Sunday, November 30, 2008

Anand and Hampi Skip Chess Olympiad, but India are not Complaining

While Vishwanathan Anand was receiving hero’s welcome on his return to home after winning World Chess Championship, Indian teams (men and women) were aiming for top ten finishes in the 38th Chess Olympiad Dresden Germany.

While Anand wanted to take time off after the recent world title match (but Kramnik, who must be just as exhausted, is playing for Russia), top ranked Indian woman Koneru Hampi too withdrew from the team because of unspecified reasons. In spite of their absence the teams fared fairly creditably. The Indian men team finished 16th while the eves had to be content with a 15th place finish.

Anand had played in the last Olympiad Turin, Italy in 2006 and had a torrid time. It was largely responsible for second seeded men team finishing at a poor 30th position. Hampi too, was there at Turin, and even though the team earned 12th spot, her performance was far from impressive.

Chess Olympiad is like a Cricket world cup. Most top players like including Kramnik, Topolav, Magnus Carlssen , Svidler, Kamsky, Short, Gelfand , Ivanchuk and others were representing their respective countries. It is therefore disappointing to see top ranked Indians giving it a miss. Anand skipping chess Olympiad is like Sachin resting himself in the World cup!

There were some plusses for India though. Mary Ann Gomes won the silver on women’s fourth board; Tania Sachdev held her own on the second board with a +2 score; and K. Sasikiran lost just one game on the top board (against Gata Kamsky), winning three, in the open section.

Then there was Jennitha Anto, this 20-year-old, Polio-Stricken girl from Tiruchi, Tamil Nadu, representing the women’s team of International Physically disabled Chess Association (IPCA). She was the only non-Russian in this five-member team. And she passed the test with flying colours, tallying eight points from 11 rounds playing on the third board.

Ninth seeded Armenia won its second straight gold medal while Israel took silver. The United States took bronze on a tiebreaker after upsetting second-seed Ukraine with a 3.5-0.5 drubbing,

In the women's section, Georgia regained the Crown. Ukraine had the consolation of winning Silver after their men’s team faltered at the last hurdle after remaining undefeated. It was a disappointing tournament for the favourites, Russia, who, top seeded in both categories, could not figure in medal list in either of them.

Indian teams could have finished better had Sandipan Chanda (men) and world junior champion Dronavalli Harika (women) fared better than they did. In fact till about fifth round, the teams were in real contention for the medals. But, nevertheless, India’s stature as an important force in international chess is increasing.

I conclude this post on a disappointing note. In spite of the stress of the world championship match, Anand’s ( and Hampi’s too) decision to skip this one is really disappointing. As G Joslin Vethakumar rightly wonders - do our top players give their best only when they play for themselves and not for the country? Is their poor performance in 2006 the main reason for their absence from this year’s event? Importantly, are they right in forsaking the country in critical tournaments such as this?

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Is Sachin Tendulkar Killing the Young Batting Talent?

In Mahabharata, the great Indian Epic, there’s this story of King Yayaati borrowing youth from his son Puru to continue enjoying all the pleasures a King of his position could command. Is Sachin too, eating into careers of promising youngsters like Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Cheteshwar Pujara etc.?

What else can be said when Sachin decides to return to play against a pedestrian England team? And look what happened? Who had to sit out the Bangalore ODI? Young Rohit Sharma, who played a very crucial Innings when India were stuttering while chasing a D/L target in the earlier match. Rohit had shown lot of promise on the trip down under and needs to be given confidence. Instead, he is being shunted in and out of the team and his position in the batting order too, is frequently being moved up and down. This may ruin his career but so what Sachin’s pile of runs will keep on increasing!

Does Indian team really need Sachin now? Frankly not – at least in ODI’s and certainly not while playing in India and most definitely not against this England side. This present ODI team has done well in last six months. In Asia cup, against Sri Lanka and half way through this series against England. All without Sachin. Even on his return, one really expected Sachin voluntarily bat down the order thereby keeping the Sehwag – Gambhir partnership, which has been very fruitful in last one year, keeping going. This much of a sacrifice was expected from the great man. But he chose not to.

In tests yes Sachin Tendulkar does have role to play for at least a year. Especially with Ganguly gone and Dravid almost certainly will go. But even in Test as well as ODI, what more really can he achieve in may be another year or so? A few more Hundreds may be. But what kind of difference it will make to his already huge stature? The records? He already hold every record in the book, which even he should know are going to be broken one day or the other. So why kep going?

Even after having achieved everything under the sun, what makes Sachin crave for more? In that Mahabharata story, Yayaati was reluctant to return youth to his son even after thousand years! Sachin too, is reluctant to call it quits even after glorious cricketing life for nearly two decades and denying promising youngsters to showcase their talent.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Australia Lose Once Again – This Time Rugby League World Cup

Readers of this blog might be surprised to see an unusual subject – Rugby - of this post. But, the result of Saturday’s Rugby League world cup final is surely one of the major upsets in 2008. And yes, here’s an Indian rejoicing over Kangaroos being floored by the Kiwi’s.

Like most of Indian sports lovers, I know very little about Rugby. I only know that there’s something called Rugby League and Rugby Union. The only reference to Rugby comes when you follow the interests of Cricketers from southern hemisphere – South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Obviously Rugby is not for Indians. It is too physical a sport for their comfort. The Indian Psyche is best suited for a leisurely sport like Cricket where even a T20 game lasting for three hours is ‘fast paced’ Forget the body tackles, even a physical contact is asking for punishment, as Gautam Gambhir learnt a hard way. But this news of All Blacks toppling hot favourites Kangaroos to win the World cup suddenly attracted my attention and there was this feeling of ‘O these bigheaded Aussies! They deserve it’
The Guardian reports that following one sided defeats of England and New Zealand in the league stages, the Aussie media was suggesting a Rest of World XIII to have a semblance of contest with the Australian team. But in the final, the Black caps really turned it on to pull off a major upset and delight to the Kiwi public.

The Kiwi public could well have a double delight had their Cricketers not let the Ricky Ponting’s men off the hook. At the end of second day’s play of the recently concluded test match in Brisbane, New Zealand clearly had upper hand. Probably Vettori and his men could not withstand ‘the victory staring in their eyes’ and in the end surrendered meekly.

This year 2008 has not been particularly good for Australian sport. Their all conquering Hockey team lost in Olympics semi final. Their Cricket team is on the verge of losing its number one status to India. Now it has lost a prestigious World Crown in Rugby. We will wait and see how this proud nation bounces back.

Friday, November 21, 2008

FedEx Develops a Snag: Tennis in 2008

International tennis season ended last week with Masters Open in Shanghai. At the same time last year, Roger Federer seemed invincible. Ardent Federer fans like me didn’t mind handing over the clay court season to Rafael Nadal. After all, the previous Wimbledon great, Pete Sampras, too never won the French Open. Even though Nadal ran very close to Roger Federer in 2007 Wimbledon finals, no one ever doubted his invincibility.
The year 2008, however, started on the wrong foot for Roger Federer. Serbian Djokivic pipped him for the Australian Grand Slam. The clay court season predictably went to Nadal. Federer on his part was sure that he would hold on to his crown at Wimbledon. But the worst came true for him as he lost an epic five setter to Nadal.
This loss really shook him to the core. To him this loss was as if his strongest bastion has fallen. Throughout the rest of the year, he could not overcome this shock. Coming close to it was his early exit in Olympics. He did win the doubles gold, but one could see his effort he was not required to put in earlier. He was clearly required to draw heavily on his reserves.
In his triumph at US open too, he seemed to carry the monkey of Wimbledon loss on his shoulders. The psychological beating was followed by injuries and fitness worries. The latter half of the year saw the rise of another Federer nemesis – Andy Murray. Even though these three musketeers, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray still hold RF in high regard, they now believe that he can be beaten. Clearly the Federer power is on the wane.
Can he make a comeback in 2009? Past masters like Borg and Edberg are putting in their theories as to what changes he should make in his game to regain top spot. It is not going to be easy though. Firstly, he has to get over the shattering feeling of loss at his ‘very own’ Wimbledon. For him this is a struggle with himself. He also needs to realize that the others are catching up with him. Again, the young brigade has an advantage of at least five years. But still, a more pragmatic and fit Roger Federer can certainly prolong his reign at the top. It remains to be seen I what frame of mind he steps on to the courts of Australian Open.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Aiming Glory at London 2012

As expected by many, the heroics of Indian athletes were duly forgotten by the Indian public as the cricketers began taking centre stage. The likes of Abhinav Bindra, Vijender and Sushil Kumar who became the darlings of Indian media and people as they won unprecedented three medals for the country and received tumultuous reception and were showered with praise and prize money. One wonders if these Olympians would have received the same ovation had the celebrity cricketers like Sachin and Dravid had not flopped badly in Sri Lanka around the same time.
This month saw some of the most glorious sporting achievements by Indian sportsmen in sports other than Cricket and yet they hardly got the attention they deserved. Vishy Anand became the undisputed world Chess Champion by beating Russian Vladimir Kramnik just recently. This surely must rank as one of the topmost accomplishments by an Indian. Yet it was overshadowed by Tendulkar becoming the highest run getter in Test Cricket.
Last week, three promising Indians fared most successfully on the world stage. Ironically their feats were hardly noticed against the emotional backdrop of Anil Kumble’s retirement. Saina Nehwal, the potential Gold medal winner in 2012 Olympics, won the World Junior Badminton crown. Nanao Singh won the Gold at world Junior Boxing championship. Gagan Narang did India proud by winning gold at the World Shooting Championship.But the media was so busy paying tributes to Anil Kumble that these feats were left to be displayed in the news trackers at the bottom of the screens of news channels!
As a matter of fact, India now has a good bunch of athletes in few sports who can be expected to fare better in forthcoming Olympics. These talented athletes desperately need backing of we Indians. We as a nation have to rally around them and boost their confidence. Avnish Anand has taken this initiative - India at London - to mobilise enthusiasm among sports loving fraternity.
It is indeed high time that India pays serious attention to Olympics as success in Olympics is now being equated to the nation's all round excellence. India's might is now being recognised internationally in many fields such as military strength, Economic development, science and technology. So why should we lag behind in sports? Let us all come together and take India to sporting glory as well. Go India Go!!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Is Anil Kumble India's Greatest Bowler?

As the Indian Cricket team enters the VCA Stadium in Nagpur tommorrow, it will be without Anil Kumble, India's most successful bowler in nearly two decades. Ever since Kumble announced his retirement a couple of days ago, glowing tributes are being paid to him by everybody. Cricket Pundits, most of whom Kumble's former colleagues have tried to put him on par with, if not ahead of, all time greats like Sachin and Kapil.
While comparing Kumble to Sachin - the specialist batsman, and Kapil - an all rounder, may be a little out of place, Kumble's exploits as a bowler can be reviewed against performance of some of the top class bowlers India has produced over the years. There is no doubt that statistically speaking Anil Kumble is the highest wicket taker and biggest natch winner. But statistics has to be linked with circumstances.
Anil Kumble's 619 wickets come in 132 tests he played during the span of eighteen years (1990 - 2008). For most part of his career, he was the lone strike bowler India had. Hence it is natural he claimed major share of wickets. In the sixties and seventies, India had services of famous spin quartet (Prasanna, Bedi, Chandra and Venkat) all of whom were match winners. Hence the spoils had to be shared by them.
India plays 10-15 test every year now. Earlier, the test matches were few and far in between. Erapalli Prasanna's career spanned for 16 years (1962-1978) in which he got only 49 tests and claimed 189 wickets. Same is the case with other spin greats. (Bedi, 13 years, 67 tests, 266 wickets), (Chandra, 15 years, 58 tests, 242 wickets). If the same amount of Cricket was played in those days as it is now, there is no doubt that all of them would have reached 600 wickets! ( List of Indian Test bowlers with most wickets )
Kumble has played in an era when India boasts of strongest ever batting line up. Prolific run scoring spree of Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman, Sehwag has contributed a large deal to Kumble's success. Prasanna, Bedi and co. on the other hand had to contend with the poor batting strength of the team. Only Gavaskar and vishwanath were the world class batsmen in the Seventies.
Cricket is a professional sport now. It is a full time profession mow. The cricketers of earlier generations were ametur sportsmen, involved in other mundane employment when away from the game. Kumble had an edge over modern fitness and training regimes which some of the earlier greats did not have.
The advent of limited overs version has also influenced test cricket. Cricket is more attacking and hence there are more opportunities to take wickets. Kumble has certainly benefited and so has Warne and Murali. Cricket has a wider following now because of live TV coverage. Hence, the exploits of the likes of Kumble have instant impact on the viewers.
This is not to take away anything from fom Kumble has achieved. All the credit to him for serving Indian Cricket for so long, and with such dignity. Statistically yes, He is the most successful bowler. Is he the greatest? I have my own reservations. What do you think? please go ahead and have your say..

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Kumble's Exit : Inevitable But Sad

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Kumble's Exit : Inevitable But Sad

All good things eventually do come to an end. The news of Kumble's retirement that was announced this afternoon during the course of final day's play at Kotla was not exactly unexpected. It was clearly a news waiting to happen. Those who followed Australia's first innings batting must have seen Kumble's exaggerated exaltation as he claimed three lower order wickets. Three tests without troubling any top order batsman had clearly alarmed him. As it turned out, he himself revealed that he had made his decision on Saturday itself!

Playing international sport for nearly two decades with great distinction is certainly not every one's cup of tea. Anil Kumble's on field achievements are extra-ordinary no doubt. But his modest and dignified off the field behaviour is what will be missed in today's age where more and more sportsmen - even Indians - are frequently in the spotlight more for their tantrums than their performances on the ground.

Ironically despite taking nearly a thousand international wickets, Kumble never got a nod of approval from the game's purists as a top class spinner. He was all the while criticised for not having classical leg spinner's attributes. But never mind he won most matches for India than the famous spin quartet in seventies.

As the one day cricket started becoming poular, a spinner was feared as endangered species, three Cricketers Warne, Kumble and Murali revived the art of spin bowling. Ironically again, Kumble is not regarded in the same breath as the other two. This is probably because the controversies surrounding the other two - On field ones around Murali and off field ones around Warne!

When great men retire they leave behind a great vacuum. Fortunately for India the void created by Kumble's departure is ready to filled in. Captaincy reigns are ready to be taken over by MS Dhoni who has already proved his leadership qualities. Kumble's legspinning legacy is well and truly rested with the likes of Amit Mishra, Piyush Chawla and Chaitanya Nanda. Having said that, it is hard to find a person with the same integrity, same application and same fierece competitive spirit as Anil Kumble brought to Indian dressing room. A sad day for Indian Cricket indeed!