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WANTED! September 1, 2006

Posted by Abhishek in Abhishek, Tennis.
4 comments

A partner to accompany me from love to game-set-match.

Age no bar. Sex no bar(though female preferred). Should be from a good family with a pure sports background. Should not be married to other tennis stars and major requirement is a deep desire to watch Martina Hingis in action. A flexible attitude towards Sania Mirza is also appreciated.

So anyone mad enough to come with me to the Sunfeast Open from the 18th to the 24th of September to Kolkata, please contact me asap at: cheerfulguy AT gmail.

Thank you. And see you at the reception. Its going to be raucous.

This is a hair-pun-free zone August 25, 2006

Posted by ramanand in Cricket, Ramanand.
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Man, what a mess. A bunch of babies in their nappies could hardly have made a bigger mess. And given that we have “top” legal teams in the fray (isn’t the fact that these lawyers already boast of a sterling track record in football and tennis litigation an indication of the state of modern sport?), the stink raised can only complement the bawling of journos and former players all over. With babies at least, you can change their diapers and give them a wash.

In particular, the volume has been the highest in the chatter from England, Australia and Pakistan. Pakistan has already declared Darrell Hair some kind of slimy monster (the “Go Back” poster in the linked article is hilarious, given that he is at home in England and suggests that the sub-contintental cottage industry of protest material is thriving), producing this wonderfully absurd comparison between Hair and a toothbrush moustache by Hairy, sorry, Harry Pearson. In England, the controversy has, in its wake, triggered off a rash of hirsute puns. This has become so infectious that no phrase remotely related to a bunch of dead cells is safe from writers. (I have had to be so vigilant in avoiding this fever that it has left me eyeing relatives of rabbits instead of whiskets to raise and pull out). A majority of English commentators have been in favour of Haq’s haqs. This in turn has brought down upon them, the collective ire of the Aussies, who say that Woolmer’s past form is as good as a prize horse in matters of tampering and attacking the English hacks for cooing for Pakistani haqs.

As a neutral, I must say I have greatly enjoyed the spate of wonderfully opinionated writing that has been suddenly unleashed. Every position on the three sides of the fence has been taken and attacked. I loved this bit by John Stern of The Wisden Cricketer:

But back to the Oval. I’m wondering how this issue will come to be labelled by cricket history. It doesn’t seem to have a ready tag. ‘Bad Hair Day’ makes a nice headline but is more of a judgment than a description;

and

So now we know why the ICC moved to Dubai: they needed more sand to stick their heads in.

Reactions from the Aussie press and ex-players has been unanimous. Perhaps this can be ascribed to the fact that since last year, we have been in the middle of one long war stretching from side to side of the Equator: a war that never really went away, but simply simmered, and is just starting to prepare for one long boil that will climax pretty soon. Meanwhile, the Aussie cricketers rough it out in their “jungle camp” as the dogfight resumes in London.

The South Africans left Sri Lanka because of security concerns. I hope someone will soon ask: Is it now safe to play cricket anywhere?

[Sorry for all the bad pun-ditry. It’s a hair-pun-free zone now. Starting now.]

Wanted: A Duellist August 6, 2006

Posted by ramanand in Ramanand, Tennis.
13 comments

In the days before Indian cricket team selectors could toss aside last year’s medium-pacers like they would banana peel, the constant refrain used to be: “Can’t a nation of close to a billion produce at least one medium/fast bowler?”. The crop of Munaf and VRV may have pushed the focus to different problems, but we can borrow the lament and apply it thus: “Can’t a globe that has tens of thousands of tennis players produce a player who can challenge Roger Federer?”

Almost everyone I know who follows tennis stopped back and stayed by a television screen because two players were engaged in elegant battle; not just in a single tournament, but over many seasons. Tennis has never needed any better advertisement (especially before smartly attired young Russians whose names ended in “-ova” started to appear on billboards). For my generation, the recent legends of Borg and McEnroe were replayed in the battles of Lendl-Becker, Becker-Edberg and then ultimately Sampras-Agassi. Since these also featured a stellar support cast of Connors, Wilander, Ivanisevic, Rafter, and Courier, tennis was not a collection of ‘breadsticks’ and ‘doughnuts’ as it threatened to be in the last couple of years of “The Rogera”.

Roger Federer, out of nowhere, has installed himself (and with poise) as the definitive player of his eneration – a fact that no one even wants to start disputing. Such unanimity amongst both watchers and critics is as rare as Federer getting beaten on grass. So much so, that despite our affection for the Swiss, we will grasp at any straws, even if they come from a clay-filled, grass-less surface.

Rafael Nadal has provided it to us in the last 14 months. The attachment of the suffix “-ever” to some glorious epithets before Federer’s name awaits victory at Roland Garros, preferably with Nadal to greet him from the other end. But with Nadal’s astonishing ascent to the finals of Wimbledon (which even the kindest of critics will point to his easy draw, earned by his ranking from the clay-court spoils), we are in danger of getting too excited about this “rivalry”.

Perhaps the US Open will give us a good idea as to where Nadal stands. Those hands that rubbed in glee anticipating a long run of Roddick-Federer clashes have been thrust deep into pockets. Does Nadal really promise to be the only spell, mental or physical, against a man who would probably have been burnt for being a warlock in less englightened times? This time we’ll wait and watch.

Update:

Rajk points me to this unbelievable Federer moment. You may not believe it even after you see it. Andy Roddick didn’t seem to.

The usual suspects – a post mortem July 12, 2006

Posted by ramanand in Football WC, Ramanand.
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Now that drama has butted in and left, and also that it is just less than a week after, perhaps it is a good time to quickly revisit Arnold’s question on the not so glorious certainties of the WC i.e. why are most of the football WCs dominated by the same set of superpowers.

This world cup, more than any in recent times, has seen a lack of its fair share of huge upsets. Portugal, the only semi-finalist, without a WC crown cannot be compared to Croatia or South Korea in past years. So why do the same teams strut about every 4 years?

Take a look at the Czech Republic. After a stunning opening, they faltered rapidly (much to my dismay) once they had their chief strikers on the injury list. OTOH, Germany and Italy could stave off cards and crashes by sheer depth in their squad. Most of our usual suspects had great depth, perhaps not so much in world-class talent but in a decent standard and ability to replace players with ease.

Mental strength and a sense of confidence in certain situations like the penalty shootouts saw the likes of Portugal, Italy and Germany succeed. Contrast this with Switzerland. Italy is a new addition to this list after years of failing from the spot as a team. But ever since Totti’s glorious corner slot against the Aussies, they haven’t looked back.

As for the French, well, sheer memory, both muscle and mental, seemed to have pulled them through.

So go on: tell us the reasons why Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Portugal and France (now legitimate usual suspects?), and to a small extent England – a veritable Rogue’s Gallery of World Cup aspirants – were incriminating themselves again this quadrennial.

Gauls Versus the Romans July 7, 2006

Posted by samratsengupta in Football WC, Samrat, Uncategorized.
6 comments

So a World Cup final straight out of Asterix Comics. Though the French team composition reflects more of the motley collection in  the “pirate ship” of Asterix (which by the way perpetually gets sunk) rather than the Gauls. I hope I am not being racist here as Monsieur Le Pen, who commented about the French team being uncomfortably polychromatic for his eyes. 

Italians and French are culturally close, both people are supposed to be argumentative,not workaholics( being politically correct here 🙂 ), expressive in love,  they have fashion twins in Milan and Paris. France also ruled over Italy for much of the 18th and 19th century, Napoleon even designed the Italian Flag. French team is a good ad for United Colours of Benetton. The team colors and nicknames are also Blue. Azzuri( from Azure) and Les Blues. Surprisingly even Uderzo (Goscinny and Uderzo creators of Asterix) is of Italian descent, still he surprisingly champions French chauvinism in the Asterix series.

French seem to have taken a swig of Getafix potion after their tepid group display. It also lulled the other teams into a false sense of complacency.  The French attacking midfield has been a revelation, they have a perfect trio in Ribery, Zidane and Veira. Operating at a dual level with the pacy Ribery and the languid and composed Zidane, with Viera adding the robustness. Opponents cannot gauge at what speed the French will attack, this multi-dimensional capability gives them the edge. For Zidane time slows down, he has so much time at his disposal( similar to Federer), though he is past his peak still he is one of the best midfield operators in business The only bad egg in the french basket is the egg-head Barthez, his blunders may sink the French ship.

The Romans are also well-organized as ever. The Italian team has the right blend of youth and experience. The icons Totti and Del Piero would also be as determined as Zidane as it is their “Last Supper” also. The hit men Luca Brasi(Toni) and Gilardino are sharp. Pirlo and Camoranesi add to the flair. Defence is impregnable with Cannavaro being the marshal, Nesta’s return would bolster it further. Gattuso is the wild cannon in the middle to thwart attacks. But most reassuring is the imposing figure of Buffon in goal.

Italians have the twelve year cycle in WC 70 (RU),82 (W),94(RU),06(W?) . But the French coach Domenech with Linda Goodman and MM Joshi as advisors, would have something in store to counter this.

Overall I expect a thrilling WC final, the best since 1986.  

Spiku July 4, 2006

Posted by Abhishek in Abhishek, Football WC.
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Here’s my attempt at Sports haiku or spiku. Yes, yes it does not exist, I know, but hell, even Spamku did not exist at one time.

And then the four saw
Sternly eye to eye,
Leaving just twenty-two.

Advantage Paes-Mirza? July 2, 2006

Posted by Arnold in Arnold, Tennis.
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How many of you’ll think that Leander Paes (or maybe Mahesh Bhutpathi) and Sania Mirza should pair up in the Mixed Doubles?

And how many of you’ll think they will?

WC Musings June 30, 2006

Posted by samratsengupta in Football WC, Samrat.
3 comments

World cup excitement this time has percolated down even to the mainstream media, the airtime and print columns dedicated to soccer this month is unprecedented, I feel it is almost equivalent to that given for the cricket WC.

This has brought football popularity out in the open. Hopefully this would popularize football even more, attract sponsors and lead to some tangible improvement in the local infrastructure and standards. Enough daydreaming.

The new offside rule has caused lots of heartburn for many teams, but I think the rule is a positive move, otherwise most of the defences had perfected the offside traps, now they have something more to think of. I get really irritated to see numerous offside whistles, it breaks the rhythm of the game. Was really surprised to see the African teams playing a high defence line, and getting caught many times by forwards breaking the offside trap. The African teams are not known for their tactical nous, so such trap implementations do not come easily to them, and I feel they should not deploy such tactics. They should rely more on their natural strengths. Play man-to-man or zonal defences. The Ghanian defender John Mensah really impressed me, reminded me of Marcel Desailly in his peak. He got an appropriate moniker of the “Rock Of Gibraltar”.

The Germany Argentina match has all the ingredients of being a classic and I am sure we would not be disappointed and I believe the winner of this match is going to take home the cup.

England surely lack the passion, their players look somewhat flat, and have belied the pre-tournament optimism about them. Portugal has been a revelation , they seem to be the hungriest of all teams to win. Though it seemed the same with Spain and Holland , but unfortunately got knocked out.

Most surprising was that all the previous winners who participated in this edition have qualified for the QFs. My friend Arnold would be pretty pleased that his point of view has been vindicated https://sillypoint.wordpress.com/2006/05/31/the-not-so-glorious-certainties-of-football/

and we can safely say that the winners would be among them, considering a weak Ukraine and a sub-staffed Portugal.

My only wish is that Samba’s cute butt gets kicked and they do not walk away as the winner. French geriatrics or Portuguese streetfighters/English Flat beers, seem to have an uphill task though.

Worried about England? June 29, 2006

Posted by Abhishek in Abhishek, Football WC.
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Here is something to mull over. Nicely detailed and wickedly British.
Meanwhile, some Robbo picks of the day :

[…] enjoy the Valentin Ivanov show, featuring brief guest appearances from Portugal and Holland.

(About Ronaldo) A goal for every stone.

[..] the Azzurri don’t even have to work to close the match out – which of course delights Francesco Totti – the biggest and laziest jessie in the tournament. The only decent pass he’s played so far is in that Pringles ad.

I haven’t seen so many shimmies, hip-wiggles and step-overs in ages – Cole, Ronaldo (the slim one), Robinho, Tevez, Robben – all look like they’re auditioning for Celebrity Strictly Come Dancing.

Read the whole thing. 

Indian Cricket: Back to negative tactics? June 28, 2006

Posted by Aniket in Aniket, Cricket.
3 comments

Since it’s inception in the 1930s, Indian cricket has always been known for it’s negative tactics. The sole aim was not to lose test matches . A draw was considered to be almost as good as a victory. Indians always played to save the test, right from day one. And if playing abroad, a draw was the equivalent of a victory. After all, how can you expect Indians to win abroad? That would be such an abuse of the hospitality of the host team. Such digression was unacceptable from the ‘gentlemanly’ Indian cricketers. And it was this negativity that took us 20 years to win our first test & 15 more to win our first test abroad.
Indian test captains were always known for their negative approach to the game. Right from Merchant, who introduced this approach to both Bombay & Indian cricket, followed by Hazare, Mankad, Borde, Wadekar, Bedi, Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and a few more. It is no surprise that the last two in this list hold the record for most number of draws as captain. In between, Tiger Pataudi came as a breath of fresh air with his positive attitude towards the game. But normal service was resumed right after his retirement and Indian cricket went back to the boredom of negative cricket. Even 5 match series’ would end 0-0 and 14 tests between India and Pakistan during the 70s and 80s produced no result.
All this seemed to change with the appointment of Sourav Ganguly as the captain of the Indian cricket team. He, along with John Wright, seemed to change the team’s attitude towards cricket. Swashbuckling players like Yuvraj Singh & Virender Sehwag found a place in the test team, something which was unthinkable in the past. Attacking bowlers like Harbhajan Singh got much needed support from the attacking tactics of Ganguly. No wonder that in a 5 year span as captain of India, he led India to more test victories than anyone before him. His outspoken tactics totally changed the face of Indian cricket and overseas test victories in Australia, England, West Indies & Pakistan proved that Indians were no more lions at home and chickens abroad. But his batting deteriorated & soon came the time when the selectors felt that he could contribute no more to Indian cricket and dropped him from the team, leaving the captaincy in the hands of Rahul Dravid. The board also appointed the brash and outspoken Greg Chappell as coach in place of John Wright and it was believed that he would ensure that the aggressive streak brought into the team by Ganguly would not die. Unfortunately it has. And the test series in the Carribean is a sorry reminder of this grim reality.
In the first test, India was on the back foot after conceding a huge lead. But a timely second innings fightback gave the Indians a great chance of victory. However, they failed to bundle out the West Indies’ tail and the match was drawn. They held the upper hand for most of the second test but the weather ensured that the match ended in a draw, though one gets the feeling that if someone like Waugh was captain, he would have seen the weather forecast and might even have declared early. But that didn’t happen and the series was still 0-0 when the third test began. The Windies dominated the 3rd test right from the beginning but a sporting declaration from Brian Lara gave the Indians an attainable target of 392 and a result seemed likely.
The hardest part of such run-chases is getting off to a good start. The Indians had a great start, thanks to a century partnership between Sehwag & Jaffer who took India to lunch with all ten wickets in hand. Sehwag departed immediately after luch but the arrival of Laxman at no. 3 showed that the Indians were going for the win. The arrival of Dravid didn’t slow the innings much and at tea, with India at 200 for 2, a victory seemed probable. The fall of Laxman brought Dhoni to the wicket which showed that the Indians meant business. And a six from Dhoni off the first ball he faced made this clear. But what happened after that was totally incomprehensible to say the least. Dravid withdrew into his shell and left the task of scoring to Dhoni. The singles dried up and the asking rate which was a gettable 6 during Laxman’s stay at the crease suddenly rose to above 7. Then Dhoni was dismissed and the Great Indian Run Chase came to a grinding halt, despite the fact that India’s two best One-day players, Yuvraj & Kaif, were yet to come. India (read Dravid) decided to go in for the draw when the only two possible results were either an Indian victory or a draw. A Windies victory was very unlikely, after all Harbhajan Singh & Kumble are no mugs with the bat and Dravid was still at the crease. But Dravid decided to be satisfied with a draw . What hurt most was not the fact that the match was drawn, indeed a win was never a total certainty, but the Indian approach & the time at which the Indians gave in and settled for a draw. This was just another proof of Dravid’s negative approach to captaincy which was evident throughout the series.
Hard questions have to be asked now. Has India gone back to square one? What has the aggressive and hard-talking Chappell contributed if India still settles for a draw from a winning position? And is Dravid, with his negative mindset, both while batting and captaining, the right choice as captain? Indeed it wouldn’t be too harsh to say that it was his batting that cost us the game. These questions have to be answered right now. We might go on to win the last test & then all this will be forgotten. But these questions will soon arise again, and Indian cricket cannot go ahead without providing a satisfactory answer to them.