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 krishcricket.com 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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Monday, May 7, 2007

The expensive toys of Paul Allen

What do you do when you have 20 billion dollars in the bank and have already been responsible for a watershed moment in the history of mankind? Well, in the case of Paul Allen; the often forgotten co-founder of Microsoft, you buy sports teams.

The reclusive Allen already owns his hometown Seattle Seahawks in the National Football League (the american variety) and the Portland Trail Blazers in the National Basketball Association, and now his sights are firmly set on Southampton FC in the English first division.

For someone who has displayed sound business acumen in building the biggest IT company in the world, his sports teams leave a lot to be desired. He has often been called the ‘worst team owner in all sports’. He pumped in millions of dollars in the Trail Blazers, but the only title they have earned in his tenure, is the sobriquet of ‘The Jail Blazers’ (for the criminal record of the players). Their pathetic performances caused their owner to put the team up for sale. Sadly for Paul, he couldn’t find a single buyer.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, have been earning the blessings of all the unemployed (read deemed useless by all the other teams) players by offering them wealthy contracts. Their enviable losing record has ensured that the city of Seattle won’t be putting up a statue of their most famous son anytime soon.

The interest in Southampton follows a recent trend of American sports tycoons buying English football clubs. The clubs have largely benefited from the cash infusion, helping change the ‘Yankee upstart’ image of the Americans in the UK. Southampton’s proud tradition has taken a massive beating; their team has been languishing in the second tier of English football for quite some time now. Paul Allen has one last chance with Southampton. His philanthropy for the football club could do for him, what the Gates Foundation does for good friend Bill Gates - atonement for all their sins (the sporting ones in Paul's case).

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Friday, May 4, 2007

A sporting fantasy comes alive

In a unique experiment to determine the best men's tennis player in the world; Rafael Nadal - the king of clay, with a 72 match unbeaten run on the surface, squared off against Roger Federer; the champion on grass, with a 48 match streak of his own. They played on a half -clay, half-grass court - thereby creating a neutral ground for a fair contest. The critics’ weren’t too impressed and the match, which was won by Nadal in a third-set tiebreaker, did little to settle the original debate. Well, damn the critics. This was a dream come true for fans like me, who always cook up such fantasy exercises (although we rarely get to see them), and I well and truly believe that they make the game richer and so much more fun.

Another such attempt, which immediately comes to mind was the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ matches, in tennis again. In part III, Jimmy Connors played Martina Navratilova with the handicap of being allowed just one serve per point and having to cover a larger court widened by half of each doubles alley. Just for the record, the 'man' still won.

Tinkering comes naturally to us. I remember trying to improvise the rules in the playground, when, as kids we struggled to form two decent well matched sides; the group consisting of friends and cousins of different age groups. Such variations brought the game alive and made it fun for all involved.

The mother of all such fantasies would be bringing players of different ages together. Just imagine, if the advancement of modern science can pit Bjorn Borg against Rafael Nadal, or have Brett Lee bowl to Vivian Richards, or have Maradona play against Pele.

The purists and traditionalists will call for a ban on such events and label them as 'gimmicks'. But after the 'traditional' fare we witnessed in the football and cricket world cups, I'd still settle for the 'gimmicks'

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Thursday, May 3, 2007

ESPN E-ticket - endearing tales from the world of sports

Pat Tillman chucked a lucrative career in the National Football League, to answer his country's call to go fight the war in Afghanistan. He died a hero's death, risking his own life to save a colleague.

Barbaro, a race horse won one of the biggest prizes in American racing - the Kentucky Derby, in his first appearance. He broke his leg in the next race. After an 8 month rescue effort, he was finally put to sleep to ease the pain. His plight brought thousands together and these people continue to share each other's grief long after the horse's death.

Nazareth is a small agro based country town in the US, the kind where everyone knows everyone. People face a difficult future with the land losing fertility and no other means of sustenance available. What keeps them going, however, is the town’s High School girl's basketball team; which has the best record in the country and is well and truly the only reason for the town's being.

If you find such stories appealing, and want to read more about them and other similar ones in greater detail, go to the

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