Sunday, September 20, 2009

Derby ho to aisa!

September 20, 2009
Saw an entire football match after a very long time – the Manchester Derby.
Part of the reason for watching it was the quick glance through the sports pages in the newspapers, where the scoresheet says that almost every single Premiership game this season has seen around three goals being scored. Wow! Part of the reason was that I am quite certain City will take the Premiership title this time – yeah, I know, but I am quite certain. Yeah, I’m with you Colin Shindler!Of course, the Derby took place soon after Lionel Messi scored two in a 5-2 demolition of Atletico Madrid, but still…thought I’d catch the derby nevertheless. And at the end of it, here are some quick, and very random, thoughts:

1. City can’t do much despite their great strike force with this sort of defending. The United attack isn’t spectacular, and though Giggs had one of his greatest days in recent, or otherwise, memory, Given had it too tough because of the twerps in the defence. Real Madrid had the best attackers in the world playing together, but couldn’t do much – you can’t always outscore opponents; there’s a reason football is played the way it is.
- First goal: no one going in for the final tackle on Rooney
- Second goal: no one marking Fletcher
- Third goal: no one marking Fletcher again
- Fourth goal: yes, it was way past the end-time, but why was no one marking Owen
- The number of times Berbatov got free headers was also ridiculous
2. It’s very simple; Toure can’t, repeat can’t, be the team’s number one defender. He’s best as a support act, but definitely not as the prime defender.

3. Still talking about City, and I don’t think Tevez is up there yet –Adebayor has to be part of the starting line-up at all times, and with Bellamy in the kind of touch he was in today, man, what a strike pairing!
4. From United’s part, and this is aside of the usual dollop of cheating that they have survived on for decades now, I don’t think the team has that zing about it. I don’t see Giggs playing like this everyday, though I’ll bet my last rupee that he will keep trying to. I also don’t think Owen will be a regular solution, simply because I don’t see him playing more than 20 minutes at any stage.
I also don’t think you can count on Fletcher to pull you back like this too often – he is just not good enough, even if he plays with his heart on his sleeve. And I certainly think that Anderson is among the worst players to have worn the United strip ever. What United is missing is that one spark. The sort that Rooney is providing off and on. The sort that Giggs provided every minute of the second half today. The sort that Ronaldo used to provide. Or Beckham.
At the end of it, while I do believe City have it in them to pull off a Premiership win this season – I seriously do – I think this whole we’ll-score-more-than-them philosophy has to change. Fast. Else, those billions won’t add up to much.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Freddie the freelancer!

September 19, 2009
So now Andrew Flintoff is going to be a freelance cricketer, eh?

Oh my god! How can that be? How can a cricketer play for multiple teams? It’s unheard of in international sport!

Oh well, that it is. In team sport, especially. Imagine a Cristiano Ronaldo playing a couple of weeks for Real Madrid, then with Manchester United, and then, another couple of weeks depending on which part of the world his girlfriend wants to holiday in. Nope, not done!

Except that this is cricket we are talking about. And that makes this completely unprecedented plan on Freddie’s part quite acceptable. Really!

No other major team sport involves such massive country representation to start with.

Football – no. Hockey – no. Baseball – no. Rugby – no. Basketball – no. Volleyball – no. What other team sports are there? All these are primarily club sports; with players getting together to play for their countries once every six months or so. If you are a big footballer for a major team, chances are you will not be forced to play all these matches either – only the really important ones.

And that’s why cricket, and cricketers, should be looked at slightly differently.

Once a regular with his national team, an average cricketer spends almost 90 percent of the time representing his country. This would be closer to 100 percent in the pre-IPL era. That’s quite ridiculous.

Now, the fact that the future of world cricket is Franchisee Cricket or Club Cricket is no secret. That’s the direction the sport is headed in. If that means no more cricketers with 100-plus Test matches and 10,000-plus runs, so be it. Truth is, if cricket needs to exist as a global sport (which it has been attempting to for a long time now), it must go the club way.

It must allow the Didier Drogbas and the George Weahs and the Landon Donovans and, even, the Bhaichung Bhutias to play with the best in the world even if Ivory Coast and Liberia and USA and India are not good enough as teams. It must.

It must have Test championships and ODI championships and T20 championships. Between countries. But it must identify one format – most likely the T20 format – that will be played among clubs around the year. There must be an Indian Premier League. As there should be an Australian Premier League and an English Premier League and a West Indian Premier League. And there should be the Champions League.

Which brings us to the Flintoff question. The Freelance Cricketer. Is it acceptable? Your take on this is as good as mine, but I do want to say this: as long as cricket doesn’t operate the football way and forces cricketers to make themselves available round the year to satisfy calendar commitments, more and more big players like Flintoff will take the freelance route. If Flintoff is allowed to operate as a freelancer, every single West Indian cricketer – Chris Gayle downwards – will take the same route. And no one will have a legal or legitimate ground to stop them.

And no one should stop them anyway.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

September 12, 2009

Off the daily work grind for a while; not sure how long the peace will last and I'll have to get back to earning a bit of money...but thought I'd make use of the lull in the interim to 'restart' my blog, make it a more sports-heavy kind of set-up, be more regular with updates. Write the sort of stuff no one will let me to write for them; stuff that probably doesn't matter. Nevertheless...

India No 1
It's interesting that after launching a full-fledged Rooting For India campaign while at Headlines Today, the team becomes number one in the world at the end of the first match they play after I quit. Mission World Domination, we called it, as the Indians did almost everything right in the one-day format through the lead-up to the big breakthrough.
It's not going to be forever, but I think it's a great big deal. And it's the big story in a situation which is quite similar to what was happening around 2007. Indians doing well in various international sporting events - from the point of view of cricket, the T20 World Cup was won and some good Test wins were happening.
Right now, there's the Paes-Bhupathi face-off in the US Open men's doubles final. Between them, they have 21 Grand Slam titles - this will be the 22nd, one way or the other. Vijender Singh did extremely well at the World Championships, though some of the other boxers who could have done well fell by the wayside. Force India is doing well, finally, even though the team has (a) very little to do with India and (b) very little to do with sport (but that's another topic). Saina Nehwal is up and about and almost there... And MC Marykom is hard at work trying to make sure she remains the number one come the next Olympic Games (pity Beijing 2008 didn't include women's boxing, it should have been there).
But coming back to the Indian team, there's a little niggling thing that continues to bug me, even though we are officially the best team in the world in ODIs and should win the Lanka tri-series. And that's because we have played little or no cricket against South Africa or Australia recently. Nor against England in England. Ever since the team got on their winning run, we have been in the subcontinent, away at a very under-par New Zealand team, etc. And that worries me. It tells me that there's a very good chance our high won't last. Of course, who's to say we wouldn't have beaten South Africa - we could have. But the odds are iffy.
There are serious problems with our batting order - Sehwag is iffy, Gambhir has been iffy recently and is now injured, Raina is too inconsistent, Dravid may or may not be a long-term solution, Dhoni is not the big-hitter he was, Yusuf is not good enough beyond a five-over spell. Tendulkar - yes. Yuvraj - yes. But is that good enough? Ditto with the bowling. Zaheer, Nehra, Ishant and Harbhajan at their best is a potent combo; but they are not at their best most often.
And that tells me that the bubble might burst sooner than we think it will. As early as in the Champions Trophy later this month...