The Champions League challenge

BY HARKET SUCHDE

In European Football, one trophy is coveted by every major club above all else – the UEFA Champions League. The red devils are no different, and will be hoping to go one step further in the competition than they did last year, where they succumbed to the might of Barcelona in the finals of the tournament.

Judging  by the red devils’ performance in their recent qualifier tie against Portuguese club and champions league minnows Benfica it appears that this might be a bridge too far for the reigning premier league champions.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has had a difficult summer. The core of his highly experienced side that progressed so well in last season’s champion’s league have left the club. Their goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar, who was an assured presence between the posts finally hung up his gloves, Powerhouse defender Gary Neville followed suit, and club legend Paul Scholes too called an end to his career, leaving a gaping void in the United midfield.

Sir Alex responded by purchasing young Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea form Atletico Madrid to fill in the big boots of Van Der Sar, and promoted youngsters such as Fabio Da Silva and Tom Cleverley from within the club’s setup to replace Neville and Scholes respectively.

Between them, these youngsters have minimal champion’s league experience and this appears to be the first big stumbling block in United’s road to champion’s league glory. Although Cleverley has shown flashes of brilliance for the reds this season, he is no Paul Scholes, and will find it difficult to replicate the quality and consistency that the Englishman produced for United. Da Silva too has appeared shaky at times, and De Gea has made a number of high profile blunders in goal for United, a stark contrast from the calming presence of Van Der Sar.

Apart from this, Barcelona who hit the back of United’s net with absurd ease in last year’s final, have added some more firepower to an already potent attacking side with the arrival of Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas. Real Madrid too have visibly strengthened an already star studded line-up with the purchase of Coentrao, Altintop and Nuri Sahin among others, and appear to be a formidable force in this tournament.

United’s local rivals Manchester City who have also qualified for the champion’s league this season, may prove to be the dark horse of the tournament. With high profile purchases such as Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Sergio Aguero and Stefan Savic, Manchester City will definitely hope to push on and leave a mark on the tournament this season.

Football is an unpredictable game. There’s no two ways about it and it is near impossible to predict the fates of clubs with such quality as the ones participating in this year’s champion’s league. But judging by the evidence at hand, United will have to wait at least another year for a taste of European glory.

Of Grit, Class and Technique

BY PRAKASH GOVINDASREENIVASAN

Back in 1996 when a young 23-year old boy donned white kits for the first time for India against England at Lords’, not many would have bet their money on this lanky looking textbook cricketer. It was the same game in which, if I may say, a more flamboyant batsman called Sourav Ganguly made his debut too and scored a stunning century. Even today, the whole country remembers ‘Dada’ for that knock.

But, it was also the game where Rahul Dravid, who put on a wonderful 95-run partnership with Ganguly for the fifth wicket, played a patient and a rather matured innings of 95, standing ground for over three hours. That, I reckon, was the birth of one India’s best for a long time to come.

Grit, Class and Technique – a few words one would associate with the man from Bengaluru whose career lasted for 15 glorious years. He entered the International arena at a very interesting stage- when Sachin Tendulkar was already a household hero and Sourav Ganguly’s classy offside play was starting to attract more and more fans and experts alike. At first look, Dravid was an epitome of composure, someone who was in complete senses in all situations, be it two sessions of the last day to bat on with the number eleven or fifteen runs to get off two overs in a limited overs match.

It was almost outrageous for someone so young to be so focused at the crease. As a top order batsman, it’s baffling as to how Dravid was one of those who rarely premeditated and went for a greedy slash at the ball. It was all about technique and it always will be. It took great determination and dedication to be able to play exactly according to your coach’s words and every single time Dravid was in the middle, he would do exactly that.

Slowly and steadily, Dravid cemented his place in the Indian top order in both formats of the game. So much so that he was called ‘The Wall’, purely due to his ability to consolidate and play out the middle overs in the most elegant way possible.

Dravid’s career in a sentence can be described as that of a rescue worker, someone who was always at the crease when the chips were down and more often than not he orchestrated a comeback. It’s also his uncanny ability to build long lasting partnerships with his colleagues in the middle that sets him apart from most of his era. His best supporting role came in that historic match against Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001 where a 376-run stand in the second innings with VVS Laxman helped India comeback from a follow on to beat the then best test team in the World.

After having played 343 ODIs, Rahul Dravid decided to call it quits after playing the ODI series against the same opponent he started out against England.

Even as the Rainas and the Kohlis look to fill his humongous shoes in the ODI format of the game, Dravid will continue to put his heart and soul into the team in the longest format of the game.

After the departure of Sourav Ganguly, India managed to do decently well with the replacements in the middle order in test matches but when Dravid leaves , the void is surely going to be bigger and one that will spark off what is called the transition phase of Indian cricket.

Till the day comes, cheers to those impeccable square cuts and long patient innings.

Call an Ace, an Ace. Please

BY SUKETU MEHTA

The biggest sporting icons in India have always been cricketers. Be it a Kapil Dev a Sachin Tendulkar or a MS Dhoni. Each of them has performed to their potential, made the country proud on numerous occasions and hence attained demi-God like status along with unmatched fan following across the nation. This partiality towards the sport of sporting icons has propelled the media to hype up any sportsperson, who is not a cricketer, in spite of any notable performance in their sport. A shining example of this is Somdev Devvarman who was recently honored with the Arjuna Award based on his performance last year which included a gold medal each at the Commonwealth and Asian games.

It has been four seasons now when Somdev turned pro in the ATP circuit. In these four seasons, he hasn’t won any ATP recognized tournament, not crossed the second round at a Grand Slam event and lost more matches than he has won throughout his professional career. None of the above makes him ‘India’s hope at a Grand Slam’, ‘Next big thing in tennis’ or even ‘India’s tennis sensation’ as any news report or article would describe him as. But there remains a feeling in every Indian that Somdev will get India high up on the tennis map.

The man is already 26. He still has, at the most, four years left in him to play at the top of his game. His style of playing, a defensive baseline game similar to Nadal’s will make it tough for him to sustain longer than that in professional tennis. With how things have gone in the last four years and the quality of players currently on the tour, it seems rather improbable that Somdev will make a turnaround of sorts to achieve all what people hope he can.

It is wrong to make an ordinary player look like someone who can stir a revival. It is wrong for both, the player as well as fans of the game. The player then needs to carry a billion hopes on his racquet when he knows that he is not as skillful or as fit as his peers. And when he fails, the audience understands his standing and this makes them lose respect for the player, a folly on their part.

It has happened before. Ask a Sania Mirza, a Narain Karthikeyan or even a Karun Chandhok. Somdev’s story seems to be drifting towards the same path unless he drastically improves his game with help of certain Rajinikanthesque powers or the media stops making more of him than he is. The former seems more likely.

No ‘running out’ of cricket

BY SOHAM SENGUPTA

This season of cricket seems to be everlasting refusing simply to run out. Indian fans now have the Champions League T20 to look forward to after the ignominy of the English tour. How much interest this tournament will engage in the overfed cricket fan is a matter of debate yet the tournament is here.

One of the major drawbacks with the Champions League 2010 was that the teams from Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies struggled to match up to the levels of teams from the rest of the world. In an attempt to increase the levels of competition as well as spectator and commercial interest of the tournament, the 2011 edition is having a qualifier round involving teams from these countries, the top two county sides, and the fourth-ranked IPL team.

Is this enough to sustain spectator interest?  India’s drubbing on English soil witnessed a steep fall in viewership. The lack of competition and the abundance of injured players have to a great extent wilted the interest of the Indian cricket fan.

The teams participating in the qualifier round are Trinidad & Tobago from West Indies,Ruhuna from Sri Lanka,Auckland from New Zealand,Kolkata Knight Riders from India,Somerset and Leicestershire from England. The top three teams from the qualifier round will compete in the main draw that will also include Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore from India, New South Wales and South Australia from Australia, Cape Cobras and Warriors from South Africa. The ten teams in the main draw will be split into two groups of five each, with the top two from each group contesting the semi-finals.

The dominance of the IPL teams suggests that the organizers are again clearly targeting the Indian spectator. The Kolkata Knight Riders are also part of the qualifiers so we can expect up to four teams from the Indian Premier league. This is twice the number of teams from any other national league. Hence, it is essential that the Indian teams do well in order for this league to have any chance of financial success.

Already this new feature has sparked off some intriguing moments on field. Sanath Jayasuriya is playing for Ruhuna, the Lankan domestic T20 champions. He was seen to be as competitive and energetic as in his heydays against Trinidad and Tobago.

The presence of aggressive teams like Trinidad and Tobago and Cape Cobras should make the matches keenly contested ones if trends from last year are to be believed. When the big guns like Dhoni, Pollard, Gayle, Gibbs and the rest take to the field, the drama should be on the high. One should also watch out for the lesser known but no less effective players such as Shaun Tait, David Warner and Peter Trego.

Despite such interesting prospects arising out of these qualifiers, the spectator turnout has been low. The qualifying round matches of Champions League T20 failed to draw the crowds here Monday with poor attendance marking the league opener between Trinidad and Tobago and Ruhunu at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium.

Though, the turnout picked up for the second match of the day featuring Kolkata Knight Riders and Auckland Aces, it was still not to the standards of T20 version. Attendance for the second match was a notch above 8000 where the total seating capacity is 40,000. Obviously a long season of cricket right from the World Cup, followed by the IPL has exhausted not only our star players but also the viewers.

The organizers continue to believe that interest will pick up after the main draw begins. The big teams like Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians are expected to lure the big crowd in.

Whether old champions clinch the trophy or a dark horse comes up trumps is a question of time. Until proved otherwise, it looks like a textbook case of too much cricket.

Remembering Tiger Pataudi

BY SIDHARTH IYER

Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi nicknamed ‘Tiger Pataudi’ (5th January, 1941 – 22nd September, 2011) was the ninth and last ‘Nawab of Pataudi’.

Pataudi often regarded as one of India’s best captains led the team in 40 tests of the 46 tests. He scored 2793 runs in his 46 test matches at an average of 35 consisting of six centuries. His highest score of 203 came against England in Delhi during the 1964 series Pataudi was a great inspiration for the youth who followed the game. He played the game in true sportsman spirit and never gave up even when he had his back against the wall. This fierce competitive spirit earned him the nickname ‘Tiger’. Pataudi was a brilliant strategist and played his cards at the right time which always helped the team to get breakthroughs at the precise moments during an important match. He tried lot of innovative field placements which would often get him the results. Pataudi dedicated his life towards the betterment of Indian Cricket and with his demise India has certainly lost a huge support and guide. ‘Tiger Pataudi’ will be missed by all.

Ten-dulkar Commandments

Kallol Sarkar | SIMC Ink

For 21 years, he has entertained millions with his sublime batting prowess. From a blue eyed teenager to the GOD of world cricket, Sachin Tendulkar has always been revered by his fans across the globe. As he reached his 50th Test century, he wrote a new page for himself in the annals of cricketing folklore.

Cricketing legend M.L.Jaisimha had once said of Tendulkar: “The more I see of him the more confused I’m getting to which is his best knock”. As the Little Master notched up yet another record, yours truly felt why not look back into his top ten qualities and ten of his greatest knocks that make him the living legend of Indian cricket.

a) Talented: Without a shadow of doubt, Sachin is immensely talented. And the world got a first glimpse of this talent when he became the second youngest player in the history of test cricket to score a century. As he scored an unbeaten 119 against England at Old Trafford in 1990, courtesy some astonishing cover drives and fine flicks, he announced his arrival onto the World Stage.

b)  Fearlessness: The greatest treat for any fan is to see Sachin standing up to a challenge. On a bouncy Cape Town wicket, a charged up Allan Donald led the South African attack. They tormented the Indian batting line up and bowled some nasty beamers to Sachin. Instead of getting bogged down, Sachin rose to the challenge, dispatching the bowlers all round the ground. He hit 26 boundaries, on his way to a gritty 169, as the Proteas scampered for cover. For an Indian batsman to create havoc on a home side was unthinkable. But, with Sachin, impossible really is nothing.

c) Game-changer: Tendulkar has the inherent ability to change the course of matches and time and again he has proved that. One such game was the test match against the Aussies in Chennai. India were on the backfoot, having conceded a huge lead to Taylor’s men. But, in came the Master Blaster and toyed with the Aussie attack to race to his century. As he smashed 155 off just 191 balls, he put India in the driver’s seat, and the match was ultimately won.

d) Confidence: Yet another amazing feature of the great man is his confidence. This is best described by his 114 against an Aussie attack that had India reeling at 159/8 at Perth. The way he battled and thrashed Merv Hughes and Craig McDermott to boundaries, was a great example of his ability to never back off from a challenge. This innings is considered to be one of his finest ever.

e) Never Say Die: It has been over two decades but Tendulkar’s attitude towards the game hasn’t changed. Come what may, he has always treated each match as a new challenge and given it his best. His 136 against Pakistan in the Chennai Test stands testimony to that. With a target of 271, India were staggering at 82/5. Sachin however fought on but fell 17 runs shy of the target, after having battled for nearly a day. India lost the game by 12 runs, but Sachin’s innings could never be forgotten.

f) Perfectionist: Watch him closely and you will learn every shot that a cricket manual would have. According to experts Sachin is the most complete batsman of our era. His balance, feet movement and steady head, are in perfect coordination. The brightest demonstration of this came at Headingly in 2002 when he scored 193. Purists refer to it as a batting display made only in heaven.

g) Inspirational: Sachin’s biggest asset to Team India over the years has been his sheer presence that inspires the rest. His match-winning knock of 103 against England in 2008 at Chennai might not have been his brightest innings, but the way he guided Yuvraj Singh, speaks volumes of the kind of effect the great man has on his teammates.

h) Dedicated: Sachin’s dedication to the game is unparalleled and no wonder, he has achieved all that the game has to offer.  His 116 against Australia at MCG in 1999 reflected the man’s determination to succeed and help the team to victory. That India were demolished by 180 runs is a different case altogether, but Sachin, the batsman, was simply brilliant.

i) Team-man: Sachin has forever been a team-man. He has always placed his team above himself. The biggest example being his 194 not out against Pakistan. 6 runs short off a landmark double century, Sachin walked back to the pavilion as then Captain Dravid declared the innings. Any other player would have felt insulted and gone to the press bad-mouthing his captain. But not Tendulkar and to this day he and Dravid remain the greatest of team-mates.

j) Ambitious: Last but not the least, is his ambitious nature, with help of which he not only made numerous records but also succeeded in breaking the already existing ones. Anyone who saw Sachin get his 50th ton, and the sheer emotion with which he raised his bat, would say that he still has it in him to go on and get runs.

Sachin has been nothing less than a magician with the cricket bat, dazzling the opponents and pulling off great wins for the country. Anything written about the great man can never be enough. But on a concluding note, as one of his million admirers, I can only say ‘I Will See God When I Die But Till Then I Will See Sachin’ . 50 is just another number, there are many more to come. Surely.

 

 

An interview with the interviewer

Kartick Jagtap | SIMC Ink

Harsha Bhogle has been synonymous with cricket broadcast in our country for almost two decades now. His sound thinking and acute analysis of the game have made him immensely popular among the cricket crazy fans of our country. In fact, I’m proud to say that Harsha Bhogle has been the very reason why I aspire to be in the world of Sports Journalism.

After having grown up  with Harsha’s television presentations at pre and post match cricket shows, the news network that I interned with, allowed me a chance to attend an event hosted by the ace presenter. However, the nature of the show and the paucity of time rendered it difficult to hound him for a quick word, leave alone an autograph.

Little did I know that only a fortnight later, the opportunity to not just meet the icon but to actually interview him would present itself.

Harsha Bhogle visited the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, as a guest for SIMClairvoyance and that was the occasion which allowed me to interview the interviewer.

While it was my first interview on camera, Harsha eased my mood by explaining to me that it is only normal to be nervous. “This is the age when you are allowed to make mistakes,” he said and I could not be more grateful. While my skills as an interviewer were nowhere close to those exhibited by the man himself, every moment in his presence was a great learning experience.

My interview ranged from questions about his foray into the world of sports-broadcast to Team India’s chances at the upcoming ICC World Cup, each of which he answered with equal enthusiasm and gusto. He shared his ideal Test XI with us and even remarked that he was happy to be on the other side of the table for a change.

He also spoke about the importance of hard work and the need to be at the right place at the right time, factors which played a big role in his success as a sports broadcaster.

With less than a semester left for me to step into the exciting world of sports broadcast I can only work hard and try and achieve what Harsha Bhogle has.

After all, in his case, the hard work really paid.

 

Indian Express back on track

Kallol Sarkar | SIMC Ink

With brilliant results and oodles of talent to boast of, Indian sport is surely on a high. After incredible performances at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, all eyes are set on the London Olympics in 2012. And     spearheading a billion hopes could be two men who, if not for cricket, would probably be India’s most revered sportspersons.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi , the remarkable duo of Indian tennis are back together. The two had etched their names in Indian sporting folklore by making it to the finals of every Grand Slam in 1999. That they were the first Indian pair to win a Grand Slam only re-affirmed their place in the history books.

But, as all good things come to an end, tennis as well took a backseat and matters of the heart took centre stage.

A rumoured feud over a common lady love meant that India lost its finest tennis pair. A combination that could have won everything that tennis had to offer, was instead battling each other.

Bhupati and Paes have individually been renowned for their prowess in ‘Double’s tennis’. But purists believe that together, they were something extraordinary. Three Grand Slam titles together do not suggest much, but tennis enthusiasts from that decade would agree that these two were as good as it gets.

Such was their presence on the tennis court that even the legendary pair of Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge predicted that the ‘Indian Express’ was worthy of replacing them. Such respect from peers was worth its weight in gold.

For years they have tried to re-unite, to get India that elusive Gold at the Olympics. Their proficiency and experience has seen India grow in leaps and bounds and make it to the World Group of the Davis Cup. However, it is believed that both of them have the ability to surpass their best while playing for the country.

Earlier, they used to pair up just before the tournament, but now that they are back and have more than a year to prepare together, they could be India’s greatest hope yet again.

The Australian Open next month sees the return of two of Indian tennis’ greatest champions on the professional circuit. And as India aims for greater glory at London 2012, the Indian Express might just bring in that coveted Gold. For tennis lovers across the country, it would change the way the sport is perceived, and it will be a change most welcome.