Thoughts on the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup

28 years after Kapil Dev led an unfancied India to a sensational World Cup triumph at the Lord’s 25th June 1983, M. S. Dhoni led a thoroughly efficient Indian outfit to repeat the feat.

When Kapil won:

  • I was as old as my son Aikataan is at present: not yet 5.
  • Colour TVs weren’t in vogue in India. You had to place an order for one and it could take up to a few months to get one, as my father found out when he tried to buy one before the LA Olympics in 1984.
  • The only sport where India had previously made a mark internationally was hockey, where it had won the Olympic gold medal 8 times (3 times as British India, including Pakistan). This happens to be a record not yet broken.
  • ODI matches in cricket had 60 overs a side and they were played in whites with a red cricket ball.
  • Cricket World Cups were named after their chief sponsors. The 1975, 1979 and 1983 trophies were called the Prudential World Cup, the 1987 trophy was called the Reliance World Cup, in 1992 it was the Benson & Hedges World Cup and in 1996 it was the Wills World Cup. Only from 1999 did the trophy start being called the ICC World Cup.
  • India were beyond rank outsiders, quite in contrast to being the favourites this year. In fact David Frith, the founder-editor of the Wisden Cricket monthly had claimed he would eat his words if India won the World Cup. He famously kept his word.
  • Broadcasters were too few and Kapil’s breathtaking knock of 175* against Zimbabwe was lost forever due to a BBC strike.
  • The Man of the Match for the Finals took home £600. In contrast the BCCI has promised $200,000.00 to each member of the winning team this year.
  • There was no concept of a Man of the Series.

I haven’t a recollection of the 1983 World Cup (we didn’t have a TV then), and I am pretty sure Aikataan is too young to have a recollection of his parents celebrating this World Cup. One of our lighter moments throughout the World Cup was getting him to say “India will win”, or “India has won”. Whoever the opponent – Australia, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, he was always giving two thumbs down to India and saying that the other team would win. The superstitious lot that we are, whenever India’s fortunes were on the downturn my wife and I prodded him for his opinion as to who the winner would be. He would promptly answer “Sri Lanka” and immediately there would be something good happening for India.

Continue reading Thoughts on the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup

An Aside on Tendulkar

It has been a while since I have wanted to write an article on Tendulkar, however other priorities have taken over and I have not been able to spare the time to do it. However, I recently had the opportunity to post a comment on the great man in response to Steve James’ post in the Telegraph. It is no substitute for the real thing, but given the circumstances this is the best I can offer as of now.

Changed Perceptions

As any loyal fan of Indian cricket would agree, we have our fair share of biases and perceptions. That is why we love to see our favorite players win and hate it when they are beaten by anybody. And as any sports fan would agree, many of these perceptions change over time, mainly due to a renewed perspective and some rather heart-warming incident on or off the field.

I was a fan of Tennis before I became a Cricket fan. My idol growing up used to be Boris Becker. Steffi Graf was soon added to my list of idols thanks to her outstanding play. As a result whenever Becker or Graf played a match I never supported their opponents and if my favorites happened to lose, I was never sporting enough to admit that they were beaten by a better player. Two players who often got the better of Becker were Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. And I never liked them for it. But as a few years went by and each established his status as a world-class player I became more appreciative of what they had achieved and I even became quite big fans of them.

In cricket too the tale was similar, with my perceptions changing about three different entities. The first of these was the former Pakistani captain Inzamam-ul-Haq. India and Pakistan being traditional rivals in cricket, I never really saw why Pakistan (and Imran Khan in particular) kept talking of Inzamam as one of the best batsmen in the world. Apart from some very good performances in the 1992 World Cup, he never seemed like a player in the same league as Brian Lara or Sachin Tendulkar. He relied so much on his skill with the bat that he tended to ignore the other attributes of a batsman, like running between the wickets. This insouciance endeared him to many, but it often made him a comical figure on the field, responsible for running out himself or his partners several times. Added to this was the fact that prior to 2000 he had very few “big” innings in tests and ODIs, and he had a disastrous showing in the 2003 World Cup with just 16 runs – tragic for a person talked of once as Pakistan’s answer to Tendulkar or Lara.

Continue reading Changed Perceptions

Wimbledon – My Pilgrimage

It just so happened that my project and my client decided they wanted me in UK in a week when England was on the brink of elimination from the Football World Cup 2010 and when John Isner and Nicolas Mahut produced an 11 hours 5 minutes long monster marathon in the first round of Wimbledon.

I had spent close to 8 months in London from early October 2001 to late May 2002. But my main regret from trip was that I had no photographs from the more touristy places of London thanks to a rather debilitating bout of illness that killed my will to venture outdoors for the last few weeks of my trip. So when I got the opportunity to travel again, I was determined to fill up the missing pictures from London in my photo album.

If you know me well, the only sport I enjoy following more than Tennis is Cricket. Since India doesn’t have any matches scheduled in Lord’s next week, I accepted Wimbledon, the Mecca of Tennis with open arms. A couple of colleagues from work, Gaurav and April picked today for the visit. The plan was to get there after 5:00 PM when ticket prices go down. I was apprehensive, however, since today was a Friday and last year’s Champion Roger Federer and the runner-up Andy Roddick both had third round matches. I was expecting long queues.

Given that I was changing hotels today after an unsatisfactory experience at Hilton Croydon, I decided to first drop off my baggage at Hilton Euston. The journey from Croydon to Euston took me time because I had to familiarize myself with the Oyster ticketing system that did not exist back in 2001/2002. After checking into the hotel it took me some more time to top up my Oyster card so that I could travel to Wimbledon. It didn’t help that the queues were long at rush hour and my credit card got rejected for some arbitrary reason the first time I tried to buy.

Anyway, I reached Wimbledon station at about 5:25 PM. By then Gaurav and his brother Saurabh were already in the queue for tickets, which by their estimate was at least 500 people long. I still hadn’t gotten to the stadium, so this was depressing news. But I anyway decided to take a shuttle from Wimbledon station to the park. After I disembarked I asked one of the people there as to where I could buy tickets. Thinking back, his directions were eerily similar to what the bystanders at Surat Railway Station had told me when asked where the bus stop was. I walked a good amount and at a pretty brisk speed, passing the stadium on my way.

The Stadium from outside

The Stadium from outside

The price list

After walking seemingly endlessly I finally reached the entrance of Car Park 10, where the queue started for the tickets. Actually the queue started at least 200m inside the car park. By the time I joined the queue, though, it was 6:00 PM and Gaurav and Saurabh were already chugging along. To give you an estimate, right about the court entrance where you purchase tickets, the queue index is A, where I was standing was K9 and Gaurav was probably around F. It had taken him an hour to get there.

Continue reading Wimbledon – My Pilgrimage

What was that, CBS?

I just finished watching the Roger Federer vs Juan Martin Del Potro US Open 2009 final and needless to say, I am a bit upset with Federer’s defeat. But all the same, full credit to Del Potro for taking the fight to Federer and fully capitalizing on the #1’s errors.

However, the post match presentations on CBS are what got me annoyed. The presenter Dick Enberg first joked a bit with Federer, and after Federer gave his acceptance speech and took his trophy, the champion was called. And I was really shocked with the way Dick Enberg handled him. He first asked him a couple of questions, then Del Potro said, “Can I say something in Spanish?” Enberg ignored him saying, “We are running out of time”, then called one of the heads of Lexus (a sponsor, of course) to give Del Potro the keys to the car he won. He then had the awards given to Del Potro and was about to sign off, when Del Potro again asked, “Can I say something in Spanish?” This time Enberg said, “We are running out of time, so a few quick words…” (or something to that effect). Del Potro finally got to speak for about 20s in Spanish and even got teary-eyed at the end of it.

Is this what a 20-year old Grand Slam winner gets for beating the 5-time defending champion? We are running out of time? It wasn’t as though Del Potro was verbose anyway. Why exactly was CBS running out of time? Had they expected the match to be shorter given Federer’s record against Del Potro?

Don’t know if too many others noticed this, but it surely stuck out like a sore thumb.

The Womderwomen and Supermen of Tennis

This is something I have wondered about for a long time. With the ascent of Roger Federer the debate about the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) has been full-blown and passionate. However, why is it that there is no debate talking about women? I am not talking about a unisex comparison, because that is more difficult to do, but in general, why is it such a big deal when a man completes a career Grand Slam, while there are three women who have completed calendar Grand Slams? (To be fair there are two men who have calendar Grand Slams as well)

Take a look at some statistics:

  1. Margaret Court and Steffi Graf each have more than 20 Grand Slam singles titles. Court has 24 and Graf has 22. Other players like Helen Wills has 19, while Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert each have 18. By contrast, among men Federer and Sampras have 14 (Wimbledon 2009 is on as I write this), Roy Emerson has 12 and Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg have 11 each.
  2. If you consider doubles and mixed doubles titles too, the margin becomes a gaping chasm – Court shoots to a humungous 62, Navratilova has an almost as high 59 (and she is still playing!) and Billie Jean King has 39. If you combine the lists across the two genders, the first man would be Roy Emerson at #9, with 28 titles.
  3. Donald Budge was the first man to win all 4 singles titles at the Grand Slams in one year (1938). Rod Laver followed him by repeating the feat twice. Laver first won as an amateur in 1962, then as a professional in 1969 and remains the only male player to win a calendar Grand Slam in the open era. Others like Fred Perry, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer did win all four titles, but not in one year. On the women’s side, however, Maureen Conolly, Margaret Court and Steffi Graf have all completed calendar Grand Slams, in 1953, 1970 and 1988 respectively. In addition several women have career Grand Slams – Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Serena Williams, Doris Hart and Shirley Fry.
  4. Statistically speaking Margaret Court was exceptional in her career – she had won a “boxed set” (career Grand Slams in Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles) twice – once before the Open Era and once during. Doris Hart and Martina Navratilova have their own boxed sets, but only once. No male player holds this distinction.
  5. Steffi Graf is the only player to have won singles titles at all four Grand Slams at least four times each. She also spent 377 weeks at #1 – 91 weeks more than Pete Sampras.
  6. Althea Gibson was the first African-American, male or female, to win a Grand Slam (French 1956, Wimbledon 1957 & 1958, US 1957 & 1958). Yet the stadium got named after Arthur Ashe. This isn’t to demean Ashe – he was a great player in his own right with three Grand Slams and a pioneer with his social efforts.

I agree that people like Federer and Laver represent a perfectly orchestrated symphony, that the men’s game of 5 sets is more physically taxing,  that most top men would whip the top women players of their time (I don’t say “all” because of Billie Jean King’s famous whipping of Bobby Riggs) and that Roger Federer is one of the most statistically impressive players ever. But somehow I feel that women have been shortchanged in GOAT discussions. Maybe we should start calling it GMOAT, just to be specific. Maybe we should start giving Wonderwoman too some credit, just like Superman.

Update on 5th July 2009: Roger Federer has now added Wimbledon 2009 to his collection, raising the total Grand Slams to 15 – the highest among men.

The Divine Hand

In the history of sports there have been a few incidents where a hand has been dealt in a rather unusual manner

  1. The most famous such incident of course, was Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal in the 1986 FIFA World Cup Quarter Final in Mexico against England. The goal was the first of two made against the English (the second was an equally memorable goal, often dubbed the “Goal of the Century”). Maradona acknowledged 19 years after the incident that he had deliberately hit the ball with his hand and knew it was illegitimate, but the goal still stands. The England fans have never forgiven him for this transgression.

  2. Three years later in a different sport, Michael Chang was playing Ivan Lendl in the 4th round of the French Open at Roland Garros. Lendl was the reigning World #1 and Chang was the 15th seeded 17-year old upstart. Lendl comfortably took the first two sets 6-4, 6-4. Chang then started suffering from severe leg cramps. That is when he changed his strategy. He started killing the speed of the ball and started repeatedly lobbing them to the baseline (moon balls) and generally unsettled Lendl. This way he managed to win back the next two sets 6-3, 6-3. Then, serving at 4-3 in the final set, Chang suddenly hit an underhand ball (a perfectly legitimate way to serve, if you are wondering) that had a typically calm Lendl become atypically flustered and the World #1 eventually lost the point and his temper.

    I was trying to break his concentration. I would do anything to stay out there.

    Michael Chang, about the match

  3. The third incident, was chronologically the first among the three that I have listed. This happened in the 3rd final of the World Series Cup of Cricket at the MCG on 1st February 1981. This involved serial troublemaker Greg Chappell and his brother Trevor. New Zealand required 15 runs off the last over and had 4 wickets in hand. Greg tossed the ball to Trevor and the first ball was belted for 4. Trevor picked up Hadlee LBW the second ball. That brought Ian Smith to the crease, while Bruce Edgar was at the non-striker’s end, batting on 102. New Zealand 7 for 225, with 11 runs needed off the last 4 balls. Smith picked up a couple of 2s off the next two balls, bringing the equation down to 7 runs from 2 balls. Then he was bowled. This brought tailender Brian McKechnie to the crease with 6 needed off the last ball to tie. That was when Greg advised Trevor to bowl underarm, to ensure that the six couldn’t be hit. The incident triggered massive outrage among players, fans and officials alike and underarm bowling was outlawed after that.

    Quotes about this incident:

    No, Greg, no, you can’t do that.

    Ian Chappell, during the match commentary

    Fair dinkum, Greg, how much pride do you sacrifice to win $35,000?

    Ian Chappell, in a newspaper column after this incident.

    It was an act of true cowardice and I consider it appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow

    Prime Minister of New Zealand, Rob Muldoon

Poor Research

It so happened that during my fourth year at IIT there was an ODI series between Australia and Zimbabwe – a classic case of ruthless extermination, if there was one. In the second match of the series at Harare on 23rd October, 1999, with Damien Fleming bowling to David Mutendra (the No. 11 batsman), Steve Waugh decided to try his mental disintegration and packed the slip cordon with 9 fielders (the maximum possible):

Fleming With Nine Slips
Australia vs Zimbabwe - 9 slips (If you know the source let me know)

This was the first and to date only time that such a field setting has been employed in ODI cricket. On the day after this match I recall the Times of India reporting this incident and stating:

Such a tactic had been used earlier in a test by Greg Chappell against New Zealand. At that time the bowler was Dennis Lillee and the batsman was not a tailender, but the top order batsman Glenn Turner.

This tidbit became a rage with trivia buffs and people would ask you to identify the batsman and the bowler from this picture:

Lillee With Nine Slips
Australia vs New Zealand- 9 slips (Source: Wisden Asia Cricket, July 2003)

The answer, as I always knew, was Glenn Turner and Dennis Lillee. Then I started subscribing to Wisden Asia Cricket in April 2003. The July issue of the magazine had the above picture and the following story as recollected by Lillee himself:

Australia were playing New Zealand in the second test at Auckland in 1977. We were heading for an easy win with more than two days to spare. It was the centenary year and Greg Chappell was about to bring out his book, ‘The 100th Summer’. He had a photographer standing by for the right opportunity, and when their No. 11, Peter Petherick the offspinner, came out, Chappell called all the guys in. I ended up bowling to nine slips, but it was a pretty poor ball. As you can see, Marshy [Rod Marsh] had to go down the leg side to collect. I was trying too hard I suppose. Petherick wasn’t the greatest batsman in the world, but I didn’t get him out for a while that day.

So the answer should have been Dennis Lillee bowling to Peter Petherick! I realized almost four years late that TOI had been misleading.

I have seen several instances where newspapers (and reputed journalists) get their facts wrong. The Times of India is notorious for this. I recently read the film reviewer Nikhat Kazmi claiming that Slumdog Millionnaire was set to become the 4th highest grossing movie of all time worldwide, while the truth is that it was/is nowhere in the top 100.

Indian journalists are notoriously lax in their research, perhaps taking Indian readers for granted. Maybe that is why plagiarists run amok in the Bollywood music industry, because if the journalists did their homework properly and branded every plagiarist a cheat, things would be so much better.

Sporting Gestures

I had written about Nadal and Federer at this year’s Australian Open, applauding the spirit displayed by Nadal after his victory. Today I came across an article in the Guardian (yes, I read all the British and Australian newspapers whenever India does well in Cricket, just to see what other countries think of it) that talked about the author’s top 10 favourite sporting gestures on the field. While a few readers have commented that Nadal’s act should have made the list, I was happy to see Andrew Flintoff consoling Brett Lee figure in the top 10 – that was something I had appreciated in my post.

I will be keeping my posts short till 24th April. The 7-day work weeks clubbed with a work-related repetitive stress injury has severely hampered my capacity to write here or to work on Aquoid.


The Baddy Blog

No – this is not a bad blog by any stretch of imagination. It is actually a Badminton player’s blog. Saina Nehwal’s, to be precise. Unfortunately it is not a blog in the classical style – there is no RSS / Atom feed or a place to enter comments. Nevertheless, it is a very enjoyable read. More so because I really love playing Badminton myself and Saina is an excellent player (10th in the world at the moment) and a very good writer. The writing style is direct and witty, describing aspects of daily training and with a peek into some interactions that she has on a day to day basis.

Saina’s rise to the top is a very inspiring story in itself. As an 8-year old she would start her day at 6:00 AM each day and ride pillion on her father’s scooter for 20km. From an American perspective 20km is a trifling distance – 12.5 miles, but this is a pretty long ride in India where your scooters don’t go faster than 40-50 kmph (25-30 mph). There were also financial hardships like kit costs, training costs etc. Luckily she managed to find sponsorships starting in 2002, which ameliorated the situation to a large extent.

I do hope Saina finds great professional and personal success – we need people like her to put India on the map of world sports.