Monday, March 31, 2008

No more test matches for 'killers' of test cricket

For connoisseurs of test cricket in India, the last one year has been one for the ages. The display of the Indian sides in England, South Africa and Australia was of the highest order and not for once did they resemble the poor travellers of the past. For most part the quality of the cricket was excellent and the drama so engrossing that cricket fans were forced to keep a ball-by-ball check of the matches in progress. In spite of all the interest generated in 20-20 cricket by India’s world cup triumph and One-day successes against Pakistan and Australia; the interest in test cricket had never been higher.

Mesmerized by the five-day format, there was a lot to look forward to in the India – South Africa test series. Revenge for the defeat last year and a chance to set the record straight for the humiliation suffered in the last home series- a defeat which brought to an end our long unbeaten streak at home. And what did we get to see - a pitch as dead as can be – one which would have broken the resolve of any bowler in the world. A game only for the stats obsessed- 1500 odd runs for 25 wickets, Dravid’s 10000 runs, Sehwag’s triple. After the highs of Australia came the depths of despair in Chepauk. One couldn’t have asked for a better anti-test cricket advertisement. The India- Australia series was the best time to shop with the malls half empty even on weekends. The last Sunday was just the opposite. With the ICL currently on and the IPL on the anvil, 20-20 cricket is primed for a frenzied following in this country. What better way to make sure that test cricket can’t even put up a token resistance to the monster that threatens to make the longer version extinct.

So, who’s to blame? Unless Lalit Modi’s ambitions for the IPL have taken test-cricket killing proportions, the local cricket association (the TNCA) should be severely penalized for the shoddy pitch preparation. Unless the mandarins of the TNCA gave the India- Australia series a Rip Van Winklesque miss, they would have noticed that the superb quality of cricket stemmed from the sporting pitches prepared for the series. Either they cannot appreciate high-quality test cricket (can only appreciate a boring run –fest) or simply don’t like test cricket. So, the best way to save them the misery of watching good test cricket and also hide their ineptitude at preparing quality pitches is to keep them away from test cricket for a while. Don’t give the TNCA the unpleasant task of hosting a test match for the next 5 years at least. By then they will probably develop an appreciation for the longer version. At least they will not be ‘killing’ test cricket.

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Hey Roger, go get a coach man!

There’s a fine line between arrogance and self-confidence. The truly great ones generally manage to walk the tight-rope without falling to the perils of over-estimating their own prowess. But sometimes, even they are blinded by their own brilliance. Roger Federer needs to do something quick before his incandescence hastens his own burn-out. He needs to go get a coach, pronto.

History has been witness to sportsmen making some really tall self-proclamations. None bigger than Mohammed Ali’s, “I am the greatest; I said that even before I knew I was”. Roger has been nowhere as pompous with his best being,” I've really proved that on all surfaces, everywhere in the world, I can win the title. It's been incredible for me from beginning to end”. What was a bigger statement though was his decision to dispense with his coach, and decide not to hire another one.

This was a bold step – something unheard of in the modern era, where top players travel with an assortment of trainers, coaches and instructors. Roger then walked the talk by winning almost everything (the French Open excluded) in sight and dominating the ATP tour like no one before him had done. But lost amongst the hosannas have been the signs of fallibility. I had made one humble attempt to predict an end to the greatness and then another one. Not that too many people noticed.

In 2008, however, the people have really started noticing. Roger’s poor start to the year has brought Nadal and Djokovic within touching distance of his no 1 ranking. As expected, the questions of getting a coach have been raised. And promptly shot down by the Swiss maestro. I have been tempted to write the third and final part of my Roger Federer obituary, even though I should ideally wait to see if he can hold onto the Wimbledon crown. This, because Federer’s supreme confidence is slowly becoming his biggest undoing and threatening to immolate him.

I will wait however, for the simple reason that I as a sports fan love to see records being made and a dominant Roger Federer is on the verge of re-writing the entire book. But for that to happen, the great man needs to hire a coach right away. And if he needs convincing, he should go check with buddy Tiger Woods – his only rival as the most dominant sportsperson in the world. In fact, that debate is close to being settled in Tiger’s favour as Roger’s decline has coincided with Woods’ ascent to the closest thing in terms of sporting perfection. He has won 8 of his last nine tournaments and finished second in another, sparking talk of a grand slam ; something not done in the history of the golf. Also for the information of the uninformed, golf is far more tougher than tennis when it comes to winning tournaments regularly. You play only yourself and have no control over the performance of the others. Every golf-course is like a different surface in tennis parlance, making it very difficult for any player to master all the different playing conditions in various tournaments. (Quite unlike tennis where you only need to master grass, clay, indoor carpet and hard-court)

Fedex needs to learn from the guy on the right

Tiger is a classic case of never being satisfied and always looking for continuous improvement – a lesson Federer has forgotten in his arrogance. And most of Tigers’ unending pursuit for excellence has been a joint effort with his coaches. When Tiger first appeared on the tour, he was already hitting the ball the farthest – an advantage which resulted in a slew of titles and the world number one ranking. But he was still willing to take it to the next level. So, on the advice of swing coach Hank Haney, he decided to re-model his swing completely. This lead to a drastic drop in performance but Tiger persevered with his coach; trying to perfect the new swing. And when he managed to do it, he was an even better player. This is the equivalent of Goran Ivanisevic or Pete Sampras deciding that their serve wasn’t good enough and hence they needed a new service action. Tiger has been strongly challenged by some extremely talented guys like Phil Mickleson and Ernie Els but his ever-improving game has broken their resolve. Federer’s arrogance on the other hand has only fuelled the hunger of Nadal and Djokovic.

Roger Federer needs to accept that he is facing a crisis. His once imposing game is no longer good enough to keep the challengers at arm’s-length. He needs to raise his game by a few notches to extend his greatness. He also has to understand that he is capable of that. All human beings are capable of further improvement. Perfection is a theoretical concept. A coach can facilitate the improvement process. Getting a coach is not the sign of weakness but a reflection of wisdom. He can continue to walk the tight-rope between confidence and arrogance. Just needs to get himself a coach first.

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Symonds breaks new ground for cricket....with his shoulder!!!

We are a cricket mad country but still some of us are sane enough to be aware of the sports global standing - lost in the back of the queue. I totally blame Lord Cornwallis for cricket's plight. If only he had won the war called the War of American Independence in the 1780's prolonging the British influence on the Yanks. The Americans would have adapted cricket whole-heartedly, nipping baseball in the bud. Cricket would have harnessed the global marketing machine that is America, to achieve global prominence. Well thank God for Andrew Symonds. He is already making up for the watershed events of the 1780's.

I am a regular follower of This is the flagship US website of ESPN which is easily the most powerful sports media corporation in the world. And before you cricket and football fans even protest that claim, please remember that Cricinfo and Soccernet are also owned by ESPN.

In all my years of following, I don’t remember coming across any cricket-related news. There are regular titbits about football though. All that changed yesterday. Finally ESPN had a reason to sit up and take notice. Andrew Symonds' rugby style tackle of a streaker has become the first cricket news to figure on There's a video for your voyeuristic pleasures as well.

So, here's a message for the mandarins of cricket. Rather than fine this wonderful cricketer; who has already had to endure so much trauma this summer, we should felicitate him. He should be awarded with the SBE (Shoulder of the British Empire) for starters and be allowed to tackle any naked person he comes across. And that includes Harbhajan as well.

I will leave you with another race -related thought. Symonds tackled a white male. Would he have done the same had the streaker been a female or a black person or say a pretty black female? Shouldn’t he be put to the test to determine whether he was racially motivated or not? And like the second final, this should be done with a global audience watching. Imagine what this would do for the popularity of cricket?

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