Tuesday, August 28, 2007

BORN TO RUN?

(BUDDHIA ON HIS 70 KM RUN)
(BUDDHIA AND BIRANCHI)
He was just 4 years old. His mother contemplated selling the kid for a sum of less than Rs.1000. Such was the poverty. The kid was in hospital where the doctors wanted to amputate one of his legs. In came a gentleman who took care of the kid and nursed him. The same kid displayed a talent for running great distances. No scriptwriter could have done better. The kid is Buddhia Singh and the gentleman is Biranchi Das.

For a state starved of sporting heroes, the emergence of Buddhia was something of a revelation. Biranchi, a Judoka coach made tall claims about the prowess of his prodigy. The boy was made to run nearly 70 kms in oppressive heat. The run nearly caused Buddhia to collapse after 65 kms and he was taken to a hospital.

The Government of Orissa stepped in to prevent the cruel exploitation of the little boy. Buddhia was subject to a number of medical tests and the doctors seemed unhappy over the stresses the frail body was asked to take. Immediately, the Government decided to stop the 500 kms race that Buddhia was to undertake.

The mother of the boy, the boy and the coach were not happy with the development. Even the little boy was ‘made’ to speak before the television cameras about the support provided by Biranchi to his family. The mother of Buddhia went so far as to question the right of the state to take such steps.

This made news and many news channels stepped in to present their side of the story. In the meantime, the boy and his coach went places and a number of ‘philanthropists’ assured financial support. A trust fund was to be set up for the upbringing and the training of the little boy.

Then a couple of weeks ago, the coach and the guardian angel of Buddhia was arrested on grounds of ‘torturing’ Buddhia in the name of training. After the arrest of Biranchi, his mother took the boy to home. Now Buddhia lives with his mother and two elder sisters in a Bhubaneswar slum.

This latest event again sparked off a fresh round of allegations and counter allegations. The same Buddhia who was so loyal to Biranchi now speaks in a different tone. Buddhia’s mother does not mince any words when she castigates Biranchi. Biranchi on his part blames some of the slum people for misleading the boy and his mother.

At the root of the matter is the money that was supposedly received by Biranchi on behalf of Buddhia. People who are close to the family allege that the coach siphoned off all of it, while Biranchi points out that all promises of financial assistance were mere promises. He also alleges that the self-styled elders of the slum want to earn from the talents of Buddhia. This may not be entirely untrue.

What is the wrong if Biranchi took some money? He was the person who provided help to the family and the boy in their time of distress.

What moral authority does the Government have to prevent such exploitation when child labour is rampant? Does the Government not have any other worthwhile things to do?

What about the news channels who took up cudgels on behalf of the boy and his coach?

One thing is pretty clear. Buddhia may not run again. In a few months, all of us will forget about a little boy who could run. In time, Buddhia may be lost in the slums working in some wayside teashop or an automobile workshop.

Sporting history is replete with stories of talented and promising athletes being exploited by family members or manipulative coaches and managers.

In any event, Buddhia is born to run.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

WHEN 99 IS BIGGER THAN A 100

Every time Sachin Tendulkar steps on to the field nowadays with a bat in his hand, there is bound to be a debate. There are supporters who feel that Sachin can still play the kind of cricket that made him great in the first place. There are detractors who argue that Sachin should step down.

In the second one dayer at Bristol, India needed to put a good total on the board after Rahul Dravid won the toss and elected to bat. That decision presupposed a good knock from Sachin at the top of the order.

For a while, Sachin missed a number of balls but as the innings progressed, there were some of the trademark drives. He played well enough to get a 100 but was dismissed for 99. That sparked off a debate.

It is pointed out that Sachin lost his ability to score a 100. Some expressed their anguish over the fact that Sachin missed the opportunity to add to his tally of international tons. Evidence is gleaned from the near misses on this tour so far. Does a 100 from Sachin matter so much for the fan? Sachin himself would be the first to say that the team win was more satisfactory than another 100.

Even Donald Bradman could not score the four runs that would have taken his average to a perfect 100. That is the mystique of cricket.

For the numerically obsessed fan, it is worth a lot to keep in mind that statistics or more correctly put, the average is a bikini that covers less than what it reveals.

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PARITY RESTORED

At Bristol, the Indians managed to beat to home team despite having the luxury of putting up a score of 329 runs on the board. The small ground makes it possible for shots to go over the boundary. But more importantly, the Indian bowling was not adequate. The woes of the team were compounded by the atrocious fielding.

Speaking about bowling, it is a mystery that Ajit Agarkar continues to have the support of the selectors and the team management even after proven inability. The same logic does not apply to Gambhir who was dropped from the playing eleven after the first match. Munaf Patel is not looking to bowl fast. He is looking like a veteran of over 300 matches. R.P.Singh produced some good balls. It is a pity that Sreesanth was not picked for the limited overs contests. In the third test, Dravid did not enforce the follow on ostensibly to give a breather to the bowlers. Of the bowlers, Kumble, Zaheer and Sreesanth are not playing the one dayers and the others barring R.P.Singh, did not play in the test matches.

In the batting department, Sachin and Dravid were simply outstanding. Sachin has, in his career, played many better knocks. But in the context of the series, this was worth its weight in gold. Sachin played and missed a number of times, but he hung in there to score 99. Ganguly was not fluent but the opening partnership was worth more than 100. Yuvraj scored 49 runs and looked good for a lot more.

It was Dravid who was a complete revelation. The man, who struggled in the first match, suddenly carted all the bowlers to all parts of the ground. He could not score a 100 as the overs ran out. But the knock was crucial to the final outcome of the match. Great batsmen like W.G.Grace, Wally Hammond and Zaheer Abbas who played for Gloucestershire at Bristol would have been proud of the way Dravid stroked the ball.

The parity has been restored and now the teams have to start from scratch.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A BAD START

By any standard, the Indians played bad cricket and deserved to lose the first one dayer at Southampton. After a long time, England looked good in the limited over format.

The change of captaincy has injected some kind of dynamism into the English time that was sorely lacking during the time of Michael Vaughan. Vaughan has an extremely poor record as a batsman in the one dayers and this got reflected in his captaincy as well. Of course, Duncan Fletcher had certain strange ideas about the shorter format of the game.

The Indians failed miserably in the departments of the game. If the batting was sub-standard, the bowling was ragged, the fielding was miserable. With specialist coaches in the side, it makes difficult to find no improvement. Dravid cannot defend the fielding lapses on the fact that the match was played on a relatively large ground.

India is not yet out of the series with six more matches to be played. If the showing is the same as yesterday, the series loss cannot be ruled out.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

WHO IS RANCOROUS?

England have not taken the defeat at the hands of India in the second test in the sporting sense. It is one thing to be trashed by Australia down under. It is quite another thing for the English team to be beaten at home by India.

First there were assertions by players and also the coach of the England cricket team over the sledging accusations. Even a player of the stature of Matt Prior doesn’t feel bad about the sledging. The coach Peter Moores dismisses such allegations. Collingwood is not ashamed at the jellybeans thrown by some his teammates at the Indian players.

But the cake should go to Mike Atherton, the former captain of the England team and now a media professional. It is right for Atherton to go hammer and tongs at Sreesanth for his boorish behaviour during the test. Sreesanth bowled a beamer at Kevin Pietersen and then shoulder barged Michael Vaughan. Such behaviour should not be condoned by any means. Atherton is not happy with the punishment meted out to Sreesanth. The former skipper wants Sreesanth to be dropped from the third test. Sreesanth looks most likely to be dropped given his shoddy efforts in the match. It is true that the match referee Ranjan Madugalle took a rather lenient view of the whole Sreesanth. But what authority does Atherton have to talk about a tougher punishment?

Atherton himself is someone who does not have the moral authority to sermonize. This same gentleman was once caught by cameras taking sand from his trouser pocket and applying the same to a ball during the course of a test. Then the punishment was not severe, by today’s standards. Probably that is the reason for the present outburst. If Sreesanth’s bowling a beamer was ‘rancorous’, then what should we call Atherton’s behaviour? Sreesanth can walk away from the controversy on the pretext of an accidental act, while Atherton does not have that kind of a luxury.

In a one dayer prior to the Ashes of 2005, Simon Jones hurled the ball at Matthew Hayden when the batsman was not even attempting a run. The ball hit the shoulder of Hayden. The whole of the English media praised this incident as the ‘aggression’ of the English team.

Clearly, it is a case of different strokes for different people.

Don't brand me a racist, just yet.

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GIVE CREDIT WHERE IT IS DUE

Peter Roebuck writes in The Hindu (Saturday 04 August, 2007) about the stellar roles played by Saurav Ganguly and Zaheer Khan in the famous test win over England at Trent Bridge.

Not long ago, both Saurav and Zaheer were out in the dumps. Ganguly was stripped of his captaincy and then lost his place in the team. Clearly, the lefthander was sitting on his achievements as a player and as a captain as well. The writing was on the wall, as the cliché goes.
Zaheer was not bowling his best and worse, there were reports of indiscipline. Zaheer was perceived to be someone who was not really playing for the team.

Now, both of these fallen heroes have to use another oft-used cliché, risen from the ashes. In a way the credit for the turnaround should go to Greg Chappell. It was during the reign of Chappell as the coach of the Indian team that these two players were shown the exit.

Chappell could not achieve much given his propensity to talk hours about the ‘processes’ and ‘experiments’. But if a small kick in the backs could achieve some tangible benefits, then it is a success. The much-maligned coach could now bask in this glory.

Let us give credit where it is due.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

PROFESSIONALISM IS ALSO IMPORTANT

Last week there was a discussion on the Indian Cricket League (ICL) aired on CNN-IBN. Two former Indian cricketers K.Srikkanth and Javagal Srinath presented their views.

Both of them argued against the current generation of players joining the rival league. They asserted that while former players would be attracted by big bucks, the current players would lose an opportunity to play for the country at the highest level. They pointed out that and quite rightly also the fact that playing for the country involves patriotism and pride.

That brings the key question. Is there not something called professionalism that drives players as much as people involved in other professions? It is right that players pride themselves to wear the national colours and also at the same time display professionalism when playing for teams other than the national team.

If the players were only interested in their bank balances, then most cricket players would not venture into areas like County cricket or even club cricket. Shane Warne is busy slogging it out in County cricket and by all means he is an extremely rich man. It is not just the money; it is also the love for the game. The professionalism drives the players to give their best even when the honour of the country is not at stake. Interestingly, Srinath also had a stint with an English County. Did he not put his best foot forward when playing for the team?

It is naïve to argue that the ICL would be a failure just because the players won’t be representing their countries. In this context, it is time to remember the success achieved by the World Series of Cricket where countries were not involved.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

India and Pakistan have a history of animosity. The politicians on both sides have failed to settle the differences. But the cricket administrators of the countries have, mostly, been friendly with each other. There have been instances where they have taken a common stand.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has come up with a warning to players, former or present. The PCB has threatened action against players going with the Indian Cricket League (ICL). It is the BCCI, which should be worried over the ICL. So far only talks have been held between players and the representatives of the ICL. Shoaib Malik will never give up the captaincy just for the sake of a few easy dollars. Even the out of favour Inzamam-ul-Haq might not want to end his desire to play for the national team again.

The ICL has not taken off. It is only in the media that announcements are made and also refuted about the signing of players. So it is a bit premature for the PCB to come up with the warning. Either the PCB is genuinely worried or the PCB is simply expressing solidarity with BCCI.

It is not politics alone where there are strange bedfellows. Cricket too can be a very strong force.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

WHY AFRAID OF MONTY?

It is true that Indian batsmen are short of the ability and technique needed to handle faster bowlers, especially on foreign soil. But over the last few years, Indian batsmen have not shone the confidence that was the hallmark of their predecessors when it came to the spinners.

The latest show was put up the Indian batsmen while facing the English left-armer Monty Panesar. In the first test at Lords’, the wickets of Panesar included Sachin Tendulkar. The batsman played with the pad and not with the bat and to a straighter one, it was judged out by the Umpire. In the second test, the Indian openers put up a solid start. One delivery to Karthick looked like crashing into the wickets, but the batsmen was saved by the Umpire. Rahul Dravid played a Panesar delivery straight into the hands of one of the short extra covers.

In all these deliveries, there was nothing extraordinary despite the observations of the commentators. It was the batsmen who became so circumspect that the bowler had an easy job. There are many left-arm spinners in the domestic scene in India who are better than Panesar. Things are a bit off the mark when even Sunil Gavaskar heaps praise on the showing of Panesar. Give a wicket similar to the one at Bangalore where Gavaskar played his last innings of a test and scored 96. Surely none of the present day Indian batsmen appear capable of scoring a total of 96.

Sachin Tendulkar has taken on a rampaging Shane Warne and the Aussie confessed of having nightmares over the assault. Laxman can dismantle the best spinners on his day. But suddenly, those appear things of the distant past. Sachin looked a batsman with unsure footwork in the first test. Dravid was once a bunny of Warne while Ganguly and Laxman made it a point not to take on Panesar. A big hitter like Dhoni also preferred to go on the defensive against Panesar.

The lack of quality spinners on the domestic circuit and the top players not taking interest in domestic cricket seems the most likely cause of the difficulties facing the spinners. Most of the present day Indian batsman do not rely on footwork but merely thrust their pads to the spinners. The replay of Dravid’s dismissal in the second test is ample proof.

Panesar is a good bowler from the point of view of the supporters of English cricket. But why should Indians be so prolific in their appreciation of the bowler? So much so that an Indian news channel has engaged Panesar to talk about cricket at the end of the play each day.


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