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.