Tuesday, April 29, 2008

This is what I want to do for a living - host football podcasts

Football is my favourite sport and I am a huge fan of podcasts. My favourite being the PTI (Pardon The Interruption) podcast on ESPN. And now I have a heady combination of both– A football podcast that I am part of. This is a new thing that we have started at isport.in and you can listen to the first edition here. We hope to make it a weekly feature. I await all the critical feedback.

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What is the motivation of a foreign player to do well in the IPL?

So far, the biggest stars in the IPL have been the foreign stars. Most of them were bid for far less than the Indian stars but have outperformed them by quite some distance. In spite of being great value for money, there is every reason to question the motivation and the intensity of the overseas stars.

The IPL puts a restriction of 4 foreign players per playing eleven. But teams have accumulated more than twice that number as most overseas players will not be available for the full tournament and also to adjust to different match conditions. As a result, players of the calibre of Muthiah Muralitharan, Makhaya Ntini and Herschelle Gibbs end up being left out of the playing eleven – a situation they wouldn’t have encountered at any stage in their cricketing careers. And then they see second or third rung Indian domestic players running around and hogging the limelight. How motivated does that leave an established international player?

Not too much, I am afraid. They will still egg themselves on and stay enthused for a while but sooner than later, just lose interest. Their plight is similar to an IT professional being on the bench during the recession years. The bench guys surf the free internet, drink the free coffee and wait to collect their pay-check at the end of the month. The benched cricketer will travel the country in luxury; eye the chicks in the stadium and packet the moolah when it’s time to leave for International duty.

And what is the impact of a foreigner’s performance in the IPL, on his international career? Absolutely nothing!! Not even on his international Twenty-20 career. Do you think Cricket Australia will drop Ponting for getting a pair of ducks for the Knight Riders? You must be kidding if you think so. Even the contract money is guaranteed and there is no performance based incentive. Therefore an international player has absolutely nothing to lose if he performs miserably or ends up spending the entire tournament on the bench. How’s that for motivation.

But there is still the question of losing out on an IPL berth in the future. No such risk for someone who spends most of his time on the bench. He will continue to get selected as there is no evidence of any poor performance. Even the guys who play badly need not bother. There will again be a mad rush to sign the biggest international stars. Indian selectors are still blinded by star power and will select purely on international form. And in the unlikely situation that a player misses the IPL bus, there will be other leagues (in England and Pakistan) to vie for his services. The pool of international players is limited and their availability for the IPL and the other leagues gets reduced further by the busy international calendar. A player will have to do a Harbhajan-esque mistake to miss out on the Twenty-20 bounty. And that is ruled out as nobody is as dumb as the master slapper.

The software engineers in the recession years ran the risk of getting reject letters at the last minute. And the guys who were doing real work needed to perform at extremely high-levels to keep their jobs. The International cricketer in the IPL or any other League has no such worries. He will go out and swing hard when given a chance. But he is under no pressure to perform and not overly bothered about how things turn out. They are here to enjoy the Indian summer of 2008.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

New article on theviewspaper.net - Jeev Milkha Singh becomes as tall as his father

Jeev Milkha Singh just keeps getting better. Last year he performed creditably at the US Masters and the US Open. At the 2008 Masters, he recorded his best finish in a major, ending up joint 25th. The article tries to put his achievement in perspective and makes a case that he is now a sporting equal of his father - the great Milkha Singh. Read it at http://theviewspaper.net/sports/2008/04/2858

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Friday, April 18, 2008

The BCCI has banned me from watching any ‘official’ cricket

I thought I could get away with lavishing praise on the ICL and bashing the BCCI and the IPL. Sadly for me, my crimes have caught up with me. I will have to pay for watching the ICL and writing about it.

The BCCI ban on the players and officials attached to the ICL has now been extended to the fans of the so-called Rebel league. As part of this drive, ICL watchers like me have been cut off from all forms of official cricket.

I have been branded a rebel fan and following are the restrictions imposed on me by the BCCI

  • I can no longer watch any official cricket on TV. In fact my cable operator was forced to choose between official cricket and the ICL, and poor man had to take the former option and black out coverage of the rebel league. He been given a discount on the new IPL coverage tariff imposed on cable operators for his loyalty.
  • Iam not allowed to enter any of the BCCI-controlled stadiums. The BCCI has installed a detection technology used by the Interpol to fish out terrorists at international airports, at all the stadium entrances. They will prevent rogues like me from creating any trouble at official cricket matches.
  • All the websites covering official cricket have blocked my computer from accessing their sites and the lack of my regular dose of cricket is already giving me the withdrawal symptoms. In fact, talks are on with Google to display only official cricket –related content on searches. Thus, India will become only the second country after China to impose restrictions on the search engine.

This ban has made my life hell and I can finally relate to the plight of the players and officials who have been banned by the BCCI. I have a greater sense of bonding with them now. And why should they suffer alone. After all, we are all guilty of disobeying the BCCI. In fact, I have heard rumours that other equally guilty parties will be facing a ban soon. These include all the various vendors who have done business with the ICL. The cricket ball supplier, the tent-house guys, the travel agents, the hotel people, the bankers and even the taxi and rickshaw wallahs. Like the cable operator, who was given a second choice, these guys have been given some time to jump off the ICL bandwagon. The BCCI - just and kind as always, doesn’t want to deprive them of their livelihood and is giving them a second chance to mend their ways. And there is money to be made from these guys also. Alas, we poor fans had no such luck. At least you can’t blame the board for favouritism this time. Everyone and anyone has been an equal sufferer.

The ban is depressing. Life as a cricket fan will never be the same again. I don’t know if I can still call myself a cricket fan. Will I have to call myself something else - an anti-cricket fan or banned cricket fan or a rebel cricket fan?

You can see that Iam already going nuts.

And this could get worse.

What if the BCCI blocks my access to the remaining ‘official cricket’ media forums – newspapers, mobile updates, radio, blogs etc? What if ‘official cricket’ fans were forced to boycott us? What if, the BCCI stopped us from buying all the books about ‘official cricket’ – which covers the entire literature there is on cricket. There is so much I plan to read after I retire. What will a retired, socially inept person like me do without ‘official cricket’? I just hope the laws of this country somehow prevent such a situation. But you never know.

BCCI ke haath bahut lambe hain!

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

New isport article - The complete ICL Report Card

Last year, when the ICL was announced, I had written about the challenges the league faced to become successful. A few challenges were added later, when, the BCCI decided to run them into the ground. The League has completed two editions and its time to do a report card. I have done it on isport. Please read the complete report on http://isport.in/content/view/155/57

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New isport article - Why Manchester United are better tha ever in the Champions League

I have a new article on isport. This one goes into Manchester United’s Champions League past and explores the reasons for their umpteen big-match failures. And then based on the findings, it examines if the current side is prepared to go all the way. Check it out on http://isport.in/content/view/158/57/

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Finally a coach for Roger 'there's nothing a coach can teach me' Federer

Somebody seems to have knocked some sense into Roger Federer’s head. He is finally getting himself a coach. And not just any coach. He’s a getting a specialist clay-court coach – one Mr Jose Higueras – who has guided Michael Chang and Jim Courier to the French Open title in the past. Very smart choice!

We have been chiding Roger to get himself a coach for some time and now that he has gone ahead and got one, we have every reason to be happy about it. We want Fedex to beat Sampras’ grand slam record and also dethrone Nadal as the French Open Champion. Hiring Higueras will give him a great shot at both.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Ronaldinho to AC Milan - Time for rest of Europe to get scared

Ronaldinho set for Milan move - Ronaldinho has agreed initial terms with AC Milan and the Serie A club will now speak to Barcelona about a deal, Milan and the player's agent have said.

The 28-year-old Brazilian has had a difficult few months at the Nou Camp because of injury and loss of form and a move has long been mooted.

Former Barcelona coach Johan Cruyff, who remains an influential figure at the club, said Ronaldinho should leave at the end of the season.

This is one heck of a coup on Milan's part - Scary for fans of all the other clubs in Europe. Milan have easily been the best club in Europe over the last two decades. And just when you thought that they were on the downside; with a team full of veterans finally feeling their age - as reflected in an early exit in the Champions League and struggles in the Serie, the Rossoneri strike back.

This club is not going to give their rivals any breather. They are not going to go through a long re-building phase. They are past masters at rebuilding a side on the fly and will do it again. Ronaldinho is the most critical piece of the puzzle and the other minor pieces will fall in place shortly. While Chelsea and Inter Milan with all their money have failed to build one Champions League -winning side, AC Milan have already done it four times ( winning 6 titles in the process). And I will put my mortgage on them doing it once again pretty soon.

Their success as exemplified by the Ronaldinho example has been built on mastery in the transfer market. They target the best attackers in the world and just go out and get them. From Van Basten to Kaka, they have always managed to beat their European rivals at getting the top talent. Ronaldinho from Barcelona will be an addition to the impressive list.

How scary would a combination of Kaka and Ronaldinho be?

Kaka almost single-handedly carried Milan to the Champions League title last year and Ronaldinho inspired Barca to victory the year before that. Need I say more?

They will give opposition defenders enough nightmares to have them queuing up for sleep disorder treatment. Usually, the presence of two players of this quality leads to ego clashes- look at Barca which will forever rue letting Ronaldinho go. But managing massive personalities is another of Milan's strengths. They are run like a small family club; have you ever heard of a big time player leaving Milan acrimoniously. Never.

Some people will be comforted by the sight of Milan's creaking defense and lack of a top striker. Just wait till the end of the season. Sheva has been itching for a return and Didier Drogba has also been dropping hints about a Milan move. Expect others to pine for a place in the Milan side. Who wouldn’t want to play alongside Kaka and Ronaldinho? They are great creators as well and any striker will benefit from the chances created by the Brazilian duo. As for the defenders, expect Milan to reinforce their defensive troops from within the Serie A with minimum of fuss. Everyone wants to win titles and your chances are infinitely better if you play in a Milan side with Kaka and Ronaldinho.

The Ronaldinho news just increased the pressure on Barcelona, United, Chelsea and Liverpool. This season could be their best shot at the Champions League crown in the near future. Milan will be back to torment them next year.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Why I love the ICL and not the IPL

Dear Cricket fans

Iam sure all of you are really looking forward to the Indian Professional League starting on the 17th of April. You are probably in the process of making plans to catch all the exciting action – both live and televised. You will probably end up spending decent moolah on the twenty-20 extravaganza.

But before you get wallet –happy, remember that every penny that you spend on the IPL, every minute of IPL action that you catch on the TV, every cheer that you raise and every comment that you make on the internet will only go a long way towards making the BCCI an even more inefficient and corrupt creature than what it already is.

The money spent on buying anything from a match ticket to a team jersey, a player card or a bottle of water in the stadium will directly or indirectly end up in the secret vaults of the cricket board. The greedy BCCI controls every revenue source in the IPL and has ensured a gazillion dollar profit for itself long before even a ball has been bowled. It owns the TV rights, the sponsorship rights, the media rights and whatever else that could be sold. And all this after the franchisees coughed up a hundred million dollars each to swell BCCI’s already over-flowing coffers.

Mr Modi has not yet announced how this massive loot will be spent. Although, when he decides to do so, he will predictably wax rhetoric about developing cricket infrastructure and promoting the game at the grass-roots level. So why has the BCCI waited for so long to start doing it. They were loaded with cash long before the IPL happened and haven’t done a lot about the cricket infrastructure and promotion of the game in this country. The money will simply go where it’s been going all this while – into the pockets of the BCCI functionaries and their cronies in the state cricket associations. So, all of you planning to make a huge success of the IPL; remember that you are letting the crooks of the BCCI put their dirty hands in your pockets while you are engrossed in the cricket action.

All over the world the professional leagues are run independently of the game’s governing body. There is a separate governing body to run basketball in the US and a different one (usually a set of appointed professionals) to manage the affairs of the NBA. For all the good things Mr Modi picked up from the NBA, the EPL and the MLB, he chose to conveniently ignore the need for a separate professional body to manage the IPL. There is no need for one when you have the eminently capable team of the BCCI. And anyways they have enough spare time on their hands to run ten leagues forget one measly IPL. After all, the job description of a BCCI official is just restricted to attending a hundred selection meetings and counting money. And that is in addition to their day job of being a politician or whatever that gives them enough scope for corruption and inefficiency. The IPL money is their bonus for the terrific job they have done in their multiple roles. So go splurge on the IPL to ensure that all the great men of the BCCI are rewarded sufficiently.

Now that the IPL is here, please do not waste your time following the ICL. After all it’s just a poor country cousin. All the big stars are in the IPL. What does the ICL have? Who cares if the biggest stars for the title-wining Hyderabad Heroes were a forgotten Pakistani and 3 unknown Indians? We want stars. We don’t have time for the likes of Stuart Binny, Ambati Rayudu and Indra Shekhar Reddy. We are not interested in knowing that these unknown fellas more than managed to hold their own against the best of the international talent in the ICL. Even though we are perplexed as to how come they were never in any kind of national reckoning; not even for A tours or challenger trophies, we will not blame the state cricket associations for nepotism. Everyone deserves an equal chance to play. We cannot discriminate on the basis of talent and performance. And anyways, bad selection policies are a small price to pay for the great job the associations have done in electing the members of the BCCI. That the ICL players were so frustrated with the shambolic policies of their state boards, that they didn’t think twice about joining the rebel league and face an international ban is a matter that has been blown out of proportion.

We are not bothered about the pathetic state of the domestic game and the good that the ICL has done for domestic players. There is no need to promote the domestic game by making first-class cricket a financially viable career option. A competitive and exciting domestic structure will take some of the attention away from our national stars and probably deprive them of some of their endorsement money. Additionally, it will bring too much media attention on the state selectors and hinder them from doing their jobs well. And having too many good players competing for just 11 places will add to the headache of our poor national selectors. We should not take unfair advantage of the large talent pool we have. After all we have a larger population and the game is far more popular here. The BCCI is right in banning the ICL and ensuring that we are stuck in mediocrity. All of you ignoring the ICL and supporting the IPL will surely help the BCCI achieve this mission.

Iam a fool and a dreamer. I don’t want the poor BCCI officials to make some extra money on the side. Iam biased against politicians running the game. I yearn for a great domestic structure. I prefer an Indian MNC over a state run PSU. I support the ICL and not the IPL.

If you are also a fool, then please pass this on to other fools you know.


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