Why

Why

Monday 24 December 2012

SACHIN AND THOSE WONDER YEARS


Sachin Tendulkar will no longer be donning the Blue Team India shirt bearing the number 10. He no longer will be opening the innings and more so, he no longer be scheming the bowlers with his continuous onslaught of boundaries and clever play. I know he will be part of Test cricket, but his retirement from ODI’s gives me a feeling of being a patient who is in his/her last stages of life. The end is not too far.
  
I am saying this because he has been a constant in my life ever since I can go back in my life. Travelogue from the early 90’s till now, my journey of cricket has been defined by Tendulkar and I can say that cricket viewing will not be the same. I know no player is bigger than the game, but to me I hooked on to cricket because of Sachin Tendulkar.

I would say I am lucky; I was at the right age when I started watching cricket; in only his second year into cricket I was barely six years of age and the image of his curled hair covered with his white helmet coming on to bat is fresh on my mind. It was in New Zealand where he scored his first run in ODI’s. Then the big series was the Australian tour where I remember his wicket taking abilities to tie the match at Perth against the West Indies along his bravado facing the fast bowlers scoring some decent knocks. Then the World Cup, waking up early to watch the matches. Remember the knocks at Sydney, Hamilton or Dunedin?

With school being very close to my place, I always used to rush back home to catch the glimpse of the match and if I did miss the matches, I use to catch them on highlights or watch the news (both Hindi and English) to just see few shots of the match. I must say, watching him play rubbed me into playing cricket as well. I was not that great a cricketer, but was a good enough player and that was entirely inspired by Sachin Tendulkar. I faced my friends who wore Fair and Lovely on their nose and came fast at me; I was determined to hit them apart. This was the effect of watching a lot of Indian cricket played in Australia and South Africa.

By this time, Sachin was on my walls courtesy the Boost posters. I never liked Boost, preferred Bournvita over it for taste; I used to buy them just to have Sachin’s poster. I remember the time when collecting post cards of Sachin was a past time to me; be it on a Sunny bike or the Big Fun bubble gum cards or sometime later those Sahara Cup and 1996 World Cup cards. I used to force my parents to subscribe to Sportstar magazine because I wanted to read and look at those pictures on cricket. 

Coming back from school was almost done in a hurry; rather to watch the last few minutes of cricket or to go out play cricket. Even the lunch break was spent in 5 minutes of eating and 35 minutes of watching cricket either at home or at a nearby friend’s place. Cricket was wired in me and I can’t but stop think for a moment that there was life beyond cricket. All this before I was even 9 years of age and then this happened.

My dad used to play cricket, corporate cricket in the 80’s and early 90’s. He loved cricket so much that he once hugged Vivian Richards at Chinnaswamy stadium. I was not born that time, but that story is a legend in our family. Richards was my dad’s hero and I can understand how ecstatic he must have felt meeting his hero. In 1993, when Indian team was down at Bangalore playing a double-wicket tournament, I went in with my sister to watch it. My dad took us to the pavilion and I was with my boyish exuberance met one cricketer after the other, getting their autographs. And then saw my hero, my idol standing about 100m from me. I could see him, his curled hair and his strapped left hand. He wasn’t taking part in the tournament but that was not what was on my mind. I took my little sister and ran towards him like how Usain Bolt would have done for a 100m race. Just about 80m, a security guard stopped my run with his lathi stick and I was scared. I looked back and saw few kids of my age too wanting to get an autograph of Sachin. Just when we thought it wouldn’t happen, I heard a voice “Un logon ko bula” (Call those guys in). Lathi lifted and we all rushed to him. I cherish the autograph as it was signed from his wrong hand and shook hands with him.

But that happened nearly 20 years ago but still remains a fond memory; so does his 463 ODI appearances. I might have not seen all his 18,426 runs scored from his bat, but have followed religiously everyone of it through some means. His 49 centuries and 96 half-centuries is a testament to his sheer hunger; his cameo of breezing 30’s and 40’s were a thrill and brought a lot of adrenaline. Be it those cracking square cuts, blasting cover drives, punch of the back foot, those breath taking straight drives, his mighty slog sweeps, feather touch flicks and glances; the delicate paddle sweeps, lap shots with occasional hits over the slips, third man and coming down the track to a spinner. He has done it all in every part of the World where cricket is played.

I was up on that Sunday early morning when I watched Tendulkar open the batting for the first time; was there at a aunt’s place on Ganapati festival to watch him score his maiden ODI hundred; was hitting the wall in frustration when he was stumped for the first time in ODI cricket; watched his first match as a captain and score a hundred; lifting Titan Cup as a captain; his blistering cameo in Durban; hundreds against Pakistan in Independence Cup 98; his first 5-wicket haul; Sand storming innings at Sharjah; Score a record breaking partnership with Ganguly in Srilanka; his record breaking 18th century; vengeance against Olonga at Sharjah; scoring an emotional hundred at Bristol; his 186 at Hyderabad; last of his captaincy; his innocence during the match-fixing incidents; his verbal duel with Mc Grath in Nairobi; his 10,000th run at Nehru stadium, Indore; his foot injury against West Indies; his first ODI hundred in South Africa against the Proteas; opening the innings with Sehwag; hundred at Durham;  his breathtaking knocks at the World Cup 2003; finals against Australia; his solo effort at Rawalpindi; the catch off Inzamam; the tennis elbow injury; come back innings against Srilanka; his demotion to number 4; World Cup 2007 disappointment; his first hundred in Australia; winning the tri-series in Australia; his epic in New Zealand; best innings for a losing cause against Australia; World Cup hundreds; seeing me held afloat by his teammates and give a lap of honour at his home crowd and watching him hold the trophy, a dream come true.

The above were just few glimpses over a period of time, but I am sure with time and my gifted memory many more such incidents of his will come to my mind. His cricketing feats have been an inspiration to my life and will continue so in bridging my nascent days with my growing age. He is the identity through which I recall my childhood days and all those moments that are so dear to my life. I look at all my scrap books where I collected thousands of his pictures and wonder a quote from The Wonder Years.

"You start out life with a clean slate. Then you begin to make your mark. You face decisions, make choices. You keep moving forward. But sooner or later there comes a time where you look back over where you have been...and wonder who you really are."


The past 24 hours was such a time for me where I went back in time; rediscovered who I am, my connection with cricket and Sachin and relived those wonder years. 

Tuesday 27 November 2012

SACHIN TENDULKAR...... MY SUPERMAN


While the debate is on all across the country, my mind goes back to a scene from the 2006 movie ‘Superman Returns’. Lois Lane had just won a Pulitzer Prize for her article - ‘Why World doesn’t need Superman’; it is strange that our own cricket’s superman finds a similar situation from the Lois Lane type of admirers. Though, none can come close to being Lois Lane and with that in mind, the personal vent is justified. 

 I thought hard and have been thinking occasionally since the first time I read an article that stated “Endulkar” (after 3rd Test at Karachi, 2006) regarding people’s opinion on him. I was shocked to have read such a headline being made and wondered who would have had the temerity to make such a statement. After all, the author was no Lois Lane to make such statements to our Superman. But statements were made and that were followed up by a host of personalities in the cricketing world giving their two cents as to why Sachin must retire. Technical reasons, personal reasons and every possible reason that one can think of were to be seen or read across the media. He was 33 years and people just didn’t want to see Superman without his powers. They were forcing him to take up the role of ‘Clark Kent’ so that another Superman can flourish. People forgot that, there were places up for grabs for other Superhero spots; no - the focus was and is entirely on Superman.

Circa 2007-2011 - Just like in Superman returns just when people were getting used to the fact that Superman’s powers had waned and thought about moving on without him, a series of performances reinstated the faith and made people believe in him all over again – Cricketing world indeed requires a Superman. Indian cricket required Sachin Tendulkar and if one person who deserves the World Cup, it had to be him was what I heard. And so the wishes came true in front of his home crowd (Mumbai) comparable to Metropolis; the very same venue which had booed him (3rd Test against England in Mumbai, 2006) as though he was a traitor or some sort of criminal. If he didn’t deserve any cheers or applause, it is understandable; but certainly not this sort of disrespect. But such were the standards of Superman that even his own people could not fathom the situation and deserted him in open air visible to all the viewers around the globe. No complaints, he went on.

After having experienced a roller-coaster ride in the last six years, our superman is at that juncture wherein he is forced to take a call. People have moved on with times, we do not have patience anymore and we think everything and every person must be treated in the same way and yet in our professional and personal lives we choose to make clear distinctions. Let’s remove the personal lives and talk only about the professional lives. We talk about him because people would listen or we truly mean by what we say about Tendulkar? Is it true people want to see more of Clark Kent as they are bored of Superman’s adventures?

Quentin Tarantino once quoted – “Superman stands alone. Superman did not become Superman, Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he is Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red S is the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears, the glasses the business suit, that's the costume. That's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He's weak, unsure of himself... he's a coward. Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race, sort of like Beatrix Kiddo and Mrs. Tommy Plumpton.” 

Tendulkar was born to bat, circumstances if one could create helped him realise his true potential, and those circumstances and support has been well documented through several interviews from the man himself. I remember once attending an interview of his, live in Mumbai (post World Cup) where he talked about his fears. I vividly recall the words; the situation he was in when he was suffering with tennis elbow. He was speaking about his life - just as Clark Kent would have done. He was unsure and how weak he felt, how he hoped he didn’t end his career through an injury. After having overcome all that, he finds himself in a situation where in he can run, he can hide, but he cannot escape the wrath. The only way out for Clark Kent was to become Superman all over again. And that he did, till about recently.

Personally I like Tendulkar’s cricketing story to be a fairy tale; no not a fairy tale but a super-hero story from which I and many others can get inspired from. Since birth apart from my family, he has been the only constant in my life. Maybe he didn’t inspire me to become a very good cricketer and make a career in cricket (though I wasn’t that bad a cricketer); but he did inspire me to have a dream, work hard to get them and continuously work on it.

And yes, we need heroes to sustain a Sport. Take any sport and ask any person across the world; name a sport you shall hear a hero, or an inspirational athlete and not the rules and regulations. It happened to Michael Jordan, Michael Schumacher and now to Sachin Tendulkar. Jordan’s legacy made a lot of people take up basketball, Michael Schumacher inspired a lot of Germans and others to take up F1 and you can see that with the current crop of F1 drivers (namely fellow German Vettel). The same is true with Sachin, his contribution isn’t just about the numbers; it goes well beyond them. The very team that won the World Cup in 2011 have openly stated Sachin to be their inspiration to take up the sport. Yes, he cannot go on like this forever – we want to embrace the Greek philosophy of living; to make way for the next generation. But who are the worthy contenders?

No matter what accomplishments he would have made, the once well-wishers or his critics will remind him of this – “We ordinary people might lack your great talent or extraordinary cricketing skills, Mr. Sachin, but never underestimate the power of the human mind. We carry the most dangerous weapon on Earth inside these thick skulls of ours.” 

People have indeed unleashed this most dangerous weapon they possess. We in India never praise a team as a whole, only individuals; so guess it is understood on the flip side we criticise an individual and not the team. He is beginning to appear more like Clark Kent; this time sadly it is on the cricket ground.

Irrespective of what happens in the coming days, I believe and I hope to see Superman leaving the cricket ground and not Clark Kent. If fate were to not be like that, all I would like to say this to you Sachin – “You will always be remembered by me as a Superman”. ....... Period

Saturday 20 October 2012

DIFFERENT CAPTAINS FOR DIFFERENT FORMATS: INDIAN CRICKET STORY


Usain Bolt proved it once again at the recently concluded Olympics that he is no fluke. The performances he put up at the Beijing Olympics were just the starting point and over the last few years he has consistently shown that he is a short-distance legend. Well, he can only get better in terms of performance as even if he fails to make a mark in the next Olympics and other World Championships, he will still be known as a ‘top performer’.  Ask him to prove his credentials in middle-distance or a marathon, I do not think he will be right up there. But hey, this isn’t a conclusion - But having been part of two sessions with him, it is unlikely he is going to change his line and would stick to short-distance blasts. It is a simply a matter of choice to maintain optimum performance and to stay at the top of your game consistently.

I am looking at the state of our Indian captain and how he has been faring in the last few months. What can I talk about his credentials? He won the first T20 World Cup as a captain; he led the side that was crowned as #1 side in both Tests and ODI’s and not to forget the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2011. In domestic cricket, barring T20 he has not been active in any of the other formats. He has led Chennai Super kings pretty well and till date remains the only captain who has captained a franchise for five years straight. In short, since 2007 he has been a captain in T20s and ODIs for India; from 2008 October he has been captaining in all the 3 formats. It has been four years, non-stop action for him with small breaks here and there. No other player in international cricket had this kind of a schedule in the last four years; and plus he is a wicket-keeper and one of the key batsman in the team. Does he deserve a break? You bet!!!

What lies ahead? – M.S. Dhoni might be looking at 2015 World Cup and nothing more beyond it. It might not be a surprise if he decides to opt out of cricket completely before that. Personal choice must always be respected, but if the choice is based upon the factor of ‘burn out’ then the whole system must be introspected. You don’t want to lose a player of his calibre or for that matter any good player in that way and it must also not reach a stage where he is in side only as a captain. 

Transition is the essence and it can be brought about slowly instead of making any drastic changes.
A lot of them have suggested changing the captaincy? Is it because of results? I do not think that is the right way to look at it. You do not need to change a captain just because of results – A captain is a mere reflection of the team he possesses, nothing more. A good captain is separated from a great captain in terms of his vision and how does he use the resources available to him. As the results have been inconsistently for the past 18 months, is it time to remove M.S. Dhoni as captain and put Virat Kohli instead, as everything seems to be going correct with that guy at the moment? A very tempting proposition, but must be looked at from close quarters.

This is how I look at it – Cricket captains over the last decade have had many challenges than their predecessors. A lot of them had to adapt to the increase in volume of T20 cricket in addition to ODI’s and Test cricket. I cannot think of any other captain but Dhoni who has managed the transition quite well, but like Ian Chappell once famously mentioned, I am beginning to think – Has Dhoni reached his used by date as a captain? Does it affecting him perform better by being the captain for all the 3 formats?

This is what I asked myself and I was not looking at stats to come up with a case for Dhoni. After constant arguments within myself over past two days, I still feel he has few years (2-3 years) captaincy left in him, but it might not be in the manner he is going at the moment. With the cricket schedule only getting stiffer and to add other commitments off the field, things are not going to be easy and this is what I came up with.

Let Dhoni give up T20 captaincy with immediate effect - I know this will burn a lot of money in many people’s pockets, but he is very much capable of doing so, if he is convinced as to why it is necessary. Make Virat Kohli the captain and let him understand the perks and perils of being in the hot seat slowly. Giving Kohli the captaincy in all the three formats at the moment isn’t such a great idea as he is our #1 batsman at the moment. He must be concentrating in honing his batting skills and become a better batter. There will be some tough times for him as a batsman and you do not want additional burden of captaincy over his head. I strongly believe another 2-3 years of him not being the captain in both ODI’s and Tests would do a lot of good to him and to the team in the long run. He looks very much like a marathon horse rider, and hence he must be given the right foundations to educate himself before leading the side. He is aggressive and in the mould of Ricky Ponting when it comes to batting and he is just 23 years of age.

Now what about Dhoni? Does it matter if he isn’t part of T20? If he is willing to play it would be not a bad option if he plays just as a keeper-batsman. For ODI’s he is still a great batter, and a positive thing would be to have him just as a batter-captain while you start grooming the next wicketkeeper. This can be one of the options as I do not see him giving up T20 cricket entirely. For Tests, I want him as a keeper-batsman. A very much in Gilly mode, I believe strongly that India misses the attacking batsman in Dhoni in Tests.

When was the last time we saw him score that quick-fire fifty, or a hundred in Tests; when was the last time he came into bat when opposition was on top and score like the way Gilly did consistently. He used to, but somewhere the attacking nature of his batting went missing. Indian team needs a resurrected Dhoni, not as a captain at the moment, but as that batsman who was very consistent. It is also worth noting the fact that, if stop-gap arrangements are to be made in captaincy, then look to Tests and do not start with T20s and ODIs. Test cricket is a marathon and requires a special degree of preparation to remain on top. India did it with Anil Kumble, and the team progressed quite well before he handed the reins of captaincy over to Dhoni.

So while I propose Dhoni to be the captain for the ODI team, I am saying it is time to look at Virat Kohli for T20’s and one of the veterans to take up the mantle of Test captaincy.

If this kind of arrangement breeds inconsistency and breaks the constancy associated with Indian cricket so far; then it is time to upset the current orderliness as our players have to learn to perform under different leaders. When worked as a team under an able leader, it does not matter much. Australia had it with Steve Waugh and for some time with Ricky Ponting. This way, the pressures of being Indian cricket captain is well distributed among the three captains. The law of physics holds good and is a time tested one – ‘The building built with foundation that bears the load equally as a whole is a sign of a good structure.’ Dhoni was the sole foundation which was burdened with a lot of stress and cracks started to appear in the structure. Instead of demolishing the building, it is time to call upon reinforcements as there is nothing wrong with the building; it just requires a proper maintenance along with few preventive measures, which was long overdue.

Hope Indian cricket surprises us with visionary ideas. It is time to press the action button instead of relying on the typical reaction button. With a new selection panel in place, it isn’t such a bad idea to look at different ways to play the three forms of cricket. History cannot be completely accounted to the ever-changing dynamics of this game and it’s always been the out-of-box thinking that has helped teams to get to the top and more importantly for the game to evolve and reach out to many more in the world.


So it would be a surprise if Bolt or other athletes do a 100m, 5000m and a marathon simultaneously in the near future. Previously, you did have people doing multiple disciplines in running but currently the games have advanced so much that, you need different thinking processes to excel. In cricket, skills have not changed. It still is all about bowling, batting, keeping and fielding – but what has changed is the manner in which it is being executed. 

While the game of football has remained unchanged with little changes to it, cricket on the other hand relies heavily on a commander who in tandem with his comrades has made a significant difference to the game. While skill has always been respected and adored; the person who had/has the abilities to use them on the field is revered. Why be stressed and tired, when you can be fresh by placing different horses (captains) for different courses (formats)? 

Thursday 4 October 2012

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER – HIS FINAL GOODBYE: RECOLLECTIONS OF JAPAN 200


The engines are making the noise already and the Japanese have woken up to it and so are the fans who follow Formula One religiously. Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka has given me some fond memories in my lifetime – a circuit where I have had my Formula One’s best moment (Michael Schumacher winning his first driver’s championship for Ferrari in 2000) and the worst moment (Schumacher retiring with engine failure in 2006). My first Japanese GP was in the season of 2000 and prior to that I had just known the results of the race following Sportstar or the snippets that came on Star Sports.

It has to be said the season of 2000 was the first time I religiously started watching, following, and analysing this sport. I also spent quite a lot of money (I didn’t have internet at home that time) to browse on more information regarding the F1 drivers and more so about Michael Schumacher.
2000 season started off well for Schumey as he won the first three races of the calendar. Things settled in the leader board when the McLaren duo of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard reduced the deficit and with four races to go, Hakkinen had a lead of six points over Schumacher. Who could have forgotten the daring pass (one of the best in F1) Hakkinen made on Schumacher in the Belgium Grand Prix; that pass made a lot of statements –a) Hakkinen overtook Schumacher to lead the World Championships b) Was that the end of Ferrari and Schumacher as McLaren looked unbeatable?
Two weeks later after the disappointment of Belgium GP, I was hoping Ferrari and Schumey would turn it around. Pole position and a victory at Monza (Italian GP) gave me a certain sense of joy; I vividly remember that Sunday when a safety marshal died on the track, Schumacher was in tears for he had just overtaken Aryton Senna for total GP victories and the two incidents could not have been very different. To put it short, it was an emotional victory which made everyone remember the late great Aryton Senna as he was the last to die on an F1 track (prior to Italian GP) during the race.

Next up was the US GP at Indianapolis and Michael was sharp enough to win that race and with it the championship titled his way as Hakkinen retired in that race. With two races to go, teams moved to Suzuka. Ferrari had never won the driver’s championship since 1979 (Jody Scheckter) and 21 years hence they had a chance in Michael to make history. After coming agonisingly close in 1997 and 1998, Schumacher had a chance to win in 2000 unless fate has to write it otherwise.

Hakkinen was looking for his third straight World Championships and if qualifying was any indicator, it showed both the title contenders weren’t that keen to start second in the grid for the race. In the end, Schumacher nudged past Hakkinen by a margin of 0.009s. Yes, it was that small a margin that separated these champions. I remember that Saturday because of another match – India vs. Australia (2000 Champions Trophy, Nairobi) in which Yuvraj Singh smashed Australia and took a wonderful catch while fielding. It was also on that day when we had just bought a new TV; till date I have never forgotten that day. Next day was to be even better.

As a sixteen year old I was very nervous before the race – funnily this pattern was there till the end of 2006 F1 season. Those heartbeats just before the five red lights went, the crossed fingers, occupying my favourite superstitious spot (after a lot of trails) and what not, just to ensure Michael won.
The race started and it a poor start by Michael gave Mika Hakkinen the lead right away and for the next 22 laps Michael spent behind Mika’s McLaren. Hakkinen pitted on the lap 22 and Schumacher on lap 23. Both started their fight all over again at the end of first round of pit stops. A combination of traffic and changing weather gave Michael a chance to claw back within seconds of Mika Hakkinen, but couldn’t get close enough and get past him. And when Mika pitted for the second and last time on lap 37, it was the moment Schumacher was waiting for. Unlike the first time, he didn’t pit immediately on the next lap; he went on for three more laps. Three laps for the glory by risking the traffic ahead of him, but then destinies are not made by itself, somewhere it has to be created. Ferrari took the risk and Michael responded with three scorching laps before coming to pit. I was never that nervous in my life as I was anxiously waiting to know the fate of the race at the end of his pit-stop.

Schumacher’s Ferrari came to a halt, the lollipop man seriously holding the lollipop was waiting for the signal to release him; in the meantime four tyres were changed and fuel was added to the tank and then the most crucial moment of the race came - Lollipop man signalled Michael to go and the timing at the right hand side of the graphics stopped at 6.0s. I was delighted and couldn’t contain my emotions. The car was still ambling at the pit-lane speed and the next moment a split video screen shows Mika Hakkinen stuck behind the traffic and yet to cross the finish line. What was happening? It meant Schumacher and the pit crew have just turned it around. Yes they did it. It was Schumacher in P1.

Later on after the race I remember reading a race report in which a conversation was highlighted; it was between Michael and Ross Brawn (Yes, he has been there with Michael since god knows when). In his response to a curious Schumacher as he was coming to the pit lane exit, Ross Brawn said - "It's looking good, it's looking good". Then he said: "It's looking bloody good." – Those words were definitely the most amazing moment of Michael’s racing career. Looking back to that day, I still get goose bumps and it was and is one of my amazing moments in Formula One. The job was yet to be finished, but Schumey wouldn’t let go of this opportunity and at the end of 53 laps, one could see him banging the steering wheel, shouting with joy on the radio and for Ferrari history was made. For Michael, the move from a strong Benetton team to a meagre Ferrari in 1996 paid off. 

Racing in Formula One is all about winning and the 2000 win was much more than that to me, Schumacher and all the Ferrari fans worldwide. With third championship under his belt, Michael and Ferrari went from strength to strength. After winning in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 they looked good for more.

Then it was the hurricane of 2005 season which whipped the entire dream of Ferrari. With rule changes, McLaren and Renault looked more powerful. It was just not the rules; even the Bridgestone tyres had given up on Ferrari as the Michelin rubber cars powered to victory at the all the races they took part. The sole Michael’s victory was courtesy the ill-fated three Bridgestone team race at the Indianapolis circuit. Season of 2005 was a fall for Ferrari straight from the top of Mount Everest to the ground and to further depths. It wasn’t easy watching them struggle this way.

For the 2006 season, all I wanted was vengeance. Rubens Barrichello was not in Ferrari, he was replaced by a fellow Brazilian in Felipe Massa. Fernando Alonso and Renault looked strong early on, but Ferrari wasn’t that behind. Though not dominating, it was way better than 2005 car. The first punch was from Michael was the skillful blocking of Alonso at the San Marino Grand Prix for a good 20 laps or so. It was a case of role reversal as the previous season in the same circuit; Michael was blocked by Alonso when the former looked much stronger. 

By the time the season moved to Europe, I was done with my Engineering and had a good two month break before it was time to put on those formals and start working. To my friends who know me, I have been very vocal about Michael’s races being one of my inspirations in my life. Just when the season looked heavily in the favour of Alonso, Schumey bounced back in such a fashion that he reduced 30 something point deficit to nil with two races to go. At this time, I felt irrespective of what happened I would be proud of the way Schumey has raced in 2006. In hindsight, I feel I should have retained my hunger and zeal of 2000. It had reduced a touch low.

Two races prior to the 2006 finale while Michael was still chasing Alonso, he had made an announcement to retire at the end of 2006 season. He made this announcement at Ferrari’s home circuit, Monza – a sort of mixed emotions. In the next race on the wet Chinese circuit, he drove a race that involved few of the best overtaking manoeuvres; he was in prime form, well at ease while others struggled to stay on track. That victory at the Shanghai International circuit was his 91st victory in Formula One, forty more than the second placed Alain Prost. Life was different, new place at work, unlike college, new people and I was contemplating it would be a different thing watching Formula One without Schumey from 2007 season. But with points being equal and two races to go, I hoped for a good farewell for Schumacher.

One of the most regretful decisions of my life was the choice I made to be in a workshop on that Sunday when at the same time cars were racing in full throttle at Suzuka. I didn’t want to check updates in between, but by accident, Michael’s retirement in the race was brought up by someone in the crowd. He was quick to announce this and I just couldn’t believe what had just happened. I cursed myself for having done this and for abandoning the race for a workshop. What was I thinking?
Alonso won that race in Suzuka and had taken a 10 point lead in the driver’s championships. It was an engine failure that led to Michael’s retirement, Engine failure? The last time Schumacher had retired owing to an engine failure was way back in 2000 and I remember that race held at Magney Cours (French Grand Prix). After six years, the car gave up on him. Maybe that is how it had to end and as Schumacher said it aptly – “You win as a team and lose as a team”. Next day, I watched the re-telecast of the race; I came to terms as to what had happened a day prior. I was sad, but maybe I had grown up in age to take it better. I couldn’t have imagined how it would have been if something similar had happened in 2000? But it might have to all those McLaren and Mika Hakkinen fans that day in 2000. That’s how I had grown in life that I sort to philosophical and certain pragmatic explanations to come to terms to what had just happened.

Last race was in Brazil; unless Michael was destined to win, there was no way Alonso could have lost the title, his second in a row. Nothing of that happened Michael suffered a puncture; at one time he was well behind in the race only to come back strongly. His overtaking at the first corner to take up a spot towards the end of the race was something of a delight. Kimi Raikkonen who was to take his seat just couldn’t block him out. That was sheer racing. Alonso won the championships, became the youngest driver to win double world championships (Vettel currently holds that record now) beating Michael’s record.  

And for Michael, he bid goodbye with his head held high. He had seven World Championships, 91 victories, 68 pole positions and a lot more when he last drove for Ferrari. A legend had just moved on. The quest for the new champion was on. Only Sebastian Vettel has come close to the level of Michael Schumacher till date since 2006.

Three years later, Michael made a surprise return and this time it was not for Ferrari. It was for Mercedes, a team he raced for as a child offered him and he was once again seen partnering with Ross Brawn to re-create some of the magic they had in the past seven victories of his.  While I am an ardent fan of Ferrari, I secretly hoped Michael to pull off a victory now and then in the last three years, but it never happened. In the three seasons of him being at Mercedes, it was a learning curve for the team. Now, prior to the Japanese Grand Prix he announced his retirement and this time I feel it should be for good. Lewis Hamilton will take his seat, but I doubt whether he will take his place in the annals of F1 history.

I never saw Michael live in a race and when I did catch up an F1 event live, he wasn’t there (2008). Now when he will be racing his last few races, all I did as soon as I heard about his retirement was to book a ticket for the Indian Grand Prix. I always had a dream to watch him race; due to unavoidable circumstances, I was not able to attend any of the previous GPs. Not this time. I was contemplating to attend this year’s Indian Grand Prix, but his retirement was the trigger and I just didn’t want to wait any further.


Japanese Grand Prix is on this Sunday, and it was suffice that I recalled one of the most memorable moments I experienced as a F1 fan. Among the 91 victories, the victory of Schumacher at Suzuka on 8th Oct 2000 remains the sweetest one. To Michael Schumacher, second greatest driver of all-time (impact wise behind Ayrton Senna) and by far the most complete driver F1 has ever seen – it has been a pleasure watching you drive, following your race career and for being an inspiration at a crucial phase of my life. 

Wednesday 3 October 2012

INDIA’S T20 AGONY IN WORLD STAGE – SHOULD WE LOOK BEYOND THE TRADITIONAL WAY OF PLAYING THIS FORMAT?


For India, in the end it all came down to the last match. Pity it was not the last match of the tournament. Prior to the match, the situation India was in reminded me those ODI multi-nation tournaments which India played in the 1990s and how they had to squeeze into the finals through mathematics. It was always about net-run rate, it still is.

In 2007 T20 World Cup, India after losing to New Zealand in the Super 8s bounced back well with a victory against England (Yes, the same match where Yuvraj Singh scored those six 6s) and had to face South Africa in the last match. A win would have ensured them a spot in semi-finals and for South Africa; they were playing for the net run-rate. Eventually they didn’t qualify and rest is history. India went on to win the inaugural T20 championships, T20 became the latest craze in India, BCCI cashes on this madness and launches IPL, Dhoni becomes the overnight star and many more can be added to this. Cricket was never the same in India and to a larger extent worldwide.
It has been five years and a week since that victory over Pakistan, and in between then and now three World Cups have already taken place with India failing to be in top four on each occasion. After India’s failure to advance to semi-finals, I wondered - Here is a case which is worrying for a country that by far has the best T20 league in place (IPL).

T20 cricket, when looked purely from cricket’s point of view was one of the best things that happened to cricket. It just made cricket get into an elite and I go on further saying, a sole league where a sport can be played in three dimensions. Additionally, T20 gives a chance to be part of the Olympics programme. Cricket is by far the only sport (compared to other sports) that offers a wide range of action a consumer can ask for - a quick bite, a hearty meal and a buffet spread over five days.

Though T20 was conceived in England, BCCI has been instrumental in making it grand courtesy of Indian Premier League (IPL).  Besides the controversies that are part of any sports league, IPL has made cricket a much calmer sport owing to interactions of international stars. The way it is structured, Indian cricketers – current and upcoming have a lot of benefits. More opportunities to learn new things, unlearn certain things which might prevent you from becoming better and re-learn the basics. So far it has been good, but I asked myself – What effect does it have on the national team? Why have we gone back ever since IPL started?

Can this be the one of the reasons - Indian players not being allowed to play in the abroad leagues? IPL might be a shorter version, but it does give a chance to play in foreign conditions which will come in handy. In the age of professionalism, injuries are just an excuse for mis-management and over commitment is a plane excuse for ignorance.

On contrary, Pakistan has been one of the most consistent performers in T20 World Cup formats. Lost to India by a whisker, won the next edition in 2009; missed the final by a whisker (courtesy of those sixes from Mike Hussey in the last two overs) and now semi-finalists again. Surely there must be something going right besides talent or luck? They do not have a good T20 league, do not have any international cricket at home and yet they are always been in the last four consistently in the last four T20 World Cups. I am not saying they are better than the Indian side, results definitely point in this direction and one cannot fail but notice their immense growth  as a T20 side. They are the only team to be in top four since 2007. The only solace for an Indian fan is the fact that they have yet to win against us in a World Cup match. Gone are those days when a victory against Pakistan was equivalent, in fact better than the World Cup. There are still people who belong to that school of fact – Personally it is great to win against them all the time, but it should not stop just there. Thankfully Indian cricket team knows that. What is it that we are missing? Why are we getting close to resemble the English football team that boasts of a high profile domestic league but produce inconsistent performances  in international tournaments.

M S Dhoni has now captained in four T20 World Cups, a record? Having captained consistently and successfully the Chennai Super Kings in IPL and Champions League, he has not been able to get the most of his national team to be in the top four. Yes, this format is a freak show where anything can happen. But this format is also a highly strategic one where often the best strategies hold you in a good stead. Did India as a team has been missing the point at crucial times in the last three World Cups?

I am not trying to be hard on this team. They have just lost one match in this tournament and still they find themselves in this uneasy situation. Is there a way to analyse this kind of performance? Or should we just blame our ill fate and move on with our lives? After all this is just a sport, isn’t it?
Well, to me this way of looking at it is a big ‘NO’. To a lot of people, sports and cricket in general might be a source of recreation. But this ‘recreation’ is also a profession. As in every other profession, if one fails there is a tendency to shake up things and try to look for alternative solutions to change the pattern. Cricket is no different.

This is where ‘homework’ comes into picture. I have loads of things running in my mind.

·        Is it time to look at the T20 format beyond the traditional means of thinking? Yes, several teams have been doing this consistently now.

·        Should we replace the players and form a new team – different players for different formats? – A lot of teams follow this.

·        Should we have a separate T20 support staff strengthened by analysts who might just think out of the box? – Well, to my knowledge there is not much evidence to suggest teams in cricket are following this.

In T20, just like the players, the support staffs are also in the ‘WIP’ mode. Is it not better to have a different/new set of backhand support that might just make a difference?

It is a point to consider and in a format like T20 such people have no lesser role than say contingency planners in any of the major events or companies. T20 is like a rapid chess game where you need to have a vision or an idea about all the different probabilities in a situation. One should have worked out different ways to tackle a situation, as there is less time (considering over rate issues) for captains to think efficiently.

This struck me hard ever since India lost to Australia. The manner in which we lost should have the think-tank minds ringing. Yes, a bad loss can happen at any time. Players take time to recover; in T20 games since time is crucial the support staff comes in handy. More so, if they are pro-active.
What must be done to nullify such a bad loss? It is all about winning the tournament right?  In such a scenario; could we have thought a better way while playing against Pakistan knowing that net run-rates can make a lot of difference?

Why don’t we start looking this format in a more analytically as different results can pose threats to one’s cause? One cannot expect players to do this; all they can do is prepare and polish their skills. Such analytical information will be a supplement when one gets to team meetings. I see a merit in such thinking and BCCI for instance can start to look at this T20 format differently than the traditional formats where teams do have time to adapt to prevailing conditions.

I had read this quote once – “One of life's most painful moments comes when we must admit that we didn't do our homework, that we are not prepared.” – Does Indian T20 team feel that way? 

Thursday 26 July 2012

LONDON OLYMPICS 2012: AN INDIAN HOPE


On 27th July 20:00 Greenwich time – the biggest multi-sport spectacle shall begin not just across London, but possibly in every country in the world. I am sure most of the earth’s human population would be glued to televisions, or on the internet to watch the Opening Ceremony.

2012 is London’s time to host the quadrennial event and preparations were on since the time they won the bid way back in 2005. It seems a long time ago, I was still an engineering student then and now all those years of work put by the London Organising Committee will be witnessed by a lot of people. They get their praise, will have share of criticisms but that’s modern life – you can never be in the limelight without accompanied by share of praises and controversies.

Well, controversies shall be aimed at the Organising Committee – be it over budget, security mess and few humanitarian and labour issues. I was in London back in 2009; I drove on the way where most of the work for Olympics was being done. It is a great feeling to be an Olympic city, isn’t it? Not many outside the sporting fraternity agreed to this. “London isn’t a developing economy so they don’t need Olympic Games to showcase the city or the country in general to the world” – echoed few concerned voices. Let’s get world economics into perspective - there was absolutely no mention of ‘recession’ when the Games were awarded to London. In fact, this could have been any city across Europe and America who were bidding for the Games. With Beijing having already hosted the Games, we can eliminate Asia as one of the candidate cities.

Amidst many issues and triumphs, here we are hours before the start of the 30th edition of Modern Olympics. This is the time to look at the success stories of individuals and teams who have been preparing for the Games for that one moment of glory. During the Olympics – it isn’t about the Organising Committee; the talk of the town will be the athletes, so it should be. The mere mention of athletes will be termed ‘success’ – as Olympics is about them and rest of them just play a supporting role.

Being an Indian, I am pumped up for these games than ever before. Main reason being, this is the best chance we have to improve our record and evolve as a sporting nation.  

For a moment, let’s forget there are better countries in the world who have been consistently winning from years. No other country measure to the size and ambiguity as India do. Sports, let’s face it isn’t a top priority in our country. There are larger issues at stake, but doesn’t mean sports must be ignored. Every sector has a department and because of the failure of other sectors, it doesn’t mean we have to not give importance to Sports. I have heard people saying – Sports doesn’t fill a poor man. The issue isn’t with Sports; it is the other departments that are supposed to be looking into that. Honestly, it is sad that Sports have been overlooked for so many reasons in the name of reasons given aplenty.

Even while sanctions have been made from the Government, there weren’t and aren’t enough skilled and visionary people working for the federations to make the best use of facilities given. You don’t need to have the best facilities, but we have been poor in optimising the resources. Be it the way money spent sporadically in the name of Sports or lack of enthusiasm, and looking Sports as one of the ways to get to power. This isn’t abnormal by any standards – The whole world operates this way and sporting world isn’t different, but not at the cost of overlooking the basics. Developed countries (Sports or Politics) play power games at a higher level where as it starts from the low level here – Reality check.

So next time, before we compare India to any other sporting nation – let us take a moment to reflect if that actually makes sense. Mere comparing to other countries exposes our shortcomings in the lack of understanding as to how our country operates.

India, the sporting country passed the baton from hockey to cricket after the success of Indian cricket (World Cup 1983) which coincided with downfall of hockey. From 1984, it has been a downward slide for Indian hockey at the Olympics. History speaks about us being the 8-time Olympic champions – Well the last time was a good 32 years ago. Now history is anything but forgotten – as we live in those moments and try to pacify ourselves than trying to correct the present mess, hockey is in.

Post independence, there has been only handful of people to have won medals for India. Barring Hockey, we have had seven athletes who have won the medals for India. K.D. Jadhav won the bronze medal for Wrestling at Helsinki (1952 Games) and it took a 44 years and a gap of 10 Olympics before we had another individual winning the medal. Leander Paes did it and all the countrymen were over the moon. I was 12 years then and it was my second Olympics after having watched the 1992 Barcelona Games for the first time on TV telecast. It took me time to understand the meaning of it, but I was thrilled because he won. Putting some historic perspective - Sports was either winning or losing back then, and not much emphasis was given to the process of either. Personally it is different now – and I don’t have that innocence anymore. Leander Paes winning was also the first Indian medal since the Hockey Gold at the Moscow Olympics. In a way, the bronze tennis medal was a turning point and made Olympics as a focal point in Indian sports.

Karnam Malleshwari became the first woman to win an Olympic medal for India (weightlifting 69 kg category) at Sydney and so there were some celebrations in few sections of our society. It also coincided with a transition phase in India where you had a lot of women taking up jobs. Malleshwari’s medal gave a boost to the future of Indian women sports. In the last decade we have seen some good improved performances by Indian women athletes, but none went on to win the Olympic medal. But we are getting there.

Though we had tasted Gold medals, it was only at the team sport level. Silver medals individually were previously won by Norman Pritchard (1900 Games - two silver medals, a Brit representing British India), none came post independence. It was the double-trap shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who went a step ahead and took the silver medal. Indian sports seemed to have evolved, slowly and steadily. Three Olympics, three individual medals – it was high time wasn’t it, especially when looked from an Indian context?

India is compared to China in terms of economy and population. But the ideologies remain different and more often the foundation plays an important role in sustaining and giving any projects some effectiveness. To demonstrate as the next super power, China took the opportunity as hosts to showcase that they are to be seen as world leaders in sports as well. The greatest example one can give is demonstration.

China did just that, as they ended up winning 51 Gold Medals at the 2008 Games whereas India celebrated similarly for winning the first individual gold. I can safely say, more money was spent in India for that one gold medal than what China would have spent celebrating 51 Gold medals. That’s difference in culture isn’t it? Irrespective of our situations, I was happy to note that, progress was happening and 2008 Games ended up being the most successful games for India – winning three medals (one Gold medal and two bronze medals).

Abhinav Bindra became the toast of the country whereas Sushil Kumar and Vijender Singh weren’t left too behind.  I was delighted to see more than one medal in the medals tally. That was a first for me and those eyes still retained that innocence in 2008. In a way 2008 was the year when I took a serious decision to study Sports and make that as a career option. And here I am four years later, working in the sports industry having different perspectives about Sports than what I had and for the first time hoping, expecting medals from India. Losing my innocence? Or is this a process of discovering Indian Sports?

Yes, earlier I watched the games with an open mind. Not anymore - as much as I am open to how things pan out; I am never shy to offer my opinion. It isn’t just being patriotic and being blindly supportive, but it is now looking from a broader perspective. While I am not expecting miracles (that’s better left when not expecting), I am looking at some serious performances in the coming two weeks at London. Shooting, Boxing, Wrestling, Badminton, Archery and Tennis are the sports I and the entire nation will be looking at. As an Indian, I am expecting 5 medals from this edition. After having seen a lot of work going through in the last four years, five medals is not an unfair expectation. Five or more medals would do for me keeping the reality of our sporting situation in the country.

On an end note I just wanted to highlight - Sporting triumphs doesn’t fill our stomachs, but ask any fan or a follower/watcher of Sports – It provides a moment of joy to celebrate success as if it was our own. That is the power of Sports and in Olympics the joy gets bigger as it will be done on a world stage. It isn’t just about the medals overall but it is the way you play and as an addition, for going the distance he/she will be remembered for that particular moment,  the moment where words fail to explain the feeling. Joy, tears, pain, agony and disappointment becomes the five symbolic human expressions through we understand the reason why Olympics exist.


Like I said, I am looking at the Olympics only from a sporting perspective as the other issues should remain backstage for the next two weeks and when Paralympics begin at the conclusion of Olympics. There is a time for every discussion and the time currently is just about the Olympics –  It is about  10,500 athletes coming from 204 countries (few playing under Olympic Flag), taking part in 26 Sports over 302 events. For a first in the history of Olympics - female athletes from all those 204 countries will be participating. Now isn’t this world coming to one place? 

Friday 20 July 2012

AGEING LEGACIES: SACHIN TENDULKAR AND MICHAEL SCHUMACHER


The noun form of the word ‘age’ varies with the same ‘age’ when used in the verbal form. One talks about a prolonged period of time (noun) whereas the other points to the process of getting old (verb). I looked at these two meanings and felt there is several a miles separating the two. How confused one can be if we mix one another; more so when we use the term inappropriately.

This article was prompted after having watched Michael Schumacher showing certain glimpses of his past racing career in the recent races. He retired in 2006 and he did go on a high; who can forget his breathtaking overtaking manoeuvre on Kimi Raikkonen at the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix at his last race (at that time) with just few laps to go. I am a fan of his driving ever since I started watching Formula One in late 90’s. He made a surprise move in 2009 when he decided to come out of his retirement to have a go at the races beginning 2010. Brink of touching 41 (in 2009), who would have given him a chance? This isn’t a just a sport, F1 is a huge business where P&L are calculated like any other ruthless corporations. Mercedes after having decided to go on their own (earlier they supplied just the engines) roped in Nico Rosberg and the well known German in the form of Michael Schumacher, a German family well established. Yes, it was Ross Brawn’s idea (who is the team principal at Mercedes), but he doesn’t own the team. Unless agreed at the top level, Michael could not have returned to the team where he first started his racing career (He was with Mercedes before F1). So where did age play a role? In a sport where reflexes are paramount, what expectations did the Mercedes management have when they signed him?

91 GP victories were a thing of the past so were his record breaking pole positions and breathtaking fastest laps – all he had was experience and joie de vivre when it came to racing. He had everything to lose after what he had achieved in that sport. Now he was willing to give up all just for the sake of racing. Certainly there were more people whose decisions mattered most also were on the same track. So a new life for a legend (we have seen Michael Jordan doing it) and in the third year (after having started racing in 2010) – for the first time he is showing the signs that he is competitive and his car is getting better (He had his share of bad lucks with the engine failures and car problems in 2010, 2011 and at the start of 2012 season). It seems he does not care much about reputation, if he would have like any other normal investor would do in the market – he would have chosen to play it safe. Which person would risk such a reputation?

On a similar note while I am talking about one of my favourite sporting personality, in a striking distance I find a similarity to my other favourite – Sachin Tendulkar. Ever since the 2011 England tour debacle, I have been hearing a lot of them telling him to quit playing cricket.  Each time he refuses to – So what, our people will have different strategies to pin him down. The voodoo of 100 hundreds was created and it reached such huge proportions that, every failure became a platform for mockery and more criticism. I have a simple funda – let him decide as he is sensible enough to decide what’s good for Indian cricket. Being patriotic doesn't mean being awake at all the times, it is about being awake when it matters the most. Indian cricket is still going through a transition phase. They reached #1 while in transition, make no mistake. A lot of players came in, had their moments and result – India won. Now the formula doesn't work anymore, you know why? There was nothing so called a formula. It just happened as we were treated to one triumph after the other which culminated with the World Cup. Coming back to Sachin, he is good nine months shy of turning 40. Now this brings back to my first point – What does 40 signify? Is it a mere number? I would say – yes, in its true definition, as there are other parameters for ageing. 

While Sachin can never inspire a generation of teenagers in the current situation, he has given hope for a lot of others, especially people of his age. Agreed, no selector or a BCCI administrator would dare axing him from the team – a privilege no other sportsman has ever had in my lifetime. I know someday he would retire – that day I only hope the Indian team doesn’t feel the void left by him. Looking at our present set up, I have not seen a cricketer to have maintained a certain degree of authority. They have just been replacements, not because they are worthy, but they happen to be our next generation of players. In a team sport, it isn’t about individual brilliance; it’s about individual contributions for the greater cause. If one fails, the others must step up. Sadly in the past one year, it is the stepping up which has been a problem. The recent India ‘A’ tour to West Indies was a learning curve and frankly only more of such learning curves can bring out a player(s) who can knock the doors of Indian team selection consistently. It is not about just giving a chance at the top level, it has to be a matter of choice.

Michael was three when he first raced using the kart built by his father and Sachin had already picked up the cricket bat by the time he was five. It has been a long journey for both of them and bulk of it was spent to excel in their respective sporting arenas, a case of choosing the sport over their personal lives and reputation.

Michael has had his moments off the track for a brief time (though he was still consulting with Ferrari post retirement) and Sachin has started speaking about things about life beyond cricket.
BCCI has made few changes from this season onwards and it certainly looks like a positive move. Cricket wise, it is going to be a crucial six to eight months with three teams (New Zealand, England and Australia) touring India for Tests. Add Pakistan for ODI’s and T20’s, you will see a lot of things happening and who knows, we might come across an announcement, a good-bye at the conclusion of this Indian cricket season. 

Irrespective of whether there are worthy replacements, he will be gone. But for now – his market value has not diminished (a true indicator of one’s form these days) and he continues to play, while Michael continues to race as they both are giving finishing touches to their unique legacy forts. 

Monday 2 July 2012

SPAIN CREATES HISTORY AND LOOKS GOOD FOR MORE

Three Sundays ago on the night of 10th June, these two teams (Spain and Italy) played out what I called then a boring draw. I was in that mood that day, and I was not taking the defence to show up. But it did and it didn’t surprise me as two of the best goal keepers were on the field. My favourites Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon – it is a treat to watch them defend their territory and fight it out like gladiators; yet at the same time a pain to see one out do the other. Football do needs a winner eventually. Thankfully football isn’t close to any boxing match, but should it go to the penalties, the knockout punch will be felt. And so, after three weeks of entertaining football, I saw these two teams again on a Sunday night, this time it was for the championships. 
It was 1920 at the Belgium city of Antwerp when Spain last won against Italy straight in a high-profile encounter. That was the year of Olympics and if we do not include penalties, you can safely say it has indeed been a long time. I didn’t want this to change and like the previous edition of Euro, I wanted these two teams to settle it out on penalty shootouts. It wasn’t to be as Spain proved to be very strong and too good for the Italians. 
I have not seen a more dominant side in football for a period that involves three major competitions. France had it in them during their run when they won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro and Brazil prior to that. In 21st century, towards the end of the decade, the side more famously known as the “La Roja” showed their initial signs as world beaters. 
So what makes this side so special? You only have to look at the players in the squad and any ardent football fan will tell you, the names do ring a bell in their heads, all the time. The Barcelona players are at the moment in the league of their own. Though Real Madrid showed little signs of a fight back, they are still few miles behind. Collectively, the core of the team that makes Barcelona, the world’s most feared team happens to be the core of this Spanish team. Add Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, Juan Mata, Fernando Torres and Sergio Ramos, you have a combination that looks deadly. 
In European football among nations, only Germany had come close with respect to the consistency and on their day, they certainly looked like cup favourites. Something was missing, you can call it the X-factor or ‘mojo’, and they couldn’t quite finish the way they start the tournament. 
In my opinion, after France (1998-2000) I see this team to be the most feared and dominant team in the recent years. France had shown what a bunch of individual genius’s could do when they combined talents and gelled together. I saw a similar pattern here with the current Spanish team and if the last three tournaments were anything to go by, they look pretty solid to retain the World Cup as well. 
Credit goes to Del Bosque, the coach of this team to have come with a different tactic in the absence of David Villa, the country’s leading goal scorer. The formation of 4-3-3 did work wonders as the highly skilled mid-fielders and their tiki-taka style of play ensured genuine strikers like Fernando Torres and Pedro Rodriguez coming only as substitutes. 
Strikes from David Silva, Jordi Alba and late strikes from Torres and Juan Mata made sure Iker Casillas lifting his side’s second successive Euro trophy and country’s third overall (they had won in 1964) and thereby joined Germany as the only two countries to be triple European champions. 
It was at Vienna; nearly four years ago this team took a step towards the peak of world football. They still are at the top, with World Cup 2010 in their kitty and the 2012 Euro Championships. The beauty of this game is that it has never allowed a team to be at the pinnacle for long. It has always given other sides to stake a claim for the top prize. With the Euro 2012 win, Spain is looking good to change this trend. We have to go back to Chile 1962 when Brazil successfully defended their World Cup title. It has been 50 years and we are yet to see a back-to-back champion. It has happened in Euro for the first time and time will only tell; as in two years, the attention shifts to Brazil and all the eyes will be on this team to see history being made. 








Saturday 19 May 2012

WORKING WITH RAHUL DRAVID


Over the past two months I happened to live in Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan. Work being for IPL this season I was excited for many reasons. More so, this being a new venue for me and secondly the team which is based out of Jaipur is being captained by one of my two idols in cricket. Yes, the name is that of Rahul Dravid.

He retired not so long ago this year and what would you expect from a retired legend in IPL? More importantly, what would be Rahul expecting from himself. He was replacing Shane Warne as the captain, who had made an impact with the team and was pivotal in Rajasthan Royals winning the inaugural IPL title in 2008. Expectations and comparisons were being made, but the Wall was composed as he openly talked about his expectations for the season. He wanted to win and more importantly he wanted him and his team to perform well and keep getting better as the season progressed. 

Sawai Mansingh Stadium, the venue for Rajasthan Royals proved to be a good one with Royals winning their first three home matches. Ajinkya Rahane had found sublime touch and in the company of Rahul Dravid gave RR decent starts on a consistent basis.

Personally this piece is more on Dravid. I have never seen him being more vocal and animated on the field. He wanted to lead by example and so he did; be it with the bat or on the field, he was always there. Even when they had a string of defeats he was very clear on accepting where they went wrong instead of looking for excuses. Such a quality in a person is indeed admirable and how can you wish such a guy to lose a game? It was really hard.

Coming from Bangalore I do admit having a soft corner for the RCB team. On the night when Rahane scored a hundred in front of a packed Chinnaswamy stadium, i felt I was supporting Dravid, the local lad than the local team. Trust me, it wasn’t easy but over the past two years working with the league has helped me overcome this fact. Though I am not a passionate fan of RCB anymore, I do like them to win the title someday and this year I had a feeling RR deserved it, more so for Dravid.

The one run loss in Delhi didn’t help the cause and I feel personally that did affect RR mentally. Something went amiss though the team displayed strong character, it was evident somewhere it did affect them. And so after playing 14 matches in the league, it all came down to the last two matches. One at Hyderabad against Deccan Chargers and the other against Mumbai Indians at home in Jaipur.
I was looking forward to the match against the Chargers and in a way thought it would be a walk in the park. Upsets are common in sports and today what was witnessed is just another example as to why living in present is the best approach in sports, no matter how much one plans. Royals lost and so did I for a while. I didn’t want to work on the last match seeing the sad faces of the RR management team. Play-offs were this close and yet the defeat today has made it look so far. They don’t deserve to be placed seventh on the table, but such has been this season that there was very little margin for any errors.

I am not sure if Rahul will be back next year. It is entirely upto him as he looks forward to his first real break from cricket post-retirement. He might have not won the title this year, but surely he ensured his team would be known as the well behaved team in IPL 5. Few more days to go and then our paths might not cross the way it has been in the last few weeks. But the memory shall be there – Of the chats (though very little) we had, those pleasantries exchanged on a regular basis and just the way he went about playing cricket on the field; it was different, yet the flavour remained the same. It was just cooked differently.

The season is over for the RR team and I am not thinking beyond the 72nd match of IPL. That will be the last match for RR and they will be just playing for pride, a win to wrap up a missed opportunity season.

Out of many memories, this one would last for some time. My niece Meghna is three years of age and over past one year has taken some interest to cricket. Not bad for a Swiss resident and this time in Jaipur she finally managed to get herself a cricket bat. A proper GM bat specially designed for young aged cricketers. Destiny; with few hours left for her to fly back, I found Dravid quietly eating his dinner as I entered the restaurant to have my dinner. He was kind enough to sign the bat for the little girl and that bat wasn’t just any bat after that moment. I am certain my niece had no idea what had just happened, but she will someday if at all she takes up cricket more seriously.

I have had some of the best times in Jaipur this year and fittingly did manage to find some time to know more of the city and got an opportunity to meet people and have an understanding of how they perceived this sport. And one among them was Dravid. 


Till next time, Rahul....