide Parklands Circuit, this 3.78 km track brought Formula One Down Under for the first time. Although, there have been many racing activities that took place prior to the Adelaide Grand Prix such as Tasman Formula, Formula 5000 and other non-championship races; Formula One arrived a good thirty five years after it was started.

The race was part of the 1985 calendar and was slated as the last race of the F1 World Championships. Nikki Lauda after a remarkable career winning three World Championships retired after this race. Keke Rosberg, the 1982 World Champion won the race which turned out to be the last of his career.

Nigel Mansell on his way to win his maiden title in 1986 blew a tyre which destroyed his World Championship and was won by Alain Prost (second in a row) winning in a TAG Porsche powered Mc Laren. It was one such epic three way battle to the title that Prost had an outside chance against Mansell and Nelson Piquet of the Williams quite similar to the one Kimi Raikkonen had in the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix against the two McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.

Season of 1987 was somewhat a consolation for the Ferrari, winning 1-2 in spite struggling to come to grips with the power houses of McLaren and Williams. In 1988, Ayrton Senna in his first season after having moved to McLaren won the championships in spite of Prost having more points. Since the best 11 results counted to the World Championships, Senna won his maiden title by 3 points over Prost. In 1989, the race with showers was won by Thierry Boutsen after a re-start.

In 1991, there was a torrential outpour which forced the organizers to stop the race at the end of 14 laps. This race, till date happens to be the shortest race in the history of Formula One, 24 minutes all it took. Ayrton Senna won the race by which he had collected his third and last World Championships. Nelson Piquet, after having a successful F1 career winning three world championships, called it a day in 1991 and Adelaide was his last appearance.

Amongst others, Prost was fired by Ferrari before this event, for criticizing the work environment of Ferrari. He took a sabbatical in 1992 before appearing again with Williams in 1993.

1992 Adelaide marked the end of a successful partnership of McLaren and Honda. Gerhard Berger won the race for McLaren in what was a season dominated by Williams and in particular by Nigel Mansell who had already won the driver’s championships.
Williams continuing their strong form of 1992 dominated the championships with Alain Prost winning the driver’s title and retired at the end of the season. His retirement was partly due to his unwillingness to have Senna as his team-mate. Senna after having spent six successful years with the McLaren, which saw him win three World Championship titles, was to move to Williams in the following season. Senna ended on a high note when he took McLaren-Ford to the top step of the podium on his last race with McLaren. If you have watched the movie ‘Senna’, this section is beautifully captured with friendly emotions being exchanged between the McLaren boss Ron Dennis and Senna.

With the loss of Ayrton Senna early in the season, the fight for the championships was between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill. With a point apart, Michael and Hill collided and both had retirements which ensured Schumacher to be the first German World Champion. The verdict was divided as to whose fault it was and it remained in that way till the final race of 1997 season at Jerez, Spain. After the 1997 season, Michael’s reputation tarnished and although he has been able to overcome with some splendid drives over the years, the incident at Adelaide will remain in the minds of F1 pundits forever.

After having made an announcement of the Australian GP being shifted to Melbourne the following season, the season of 1995 was the last Adelaide would host a Grand Prix.
The street circuit which included the famous racecourse Victoria Park as the pit lane;  Damon Hill won the final race and after 11 years of hosting the race on a street, the baton was passed on to Melbourne’s Albert Park. Adelaide also is one of the four circuits that has a corner named dedicated in the circuit 'Magny Cours', which hosted French Grand Prix several times. 

Monday 26 September 2011

Lost Track: Circuits of the Yore Part V - San Marino Grand Prix

Alfredo Ferrari, nicknamed Dino was the son of legendary Enzo Ferrari. Right since his childhood Enzo groomed Dino to be his successor and hence sent him to some of the best schools in Europe. Fate has it, Dino suffered from a muscular dystrophy (a sort of muscle degeneration which results in death) and passed away at a very young age of 24 in 1956. He was actively involved in the designing aspects of the Ferrari race engine and his untimely demise cut short of his dream of overseeing the project which he had initiated. In the fifth edition of Lost Track, a racing circuit whose name is a tribute to the pioneers of Ferrari, one who managed to live and sustain his dreams (Enzo Ferrari) and the other (Dino Ferrari) who had all the talent to succeed his father, but was not able to.

In 1980, the Italian Grand Prix arrived at a different location. For the first time, the race was moved out of Monza to another circuit in a town named ‘Imola’. One of the reasons was a direct result of Ronnie Peterson’s death in the opening lap of the 1978 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Although the race was intact at Monza the following year, a move was decided by F1 authorities and Imola hosted the Italian Grand Prix in 1980. Owing to political manoeuvring and a subsequent compromise resulted in Monza hosting the 1981 Italian Grand Prix and Imola as a separate race in the F1 calendar.
Imola was introduced into the F1 calendar as San Marino GP, named after a nearby municipal state. Since Italian GP was a regular at Monza, the name San Marino was chosen for this 5 km circuit.

The race under the banner of San Marino took off in a grand way with Nelson Piquet (driving Brabham-Ford) winning the race enroute to his first of three championships he won as a driver. The1982 edition had a lot of drama with race marked by a boycott of many teams as part of a political war, unrelated to the event itself, involving the two dominant forces within the sport, the FISA* (Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile) and the FOCA (Formula One Constructor’s Association). This caused the field for this race to be only 14 cars as many of FOCA-aligned teams such as McLaren, Williams, Lotus and Brabham didn’t participate and that left only Ferrari and the Renault cars to be competitive on track.

The race especially the final stages was an epic - Despite the Renaults of René Arnoux and Alain Prost qualifying 1-2, their cars failed in the race leaving Ferrari occupying the top two positions with Gilles Villeneuve leading Didier Pironi. The third-placed Tyrrell of Michele Alboreto was far behind, so Ferrari ordered their drivers to slow down to minimize the risk of mechanical failure or running out of fuel. Villeneuve interpreted this order to mean drivers retaining their positions. However, Didier Pironi thought they were free to race and passed Villeneuve. Villeneuve thinking, Pironi was just trying to bring in some excitement to the dull race, passed Pironi immediately. On the last lap, Villeneuve took it easy and Pironi passed him in the final stages of the lap and took the top step on the podium. Enraged with Pironi’s act, Villeneuve famously vowed – “I will never speak to Pironi again in my life”. So it remained. Still not in talking terms, Villeneuve crashed and died in the next race (Dutch Grand Prix) during qualifying.

This track known for its high-speed corners namely ‘Tamburello’ will be remembered for eternity in Motorsports.  Nelson Piquet had a near death miss when he crashed his Williams in 1987 onto the very corner which would consume the life of the legendary Aryton Senna seven years later.

In fact, the San Marino Grand Prix of 1994 will be known as the darkest race Formula One ever witnessed. It all started with Rubens Barrichello crashing hard into the fence at the Variante Bassa in which he decelerated violently and was knocked unconscious for a few minutes.There was also the death of Roland Ratzenberger at the Villeneuve Corner in the Saturday qualifying session, and the death of Ayrton Senna during the race itself at the 6th-gear Tamburello Corner. Senna in memory of Roland was found with a folded Austrian flag in his pocket, when he was examined after the crash.

As a result, for the 1995 race, the Tamburello and Villeneuve corners were altered from flat-out sweeping bends into slower chicanes, and the Variante Bassa was straightened. It was also the catalyst to changes being made to other circuits, and the sport as a whole, in an attempt to make it safer.

Ever since 1994, the race has been mostly dominated by Michael Schumacher, who has won the same record breaking seven times between 1994 and 2006. In 2003 Michael Schumacher and Ralf Schumacher raced despite the death of their mother just hours before the race. Both Schumachers sported black armbands and no champagne was sprayed on the podium as a mark of respect.

The fierce battles between Alonso and Michael Schumacher with each driver out manoeuvring in successive races (2005 – Alonso and 2006 – Schumacher) were some of the moments, Imola managed to capture in its final two years of hosting San Marino Grand Prix.

Constructors had complained about the poor quality of the facilities at Imola so, after much talk of dropping the San Marino Grand Prix from the Formula One championship, especially since there was another grand prix held in Italy, on 29 August 2006, the race was excluded from the calendar released for the 2007 season, and has not featured since.

Although the passion of Italians for Formula One is unparalleled, we can safely say, Imola won’t be taking part in Formula One under San Marino Grand Prix, and the only possibility is if hosts Italian Grand Prix instead of Monza. In hope to make a comeback into the Formula One calendar, there is a lot of renovation work that’s being handled by the track owners.

Imola which was a catalyst to changes being made to other circuits, and the sport as a whole, in an attempt to make it safer, was initially named only after Dino Ferrari. After the death of Enzo Ferrari in 1988, the circuit was renamed to honour both the Ferraris as ‘Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari’.

*The Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) was the governing body for motor racing events. The organisation's origins date from 1922, when the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) delegated the organisation of automobile racing to the CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale de la FIA), an autonomous committee that would later become the FISA. A restructuring of the FIA in 1993 led to the disappearance of the FISA, putting motor racing under direct management of the FIA.

Enzo Ferrari (left) with Dino Ferrari 

Sunday 18 September 2011

Anatomy of India-England Series

The game at Cardiff, Wales, was not a regular match for most spectators at the stadium. For the Indian fans, the result was irrelevant; they had gathered in numbers to see and see off history: cheering one last time for Rahul Dravid taking the field for India in coloured gear.
The journey began in 1996 and 15 years on, it was sheer joy to see the legend retire from the shorter version of the game on a high. A fortnight ago, he made his debut in T-20s for India and it was surreal to see him belt three consecutive sixes off Samit Patel. That was his first and last T-20 international.
And after two weeks of ODIs, the curtains finally come down on the one-day career of this cricketer who represented cricket in its original avatar: a gentleman’s game. The tally in the end is impressive beyond doubt — 10,899 runs ODI at an average of 39.16 with 12 centuries — and the parting shot equally sound: a well-compiled 69 to ensure India scored their highest total in the entire English tour.
So, on we come to the trip that looked much, much different two months ago. It was difficult beyond doubt for India, and while the players sweated even amid the chill of English summer, the tour felt scorching and stifling like the dry Delhi heat for the fans.
They were outdone by a resilient English side that has ambitions to be the number one in world cricket. They managed to achieve that in Test cricket, and with their performance in the One Day Internationals, the team showed they are well on track to achieve the same in this version of the game as well.
But England’s real test will come later next month, when they tour India to play five ODIs.
Reams have been written about India’s collective failure on the tour, especially in the Test matches. And the series of injuries did not help matters much. But it might not be down the barrel all the way through. After remaining at the helm of Test cricket for close to two years, the Indian cricket team and its management would have learnt a valuable lesson: never rest on your laurels, and while you are at the top, striving to become better is an ongoing exercise.
As they say, the challenge to sustain at the top is much greater than climbing the peak.
India’s defeat in the ODIs also showed some positives, especially the rise of Ajinkya Rahane, Parthiv Patel’s re-emergence; and R. Vinay Kumar and R. Ashwin also had a decent outing. The re-invented Ravindra Jadeja looks a lot more matured player than his previous avatar, and is a welcome addition to the team.
Without the senior players, it was good to see India performing well and with luck, they could have won a couple of matches. Overall the batting wasn’t as bad when compared to the Test series, but the bowling could certainly be a lot better, for the key to be a successful side is a good bowling attack.
Like in life, every cricketer has ups and downs, and this series must have come as an eye-opener for skipper M.S. Dhoni. It was his first series defeat as a captain in Tests. But for a man who led a side that has toured fairly all over the place, barring Australia, it isn’t such a bad record.
At the start of the tour, India lost Zaheer Khan on the very first day due to injury, and on the last day Munaf Patel left the field with injury.
As India lost yet another match, and England chased down yet another target, eyebrows will, however, be raised about the quality and depth (or lack of it) of Indian bowling. The bowling let down the batsmen in the ODIs, while it was the other way round in the Test series for most part.
If you ask the Indian skipper, he will be the first man to admit that a lot of work needs to be done and a better system of player management needs to be put in place to reclaim the top slot. Which is a good way to look at things: play to your potential, take each game on its own, and leave the panic button for the journalists.
No rash decisions are required; just prioritise and put certain systems in place to manage the workload of players.
I can’ recall the last time India were whitewashed, but Dhoni and Dravid certainly did stand out for India in the ODIs and Tests, respectively, by winning Man of the Series awards. It sums up the lack of support they received. After losing the Tests 4-0, outplayed in the lone T-20, the only redemption was a tied match in the ODI series.
Overall, a very disappointing series and considering India came into the series as the world’s best Test team and ODI world champions, it was sad to see their reputation cut short. But rising from the depths and looking up is what separates boys from men. So pick up the pieces and put the jigsaw right again.
While it undoubtedly is a long road back to the top, all is not lost. The important aspect is to learn the lessons, and learn them well. Even the great Australian team is undergoing a rebuilding process, and has taken some important steps to set things right after the disastrous Ashes campaign at home.
Let us give credit where it’s due: England has played outstanding cricket consistently for some time now.

Monday 5 September 2011

Lost Track: Circuits of Yore IV - Pescara, Italian Grand Prix

Italy is known for its fanatic fan following for football and motorsports. In motorsports, you have stronghold German car manufacturers and English constructors in today’s game. But life in Italy is different and the passion for motorsports is something very different from the rest of Europe.
The story goes back in time when Fascists ruled Italy and under the Mussolini regime, Italy was establishing as a power house of Europe. In 1920’s when football had already created an impact among fanatics of Italy, motorsports was finding its way slowly and steadily across Italy, most notably at Monza.
Pescara, a small province on the Adriatic coast of Italy was no different and it hosted the first automobile race in the year 1924. It was known as the ‘Coppa Acerbo’, named after Tito Acerbo, the brother of Giacomo Acerbo, a prominent fascist politician. The inaugural race was won by the then unknown driver ‘Enzo Ferrari’, who later rose to fame with the launch of his ‘Ferrari’ in the late 1920’s.
In the European race circuits of that era, Coppa Acerbo was considered to be a very prestigious event. The home grown cars were among the winners most notably the Alfa Romeos who dominated the racing scene winning the seven out of the first nine races. Due to the changing regulations, the winners varied from Alfa Romeos and German Silver Arrows of Mercedes until World War II.
The race returned after a re-building process in 1947 with an alteration to the name of the circuit. Since the Fascists no longer ruled Italy, the circuit name was aptly changed to ‘Circuito di Pescara’.
When Formula One World Championships began in 1950, Pescara was not part of the official calendar but that didn’t stop it from being one of the most prestigious races in the racing circles. Well, strange thing do happen in Formula 1 and with the cancellation of Belgium and Dutch GP in 1957 it paved the way to Pescara, and it hosted the longest ever grand prix (26 km circuit length). The race of 1957 till date remains the longest race ever being hosted in the history of Formula One.
Juan Manuel Fangio in his Maserati took the pole position, while the race was won by the English man, Stirling Moss in his Vanwall. In spite of a successful race, the 1957 edition was the only race Pescara ever hosted as a Formula One event.
With Belgium and Dutch GP returning to the calendar and coupled with ever-increasing speeds and the fragile build-quality of most cars of the time, the race was discontinued after the 1961 event. It is also worth noting that, Italy already had a regular circuit in Monza, which hosted Italian GP since the inception of Formula 1 Championships and continues to do so.
With time, Pescara was long forgotten and the only recent connection to Formula One is that, Pescara also happens to be the birth place of the Italian driver, Jarno Trulli.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Who will Watch over the Watchmen?

When it comes to cricketing matters, rarely Sachin Tendulkar has set his foot wrong. He among other Indian cricketers has repeatedly expressed their apprehensions over the inconsistency of DRS technology since its inception. Looks like after the dubious decision made by the third umpire Erasmus to overrule the original decision of Rahul Dravid, the debate will go on.
Now, we have a situation where BCCI has finally managed to get the support in the form of Simon Taufel, who incidentally wasn’t pleased with the technology aids present at the on-going Australia – Srilanka Test Series in Srilanka. He has appealed ICC to centralise the DRS system such that, the flaws can be minimised tremendously.
There have been few suggestions for ICC, who being the body supreme to run cricket in the world to form a separate committee which will overlook the development and implementation of the DRS and other related technical aids. This will be a welcome move and the buck will stop at one point. With the current situation, a lot is expected out of broadcasters to come up with DRS system and like the quality of production varies from one broadcaster to the other, the worrying factor is that of different qualities of DRS system. Surely, I can stop this about this topic at the moment as I am sure there will be a huge discussion on this considering Indian cricket is most affected as a result of this inconsistency.
Coming to the match officials, it is paramount that the third umpire, the match referees and the on-field umpires take decisions based on the evidence that is present and not use their logic, mainly when it comes to taking decisions based on technology reviews. What we saw at Durham; there was no evidence to prove Rahul Dravid was out caught behind. There was no deviation and no mark on the hotspot. But the on-field decision of not out was overruled and out went Rahul Dravid. It wasn’t the first time hotspot went cold. So the question arises, do umpires consider hotspot and other technological aids to be valid or do they have apprehensions themselves?
Secondly, it was a bad decision made. Even though snickometer later suggested there might have been a nick, clearly the third umpire did not have any video evidence to give Dravid out. Yes, it could have been a humanly error but are the umpires who watch over the game seriously accountable such that they avoid taking illogical decisions?
Umpires are an important part of the game donning the non-glamorous role, nevertheless very important in deciding the outcome of a cricket game. Any aid available to assist them is a welcome move. At the moment, there seems to be an ideological chaos in the implementation of the technological aids. This is the time ICC takes a pro-active step in taking control over the technology and starts implementing in first-class cricket for all the necessary iterations and experimentations.
ICC must not create a controversy by leaving an open ended boundary with respect to the kind of technologies that can be used. It is time for ICC to make few decisions for rest of the cricketing fraternity to follow and in parallel establish themselves as the principle controller of the game, especially in matters relating to cricket’s logical evolution.
All great things take time and face opposition. But great things simply do not happen over time unless necessary actions are taken periodically and wholeheartedly.

Wednesday 31 August 2011

Why so fuss over T20 and a cameo from Rahul Dravid

I have been hearing a lot of things about T20 and its effects on today's generation who wants to take up cricket. A lot of ex-cricketers complain it is not an ideal preparation for Test cricket. My question goes - Is it not left to an individual to choose what he wants or which format he would love to play cricket?
If we compare the present day cricket to our present lives, a lot has changed since the previous generation. We have good facilities coming up and things in general are improving than what it used to be. Of course, it means one had to give up things that were prevalent previously, but in the end no one is complaining for the change that is happening.
Coming back, I read a lot of media and public in general blame the Indian team for the disastrous Test series against England. Why was it so disastrous? A lot of reasons go into it and one being lack of preparation. As the cricket evolved, technology and better personnel are also available to ensure there is a constant churning of good players. The question is how soon are we going to adapt to the modern ways of playing cricket? How soon we are going to merge the modern day cricket with our modern lifestyle?
Look at the big picture - We have ten countries that are eligible to play Test cricket, the ultimate position to be for a cricketing nation. What about the other 194 countries? Surely not everyone is going to be able to play Test cricket and it is good in a way. After a lot of years and since the year 1877, we have 10 teams out of which Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are often criticised for not being up to the mark. So we have 8 nations that often produce the best Test cricket. Now do we want to go forward or just be happy with 8 nations? Any direction is welcome according to me, given a choice I would keep the best 10 teams for playing Test cricket.
And we have One day Internationals. The format was reborn after the success of the 2011 World Cup. When ODI began in 1971, there were a lot of people complaining about the format affecting the Test cricket. And here we are 40 years since the first ODI, things have improved and cricket has become a global commodity. For all those people, who just want Test cricket, it is important to note that, it is the ODI's and the T20's that bring in majority of the money. Yes, it is sad but a hard reality fact in today's sporting world, MONEY. Money is the power required to run the sport, any sport in general, with high standards and also sustain it over a period of time. Sooner or later one needs to accept this fact and. Or else bring in the change? How? That is what the running federation must find out?
I am inspired to write this blog post after watching Rahul Dravid hit three consecutive sixes off Samit Patel in Manchester against England. After scoring well over 10,000 runs in both ODI's and Test cricket, he makes his debut in T20 cricket for India. All I can say is, form is temporary, and class is permanent. He reminds me of Andy Dufresne from Shawshank Redemption. And the line - 'Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies'. I can imagine him saying this line to someone whose chips are down. He never complained about T20 or ODI even though he was widely known only as a Test cricketer. To me, he just loves cricket and that's about it. Rest, his statistics speaks volume on his behalf.
Coming back to the topic - Charles Darwin once remarked it is all about survival of the fittest. Surely with better facilities available fitness should never be an issue in today’s cricket. To top it, there is no forcing for a cricketer to play every match. The formula should be - The fittest 11 and then the in-form 11 to play out a match. It is a simple formula but surrounded by complicated factors. Just like the corporate sector of today encourage employees to take some time off in order to work better; players must also be given the same option. The question of cricket fatigue would never come.
Let’s move forward now and invest in having a good player management and talent scout to keep churning out players day in and day out. The team that plays needs to play with the spirit of the game and the desire to win.
And to talk about globalisation of the sport - It is only possible with T20 to explore different markets of the world. For countries who want to play cricket, T20 is the format to begin with. One doesn't require a proper technique to learn the game. You play you learn. Cricket to be part of Olympics, T20 is the only way. The second source of money is Time.
I am a fan of cricket and I enjoy whatever format cricket is played. It is the game I love and I only want the sport to have worries about how to spread the game to different places than fighting over injuries, T20, ODI's and which format is being superior.

Monday 29 August 2011

Lost Track: Circuits of Yore III - Bremgarten, Switzerland

Train journey to Bern was made several times before, but I always missed going out of the station and take the bus that would take me to Bremgarten, a small village north of Bern.
I missed the visit in 2009 due to numerous reasons, and I missed it again in 2010. This time around, I was determined to make a visit to this village and so I did. I wondered how it would have been sixty years ago when it hosted the Swiss GP in the Formula One calendar. The place was scenic and I went about exploring few areas of this village.
Bremgarten was the place that hosted Formula One and other Motorsport events under the umbrella of Swiss Grand Prix. Built originally as the motorcycle circuit in 1931, this track was built around the forests and hosted the first automobile race from 1934.
In spite of Bremgarten being accused as a treacherous circuit, it was a regular feature in the calendar of motorsports, managed to hold successfully the Swiss GP and Grand Prix of Bern (motorcycle races). Popularity was such that, when the Motorcycle championships which began in 1949 and the very next year, Formula One; both included Bremgarten to their respective racing calendars.
Giuseppe Farina won the inaugural Swiss GP on his way to claim the first ever Formula One World Championships. Juan Manuel Fangio was the winner in 1951. The going was fine till the news of 1955 Le Mans disaster hit the headlines across the world. Around 80 spectators were killed when a car driven by Pierre Levegh lost control. The car parts of Levegh’s Mercedes flew all over and caused what is considered as the most catastrophic accident in the history of motorsports.
The LeMans 24 hours racing disaster had serious consequences with several of the organisations were asked serious questions with regards to safety. Mercedes as a tribute to the victims withdrew from the race immediately and did not take part in the motorsports for the next 30 years.
Switzerland, known for its non-violence in the contemporary history took a step forward and held several talks immediately to look at the implications of such a disaster. Any chance of Swiss GP at Bremgarten returning to the F1 was closed once in for all when senate finally banned motorsports in 1958 on the grounds of the sport being unsafe for the spectators.
Juan Manuel Fangio driving his Mercedes around this 7.28 km circuit was the last winner at Bremgarten. Two races were held under the name of Swiss GP in France at Dijon circuit in 1975 and 1982. Clay Regazzoni, from the canton of Ticino (Switzerland) won the 1975 Swiss GP while Keke Rosberg won his only GP in 1982 enroute to his World Championship title.
I walked across the roads of Bremgarten recollecting all the knowledge I had on Swiss GP and wondered how it would be to have a race now in Switzerland. It turns out; the Swiss Government isn’t very keen in spite of a brief moment when overturning the ban was considered seriously.

Back in 2007, The Swiss Council of States (known as the Senat) had examined the law passed by the National Council to alter the terms of the Road Traffic Law of 1958 which prohibits circuit racing in Switzerland. The proposal was to allow racing on closed circuits in the country. The Council of States rejected to new law and although the legislation went back to the National Council with little hope, the law was never passed.
So on that note, and to add that Formula One is moving to different parts of the world, it is very unlikely Switzerland is going to build any circuits in the foreseeable future, at least not ones on which racing will take place.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Lost Track: Circuits of Yore II - AVUS, Berlin

Discussions on various aspects bring us a perspective that never would have entered our minds by itself. Talking about tracks that previously hosted is one such thing. In the second part of this series, focus is on a city, that previously hosted Olympic Games, has songs written over it, and till date remains as one of the popular destinations tourists visit, whenever they enter Germany.

Berlin, among other things, does have a rich tradition in motorsports. It all started in the late 1920’s when the first German Grand Prix was held in 1926. It was a proud moment as many of the German car manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz, Porsche etc and other sports cars participated.

AVUS (Automobil-Verkehrs- und Übungs-Straße) located near the South-western districts of Berlin was known for its unique track characteristics. With two long straight roads connected by hairpins, AVUS underwent a lot of changes in order to sustain the competition from Nurburgring (which started hosting from 1927) and in an effort to make it as world’s fastest track. One such change is heavily documented and talked about is that of the addition of ‘North Curve’, a 43 degree banking made of bricks, was termed ‘Wall of Death’, by most race observers.

The long straights enticed the drivers to go full throttle and it is here the German motor racing legend Hermann Lang recorded the fastest race speed (260 km/h) and this was a record until the technological advancements at the Indy racing went a notch higher three decades later; than the record set by Lang in 1938.

With World War II and the ramifications of the same forced the circuit authorities to cut its length to 8.3 km from the original 19 km long circuit; Berlin Wall at the proximity of the circuit being one of the reasons to reduce the distance.
After hosting a successful non-championship race in 1954, AVUS made its entry in Formula One in 1959 as hosts of the annual German Grand Prix. Tony Brooks, Dan Gurney and Phil Hill (all Ferrari drivers) were on the podium. The race weekend saw the death of a supports car driver Jean Behra, when he lost control of his car at North curve. His death turned out to be a bad publicity to the track was deemed ‘unsafe’ according to International regulations, as a result of which in 1967, the notorious North curve was dismantled.
Safety of the drivers and of the motor racing fraternity is of the essence. Back in those days, life threatening accidents were accepted as – ‘Motor Racing Incidents’. But the awareness and the death of racing stalwarts in the latter years sent a strong message to the governing bodies to either increase the safety aspects of the car, or choose circuits that can reduce if not eliminate the terrible accidents.

AVUS never got an opportunity to participate in a Formula One season in the following seasons. It hosted several Formula 3, Touring car championships before the curtains came down in 1999.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Lost Track: Circuits of the Yore I - Aintree - British Grand Prix

The name of 'Aintree' takes its origin meaning ‘one tree’ or ‘Tree standing alone’. This Merseyside village located north of Liverpool city centre has a strong connection with the world of motor sports.

Currently, this venue is more renowned as a race-course where it hosts some of the famous names in the equestrian world. Previously it hosted the prestigious British Grand Prix four times and “Grand Prix d’Europe” once apart from other non-championship races.

Located on the A59 highway, a 30 minute bus ride from the Liverpool city centre, this venue itself is notable with a rich history comprising of unforgettable moments to the British racing public and the drivers. It was a cold windy afternoon when I and couple of other friends (in 2009) decided to have a look at this venue. The reception at the race course was very co-operative providing some inputs about the history and also took some time to show the new grand stands which were previously used as pit garages.

Founded in 1954, the Aintree circuit club has the distinction of being the first track based motor club. The first Formula One event in 1955 at this circuit created ripples across Great Britain. The hero, Stirling Moss, won his first GP at this very venue and thereby became the first Briton driver to win a home grand prix. This was so special at that time that, BBC arranged a special interview with Moss on account of his achievement.

The continuing popularity of the Buckinghamshire based track ‘Silverstone’ gave ‘Aintree’ enough competition, and a deal was struck to host the British GP alternatively to appease both circuit clubs. This trend continued till 1960 and Aintree hosted their last two events in 1961 and 1962. Another track by the name ‘Brands Hatch’ took the onus to share the British GP tacking with ‘Silverstone’.

Apart from hosting British GP, ‘Aintree’ also had the honour of hosting a world championship event under the name “Grand Prix d’Europe”. In 1957, on this occasion, another feather was added to the cap of British motorsports history. British drivers winning a British race in a British car was seen as a landmark event. Something previously the Ferrari’s or the Alfa Romeo’s managed. It was the turn of Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks winning for Vanwall made headlines and Moss became the most sort after driver in his country.

The only driver who participated both in a horse race and in a car race was the legendary Spanish driver ‘Alfonso De Portago’, who took part in the Grand National steeplechase event during his youth years and also participated in a non-championship car race few years later. Due to his untimely death at the 1957 Millie Migila event, he was unable to participate in that year’s Aintree GP.

In addition to the world events, Aintree also hosted non-championship events between 1954 and 1964. Since 1964, very few racing events have take place in spite of the racing club being active.

Currently, Aintree Motorcycle road racing club organizes motorcycle races six times a year and has a good following with excellent attendances. Currently the negotiations are on between the Liverpool city council and the motor club to modify the circuit to re-instate the motor sports activities such as Formula Ford, Formula Renault etc. It remains to be seen whether ‘Aintree’ circuit can come back to action or will it be standing alone.

Lost Track: The Circuits of the Yore - is a series covering the circuits that were once a regular feature in the calendar of formula one racing. The first article is about ‘Aintree’ that hosted British Grand Prix from 1955, 1957, 1959, 1961 and 1962.

Saturday 23 July 2011

15 Years Later - Journey of The Great Indian Wall continues

It took fifteen years to witness what I missed on the English summer of 1996. As a 11 year old kid, I used to run to my friend's house down the road to watch cricket. Our house had cable connection, but due to different cable operators, ESPN wasn't on our viewing menu. Disappointed I was, but wasn't depressing as I had a friend who told me he had ESPN on his menu.
It was the evening of 21st June; India started their innings after England unfolded for 344 which included a resurgent hundred by Jack Russell batting lower down the order. Third day of the Test match after having played street cricket with my friends, I rushed to Basava's house 300 meters away from my house. First thing I remember was Ajay Jadeja getting out to Ronnie Irani, in fact he was bowled. Five wickets down and carrying the burden of having earlier watched Lewis castling Sachin Tendulkar, I thought to myself, Let's see what's in store for India this time.
This was my first viewing of India - England Test match, held in England. It was Lord's. I missed the first Test match at Edgbaston because I spent more time mourning and fighting with the cable operators. Looking back, wish Basava had told me his house had ESPN telecast.
Coming back to the Test match, out comes Rahul Dravid, local boy and someone for whom I always prayed he did well. He had a series of poor run at Singer Cup in Singapore and in Sharjah Cup against Pakistan and South Africa. I liked Rahul Dravid more so because he was from Bangalore. Till date, he remains my second favourite cricketer after Sachin Tendulkar.
Rahul Dravid joins Saurav Ganguly in the middle. Ganguly gets out after making a wonderful 131. By then, Dravid had weathered the initial butterflies a debutant goes through. And at the end of third day's play he had reached the first milestone of scoring a fifty. He had his Bangalore mate Kumble alongside him.
Day 4 - 23rd June, Sunday; I had to go with my parents to visit some relatives and also to shop for my birthday. Back then, I had to buy chocolates and sweets for my fellow classmates and teachers. Also had to plan what kind of dishes and number of friends I would have to invite home the next day. The match would begin at 3.30 in the noon (Indian time) and I had some time.
After shopping and the visits, I rushed to Basava's house to watch cricket. Kumble was out by then and very soon Javagal Srinath had to return back to the pavilion. I was bit nervous and was praying for Dravid's century. He took his time, taking singles and was well supported by Paras Mhambrey, who was playing his second Test. And then the moment came, Rahul Dravid edges a delivery from Chris Lewis through to Jack Russell and thereby ended his moment of glory by scoring a century on debut. He missed the landmark by five runs.
I was a happy man to see Dravid finally scoring runs. He followed it up by 84 at Trent Bridge, Nottingham in the third Test. He never looked back in the Tests since then.
15 years and one month hence, on a Saturday afternoon - Rahul Dravid walked out to bat at Lord's in what seems to be his last Test at this very venue where he made his Test debut. Barring Tendulkar, no one else in the current squad witnessed his debut as a mate. In these 15 years, Dravid managed to develop a unique relationship with Lord's. In his 154th Test, Dravid became the first player to play at Lord's while being a active member of MCC, now made it extra special by scoring the hundred. In his fourth attempt he finally made it at a place where it all began for him.
In the years to come, this hundred by Dravid shall remain in my memory. It has a journey of a cricketer and also the journey of me as a follower. I am watching the match on my laptop, in the city of Zurich, quite different from the street when I first saw him bat. It just goes to show, 15 years indeed seems a long time, but 'The Wall' manages to stay firm and looks solid for few more years to come.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Sachin and the Tale of Two Nehru Stadiums

The best thing about the generation I grew up was about a special persona called ‘Sachin’. I was inspired more than anything else about this cricketer who continues to enthrall me in my daily life till date. My work for IPL had a special connection related to Sachin and indeed I can say I was fortunate my cricketing thirst was realized to an extent.
I had an opportunity to be at the two new venues of IPL. Both the stadiums had unique culture, style, work ethics, and mannerisms. The first look at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium at Kochi, it feels as though one is in a football stadium. It is true, the same venue hosted several football matches in the past including a match that had one lakh spectators. It is a huge stadium in the middle of a public road surrounded by many commercial SME’s.
I have been to cricket stadiums previously, but never once to a football converted cricket stadium. What do I remember about Kochi? Summer of 98 comes to my mind, as a 13 year old school going boy I had my summer holidays. April 98, scenes of Ajay Jadeja scoring a hundred, Kambli in his comeback match, Ajit Agarkar making his debut and vividly I remember the champion picking up 5 wickets for the first time in his career. Oh yes, after creating havoc in the Test series against Australia, it was time for the champ to show his magic with the ball. What amazed me was the leg spinners of his and the amount of turn he managed to get. Six years later, he repeated his feat with the ball against Pakistan by picking up a Michelle at the same venue.
The stats man in me was thrilled to have been in this stadium. Along with the IPL work, I was happy to have met the comrades of Kerala Cricket Association who have been part of Kochi cricket since its debut in 1998. In the free time, I tested my cricketing knowledge with them about the other matches played at Kochi.
While the matches were on at Kochi, I had an opportunity to travel Indore regularly to prepare the venue for IPL. From the humid weather, it was time I welcomed the dry heat of Indore. Apart from Food Street, Indore had a rich history of cricket with Holkars (before it was called Madhya Pradesh) having played their home matches at Indore. The venue for the two home matches of Kochi Tuskers was at the Holkar stadium, which had previously hosted just the two ODI’s. Both being India – England encounters in 2006 and 2008 respectively.
The first question I asked to MPCA (Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association), what about the other ground of Indore? The staff at MPCA was kind enough to give me the address of the same. One fine evening on my way to the airport, I decided to check out this venue. Call it co-incidence; it was the historic Nehru stadium of Indore I was talking about. Just to go back into history, this stadium never hosted an ODI after 2001. It hosted a tie match between India – Zimbabwe, World cup match between Australia – New Zealand in 1987, a controversial abandoned match on the Christmas of 97 between India – Sri Lanka and the eventful historic India – Australia ODI in 2001. Sachin became the first player in ODI’s to score run number 10,000 at this very ground.
Luck has it; the Nehru stadium has become a public play ground and doesn’t look like a venue that had previously hosted international matches. It was disappointing to see the ground reality of this venue. Well, that’s how things go I believe. Before getting in to the car, I managed to see the long bat signed by the entire team of victorious India of 1971 England tour. Next day, I was back in Kochi and walked around the Nehru stadium. I thought to myself – How contrasting the two venues of the same name are?

Thursday 28 April 2011

World Cup Story from the Kanmadikars

It feels great personally to have been in an era where one has seen the Indian cricket team winning the World Cup. Yes, I didn’t have the opportunity to be at the Wankhede stadium, but it does not matter. I am happy about the World Cup. Here in Indore, sitting in the board room of the MPCA, located at the Holkar stadium, I am beginning my preparations for IPL’s debut at Indore.
It feels great to be in a city that has a rich history in cricket, although fairly low in terms of the output of Test cricketers; but those who made it were of rich pedigree.
While on work, a certain gentleman Mr. Milind Kanmadikar knocks the board room and asks for me. Yes, I remember him, as I had spoken to him over phone in order to confirm his role as the home team liaison, we mutually scheduled the meeting. He was the liaison manager for the Canadian team which participated in the recently concluded Cricket World Cup. I enquired about his role with the Canadian team to have an insight about his role and he was very lucid that made us have some interesting conversation. My inquisitive mind did not stop.
I asked him if he was at Wankhede to witness the finals, he said “No” but my son Prasoon did. I got to meet Prasoon two days prior I met Mr. Milind. Prasoon is a freelance lawyer who also happens to be the Broadcast Liaison for the two IPL matches at Indore. Mr. Milind added– “I witnessed the 1983 World Cup at Lord’s”. I was impressed and he continues – “My father was the secretary of the BCCI during that time and courtesy, my dad I was able to watch the match”.

He was referring to none other than Anant Wagesh Kanmadikar, who is popularly known as “The Judge” was in fact a judge by profession. He was a popular cricket administrator whose highlight in administration was holding the post of secretary, BCCI from 1980 – 85. This small chat with Milind was enthralling. Mr. A.W. Kanmadikar was a towering personality in MPCA and Indian cricket administrative circles. He passed away in the year 2005, leaving behind a legacy that saw India winning the World Cup for the first time and also hosting the World Cup in 1987. In his honor MPCA conducts a district level junior tournament and the trophy is aptly named ‘A.W Kanmadikar trophy’.

We both had some commitments to attend and before bidding a bye, I asked if he wasn’t tempted to be at Wankhede. He replied, “I saw in 1983 and I wanted my son to witness this. He cried after India won the World Cup as his son had an opportunity to witness the same and now they both relate this rare joy of achievement among Indian cricket circles”.

Over the course of next few weeks, I will have an opportunity to interact with these gentlemen as Indore gears up to host the IPL for the first time.
(L-R): Milind Kanmadikar, A.W. Kanmadikar, Prasoon Kanmadikar posing with the Kanmadikar trophy

Sunday 3 April 2011

Slum Shot Millionaires

If I would like to comment on the ending of Slum dog Millionaire, I feel it isn’t filmy like most Bollywood movies that come from the school of formula movies. One feels ending was a miracle, but I feel it wasn’t. In some way today I was got a feeling that India’s victory in this year’s World Cup was quite similar and in the end, the Three Musketeers turned out to be Sachin, Gary Kirsten and Dhoni.
Right from the start, this World Cup was played in a normal way by the Indians. The hype was there, no doubt, but it wasn’t like 2003, 2007 or other previous editions where people hoped for miracles than believing that team could do it. Never in the history of Indian cricket, had a team displayed such consistency over a period of time across the globe. It was not a one man show, it had characters who encountered different situations time to time and in the end the blow of Dhoni was similar to Jamal answering the last question.
Both the protagonists had a mission and took upon themselves to find their destiny. And some might call it luck, but every puzzle India managed to solve had a solid reason behind it, something very unusual when we look at the other Indian teams from the yester years. One had solid reasoning behind every milestone.
We are a nation fascinated by glory associated with miracles. This victory wasn’t a miracle; it was sheer hard work, of course things went India’s way on some occasions but overall if you ask anyone in our country, you find more optimists than pessimists. In the end it wasn’t the World Cup that interested us; it’s the journey from 2007 that helped the entire nation to believe it wasn’t a miracle after all.
Quite a few parallels if we compare the Indian team of 2007 to the start of the movie. We were at some point in time literally in shit or so as many believed we were after a dismal performance in 2007. The turnaround was through sensible choices and one such was appointing Dhoni as the captain. One must not forget the contribution made by Anil Kumble to bring in the character that was required in order to win the final war. Many battles were fought between 2007 and 2011, some were lost but the most important thing was progress and it was towards winning the war.
Personally I was happy to witness the metamorphosis of this team and on the final day in Mumbai, it was similar to Jamal being driven to the studio for that one final question. Who believed Jamal would falter at the last hurdle? None, somehow people were convinced he would answer and win the ultimate prize. The question wasn’t easy and it was a tricky situation but he went for it and in a similar fashion MS Dhoni took upon himself and went for it. After having played brilliant cricket, this team wasn’t destined to fail. Next moment all we see is people cheering as though they have personally accomplished this feat. Such is the emotion about yesterday’s victory.
Come next day, it is business as usual; people are recovering from the hangover of yesterday’s victory. The moment has passed yet the memories shall remain for the people who witnessed personally and to the millions and billions of other fans who followed it through some form of media.
All good things must come to an end; if it isn’t good then it is not the end. It wasn’t good for Sachin in 1996 and 2003 and his career wasn’t going to be a collection of sad ending World Cup stories. Reward finally arrived; good it came what he always wished for; even better the fact that it came at his home ground in India.
Jai Ho