Sunday, October 21, 2007

A great support cast but no leading man

The clamour for the removal of the three senior men in the Indian batting line-up started after the victory in the Twenty-20 World Cup. The critics asked for youth to be given its due. Sachin, Saurav and Dravid do not have the makings of a modern day cricketer, they claimed. Their fitness levels are poor, their running between the wickets atrocious and they are a liability in the field – These were the arguments made against them. Most of these points have a fair amount of truth in them. The younger brigade scores over their senior counterparts in all these departments. So, should we just go ahead and drop the axe. Sure, but after you have identified your new lead hero.

Lead hero? Yep, just like the movies, we need to have a few central characters before we put the support cast around them, right. Well, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Remember, Indian cricket is almost bursting at the seams with talented young men. Heck, there were so many batting stars at the Twenty-20 World Cup. Just take your pick from Yuvraj, Sehwag, Gambhir, Uthappa, Dhoni, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Suresh Raina and Mohd Kaif. Fine modern-day cricketers all.

I just went through the list again. And again. Correct me if I am wrong but I can’t quite seem to pick out the lead hero. They all know how to dance (read field) and fight (read run between wickets) but leave a lot to be desired when it comes to acting (read batting). They are yet to display the kind of sustained consistent excellence which is required to become the lead star. Had even one of them been that good, he would have surely managed to displace one of the old guard (the three plus Laxman) from the test side. Additionally, other than Yuvraj, which one of them can find a regular place in the One-day side? And, even he is not reliable enough. Would you want him to bat for your life? I wouldn’t. (Dhoni is in the team as a wicket-keeper batsman and not a pure batsman, so that doesn’t qualify)

Most of them are good for a quick fire 40 odd or the occasional half-century but nothing more. Even in the last Australian series, India’s performance was largely contingent on the opening partnership between Sachin and Saurav. Imagine a trade scenario, where you could swap players with other test-playing nations. What can you offer to get a Mohd Yousuf or a Kumara Sangakkara or a Jacque Kallis or Kevin Pietersen in return? Zilch. That’s how good our young brigade is.

Most of the lead heroes of the past had set the domestic scene on fire from a very early age. They had been spoken of as national material while still in their teens. I can’t remember any of these guys standing out like a beacon of light coming through the domestic ranks.

So, we will be left with a mammoth cast of supporting stars but no lead actor once the heroes bid farewell. How does that augur for Indian cricket. Not so great, I am afraid. So stop the clamouring and start praying for the coming of a hero.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Chak De - Go chase your sporting dreams again!

Being a sports fan who also loves movies, it doesn’t take a lot to guess my favourite genre. Unfortunately, sport has not been a very popular theme with Indian movie-makers. Actually thank god for it. Coz’ most bollywood sports movies have made me wince (so fewer movies have meant less torture).The regular formula has been to replace the standard climax action shot with one where the hero is making mince-meat of the opposition players. And the sports scenes could have been shot better by a blind man. The batting shots of Aditya Pancholi, Kumar Gaurav and Aamir Khan in the movie Awwal No. should be used to interrogate cricket loving criminals in jail. There has been the occasional decent one – the likes of Hip Hip Hooray, Lagaan, Iqbal and Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander. But none of them has been a great sports movie.

This might sound preposterous but most of them are not even a true sports movie. They are more about fighting for a cause where the sporting activity was a means to the end objective. There is scope to replace the sporting activity with something else and the movie would be just as good. Iqbal comes closest to being a sports movie but don’t stir up enough sporting passion. Watching it, I don’t feel like getting up and bowling. The script also leaves a lot to be desired and the sporting scenes are no great shakes.

Luckily for me and thanks to liberalization, Hollywood comes to the rescue. They have given me a whole bunch of absolutely great movies. Ones, which have evoked the same emotions that made me a diehard sports fan in the first place. Movies like Bull Durham, Glory Road, Hoosiers, Brian’s Song, Rudy or Chariots of Fire aren’t about winning the game; rather they are about the victory of the sport itself. These great sports movie either make a player or a fan out of you. They have given me great joy and I have watched most of them multiple times over. However, I have still longed for an Indian sports movie of the same class.

Reason being – these Hollywood movies have been about sports and sporting environments I don’t identify with. I have taught myself to understand American football and baseball but there’s no way I can learn to feel them. There’s no way I can feel the madness of college football (which by the way is far more popular than the professional league). I will never have enough appreciation for the socio-cultural impact of sports in American history and I don’t understand the psyche of a nation which takes first place for granted.

Finally, the wait is over. Today we have ‘Chak De’ – a movie which finally makes the leap.

This movie is about India and a truly Indian sport. The situation is Indian and so is the reason.

Like most of the successful Hollywood flicks, this movie is based on a true story – a story of redemption which will motivate sportsmen and non-sportsmen alike. A true story, which is very believable and shies away from the regular ‘hero is a superman’ histrionics. The sporting scenes have been shot really well and the actors are very real.

More importantly, this movie brings the nation’s attention back to hockey – a sport languishing from apathy and lack of mass support. It’s actually the best thing which has happened for hockey in a long long time. It also does its bit for national unity, communal harmony and girl power. It has its drawbacks but they are minor and can be ignored in light of all the good stuff.

While all of this has been talked and written about in great detail; it also does something which puts it in a different league from the likes of Hip Hip Hooray, Lagaan, Iqbal and Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander.

‘Chak De’ reminds you of all the reasons, why people play competitive sport. It reflects on the purity of sport. Takes you back to the age of innocence when playing the game was all that mattered and you were ready to make every kind of sacrifice for another round of your favourite sport. (Remember the scene where the players put egos aside for a chance to play) When winning the game was the only thing which gave you a kick in life. Puts you in back in a situation where the sport and sportsmen are untouched by its crass commercialization.

If you have ever been part of a sports team, you were ready to live and die for; Chak De is a vicarious experience which will give you the goose bumps. It’s a movie about honest sportsmen - the kind we all aspired to be when we first started playing the game. The emotion of putting on an India blazer is palpable; you almost want to go back and take another shot at relieving your sporting dreams.

In the movie, Komal Chautala’s character, dribbling around scooters and bikes brings a touch of remorse. This is what millions of kids should have been doing in this country (just like kids continue to dribble a football in the by lanes of Brazil). India would have continued to dominate world Hockey. I actually felt guilty for never having played our national game.

Most of us dream of writing a book and making a movie. ‘Beyond a Boundary’ is the kind of book I dream of writing some day and Chak De is the kind of sports movie, I would want to make. I will leave you with my favourite sports quote which comes from my second favourite sports movie (Bull Durham – watch it even you don’t understand baseball. Just the dialogues are worth the money)

A good friend of mine used to say, "This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." Think about that for a while.

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

There is nothing like an over-valued footballer

The transfer window in European football just closed. All-off season long football scribes and analysts have had a field day roasting club managers and executives alike. The reason for their unusual affection is the supposedly inflated transfer fees paid for some of the players this time round. They have questioned the financial prudence of the men in charge - in handing out sums which far exceeded the 'true market value' of these players. A statistic often referred to has been the increase in total transfer spends from around 300 million pounds last year to approximately 500 million this time round.

I have a few words of advice for the men from the media. Do your homework properly. The balance sheet of a club includes two columns – earnings and expenses. So, while you are raising the roof about the expenses, throw some light on the earnings as well. Clubs have never been richer. As football scales new heights of global popularity, revenues from television rights and sponsorship deals are going through the roof. Big clubs like Real Madrid are set to make more than 100 million pounds annually from television deals alone. Money from ticket sales has also been growing exponentially as clubs continue to hike ticket prices (taking advantage of the demand –supply mismatch caused by the burgeoning fan-bases). So, as earnings continue to grow rapidly, why worry about increasing transfer budgets.

The people in European football would also do well to follow the financial news in some other sports like Formula One, baseball, basketball and the American version of football. For those of you who gasp at the ‘inflated’ amounts paid out for footballers, read this. Baseballers Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter signed 10 year contracts for 252 and 189 million in 2001 (try estimating the value of their new contracts in 2011). Drivers Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen get annual payments of 40 million and 51 million respectively. Here’s a complete list of largest sports contracts. There isn’t a single footballer on the list (not even David Beckham). And Football happens to be infinitely more popular than any of these sports. Blame the men who run the game for not making enough money out of it (to pay for transfers and contracts).

Finally, I would like to know the exact valuation methods used to calculate the so-called ‘right value’ of these players. Talented footballers are an extremely rare breed. The fans, who fill the coffers of the clubs, pay to watch these ‘over valued’ players. Someone is yet to devise a method to calculate the value of rare items. Rare items are auctioned to the highest bidder. I would like to see similar criticism for every item auctioned by the likes of Sotheby’s and Christie’s. There is nothing like the inherent value of a player. His efficacy for a club is contingent on numerous factors beyond his control – the system the team plays, the other players in the team and his role in the system. A player’s failure is merely indicative of his inability to play in the role given to him and not an inability to play the game itself. Blame the manager for not giving him the right role and not for the money paid for his transfer.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

An invitation to iSport

Dear fellow sports fans

I cordially extend an invitation to all of you to come visit Its got articles on all the popular sports and there is a very interactive forum section as well.

I have so far contributed 6 articles in all. Here’s a direct link and a brief description for your benefit

Fleeting brilliance and eternal longing

The history of sport is made by the people who play it. But many a times, some destined to be the best, unfortunately depart us before they can show the world what they are truly capable of. This article remembers a few such souls who have left us with a lasting impression in the short time they have spent with us.

The balance of money shifts to England

As the English clubs line up big money for the top players, we take a look at this latest phenomenon that has the premiership clubs.

Rain and Borg at Wimbledon 2007

This article takes a second look at a rain soaked Wimbledon 2007 and a re-look at Bjorn Borg’s record

All the good men- A US Open Preview

Federer’s uncertain form has raised hopes of a new winner at this year’s US Open. This article profiles the top dogs to wrest the crown away from FedEx. He includes a few surprises as well!

Danica Patrick and Formula 1: Made for each other

F1 is a sport dominated by men. However, the profile of the drivers may change. This article speaks of why Danica Patrick can be a revelation in a sport where women have more often been spotted in the arms of their more famous halves...

India's favorite stop on the ATP tour

The Hall of Fame tournament has seen many an Indian great lift the title. Indians have consistently enjoyed success here despite their poor performance otherwise on the ATP circuit. This article understands why and explains

Will await your comments and valuable feedback



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Saturday, September 1, 2007

A good time to be an Indian sports fan

A lot has happened in my life lately, and its kept me away from commonfan for a while. things have settled down now and the period of neglect is over. This post is going to be a recap of all thats happened while I was away.

One of the developments has been the start of a new sports website called Its come from the collective effort of a group of hard-core sports lovers. I have started writing on the site and it already has five of my articles. I would encourage all of you to go to isport. My favourite section is jabberoni, which is a forum for discussions and debates. Iam already addicted and most of you will follow suit, once you go there.

Commonfan will not suffer beacuse of isport. Infact, there will be no overlap in the stuff on the two pages. This will reduce the amount of content on commonfan but rest assured, it will be regular.

So, here's my first post.

India have won the test series in England. Will talk no more about it. Its a massive achievement in itself and we have to be proud of it. We always do well, when our batsmen fire. And this was a major collective effort - the likes of which we have seen very few.

The ICL is moving ahead with full speed. The BCCI is making knee-jerk changes but is clearly losing face. Luckily for them, the ICC and other major cricket boards are firmly behind them. Their proposed response to the ICL; the PCL is a long distance away and merely a creation to drive sponsors away from the ICL. Subhash Chandra need not worry. There is no dearth of advertizing moolah in this country when it comes to cricket.Iam really looking forward to the ICL.

At long last, the new EPL season is here. Man United have struggled initially. But Iam not worried. Let the new dudes settle down and injured players return. Liverpool finally look like taking on the big two. The biggest surprises have been Man City and almost all the new signings have excelled. The biggest star, however, has been Kasper Schmiechel. Lastly, my man, Michael Chopra has made a dream start with a match-winner on day one.

Continuing with a football, India have won the Nehru Cup. Its a big win - our biggest triumph in a long long time. Mr. Houghton seems to be on the right track. Just wondering if Chopra could agree to play for India. Bhutia and Chopra would be more than a handful together. Dream on Indian football fans.

Tiger Woods won the PGA Championship to silence all the doubters about his ability to win majors. No, his daughter has not taken his focus off his game. Sadly, our great hope - Jeev was not at his best and missed the cut. Hope he builds on his feats and doesn't go the way of fellow pro Arjun Atwal. Atwal had a promising first season on the US PGA tour but has struggled this year and is in grave danger of losing his tour card.

The US Open is on and players are already in the third round. Iam rooting for Novak Djokovic and Sania Mirza. The Serb has easily been the third-best player on tour after Federer and Nadal and took a major step towards challenging the two at the Montreal Masters. Consecutive wins over Nalbandian, Roddick, Nadal and Federer is testimony to his growing stature. I expect a breakthrough performance at the Open. Sania has had a great hard court season and is well positioned to match her fourth round performance of 2005.

Finally, hats off to my star performer of the period. Anup Sridhar has taken a big step forward in his career with a quarter-final appearance at the World Championships. He scalped two top players and almost beat the worlds best player in the quarters. He has the potential to become the next 'great Indian badminton player'; following in the foot-steps of Padukone and Gopichand. Remember, how training in Denmark with Morten Frost made Prakash such an improved player. A similar experience would do a world of good for Anup. He has been running around for sponsors and really needs help. Lets pray that one of the big corporate houses takes him under their wings and helps him realize his potential.

For once, its good to be an Indian sports fan.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

What in God's name have I done to deserve this?

Recently, I wrote a post about, 'Why Iam NOT watching the Tour de France '. A few people were not convinced with my argument.So all you people take this. Race favourite and winner of two stages in this years tour, Alexander Vinokourov has tested positive and been banned from the race, prompting his Astana team to pull out of the race. This comes on the heels of race leader Rasmussen being banned by the Danish national team for failing to comply with their drug-testing norms. In the aftermath of the Tour's growing 'popularity' the American Discovery Channel team is now without a sponsor for next year. Are you guys still thumping your chests and rooting for the cyclists? If you are, Iam sure you are on some kind of drug yourself!

In another drug related story, former golf great Gary Player has come out and claimed that steroids are rife in golf and he knows at least ten current players who are using them. This one really baffles me. Golf is a game of portly middle-aged men who need a guy to lug their gear. Players have been known to use pills to steady their nerves but so far the sport has been totally untouched by the menace of drugs. The only 'performance enhancement' I can foresee is in increasing your driving distance; an improvement already made possible by advancements in golf equipment. Player's claim has been rebuffed and rebuked as an attention seeking stunt and I hope it was a false alarm.

But the most disturbing recent development, largely from a personal standpoint (because I love basketball)has been the news of match-fixing by an NBA referee. This guy, Tim Donaghy has been betting on key games, including ones he was officiating. He was part of the crew, which officiated game 3 of the Spurs-Suns series; a game which eventually determined the NBA champions. The refereeing in this game was so horrendous that even the most sedate of commentators had launched a tirade of criticism. In hindsight, what was believed to be the nadir of incompetent officiating was actually one crooked guy earning his gambling dollars. The sport is in complete turmoil and the fans are in a state of shock. We all know what match-fixing can do to a sport. The FBI is on the job and this could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Where does this leave the common fan? Already, cycling's off the calendar, boxing is dead and KPS Gill is taking hockey to ruin. Add golf and basketball to the list. Its like asking a foodie to to give up Chinese, Continental, Italian and American fast-food. What in God's name have I done to deserve this?

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A spinners second home and making the Mahatma smile

This is part 2 of my peek into county cricket. Part 1 was about the batsmen and so here's the latest on the bowlers in county cricket.

We first look at the top wicket -takers. There's Danish Kaneria at 3, Mushtaq Ahmed at 4 and Monty Panesar at 5. A classic case of a Hindu, Muslim and Sikh weaving magic together. Not since the the freedom struggle have all the communities ( from both nations) gotten together to wreak such havoc on the English. I'am sure Mahatma Gandhi is smiling to himself .

There's a lot more of Pakistan as well. We saw in the first part that their batsmen are not up to much but the bowlers are making all the noises. Apart from Kaneria and Mushtaq , who by the way is old enough to be a cricket coach at international level, there's also Rana Naved and Yasir Arafat in the list of top wicket-takers.

Mushtaq is a case of what might have been. At his best, he was a true match-winner and spoken in the same breadth as Warne, Murli and Kumble. Sadly, he's been a victim of the Pakistani cricket system and limited to just 50 odd tests, the last of which came in 2000-01. England has been kinder and more fulfilling for him. He's single-handedly taken Sussex to two county titles in 4 years, something which the likes of Ranjitsinhji, Duleepsinhji, CB Fry, the Pataudis and Imran Khan couldn't do even once. Already a county legend, he will continue to play on even if he needs a wheel-chair to complete his run-up.

Mushtaq's spin-twin at Sussex this season is another long-forgotten Pakistani, Saqlain Mushtaq. The inventor of the fabled 'Doosra', his promising career has been cut short by knee operations and the apathy of the Pakistan board. He is just 30 and has sufficient cricket left in him. There is talk of him qualifying to play for England soon. Both Mushtaq's have discovered a second home in England.

This English season seems to be the year of the 'Spinner' and there's a complete exhibition of spin bowling in England with all the top names involved. There' s Warne for Hants, Murali for Lancs and Kumble with the visiting Indians. But the Lord and Master is surely Monty Panesar. His rise has seen spin bowling attain previously unimaginable heights. Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik are the other Indians reaping this harvest in England.

And if you thought England had had more than enough of Indian spinners, think again. Four other counties have an Indian spinner in their ranks. Most promising is Vikram Banerjee at Gloucester; a lad experts are backing to follow Monty in the England squad. Others include former England player Min Patel at Kent, former Indian spinner Dilip Doshi's son Nayan at Surrey and Akhil Patel at Nottingham.

English commentators have laughed at the sub-continent's pitches, calling them dust-bowls. With a rich crop of Indian-origin spinners raring to go, a dust-bowl at Lords is not far away.

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Man United build 4 teams for the coming season...

Norman Hubbard has written a very informative piece on the soccernet website, where he claims that Sir Alex Ferguson has stockpiled enough players this season to form four sides.He even lists out the four sides.The sides are not just a collection of eleven players but complete playing elevens with all the position players. So how good are these teams?

The summer spending has ensured that first team will be strong contenders to defend their title this season. The second team comprising some regulars from last season is also strong enough to finish in the top 6 of the premiership. The third team has Alan Smith, Park Ji Sung, Mikael Silvestre and a good keeper in Tomas Kuszczak. Enough pieces to avoid getting relegated to a lower division. As for the fourth team, lets forget about it. Most of these guys will not even be in a United shirt for long.

This embarrassment of riches has been brought about by signings, returning loaned out players and the development of young players. The signings have addressed the issues of adding steel in midfield and cutting edge upfront. Nani and Anderson will also be the long-term replacements for Giggs and Scholes - two long standing stalwarts who will not be around for long. Giuseppe Rossi also returns after a fine loan season in Italy and is ready to shine in England. Together they will ensure that Man United are no longer vulnerable to being taken apart; the way Milan did it in last season's Champions League semis.

Most fans will argue that Fergie hasn't done anything to shore up the defense this year. After all, last year's defensive improvement was courtesy of two new signings - Vidic and Evra. Well, he didn't need to. Two loanees last year - Gerhard Pique at Real Zaragoza and Johnny Evans at Sunderland return with highly impressive credentials and will be high quality additions to the defensive ranks. The right-back position was especially dodgy with Gary Neville nearing retirement and the likes of O'Shea and Fletcher being inadequate replacements. No such concerns now.

Man United's title run benefited from a mostly injury-free season last year, more so considering the number of veterans in the side. They were thin in squad depth but soldiered home even as the seams were coming apart towards the end of the season . Fergie knows that they will not be so lucky this year and has planned accordingly. He has high quality cover for all positions and should not lose sleep over missing key players due to injury. As highlighted the last two years, the key to winning the premiership is maintaining a high level of performance from start to finish. There can be absolutely no slip-ups and United's ability to put out a high-quality side for every encounter on the back of their squad depth will hold them well.

The other important benefit will be in terms of less wear and tear for the players. Liverpool and AC Milan were competing on only one front last year and their players were fresher than those of Chelsea and Man United in the Champions League semis. They were out of the league race very early on and could afford to sufficiently rest their key players for the European nights. Having a second team capable of finishing in the top 6 in the premiership will give United's first team a similar advantage.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Catching up on Copa

Once again, I have to thank my friend for reminding me that I completely forgot about the Copa America. I was following the tournament and catching the occasional highlights package, but no mention on the blog. I think that I have been too caught up in the ‘Carlos Tevez to Man United’ transfer saga and the football cells in my brain have not found the time to think about the Copa America.

The transfer is still unresolved but enough of it now. The Copa is second only to the World Cup in terms of assembling talent and far better in terms of the football on display. Now that I think about it, there was so much to talk about.

Firstly and most importantly, how good are Brazil? Any team which can wallop Argentina 3-0 without bothering to call upon the likes of Kaka, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Adriano, Roberto Carlos, Cicinho, Emerson, Lucio and Juninho has to be frighteningly good. Imagine Brazil sending two squads to the tournament. The two sides could end up meeting in the finals. On top of that, there is a whole bunch of Brazilians who turn out for other nations like Deco for Portugal. Can’t we just get some pretty Indian girls to marry Brazilian footballers? Let’s all pray for Bipasha to marry Cristiano Ronaldo. Twenty years from today, we could have a side in the world cup composed entirely of players with dual citizenships.

What is Juan Roman Riquelme doing playing in Argentina? This guy suffers from being too much of a nice guy. Needs to stay with his sick mother. Surely, one of the big clubs could bring both mother and son to Europe. And pack in some uncles, aunties, cousins and other family as well. That would make them feel at home in Europe. Undoubtedly, there is no one in the world better at orchestrating an attack than Riquelme. He’s also a prolific goal scorer and still young.

Argentina’s inability to win any major tournament reminds me of Brazil’s predicament in the 80’s. Back then, they had a dazzling array of attacking players- Socrates, Zico, Junior, Careca, Falcao and a great coach in Tele Santana but no titles. Argentina on the other hand was winning with a one-man team. Seems, the Argentines used up all their luck in the three Junior World cup wins.

If you an Argentine, there is no fun being a defender. Looks like all the kids in the country want to be like Messi and Tevez. What else can you say when the national team has to depend on two 34 year olds (Ayala and Zanetti) to shore up the defense. Brazil has no such issues. Full –back Daniel Alves, one of the hottest transfer targets in Europe was a mere substitute in what was a second string side.

What would happen if the Copa coincided with the major European leagues? That is the case with the African Nations Cup, and most clubs have to do without their African stars but the football goes on. However, there would be no football in Europe if the South Americans were to be absent.

Two guys who made a good impression in the Copa were huge flops in the premiership. Diego Forlan at Man United and Julio Baptista at Arsenal. Does it have to do with the gloomy British weather or the tough tackling English defenses? Maybe both.

Lastly, I was reminded once again, why I love Football. Long live the South Americans

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Why Iam NOT watching the Tour de France

A good friend of mine responded to my last post, saying that I was wrong when I mentioned there was ‘inactivity’ on the sports front. The Tour de France was on. He had been watching the cycle race and had become a major fan.

I ask my friend just one question. Is this your first Tour? I guess the answer is yes, and that is precisely the reason why, you have become a fan.

Let me ask you a few questions.

What is common to Bjarne Riis and Floyd Landis, apart from being former winners of the Tour?

They have also been caught doping. While Bjarne has already admitted to cheating, Floyd is fighting a losing battle to prove his innocence. Riis has already been asked to return his yellow jersey and Floyd will have to do the same soon.

Now, tell me why was the famous Phonak racing team disbanded and why is German television not broadcasting the race anymore? Remember cycling is hugely popular in Germany and former Tour champion Jan Ullrich was one of the most popular athletes in the country.

Because, the Tour has become the most drug tainted event in the history of sport. It’s no longer a competition between racers but one between chemists. The cocktail of drugs taken by some of the cyclists makes other drug cheats like Ben Johnson look like a school boy taking vitamin pills for his school race. As a matter of fact, the usage of drugs is so widely prevalent, that as a racer you are no longer cheating if you are taking drugs. Because everyone else is taking them. Let’s face it, the chemists will always stay ahead of the testers and cyclists will continue to inject themselves. It’s so bad that drugs in cycling is no longer an issue.

So my ‘first time Tour de France watching’ friend, enjoy the race if the history of the sport doesn’t bother you.

On a more somber note, it’s a very sad development because once upon a time, the Tour was the face of the sport; a household name across the globe, known even to those generally not interested in cycling.

I have followed each of Armstrong’s seven wins and spent hours watching lots of grown men pedaling away for hours. Iam an ‘old’ Tour de France fan and hence Iam no longer watching.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Peeking into county cricket – Part 1

I have been really bored with the current sporting inactivity. And so, in an effort to kill time, I decided to check out the latest happenings in county cricket. After all, it’s the closest thing in cricket to premiership football; for which I have been waiting like a Christian kid waits for Christmas.

I sifted through cricinfo and found lots of interesting county cricket news. I did not bother to trawl the ocean of numerous limited over competitions and focused my attentions only on the main four day county championships. And yes, I was biased and looking mostly for Indians –related information. So here’s my own version of the latest county round- news.

A list of the top batsmen (in terms of batting averages) has Sachin Tendulkar on top after his century against the English Lions, and an unknown AV Suppiah at number ten. But these guys have just played one great innings each. Far creditable is the performance of former Australian bowlers; Andy Bichel (fifth) and Ian Harvey (fourth), both of whom have scored centuries in each of their two completed innings! However, my greatest delight comes in finding the names of future England prospect Samit Patel and current one-day player Ravi Bopara with averages of 73.66 and 63.54 after 8 and 9 games respectively. Iam like a Brazilian in Rio watching Deco win the Champions League for Porto.

The list has the usual heavy share of Australians; discards, retirees and prospects. In the old days the English went to Australia to start a new life. Now county cricket is the land of opportunities for any half decent Australian cricketer. In fact, former player Stuart Law is now a British citizen. I have great sympathy for him. He got just one test, where he debuted alongside Ricky Ponting and both guys got unbeaten half- centuries. And see where they stand today. His name is missing in the averages list but finds a place in the top batsmen list by runs scored.

This list also has some other sentimental and emotional favorites. Zimbabweans - Murray Goodwin, Grant Flower and Graeme Hick- each in England for a reason of his own. You also find in there Amrita Arora’s beau – Usman Afzaal. He happens to be the top Pakistani on the list. The only other Pakistani (and someone who is actually a Pakistani International) is Younis Khan. Pretty bad show by our neighbours, right? Wait till you read about the bowlers.

Coming soon. Part 2 about the bowlers.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

See, I told you so!!!

It’s confirmed now. Our very own Michael Chopra has been signed by newly promoted Sunderland to be part of their strike force for the coming season. Iam super excited about it. I had been counting on his move to the premiership and now I can root for one of my own. (And before you say Sunderland, who, remember that our previous best was Baichung Bhutia being a substitute for Bury FC, which plays two divisions lower than Sunderland)

I know his first stint in the premiership with Newcastle was a disaster. But he is a much better player and a far mature human being now. Expect a much better season from him this time round. Roy Keane has signed him for £5M. That’s a lot of money for a newly promoted club and surely Keane rates him highly.

And come on guys; let’s go all out to cheer for him. Please take a cue from the Chinese. When Yao Ming went to the NBA, his countrymen voted him to the top of the all-star fan ballot. The NBA’s popularity is growing in China and lots of NBA teams are touring the country. The premiership is pretty popular in India and we could see some of the sides visit our country soon.

Mr. Mittal seems to have put on hold his plans to buy Birmingham City FC, but Chopra’s move will definitely gladden the hearts of all Indian football lovers.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Jeev tackles Oakmont and gets a little attention as well

Jeev Milkha Singh continues to go from strength to strength. At the U.S Open last week, he was solid as a rock, returning four steady rounds to finish joint 36th. This was his best show at the majors and he was the joint-best Asian performer alongside Japanese Shingo Katayama.His commendable performance in what was a really brutal tournament, where the likes of Phil Mickelson fell by the wayside, firmly establishes the fact the he has what it takes to perform on the bigger stages. He will only get better from here on and can be counted upon to break into the top-20 in the world.

And what is really heartening is that this time round the media had wholesome coverage of his feat. They seem to have learned from their last mistake and all the attention will surely help him in winning the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award. His name has already been recommended and I don't see anybody mounting any semblance of a challenge. That is, unless the jury realizes the enormity of Virender Sehwag's outstanding feat of being India's best batsman at the World Cup.

With due respect to all our Cricket, Hockey, Badminton, Chess, Tennis, Snooker, Billiards, Racing and Shooting stars, Jeev's performance will do more than anything else in putting India on the World sports map. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, but Golf would be a close second and most sportspersons also play golf as a recreation sport. The sport continues to flourish in India and recently received another boost with the announcement of a European Tour event in 2008.

Jeev might not have taken to running like his illustrious father, but he is surely running away with all the attention.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Care for some cricket chit-chat-II

Sri Lanka have appointed Trevor Bayliss as their new national team coach. Australian coaches have done a world of good for them and the board looks to continue with their successful formula. The selection was done purely on the guy's coaching credentials, which are excellent, and the two year term reflects the confidence of the board in their new coach and their long term vision. Why don’t we get these guys to run our board as well?

Post the appointment of Bayliss, the Sri Lankan board secretary said that, “When we knew how good he was, we signed him up immediately because there are a lot of countries head-hunting for coaches at present." Tell you what Mr. Secretary, the other countries (India and Pakistan) are so hopelessly pathetic, that you could have appointed Bayliss three months from now, and sent him to stay with Gavaskar and Powar in the interim period and still not lost him. I think the prospective coaches in our country will have to clear a seventh round interview with the sports minister, then an eighth one with the PM and then qualify for the final round of BBC Mastermind, before their offer letters are printed. Even the hopeless English have a new coach in place.

The High powered selection committee have selected Chandu Borde to manage the Indian Team, after driving away Graham Ford with their offer of a one year contract. It seems they were sure, that they would need a replacement after a year’s time. And where did they find Borde? In a flea market? Or was he researching new coaching techniques in the Himalayas. Also special thanks to committee member, Mr. Gavaskar, who outdid the media, by airing his personal views on the candidates, before the final decision was taken.

Shivanarain Chanderpaul continues to single-handedly defy the English attack. Is he the best batsman in the world on current form? No, the answer is Sachin Tendulkar, who was much better against Bangladesh.

Bhajji and Sehwag have finally been given the boot. Thank God for making men like Dilip Vengsarkar. Expect a few incidents of violence in Najafgarh and Punjab soon. Does anyone have Navjot Singh Sidhu's comments on this?

Dhoni is now a vice-captain
. Can the board please take a look at the record of one previous vice-captain - one Mr. Virender Sehwag; another guy who was thrust into the role before he was worthy and then went from hero to zero in a flash.

How many of you watched the Afro-Asia cup? Is this the best side Africa can come up with? Would this side even make the finals of the South African domestic competition? These were international games. What is the point of having this tournament if no one wants to play?

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

So where does Roger go from here?

This comes a little late. It’s been a week since Rafael Nadal vanquished Roger Federer on the red clay at Roland Garros. Roger had raised hopes of a gladiatorial contest after taking the second set but there was only one winner from there on. Nadal was always in control and the normally composed Federer was hopelessly error prone and crumbled under the relentless onslaught of his Spanish adversary.

The French Open remains the Gordian Knot for Federer. He has now been a runner-up twice to Nadal and their head to head record continues to blot his impressive resume. The biggest concern for his supporters would be the fact that he is back to square one as far as untying the knot is concerned.

For most part of the season though, there was hope. Federer had claimed after losing to Nadal at Monte Carlo, that even in defeat, he had gleaned valuable information about beating his nemesis. What followed in the wake of the the boast , appeared to be a watershed event in his pursuit of Nadal. Federer dumped his coach, Tony Roche, and staged a remarkable comeback win over Nadal at the Hamburg Masters. It appeared he had finally unearthed the secret of beating Rafael. The debacle at Roland Garros shattered any such notions.

So where does Roger go from here?

Does he join the list of Wimbledon greats never to have won the French? The likes of Sampras, Becker, Edberg, McEnroe and Connors. Or does he cut the knot like Alexander to cement his legacy as the greatest player of all time.

The good news is that Roger differs from all the aforementioned players in the sense that his failing at the French is not a capability issue. Those guys were never very good on clay, even though McEnroe and Edberg came within a set of the French Open title. He has been the second best player on clay the last two years; second only to the Great Rafael Nadal - a player who could potentially become the all time greatest player on clay. And as he showed at Hamburg, he has all the weapons to beat Nadal as well.

The disturbing part is that, while Nadal transforms into a fearless warrior when he faces the Swiss champion, Federer becomes a victim of his own talents. Accustomed to dismissing opponents with the minimum of fuss, he loses himself in a dogfight, almost looking disinterested when the going gets really tough. And until and unless he can learn to grit his teeth, get the adrenalin pumping and be prepared to die fighting on court, Nadal will continue to have the upper hand.

But how does Federer get there?

He needs someone who can work with the mental side of his game. Not someone to teach him about forehands and backhands, he knows all about it. He does not need a traveling psychologist or mind trainer or anything. He needs to be with a guy like Brad Gilbert or Jimmy Connors; guys who can teach him how to fight. Or even someone from outside of tennis. Say someone like Steve Waugh. It might sound preposterous but so was Alexander’s method of untying the knot. And unless he learns to fight, the smart money would be on Nadal ending Federer's dominance on non-clay majors, rather than the other way round.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Start cheering for Birmingham City Football Club

Those of you, who do read my posts regularly, would remember me pining for Lakshmi Mittal to buy a top tier English Premiership club. (In case you didn’t, read it now). I called this a symbolic conquest for all Indians. Well, it looks like Iam going to get my wish.

Lakshmi Mittal is planning to buy the Birmingham City Football Club in the English Premiership. The richest Indian in the world is twice as rich as the Chelsea owner , Roman Abramovich, and Birmingham City could be well on their way to becoming a major European powerhouse.

I have another reason to support the side. Their manager is ex-Man United legend, Steve Bruce - who could become the front-runner to succeed Fergie at United with a couple of successful seasons at Birmingham.

In hindsight though, had I known about God's benevolence, I would have wished for my very own premiership club. Will be more ambitious with my wishing from now on!!!

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Friday, June 8, 2007

A nice way to pay homage to your sports idols

Sunny Gavaskar and Bishen Singh Bedi could never see eye to eye, on or off the field. They had the greatest respect for each others talent but couldn’t agree on a single thing. However, they do have one thing in common; the way they paid homage to their cricketing idols by naming their sons after them

That Bedi revered ‘Gavaskar the batsman’ so much that he named his eldest son after him is truly a great paradox. The son was called Gavas Inder Singh. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do much with either bat or ball

Gavaskar’s highest respect, though, was reserved for fellow practitioners of batsmanship. He paid homage to his trio of batting deities; Rohan Kanhai, ML Jaisimha and Gundappa Vishvanath by christening his son, Rohan Jai Vishva (that is Rohan Gavaskar's full name by the way). He could have graciously returned the compliment by adding a part of Bedi's name as well. Rohan’s four word name was already too long for most application forms and ID cards. See if you guys can come up with something imaginative. Don’t blindly add a Singh to it.

So, all you sports fans, you now have the perfect template to name your kids and simultaneously pay obeisance to your favorite sports stars. Personally, I would like to call my daughter Steffi or something that sounds like it.

One more thing. See, if you can find more such cases of star children named after sporting icons.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Did you know that-II

Jan Železný is a former World and Olympic champion in the javelin. He strode like a colossus in the sport, winning three Olympic and world titles each, and setting numerous other records, most of which have been far beyond his mortal rivals. He is unanimously considered 'the greatest javelin thrower ever' and will at least make the ballot in a poll of 'the greatest athlete ever'. But this part is well known to most people who watch the Olympics or follow athletics. The unknown or little known fact is his tryst with a sport, which Jan himself had never heard about.

Železný grew up in the former Czechoslovakia, where baseball is as popular as Ice Hockey in Saudi Arabia. Add to that the fact, that Javelin throwing is just as popular in the baseball playing populace of North and Central America, and none of the baseball scouts would have ever laid their eyes on Jan as a future baseball prospect.

The two worlds met in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where the existing World and Olympic champion enhanced his reputation further by adding another Olympic crown. And then the local Major League Baseball side - The Atlanta Braves sat up and took notice of his hidden potential. The man with the 'Strongest Arm in the World' could surely hurl the baseball at amazing speeds.

And hurl he definitely could, in fact his speed was too much for his own good. The Braves arranged a try out, where Železný ended up breaking a camera positioned well behind the catcher. The team tried to coach and train him but sadly things didn’t work out. The Strongest Arm was built for range and not accuracy. It remains a Fairy Tale that nearly was.

P.S.: I am currently on vacation and unable to write frequently. Will start supplying the regular quota of posts once I am back on the 13th.

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Meet Cameron Diaz's long lost twin

A reader on the football website has made a startling discovery - the long lost twin brother of Hollywood actress Cameron Diaz. This person is none other than Man United's Serbian defender, Nemanja Vidic. We can safely assume that Diaz's ignorance of the non-American version of football and Vidic's childhood behind the iron curtain; disabling any access to America and Hollywood prevented the twins from making this discovery earlier. Iam pretty sure that, if she gives it a good shot, Cameron has enough football in her genes to make the American men’s team and challenge David Beckham as the biggest star in the MLS. Can someone proficient on Photoshop, clip Cameron's locks , a la Vidic and send it to me?

And this was not the end of it. A F1 fan , who heard the story, decided to check out the Man United squad on their website, purely out of curiosity's sake. And who does he find there. The twin brother of the new F1 star - Lewis Hamilton. It’s a pity that Kieran Richardson plays so little for Man United, that some of his own team-mates don’t know him; forget the followers of F1. And guess what, Lewis' boss at Mclaren - Ron Dennis feels Kieran can do a better job of finishing behind Fernando Alonso, and has already offered him a contract. Poor Hamilton will be unemployed soon. No points for guessing where he's off to? Man United off course!!!!!!

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My take on some transfer gossip from football

Football teams across Europe are busy strengthening their squads for next season and it’s no surprise that football agents and journalists alike are working double overtimes. Some big transfers have already been inked and some are in the pipeline. So here's my two pence worth on all the action off the field.

Man United signing Owen Hergreaves from Bayern Munich, Nani from Sporting Lisbon and Anderson from Porto - Man United have really upped the ante with three big moves and they are not done yet. Hergreaves fills an important hole in the mid-field and is a proven performer at club and country level. The other two have shown tremendous potential and could be the long term replacements for Giggs and Scholes respectively. The 50 million pounds (and still counting) spent by the Glazers will finally help them win over the legion of skeptical Man United fans. With Liverpool also looking to spend big bucks, a frugal Chelsea look far from retaining the crown they lost this year.

Thierry Henry to Barcelona - The Thierry Henry transfer gossip is a yearly occurrence. This year however, it looks like becoming a reality. Arsenal are under pressure after another trophy-less campaign. Arsene Wenger realizes that he needs more goals (read a typical penalty box poacher) and less craftiness (read Henry). Henry's biggest supporter David Dein is no longer at the club. Arsenal have no money to buy a world class striker. Perennial Henry-admirers, Barcelona could finally make an irresistible offer to Arsenal (read next transfer story) in the form of Samuel E'too. The Cameroonian is just what Arsenal need and they could pull the trigger on Henry if the Catalans do come up with the offer.

Samuel E'too to AC Milan - And here's the reason why Barcelona would be willing to make the offer to Arsenal. AC Milan owner, Silvio Berlusconi has made an open offer for Samuel E'too (and remember Berlusconi always gets his players, when he open his chequebook). His efforts to lure Shevchenko back to Milan have failed and he needs another world class striker to fill the void. E'too is disenchanted at Barca and would fancy a move to another big name club. Barcelona would get nothing in return if E'too goes to Milan. They could cover their losses if they send E'too to Arsenal instead. They will get Henry in return and E'too will also be happy with such a move. He will be at home with all the other African players in Arsenal and be the biggest star in the side.

Anelka to Man United - Most people just remember Anelka as a disgruntled and selfish player. They forget however, that he still remains a proven goal scorer in the premiership, an accomplishment which the likes of Shevchenko and Morientes have failed to match. Anelka would be dying to get back to a club where he can win some silverware again. His pace suits United's style of play perfectly and he could be available really cheap. His good behavior under the enormous personality of Sam Allardyce could quickly change to terrible under Sammy Lee. United would have no such trouble with Fergie in charge (remember how he managed Cantona). They could even go for a swap deal with Saha and some other bits like Kieran Richardson or Mikael Silvestre thrown in.

Carlos Tevez to ???? - He is the most 'available' big name player right now. There is no way West Ham can afford to hold on to him and he is sure to move on. His late season flurry has shown that he is the real deal and a number of clubs are vying for his services. With Real failing to land Ronaldo and Raul showing his age, Real will go all out to get him. Expect stiff competition from Chelsea, who desperately need help upfront with Drogba missing the start of next season with African Nations Cup duty and Shevchenko completely disinterested in having a better second season. Let the highest bidder win.

Out of personal interest, I’ am still hoping for a move to the premiership for our boy, Michael Chopra. With the three new clubs in the premiership next season, identified, his agent should get a call anytime soon.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

An Indian Grand Slam champion by 2018

There is fantastic news for all the aspiring tennis players and tennis fans of this country. In what ranks as one of the biggest sports projects undertaken by an Indian corporate house, the Apollo Group has set the ‘tyre’ rolling to create India’s first grand slam champion by 2018. The plan is two fold ; one, popularizing the sport to attract youngsters to the game, and two, identifying young talent nationally and sponsoring their training, skill development and global exposure. The Group has committed an amount of 100 crores, to be spent over the next 10 years, towards this project. Hats off to them for their initiative, and more so for daring to think beyond cricket. (Read more about the announcement).

As part of their plan, they have decided to tie-up with India’s leading tennis player, Mahesh Bhupathi, who also runs the Mahesh Bhupathi Tennis Academy (MBTA). Now this is where my hopes for this project start to slump.

I have checked out the internet and the MBTA website to see what they have been up to. There isn’t a single half –decent player to come out of this academy. The coaches include Mahesh’s father whose single claim to coaching fame is tutoring his son, and Gaurav Natekar – who at junior level was as good as Leander but failed to make the grade as a senior. The website has few details of their programs and fee structure. I even wrote them an e-mail asking for details but they are yet to get back. In a nut shell, I don’t think Mahesh Bhupathi and co have the know how to produce a grand slam champion, and quite frankly the 100 crores is going down the drain. Even Mahesh’s development as a doubles champion had a lot to do with his NCAA stint at Stanford University.

Is that the end of the project, or is there a way to do it differently to achieve the desired goal? Yes there is. Think Nick Bollettieri – the greatest tennis coach to walk this planet. He has produced from scratch, the greatest collection of tennis champions in the world. The likes of Agassi, Sampras, Courier, Seles and Mary Pierce took their first baby steps towards tennis stardom under his tutelage. And the best part is that Nick sees great potential in India and is more than interested in starting an academy in India, as he claimed in an interview way back in 2004.

Few people know that, in 2004 the Indian subsidiary of the IMG, which owns the Bollettieri academy in Florida, had announced a plan to set a world class tennis academy in India with an initial investment of 120 million dollars. Nick was to play a leading role in the academy modeled on the one, he runs back home. Sadly the land allotted for the project by the Chandra Babu govt was then taken away by the pro-farmer regime of Raj Shekhar Reddy leaving the project in limbo. The govt claimed that the Indian subsidiary called IMG Bharata was not associated with IMG, a point clearly invalidated on the IMG website.

So the way forward for the Apollo people is to revive the project and give the job to the experts. Nick Bollettieri has already proved that he can work wonders with people from different parts of the world; just check out the alumni list on his website, and with him in charge of the ‘Indian Grand Slam Champion 2018’ project, tennis fans can start making travel plans for Wimbledon 2018.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Guess who's giving Roger Federer sleepless nights? (Hint: its not Rafael Nadal)

I have been listening to the ESPN talk –shows and there is an interesting rumour doing the rounds; a story which could be music to the ears of all tennis fans. With out increasing the suspense quotient any more, I give it to you. ‘THE GREAT PETE SAMPRAS MIGHT MAKE A COMEBACK SOON’. Please note, that there is a ‘might’ attached and this is a conjecture being made on the back of certain new development.

The developments started with Sampras’ recent debut on the Seniors tour, where he ended up winning the tournament as well. So what was the big deal about it? Aren’t veterans supposed to be on the Seniors tour? Aren’t Marcelo Rios, Boris Becker and Jim Courier playing as well?

It is a big deal when the man in question pledged (on retiring) never to play competitively again – a promise which he has lived up to since quitting the ATP tour in 2002 (apart from a few charity appearances). So what prompted a return to competitive action again? The answer many feel is that, he has grown out of his ‘away from tennis’ thing, misses it greatly and is testing the waters on the easier Seniors tour before returning on the ATP tour.

Sampras beat Andy Roddick in an exhibition event last year. This victory over a top-5 player is what experts feel, gives him the confidence that he can match and beat the best once again. What’s more he has 3 exhibitions lined up against Roger Federer in November (check out his personal website for more information). That seems to be the most telling clue that a comeback is in the offing.

It’s unlikely however, that he will play the full tour. He will conserve his energy; probably playing a reduced schedule on grass and other important events in North America. The one tournament, I’ am certain about though is Wimbledon. It’s an event which he can still call his very own, in spite of Federer having won it the last four years.

For those of you, who have seen the latest Rocky Balboa movie, Sampras is attempting to do a Rocky 6 on the tennis courts. And if you found the ‘reel life’ comeback of the former champion (Rocky) exciting, wait till our ‘real life’ hero returns to action.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Glory Glory AC Milan

AC Milan are the toast of Europe once again. And even though, I bitterly hate them for beating Man United, I’ am conferring another title upon them. They are quite simply ‘The best team in Europe over the last 20 years’ and the competition is not even close.

Statistically speaking, they have won 5 UEFA Champions League/European Cups in the last 20 years and made the final on 3 other occasions. Real Madrid come closest with 3 titles and Barcelona have won 2. Their tally of 8 finals’ appearances is twice that of Juventus, who are second with 4. And remember they were banned for a year by UEFA in 1991; a time when they were at the peak of their powers.

Their record becomes even more impressive when you consider the fact that their successes were not the outcome of one lavishly assembled ‘dream team’ which dominated for a stretch, like Real with their team of ‘Galacticos’ winning two titles in 3 years or Juventus making 3 consecutive finals, but of 4 very distinct teams involving 3 rebuilding exercises. The stiff competition in Europe and the obscene bidding for top talent makes it difficult enough to assemble one champion side (Just ask the likes of Chelsea and Inter Milan). Rebuilding and winning again is something which the likes of Man United, Ajax Amsterdam and Bayern Munich are still striving for, and something which Barcelona and Real Madrid have managed to accomplish once each. (Barca in 2006 after 1992 and Real in 2000 after 1998). Milan have done it thrice- just try appreciating the enormity of their achievement.

The team which won in 1989 and 1990 was built around the Dutch trio of Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten. Post their departure, they won in 1994 with Dejan Savicevic and Boban leading the way. Andriy Shevchenko was the star of the 2003 champions and 2005 runners-up side. And this time around they were led into battle by the young Kaka.

So what is the secret of Milan? What is the fundamental principle employed by the club in creating the perfect template for success in Europe? What lesson do they have for Mr Abramovich?

The broad answer to that would be ‘continuity’. Unlike many Spanish and English clubs, Milan have always been under the ownership of Silvio Berlusconi and the former Italian premier has maintained the same basic tenets in running the club. Not for him the major over hauls and frequent changes.

In Berlusconi's time, Milan have had a succession of like minded Italian managers, who have preached the same basic playing style. From Arrigo Sacchi to Fabio Capello and Alberto Zaccheroni to Carlo Ancelotti, Milan teams have always been an efficient unit combining the best of fluid attacks and classic Italian ‘Catenaccio’ defense.

This style has been executed by the successful marriage of foreign imports in attack and home bred defenders. Milan have always gone for the very best in their choice of attackers, picking up the likes of Sheva, Van Basten, Kaka and Gullit. And, in their pursuit of a rampant attack force, they have not forgotten the virtues of the Italian school of defense. The back four was anchored initially by Franco Baresi , who handed over to Paulo Maldini and now the reigns lie in the hand of Alessandro Nesta; each one of them the best practitioner of the Italian defensive arts.

Milan’s policy of long term planning and continuity has created a ‘big happy family’ atmosphere at the club. Players rarely if ever leave the club in their prime. It took the personal friendship of Roman Abramovich and a fee of 30 million to lure Shevchenko away. Many join the coaching team and back room staff, helping the new recruits imbibe the same philosophy, which, they practiced all their lives as players.

And finally all the good work leads to good karma. Imagine getting the Dutch trio after they led Holland to the European championship of nations, Sheva after he powered tiny Dynamo Kiev to Champions League semis, Kaka after he starred at the World Cup and Savicevic and Boban after they led Red Star Belgrade to a European cup victory; without getting into a bidding war with any club. It’s in stark contrast to the continued bad luck of local rivals, Inter Milan, who in spite of spending millions of dollars more over the same period, have just one semi-final appearance to show for it. After all they are the masters of ‘change’. In all my time as a well informed football fan, which, is around 15 years, I have seen owner Moratti build a new team from scratch under a new manager with a new philosophy 3 times already!!!!. No wonder the likes of Ronaldo, Cannavaro and Roberto Carlos keep running away.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

7 reasons why, I can't wait for the 2007-08 English Football season to begin

  1. There's absolutely nothing to see on ESPN Star till then - As mentioned in a previous post (My season of misery begins), the sporting action this summer is the perfect recipe for a round of forty winks. The return of the premiership in August will resuscitate all the bored to death sports fans. These summer days seem to go on forever.
  2. For the blossoming of the Chelsea - Man United rivalry - Man United have successfully broken Chelsea’s stranglehold on the premiership and shaken them out their belief that the premiership was a one horse race. Expect a full fledged rivalry next season, with Chelsea more determined than ever to impose their authority and Man United confident in their belief that they have in terms of heart and passion, what they lack in finances, to match their London rivals. While Chelsea are going to war with wholesale changes in the squad, Man United are looking to make a few strategic additions (One in the form of Owen Hergreaves is already on the way). This could well become the British version of Real Madrid- Barcelona.
  3. For Liverpool and Arsenal to finally come to the party – I will call this the ‘Cold War’ of Britain. Nothing stimulates a Yankee, like the sight of a Russian. Just ask Malcolm Glazer of Man United about it. The new American owners of Liverpool and Arsenal (as I write this, the Arsenal chairman has finally agreed to discuss a take over. Trust me, Stan Kroenke will be in charge by the start of the new season) will go all out to win the title and hold no dollars back. Just to give you an idea of their financial muscle; Tom Hicks of Liverpool gave baseballer Alex Rodriguez the most expensive professional contract of 252 million dollars and Arsenal hopeful Kroenke recently broke the bank to sign Allen Iverson in the NBA.
  4. For the second coming of Michael Chopra - Step aside Baichung Bhutia. Michael Chopra is by far the best known footballer of Indian origin. Groomed as the successor to Alan Shearer at Newcastle, his first stint in the premiership was a major disappointment. He went down a division with Cardiff City, where he has scored goals galore. A lot of premiership clubs are interested in him and I can’t wait for him to become the first Indian to score in the premiership.
  5. For the return of Roy Keane – For all their success this season, Man United still miss the leadership and combative spirit of Roy Keane (as was evident in their shambolic display against Milan). He returns this season, albeit not as a player but as a manager, having earned his managerial spurs with Sunderland (he took the club from bottom after six games, to league 1 champions at the end). The fortunes of Sunderland will be closely followed in the coming season; a successful one firmly establishing ‘Keano’ as the likely successor to ‘Fergie’ at Old Trafford.
  6. For the ‘Carlos Tevez’ movie to begin (having seen the trailer last season) – The Argentinean arrived after the mid term break, took a while to settle down and then exploded towards the end; single-handedly leading West Ham to 8 wins in their last 10 games. All the top clubs are chasing him, and if he can carry on in 2007-08 from where left off in 2006-07, the likes of Ronaldo and Gerrard can kiss the ‘PFA best player’ award goodbye.
  7. To raise a toast to the new 'Asian' invasion of England - While the Yanks are running riot, an Asian is making a conquest of his own. Former Thai premier, Thaksin Shinawatra is close to taking over Manchester City. Our very own Lakshmi Mittal already owns the CSKA Sofia team in Bulgaria. I pray that he does an 'Arcelor' on one of the English clubs as well. And if he can close the deal on 15th August, I suggest we give him the Bharat Ratna this year.

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Some disconcerting food for thought

A recent incident from the NBA playoffs: In game 4 of the series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Phoenix Suns, Robert Horry, a minor role player with the Spurs committed a horrible foul on Steve Nash (the best player on the Suns and the league’s best player for the last two seasons), knocking him down in a heap. Angered by the cynical foul, two Suns on the bench; the league’s best centre - Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw took a few steps towards the fracas. The league banned both of them for trying to get involved (the NBA rule stipulates an automatic one match ban for bench players moving towards an altercation on the floor).

The Suns badly missed the presence of their two stars in the crucial fifth game of the seven game series (series tied at 2-2), losing at home to surrender the advantage to the Spurs, who hardly seemed to miss Horry ( who got a two game suspension for the foul), and clinched the series by winning game 6 in San Antonio. Even the Spurs’ coach acknowledged that the Suns were undone by the suspensions. Robert Horry’s foul was the smartest play of the series.

The incident raises the disturbing prospect of lesser player like Horry, increasingly trying to take out the best players in the opposition with their malicious acts. A hard foul can result in

  • The player who is fouled, retaliating and getting suspended.
  • The fouled player getting hurt and missing more than one game.
  • Other opposition players reacting to the foul, as in this case and getting tossed.

In each case, the fouling player’s team gets an undeserved advantage, while the player gets a multi game suspension at worst – an absence which affects his team marginally. Reminds me of the LTTE and their human bombs. The game stands to suffer a great deal if such devious antics continue unabated.

Ironically, the problem stems from the ‘correctness’ of the rules, which don’t differentiate between the ‘star power’ of the players when handling out suspensions. In chess parlance, it’s an exchange where your pawn gets you the opposition Queen itself.

With due respect to Mahatma Gandhi, the victimized players cannot be encouraged not to retaliate and stand up to be fouled again. ‘Normal’ human beings react on being provoked.

This ‘tactic’ can be successfully put to use in all team sports, more so in the ones which allow for physical contact. Do we remember why David Beckham missed part of the 2002 World Cup? Well, thanks to a horror tackle from one Mr. Aldo Duscher, in the dying moments of a game, that was long decided. Funny thing, that Mr. Duscher happened to be from Argentina.

Most of us believe that our ‘Fair-play abiding’ coaches and players (in the Rest of the World minus the USA) will forever refrain from causing such contrived accidents, but just for the sake of every star player in team sports, I hope they aren’t watching the NBA play-offs.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

My season of misery begins...

The 2006-07 premiership season is over and Man United have been crowned worthy champions. That also means no more football matches to watch on weekends. Iam already suffering from 'withdrawal symptoms' and although, the Champions League final and the FA Cup final will alleviate my pain momentarily, this is going to be one agonizing summer of sport.

What’s worse - the NBA season is going to be over soon and baseball is going through the monotony of the 162 game regular season. As is common with all these North American sports, the fun doesn’t begin until you get to the playoffs (that is when the top teams of the regular season get into a knock-out competition). Watching my beloved Yankees struggling to match their arch nemesis - the Red Sox, makes the viewing even more unbearable.

Traditionally summer is the season of cricket and tennis, but I’d rather watch an International ‘Ludo’ tournament, than waste my time on the meaningless and inane stuff, the two have to offer.

Just check out the cricket calendar for May-June-July. We have India- Bangladesh, West Indies- England, India- Ireland, Sri Lanka- Bangladesh and India- England. Even the fans who survived the World Cup will be on life support after the season is over. And while they recuperate in hospital, they can watch county cricket on ESPN Star. The only silver lining could come in the form of the Afro-Asian tournament.

As for tennis, they can go ahead and hand over the French Open trophy to Nadal and the Wimbledon crown to Federer. The only people remotely interested would be the perverts watching the glamorous females unleash the new summer tennis collection. I will pray for London to have the highest rainfall in the last 100 years, forcing the sports channels to show us some old Wimbledon footage (remember the Connors-McEnroe, McEnroe-Borg and Becker-Edberg matches). Sania Mirza hasn’t played for two months and I am not counting on her to light up our TV screens this summer.

I will root for Jeev Milkha Singh at the US Open and the British Open, but that apart, there’s nothing else (Iam not a motor sport or WWE fan). The BBC sports calendar has just confirmed that for once I didn’t miss anything. For those of you, who share my predicament, here’s a suggestion. Start playing ‘Ludo’ (download the game here).

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Did you know that...

This is going to be a new thing. It will take some doing to regularly come up with stuff, which, is not commonly known; with all the internet sites, the print media and sports channels unearthing every little sporting tit bit. I will request readers to contribute whole heartedly to keep this thing going. Don’t hesitate as long as the anecdote is true and genuinely has something to do with sports. I have a good one to start off with. Don't try to Google this to find more. Its not there. This is something which I read way back in the early 90's. If you are still interested in reading more about it, wait till the end of the post.

Former Australian wicket-keeper, Tim Zoehrer (he came after Rodney Marsh and before Ian Healy) was dating the daughter of the national team coach, the great Bobby Simpson. And interestingly, Tim's national career ended immediately after he broke up with his girl friend. He cried foul, but nothing came out of it. Talking of nepotism, what works in Australia, works even better in India. (Can some one please find out if Virender Sehwag is having a secret fling with one of the selectors' daughters). Moral of the story - if you are a national aspirant, you can ensure international appearances as long as you can hook the coach’s (or selectors) daughter and hold on to her. Just pray that our next coach is an old guy who has a daughter of marriageable age. All the other daughters are already taken.

As for Zoehrer, this was not the end of his misfortunes. He ended up losing his job at Western Australia, when a promising young guy called Adam Gilchrist decided to move to WA from New South Wales to get a chance to play (Ian Healy was blocking his path in NSW). The crestfallen wicket -keeper chronicled his misfortunes in the book, 'The Gloves Are Off". Consistent with his track record, it sold very few copies and finds frequent mention in the ‘worst book on cricket’ discussions.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Has Roger Federer lost his mojo?

Roger Federer has been the dominant tennis player over the last 4 years. He has been near about invincible on every surface, save for the times he has played Rafael Nadal on clay. He has come tantalizingly close to remedy this blemish, and experts had predicted that 2007 could be the year when he finally made the breakthrough against Nadal – a win which would open the door to a triumph at Roland Garros, anointing Federer as probably the ‘greatest player of all time’.

Federer’s perfect start to 2007 (he comprehensively won his first 12 matches, outclassing the field at the Australian Open), had the tennis fraternity licking their chops in anticipation of the battle royale on clay. Then unexpectedly, the champion’s game went off the boil and it has been a struggle for him ever since. Federer lost twice to unheralded Argentine Guillermo Canas on hard-courts, to Nadal on clay and then on a half-clay, half grass court and last week got beaten in straight sets by Filippo Volandri. He has gone winless for 4 tournaments, his worst streak in the last 4 years. Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal has stretched his unbeaten streak on clay to 76!!!. Are we seeing a change of guard here?

There is enough historical data, which justifies the doomsday predictions for Federer. Tennis today is a ‘very young’ man’s game. Federer is already 26. John McEnroe (7 majors), Mats Wilander (7 majors) and Bjorn Borg (11 majors) won their last grand slam title before turning 25. McEnroe and Borg were strongly positioned in the ‘greatest player’ debate before their careers nose dived abruptly. Wilander dominated 1988 winning three grand slams (his competition that year included Lendl, Agassi, Becker and Edberg) and never won anything again.

Federer has always toyed with his opponents; hardly moving out of first gear and still doing enough to win most matches comfortably. Supremely confident, he is unique in not even having a full time coach. Now the cracks are showing in the cool demeanour. His sacking of part-time coach Tony Roche in the midst of his greatest slump is either the astute decision of a self-assured man or the knee-jerk reaction of a man losing his touch. You can take your pick.

The Swiss maestro stands on the brink of being the next burn out victim of Tennis. Wimbledon and the smell of grass might restore the flagging confidence. Roger Federer could repair his bruised psyche and go on to become the greatest player never to have won the French Open (provided he substantially exceeds Pete Sampras’ haul of 14 grand slam titles). Greatest Player Ever ? That my friend, will depend on whether he has the gumption to stop Rafael Nadal from winning a third consecutive French Open title.

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The day we killed Hockey

The Union Ministry of Sports has decided to demote hockey from the ‘priority’ to the ‘general’ category. This means that Indian Hockey will now receive less money from the Centre and that would have an adverse affect on a number of things — right from sending players abroad for competitions to conducting coaching camps and providing sports equipment. Hockey has been demoted due to the lack of international success, and has been replaced by sports like Wushu, Kayaking and canoeing. The ministry deemed them to have more medal prospects than hockey. The message is loud and clear – that hockey is as good as dead and we have no future in the game.

Iam totally flabbergasted by the arcane logic of the ministry. Had the ministry been a parent, they would have stopped feeding their child, and sending him to school, for getting bad grades, rather than getting extra tuition or paying more attention to the child’s home-work.

Secondly, it is brainless comparing a team sport with an individual one, in terms of their medal winning potential (‘number’ of medals that can be won in that sport). You can only win one medal in a team sport, whereas a sport like canoeing would easily have around 40-50 on offer. It requires the collective effort of eleven players to win team events, whereas a swimmer like Michael Phelps alone can get you half a dozen medals.

Football and volleyball have also been penalized for poor performances - fair point. So what about cricket then? We have recently justified the ICC’s decision to give test status to Bangladesh. And mind you, cricket is hardly a global sport. There are just a handful of nations who play it and the only time it featured in the Olympics was way back in 1904. Cricket deserves special treatment, but Hockey doesn’t? The last time I heard it was still our national game and remains to this date the only sport, where we have won an Olympic gold.

The despotic president of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), KPS Gill is unperturbed by the decision. After all, his Herculean efforts to kill the game have finally started to bear fruit. If only the govt took some affirmative action in taking him to task and not the game itself.

Finally, special thanks to the sports minister, Mr. Mani Shanker Aiyer, for the timing of his announcement. On the same day, a youthful Indian side under a new coach had raised new hope by storming into the semi-final of the Azlan Shah Trophy. Greater irony in the fact, that this year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the ‘First War of Indian Independence’- and murder the ‘game’ which did more than any ‘war’ in bringing the people of this country together and giving it back to the British (In the 1948 London Olympics, a newly independent India beat Great Britain in the final). I bet the likes of Dhyan Chand (Hockey’s equivalent of Pele and Bradman) and Balbir Singh are turning in their graves.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Care for some cricket chit-chat

Rahul Dravid got hit on the nose by a bouncer from R.P.Singh!!!!! (To read more on RP, check out the ‘The sorry state of indian domestic cricket’). I’ am yet to recover from the shock of hearing this. No, Iam not feeling sorry for Rahul Dravid (which is very mean), but wondering, how on earth could an impotent (pardon the term but cant think of anything better) bowler like RP inflict such damage on India’s best player of fast bowling (and that too on one of our lifeless wickets). Can’t remember the last time an Indian pace-man did this to a quality batsman. Perhaps, Dravid was totally lost in thought (he has so many issues to handle these days). Somebody tell the selectors, that our captain needs a break more than Sachin and Sourav.

Kapil Dev has spoken strongly against the selectors’ decision to ‘rest’ Sachin and Sourav for the Bangladesh tour. To quote him, “There are no half measures for me...Either you drop them or take them. There is nothing called 'rested’.” Kapil seems to have forgotten, that Indian selectors don’t know how to drop star players. Had they known better, they would have dropped him long before he broke Hadlee’s record.

Krish Srikkanth’s cricket based website is going places. The site offers an impressive array of fantasy games (with multi user facility and mobile versions), photo galleries, live audio commentary, columns from eminent writers and live simulation of international games (with 3-D imaging and scripted commentary). The venture is sure to do well (as long as Srikkanth is not contributing the columns) and I wish them the very best. Their success is sure to keep the former India opener from fulfilling his media commitments; a sure sign of relief for all cricket fans and his fellow commentators.

Adam Gilchrist’s revelation of having used a squash ball to improve his grip has caused a major uproar in Sri Lanka, with board officials accusing him of using ‘unethical’ means to seek an ‘unfair’ advantage. Ian Healy’s response sums it up best – “maybe a tennis ball is better, they could try that”. Or maybe a football!!!

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

What a nose job can do

These folks aren't decked out for a fashion show on 'nose wear'. They are fans of the Phoenix Suns in the NBA, who were sporting these creative bandages to show their support for star player Steve Nash (extreme right), in game 2 of their series against San Antonio. Nash suffered a horrible cut in the dying moments of game 1, causing him to miss the last minute of the game - an absence which dearly cost his team. The fans' inimitable display helped Nash and the Suns even things in game 2. These ‘fashion conscious’ fans can surely take a bow.

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Boxing facing a knock-out count

The sport of boxing 'had' mass appeal. Why I use 'had', I will come to later. First to the ‘appeal’ part. Long before cable TV hit India, Doordarshan regularly brought us the best professional bouts in the world, albeit recorded and telecast a few days later. This distinction was shared only by the likes of cricket, tennis, hockey, International football, the Olympics, the Asian games and other events staged in India. Even my mother knew about Mike Tyson, and the Rocky movies were breaking box office records in Hollywood.

Now to the 'had' part. Just answer a simple question. Name the current world heavyweight champion? Well, I can’t and I bet you can’t, unless you are a real boxing aficionado. I do happen to know, though, that there are quite a few of them. Yes, there are multiple world champions and you will come to know why, pretty soon. Now tell me, when was the last time you heard or saw boxing related news, which had nothing to do with Mike Tyson? Got you once again. Okay, enough of the difficult questions and now time for some simple answers – why boxing’s future is as bright as Mike Tyson’s

Professional boxing has no central governing body. There are about ten independent bodies and you can form a new one as long as you know a new synonym for either ‘World’ or ‘federation’ (Council, Association, Federation, Organization and Alliance are already taken by the way). Every body has their own charter and world champion. The end result is mass confusion and chaos.

Boxing has very few marquee fights. Fans have historically flocked to boxing to enjoy gladiatorial contests. Boxing’s popularity grew most in the 70’s when the great champions (Ali, Foreman, Liston, Spinks, Holmes and Frazier) dueled regularly. Today’s champions refrain from fighting each other to protect their titles (remember we never got to see Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis fight, in spite of the massive public interest). The absence of a central authority has helped them get away with it. As the big fights have dwindled, so have the fans.

The ban boxing campaigns. Boxing has always had its fair share of deaths and injuries. The numbers, though, are far less than those of other sports like racing, mountaineering and gliding (as shown by various studies). Nonetheless, the sport has been increasingly victimized (owing to its physical and violent nature) as being too dangerous for human beings. Consequently, more and more parents dissuade their children from taking up boxing – drying up the talent pool for young fighters.

The collective punch has been too much for boxing to handle. It lies slumped on the ropes, and as time ticks away, the knock-out is near.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The simple act of scoring a goal

Most 'true' football fans don't appreciate simple goals, myself included. We always look for a certain level of difficulty in scoring a goal; the difficulty level serving as a barometer of the player's class and skill. The guys, who make a living camped in the penalty box, scoring a hatful of goals from close range, are looked upon as parasites who feed on the efforts of their more hard-working team-mates. We often claim that, ‘scoring that goal was so easy; even I could have done that’. Well, before, you go watch the next football game and add to your ‘I could have scored’ goal tally, check out the YouTube video. It might just give you some goal-scoring tips.

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