Tuesday 11 February 2014

Back from Isolation - Indian Olympic Story

It was in 2012 when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to take that drastic step - a decision which was necessary from administration point of view specifically at the conduct of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) post Commonwealth Games 2010.

There were huge cries, issues of false pride and other theatrics from Indian officials. The news of Indian Olympic Association being banned dominated the sports news segment for a day, or a two or if persisted a week and nothing more apart from the periodic cameos. It was usual business from then on. The corruption charges of the CWG 2010 went back to being a political matter than a sporting matter.

If CWG 2010 and various accusations are one hand; it is the manner in which the postmortem was conducted that irked many followers of Indian Olympics. Clearly, this was an administrative issue(s) and the so-called 'God fathers' of Indian Olympic movement ignored the media scrutiny and the threat from the IOC. They took that one extra step and elected candidates who were either charge sheeted or being prosecuted by Indian judiciary or on bail. Which era are they living in?

I believe the ban was justified. It tempered down the egos and the softened the temerarious officials - the tainted ones who put in their names without shame or consideration. Something had to happen and IOC made a bold move and banned the entire association till the time the internal crisis were resolved. A cut-off from the Olympic tree.

It took some time for the news to sink in, analyse, react and then formulate a game plan to get back into the Olympic fold. There were several mails exchanged and the pressure was less considering 2013 was a non-Olympic year. When the decision was finally taken, it was little late. The IOA as a organisation missed the Olympic train. 

Indian contingent classified as Independent Athletes marched into the Opening Ceremony under Olympic flag. These three athletes - a five time Olympian Shiv Keshavan, Himanshu Thakur and Nadeem Iqbal were the only ones to be 'independent' and without a national flag at the Sochi Winter Olympics. 
Indian Athletes under Olympic Flag at Sochi 2014 - Getty Images
One can script a drama surrounding these episodes and echoing various sentiments of many people involved in this. A new scene was shot two days ago when the new IOA officials were elected, ably observed by an IOC delegation headed by IOC member Robin Mitchell.

Narayna Ramachandran, President of the World Squash Federation and the brother of BCCI supremo N. Srinivasan, was elected as the new President; Rajeev Mehta and Anil Khanna chosen as the new Secretary General and Treasurer respectively.

"The IOC observers told the EB members of the IOC about the IOA elections being held in full respect of the recently passed NOC constitution, and this new constitution complies with all IOC requirements, including the main clause that no person convicted or charge-framed can run for a position within the organisation."

History was made at Sochi today - for the first time in Olympic chronicles that a suspension of an NOC has been lifted during the Olympic Games and with immediate effect.

What does this mean? The three independent athletes at the Sochi Games can now compete under Indian flag, can walk behind their national flag at the Closing ceremony and as a symbolic way of depicting the recognition of three Indian athletes - Indian flag will be raised at the Games village.

IOC officials have authored a perfect ending to this year old saga which will bring cheers to millions of sports fans in India and more so for the three athletes who are relieved to have seen this positive development.

Redemption is one thing, it is the next set of steps that are crucial. How different will the current set of administrators be from the previous incumbents?

Coming back from isolation is a small victory for Indian Olympic movement and there are many miles to cover before we can actually rejoice. For now, we are back and I only wish - it is to move forward.

Wednesday 5 February 2014


On 21st of July 2005, England had a Test debutant in the name of Kevin Pietersen. He came into the team at the expense of Graham Thorpe and by the end of the Test match and the series, Thorpe was long forgotten by the English fans and the media. A new hope was born!

I was in my third year of Engineering at that time and used to run back home in a frenzied manner - to watch the telecast each day of the Test. After supporting Australian cricket for long in the 1990's, they became unmanageable and started winning just too much for my liking. It was the 3-0 win against the Indians in 1999 - a result which made to discontinue supporting Australia; instead root for the opponents they played against.

In the previous Ashes tour, Michael Vaughan emerged as a star for England with his three hundreds at Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney - a treat to watch. No matter how heavily he accumulated the runs, something was missing. It was no fault of his, it was what I was looking for in English batsmen. Then came the 'maverick', a freak with a blonde streak, reminding me of how James Dean might have been if he played cricket in the modern era with a cricket bat carrying off that 'funky' hairstyle.

Kevin Pietersen had that X-factor.

In the past thirty years, England as a nation consistently produced effective cricketers - most of them appearing too boorish when it came to stroke play. There was a difference to KP's persona - which boils down to the fact that he was not raised in England? While Pietersen needed someplace where he could play cricket day in and day out, England desperately needed this X-man to resurrect themselves and challenge to reach the top. Yes, he was that great; media propelled his reputation a notch further and made sure he be selected for the Test playing XI. What a arena it was to make one's test debut - in one of the oldest international competitions known to the sporting world.
My mind goes back to the year 2005 and to the first Test at Lord's. Australian team were dismissed in under 45 overs on the first morning of the series. England then lost wickets in a manner - when even the 'women in labour' would show some composure. Top order dismantled! and stumps uprooted once too many in quick successions. By the end of day one, England were seven wickets down with the debutant Pietersen unbeaten on 27.

Next morning's highlight - he comes down the track and hits the ball over long-off for a six, that too off McGrath. Phew! and this was no slog; the bowler in question was not a club cricketer. And then, a moment of joy for all the English spectators when he cover drove Glen McGrath to reach his maiden half-century. Folks from all the sections with hands in unison, clapping their new hero.

KP immediately then demonstrates his power - a wonderful execution of slog sweep over mid-wicket off Shane Warne. Audacious!. He tried one too many and he repeated the same stroke the next delivery and this time he was caught between deep mid wicket and long on - caught within metres from the boundary courtesy of a full stretched dive from Damien Martyn. That magnificent catch had done for Kevin Pietersen.
Chasing 420 runs in the final innings, England got off to a good start and not long after that there was a repeat of first innings - the manner in which they lost wickets quickly and cheaply. Wickets fell in a heap and partnerships were just not there.

It was the debutant  KP - once again to show some form of resistance in the form of attack. He showcased just about everything.  Cut through the point, stroking it through the covers, heaves to the leg side, sweeping square of the wicket, driving it straight and the pull! Brett Lee, world's fastest bowler of that time banged in short and KP was quick, daring and pulled it majestically. The ball went sailing beyond the boundary ropes into stands, many rows back. KP belongs to the big stage!

He went on score another half-century and slog swept Warne, yet again and this time the bat made a clean contact with the ball and six!. It was a pity he did not have steady partners at the other end and at the close of the innings he remained unbeaten on 64. He top scored in both the innings on his Test debut. A remarkable feat against the number one side in the world.

The defining moment of the Ashes came on the last day of the fifth Test at the Oval. Against all odds, England were leading and Australia had to win the test to square the series and thereby retain the Ashes. He was dropped twice and had few close calls - well that's all part of this wonderful game. We all need luck in life and it was riding high on Pietersen for England's sake.

Apart from few tentative moments; bulk of his time he spent at the crease - 285 minutes to be precise, Australia had no chance of retaining the Ashes. His breathtaking knock of 158 came in 187 deliveries packed with fifteen boundaries and seven of the cleanest strikes over the rope. He hooked, pulled, drove, cut, flicked, guided to all parts of the ground. Australians were clueless towards the end and when he got out he got a standing ovation - something until then I had never seen happening to English cricket in the Ashes. Pure magic! and victory to England at the Ashes.

I have the DVD of the Ashes victory of 2005 and I might have played innumerable times during the past few years. KP went on to score 22 hundreds more and some of it were equally awesome; bludgeoning the attack, the best of the bowlers, humiliating the greatest of bowlers of his era - be it wily spinners or tearaway fast bowlers. Apart from his weakness to 'pie chuckers', he performed exceedingly around the globe. His tally of 23 Test hundreds is above all the English all-time test cricketers except for Alastair Cook (25).

KP is a once in a life time cricketer - a rare breed, something to do with him not being English by birth. He is not your typical Gentleman but by no means he is a criminal. He was the new hope like how 'Luke Skywalker was to the Jedi's' and instead he was branded as a 'Rebel without a Cause'.

He idiosyncrasies were quite different from majority of his teammates - a sense of individualism. I don't have to remind you again, a national cricket team is composed of individuals not clones. Cricket is still competed by humans and not robots. In spite of all the management support staff, it is ridiculous to blame a single person for off-field antics - something which has not been disclosed.

KP, now branded by the English cricketing authorities as a bad boy would have probably better off if the management spent some quality time thinking  as to - What made Kevin Pietersen tick.... like a bomb? from time to time.