Friday, July 18, 2008

T-20, my take on it...

First, it was started by the makers of the game, to play some non-tiring cricket during off seasons, just for fun. It then found place in their domestic calendar, and had a good fanfare. Both players and the management loved it. The players would then come back to the classical versions too.

A couple of years passed by, and the little version had spread around the cricketing world. During that period, it was played as a game of cricket. Then came Mr. Alan Stanford, the Billionaire from Texas, who loved the game and wanted to add some shine to West Indies’ cricket, which it had apparently lost since its glory days. He started The Stanford 20-20 league, which revived cricket fanfare in the Caribbean. But, money played a big role in it.

In India, not many know that there was a domestic league of Twenty-20 last year, eventually won by Tamil Nadu, who beat the domestic giants, Mumbai. But, the BCCI planned to make things grand. Instead of improving publicity of this league, they started another league featuring clubs from cities. The IPL, just to counteract the ICL, which was gaining some popularity then, but did not get the BCCI’s consent, thus remaining a rebel league! The IPL was more of money than cricket. The official review was IPL was a big success. I think, it was so, monetarily. IPL had some big time effects on the game of cricket, negatively. It has made cricketers more money minded (money is the root cause of all evils, another example for the one-liner). The pitches became flatter and flatter, that mostly saw ball swatting by batsmen. Bowlers had very little to cheer about, just the “purple cap” award. Three had hat-tricks, thanks once again to crazy shots played by batsmen. It seemed like, batsmen forgot to bat properly. Very few impressed me in pure cricketing sense.

My biggest fears came true when the one dayers were played after the IPL. Pitches were very flat in the subcontinent. West Indies pitches were slower than usual, and very batsman friendly. English grounds have been fine, as of now at least. ECB seems to be looking forward to start English Premier League (cricket). So, that makes it 2 T20 leagues in one season in the English domestic calendar. Pro-40 has been scrapped! Ridiculous! The Asia Cup was conducted in Pakistan a couple of weeks ago. Dreadful! Very monotonous pitches were made, very one sided, non-competitive. All batsmen friendly ones, just about every single one of them. It was ‘no mercy’ for fast bowlers. Any ball, even a tad short would’ve been punished, no matter what pace it had when released from the palm of the bowler. An average score of around 300 in this tournament was disappointing picture. More so, when they were chased down very easily. Will not take away anything from the bowlers, they all bowled well. Gone were the times when it was difficult to chase under the lights in the subcontinents, thanks (sarcasm meant) to the pitches. It remains batsman friendly all throughout. If Champions Trophy is going to be held there, I hope it IS held to preserve cricket in the talented country, it should see better quality pitches there. There should be close encounters, a good contest, not only between the teams, but more so between the bat and the ball. Else, I don’t see the point of a squad including any bowler (fast bowlers specifically) for the tournament. It is nice to see that the ICC has noticed this issue and is looking forward to improve the pitch standard through its exclusive committee to monitor international venues and their laid wickets.

The thin crowd during the course of Asia Cup tournament has made the ICC raise an issue about reforming the game, tinker with its format. So, it is confirmed that the flashy, lusty, lucrative Twenty20 is here to create chaos and kill the much better One Day format, mind you, I mean the ones with 50-overs a side. Now, the players are trying to convince their cricket boards to shift their tours and series away from the IPL window. I think money means more to them, than service to their nation. Just when the IPL fever was about to be over, Sir Alan Stanford landed in a chopper right in the middle of the Lords and offered $ 5 million to the team members who can defeat his XI in a match to be held sometime later. It’ll take a some time for people to come out of this money-fever. I would’ve rather loved to see Mr. Stanford invest in building more institutions in the Caribbean to improve the standard of West Indies’ cricket and help produce better tracks there.

Some recent news have raised concerns about this T20 format. Ponting wants cricketers to keep the spirit of test matches right on top. Gilchrist fears test and ODIs may lose their sheen. Arjuna Ranatunga, ACC chief, has asked cricketers to concentrate on their game and not be inclined to money. Ryan Sidebottom has even declined joining IPL saying that he wants to concentrate on playing for the Nation. That’s the spirit. Compare that with Sri Lanka requesting their board to shift their tour of England just because the tour clashes with IPL. It seems as if they hold money over glory for the nation!

It is a pity to see cricket in this state. Looks like its being auctioned. I would like to see more cricket lovers, yes. But, I don’t think these T20 leagues will help. How many of the “T20 cricket fans” do you think know that a particular stroke was a piece of classic, even though it might have just yielded a single? How many know that it was sheer luck and fluke in that shot that went over the slip cordon for a four? This generation will witness very less of the beautiful art of reverse-swing. I was laughing to see spinners bowling with the new ball! Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahaaaa! I would’ve never dreamt of letting an ace spinner open the bowling, either. Cricket is now like a cat on the wall. Now is the time, to revive it back, else, we may see the end of some, if not all, greatest qualities of the game.

I pray the game survives the test of time, and the players survive the test of money!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rafael Nadal Breaks the Wimbledon Jinx!

Phew! I can't take it any more... The tournament left me searching for my breath. Never ever would've one seen SUCH a competitive Championships. It was marriage of all emotions in a pool of exceptional tennis.

There were severe serves, thumping forehands, astounding backhand passes, glorious volleys, loud screams, hunger for the title, comeback of Safin, downfall of top seeded ladies, unseeded semifinalists, the irritation of rain followed by the joy of impeccable tennis.

The home fans got a lot to cheer about, when Scot Andy Murray reached new heights at the Wimbledon when he came back from two set down to beat Richard Gasquet. The whole arena, Court 1, or Centre court, I'm not sure, erupted beyond the chair umpire's control. All his "Thank you, silent please" would go unheard. As my friend puts it to me, the Henman Hill has now transformed into Murray Mountain or, rather, Mount Murray. But the ice on the mountain melted soon when he was defeated by the eventual champion. Rafael Nadal.

French Open saw Dinara Safina help people locate her on the tennis map. Wimbledon saw her unseeded, 70+ ranked (then) big (I mean BIG) brother... Maraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat Safinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn. The big guy is back and defeated three seeded players in a row only to find him face the finalist, the defending Champion, Roger Federer. But, in his matches, he surely made a point that he ain't done for good, yet. O' boy! He was a treat to watch! What a game he had when he stunned centre court, defeating third seed Serb straight sets!!! Seeing was believing!!!

Federer was on song, but, tad less authoritative than what he was last season. He started off against his pal, Hrbaty, who is retiring, and later faced Safin, and beat him without sweating much to set a clash, once again with the Spanish brigade, Rafa! Federer's serves were picture perfect, as usual, and his volleys, forehand and backhand saw an improvement over his French Open Finals' performance. He would shrug off tough situations with a streak of aces, I call it "His Bag of Aces". He hadn't dropped a set until the Final.

The Spaniard, Rafa, on the other hand was at his brutal best, the form of his life. he was finding angles that one wouldn't even have tried out in a video-game!!! His typical forehand slash and that powerful backhand... Wow! Stars have say he returns the serve with great force, which is his plus. SO, it was quite easy for him to knock out the names and fame, including the raring Murray, and unseeded semifinalist Schuttler to get himself one step closer to his dream.

The Finals... Oh boy!!! On one hand, history was waiting to be etched into the record books (Borg was out there too) and on the other hand, Rafa was wanting to etch a few moments of glory into his career book, and become a more complete player, rather that being called a "Clay Court Specialist"

Rafa was charged up for it, got the first set in his kitty. Federer, in the second set, broke Nadal early, only to be broken twice soon to make it 2 sets to one in favour of Rafa. So, Rafa may have it soon, but with no breaks yet in the 3rd set, it was heading for a tie breaker, but heavens opened up. When they returned, Federer stepped up his game and got the third set. Exactly the same happened in 4th set and now, it was going to the last set. It was played with such intensity that, to break was to win. It was becoming dark in the Centre Court or Wimbledon in SW London, but, the two out there in the middle were not calling it quits! The cameras were disallowed to click during play as flashes fell on the court like lightning strikes. But then, the moment was nearing when Rafa broke Federer. He was serving for the championships. Having missed two chances already to get both his hands on the trophy, this was his best chance.

HE DID IT, he got it, he got what he wanted, he got Glory! He had finally displaced Federer's name from the Trophy's face. He was emotional, and very happy, climbing to his near and dear in the Reserved enclosure. Federer admitted that Rafa deserved it. Rafa was so exhausted after that, he opted out of the the Stuttgart Mercedes Cup (he's the defending champion there), just to chill and drool in those wonderful moments.

In the ladies' section, the top seeded players were knocked one after the other. Tanasugarn and Zheng were carrying the Asian hopes, having defeated even the likes of Ivanovic, but were eventually defeated by the Williams sisters. The sisters went on to meet each other at the finals, for the 3rd time in the Wimbledon. And, the defending champion, and the elder of the two, Venus had the last laugh, defeating her sis in straight sets in a gruelling clash. The Williams' family cash box was not closed yet, as the two came together to defeat Stosur and Raymond to collect the doubles title too! It was fitting to call it The Williams' Wimbledon.

The tall second seeded pair of Zimonjic and Nester got better of Bjorkman and his mate to lift the Gentlemen's Doubles in emphatic fashion. They had beautiful chemistry and had excellent strategies to overcome their opponents. They had a tough time in the semifinals to get rid of Paes and Dlouhy, but, when they had emerged victorious in the 5 setter, they were confident of the title.

So, all in all... What a breathtaking tournament it was! El Classico! Phew! Every match seemed to be like a Final! There was no giving up, it was fight till the end.

Wimbledon at its best!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Lankan Lions still the Asian Champions.

The best fielding side added yet another Asia Cup title to their glorious history of Cricket. They mesmerized the Indians, or should I say, Mendis mesmerized the Indians down and out. Just when one thought that Sunny’s cameo may not have been enough to see the Lankans through, just when one thought Sehwag was going to do it yet again for India, the Sri Lankan Captain just smiled and unleashed his weapon – Ajantha Mendis. Ol’ warhorse, Vaas’ record of 8 wicket haul was almost going to be shattered. Murali and Kulasekara stepped in to complement Mendis from the other end. Jayawardene won hands down, with wily bowling changes, Mendis coming in whenever Sri Lanka pressed the panic button. With just six overs sent down by him, he had captured six wickets all by himself. Fittingly, with 6 scalps in the match and 17 in the tournament (even after missing a match), he was both Man of the Match and of the Tournament. I would add to this that it was for the first time in the tournament when there was a close encounter, between the bat and the ball.

The round robin semifinal stage was very tricky when it came to the rules. At one stage, when Pakistan were defeated by Sri Lanka, it was thought that they were out of the tournament, then it came forth that if India loses to Sri Lanka in their super-4 league match and if Pakistan wins their final match, Pakistan may reach the finals displacing India. But, India defeated a weak Sri Lankan (given their form) side, as Jayawardene thought it wise (Oh boy, he’s a genius!) to rest Vaas and his “Mystery Bowler” for the finals. I had to get up and clap for his decision. And Pakistan got rid of Bangladesh, playing for nothing but pride. Indians played well on these batting paradises, so well, that the middle order barely faced the music. The lack of the middle order preparation came fore when they were defeated by both Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They couldn’t handle the pressure of scoring at a rapid pace with not more than 5 wickets in hand.

But, all than aside, the top order looked in ominous form. The Delhi-Duo, Sehwag and gambhir provided the starts in every game. Gambhir looks just one short of invincible. Sehwag is now back to his brutal best. He was playing fearlessly in all games. Like, what can worry him with Gambhir at the other end??? Then, Raina comes in and carries on the momentum. Yuvraj got the starts but couldn’t convert into big scores, but can’t blame him, the ball is soft by the time he comes in and its tough to send the ball to the ropes. And, he would arrive late in the innings, giving him very less time to build his innings. So, I will not say he was bad at all, but a little more temperament can do him a world of good. Captain Dhoni was great on both sides of the wicket. The bowlers had mixed luck. Young Chawla was expensive and awkward. The Debutant Ojha impressed all, with good angles and arm balls. Ishant was finally back into the action when he had to do things by himself that try to get something out of the pitch. The swing bowlers, Pathan and Praveen thus went for runs. Rudra maintained good line and length.

Other bowlers who managed something out of nothing (pitches) were Rauf, the Pakistan medium paces and Kulasekara of Srilanka.

I feel the PCB has to rethink over the kind of pitches they are making. They were the flattest in the world. Someone needs to tell the curators that a game should have a great and close contest, not only between the teams, but also between the bat and the ball. It was pathetic to watch a tournament with an average first innings score of around 300. And what more, some of them being chased successfully, with plenty of overs remaining. This is killing the pacers. There is no purchase at all for the bowlers. I don’t think any bowler will bowl the “surprise” bouncers any more, when you play on these ruthless wickets. Any short ball will just hang in front of the batsmen while he can decide where to dispatch it. All tracks at the national stadium were equally disappointing.

Nevertheless, this tournament had the best two teams playing in the finals, and the best team won it. I can still recall Ian Chappel make a guess that India will find it difficult to chase any total put on by Sri Lanka with twenty overs of high quality spin to be send down together by Murali and Mendis. The Indian tour of Sri Lanka is to start soon with the first match of the test series starting on 23rd July. This series will once again put to test the mental toughness of both the teams.

So, can India spring a revenge? Will Sri Lanka hold the upper hand?
Only time will tell.

Spain!!! The Champions of Europe!

What a tournament, I say, what a tournament!?!?! Spain finally back on the map, big time! A good final for the Spaniards, in spite of their star striker sitting out due to injury, as Torres put their team ahead, in just half an hour since the start. They held on to the lead and then realized their dreams, FINALLY! Aragones must be one happy guy. Scrutinized first for not including ace Spaniard star Raul, he is now applauded for his work with the team that has now risen to glory. The Germans did try a lot to equalize, but their efforts went in vain. Casillas and his band of defenders did well to prevent the likes of Pudolski, Shweinsteiger, Klose and Ballack from finding the back of the net.

Prior to this fitting finale, both teams had to face the challenge of meeting the news making teams – the Turks, very famous for their late comebacks and the Russians, who were under their inspirational “magical” coach Guus Hiddinks.

Turkey had been a revelation in this tournament. They defeated the co-hosts, Switzerland, then the Croatia and also the Portuguese, all in thrilling last phase winners. Oh boy! They sure do have some nerves to hold things till the very end. Semih Senturk was their wrecker in chief in situations more than one. The Russians who had entered the knockout stage in a calm and composed fashion, having negated the previous champions, Greece, a spot into the last eight. But, as they say, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. The Russians were surely very tough on the night they had to face the Dutch. And shockingly, the Dutch were silenced when Russia added two goals to their solitary goal in regular play time. After this, the Russian team started getting a series of calls from the famous football clubs from all over Europe. A move to these clubs may mean that they may play for glory, but they will surely be paid less than what they get paid at their Russian Clubs, which are backed by rich (I mean very very Rich) industries.

The German and Spanish teams had a comfortable way to the knock outs, though Germany was once defeated y the Croats, but their pool-mates, Austria and Poland were finding it difficult to qualify to stage 2. Germany then defeated the Turks in what was a superb encounter. Turks were not fourth time lucky here, unfortunately. Spain had an easy time in overpowering Russia, who were given encouragement in wild (I mean wild) proportions from the big ones back home. They were to be awarded for every goal they score in the semifinal, but they disappointed. All in all, they provided superb entertainment.

The end of Euro saw a list of retirements, sackings, transfers, rumours, blames and fames, and Iker Casillas lifting another title, this time, for his nation.

What a wonderful tournament it was. Now, we have to wait until the leagues kick off in Europe for more drama. Then, there is the great Olympics, for which the clubs are trying to hold their players from representing the nation so that it may help them to qualify for the UEFA Champions League / UEFA Cup. As of now, the qualifiers for the FIFA world Cup are going on.

Awaiting more football……….