Monday 14 October 2013

Vakifbank Istanbul wins their first FIVB Women's Club World Championships

At the end of five days of intense volleyball, the 7th Women’s Club World Championships came to a halt yesterday in Zurich, Switzerland. Saalsporthalle, a well known multi-purpose stadium in Zurich were roped in as hosts this year. Since the re-introduction of this tournament in 2010, this was the first occasion the tournament was held outside of Qatar. Prior to 2010, the championships were held thrice in 1991, 1992 and 1994 after which it was discontinued.

Apart from the host team Voléro Zürich, there were teams from Africa (Kenya Prisons), Asia (Guangdong Evergrande, China), South America (Unilever Vôlei, Brazil), Iowa Ice, representative of North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation (NORCECA) and the reigning European champions Vakifbank Istanbul.

Voléro Zürich and Vakifbank Istanbul remained unbeaten in their respective pools A and B while Guangdong Evergrande and Unilever Vôlei finished second behind Zurich and Istanbul clubs.
The two semi-finals turned out to be very one sided. In the first semi-final between Vakifbank and Guangdong there was a close fight in the first set which Vakifbank eventually won 28-26. The next two were relatively easy as Vakifbank cruised to their second finals.

In the second semi-final though the hosts had the local support, the flair and talent came from the Brazilian side. After a closely fought first set, Voléro Zurich surrendered in the next two sets. The best they could hope for was to fight for the 3rd place.

And the hosts started off well claiming the first set. The next three sets saw an outstanding display of commitment from the Asian champions as they claimed the bronze spot and thereby becoming the first Asian country to achieve a top 3 finish at this competition.

If one looks at the history of this championship which began in 1991, there have been three Brazilian winners and all the three clubs being different. Unilever were playing their first finals while things were slightly different for their rivals. After a straight sets loss in 2011, Vakifbank were playing their second finals in three years. Their form throughout the year was outstanding and looked good to claim their first World club title.

Jovana Brakocevic, a Serbian national team player and a rock star for the Turkish club was a dominant force to reckon with for the entire match. The tall Serbian collected points for all three scoring skills category. Her spike, block and the high jump serve was thrilling to watch from the seats but not so pleasant if you were a Brazilian fan or the team which had no clue most of the time. She finished the match with 23 points that included 3 blocks and one serving ace.

Vakifbank Istanbul won the finals comfortably after a tight second set (25-23, 27-25 and 25-16). Jovana Brakocevic was rightly named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the tournament. The winners were awarded USD 200,000 while the runners-up and 3rd place team got USD 110,000 and USD 60,000 respectively.

The 2013 Women's Club World Championship Dream Team went this way:
1st Best Outside Spiker: Kenia Carcaces (Voléro Zurich)
2nd Best Outside Spiker: Kirdar Sonsirma Gözde (Vakifbank Istanbul)
1st Best Middle Blocker: Christiane Fürst (Vakifbank Istanbul)
2nd Best Middle Blocker: Carol (Unilever Vôlei)
Best Libero: Yuko Sano (Voléro Zurich)
Best Setter: Jingsi Shen (Guangdong Evergrande)
Best Opposite Spiker: Sarah Pavan (Unilever Vôlei)
Most Valuable Player: Jovana Brakocevic (Vakifbank Istanbul)

Friday 11 October 2013

Sachin Tendulkar: From a Child to an Adult - The Longest Transition

It was more than a drizzle. It was pouring last morning. I wondered why? A gamut of coloured leaves lay on the street and the rain washing it away. This is what I saw out of the window from my drawing room. Just as I sipped in the last bit of my ginger honey tea, I heard a beep. My throat was giving me a hard time and the hot beverage had a somewhat soothing effect.

I had to barely walk a couple of feet to pick my phone up. I had a notification and it read "Sachin Tendulkar to retire after his 200th Test" courtesy NDTV breaking news.

I quickly got on to my twitter feed and checked what’s happening. I knew this might have happened, but was more interested in the source. It was the BCCI who had made this announcement on behalf of Sachin Tendulkar.

The adages started pouring in left, right and centre. Few expressed relief while majority expressed their loss of connection to childhood - the constant he has been in cricket to many. What did I do?

Words are like perceptions and I read plenty of them. All sorts of people put in their views – Logical, cynical, sadists, critical, dramatists, cerebral, statistical, purists, fanatic, emotional and human. I was amazed and not surprised at the same time to see everyone to put in their two cents on this topic. Few pour their heart out while others wrote whatever they felt. Frankly, I didn’t want to reflect on this decision of Sachin Tendulkar. I didn’t want to. I was just reading one after the other.

As I occupied myself reading all this - Every now and then, my mind went back to those laminated picture books I have of Tendulkar (3 to 4 of those big books). It is still stacked in my room in India and remains my prized possession.

And then, I got reminded of the way I played cricket as a kid. What made me love this game to this day? Is it because the game itself was so attractive or was I influenced to take up this game?

How old was I? Let me remember, seven, six, five or even younger than that when I either picked up a bat or a ball for the first time. Our house was located away from the city centre and so I didn’t have the luxury of having too many friends. There were few (4 of us) and were of my age (what a lovely coincidence). We started playing cricket on the streets as having a proper ground was unimaginable in those days. With occasional tips from elders we were mostly on our own to understand this game and play, a challenge which we relished.

Around that time, a little phenomenon in Indian cricket was making his mark in international cricket. He was young and so were we. So it was an instant connection, a bond which became stronger by the day. I started playing cricket everywhere – on the roads, inside the house and any place which was sufficient to put bat to ball. It didn’t matter – My life was occupied with cricket, obsessed with it which made me think school and academics were extra-curricular activities.

Outside my family circle, he has been a constant throughout my life and so that connection is what’s being broken. I am now all grown up; understand life in a much better way than I did previously. He gave me immense joy, made me shed tears, made me go frenzy, made me go mad, made me frustrated, gave me that pride, gave me confidence, made me inspired, made me obsessed, made me a thinker, made me a believer, made me a guy to go after one’s dreams and it goes on........

Who is this guy? God, no; Demi-god, no; superhuman with magical powers, no; ordinary human with extreme talent, no – To me he is a kid who extended his childhood beyond the conventions of its definition. As we grow old, we get distracted by innumerable things than a child would. As an adult, I believe there is a kid in us and for Sachin Tendulkar I feel it was always the opposite. To me the association with cricket started with Tendulkar. He was a fellow kid like me with whom I could connect to whenever he played cricket.

Kids move on to the next toy or next set of challenges only when the next toy is attractive or when they are bored with the existing toy. I believe Tendulkar has reached that phase in his childhood where playing cricket no longer gave him that fun it once did. He made his retirement call to move on with his life and let the adult in him take over from now on. If cricket were to be his most favourite toy, he has utilised and played with it more than one can imagine. He will play out the final two tests as an adult, fully aware that his childhood days are now over.

A big chunk of my childhood tree has been etched out. The kid in me has lost a link. Now they will be replaced by memories of Sachin Tendulkar and his cricket playing days. I will move on, going about life the usual way with interesting things happening around and with me comes all those wonderful days of the past, recollecting my life, remembering the times when I did everything I could to just watch him play. 

Monday 7 October 2013

My Two Cricketing Idols - Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid

I had completed my Engineering studies and was now a corporate. Few months later in December 2006, Indian cricket team were touring South Africa and part of their tour was a solitary T20 match. It was India’s first international T20 match and at the end of it, they emerged victorious. It was Sachin Tendulkar’s first and turned out to be his only T20 international. At the time of the first T20 World Cup in 2007, the trio of Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly and had opted out of T20 cricket internationally as they felt it was best suited for youngsters. Rest, it turned out to be an historic moment in the evolution of present day cricket. MS Dhoni led his young team to the title which changed the course of cricketing future - Birth of Indian Premier League and the successive T20 leagues around the world.

It was the summer of 2008 when Indian television and stadium goers had got a custom made cricket event which involved international cricketers spread across eight franchises or cities in India. Sachin Tendulkar represented his home city ‘Mumbai’ while Rahul Dravid turned out in red and gold colours for ‘Bangalore’. This year IPL completed six seasons and if I look back on that night of 18th April 2008; I was celebrating my mother’s birthday with relatives and friends at home and the IPL carnival was not so far off from my place in Bangalore. For the first time Indian viewers were to be divided on city basis for its most worshipped sport. I am a Bangalorean and my cricketing idols were Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. I decided not to support anyone and I still maintain about picking my favourites on the match day or how I felt. C’est la vie for me when it comes to T20 cricket.

Around the fourth season of IPL I found myself to be in a situation where I was donning the outfits of the IPL central management team which operated the tournament. It was a dream for most youngsters, cricket fans, and game maniacs to be working on a job that involved cricket and cricketers. By that time, I had lost my innocence as a fan and looked at my idols in a different way. I became averse to the idea of clicking photographs with them and more so when it involved my revered cricketers (God knows, how many of my close friends and relatives I have denied). I was still a kid at heart when it came to these two cricketers or when it came to supporting them. Just that, I had become a more silent kid than continue being a naughty one. I felt I was different and if I ever get to meet them in person, I knew I would be not be like any other fans. Believe me it was different.

Looking back, I was thrilled when Sachin Tendulkar greeted me, shook hands and gave an autograph penned using his right hand (he is a left-handed writer) in a local cricket match and quite a similar euphoria when I met Rahul Dravid for the first time after winning a competition and second time at a game. I was a kid back then, the one who had his dreams fulfilled by these two cricketers. No they were not just cricketers, they were super-heroes to me.

And few years later I meet them as a professional. A lot had changed in my life – I was married by this time and yet I could not stop but admire these two cricketers. Yes, I was watching less of live cricket than I used to and yet was managing to follow the missed action through highlights, cricinfo and other medium of information.Cricket was not just a passion, it was my work too. 

Yesterday, both Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid played out their final limited overs game or should I say in coloured clothing. While Rahul Dravid has retired from all forms of the game internationally, Tendulkar continues to be a player in the longer version of the game (Test cricket) for India. While I am amassed and intrigued at the journey and accolades Tendulkar has been able to achieve, I am inspired by the course and journey Rahul Dravid endured. Sachin Tendulkar won his last T20 International for India, last One day international for India (including a World Cup), last IPL match for Mumbai Indians (including the trophy) and the last Champions League T20 again for Mumbai Indians (including the trophy). Even if he doesn’t play another Test for some reason or the other, he would still have the feat of winning his last Test match he played for India.

On the other hand – Rahul Dravid has not won a World Cup; he was part of the losing team on the occasion of his last Test, last ODI, his last T20 all for India, his last IPL match and the last Champion’s league T20 match with Rajasthan Royals.

Rahul Dravid will not play competitive cricket anymore and I am a grown up boy to understand his decision better than I would have few years ago. He will be missed but I am sure his family would not complain about this retirement. Personally, it was a warming experience to work with the same franchise Dravid captained and something which I cherish for a long time to come. The journey outweighs the destination and one such epitome to that is Rahul Dravid's career. 

Sachin Tendulkar has played 24 years of international cricket. I know he is not at his best at the moment and I also know he knows his cricket much better than I do. Is he destroying his legacy by not being at his best or is it a tale of perseverance and dedication to one’s skill? Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me. His effect on cricket lovers and to the world cricket has been enormous and a mighty positive one.

So on that note, I will cherish this period of dusk on the greatest cricketer I have witnessed in my lifetime. I was a five year old kid when he first played international cricket (1989) wearing the whites and he will end his playing career someday wearing whites. Among my list of childhood idols across all sports, he remains the last man standing
Image Courtesy: internationalreporter.com

Friday 4 October 2013

Afghanistan - The New Messengers of Sport

The Manuka Oval in the capital city of Australia will be part of a certain country’s history. The seventh match of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup which will be played on Feb 18th 2015 features Bangladesh with another Asian team. No, it is not India neither Pakistan nor Srilanka, the three strong pillars of Asian cricket.

Not so long ago, this country was at unrest and it still is due to conflicts of different nature and security being at the top of this. However, when it comes to cricket they have made significant progress and now they are making their debut at the World stage. Welcome to the 50 over World Cup bandwagon ‘Afghanistan’.
They had earlier qualified for T20 World Cup in 2010 and repeated the feat in 2012.This had inspired a lot of youngsters to take up sport in the post Taliban era. I hope this news acts as a catalyst to the population of Afghanistan and more so with the youngsters.

Cricket and its origins in Afghan provinces date back to the time when British rule was prevalent in the mid 19th century. Unlike India and Pakistan, the legacy of cricket in Afghan regions was short lived and was not until the end of previous millennium, a cricket board had been formed.  While sports having been placed under ‘ban’ while Taliban was ruling, cricket escaped with such ban and was to be the only exception sport.
This act of deliberate omission by Taliban was crucial for the development of sport; it paved the way for the national team to become a member of International Cricket Council (2001) and subsequently with Asian Cricket Council (2003). In twelve years time, they have progressed and sky is the limit for the future.

The fraternity of the sporting world must celebrate what Afghanistan has achieved. To put up a team of individuals of different mindsets is never easy especially when you have to constantly worry about your life. No International matches are currently played in Afghanistan due to ongoing security issues. They have a domestic championship which involves a tournament taken part by little more than twenty provinces. They play their home international matches at Sharjah, United Arab Emirates and bulk of their cricket stadiums in Afghanistan are under construction. The Afghanistan Cricket Board has big plans to build a stadium in every province of the country and hope to see international cricket return to their home territory. They are currently placed 12th out of 14 teams which would participate in the multi-country tournament.

In a political world which is judged by one’s passport, such heroics from the people of a country will go a long way in changing the image of the country. In the recently published list by Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index (a global ranking of countries based on the freedom of travel of their citizens) Afghanistan was placed at the bottom of the list (93rd) with a score of 28, meaning the Afghani citizens can travel to only 28 countries without a visa. And now, they will be travelling to Australia and New Zealand to play the signature event of cricket, with a visa of course.

The last paragraph had nothing to do with cricket or sports in general, atleast they are not related directly. However, repeated performances on the sporting world will ensure a youth giving him/her to imbibe the qualities of their heroes and thereby give a chance to them for a much peaceful future. I believe you don’t need great plans to make a sports project work in conflict affected areas; all you need is an opportunity to provide the basic infrastructure to play and life of such players will be automatically taken care. That to me is the power of having Sports in one’s life. It is not about being the best in the world, it is all about making an effort to be the best one can become. Sports are one such medium in life. Today, Afghanistan has become the new messengers of the sports industry.

Catch more on the background of growth of cricket in Afghanistan through this documentary