Wednesday 24 September 2014


A little over fifteen years after playing what many say is one of the best innings played on Indian soil, I still get goose bumps whenever I watch the innings of 136 made at Chennai.

Yes, it was played by a batsman named 'Sachin Tendulkar' - and the name itself makes one come up with opinions. After all he happens to be one of the greats this sport has ever witnessed. However, when you look at that innings in isolation, the real treat begins. After many years of watching the highlights of that particular innings, I must say 'looking in isolation' made me marvel at those strokes and the manner in which he built his innings.

It was on a Sunday - my day began with watching the highlights from the 3rd day of the Test match, the preview with the ESPN commentary panel and the live match itself. I was a fourteen year-old and subscribed to the fact and belonged to the club of people who believed - as long as Sachin is at the crease, India wins!

India started the fourth day at 40 for the loss of both the openers. They had to make 231 runs in the allotted 180 overs or less. That's a little over one run an over. Easy? Not quite. One thing was sure, if India were to bat for 180 overs, then victory was assured. The challenge was on - can Indian batsmen battle it out on a pitch that would deteriorate with time?

If ever I have seen Sachin struggle to score runs, this innings would be one of them. For a large duration of the first session, it seemed that way. After scoring a duck in the first innings, he showed a lot more intent, played for time and the merits of the Pakistani bowling attack led by their skipper Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq. First it was Dravid, then Azharuddin and out went Ganguly - all of them in the first session (never mind the last two being slightly dubious decisions).

The ball was turning and Saqlain looked threatening and on the other end Akram was menacing with his variations and angles. Sachin patiently built his innings as India went through a period where no boundary was scored for 111 balls. His fifty off 136 balls contained six boundaries and the innings of his half-century had already consumed a little over 200 minutes. Clearly, time was not the issue - but it was also not easy to score runs.

Forging a steady partnership with Nayan Mongia, Sachin started to score more freely and was in a more familiar territory. Nadeem Khan, the left-arm spinner did turn the ball square without any luck while Shahid Afridi did not pose any threat. Practically, the questions were asked by Saqlain with his variations on a turning pitch.

During those days, Saqlain Mushtaq was a bowler Pakistan heavily relied on - especially on the sub-continent wickets. He was experimental and had plenty of tricks by changing his flight, loop and angle regularly which resulted him in picking a lot of wickets. Once Sachin started to pick Saqlain with ease and score boundaries of his bowling, the chase was on and Indian victory was well on its way.

One by one Sachin tackled all the challenges, ticking one box at a time and even had luck come his way when he survived a caught-behind while on 90. And then the next two deliveries - off it went for boundaries and Tendulkar now was just two short of a wonderful hundred. He had scored 16 runs in that over and the last shot - a slog sweep which gave him a boundary also had him nurture his back.

He was in his tenth year of international cricket and a few months away from turning 26 - it was a sight one had never witnessed. It was overlooked by the commentators, spectators, viewers and possibly him too? until the time it got severe and was visibly hurting his fluency.

It didn't take much time to score a single and reach his 18th test hundred - his third in Chennai and first against Pakistan. The whole crowd erupted, gave him an thunderous applause. They knew what he had achieved until that point. He had scored a hundred fighting like an injured gladiator. India needed exactly 100 more to win the match. Victory was still a far cry.

He took just over 100 minutes to score his second fifty and 99 deliveries which had seven scoring shots to the boundary. Clearly, he was in the top gear and this was the time when I went out to play cricket as my friends had already taken to field. India would surely win and that was my belief when I stepped out.

The next 36 runs I remember is courtesy of the highlights - which appeared that night on ESPN and now available widely on YouTube. Sachin Tendulkar unleashed his array of strokes down the ground after his hundred. His innings now had a certain momentum with strokes through the covers, punch off the back foot, straight drive and hitting straight down the track. India now require 21 runs and surely Tendulkar would win it for India from here. His previous two hundreds before this - in Bangalore (vs. Australia) and in Wellington (vs. New Zealand) resulted in team losses and with 21 runs, no one even thought about India losing.

The thing about watching the highlights is that - one already knows how or what particular score did a certain event took place. I knew India had lost, I knew Sachin would get out soon! With every stroke and boundary, he tried to nurse his back and I focussed on that - as I had never seen him struggle this much while playing. His challenges were not the bowling attack - but a battle within. He was scoring freely and five hits to the boundaries, India would win the match.   He pulls a short delivery off Saqlain to the square leg boundary - 17 more runs with four wickets in hand.

He walks away from the wicket after scoring the boundary, absorbs all the pain from his troubled back, gathers all those thoughts in his mind masked to an extent by the pain. He was scoring freely and there was no need to change the strategy. Mind you, with batsmen giving him company at the other end, it was on his shoulders to carry the team and win the match. He takes the strike and Saqlain delivers a flighted delivery on the leg-side, slower in the air and Tendulkar with a big back lift tries to loft it over mid-on, mid-wicket area, instead the ball has gone up in the air and Wasim Akram takes the catch at mid-off. The commander of the Indian cricket army is out!

There was no silence as the crowd continued its applause for this champion batsman. They had seen him score these runs and also had seen him struggle with his back. A mammoth effort and the crowd gave him an standing ovation as he left the field in disappointment thinking - probably one shot too many? 

The match was over in the next 21 deliveries with India scoring just 4 more runs and Pakistan picking up the remaining three wickets. I was shell-shocked to hear this result while we were playing. Our neighbours came out to resume their normal lives had faces filled with disappointment. The talking point was - why did he play that shot? and can't our bowlers score these few runs? Believe me, that argument is still on whenever this innings is mentioned.

The last time before Chennai 1999, Pakistan visited India to play a test match was in the 1980's. It was also close to a decade since the last India - Pakistan test match (incidentally Tendulkar made his debut in that series in 1989/90). There is a rivalry of gigantic proportions when it comes to India and Pakistan and the lack of sporting contests only magnified it in 1999.

Chennai crowd gave a standing ovation to the victorious Pakistani team and they acknowledged it by doing a lap of honour. I was too young to understand the relevance of good sportsmanship - but deep down I knew what Chennai crowd that day was a gesture of goodwill. Looking back, I believe Chennai crowd saw the fight put up by the Indians and to an ardent sports fan - nothing else matters apart from that. A win would always be cherished but a defeat - it is not the end of the world!

I have seen a lot of hundreds coming from the bat of Sachin Tendulkar and also have missed a few - this one surely has to be the best one I regret not watching it completely. 

Monday 22 September 2014


Charlotte Cooper
If one looks at the involvement of women in sports, it is heartening to see the growth across the world -participating in formats which previously were considered for men. The Olympic movement has had its own evolution story when it comes to women's participation and that is only half the story. At the first modern Olympics in 1896, there were 241 athletes who took part and all were men. Compare this with the recently concluded Summer Olympics at London 2012; there were women participating from every National Olympic Committee that had sent its team. That to me happens to be the highlight of London 2012 - never mind the broadcast, internet and all the filtered figures which were reported to an all-time high.

Over the years, women's participation was in parallel to the Olympic movement itself. While the world boasted of well-known male athletes, there was little work done to provide opportunity for women to compete at the big stage. Women's growth at the Olympics was positive with each edition - but very gradual. It was zero in 1896 and in 2012, the women participation was 4,675!

Up until the 1970's, the male participation hovered around 4,000 plus athletes and in comparison the women numbers were less than thousand. This trend continued until Munich 1972 where the total number of women participants crossed 1000 for the first time and 6000 for men. From then on, it has been women participants, that are on the rise while the male participation is pretty much a constant.

These were some interesting stats I pondered over in the morning. These facts were hard to escape when I was remembering my 2005 sports quiz discovery. In 2005, while researching for the college's annual fest, I stumbled upon a lady by the name of Charlotte Cooper - who turns 144 today and has the distinction of being the first individual female Olympic champion.

Women participation at the Olympics was possible only because the games were held in Paris - so said the media and very well-known Olympic critics of that era. Interestingly it was the sport tennis which was very popular among women in the late 19th century though it being very elitist. Cooper, a British born was a Victorian woman first and then a tennis player; this was evident with the outfits that were worn by the tennis playing ladies at that time.

There were other problems that women faced. Charlotte grew up at a time when Women Suffrage movement had began and gathered momentum, demanding equal voting rights for women. She took a liking for tennis at an early age and earned her first victory at the age of 14 - something she considered as a very important moment of her illustrious life.

At the age of 23, she would win her first title at the senior's level which propelled her to the Wimbledon championships, where she would leave an ever-lasting impression on those famous green laws.

It was the year 1893 when Cooper first appeared on the famous grass courts of Wimbledon - a association which would remain till 1919. In those 26 years, a lot of events took place in her life. She had won five-singles titles, eleven finals appearances, two Olympic medals (singles and mixed-doubles), marriage to a solicitor, mother of two kids and the oldest lady singles player to win the coveted Wimbledon trophy - a Wimbledon record which stands to this date (37 years and 296 days). In addition, she was also the runner-up at the inaugural women's doubles event in 1913.

If it was Wimbledon on one side, there was also the Olympics which brought her fame and a legacy which is often recalled when one has to start a chapter on women's evolution in the Olympic movement.

1900 PARIS
The timing of the event could not have been perfect for Charlotte Cooper. One of the top ladies players going into the tournament, she had also been a three-time Wimbledon champion before representing Great Britain at the Olympics.

Six players from four nations (Great Britain, USA, France and Bohemia) participated in the debut programme of women's tennis. Three matches and three straight wins - all it took for Charlotte Cooper to become Olympic's first individual gold medallist defeating France's Hélènè Prévost 6-1, 6-4 . Cooper went on to add another gold medal to her tally and this time it was with Reginald Doherty as the British doubles team won the mixed doubles gold medal as well on the red clay courts of Il Puteaux.

The IOC until 1904 did not start the practice of awarding winning athletes with medals. The winners of the 1896 and 1900 edition were retrospectively awarded and added to the medals tally.  

Charlotte Cooper's biggest contribution towards life is that she inspired a lot of women to take up sports in the early parts of the 20th century. Not restricted to tennis, she also spent a lot of the winter time training by running and playing hockey - a sport in which she represented Surrey. Her sense of hearing was hampered by the time she was 26 and yet this ailment did not deter her to participate in future tournaments and successfully win at Wimbledon and at the Olympics. Growing up, she had the likes of Lottie Dod (5-time Wimbledon winner) and Blanche Bingley (6-time Wimbledon winner) who won regularly; Cooper joined the duo and inspired the next generation of ladies tennis players.

After becoming the Olympic champion, she married a solicitor Alfred Sterry (six years younger) and raised two children Rex and Gwyneth. Marital life with children did not deter her from giving up tennis. She continued playing tennis with best of the players well into her 50's.

Not only she holds the record for being the oldest Wimbledon champ, she also won her final title after being a mother of two and since 1908 only two have managed to win a Wimbledon title - Dorthea Lambert Chambers and Evonne Goolagong Cawley. Charlotte held the record for most Wimbledon consecutive finals appearances (eight) before that record was broken in 1990 by Martina Navratilova when made her ninth consecutive finals appearance against Zina Garrison.

Upon retirement, she took a lot of interest to help the next generation of tennis players and was seen regularly at the championships right in to her 90's. Her son Rex served as a committee member of the All-England Lawn Tennis club for many years while his sister, Gwyneth represented Great Britain in Wightman Cup and also at the Wimbledon.

Charlotte Cooper - one of the first in women tennis to use overhead serves 
The story of Cooper is not just limited to tennis. She happens to be one of the first 22 women who took part in the 1900 Summer Olympics - a number which now is in thousands and increasing with each edition. (Till date 35,510 female athletes have taken part at the Summer Olympics when compared with 108,982 male athletes)

So how do we remember on her 144th birthday - when even the founders of the modern Olympic movement (IOC) have made no mention of her on website or on twitter.

Maybe she is just a name... or a past time story, or a piece of treasure for sports historians and tennis fans, or an example of a balanced lifestyle, longevity; an athlete in possession of a record or a very good trivia question or I am trying to fit in lines to make her life size legendary......... or in simple words, I would like to remember her to be the first talking point if one has to talk about Women at the Olympics! 

Thursday 18 September 2014


At the end of the day, it was probably worth the wait. After following F1 for a good nine years (since 1999), it was about time to catch the action of Formula One on the circuit. It was my dream to watch a race live and that race happened to be the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix.

Up until 2008, there were races all around the globe and F1 had touched all the continents barring Antarctica. Singapore offered a new variety - the concept of night race which in Formula One was unheard of. Like me, everyone else was looking forward to how it would pan out and whether visibility issues will be the major talking point. History was in the making and I for once did not want to let go of this opportunity.

Four Ferrari fans from Bangalore among countless others from the world decide to make a trip to Singapore. Believe it or not, I was so excited that - tickets were booked even before the cars were shipped to Australia for the first race of the season. A good seven months in advance!

Four Ferrari fans... thrilled before the race and disappointed by the end of it

This iconic night race was scheduled in September. Looking back at those months leading up to the race, I must admit I was such an innocent F1 fan. I had absolutely no interest in the politics that went behind the track. All that was important to me was what happened on the track barring for some snippets on cars and driver's development before the new season. What a stress-free F1 fan life it was! Now, I am unable to get over the Piranha Club, the PEST (Political, Environmental, Social and Technological) aspects of Formula One.

I am still a fan - but a great degree of innocence associated with it has been lost. I guess, this is a small price one pays for getting access to more information about the sport. And the eternal battle goes on continuously to retain just the fan element these days, whenever I watch the race. I am happy I was a different soul when it came to being a fan back in 2008.

All excited to witness the first ever night race 

One particular disadvantage visiting a city during a F1 weekend is that - it is over-crowded. Be it any place, there is absolutely no iota of space just for yourself on the streets. To top it, this was a street race circuit and with it gone were the famous roads of Singapore city.

The buzz was to be seen all around. Many offers up for grabs, promotional events at each of the busy streets and inside the malls. I lost count of the number of malls we got to see. The weather was humid and all we did was to see as many places as possible during the day and head to the circuit in the evenings.

The sound of an F1 car sounds so different on TV and whilst you are in the circuit. We had our seats on the Marina Bay stand which sat between the Esplanade Theatre Bay and the Marina Promenade Park. It was an evening carnival - with people most of huge fans of F1 not shying away from showing where their loyalties lay.  

On the qualifying Saturday, it was not a surprise to see Felipe Massa claim the pole position for Ferrari. He had emerged as a championship contender and was trailing Lewis Hamilton by a point leading into this race. Kimi Raikkonen, the defending champion qualified 3rd making the evening truely Ferrari's.

In retrospect, the race turned out a bummer for all the Ferrari fans. To cut the long story short, Massa led Hamilton and Raikkonen for the first phase of the race. Alonso driving for Renault pits first on lap 12. His team mate Nelson Piquet Jr, crashes out on Turn 17 two laps later - right in front of our grand stand. Safety car comes in and all the cars queue behind the slowest car on track. The pit lane was closed till the time all cars were behind the safety car.

It was a chaos once the pits were open. Massa and the Ferrari team panicked as the car was released with part of the fuel hose attached to the car. A potential hazard with fuel spilling all over, Massa stopped at the end of the pit lane while Ferrari mechanics ran to attend him. In a circuit, which resembles Monaco for its disadvantage on overtaking, Massa's race was well and truely compromised. With FIA penalising Ferrari for unsafe release, Massa had to serve a stop-go penalty. He was now the last car on track and had to rely purely on fate! Raikkonen also lost time as he had queued behind Massa during the pits. It was now anybody's race.

Alonso was the only driver who seemed to have gained from the safety car period. All he did after the first round of pit stops was to drive his Renault to its optimum and look after the tyres. His persistence paid off as he took the lead midway to the race finish and never looked threatened from rest of the pack. Yes, he did top the time sheets on the final practice - but his victory was more attributed to the strategy and a little bit of luck - a fact which he iterated at the post-race press conference.

Little did I know... a few hours later, this car would end up winning 

We were disappointed as both the Ferraris did not finish the race. And it was such a race where things tend to happen in a flash! No comfort of watching the replays - though there were live screens in front of us big and clear. All did not matter or those that mattered were short-lived; the thrill of being part of the history took care of it all.

A small part of F1 history 

A year later, we all got to know the Renault team under the leadership of Flavio Briatore staged the crash of Nelson Piquet Jr. on purpose. Briatore was subsequently banned by FIA and Nelson Piquet Jr. will have to be contended with the fact - that his only claim to fame is him being the son of a former three- time world champion.

Early this year while holidaying in Singapore, I managed to walk on the race track which also serves as a public road. I recollected several of my memories from 2008 - my first race on track, meeting the original fan club of Kimi Raikkonen, getting to look at some of the vintage cars, hearing the sounds of the F1 cars as they accelerate and brake, walking on the circuit after the race and meeting some of the F1 enthusiasts who like us were witnessing their first race.

All smiles with the Finnish fans of Kimi Raikkonen 

Looking at the editions leading up to this year's Singapore GP, very little has changed. Safety cars appear each year (a record), drivers are pretty much the same from 2008 and with regards to popularity, it still retains that 'aura' and has inspired other circuits (Abu Dhabi and Bahrain) to use lights for the race.

My professional life and to a large extent my personal life changed after this race as within a month I got admitted to do my Sports Masters - something which I had not expected to come through whilst I was at the race in Singapore. A career shift, discussing various aspects among the sports enthusiasts, meeting a new friend who now is my partner; travelling, writing, cooking, understanding cultures, reading, visiting a lot of F1 circuits and other sporting events. All the sporting evolution in me has come at a cost - losing the innocence of being a sports fan. I must say, devil is in the detail or perhaps this is how one grows up!

Taken in January 2014 - the view of the grand stand and the infamous Nelson Piquet Jr's crash 

However, if I look at the interval of my life between then and now - I can confidently say it has been a wonderful, inspiring, humbling, learning, challenging and a journey worth every minute of it as I look forward this week's Singapore Grand Prix and beyond. 

Wednesday 17 September 2014


My fascination for Formula One began when I was a teenager. I am not sure the number of the hours I would have spent imagining myself driving one of those cars at high speeds, braking to imaginary sharp bends and overtake every car possible on the virtual track. It is this imagination that also made me look at the streets of Bangalore as an F1 track. Be it any road, I would have compared it to some remote part of an F1 circuit with my favourite being 'the street impression' of Monte-Carlo near my place. It was fun!

With each year, my interest in Formula One grew and I started to focus more on the history of the sport - a practice which is on-going. Collecting information, books and stories is still a very integral part of my life. In one such story seeking moments, I bumped into a forum where I saw motor-racing pictures from the 1950's Bangalore. It evoked my curiosity. Several weeks of communication and persuasion with Melanie (granddaughter of Fred Webb), who provided me her time, lots of key information and the rare photographs - on basis of which this article is written.

What was Bangalore like in the 1950's? It was a leisure city which had the blessings of mother nature precisely for its weather not exceeding 30 degrees for most of the year. Winters weren't bad either, hovering around 10 degrees during nights and rains were a delight to experience. This remained till the 90's. Apart from few areas, the city was relatively calm and amidst these less chaotic surroundings, I grew up. 

Then came the new millennium - the IT boom in India and majorly in Bangalore resulted in many IT firms being built across Bangalore and in short span of time traffic congestion became the biggest worry among the residents. It still is - but there are other things which Bangalore provides and thus we all tend to overlook the temporary ailments of traffic.

Let's go back few decades in time and try to imagine how was it like to race in Bangalore in the 50's? Ever wondered who started the trend of motorsports here in the capital city of Karnataka?  
I have lost count in number of things we Indians embrace to this date courtesy of British empire. Whether we like it or not, to a large extent - a series of practices, words, regulations,...... and these have influenced many innovators and thinkers across India. One such individual named Fred Webb was known in Bangalore for his then Webb Sales and Services - a haven for cars and motorcycles in Bangalore.

From the 1940's till his demise, he was one of the chief architects who conceptualised the culture of motorsports in Bangalore. His presence in India was not by accident or through service; he remained in India as a result of his father Walter John Webb's choice to stay back after serving with the British army for 10 years in 1881. Walter John Webb along with his wife chose to settle in Ootacamund (Ooty).

It was here in Ooty where Fred Webb was born on March 27 1908. Having done his schooling at a nearby church school, he left for Bangalore at a young age to work at a motor garage called Nankervis.

With an inclination towards cars, his raise in the world of automobiles was not by any means a fluke and was a combination of passion, hard work and courage. In 1927,  Fred Webb worked as a service manager in a firm of distributors for Chevrolet cars. It was here he showcased his racing pursuits and took part in an endurance test, driving a new 1933 Chevrolet for nearly twenty-three hours continuously and covered about 2771 miles. What an effort! Aptly, for his super drive, the General Motors honoured him with a trophy for achieving this feat. 

A few years of hard work coupled with his fervour for motorcars, his name was soon to be well recognised in the Automobile Trade and its circle; these reasons were enough for him to establish his own firm.

A visionary by nature and possessing an industrious mind, Fred Webb built his firm from the scratch. In 1939, he brought Ford cars to Bangalore through a dealership at a time when the second world war had just begun, and in a short space of time he added Chevrolet cars and trucks in his list of dealerships. With his business flourishing he was quick to diversify his interest and became the proprietor of Webb’s Farm Mechanization, dealers for the famous Ferguson tractors for Mysore State and Coorg.

With each year his name and position in India's automobile trade grew in stature which helped him to secure a dealership with the Tata-Mercedes-Benz vehicles. He expanded his business towards two-wheelers as well. Under the flagship of Webb's scooter mart, Lambratta scooters dealership became popular in the state keeping in mind of the growing economic households.  

Fred Webb waving the chequered flag 
A prominent personality in the automobile industry, the state transport department often consulted him to come up with solutions on matters related to traffic. 

Fred Webb was a keen follower of the automobile and its evolution across the globe. This obsession was taken further along with few other like minded gentlemen, the likes of Cyril Doveton, John Webb (Fred's son) to name a few to hold a meeting which paved the way for the establishment of 'The Bangalore Motor Sports Club' in 1954.

Formation of Bangalore Motor Sports Club

Since becoming its President in 1955, Fred Webb endlessly laboured to put Bangalore Motor Sports Club on the sports map of India. Part of his efforts included to host races at the Bangalore-Yelahanka airstrip and Jakkur aerodrome. He also invited several participants from abroad to be part of these races.

A parade of fast exotic cars 
An assortment of exotic cars were in display on the roads of Bangalore - a sight which attracted most people from the city and from the nearby villages.

Fred Webb and the talented drivers of the yore 

 A man known for his quick wit and sense of humour - he was actively involved with the Bangalore Golf Association and also donned the hat of being the President of Mysore State Amateur Boxing Association. He was ably supported by his wife Gwen Webb, a keen horticulturist who actively participated in many of the charitable organisations in Bangalore. Their son John Webb, like father was smitten quite early by motorsports.

John Webb - son of Fred Webb with his MG TC 

The father-son duo actively took part in many of the races held at Madras (Chennai) Sholavaram airstrip, Coimbatore's Sulur aerodrome and at Colombo's Katukurunda airstrip. A versatile sportsman with having interests in various sports, it was not a surprise that he was second in command to Fred's business.

Fred Webb (far right) all set to race 

Fred's motto towards life was plain and simple. Life to him has always been a series of experiments and experiences, many of which pleasant, quite a few to the contrary. But essentially, he felt it was meant to be lived, not to be brooded upon. These words to this date is etched in the memories of his family members.

Having lived in India all his life, he choose to spend his final days in Bangalore at his residence in Brunton Road. He passed away in 1984. His son John remained in Bangalore and six years later while holidaying in Perth, Australia - he too passed away. The 'Webb' family continues to shuttle between Western Australia and Bangalore - and make constant efforts to preserve the legacy of their family.

During this time, the Bangalore Motor Sports Club now known as Karnataka Motor Sports Club, played a crucial role in establishing the national federation for motorsports. It is well known in the Indian motorsports fraternity for hosting the state rally (K1000) to date for close to 40 years.  

It is common to associate IT with Bangalore in today's world. However, before it became the IT capital, Bangalore was home to some of the motor racing legends of India, hosted many thrilling races and was the birth place of many automobile innovations. People who have seen Bangalore before the millennium can imagine such a possibility - but with the present traffic woes, the motor-racing tales of the yore will remain a pack of stories to share for the generations to come. 

Tuesday 16 September 2014


The dream team-duo of  Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka have steered the Swiss national team to Davis Cup finals - only their second appearance. The dream which remained distant for more than twenty years is finally within their grasp.

Swiss Tennis has made constant headlines in the last two decades; starting with Marc Rosset's incredible gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Then came the talented kid on the tennis world to grace women's tennis - Martina Hingis. It was Hingis who took Switzerland and its tennis programme to great heights before her career came to an end prematurely. The mantle was then passed on to Roger Federer and he has exceeded everyone's expectations and went on to become the best athlete his country has ever produced and one of the best tennis has ever witnessed.

Roger Federer has won almost everything that has to be won in tennis singles, barring Olympic Gold singles and Davis Cup. He was always a lone man who pushed his team and on more than one occasion the dreams of Davis Cup were weakened by the absence of a solid #2 singles player. With the progress Wawrinka has had so far in 2014, the combo 'FEDERINKA' looked favourites coming into the semi-finals clash against Italy and so far they have emulated Switzerland's best performance at the Davis Cup.

Before the last day, the tie between Switzerland and Italy was 2-1 in favour of the home side, Switzerland. The Geneva indoor stadium at Palexpo was a sea of red and white fans filled with great enthusiasm. The weather was perfect and the buzz on those temporary seating - constant cheers, foot tapping, horns being blown and the loud vocal support whenever Roger Federer was pushed to a corner with his opponent on a break point was just too much for the Italians to handle. It showed in the way they played.

Federer started slowly and it took some time before we saw him bring out his discipline executing those volleys unsettling Fabio Fognini and forced him make those unforced errors. Within no time, the Swiss ace had taken the first set 6-2.

In the second set, it was the same story expect that Fognini held his serve one more than he did in the first set. A little too easy perhaps for the 17-time Grand slam winner as he won the second set 6-3.
Fognini played some of his best game in the third set. It was 'the set' as far as Italy was concerned. Perhaps, it was too much to expect Fognini to outclass Federer - but what if he took the match to the fifth set? Federer is no longer in his twenties and once you are in fifth set, it is anybody's game. Fognini took the lead 6-5 and Federer did well enough to force a tie breaker.

I was given an impression, Federer was not at his best. The only motivation that seemed to him was to steer the team into the finals - something which he has never managed to achieve in his illustrious career. This was his and Switzerland's best chance since their semi-finals appearance in 2003.

In the tiebreaker, Federer was in a different zone and the intent was seen as he did not let the match to slip or go the distance. He brought on all his skills and aggression to the court which saw him take the lead 6-4 in the tiebreak. One point separated the place in the finals. Crowd is busy engrossed in their songs and praises while the umpire had to beg once, twice for their silence.

The silence was short-lived as the crowd went berserk, so does the Swiss master and the entire Swiss Davis cup team. This was a result they had never experienced previously and soon the band of brothers took the central stage, waving to all sections of the crowd. Federer was ferried held high across the courts by Wawrinka and their coach Severin Lüti - a sight of happiness, relief and an opportunity to win the elusive Davis Cup title.

When it came to lifting Wawrinka, he ran away before making his intentions clear to his mates about him not in a mood to be carried around.

Roger Federer is ranked third and Wawrinka fourth in the ATP rankings currently. Wawrinka's famous win at this year's Australian Open and Federer's consistent show has ensured Switzerland to field two of the best singles players on the circuit. The rest of the team are relatively unknown, who in spite of playing on the circuit for close to a decade, have rarely made any significant contribution.
The quarterfinals against Kazakhstan early this year was a narrow escape which needed Switzerland to win both the reverse singles matches to enter semi-finals. And finals will be even greater challenge with three of the top 20 ranked players feature in the French team.

The crowd which came in great numbers to witness the Swiss team knew there is a not a lot of tennis left in Federer's career. His personal life with four children and a lovely wife is a huge incentive for him not to keep on playing. One fine day, he might just take a call of calling it quits. A world cup in tennis is just around the corner and what a wonderful addition it would be to his career. For Swiss, it is their country that comes first and then individuals - though it is only fair from what we witnessed, Swiss love Roger! and they will root him and his teammates to win their first Davis Cup title.

There will be people - a lot of them from Switzerland who will be queuing up in France to witness this historic moment unfold. The last time these two countries met was in 2004 quarterfinals - in which the Swiss team lost. That was ten years ago and Switzerland back then did not boast itself of having two solid singles players. Things look different and I must say, now  they look favourites.

In 1992, the Swiss team was blown away by the sheer talent of the US Davis cup team. Jim Courier, Andre Agassi playing the singles while John McEnroe and Pete Sampras partnered in doubles.

Will it be too much on the shoulders of Federer and Wawrinka when compared with a better all-round team of France led by Tsonga with Richard Gasquet and Monfils in the squad?

While in the singles, the Swiss appear sharper - but on a given day these three players from France are more than capable to beat the Swiss stars. It will not be a one-sided final. However, emotionally all eyes will be on Switzerland and in particular Roger Federer! 

Wednesday 10 September 2014


Last month saw the culmination of a successful inaugural tournament in Mumbai. It was played at eight cities across India and turned out to be a hit among spectators - who witnessed the events unfold inside the stadium along with millions of viewers on television. Finally, a non-cricket sport, very local to India has been marketed and presented as a successful business model.

Recognition for those hard-working athletes, return on investment for people with deep pockets, a platform with commercial benefits for broadcasters and entertainment for viewers. What more do you want? This is what a non-Olympic sport 'Kabaddi' managed to achieve through Pro Kabaddi League recently; a commercial sports property that has captured the hearts of many Indians locally and globally.

Punjabi immigrants playing Kabaddi in Greece 

Kabaddi is primarily a sport played mostly by the Asian countries surrounding the Indian sub-continent. The origins of this contact team sport dates back to pre-historic times and has its inspiration from a scene in the Indian epic 'Mahabharata'. Many who have followed the tales of Abhimanyu - the sixteen year old warrior gallantly trying to break the seven-tiered army formation of the opponents 'Kauravas' can loosely connect with the modern sport of Kabaddi. 

Kabaddi (holding of breath in Hindi) involves athleticism, presence of mind, reflexes, guts, breath control and team work. It is simple to comprehend, played both indoors, grass, beach, just about any outdoor place. A game usually finishes within the clock striking 60 minutes. Seven members consist in a team with two teams participating in a game. One member (raider) gets into the opponent and battles with seven of them together (defense or the antis), while moving to either sides continuously exhaling with chants of 'Kabaddi, Kabaddi, Kabaddi' without getting caught by the opponent's formation. All the raider has to do is touch as many opponents as possible without getting caught by the defense (opponents) on a single breath. The raider can inhale only when he/she returns to their home court and deemed out if they are unsuccessful in making contact with the opponents. The raider exhales continuously until he scores a point! Phew  

Wrestling in the raider to the ground by the defense helps them to stop the raider from reaching his home court, inhale again and thereby preventing the raider to score points. It is a test of mind, body and a lot more!  

The Antis (defense) touched by a raider during the attack are ruled 'out' if they are unsuccessful in catching the raider before returning to the home court. And then the other team sends a raider and the battle continues. The team with maximum points wins. Gone are the days, when the teams battled on for hours... now it makes sense to have it time bound and thus a marvellous spectator sport. Simple isn't it?

Kabaddi happens to be the national sport of Bangladesh and Nepal though much of its origins and development was in India. Kabaddi dates back to pre-historic times, a time when there was no concept of AD or BC. However, the official recognition of this sport came only in the early 20th century. Kabaddi achieved the national status only in 1918 and the popularity was spread across the country in the coming years thanks to some of the pioneers hailing from Maharashtra - a populous state of India.

Small overview of Kabaddi

In 1912, IOC (International Olympic Committee) had introduced a formal platform through which some of the 'folk' games and other regional games would use Olympics for the promotion of the sport. In the name of 'demonstration sports', several countries put forth their sport and promoted it well- which then resulted in them being part of the Olympic programme. Basketball, canoeing, kayaking, baseball, volleyball, tennis (was part of Olympics from 1896 to 1924), judo, taekwondo in Summer Sports and curling, speed skating, speed skiing, ice dancing, short speed skating were just few demonstration sports to begin with and later becoming a part of the Olympic programme.
Kabaddi too was given an opportunity to be part of this group and a grand promotion was given by the Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal from Maharashtra at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I am not sure what happened after that. Did the Indian hockey team's achievements overshadow this promotional sport? or was it too Indian at that time?

India has been at the forefront for the development of Kabaddi to global audience for close to hundred years. With limited international exposure, it was indeed a challenge to promote the sport commercially. It was mere restricted to schools and colleges with few professionals playing at the national level. Since the birth of the national federation in 1950, the administrators have had constant battles and had to give way to either Hockey till the 1980's or Cricket from the 1980's in order to remain popular. Barring few Asian countries, there were no contests that made headlines and it remained a 'recreational' sport for most people in India - a sport played once in a while just for fun. That includes me! As a kid growing up, I played Kabaddi just for fun without ever dreaming a single day of becoming a 'Kabaddi' player.

Till the beginning of this millennium, Kabaddi was making strides mostly in the Asia continent with it being a regular at the Asian Games since 1990. A mere 31 countries as founding members, the International Kabaddi Federation was formed in 2004. Not surprisingly, India was chosen as its headquarters in Jaipur and with an India holding the reins at the top.

All the continents (five rings, remember?) now have teams that participate in the World cup - a event which has been held since 2004 and held annually since 2010. There is no team yet to defeat India in the finals in both men's and women's division and only time will tell, if other teams are there just to make up the numbers.

Kabaddi is a sport which is very popular in India. Each region knows this sport by different names, unique to their respective regions. Though it is not India's national sport (It is not cricket either... it is hockey) various states have 'Kabaddi' has its state sport.

Where does Kabaddi go from here?

I believe the revival of Kabaddi to suit television audience, spectator friendly and being played in a league format among teams spread across the golden quadrilateral of India is one of the success stories for India this year. Celebrities throwing in their names and money has helped in a great way to stay in the media.

In the last two decades, there is a surge in number of movies released in India with Kabaddi being the theme. Indians to a large extent love to be entertained and most do not mind paying money, spending time and sometimes loads of money to be at the receiving end of the entertainers. Kabaddi as a mass-sport, for the first time has come of age.

India probably is the right country to experiment on non-cricket sports. The consumption of sports is getting better with each year. The next ten years is  a test ground - where sporting revolutions will constantly hit the human evolution across the nation. A little late perhaps to join the bandwagon, but a tremendous business opportunity which would last longer!

Having Kabaddi as a Olympic sport is a long way ahead and I believe that should not be the sole focal point. Everything does not begin and end with being part of the Olympic programme. Taking a cue from the Olympic charter, Kabaddi as a sport exalts and combines in a balanced manner the qualities of body, will and mind. And plus, it is not a complicated sport!

In India, Kabaddi has triggered a  revival movement for so-called 'folk' sports and in turn it into a spectator sport. As long as it is entertaining and athletes keep developing, sport will evolve positively on its own. All it needs is investment and continued nurturing.

The first step of achieving something great is possible and is a common occurrence. Kabaddi in its new avatar (Pro Kabaddi League) has achieved the first target. However, very few have managed to remain relevant and re-discovered themselves for the better from time to time. How will it be say after five years? I would surely want to look back and have more to write on it... or even working on Kabaddi! 

Pro Kabaddi League 2014 - Success story in Indian sports