Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Davis Cup Tennis: India fails to Regain World Group Berth

A thrilling 3-2 win against Uzbekistan earlier this year had rekindled a hope that India would win its play-off encounter and book its place in prestigious World Group of Davis Cup. But the play-off encounter against Romania a few days ago was a disaster. Meek surrender by India’s singles players resulted in 1-4 bashing. An easy win by seasoned doubles pair of Paes and Bhupati was the lone saving grace.
India last played in elite World Group in 1998. Since then it is languishing in he Asia-Oceania group. With lack of top quality singles players being quite apparent, India’s re-entry in the world group looks improbable at least in the near future.
India in fact has the distinction of being three time runner up of the Davis Cup. In 1966, Ramnathan Krishnan led India to the finals before being beaten by Australia, a powerful Tennis nation then. In 1974, Amritraj brothers were at the height of their form, and would almost certainly have won the finals against South Africa, but for Indian government’s decision to forfeit the tie to condemn the countries apartheid policy. In 1987, Vijay had teamed with Ramesh Krishnan to surprise mighty Australia in semifinals only to be squarely beaten by Sweden consisting of the likes of Edberg and Wilander in their ranks.
India never had players who ranked in top twenties. Yet, it always fared splendidly in Davis Cup. The main reason behind India’s impressive record was that India always had at least one player capable of surprising even the best of players in a Davis cup match. The Krishnans, Amritraj brothers and even Paes early in his career has pulled off stunning upsets in Davis Cup matches. Sadly, Paes neglected his singles play as he started tasting success in doubles tournaments in the company of Bhupati.. His doubles career started flourishing in 1998 coinciding with India’s failure to make it to world group.
India’s current crop of players representing the country, (Bopanna, Prakash Amritraj, Somdev Deoburman) all are ranked above 250 in the world. Moreover, they don’t seem to have the passion to fight it out for the country. Add to that the fact that Lee-Hesh duo are in the twilight of their career. That leads one to sadly conclude that India’s entry in elite group is far away.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ganguly axed. Who is Next?

Recent exclusion of Saurav Ganguly from the Rest of India team for Irani trophy match (against Ranji champions Delhi), has received mixed reactions. Since Australian team is scheduled to visit India early next month for a Test series, the Irani trophy contest has obviously assumed lot of importance, and his omission virtually indicates that the former captain will not be in the test team.

While some critics have justified his omission, some others have wondered why only Ganguly has been singled out when performance of the others in Fab Four gang has been equally pedestrian by their standards. The comparative figures of performances of Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman do underline this fact.
Fab Four since Jan 1, 2007
Name Matches Runs Average 100 50
Dravid 19 1148 35.87 2 6
Tendulkar 16 1287 49.50 4 7
Ganguly 19 1565 46.02 3 8
Laxman 17 1136 47.33 2 8

While looking at the above statistics, we have to take these facts in account: Tendulkar’s four centuries include two against Bangladesh, Ganguly hit one against Bangladesh and two against a lackluster Pakistan ( even Lahore Badshahs team in ICL was stronger than Shoib Malik’s official Pakistan team!) Dravid also helped himself to one in Bangladesh tour immediately after world cup debacle and then crawled his way to another at Chennai when Sehwag was blistering away against South Africa.

Collective failure of all of them against Sri Lanka was most appalling. More than the figures, the qualitative decline in their Cricket was clearly visible. One did not get to see the fighting Dravid, or an attacking Tendulkar. Nor did we see neither an exquisite Ganguly nor a fluent Laxman we are used to. The age is clearly catching on them. The question is - why do these greats refuse to accept this fact?

So, to me, why Ganguly, why not Dravid first? This debate is meaningless. Somebody is going to be the next. These four are all time masters of Indian Cricket. Indian Cricket lovers have great affection and respect for them. Hence, instead of facing the ignominy of being sacked, they should retire. One question comes to my mind. If Warne or McGrath voluntarily retire when on peak of their form why don’t Dravid, Tendulkar, ganguly or Laxman do so in spite of being woefully short of their best?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Should Dhoni be made Captain of India’s Test Cricket Team Too?

Mahendrasingh Dhoni’s string of successes as the captain of India’s ODI and T-20 team has won him many admirers. He was awarded this year’s Khel Ratna Award. Team’s South African Coach Gary Kirsten is the latest addition. Recently Kirsten has remarked that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is ready for Test captaincy as well.
Dhoni’s influential role in guiding the team to series win over Sri Lanka is in sharp contrast to the Test team’s dismal performance under Anil Kumble whose lack of form with the ball coincided with remarkable run of failures from fab four (Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman). Anil Kumble did lead the side, both on and off the field, in Australia with dignity, but the result was a series loss. The limelight was stolen by Dhoni, as he became the first captain to win Tri Series down Under.
Kumble’s appointment was always going to be a stop gap arrangement in the situation arising out of Dravid’s resignation and Sachin’s reluctance to take over. His leadership is quite similar to his personality. Though he is one of the greatest cricketers, he certainly lacks the exuberance, flamboyance needed for a leader.
So Kirsten and many others have a reason to feel that Dhoni be given Test Captaincy. But we can’t forget that Dhoni’s success in T-20 world Cup, Tri series in Australia and recent series victory in Sri Lanka, all have been achieved by team that didn’t feature any of the fab four, and they, as of now, are permanent feature of Test team. So if Dhoni is made the captain of the team containing these underperforming superstars, who sadly are past their prime, will he be able to lead the side to victory against Ricky Ponting who is still smarting from the reversals earlier this year?
India’s recent ODI and T-20 feats have been achieved by a young middle order batting line-up comprising of Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj, Uthappa, and Badrinath. All of them respond to the captain’s call who himself leads by example. None of these would feature in Test team. Sachin, Dravid and co now a days seem to back away from the challenges, as was evident in Sri Lanka when they failed to master Mendis Magic. So Dhoni in charge of the team containing at least five veterans with tired legs is certainly not a combination to challenge Aussies who are out to seek revenge. So, bring in Dhoni and phase out the past masters. The question is: Will the selectors muster enough courage to do so?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Should Politicians and Bureaucrats Control Sports Associations in India?

Recently concluded Olympics Games saw best ever performance by India, capturing 3 medals। But most of Indians are far from happy. Many critics are seen blaming politicians for the plight of Indian Sports. Even Abhinav Bindra, the lone Gold medalist in Beijing, has shown his displeasure about the sport administration in the country.

The politicians in charge of various sports associations however, are in no mood to budge। The justification and reason cited by Mr. Suresh Kalmadi, MP and President IOA for last seven years, is queer, to say the least. According to him, Sports bodies such as IOA need politicians because they are good at getting funds allocated from Sports ministry!

While it may be true, that because of their influence in the government, the political leaders can get funds, the question remains as to how much of the money is actually put into development of talent? What Mr.Kalmadi is referring to is the development of facilities for ensuing Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. Here one must remember how huge money was invested at the time of Asiad in 1982. The Indraprastha and Talkatora Stadiums now lay in very bad shape primarily because of under-utilization. For Mr. Kalmadi and others sports administration is merely attending high profile meetings and taking some ridiculous decisions which are only causing harm to sports in India.
Excellence in sports today is directly related to international clout of a nation. China understood it long ago. The world is flabbergasted by the strides made by China, but a well planned and professional approach for more than two decades has made it possible. It should indeed be an eye opener for authorities in India. Some very harsh decisions will be needed to be taken for this plight to change.

Mr. Kalmadi, Mr. Das Munshi, Mr. V K Malhotra etc, who are heading various sports associations, are all professional politicians, hence they excel in politics. But they are amateur sports administrators. No wonder they have not excelled in this role. Quite clearly, sports bodies need target oriented professionals who will be accountable. Unless that happens, India will continue to lag way behind the world super powers in sports.