Wednesday 9 July 2014


Courtesy: News Agencies 
I think it is the continuous pain in those 90 minutes which is unbearable. The focus constantly on those eleven players is intense and painful for the spectators rooting a particular team in circumstances which Brazil were in yesterday. It can be a devastating experience for fans present in the stadium; for all those watching on television or even those who use their smart phones to check the scores. How can one erase what they just saw?

Football is a beautiful game, it definitely is. I saw a different side to this beautiful game when a team that prides itself to be at the forefront of football went through such a horrible defeat.

Like me, many others have experienced such a defeat growing up and can share their most heartbroken sports stories to this day. Few analysis on the match, scrutinising few of the players who performed poorly, to place our own strategies and debating about it - we move on or at least we make an effort.

Whether the angry fans resort to personal abuse or protests - an athlete on the field will have scars which he has to live with for the rest of his life. C'est la vie!

And there are players who missed taking part in the game - through injuries (Neymar Jr), penalty (Thiago Silva) who watched their team blown away in those six minutes conceding four goals. Such were the levels of shock that Miroslav Klose, who netted his 16th goal (World Record) of the World Cup was mentioned briefly in the game.

The game shall be remembered for the grand Brazilian defeat than Germany's outstanding win.

For the younger fans, the passionate fans - the defeat could be a blow and even come as a shock. Many tears were shed and it will only take few years to realise, I shed those tears for what? One will probably look back in a different way and till that time, you too as a fan has to live with it.

A certain youngster in 1950 was passionate about football and saw his countrymen mourning to the loss against Uruguay at the finals held in Brazil. And that youngster went on to play a pivotal role in guiding the national team to three of the five titles they have won - a feat no team has matched so far. And the same athlete used those golden words while describing the sport in his autobiography - 'A Beautiful Game'. It turned the Brazilian football and to an extent the global football completely. Football without Brazil is like Formula One without Ferrari. Unimaginable!

Such is the beauty of sports that - it moves on, it provides opportunities to improve and the only thing that asks an athlete in return is his willingness to participate. I am not sure how many of the athletes will turn up in Brazilian colours come 2018 in Russia. They need not seek revenge or look for redemption - because none of it actually exists except in our perceptive thoughts. The defeat however crucifying it maybe is part of the game just like the win.

It is hard, awkward, baffling, embarrassing, rough, rocky, arduous, delicate and add any other adjectives you like - the history shall not be erased if even Brazil were to win the next three World Cups in a row.
Some will move on with time, some prefer to stay with the result for rest of their lives, some will always be finding ways to cope with the defeat and some - they just don't care.

That to me is 'Sports Imitating Life'.  

Monday 7 July 2014


                                                                      A clash to remember                                         Source: ABC
In the end the satisfying part of watching a Wimbledon finals was that - it involved two humans at the peak of their individual skills exhibiting their repertoire, physical reserves that seemed invisible to themselves and acute mental awareness in spite of times when the title seemed to run away with the other person.

My moment of the third set was the games leading up to the tie-breaker and the tie-breaker itself. Two clearly matched opponents - nullifying each other's strokes of geniuses. Then Novak wins a crucial point, he is excited and he urges the crowd to cheer him on, loud and more loud. He sensed, the third set was all his and that it was.

If looked in isolation, having missed the championship point, Djokovic was never the same player for the next five games. Trailing 2-5 and with opponent having a break point, Federer boxed his way out, cornering Novak to one corner or the other, exhibiting some of the aggressive tennis seen in the match. It was counter-attack on a player who started to grunt more, losing energy with each stroke. He did not have a clue and if the tie break would have gone Federer's way in the third set, it would have been curtains for Novak. It was that phase of the match, irrespective of who the opponent was - 'Federer was in a class of his own'. He won the set 7-5 and the match proceeds to the fifth set.

At the beginning of the final set if one were to have analysed the fitness levels of these two great athletes - the younger Novak (by six years) would lose hands down to Federer. It was advantage Federer all-over. Novak takes a medical time-out to sooth his aching calf and ankle muscles and to bring his mind in order. In boxer's term, he was just handed a series of 'deadly punches' which he just could not defend, denting his confidence a little. He was anything but cheerful in the fourth set and that spoke about his mental health - which was shattered by the assault of Federer. The momentum was with Federer and now the brakes have been applied by Djokovic.

Federer was calm and went about his tennis in the final set with a similar approach as he did in the fourth set. Novak ensured he held on to his serve - which at that point was the only sensible thing to do. He had no chance whatsoever to score a point of Federer's serve - never mind breaking the same. Three games in which Federer served - he gave nothing at all to his Serbian opponent. On the other hand, in contrast Novak struggled and Federer's plan was to break Novak's serve early. He had his chances but Novak was better to fend any such threats. 4-3 to Djokovic and Federer to serve.

Up until that game, Novak was playing with minimum effort, doing just a little to defend and hold on to his serve - as though he knew he wanted to use his reserve energy some other time. He upped his ante in the eighth game and took the game to a far amount of distance - an indication that he was back.

He felt and it was seen, he could now dictate terms. He almost broke Federer's serve. The next sensible thing Novak did was to go 5-4 and then play his final set of cards. He knew, he can win if he can break Federer's serve right there in the tenth game. If it were to extend any further, he would lose it. Physically he looked much more drained than his Swiss opponent. As he was in the process of winning the ninth game, he urged the fans to cheer him. A similar trait - which kept him going in the third set.
Now, this sort of mindset is what keeps a champion like 'Novak' advance to his goal. Beyond a limit, exists a zone where his mental ability counter balances his physical ineptness. He sensed, this was it - Carpe Diem!! Novak broke the serve and Wimbledon was all his!
Novak Djokovic won his second Wimbledon title and finally managed to erase his losing streak in the Grand Slam finals. He knew he had slipped on more than few occasions in the match and that was the beauty of this finals! His seventh title was something he would cherish a long time to come. He has won seven trophies out of fourteen finals that he has participated and a first against Roger Federer. He knew it was special! and he knew he had to snatch it from Roger - especially if you look how the last hour of this match panned out. He is courteous enough to say it in public, acknowledging his family, support staff and specially to Federer for handing over this championship to him.

For Federer, he surprised himself to an extent that he could go this far a distance. Maybe it is to do with Wimbledon or maybe it is to do about him. Actually it is do with him. He along with three other champions come to my immediate mind as I write this. Michael Jordan, Sachin Tendulkar and Michael Schumacher. After all they have achieved in their respective sporting careers, having stayed on top for so long, the fear of losing the sheen from their illustrious career never came in their way - as long as they knew they were giving 100% and enjoyed the process of being a competitive athlete.

In the 1995 action thriller 'Heat' - Robert De Niro summons his gang of bank robbers (three) before committing one last heist. Though he is a criminal, he displays his humane touch asking his three buddies if they want to back out and live the rest of their lives with 'huge sums of money' they made and start a new life. He would not judge if they backed out. Val Kilmer says 'The bank is worth the risk, I need it brother'. De Niro turns to Tom Sizemore, who hesitates to back out - " Elaine takes good care of you. You got plenty put away. You got T-bonds, real estate. If I were you, I would be smart. I would cut loose of this."  Tom Sizemore looks in the eyes of De Niro, turns around to look at his other mates and turns to De Niro and says - "Well, you know. For me, the action is the juice, I'm in".

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Michael Schumacher wins the race from the pits!

                                                 Michael Schumacher's last lap was in the pit-lane                             Image Courtesy - Daily mail 
The race at Silverstone is always nostalgic. It is at this very circuit the first race of the modern F1 championships was held on 13th May 1950. British Grand Prix over the years have been hosted by other circuits and personally this remains my favourite British circuit among the others.

In this post, I would not be writing about Silverstone or its history or its struggles to stay relevant in the modern business of Formula One. Instead, I would like to look back on a 'wet' afternoon in 1998 when the race leader pitted on the last lap and yet emerged victorious. Protests were lodged by McLaren-Mercedes and the final verdict didn't alter the results of the Grand Prix. Instead it cost the jobs of the three stewards who awarded the penalty - unclear and ill-timed.

McLaren Mercedes was the car to beat. Ferrari was close and yet so far. In the eight races prior to the British Grand Prix that season, McLaren had won five (Mika Hakkinen four out of them) and Ferrari had three. If at all, the only consolation was that - the last two races were won by Ferrari and Michael Schumacher. Ferrari was not a force to reckon with at all - it was Michael Schumacher who drove not just the car but also the team forward ever since he took the seat in 1996.

McLaren cars were the quickest on all the three practice sessions and on the pre-race warm-up. Mika Hakkinen courtesy of a swift lap put his team on pole ahead of his immediate rival Michael Schumacher.
With heavy rains on the race day morning, the track was not completely dry and this prompted many of the teams to start the race with intermediate tyres. The two Stewarts took the brave decision to start with dry tyres!

There was no major shakeup at the top for the first 12 laps of the race barring for David Coulthard moving to the second position - a move aided by the unsurprising choice of Schumacher and Ferrari to go with a dry set-up, hoping the track to dry as the race progressed. Then Michael Schumacher clocks in a stunner of a lap, 1.6 seconds quicker than any other car on a track that was starting to get wet with dark clouds looming around the 5.89 km circuit. These harsh conditions of wind and wet track made driving a little difficult as the first of the casualties happened to be Damon Hill on lap 13 and Heinz Harald Frentzen two laps later.

Rain upset the strategies of all the teams forcing the drivers to make an unscheduled pit stops. From lap 18 onwards, the pit lane saw a parade of cars making their way in to make this change - some like McLaren on Bridgestone and few other like Ferrari on Goodyear. Most of them braved the track with intermediate tyres (Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard) while Mika Hakkinen was given a fully-threaded wet weather tyres.

Up until the lap 35, Mika Hakkinen controlled the race and drove around the circuit comfortably than most others could manage. Coulthard had to win the race to keep his championship alive managed to put in two stunning laps to catch Hakkinen. The track became wet with a fresh round of downpour and in a moment of frowziness while overtaking a back-marker, Coulthard slid off the track and off he went on to the gravel. David Coulthard retired from the race on lap 37.

Mika Hakkinen having the advantage of wet-weather tyres had built a lead in excess of 40 seconds to the now second placed Michael Schumacher. Was this lead under the treacherous weather conditions enough? It sure was, unless you make any mistakes!

Mika Hakkinen had a 'heartbeat moment' when his car on lap 42 turned 360 degrees at the high speed exiting corner 'Bridge'. He lost control for few seconds before recovering and turning the car on the circuit in the right direction - what reflex!. A deficit of 10 seconds would not damage his chances of victory, though there were concerns if his machinery and aerodynamic parts were intact.

Safety car was deployed to aid the drivers on track. Yes, it was such a race that - by the end of it all, only nine cars out of twenty-two were on track when the chequered flag was waved. Unsurprisingly, nine of those thirteen cars were as a result of 'slippery' track conditions.

The advantage built up by Hakkinen went in vain as Michael Schumacher and him were separated by a lapped Benetton car. On lap 49, the safety car went into the pits. Two laps later, Hakkinen straight-lined his car at Beckets - which put Schumacher into the lead and he was away! The damage caused by that spin on lap 42 was clearly visible as Hakkinen soon came under pressure from the second Ferrari of Eddie Irvine.

While Michael was leading the race, behind the scenes at the steward's control room there were discussions surrounding his overtake manoeuvre (to lap) on Alexander Wurz's Benetton on lap 43 - under the stationary yellow flag (safety car period). Normally in such cases back then, the penalty verdict must be informed to the team (in this case Ferrari) within 25 minutes of the time of the incident under investigation. The trio - Canada's Roger Peart, India's Nazir Hoosein and Britain's Howard Lapsley took about 24 minutes to make the decision.

The decision of the penalty was handwritten and it stated '10 seconds penalty' to Michael Schumacher. It was brought to the notice of Ferrari seven minutes after the decision was taken by the three stewards. The verdict did not specify if the penalty was a 'stop-go' (Article 57C) or whether 10 seconds would be added to Schumacher's time post race (Article 57E). To top it all, the official who delivered the note to the Ferrari did not know which rule was to be enforced.

While all this confusion was going on, the race was reaching its climax with just about two laps to go. Ferrari pit-crew were ready but were waiting for the instructions. Keeping in mind of the ramifications of the ignored penalty at the 1994 British Grand Prix (Schumacher later disqualified for the same driving for Benetton), Ferrari did not want to take any chances. Having a lead in excess of twenty seconds coming onto the last lap - he entered the pits to take the stop-go penalty. In doing so, he had to cross the 'start/finish' line to enter the Ferrari pit-lane. Michael Schumacher won the British Grand Prix. With-in minutes after the race, the stewards confirmed - they had applied Article 57E.

McLaren were disappointed and wasted no time to appeal the decision. Technically, article 57E applies only if the incident took place in the last 12 laps - which clearly was not the case. McLaren argued that it was a clear case of 'stop-go' penalty. The hearing was called at the FIA International Court of Appeal before the next race at Austria which was scheduled to start in fortnight's time.

After hearing out F1 race director Charlie Whiting, his deputy Herbie Blash and the three stewards, the World Council concluded that - the stewards applied the wrong rule in the situation and failed to communicate their decisions as per the regulations. The three stewards accepted the verdict and gave up their licences.

 Ferrari could rejoice as Michael Schumacher finally managed to win at Silverstone. It was his first of the three victories he managed to secure at this historic venue. Murray Walker, veteran F1 commentator commented at the end of the race aptly - " I have never, ever in the years I have been watching Grand Prix racing seen a finish like that - it is absolutely unprecedented". And he start commentating in 1949!

TO END IT.....

Whether or not, Michael Schumacher would watch this year's British GP - he can never forget the memories from the Silverstone circuit. It was here in 1999, he suffered a major blow - an injury which made him sit out most part of the 1999 World Championship and eventually cost him that year's driver's crown. He bounced back from that setback and what a comeback he has had after that. And hoping his bounce-back ability is the same this time around as he fights to lead a normal life.