Friday, October 31, 2008

Tale of Two Coaches : Lawson Sacked by Pakistan, Maradona Appointed by Argentina

Apparently, there is nothing similar between Geoff Lawson and Diego Maradona. But, the recent developments involving these men have a stigma of desperateness around them. Earlier this week, the Pakistan Cricket Board hurriedly decided to remove Lawson from his post of Head coach of Pakistan Cricket team. And since yesterday, the news of Maradona being made Head Coach of Argentina's national soccer team is making rounds.
Lawson played as a fast bowler for Australia in eighties with moderate success ( 180 wickets in 46 tests ). But the PCB thought him fit to be their national coach after the turmoil that followed Bob Woolmer's mysterious death during the world cup in 2007. Maradona on the other hand, is a living football legend. He led the Argentine national team to world cup victory in 1986 and took the team to finals of 1990 world cup. But his unceremonious exit from the football scene resulted from his affair with drugs related abuses that literally pushed him to the brink of death on more than one occasions. All of a sudden we find him again on the centerstage as he is entrusted the task to guide Argentina to 2010 world cup in South Africa.
One can't but feel sorry for Lawson. One can understand if the coach is sacked if the team does badly under him. In Lawson's case the Pakistani team hardly played any cricket in the last 15 months (Lawson's tenure as coach). The unstable political scenario and terror attacks in Pakistan meant that no foreign team visited Pakistan. The team had only 5 tests against the minnows and to add to the woes, team's star performers Shoaib and Md.Asif got in drug tangles. New government means new cricket set up in Pakistan. Miandad, reportedly close to the new dispensation in Islamabad is tipped to take over as coach for fourth time. Lawson sadly had to make way for him.
For Football crazy Argentine public, Maradona is god. They adore him despite his erratic behaviour and drug related offences. But even the ardent Maradona fans must have been shocked to know about his appointment as coach. There is no doubt about the footballing skills of Maradona. One feels that this move is a high risk one as Argentina are lagging on the third position in the qualification round for the world cup and Maradona has virtually no experience of coaching. Will his skills as a player be sufficient to see Argentina through to South Africa? For a man who could not manage his own affairs properly, it will be a huge ask to lead the second most soccer-passionate country.

The football federation of Argentina seems to be hoping that the same Hand of god that won them their last world cup comes to their rescue. It seems to an inspired move to appoint Maradona, but it will be nothing short of miracle if he indeed succeeds!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is the Captain as good as the Team OR Does a better Captain bring Best Out of the Team?

Even as the Indian Cricket crazy public is rejoicing over the Indian team's thumping victory over the Aussies in Mohali Test, the Selection committee headed by K.Srikanth must be having sleepless nights. They must be hoping that Anil Kumble doesn't get fit for the upcoming test matches and the selection committee is saved from the dilemma over the team combination as well as captaincy.
The success of MS Dhoni in the role of stand-in captain brings us to this question. Is the Captain as good as the Team OR Does a better Captain bring Best Out of the Team? Kumble is India's test captain for the last four series. Under him, the team could not put it across a below par Pakistan team. He did display statesmanlike qualities in tumultuous Autralia tour earlier this year, but could not win the series for India. India did win the rubber against South Africa on the basis of win in one test in which he was injured and Dhoni stood as captain. The team's performance was extremely dismal in Sri Lanka just a few months ago. Even in the first test against the Aussies, the team had barely scraped through to a face saving draw.
It is hard to believe that the same team with nearly the same combination played last week. Only thing that was different was the team had a different captain. Does the captain make such a difference to the team's fortunes? Cricket critics always use this adage : Captain is as good as the team. Is it really so?
Take Saurav Ganguly. the team that he inherited was no different from the team captained by Sachin Tendulkar. When it comes to Cricketing brain and intelligence, Tendulkar is no less that Ganguly. Yet the fact remains that while Sachin failed miserably as a captain, Ganguly is regarded as one of the best. So also Kapil's world cup winning team was not much different from the one that lost badly to Pakistan.
Elsewhere too, such examples of losing teams suddenly performing better under exceptional captains can be seen. Mike Brearly's legendary leadership skills are well documented. England's dramatic turnaround under Kevin Pieterson is the latest instance. Like the basic cricket skills, batting, bowling and fielding, the captaincy is also a specialised skill that everybody cannot possess. Hence Indian Board's policy to appoint the senior most player as the captain makes little sense. Dhoni has shown time and again that he has a natural flair for captaincy. So the selectors sould come out of their dilemma and pass on the captaincy mantle to him.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sachin Tendulkar and Vishwanathan Anand | Interesting Parallels

It is not often that two Indians attract sporting headlines internationally on the same day. October 17, 2008 is one such rare day when two of the greatest sportspersons India has produced, Sachin Tendulkar and Vishwanathan Anand both grabbed international attention by fantastic performances. As Sachin went past Brian Lara's record to become highest run-getter in Test Cricket, Anand today drew first blood in World Chess championship match now going on in Germany by spectacularly beating Vladimir Kramnik.

I find very interesting similarities in Sachin and Anand. First and foremost, both are the most dignified ambassadors for India. In their long careers spanning almost decades, both are widely respected even by the opponents for their humility and dedication towards their profession. Both of them hail from a typical Indian middle class background. They acknowledge huge role of their family members in their success.

Their careers began almost simultaneously. Anand became World Junior chess champion in 1987 while Sachin made his international debut in 1989 with promising show against strong Pakistani team. Anand's undisputed proficiency in Rapid and Blindfold Chess is equivalent to Sachin's exploits in limited over edition (ODI) of Cricket. In his illustrious career, Anand has won every honour in the field of International Chess and is widely regarded as the most complete Chess player. Sachin too, is unequivocally regarded as the best batsman in the world today.

Both Anand and Sachin are the face of India in the post liberalisation world. They epitomise the confident and aggressive new generation. Both have inspired many youngsters to follow their footsteps. Anand became India's first Grandmaster. Today India has a battery of Grandmasters and is recognised as Chess Superpower. Cricket, on the other hand had already captured the imagination of Indians with world Cup victory in 1983. But Sachin has led Indian Cricket to Golden age. Indian Cricket today rules the world.

Ironically, both these Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award winners, because of their soft and dignified nature seem to give impression that they lack that killer instinct to deliver the knock out punch at the most crucial moment. While Anand fans were hugely disappointed when he lost to Kasparov in World Challenge Final in 1995, Sachin let India down in 2003 world cup final against Australia.

Both of them were in similar situation as they went into their current assignment. Sachin had a disastrous tour of Sri Lanka just before the ongoing series. Anand too was at his worst in the Bilbao tournament just a month ago. But today both came into their own and displayed their old brilliance. Today Sachin is on top of the world. Anand too with today's brilliant victory is well and truly on course to become the undisputed World Champion. All the Indians are proud of their most beloved sporting heroes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Why is India-Australia rivalry bigger than Ashes?

First Cricket test between India and Australia got underway today at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. Gripping tussle between the two teams for gaining upper hand at the end of first day's play has given enough indications of the fierce battle which going to be fought over the next one month.
Till the Nineties, India used to get very little opportunities to play against the Aussies. It is only after the 1996 world cup that Australian Cricket board started engaging Indian teams more frequently. The fact that BCCI started to emerge as the money spinner in world cricket surely is one of the reasons. Earlier, the Indian team used to get barely one series in a decade against Australia. But, the current series is 8th time India and Australia are battling it out for Border-Gavaskar Trophy since 1996.
Australia have largely dominated in the history of world cricket although there have been intermittent spells of other nations enjoying supremacy. Like West Indies in the seventies and South Africans for a brief period in late sixties. In last twenty years though, successive Australian teams have built an aura of invincibility around themselves.
After the Packer era, the Australian team was at the lowest ebb with simultaneous retirements of Chappell brothers, pace duo of Lillee and Thomson and Rodney Marsh. The team rebuilding exercise started under Allan border and a seemingly unending stream of talented Cricketers like Mark Taylor, Waugh brothers, Ponting, Warne and McGrath made Australian outfit the best in the world.
Add to this the fact that other teams around the world lacked the quality to match them. West Indies has slowly faded away with Walsh and Ambrose being their last world class performers. English teams lacked the quality of Botham, Willis and Gower although Michel Vaughan pulled off an inspired upset in 2005 Ashes series. Pakistanis always are too unpredictable to combat team like Aussies. Moreover with Akram and Waqar gone it has been reduced to toothless tiger.
The only team that has dared to have an eyeball to eyeball contact with the Aussies has been India. Australians are known to resort to sledging to soften up the opposition players, but continue to brag about their spirit of the game. Indians started replying first by their on field performances and of late by matching them in verbal duals. One can trace the roots of India-Australia rivalry back to 1981-82 series in which Sandip Patil hammered Lilee, Thommo and Poscoe to all parts of WACA and then injured Kapil, having painkiller injections to bowl, skittled mighty Kangaroo batting line up inside hundred to pull off a dramatic win.
The all conquering Aussie team of Nineties could not master Indian pitches. The likes of Warne, McGrath, Waugh brothers could get very little success. So much so that the visuals of Sachin Tendulkar hoisting him out of the ground started haunting Shane Warne. Ricky Ponting’s pathetic run of scores in India is well known (He has put the record straight today though!)
What pinched the Australians most was the famous Calcutta test defeat in 2001. The Indians broke their record winning streak even after following on after more than 300 runs in deficit in the first innings. New Heroes in the form of Harbhajan, Dravid and Laxman emerged for India. Steve Waugh’s desire to conquer the ‘final frontier’ remained unfulfilled. In fact, Waugh barely escaped with a draw against India (2003-04) in his last series at home.
Even though the Aussies did manage to beat India in India in 2005, India’s return visit earlier this year has proved to one of the most controversial series in the history of test cricket. The ugly incidences involving Symonds, Harbhajan and Hayden, Kumble’s allegation that Aussies violated spirit of the game, BCCI using its financial clout to get the umpire removed. All this along with the fact that India once again broke its winning streak of 16 tests and convincingly winning tri-series has humiliated the Aussie players and they are out to avenge their humiliation.
Indian team on the other hand is facing a period of transition. The last decade has been a golden era for Indian Cricket both in terms of its financial importance and the quality of Cricketers. Four world class middle order batsmen ( Dravid, Sachin, Layman and Ganguly ), a most explosive opener ( Sehwag ), two world class spinners ( Kumble and Harbhajan ) – so many superstars playing together is a rarity. But the senior pros are at the twilight of their glittering career. Hence it is only natural that they want to go out on high. What better occasion to have their swansong than beating Australia in their last assignment?
With both teams having huge incentives to do their best, at least the series is surely bigger than the Ashes. The entire cricketing world is keen to know which one come on top. Let us enjoy enthralling Cricket over the next one month. May the best team win!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Selector Krish Shrikanth’s Defensive Stroke: India Fields the Same Old Battalion against the Aussies

Kris Shrikanth was known for his swashbuckling approach and the way he used to throw caution to wind while batting for India in the Eighties. He has, however, started is innings as Indian selector on a very sedate note. The newly appointed selection committee headed by him took a conservative approach while picking the team to play against Aussies. Almost entire test squad that lost to Sri Lanka has been selected for first two tests.

Indian team’s lethargic performance against Sri Lanka a few days ago was largely attributed to the combined failure of ageing seniors. The selectors had dropped a hint by omitting Ganguly from Irani trophy squad. The Ganguly supporters, who had made strong protests when he was earlier dropped in 2006, were not so agitated this time. On the other hand, there was a question raised in some quarters: Why only Ganguly? Why not others? The outgoing Chairman of selectors, Dilip Vengsarkar had clearly stated that Ganguly was dropped on the grounds of form and fitness.

Nothing has happened since Sri Lanka tour that warrants recall to Ganguly. He hasn’t played any first class match since then. True, the contenders for his place – Badrinath, Kaif didn’t do well in lead up games. But either them or Suresh Raina or Rohit Sharma should have been given chance. That would have been a step towards building team for future. Ganguly’s recall is surely a backward step. There is this talk of BCCI’s VRS scheme for the seniors. But this gesture could well cost India the series as the Aussies led by Ricky Ponting are in the mood to avenge their defeat earlier this year.