Thursday, January 24, 2008

Two reasons why Sir Alex is finally sleeping peacefully

Manchester United have an excellent record in the first half of the season against their fellow members of the top 4. They beat Chelsea at home, Liverpool away and had the upper hand in a drawn game against Arsenal. While the frontline and defense have performed admirably in these games, the men in the middle have been the real difference makers. They have won every midfield battle enabling their side to control the flow of the game. And this for me has been the biggest positive for the Red Devils from the first half of the season.

The role of the ball-winning midfielder is crucial in modern football. Especially, for attacking sides which often leave their defense exposed. A top-class, unselfish midfielder protecting your back four is a prized possession; the absence of which gives any manager regular sleepless nights. The rise and the fall of Real Madrid with and without Claude Makalele is the perfect example of how valuable these guys are. Most of the successful sides in Europe have had a quality guy in this role. Chelsea with Makalele again, AC Milan with Gattuso, Arsenal and Inter with Patrick Viera and Bayern Munich with Owen Hergreaves.

Roy Keane filled this role admirably for Manchester United during their dominant run in the Premiership. His decline and subsequent exit was largely responsible for United hitting a trough and playing second fiddle to Chelsea and Arsenal. Last year’s squad played glorious attacking football on their way to the title but was far from being a perfect team with glaring inadequacies – like when it came to ball –winning, as cruelly exposed by AC Milan in the Champions League semis. A title encore was highly unlikely without the necessary additions to the squad.

Fergie was acutely aware of the problem at hand and had been fairly active in the transfer market, trying to fill the hole. His targets included Javier Mascherano, Marcos Senna and Owen Hergreaves. Among the lot he was particularly keen on Hergreaves – a player Bayern were equally committed to hold onto. Fergie came close to getting his hands on both Mascherano and Senna, but preferred to bide his time for Hergreaves. Quite clearly, in Fergie’s eyes, the Canadian-born Englishman was the perfect fit for united. His relentless pursuit finally bore fruit at the start of the 2007-08 season. While this purchase was on the lines of the expected for united fans, what sir Alex did next left them gaping at his supposed impulsiveness. On a trip to Portugal to strike a deal for the new ‘Cristiano Ronaldo’ – Nani, he also bought the defensive midfielder Anderson. The Brazilian did not come cheap, was largely an unknown quantity and not expected to figure even on the United bench; with the midfield choc-a-bloc with quality players. He was considered a luxury Sir Alex could do without having already spent quite a fortune bringing in new players.

Anderson did nothing extraordinary in the pre-season to change the status quo in his position in the midfield pecking order. He got a lucky break when first Scholes and then Hergreaves got injured. The Brazilian grabbed the opportunity with both hands and has gone from strength to strength ever since. So much so, that on Hergreaves’ return, Fergie has often played them together. The emergence of the challenger seems to have had a positive influence on Hergreaves and the ex-Bayern man has delivered all the promised goods.

United cannot believe their good-luck. They asked for one ball-winner and got two class performers. This gives them the insurance of a quality replacement incase of injuries and the luxury to give each player enough rest to keep them fresh throughout the season. The duo has ensured that the team has developed a hitherto unknown defensive solidity – a quality critical for the European battles to follow. They break opposition attacks well before it gets to the United defensive third. This spares the defense long spells of duress; ones which mostly lead to a fatal error. The attack is better than ever and treble chants are emanating again.

Last season’s clash between United and Milan was billed as an encounter between Kaka and Ronaldo. The intervention of Gennaro Gattuso made it a no-contest in Kaka’s favour. In the 1999 Champions League final, United sorely missed the services of a suspended Roy Keane, escaping with a lucky victory. With the double-whammy of Hergreaves and Anderson, a repeat of either mismatch is highly unlikely

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Kumble does a Worrell in Australia

In 1960-61, Frank Worrell became the first black man to captain the West Indies in Australia. This honour came to him after a long struggle. Worrell distinguished himself on and off the field and lead his men admiringly. The series is well remembered for the quality of cricket. Even though the West Indies lost 2-1, they won the hearts of the public and thousands of people lined the streets to give Worrell and his man a fitting farewell. Worrell is also credited for unifying the island nations to at last compete as one team.

47 years later, Anil Kumble stands on the cusp of similar greatness. His elevation to captaincy has come very late in his cricketing life. He has also been in a constant struggle; albeit of a different kind, trying to win the hearts and respect of an ungrateful board and an under appreciative nation, which mistook his impeccable behaviour as a lack of aggression and leadership ability. The manner in which he has lead his side to take the fight to the Aussies begs the question – how could we ignore him for so long as we stumbled from one poor captain to another. While Stephen Fleming and Sourav Ganguly can claim greater success in Australia; having drawn a test series, they cannot match the overwhelming public support generated in Kumble’s favour. And this support has come from the Australian fans as well, a la Worrell's. This latest conquest between India and Australia has become a landmark in the annals of the game and will be remembered for all the right as well as wrong reasons. That Kumble has raised the level of his game is also testament to his character and never-say-die approach to the game. This series has united the Indian nation like never before – another feat which places Kumble in Worrell’s company.

Now for something which might be of interest to Mr Narendra Modi – riding a crest of rightist support in Gujarat. I was watching the closing moments of the Perth Test at the airport. The stand between Clark and Mitchell Johnson was causing a lot of anxiety for the watching public. Among them was a large family of Bohra Muslims. (This is a sect that originated in Gujarat). They were flying on Air Deccan and as soon as their flight was announced they rushed to join the queue for boarding – a very common occurrence. Their early start got them a place at the head of the line – quite an advantage if you are flying that particular airline. Moments later, a Muslim from Baroda dismissed Clark and the crowd at the airport erupted with jubilation. The group of Bohras dropped their luggage, forgot where they stood in the line and ran back to catch a glimpse of the dismissal. This was a postcard moment for unity in diversity through cricket.

When I was planning to start this blog, I wanted to call it ‘cricketsedoor’ meaning away from cricket. I was almost burnt out as a follower of the game and wanted to write on other sports only. And the irony is that this year all the posts have been on cricket. That is why this series is unprecedented in its all-encompassing effect on Indians of all types and Anil Kumble is a modern day equivalent of Frank Worrell.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My apologies, Rudra Pratap Singh

Dear Rudra Pratap/RP/Singh Saheb/Rudy or whatever

Please accept my heartiest congratulations on your great bowling performance in the first innings at Perth. I was disappointed that you missed out, yet again, on a five-for. Anyways, Iam sure you will have one very soon the way you have been bowling these last few months. Iam jumping with joy at the prospect of India winning a test at Perth of all places. Touchwood and fingers crossed. Let’s maintain focus and take revenge for Sydney in the best manner possible - a win in Australia's most formidable fortress with so much pride at stake.

With this performance you have answered any remaining doubts that critics might have had about your ability or attitude. You have performed creditably in England, South Africa, India and now in Australia as well. You have taken wickets on all kinds of tracks - from ones which seamed to ones which swung and to ones which were not misbehaving at all. You have delivered in tests as well the most abbreviated form of the game.

While, that proves your ability as a bowler, your lion-hearted performance in the last two tests, especially when leading the attack in the absence of Zaheer Khan and other regulars like Sreesanth has shown you to be a true warrior - the likes we could have more of. Many of us were writing our bowling off after Zaheer broke down. But you have raised you game and lead the attack with aplomb, getting an encouraging performance out of Ishant Sharma also.

Now to the reason for this apology. In one of my earliest blog posts, I had been extremely critical of you, and had questioned whether you had the discipline to succeed at the highest level. Your effort, which I had referred to, had given me justification to do so as well. My stance had not changed even after your fine show in England. For me you were a bowler with a limited arsenal, lacking in pace and totally dependent on the conditions to be effective – something you had the good fortune to find in England. I was not convinced after the Sydney effort either, arguing that Agarkar also had managed a 6-wicket haul last time round. But today Iam a believer and I’d better make that loud and clear. I’d better join your fan club before your bowling feats make me eat more humble pie.

With sincere apologies

A hopeless Indian cricket fan

P.S - For those of you who have read the earlier post, you would’ve noticed that whereas I was hard on RP Singh, I was literally scornful about Rohit Sharma. Our man has made the most of his limited international opportunities ever since but as I pointed out in another post; he’s not got the fans drooling about him as a successor to the fab four of Indian batting. And that goes for me as well. But you know what? As a dyed in the wool Indian cricket fan, I hope there’s another round of apologies and ‘eating my words’ very soon.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cricket takes a revenge for Hockey

Enough has been written, said, discussed and debated about the umpiring, racism and sportsmanship witnessed in the second test at Sydney. For once, the entire media backing as well as the public support has been with India. Kudos to Peter Roebuck in the Australian media and Prem Panicker in India for leading the tirade against the ugly Aussies. Now, even Australian greats in other sports have come out openly to criticize Ricky Ponting and his men. Never before have I witnessed such a strong reaction to anything on or off the field. I thought of writing something but there wasn’t anything new to add and hence I resisted the temptation to add my two bit to what was slowly becoming a white noise. However, the likes of Navjot Singh Sidhu aren’t bothered about such social courtesies and he gave an exceptional display of jingoistic verbal diarrhoea on NDTV. He probably thinks he is the only educated Sardar ji around and has to speak for all the Sikhs in the world. More so, when a fellow Sardar has been held in the dock.

So why am I writing this? Well, I am doing so because I think I have a valid new point – something which has not been touched upon. Now, Iam reasonably confident in making this claim as I have been reading almost everything that I could find on the internet. Additionally, friends have been forwarding any interesting stuff they have come across. So the chances that my point is not ‘new’ is remote, unless it was made in a local daily in rural Meghalaya, India’s 100th social networking site or on the intranet of India’s one millionth software company.

My first point is in response to claims made by the likes of Mr Glenn McGrath about India arm-twisting the ICC on the back of their financial muscle. India has every right and every reason to do so. This is how the world works. This is what the advanced western nations do all the time. This is how the church spreads Christianity and the gulf countries spread Islam. And most importantly this is how the western nations killed Asian hockey – ending the domination of India and Pakistan. Bit by bit they have changed the rules of the game to tilt the scales in favour of the western nations. The Asians have tried to raise a hue and cry but their clamour has found no takers. The game is well funded in the west and the associations better endowed. The world body – the FIH is controlled and bankrolled by them and hence dances to their tune. So, why shouldn’t we do the same in a game where we control the finances? Cricket might have taken hockey’s spot as the most popular sport in the sub-continent but they have paid their due in some part by bringing the western nations to their knees. The revenge will be complete once companies like Percept can cancel all the image marketing contracts they have with Australian cricketers. Mr Mitchell Johnson once drove a plumbing truck to make ends meet. It will not come to that for Mr Ponting. But all the retirement plans they have been dreaming of, from the money they make out of India; an income which would have jumped post the IPL can now be relegated to a distant memory.

And now for a swipe at Mr Proctor. He claims to understand racism, coming from apartheid infected South Africa. A ton of bullshit!!!. Wasn’t he on the other side of the fence? Was he protesting on the streets when Nelson Mandela was sent to the Robben Island prison? Has he been a victim of racism? He was the captain of the last South African side before they were banned from international competition – a proud representative of a racist country, wearing the springbok logo on his conceited heart. He never had the courage to speak out against the opressionist regime; the way Tatenda Taibu did with great distinction. I think what he meant was that he knows how to practise racism.

Lastly, Iam worried about the record-books. England were winners by default when Mr Darrell Hair had a fit of madness against Pakistan. And now Australia lead 2-0 and have a great chance to go for a 17th consecutive victory with Perth looming. Their objective has been served. Mr Ponting will go into the record books. What can be done about this? Shouldn’t Wisden at least put an asterisk next to the 16th victory?

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, January 5, 2008

I would always remain in India for the pleasure of being a cricket fan

Iam a hardcore sports fan and I follow at least a dozen sports religiously. Some of them include basketball, American football and baseball – sports which are not too popular in India but have a cult following in the US. The internet and EPSN/Star gives me my full dose of these sports- although I could consume some more. I miss talking and discussing these sports with another fan. I have pained friends, family and colleagues in the US – trying to somehow get this craving satisfied. Alas, my attempts have not met with any success.

One way of solving this problem is to move to the US. Today, it’s not too difficult to do so either. And, along with the pleasures of talking NBA, will come what most NRIs and NRI-aspirants call a better lifestyle. You can rid yourself of all the trouble that comes with living in India today.

So, far I have resisted the urge to do so. And have done so, quite comfortably, without getting into any kind of dilemma. I grew up in a large joint family and even though I stay far away in Chennai, I keep meeting family and generally stay in touch regularly. I have a decent job and live comfortably, even though I feel a little more money could make life even better. I benefit from being part of one of the most vibrant economies in the world- which creates exciting opportunities for me and as of now, is also giving me ‘job satisfaction’, what ever that is. I have actually started enjoying shouting at the helpless customer care executives ( nice way to vent out your anger) and have even figured out ways to tackle dictatorial banks and telecom companies (recently, I got Tata Indicom, SBI cards and ICICI bank to reverse charges). I absolutely enjoy the fact that only well-qualified people get hefty salaries in this country, and the rest have trouble making ends meet – allowing me to employ an army of people to do different stuff for me. I have developed enough immunity, touchwood, to handle all the dirt that the paani-puri vendor can mix. What’s more, with movie torrents, I can download and watch any movie I want to and the faster broadband ensures the process doesn’t get on my nerves.

That’s a lot of reasons. Enough to settle any debate about moving abroad? No, not when you are missing all the sports stuff. A move would land you in sporting Neverland. Think about it. Tough to beat that one, right? Well, not quite.

I have not had internet connection at home for the last 5 days and have been missing out on all the NBA and NFL action. But, guess what? I haven’t bothered to check in office. Not, even during lunch. I have been getting up early to catch the cricket action in Australia, checking the score a zillion times during the day and rushing home to catch the highlights program. I have been talking, chatting (as in gtalk) and texting cricket. Iam a hopeless cricket fan all over again. I have been praying for an annual India-Australia series. And, calling for the selectors to be whipped in public every time they even think of dropping Laxman. I have been shadow batting once again. I love my cricket and even a call from Michael Jordan is not going to move me.

Very well. But can’t you do this in America as well. They also have live cricket telecast. You can chat and text cricket as much as you like and also have the option of falling back on the NBA , once the Indians start playing Kenya and Bangladesh.

But, can you talk cricket to your Tamil-speaking dhobi (the guy who irons my clothes), even if they had dhobis in the US, as he watches Laxman caress another Mitchell Johnson delivery to the fence. HE says, “Laxman very good”. Perhaps, the only non-Tamil words he knows. And I don’t know a single word of Tamil by the way!!!

Can you start an impromptu cricket talk with the geeky developer who sits in the adjoining cubicle and hasn’t even smiled at you in the 5 months you have been in this office; forget having had a civilized conversation. India have just taken the lead and you are dying to share your joy with someone. In India you have help close at hand and You don’t have to call your cricket-loving, Indian friend 3 time zones away!!!

The broadband connection will be repaired this Saturday (else I have another chance to have a go at Tata Indicom). I miss the NBA talk but I can’t do without cricket as it is lived in India.

Sphere: Related Content