Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bhajji Gets Padmashree for 'Boxing'!

Harbhajan Singh won this year's Padmashri honour ahead of Olympics medalist Vijendar and world Cup star Akhil kumar - apparently for the 'Knock Out' punch that he delivered to floor ShreeSanth in full public view in an IPL match. His 'doosari' skills apparently impressed the powers in the government to confer this prestigious award on the maverick spinner. Sadly, the likes of Vijendar, sushil and Akhil don't have the Cricketing 'sledging' skills to be eligible for these awards!
Padma awards and Bravery awards announced on the eve of Republic Day every year invariably invite controversies because of inclusion or exclusion of certain names. Angry reactions have been seen over the omission of one of the Security officials, killed in the midst of terrorist attack on Mumbai, from Ashok chakra awardees. Equally baffling is the absence of Olympic medalists from the Padma awardees list.

In a country where sporting achievements of international standard are very few and far in between, winning an Olympic medal is a rarest of rare occasion. Even though negligible compared to china, Indian athletes winning three medals at Beijing Olympics is a historic milestone not only for Indian sport but for Indian society. Hence, if even after doing the country proud in an event participated by more than 200 countries, they are ignored by the government and society, Vijendar and sushil Kumar have every reason to feel hurt.

Non Cricketing athletes always complain that they are overlooked at the expense of Cricketers. Their claim appears more justified in light of this Padma award, especially given to Bhajji. Bhajji's 'kaarname' can hardly be said to have done India proud. This is as if the governement has legitimised his frequent erratic behaviour. Padmashri is third highest civilian award. It is ironic that it is being awarded to one of the most uncivilized citizens of this country.

Should the sportsmen be included in Padma awards list? The government announces Arjuna awards and Rajiv gandhi Khelratna awards. similarly, the flim personalities are awarded national awards and Phalke Award each year. DnyaanPeeth for Literarurs. Either the awards in these individual categories should be abolished or the categories awarded individually should be excluded from the padma awards.

Meanwhile, it is learnt that Vijendar, Akhil and Co are studying Cricketers' video footage so that they can pick up a trick or two of 'sledging' which will help them figure in next year's Padmashree List!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Australia's New Warnie?

Australia's dominance over the cricket world for the past decade revolved around tremendous exploits of the greatest Spin bowler world has ever seen - Shane Warne. Incidentally, Aussie decline corresponded with Warnie's retirement. Seeing the team's dismal performances of late, every Aussie Cricket Supporter is asking - Where's next Warnie?

Well, the Aussies seem to have unearthed a new Warnie - not like the wily leg spinner, but a stocky swashbuckling opener in David Warner. Whole of Australia is looking at him with lot of optimism in the wake of string of defeats. His extraordinary display of power hitting at MCG in first T20 match was today followed by an equally astonishing exhibition of strokeplay at SCG against South Africa. Warner's inclusion in national ODI team had raised many eyebrows as he is yet to play a single first class game for NSW. People had strted calling him as One Match Wonder following his failures in first two ODI games. But how well he answered the critics today!

Warner's inclusion in national team - without playing a first class game - must be the first instance in Australia's Cricket history. Such instances are common in Subcontinental Cricketing nations. But Australian selectors had to inject fresh blood to stem the rot. The likes of Shaun Marsh, David Warner, James Hopes seem to the future of Australian Cricket.

Warner's pyrotechnics notwithstanding, Aussies are trailing in the current ODI series against SAF. Will Warner help them win from here? Without the support from a jaded middle order, it seems unlikely.

Older Warnie has a long history of erratic behaviour that includes allegations of fixing, extra marital affairs and banned drugs. This new sensation also is believed to have been thrown out of Cricket Academy because of irresponsible behaviour. One hopes and Dave Gilbert, NSW coach assures, that Warner steers himself away from the conttroversies and concentrates on hitting ball as hard as he can.

A prospect of one Warnie against another awaits Indian fans. While Shane Warne come back to lead Rajasthan Royals, David Warner has been contracted by Delhi Daredevils for the next IPL season. Daredevils aleady boast of world's best opening pair in Sehwag and Gambhir. Warner will add immensely to Delhi's fire power. It will be interesting to see green horn facing upto a wily old fox!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hockey Or Cricket: What should be India’s National sport?

Overjoyed by India’s excellent showing in International Cricket in 2008, MAK Pataudi, former India Captain, strongly advocated that Cricket be declared as India’s National Sport. Instant sharp reactions by diehard Hockey supporters, including some former Gold medal winning Olympians followed, as expected. Some of them even dared Indian Cricket team to win six world cups in a row before demanding the status!

Ironically, Leslie Claudius, former Indian Hockey legend doesn’t mind Hockey being stripped of the privilege. His words "Hockey doesn’t have future in India" echoes the disgust, frustration and grief shared by millions of Indians who care about Indian Hockey. All the former stalwarts, who take pride in India’s glorious past, literally turned blind as KPS Gill and other administrators killed the sport. None of them dared to stand up and challenge the autocratic IHF officials. State of Hockey seems to have gone down to the point of no return. So yes, why not elevate Cricket, the sport in which Indians are doing well of late to the status symbol?

India made its debut in international Cricket in 1932. By then Indian Hockey had already won its first Gold in Olympics. India could not win a single test for next two decades, while gold medal winning spree continued even after independence. The five gold medals prior to independence must have been one of the factors in proclaiming Hockey as National Sport. Strangely, Indian Hockey’s decline started in sixties as Indian Cricket just started to make its mark.

Pre-independence Cricket was controlled by Maharajas. As the administration came to the Merchants, Wankhedes and Salves, Cricket started to spread. Hockey though, disintegrated, affected particularly by the partition. India’s performance prior to World Cup in 1975 had started to drop. There was chaos in IHF too at that time. The world cup win should have been a booster for Hockey. IHF could not capitalize on the world cup victory and immediately plummeted in 1976 Olympics.

BCCI, on the other hand, perfectly encashed the 1983 world cup win. Cricket following has been rising ever since. Pictures of Kapil Dev lifting the Prudential Cup has inspired world beaters like Sachin and Co. Rising economic clout of Indian society was shrewdly tapped by Dalmiya and same is being done by Lalit Modi. India is the financial capital of World of Cricket today. What is more, Indian team too is good enough to stake claim for being the best in the world today.

Huge following. Good infrastructure. Shrewd marketeers. World class performers. Everything in Cricket's favour. Dwindling public inerest. Hopeless administration. Shameful results. Everything against Hockey. So, should the government go with Pataudi's wish and declare Cricket as India's National sport? Sure, why not? But it should also withdraw Tiger's status as National Animal! After all, Indian forests are fast becoming bereft of tigers too!!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Left Handed Harbhajan Singh?

Many years ago, I had read an absorbing Marathi sci-fi short story (उजव्या सोंडेचा गणपती) by Dr. Jayant Naralikar, the renowned Indian Astrophysicist and Science fiction writer (the English version of the story had appeared in The Illustrated Weekly). It was about a legendary Off Spinner who is past his prime, but wants to have one last hurrah. His Scientist friend transforms him into his mirror image and converts him into a left arm spinner. (While I do not remember the physics behind the story, it had something to do with the clockwise / anticlockwise spin on the electrons). The story narrates how mesmerizes the opposition by bowling left handed on his farewell test.

I remembered this story when I read this new item about two ambidextrous bowlers, Vikas Chauhan and Mohammad Ebrahim Sanauth being contracted by Kolkatta Knight Riders for the new season of IPL. The KKR coach John Buchanan seems excited about these players with this exceptional ability to bowl equally well with right and left hand. At least I do not know of any bowler or batsman equally adept at using right and left hand, having played at first class level.

While there are numerous examples of players batting left handed but using right hand for bowling (or vice versa), a batsman able to bat right or left handed , or bowler bowiling with either hand are not known. A well chronicled incidence of a Ranji trophy match in which Sunil Gavaskar batting left handed trying to thwart Raghuram Bhatt of Karnataka, who was exploiting the rough outside the right hander’s leg stump comes to mind as lone exception.

More recently, England’s Kevin Peterson’s switch hitting is creating a lot of controversy. In Gavaskar’s case it was there for everybody to see that he had taken left hander’s stance. But Peterson suddenly jumps to left hander’s position even as the ball is delivered. There has been a raging debate about the legality of the switch hitting and the spirit of the game.

Now this prospect of bowlers able to bowl with both hands. At the start of each over, the Umpire announces the mode of delivery by the bowler ( right arm over the wicket). What if the bowler suddenly delivers the ball with the ‘other’ hand un-announced? Just as Peterson jumps un-announced? Will he be allowed to do so?

No harm in allowing I believe. Just as the batsman uses the reverse sweet to surprise and unsettle bowler, the bowler too can throw a surprise. A googly , Doosara, or the slower delivery are the weapons in a bowler’e armoury, which can be strengthened by being ambidextrous. Imagine Harbhajan bowling left arm around the wicket! Cricket will be certainly more exciting. Don’t you think so?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fourth Innings Blues? No More!

The Sydney test is interestingly poised as South Africa finish the 4th day of on-going Sydney Test 314 short with 9 wickets in hand. Ricky Ponting has put Australia’s top ranking to risk by making an enticing declaration. And there is every reason to believe that Proteas will approach the last day’s play with an eye on making a clean sweep.

Historically, daunting last innings targets have been difficult to reach for most teams. In the history of Test Cricket, spanning more than 125 years, score of excess of 300 in fourth innings has been posted only 104 times. Many a times, the burden of chasing down a stiff target gets to teams having best of batting lineup. Deteriorating pitches play on the minds of the batting side. But of late, it is no more the case. In 2008, there have been 9 instances of teams scoring more than 300 in last innings, sometimes the heroics failed to save the match, but on few occasions bating teams earned honorable draw and on two occasions India and South Africa fashioned memorable victories against the best team in the world.

Last year, New Zealand, with hardly any world class batsman in their rank, scored more than 400 in the last innings, twice against England. In their home season, West Indies scored more than 300 in their second essay, once against Aussies and once against a strong bowling combination of Vaas, Murali and Mendis. That they could salvage a draw only once is another matter. Even the minnows BanglaDesh gave Sri Lanka a scare as they made 413 in their last innings although they lost by over hundred runs. Cricketing world witnessed two fascinating run chases in the last month of last year when India and South Africa easily overhauled daunting 4th innings targets.

A clear trend can be seen in these figures. Teams no longer get overawed by the stiff targets. Even if they lose, teams are giving a fair crack at 300 plus targets. Earlier, sheer weight of the lead used to drown the batting team psychologically. Now it is not always so. What has brought about this change?

Some of my friends believe that this the impact of ODI and T20 Cricket as batsmen have become more attacking. But I don’t think this trend has anything to do with the influence of limited overs cricket, because it is not easy to sustain the attacking play for more than a day with different climate conditions. Has the bowling standards the world over declined? While it may be so, the real reason in my opinion, lies in the condition of pitches all over the test playing nations. In the subcontinent, 4th and final day pitches used to be so dusty so that it was impossible against the likes of Kumble and co. But now the pitches are so well prepared and so slow that spinners are hardly getting any help. Bouncy tracks in Australia used to develop cracks which bowlers could exploit. But it doesn’t seem to happen these days although Ponting must be hoping that the pitch offers something to his bowlers tomorrow.

Win the toss, bat first and crush the opposition under the weight of huge score. This used to be mantra of most teams. But captains now have to find new strategies for winning. May be taking the groundsmen into confidence to catch the opposition on vicious pitches. Or else, some more successful run chases might be in store this year too. Hopefully, the first in this year comes up tomorrow!

Friday, January 2, 2009

2008 : Glorious Year marred by a few disappointments

Year 2008 has been arguably the best since independence for Indian Sports. The media is buoyant over the exploits of Indian sportsmen. The likes of V.Anand, Saina Nehwal and Abhinav Bindra are being showered with praise by all. In the midst of the euphoria, some of the most disappointing events in sports this year are being overlooked. Following is a list of events that hurt me most as a dedicated fan of Indian sports.

Olympics Hockey without India : This is what hurts most. Over the last sixty years, India’s fortunes in Olympics rose and fell with performance of its Hockey team. The most successful nation in Olympics Hockey could not qualify for the main event. The decline was there for all of us to see when Indian team fared poorly in Doha Asiad. Autocratic President, corrupt officials and indifferent government. Indian Hockey can only rise from here. The trouble is its rise doesn’t seem likely in near future.

Ric Charlesworth ignored : World had sought inspiration from Indian Hockey. One such Australian, Ric Charlseworth, had offered his help to lift erstwhile superpower from dumps. But that was not to be. Ignored by the establishment, Ric went back to become Australia’s national coach.

Shooters betrayed the promise : Abhinav Bindra did India proud by winning Gold at the Olympics. But the Shooting contingent had promised more than one medal. But the much fancied Rajyawardhan Rathore fell miserably, so did Gagan Narang. The high profile Maharashtrian Girl Anjali Bhagwat could not justify her inclusion in team for third Olympics in row.

Paes-Bhupati Feud : Indian Tennis had a bad year. India does not have any player in top hundred. Indian team failed to enter the world group of Davis Cup. Indian pair of Paes and Bhupati could not cross the Quarter final hurdle at the Olympics. But the most disappointing development was the players’ revolt against the leadership of Leander Paes. Paes gives impression of being passionate about playing for India. One expects that Paes puts interests of the team ahead of every thing, including his professional rivalry with Bhupati. It was a sad story throughout the year

Sania's free fall : Sania Mirza too was a big flop this year. Her indulgence with glamour, media and controversies clearly diverted her from the game. Already out of the top 100, the road ahead for her is too steep.

Stranglehold of Politicians : Sports administration in India continues to be in shabby hands. Suresh Kalmadi, who brazenly justifies role of politicians in sports, continues to be the boss at IOA. Ailing minister PR Das Munshi, under whose presidentship India’s FIFA ranking has plummeted below 150,has been re-elected as President of Indian Football association.

Mendis Menace : Indian Cricket team is the darling of Indian public today. A very strong Indian team left for Sri Lanka in August last year aiming to win first series there. But the Fab Five put up the most dismal performance collectively. The feared batting lineup known for mastery against spin crumbled against rooky Mendis. A truly disappointing series not only for the viewers, but I am sure for the older members of the team who will have to forget about beating Sri Lanka in their country.

Having said that, the disappointments have been outnumbered by many pleasant surprises given by Indian players. India enters the new year with a fresh air of optimism. Let's hope Indian sports has taken a decisive turn in 2008 and this year, the forward march continues.