Sports en Wed Nov 02 10:24:10 IST 2022 indian-badminton-player-p-v-sindhu-and-her-mentor-prakash-padukone-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Exclusive Interview/ P.V. Sindhu &amp; Prakash Padukone</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was an exhilarating and sapping finals. The ladies on either side of the net refused to give up. Eventually one had to. On August 19, 2016, P.V. Sindhu ended up with the silver medal while friend-cum-foe Carolina Marin became Olympic champion after a three-set duel. Sindhu has been there and seen that. The gold is what she wants, as athletes across the world prepare for the Paris Games. The bitter taste of ending on the losing side has stayed with her all these years, and it has made her hungry for gold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sindhu is the most followed Indian badminton star with 3.1 million followers on X, the same number on Facebook and by close to 100 million Indians on television. The ace does not mention anywhere in her bio that she has won two Olympic medals―the silver at Rio 2016 and a bronze at Tokyo 2020. Winning even one Olympic medal would make many athletes mention it in ALL CAPS, but not Sindhu. Because her quest for the elusive Olympic gold is still on. As if it is now or never for the 28-year-old, though badminton has had older champions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sindhu was 20 when she won her silver in 2016; she has five World Championship medals, including a gold. Yet, the Olympic gold is the biggest miss in her trophy cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, becoming a champion and staying at the top is not easy. Sindhu suffered a stress fracture on her left ankle which kept her out of the year-ending BWF finals in 2023. She was injured during the Commonwealth Games in August even though she persevered to win the title. “Her doctor advised her to take some more time, so that she recovers completely ahead of the new season,” said her father, P.V. Ramanna.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the break, she moved base from Hyderabad to Bengaluru to the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence, where she had all facilities―from training to exercise and physio―under one roof. The results have not been immediate, but the Sindhu Express is well on its way to Paris.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prakash Padukone, former badminton world number one who is now her mentor, has definite ideas on coaching. “She is a terrific ward,” he says, in this first joint interaction after taking charge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There will be pressure, but I am taking it one day at a time,” said Sindhu. She knows that it is not just her game, but also the mental cobwebs that need clearing up. In this interview, the duo talk about the expectations, the focus over the next month or two, and their common goal now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash, how has the experience of coaching an Olympic medallist been so far?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash:</b> Since September, Sindhu has been here. She was playing a few tournaments in between and got injured. Then she had to do her rehab, for which she had to be in Hyderabad. Actually, we got probably a month in Bengaluru 10 days before Asiad. Of course, she will keep going and coming back. She will be here in Bengaluru till the middle of February. It has been very nice working with her―an absolute pleasure. She is a good student, very disciplined and dedicated, willing to listen, despite five world championships and two Olympic medals. She still feels she is a first-timer. She is willing to listen to not just me but anybody. That is a hallmark of champions. She is very open to ideas not just on court, but also in the gym.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Basically, what we are trying to do is put a professional team together. I am mentoring her more in strategy than practice. We have an Indonesian coach Agus Dwi Santoso from January 1. My job is to coordinate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>When you say your job is to strategise, how different is this role from previous ones?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash:</b> Five to 10 years ago, I had to be on court to actually make players [practise]. That, the Indonesian coaches do now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sindhu </b>(laughs):<b> </b>No, sir also spends time to see [our progress].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash:</b> My way of teaching is that the player is the ultimate authority; the coach is there to guide the player. The player has to be convinced, have a game plan, analyse, be convinced why we are playing the stroke. These were the things very prominent in the 1980s when we were young. Emphasis was not so much on the physical.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What I am trying to do is combine the advantages of both [the times]. Try to take strengths of that time, and take those of the present generation, and create a style of your own―create something different from what everybody else is doing. Use of deception, wrists, good footwork…. We are good at this as Indians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is convincing players easy or difficult?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash:</b> Player intelligence is always there. Otherwise she would not have won so many tournaments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sindhu, how desperate are you for a medal at the Olympics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sindhu:</b> Of course, I am desperate. I am sure everybody is desperate to get that gold, but I think to get there, we have to do what we have to do. It is important we get everything right. Not just me, the whole team has to be on same page. Even from my side, I need to push myself and implement what they say.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is the change playing on Sindhu’s mind?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash: </b>No, I think she is coming out of injury. Maybe she rushed herself a little bit; maybe, one or two months earlier, she was not fully fit. We have done some tests, used a lot of science. Maybe that is the difference in what we were doing earlier and now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier, without doing anything, she was winning titles. The problem started when she was not doing as well as she had been, and did not know where to start.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We started asking: are you doing this or that―using a mental trainer, doing regular video analysis. She was doing it, but not on a regular basis. Now, she has a very structured and strong team which is monitoring her on a daily basis―her weight, diet, sleep, recovery…. We are trying to do our best. My advice to Sindhu would be to not think of gold. It is important, but focus more on the process, do your preparation well and treat it like any other tournament. If you keep thinking ‘I have to win’, that puts you under pressure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What kind of a ward is she?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash:</b> Very disciplined, and receptive to new ideas. Not often do you get a student like this who has already achieved so much! So when I tell her something, she is able to execute it the next day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How difficult was it to shift base?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sindhu:</b> Not difficult, I would say, when it happened. I was worried. Nothing was going right. You are playing, but still nothing right was happening.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Were you prepared for all the difficulties that came your way with the change?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I would not say difficulties, but I thought there would be a change. There should be a change, everything cannot be the same.</p> <p><b>Mentally, you are in a good space?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sindhu:</b> Yes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash:</b> If you are physically and mentally fit, your game would automatically fall into place. I think earlier she was in a confused state of mind. It was just a question of having clarity of thought.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Slipping from number 2 to number 11―does that bother you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sindhu:</b> It does not bother me, because if you do everything right, I am 100 per cent sure that the ranking will improve automatically. You go with a mindset―yes, I am mentally and physically fit―and the ranking will take care of itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you expect of Sindhu, now that she is under your guidance and tutelage?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash:</b> Her brief is very clear. Any tournament you play, whether in the district level or the Olympics, you have to play to win. If you are not fit enough, don’t play for the sake of participating.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ranking, according to me, is misguiding. [It is possible to] get into the top 10 without beating any of the top players. More important for me will be to win the important tournaments. The colour of the medal is not important. Any tournament you play, you play to win―that is the brief.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>This is an Olympic year.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash:</b> Take a break, and do analyses properly―that is what we did. We think we are on the right track.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Things are very different from the days you played.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash:</b> It is entirely different (laughs). In my days, there was no such big [support] team. It is a big change, but you have to adapt to change. Ten years ago, most players had one coach who doubled as trainer. Nowadays you might be an All England champion or world no 1, but if you say, ‘I alone will help this player’, it would not happen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is important to know a lot more things today. The science of sport has come a long way. Sindhu is definitely a contender for an Olympic medal, but you never know. We are trying to make use of the best info and science.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What made you agree to take her on board?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash: </b>She was doing well. My style of coaching is old-fashioned. I thought if I ask her, she would say, ‘What will you teach now?’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sindhu:</b> No, I think it is a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity. Who would say no?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash:</b> She was going through a very bad patch…. I read her interviews and thought: this is the time I should at least ask and [offer help]. Otherwise I will regret it for a lifetime. She said, ‘Of course, I would like to.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I did not even approach her directly. I thought she would feel odd to say yes or no. So I asked Viren [Rasquinha] of OGQ (the non-profit Olympic Gold Quest] to ask and she said yes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you satisfied with the way badminton is going up in the country?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash:</b> Yes, it is going up, but a lot more can be done. There needs to be a little more professional approach from the federation though they are already doing a lot…. PBL (Premier Badminton League) can add to the popularity; more kids will be playing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you go home with a smile on your face?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prakash:</b> Yes</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sindhu: </b>It is just one day at a time for me. There will be pressure, but I won’t think much about that. If things work out, they work out.</p> Sat Jan 27 15:52:14 IST 2024 no-one-can-question-novak-djokovic-s-skill-determination-and-triumphs <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence,” Novak Djokovic, the controversy-prone hero of men’s tennis, wrote on a television camera after his first round victory at Roland-Garros this year. French Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra said what he did was inappropriate and issued a warning, but Djokovic said he stood by his statement. “I would say it again… Of course I am aware that a lot of people would disagree, but it is what it is,” he said.</p> <p>Serbs have not accepted Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. They comprise a majority in Kosovo’s north, while ethnic Albanians make up more than 90 per cent of the country’s total population. Djokovic was referring to the ethnic clashes that broke out earlier this year in the northern Kosovo town of Zveçan, the place where his father grew up. The clashes occurred after ethnic Albanian mayors took office in Serb-majority areas, following elections that the Serbs had boycotted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While writing Kosovo on the camera, Djokovic knew that he would invite the wrath of the west, the main benefactor of the tennis universe. But it did not stop him from articulating his beliefs. In that sense, Nole, as he is called affectionately in his native Serbia, has always been an outlier in world tennis. An antithesis of what the mainstream tennis watching crowd expects from their champions. It is hard for them to place him in the pantheon of legends such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, John McEnroe, Björn Borg and Rod Laver, although, statistically, Djokovic is now the best player in the world. Perhaps, even the GOAT―Greatest Of All Times. He has the most Grand Slam titles at 24, two more than Nadal and four more than Federer, and has a winning record against both. He has been ranked number one the most weeks and has won every Grand Slam and ATP Masters 1000 event at least twice. No one else has won all the Masters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, Djokovic is among the least loved champions in the world. World Sports Network did a survey recently to find out who were the most hated tennis players in the world. Djokovic was found to have received the most negative tweets at 15 per cent and Facebook posts at 11 per cent. There could be many reasons for this. Djokovic plays somewhat boring tennis and doesn’t seem to have any obvious weakness for his opponents to exploit, making his games less exciting. He loves unconventional methods, articulates unscientific theories, holds outdated views of nationalism and is not always politically correct.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Djokovic’s philosophy and outlook―both on and off the field―seem to have been influenced by the savage 78-day bombing campaign unleashed by NATO on Serbia when he was growing up. He was only 11 when NATO forces started attacking Serbia on March 24, 1999 to put an end to president Slobodan Miloševic’s anti-Kosovo regime. As explosions lit up the Belgrade sky, Djokovic ran out of his apartment with his father, Srdjan, mother, Dijana, and younger brothers, Marko and Djordje. He fell face down on the street outside and, a moment later, there was a huge F-117 bomber above him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“What happened next would never leave me. Even today, loud sounds fill me with fear,” wrote Djokovic in his book Serve to Win. The bomber unleashed two missiles, hitting a hospital a few blocks away. “I remember the sandy, dusty metallic shell and how the whole city seemed to glow like a ripe tangerine.” But the fear of death was not going to stop him from playing tennis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the earliest gifts Djokovic received from his parents was a mini-racket, but his formal introduction to tennis was accidental. His father was an accomplished skier, but the Djokovic family had no tradition of racket sports. The extended family operated several small businesses during vacations in the resort town of Kopaonik, 250km south of Belgrade on the Kosovo border. Perhaps by a quirk of fate, the Serbian government chose Kopaonik to set up a small sports complex, which had three tennis courts. Barely four then, Djokovic loved to watch young players practise there. He was spotted by Jelena Gencic, who was running a summer tennis clinic. She had earlier coached Monica Seles and Goran Ivanisevic, and after spending a few hours with Djokovic she knew that he was a special talent. Djokovic probably knew, too, as he told her that he wanted to be number one in the world. Gencic, whom he called his “tennis mother”, turned out to be a major influence in his life. She introduced him, besides tennis, to Pushkin’s poems, Chekhov’s stories, and western classical music and planted in him a never-say-die attitude.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in Belgrade, their partnership flourished. Gencic was every bit as tenacious as the young Djokovic. Although she lost her sister in the NATO bombing, she would accompany Djokovic for practice, picking up sites based on where the bombs had landed the previous night, hoping that the same spot would not be targeted twice in a row. Tennis became literally a matter of life and death. “The war made me a better person because I learned to appreciate things and to take nothing for granted,” said Djokovic. “It also made me a better tennis player because I swore to myself that I would prove to the world that there are good Serbs, too.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Djokovic turned 12, Gencic persuaded his family to trust his prodigious talent and send him to Germany to join an academy run by her friend, former Yugoslavian player Nikola Pilic. It was not an easy decision. The family had to pool in its resources. They exhausted their savings, sold whatever jewellery they had and took out loans at exorbitant rates. “For 17 years, we lived in rented accommodations. Sometimes landlords evicted us. I could not sleep at night and I would walk down the street. Sometimes the police would arrest me,” remembers his father.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Djokovic turned professional and began competing on the ATP Tour in 2003. By then, Federer and Nadal had established themselves as players to watch out for. The early days were not easy. There was a time when Djokovic was a frail, unhealthy player who would break down frequently in the middle of matches. Even after winning his first Grand Slam in 2008, he could not make much headway, getting lost in the shadow of the Federal-Nadal duopoly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Djokovic’s inconsistent health soon became a matter of concern. On January 27, 2010, he was playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and had a two sets to one lead. But he started losing points steadily from the fourth set onwards, complaining of breathlessness and fatigue. The commentators described it as yet another bout of asthma. But a Serbian doctor, Igor Cetojevic, who was watching him on television, did not agree. Cetojevic, an expert in alternative medicine, felt that Djokovic’s woes were the result of the accumulation of toxins in his large intestine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Persuaded by his wife Francesca, Cetojevic met Djokovic at a Davis Cup tie later that year in Split, Croatia. He asked Djokovic to stretch out his right hand, while keeping the left hand on his stomach. He then pushed the right hand down, which Djokovic could resist easily. But he could not do so after a slice of bread was held against his stomach. Cetojevic convinced Djokovic that it meant that he was allergic to gluten, a protein present in wheat. Following his encounter with Cetojevic, Djokovic made a drastic change to his diet, giving up not just wheat, but all processed food, dairy and refined sugar. A couple of years later, he made his diet entirely plant-based.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Djokovic these days loves his daily fix of celery juice, green smoothie (made of algae and spinach), greens salad, gluten-free pasta primavera and vegan cheese. In an episode of his Instagram series ‘Conscious Living’, he spoke about how he fasts for 16 hours a day to induce “autophagy,” the body’s cellular recycling system. He said dietary modifications took him from the “brink of failure to be the champion of the world”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The year after he met Cetojevic turned out to be one of the greatest seasons ever for Djokovic. From a one-slam wonder, he won all the Grand Slams except the French Open, and finished the year as number one. The amazing turnaround perhaps changed Djokovic in more ways than one. He started promoting wellness fads and pseudoscience, like the claim that it is possible to make pure water dirty by directing negative energy towards it and to purify impure water with positive thoughts. In an interview with his wellness guru Chervin Jafarieh he said, “I know some people who, through that energetic transformation, through the power of prayer, through the power of gratitude, managed to turn the most toxic food or maybe the most polluted water into the most healing water, because molecules in the water react to our emotions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Djokovic once had a life coach, Pepe Imaz, who apparently taught him telepathy and levitation. During an interview in 2018, Djokovic spoke about his telepathic powers. “I feel like these are gifts from this higher order.” Djokovic has endorsed a product called Taopatch, a nanotechnology device that, according to its promoters, combines light therapy and acupuncture. The Taopatch website claims that it “converts natural body heat into microscopic beams of light to stimulate the nervous system”. Djokovic once said that the product was one of the biggest secrets of his success.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His pilgrimages to the Bosnian town of Visoko are well known. He loves to visit the ‘pyramid of the sun’, a hill that he says has magical properties. “There is a truly miraculous energy here,” he said, much to the amusement of the journalists who followed him there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Djokovic’s obsession with natural remedies sometimes borders on the extreme, even affecting his health and career. In 2016, he suffered an elbow injury which got worse progressively as he refused surgery. It forced his then coach, Andre Agassi, to part ways with him. Agassi said Djokovic’s unwillingness to have the surgery done was the chief stumbling block in their partnership. “He had the real hope that his elbow could heal naturally. I was not a fan of that choice,” he said. Djokovic finally agreed to the surgery, but was so unhappy about it. “I cried for three days after the surgery. Every time I thought about what I did, I felt like I had failed myself,” he told the <i>Telegraph</i>. His wife, Jelena, said the surgery went against his core values. “It was like he buried one part of him with that decision. He said: ‘I’m done, I’m not playing tennis anymore, I lost this, I’m not having fun anymore, this is it.’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While most of his unusual food and lifestyle choices were dismissed as an extraordinary champion’s eccentricities, a major setback came during the Covid-19 pandemic, after he voiced his opposition to vaccinations. Djokovic ignored the fact that the Serbian government had administered more than eight million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine and even offered cash incentives to get people vaccinated. Although he donated a million euros for buying respirators and other medical equipment, he publicly expressed doubts whether a vaccine could beat a virus that was prone to mutations. Instead, he placed his trust in diet restrictions and behavioural practices. “I am curious about empowering our metabolism to be in the best shape to defend against impostors like Covid-19,” he said. During the early months of the pandemic, Djokovic organised a series of exhibition matches in Serbia and Croatia, without taking any precautions. It resulted in a wave of infections; Djokovic himself was infected and had to cancel the tour midway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Things took a turn for the worse at the 2022 Australian Open when Djokovic landed in a lock-down weary Melbourne, with a dubious vaccine exemption from the organisers. All hell broke loose after the <i>Sydney Morning Herald</i> broke the news that the exemption was granted on the grounds that he had recently contracted Covid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Australians reacted to the news with anger and scepticism. Conservative prime minister Scott Morrison, who was already facing devastating poll numbers, seized the opportunity and announced that his government would not grant any exception to anyone. He ordered Djokovic to be held in confinement at the Park Hotel, the infamous detention facility where refugees and asylum seekers are housed. Although a federal court freed Djokovic from custody, it said the final decision was to be made by immigration minister Alex Hawke. He revoked Djokovic’s visa and ordered his deportation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later, it became clear that although Djokovic had claimed in his visa application that he had not travelled in the two weeks before heading to Australia―a mandatory requirement―he had, in fact, visited Spain during that time. He later clarified that furnishing false information was a “human error”. He also admitted that he had attended an interview and a photo shoot with the French daily <i>L’Equipe</i> even after knowing that he was infected with Covid. There were photos of him the day after he allegedly tested positive, posing for photos with small children, everyone without masks, at a charity event. After reaching Belgrade, Djokovic blamed the media. “They have picked on me big time and not in a positive note, which has created a lot of disturbance to my brand and to me personally and people around me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A year later, Djokovic, still unvaccinated, returned to Melbourne, won his record extending tenth Australian Open title and tying Nadal for most Grand Slam titles. He dropped just a set and won the final in straight sets. There was barely a player in the men’s draw who could mount a challenge against Djokovic’s complete dominance. An aspect of Djokovic’s style of play, which makes it boring to watch at least for some spectators, is his machine-like precision.&quot;For a player who is supposed to be a human being just like you and I, it is hard not to watch one of Djokovic's matches and wonder if he is some type of robotic automaton,&quot; writes New York-based tennis expert Nick Nemeroff for the <i>Tennis Island</i>. “Federer’s effortless technical precision, grace under pressure and uncanny ability to come up with unprecedented shots allowed him to assert control over matches that the sport had simply not seen before. Nadal came along and changed the way we think about topspin forever. Djokovic’s defensive prowess is the ‘shot’ in his arsenal that is not only controlling the game, but simultaneously changing the way it can be played.” Translated charitably, Djokovic’s games can be quite boring to watch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;He is fundamentally a conservative, defensive player,&quot; writes Park MacDougald of <i>Washington Examiner</i>. “His game is built around consistency, a phenomenal return of serve, and an equally remarkable ability to chase down balls that he has absolutely no business getting back in play, forever forcing his opponents to hit one more shot when they think they have already got the point.” Equally remarkable is his accuracy and the ability to find angles thus far uncovered on a tennis court, making his opponents feel like lesser mortals. “You can’t imagine how frustrating it is to hit what you think is a winner or an ace, only to have Novak send it right back,” said Andy Roddick while commentating during this year’s US Open. Djokovic also takes away the human angle from the game with his phenomenal mental fortitude. He never gives up until the last point is played.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The amount of preparation that goes into Djokovic’s game is exceptional. For instance, when he plays the US Open, he stays at the $40 million New Jersey estate owned by his longtime friend and hitting partner Gordon A. Uehling III. The hillside facility, spread on 40 acres, has courts that simulate Wimbledon’s Centre Court, Court Philippe-Chatrier at the French Open and Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, down to the exact same surface specifications. The estate also has a hard court with a camera-and-software system developed by PlaySight, a company that makes advanced flight-simulation systems for the Israeli air force. It records every stroke and every move by a player, including the speed, spin and trajectory of the balls and point patterns, the distance covered, and the calories burned. It gives the player and his coach real time information about everything they need. It also provides charts and tables recording the evolution of a player. Every year, Djokovic travels to Flushing Meadows armed with all these details. For added measure, the estate also has a hyperbaric chamber, where you can relax while “simulated altitude pressure and a cyclical programme of muscle compression work together to enhance the body’s ability to absorb oxygen”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite his meticulous preparation and ice cool temperament, there have been multiple instances of him arguing with umpires and breaking rackets. Some critics say it is all part of his strategy to upset the rhythm of his opponents. Yet, he was kicked out of the US Open in 2020 after hitting a ball in frustration during his fourth round match against Pablo Carreño Busta that struck a line judge in the throat. He immediately left the court and the stadium. Former British player Tim Henman, who was disqualified for a similar incident at Wimbledon in 1995, said Djokovic should have faced up to his mistake and apologised. “You have to be responsible for your actions on the court.” He also drew a lot of flak for launching a racket into the empty stands at the Tokyo Olympics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Djokovic’s strategic bathroom breaks are known to throw his opponents off balance. If he feels that the momentum is against him, he often takes a bathroom break. “You mainly use this moment to reset yourself mentally, changing your environment,” said Djokovic. “Even if it’s a short break, you can have a few deep breaths and come back as a new player.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even more damaging for Djokovic’s image have been his views on certain subjects like gender equality. Four years ago, he launched a parallel players’ group called the Professional Tennis Players Association to ensure a more equitable distribution of prize money, but he was criticised for keeping women out of it initially. (The group now has both men and women players.) His views on gender parity in tennis have been problematic, too. When asked about equal pay for women, he once said that he would support the idea if women could bring in more fans and more money. And then he spoke about women’s bodies and their hormones, and their “fight against unspeakable biological challenges”, drawing even more criticism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On Halloween of 2018, former American player and commentator Justin Gimelstob, who was also a member of the ATP Players Council, attacked a friend called Randall Kaplan, while he was with his pregnant wife and their two-year-old daughter. Gimelstob pushed Kaplan to the ground and punched him repeatedly in the head. Kaplan was hospitalised and his wife miscarried. Gimelstob was convicted of battery with serious bodily injury to the victim. He pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to three years probation. While most players asked the ATP to drop Gimelstob, Djokovic hesitated to do so. He told a news conference that he would not support Gimelstob, if proven guilty. When a journalist pointed out that Gimelstob had already admitted his guilt in court, he said he would have to go through the court documents. After reading the documents, Djokovic said Gimelstob had taken responsibility for his actions, still refusing to condemn his behaviour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest misfortune for Djokovic as far as his popularity is concerned is probably the fact that he shared an era with two of the most-loved players ever―Federer and Nadal. When Djokovic first burst on the scene, the Fedal duopoly was at its peak and most tennis fans had already picked their sides, leaving no room for a third option. In the beginning, the young imposter was treated as a welcome distraction, someone to motivate the top duo to do even better. Djokovic’s impersonation of fellow players (he loved mimicking the mannerisms of other players on court), his fragile health and the occasional good fight found some love from the spectators. Things started changing once he started winning Grand Slams regularly, turning into a serious threat to Federer and Nadal. “The fact is that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were at the top before Djokovic appeared, and then suddenly a guy from Serbia came and won all the tournaments. That did not please the fans,” said retired Serbian player Viktor Troicki.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The media and the advertisement machinery also played a role, perhaps unwittingly. The Fedal duopoly was an advertisers’ dream. Here you had two supremely gifted, politically correct and well-behaved gentlemen from west Europe. While the Swiss was polished, articulate and charming, the Spaniard was raw, rugged and adorable. And then came the Serb, upending their best laid plans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Edoardo Artaldi, Djokovic’s long-time agent and manager (they parted ways recently), told <i>Sport360</i> that it was difficult for Djokovic to find good sponsors and endorsements because of his nationality. Apart from the political reasons, Serbia not being an economic, political or demographic powerhouse also hurts. “Djokovic comes from a poor country. Obviously, he will find it hard to get support from a company from his country,” he said, contrasting his situation with that of his competitors. “Roger, he is the greatest player ever, but, if you see, he has Credit Suisse, Lindt, Jura… all Swiss companies. Rafa is connected with many Spanish companies.” Until 2012, Djokovic’s main sponsor was little known Italian sportswear brand Sergio Tacchini. As the company was unable to meet its commitments, Djokovic dropped it. His first major deal came after that, with Japanese brand Uniqlo. And that came largely because of non-tennis reasons. After the Fukushima earthquake of 2011, Djokovic had played a tournament with a knee brace saying “Support Japan”. Tadashi Yanai, founder and president of Fast Retailing, Uniqlo’s parent company, was moved by the gesture and approached Djokovic for an endorsement deal. “I think he has to show 10 times more than others how good he is not just on court but outside the court to have a company interested in him,” said Artaldi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also a hint of racism, which some critics call the “hierarchy of whiteness” in tennis. Despite the perceived democratisation of the game, tennis continues to be white, western and upper middle class. That is probably one of the reasons why most popular champions of the game all belonged to this cohort. Ivan Lendl could never match the popularity of John McEnroe, notwithstanding his superior record. Lendl had a superior head-to-head record against Jimmy Connors, Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander and Boris Becker, too, but he never got the respect he deserved. In September 1986, when Lendl was at the peak of his powers, <i>Sports Illustrated</i> ran a cover on him with the title, “The Champion That Nobody Cares About”. Martina Navratilova, similarly, had to play second fiddle to Chris Evert in the popularity stakes. Similar fate awaited other great champions like Monica Seles and Martina Hingis. Incidentally, all of them were Slavs, just like Djokovic. (Lendl, Navratilova and Hingis were born in Czechoslovakia, and Seles in present-day Serbia.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Lendl, Navratilova and Seles are now US citizens and Hingis has Swiss citizenship, Djokovic considers himself a proud Serbian, although he lives in Monaco to save tax. Djokovic has been quite categorical in asserting the importance of his Serbian nationality and his loyalty to the Serbian Orthodox Church. As the west has had a turbulent relationship with Serbia over the years, the Serbs have been quite close to their Russian brethren. It was a Serbian student, Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, which turned out to be the immediate trigger for World War I. As the Austro-Hungarian empire declared war on Serbia, Russia came to its aid, formally joining the war. The friendship seems to have endured over the years and got cemented further when Russia remained the only major power to oppose the NATO bombing of 1999. When the UN Security Council took up a British-sponsored resolution in 2015, accusing Serbia of genocide, Russia vetoed it. So when hostilities between Russia and Ukraine broke out in February 2022, thousands of demonstrators gathered in Belgrade to support Russia. Serbia’s close association with Russia could be another reason why Djokovic is not much liked in the west.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier this year during the Australian Open, a video of Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, pictured at a demonstration with fans outside Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena holding Russian flags, voicing his support for Russia, became viral. After a severe backlash, Djokoic had to clarify that his father had “no intention” of supporting the war in Ukraine. But, by then, the damage had been already done. Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic, too, hinted that racism may be a factor in the hatred directed towards Djokovic. “Why is he being treated that way? Probably because of his background, people from the Balkans are always looked at differently,” said Ivanisevic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Djokovic’s support for far right Serbian nationalism is something the west is wary about. Apart from the Kosovo incident during the French Open, there was another controversy in 2021 when photographs of his visit to Bosnia became public, showing him meeting a commander of the ‘Drina Volves’, a unit that took part in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which around 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed by the Bosnian Serb army. Bosnian-American scholar Aleksandar Hemon told Euronews that Djokovic promoted common tropes found among supporters of Serbian nationalism possibly because he grew up at a time when Yugoslavia was unravelling. “Djokovic is not quite capable of imagining himself outside this nationalist identity. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he is an aggressive propagandist, but he certainly complies and has met such propagandists,” Hemon said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Djokovic, meanwhile, marches ahead steadily, completing yet another super successful season. When asked about the World Sports Network Survey which found that he was the most unpopular tennis player in the world, Djokovic quoted American basketball icon Kobe Bryant, saying he was not surprised. “Personally, I’d be surprised if it were any different. As Kobe used to say, ‘Haters are a good problem to have. Nobody hates the good ones. They hate the great ones,’” he said. “I wouldn’t change anything in my life because I’ve done everything to the best of my knowledge and abilities in a particular moment. Yes, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but at least I was authentic, I was being myself. I’d choose that every time compared with saying whatever pleases those that abide by the standards of the establishment.””</p> Sat Dec 23 19:08:03 IST 2023 future-generations-are-likely-to-remember-2023-as-a-turning-point-for-women-s-football <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Welcome to the jungle, Lionesses... <i>The Daily Telegraph</i> (Sydney) wrote this August, leaking photos of the England women’s football team training. The Lionesses were preparing to take on the Australian Matildas in the semifinals of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The newspaper had used a helicopter to shoot the photos, considering the interest at home around the match, and perhaps hoping that filming the tactical setup could give the beloved Matildas some advantage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It did not. Australia, ranked tenth, lost 3-1 to European champions England (ranked fourth), and finished fourth in the World Cup after losing to third-ranked Sweden in the third-place match. It was the best ever showing by an Australian soccer team at senior level and it prompted the government to pledge A$200 million (around Rs1,100 crore) to improve women’s sporting facilities. More significantly, the women’s team was the most in-demand sporting entity in the sports-obsessed nation in the buildup to the semifinal match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their matches broke viewership records and the semifinal turned out to be the most watched TV programme in the country. The research firm OzTAM said it had a peak viewership of 11.15 million. The Seven Network delayed its main news bulletin to show the match, and the men’s Australian rules football league screened it at the stadium before a derby match. In the days before the match, women’s jerseys outsold the men’s kits two to one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Things, however, were different a while ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was a time when the women players had to create and hand out flyers to attract spectators. They even had to beg TV stations to telecast their matches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The change was ignited by a determined campaign in the 2007 World Cup in China. Then ranked 15th, the Matildas thrashed Ghana and drew with Norway (ranked 4) and with Canada (ranked 9) to qualify for the knockout rounds for the first time. In the quarterfinals, they lost a hard-fought match (3-2) to eventual runners-up Brazil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The performance inspired the establishment of a women’s league in Australia and that, in turn, has created a pathway for the emergence of current stars, like captain Sam Kerr―widely regarded as the best striker in the world today. The Matildas now sell out stadiums and have achieved pay parity. They exemplify the sea change the women’s game has undergone in recent years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This change is reflected even in the generally toxic football ecosystem of England―there is greater acceptance of, and far more media coverage for, the women’s team. The investment in women’s football in recent years has been rewarded rather fast. When the Lionesses won the Euros in 2022, it was the first senior football title won by England since the men won the World Cup in 1966. Their run to the final of the 2023 World Cup, despite losing key players to injuries, was mighty impressive in more ways than one. Perhaps, the resilience the team showed was not surprising. After all, the women’s game in the country has dealt with setbacks for over a century.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first recorded women’s football game was played on May 7, 1881, between teams representing Scotland and England (the nationalities of players have been contested). Women’s football refused to die down despite palpable contempt from the press and the public thanks largely to the efforts of a few. It also helped to attract attention to women’s rights movements, such as the campaign for suffrage. Years later, during World War I, with men sent to the front, women flooded into the factories and the women’s game grew leaps and bounds as factories started more women’s teams. By 1921, there were about 150 women’s clubs. Matches were gaining in popularity, with more than 50,000 fans watching a game at Goodison Park, home of Everton Football Club in Liverpool.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, success would be the downfall of women’s football. “The Football Association and the political establishment were not blind to the growing popularity and success of women’s football,” writes Suzanne Wrack in <i>A Woman’s Game: The Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Women’s Football</i>. “The huge sums of money being raised were outside their jurisdiction. Worse still, that money was no longer being raised to support the war wounded but was being channelled into political and working-class causes―antithetical to the establishment.” So, the FA banned women’s matches from affiliated grounds. The ban would stand for 50 years. And, despite the determination of women to keep playing―they played in public parks, rugby grounds and smaller venues―without the capacities and facilities of affiliated grounds, the women’s game was sidelined and eventually overshadowed by the men’s game. It took the FA 87 years to apologise for setting back the women’s game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2018, ten years after the FA apologised, FIFA, which had organised the Women’s World Cup since 1991, launched its women’s football strategy. It has been, on most counts, a resounding success. For example, in 2020, FIFA announced that member associations could apply for its support across eight key areas of women’s football development. In addition to financial assistance to cover costs of select programmes, FIFA would provide access to experts and equipment and technical support. The initiative has led to more than 900 projects being delivered in 137 associations. A key objective of FIFA’s strategy was to increase the appeal of the women’s game to players, fans and sponsors. Going by recent numbers, this is being achieved, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, record attendances for women’s club matches were set in England, Spain, Italy and Mexico. In 2022, Barcelona Femení broke the world record for attendance at a women’s football match twice within a month, with crowds of 91,000-plus. At the 2023 World Cup, about two million fans attended the matches and FIFA’s social and digital platforms got more than three billion views. TV viewership is estimated to have hit 2 billion, up from 1.12 billion in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The viewership records set during the Women’s World Cup was a sort of culmination of gradual trends observed in the past few years. For example, viewership in the UK rose from 11.7 million in 2017 to 68.6 million in 2019, as per Nielsen. In 2022, some 57.9 million people watched the Euros. Nielsen’s assessment of 2023 is that fans, especially younger ones, want to follow women’s sports and are ready to reward brands, sponsors and broadcasters who invest in women’s sports. This intent to spend is already visible in the finances of women’s clubs. As per the FIFA Women’s Benchmarking Report 2023, the average operating revenue of women’s clubs grew by 133 per cent to $785,000 (around Rs6.5 crore) in 2021-22 compared with 2020-21.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The growth of women’s football globally is also marked by the increased activity of women’s national teams. The number of officially ranked teams increased from 155 in 2019 to 188 in 2023. So did the number of teams participating in World Cup qualifiers―from 140 for the 2019 edition to 168 ahead of 2023. Moreover, the appeal of the women’s game to commercial partners became evident when all the partnership packages for the World Cup were sold out on the day they were made available. The number of partners increased to 30, from 12 in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most importantly, the number of women and girls playing organised football grew by nearly a quarter compared with 2019 (up to 16.6 million). As many as 88 per cent of national associations surveyed by FIFA now report having a women’s football strategy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This year, we have felt a seismic shift in the way that people see the women’s game,” said Sarai Bareman, FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer in August. “2023 is about showing the world what it means to take the game beyond greatness. To put players on the pedestal [where] they belong, to fill the stadiums, smash records... break down barriers and show every young girl and boy, from every corner of the world that they can dream to make a living from football.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Clearly, FIFA has come a long way from the days of its infamous former president Sepp Blatter saying that women needed to play in tighter attire to attract audiences. But, there is still a lot to be done.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For instance, one in five players at the 2023 World Cup received discriminatory, abusive or threatening messaging on social media. Almost 50 per cent of the abusive messages was homophobic, sexual and sexist abuse. Most tellingly, as per FIFA, the women were 29 per cent more likely to be targeted with online abuse compared with players at the 2022 Men’s World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US women’s national team―currently ranked third, but the most successful team in international women’s football―had to sue for equal pay, despite bringing in more revenue than the men’s team. The case ended with a $24 million settlement in 2022.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another notable case is that of England and Manchester United goalkeeper Mary Earps, who was voted the best goalkeeper in the world in 2022 and won the golden glove at the 2023 World Cup. Replicas of her England goalkeeper shirt were not available to fans ahead of the World Cup, because “producing women’s goalkeeper kits for the public” was not a part of Nike’s business strategy. This despite the fact that her club kits had sold out the previous season. Earps admitted that she was hurt. And a public outcry followed. Soon 1.7 lakh people signed a petition calling for Nike to change its mind. The brand had no option but oblige.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 2023 World Cup also saw then Spanish football federation president, Luis Rubiales, kissing Spain’s all-time top goalscorer Jenni Hermoso on her lips without her consent during the presentation ceremony after the team’s triumph. English football administrator Debbie Hewitt also accused Rubiales of forcefully kissing an English player and cupping and stroking the face of another during the same ceremony. The Spanish players have had other fights against the federation in recent years, but the men in power had always managed to survive the fallout. This time would be different. Rubiales’s actions led to the #SeAcabó (it’s over) movement. It became a platform for women in the country to speak about sexual harassment and everyday sexism, and focused on preventing sexual violence by “powerful men and abusive bosses”. And, eventually, after feeble and disturbing attempts to defend himself, Rubiales was forced to resign. FIFA banned him from football for three years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the problems in these three cases were different―ranging from neglect to indifference to assault―one thing was common. The women who raised their voices were heard and they found support, mostly from the younger generation, forcing the powers that be to act. It was no longer feasible to ignore them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This year saw the momentum that had been slowly building over the past few years converting into a surge forward. And, for this reason, 2023 is likely to be remembered by future generations as a turning point for women’s football. Already, many nations around the world have got dividends for investments in women’s football.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Morocco is arguably the best example. The team was ranked 72nd before the 2023 World Cup, but it managed to progress to the round of 16.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, too, is keen to ride this wave and give the Blue Tigresses a fighting chance as they compete in the international arena. Satyanarayan M., acting secretary general of the All India Football Federation, told THE WEEK that the focus was on developing the entire women’s football ecosystem in the country. “One of the first things that we have done, and something that will be there for all to see this season, is that we have expanded the Indian Women’s League,” he said. “At the grassroots level, there is The Blue Cubs project to identify elite talent between the ages of 8 and 12 and bring them into the system of the junior leagues and national football championships.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Encouragingly, in recent years, Indian players have been getting more opportunities to play overseas. Goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan from Delhi was with Premier League club West Ham United’s ladies team. In 2020, Manipur’s Bala Devi, India’s leading goalscorer, became the first Indian woman to score in a European league by netting for Glasgow Rangers Women. In 2022, Manipur attacker Dangmei Grace joined Uzbek club PFC Sevinch Karshi and won both the league and cup. Forward Manisha Kalyan, from Haryana, did the same with Cypriot club Apollon Ladies this year. Manisha, the reigning AIFF Women’s Player of the Year, also became the first Indian to play in Europe’s premier club competition for women’s teams―the UEFA Women’s Champions League.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, even amid such massive strides, there are big setbacks, too. For example, India’s best supported football club, the Kerala Blasters, “temporarily halted” their women’s team this year to cope with a fine that the men’s team got. They were widely criticised and even their ever-loyal fans expressed disappointment, with fan group Manjapadda terming it a “pathetic decision from the management”. The choice made by the team begs the question whether the AIFF should get involved to avoid such occurrences in the future. One option is to make it mandatory for all the clubs competing in the first division to have a women’s team and youth teams.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, Satyanarayan said that was not the solution. “Having a women’s team just for the sake of it will not improve anything in the long run,” he said. “There has to be intent and effort put into running a football team. That is why we believe mandating clubs to have a women’s team would be rather counterproductive to our efforts.” He said that the AIFF’s approach was to bring about a scenario where the clubs see the benefits of having a women’s team, winning the Indian Women’s League and playing international competitions. “Gokulam Kerala FC have played a couple of times in the AFC (Asian) Women’s Club Championship and they have represented India proudly,” he said. “It is our hope that other clubs see the merit of this and take up the cause of women’s football in their catchment areas.”</p> Sat Dec 23 17:30:11 IST 2023 bcci-secretary-jay-shah-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Unlike former secretaries of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Jay Shah is a man of few words―he does speak his mind in board meetings, but tries to keep a low profile outside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 35-year-old, affectionately known as ‘Jay bhai’ in the cricket fraternity, has ushered in a transformation since assuming office in 2019. Under his leadership cricket has seen the implementation of ground-breaking measures such as pay parity and inception of the Women’s Premier League among other such initiatives. Indian cricket has experienced a comprehensive uplift, marked by significant advancements in infrastructure and a fortified grassroots structure at every level.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive conversation with THE WEEK, Jay Shah shares insights on the future of cricket globally, with a special focus on ODIs. This charismatic cricket administrator’s commitment extends to the well-being and equitable benefits for both male and female cricketers, rallying every stakeholder to ensure India’s continued dominance in the global cricket arena.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is concern that ODIs, sandwiched between Tests and T20s, will eventually wither away. India is already playing fewer ODIs now.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b>Expressing concern about the relevance of ODI cricket seems particularly stringent to me, especially in the aftermath of the most successful ODI event in history. The format not only maintains its enduring popularity but also, if anything, has experienced a surge in traction over time. There is no need to rely solely on my perspective; the numbers provide a compelling narrative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The World Cup, hosted by India, saw a record-breaking attendance of 1.25 million (12.5 lakh) spectators. What is noteworthy is that the one million milestone was reached with six games remaining. Viewership records were not just broken, they were shattered. [On digital, there were] 5.9 crore [concurrent viewers] during the final.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This extraordinary turnout, which surpassed the numbers of both the 2015 and the 2019 World Cups, serves as an unequivocal testament to the enduring popularity and widespread appeal of ODIs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But other formats have grown in popularity.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b>Certainly, the landscape of cricket has undergone a significant transformation. While purists continue to cherish Test cricket for its strategic depth and endurance, T20 has carved a niche for itself as a powerhouse of entertainment and action. Rather than diminishing the appeal of ODIs, the coexistence of these diverse formats has remarkably broadened cricket's overall appeal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are ODIs adding to crickets’s overall appeal? What makes you believe so? Most find the opposite to be true.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b>Contrary to concerns that alternative formats might overshadow ODIs, the reality is that cricket enthusiasts today benefit from an unprecedented array of choices. This diversity, marked by the distinctive charms of Tests, ODIs and T20s, caters to varying tastes within the cricketing community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, the impending inclusion of T20 cricket at the [2028] Los Angeles Olympics is poised to be a game changer. This move not only validates cricket on a global stage, but also opens up avenues to tap into fan bases worldwide. It promises to introduce the sport to a broader audience, fostering a new wave of cricket enthusiasts. In essence, the coevolution of Test, ODI and T20 formats is not a competition, but a collective boon for the sport.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, you feel cricket is flourishing globally?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b>Cricket, in all its facets, is flourishing, and the ultimate beneficiaries are the passionate fans of the game. The proliferation of formats and the global expansion of cricket, coupled with the Olympic inclusion, reaffirm that cricket is on a trajectory of unparalleled growth and inclusivity.</p> Sun Dec 03 19:38:30 IST 2023 indian-cricket-hitman-rohit-sharma-fearless-batting-and-skillful-captaincy-in-world-cup <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Rohit Sharma scored five centuries in the 2019 World Cup in England. If he wanted, he could arguably have scored as many this time, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But this was a different Rohit Sharma; this time, he was captain, and he had assigned himself a role. He would take down the bowlers in the opening passage of play, throwing them off the line and length, and set the stage for Virat Kohli to be the fulcrum of the innings with others playing around him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the first powerplay, he scored 401 runs in 297 balls, hitting 46 fours and 24 sixes at a strike rate of 135.01. The next best strike rate came from Australia’s Travis Head, who made 128 in the first powerplay at 121.90.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a fearless approach that took the pitch out of the equation and drove oppositions on to the back foot. It was like Sharma had moulded the team in his own image, a process that he and head coach Rahul Dravid had been working on for some time now, especially with fans and experts calling out India’s timidness with the bat on big occasions. Even in the final against Australia, Sharma made 47 off 31, striking at 151.61. It was almost as if India were starting with a cheat code every game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The way Rahul <i>bhai</i> played his cricket and how I am playing these days, it’s quite a contrast,” Sharma said in the news conference before the final, a slight smile on his face. “For him to agree and give me that freedom to let us play the way we want to play says a lot about him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it was not all ‘see ball, hit ball’. In a low-scoring match against England, where India made 229, Sharma adapted to the situation and scored a 101-ball 87. He is used to this adaptability, having been India’s best Test batter in the past three years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Kohli won player of the tournament for his 765 runs―the most in any World Cup―Sharma had as much an impact on the team’s success, if not more. With Kohli, the story seemed to be that of a national hero who had slain past demons and had emerged refreshed and hungry to reclaim his throne as his generation’s best in the format. He was a figure to be celebrated, to be taken in as one would Sachin Tendulkar during his later days at the crease.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not that Kohli was not putting team over self, but his legend had grown to such a degree that he was seen as competing with his idol, whose record of 49 ODI centuries he did break.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Sharma, though, it was about doing whatever he could, as batter, as captain, to place India on top and finally, after a decade, lift a trophy to end India’s drought at ICC events. The last time India won an ODI World Cup, in 2011, Sharma was not in the squad. It was a tough time for him personally, and winning this time would have been a personal as much as a professional goal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I want to highlight three things about his captaincy,” Mumbai Ranji legend Amol Muzumdar said in a Star Sports show. “The first one is, Rohit Sharma gives a lot of weightage and importance to data and statistics. This includes one of the most important parts of his planning; he believes that it is very important to know each and every minute detail and statistic of all the opposition players. The second, he keeps things very simple and tries to make his team members think simple. He keeps everyone in the team in a very cool and calm atmosphere.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Clarity of thought and role is a cornerstone of Sharma’s leadership. It was a hallmark of former captain M.S. Dhoni, too. While the Chennai Super Kings skipper made champions out of unheralded players, Sharma, as Mumbai Indians captain, nurtured youngsters like Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah into becoming national mainstays. No wonder they are the two most successful IPL captains. “[Sharma’s] style of captaincy is a bit different from others; he talks very politely and in a very lovable way with his players, thus keeping things easy and simple,” said Muzumdar. “And, third, which is the most important point, is that he has that magical touch in him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sharma is particularly popular with the younger lot, going out for dinner with them and dancing with them on Reels. “On the field, he is instinctive and always open to ideas; off the field, it’s great to have him around―his sense of humour and one-liners are amazing,” Suryakumar Yadav, who has played under Sharma at Mumbai Indians for several years, said in a recent interview. Yadav’s own role in the team was to finish off the game like he is used to doing in T20s. Mohammed Siraj would attack with the new ball, Ravindra Jadeja would tighten the screws in the middle overs and so on with each player.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the more obvious interventions of the captain during play is when he decides whether to take a review or not. With this process, Sharma chose to rely on the pragmatic K.L. Rahul behind the stumps than his, at times, overenthusiastic bowlers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He might have missed a trick in the final by not giving the new ball to Siraj, but he had been good with his bowler rotations throughout the tournament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Talking about Sharma’s captaincy in the match against England, former English pacer Steve Harmison said, “Once they made the initial breakthrough, you could have got the spinners in early. He has only got five bowlers to go with. So, he is not thinking 40 to 50 overs. Rohit Sharma was thinking of bowling England out in 35 to 40 overs. So, he didn't go to his spin bowlers and went back to his seam bowlers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To be fair, though, Sharma had a lineup of bowlers in red-hot form who could be called upon whenever needed and would, on most days, deliver.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what was perhaps one of the most impressive parts of his leadership was how the team kept its record clean even in the absence of Pandya. The all-rounder was in the side to provide flexibility with bat and ball, but an injury forced him out. The side’s balance was thrown off, and India had to reshuffle its plans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The final against Australia, perhaps, was the one time the lack of Pandya was felt, but the former five-time champions played such a perfect match that maybe even Pandya or Ashwin would not have helped.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s journey to become champions continues, each heartbreak a building block. Perhaps Sharma would not be part of the 2027 edition, but he should hold his head high, for he will be remembered for captaining India’s best ODI team to never lift the trophy. A team he led from ball one.</p> Sat Nov 25 14:58:22 IST 2023 why-pat-cummins-is-not-your-typical-australian-captain <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>HE WAS NOT</b> supposed to be the one lifting the World Cup in Ahmedabad. His team had spent a night at the bottom of the table early in the tournament, and his opposition in the final had breezed through unbeaten.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But he was also not supposed to captain Australia in the 2021-22 Ashes, when captain Tim Paine resigned over a sexting scandal. Australia won those Ashes 4-0.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is Pat Cummins for you. Not only is he a fast-bowling Australian captain―the first since Ray Lindwall in 1956―he also breaks the mould of what an Aussie skipper should be. Or at least how the rest of the cricketing world sees one. They are supposed to be aggressive, ruthless, in-your-face, beer-guzzling, hard-nosed, sledging-for-pleasure “alpha males”. Not all of those qualities are negative in sport, and Cummins might even have some of them inside him. But, as captain, he has been composed, pragmatic, frank and professional.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such was his dignified demeanour that a few players of the past have blasted him for being too soft. They have also criticised him for being too “woke” and taking up the issue of climate change. Cummins had pulled out of being in promotional material for Alinta Energy, the Australian team’s sponsor, for the last year of the multimillion-dollar deal, and had also launched a campaign to set up solar panels at Australia’s cricket clubs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I usually get ‘Captain Planet’,” he told <i>The Sydney Morning Herald</i> earlier this year. “A few mates say that. I don’t even know what ‘woke’ means. It popped up again with the Black Lives Matter stuff against the Windies when we took a knee. If anyone thinks that is a bad thing, that these five minutes out of our lives is the worst thing that can happen to them, we do not care.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another episode that made him a villain in the eyes of some past greats was the resignation of Justin Langer as coach. Apparently, it was a rift between a section of the senior players that had led Cricket Australia to coax him out of the job. There was a media storm, with fingers being pointed at CA and Cummins for disrespecting a legend. The captain, though, stayed with his convictions. “Just as you have always stuck up for your mates, I’m sticking up for mine,” he said in a statement, referring to the former players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This bond shone through in the World Cup. Having been written off after two initial losses, he and the team kept their cool. They had, after all, won a Test in India, retained the Ashes in England and won the World Test Championship, all in this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At times the campaign looked shaky, with individual brilliance like Glenn Maxwell’s 201* against Afghanistan bailing them out. But, come the final, the Australians played a near perfect game, and Cummins’s leadership shone through. He gave overs to spinners Maxwell and Travis Head when he knew the Indians were not trying to attack, he cut off Suryakumar Yadav’s favourite area behind the stumps and his pacers bowled slow bouncers to him, and he brought himself on in the middle of the innings and got Virat Kohli.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But before all that, Cummins won the toss and chose to bowl, which not many were expecting. “If you get that call wrong and you lose the game, that is a huge decision to make for a relatively young captain,” former Australian captain Ricky Ponting said after the match. “I thought his leadership actually got better and better right through the tournament.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the final in Ahmedabad, there was a heartwarming clip on X showing Pat Cummins taking a photo of his team’s support staff holding the trophy. As one Indian user put it aptly, “At least we could hate Ricky Ponting.”</p> Sat Nov 25 14:57:05 IST 2023 let-us-resolve-as-a-nation-and-as-fans-of-the-game-to-stop-caring-so-desperately-about-cricket <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Let’s not even pretend that we aren’t sore losers. Way back in 1996, when Sri Lanka stormed into the semis of the Wills World Cup playing an audacious, revolutionary game nobody had ever seen before, the Indian fans at Eden Gardens, fresh from defeating Pakistan in the quarter final, behaved like spoilt, petulant brats whose Diwali firecrackers had been snatched away unceremoniously and dunked into the Palk Strait.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India had been chasing a doable target of 252 and when they started collapsing like bicycles in a stand, fans (one man, I clearly remember, was dressed as Sri Ram himself, a novelty back then) set a section of the stadium on fire and pelted the outfield with fruits and water bottles. Warnings were issued and the match resumed, but so did the pelting, with the result that match referee Clive Lloyd called off the game and awarded it to Sri Lanka (We were 8/120 in 34 overs, so it was all over anyway, really.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To be fair, nobody had expected Sri Lanka to be so kick-ass. They were a dark horse, back then, so much so that none of their players even featured in the multi-starrer World Cup campaign I’d spent most of 1995 creating (Pepsi’s rather cheeky ‘Nothing Official About It’, which took a swipe at Coca-Cola’s status as the official drink of the World Cup). It featured Indians, South Africans, Brits and West Indians. We had written scripts for Australian and Pakistani players as well, but we couldn’t swing those contracts in time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our campaign simply celebrated the strengths and the quirks of the various players (Jonty Rhodes’s insane fielding, Courtney Walsh’s merciless bowling, Sachin’s irreverent boundaries.) If there was a bad guy/enemy at all, it was Coke, the boring official drink. But we hadn’t even thought about writing a script for a Sri Lankan player. Sri Lanka went on to win the final (played at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, back in the days when India and Pakistan were couth enough to co-host cricket events.) Their sudden, swaggering supremacy was utterly unexpected, the stuff of legend, and after that first spoilt-brat outburst in the Eden, Indians quickly became fans of the swashbuckling Lankans, with Sanath Jayasuriya, Arjuna Ranatunga, Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga going on to become massively popular across the subcontinent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pepsi followed the same ‘joy of cricket’ brief for the 1999 and 2003 World Cups―putting out fun films where Shah Rukh Khan wears a curly wig, pretends to be Sachin Tendulkar and sneaks into the Indian locker room to steal a Pepsi or where Shane Warne and Carl Hooper kidnap an amnesiac Sachin and pack him off on a plane to Honolulu. We even did a couple of ‘friendship series’ ads with the Pakistani team, which sounds surreal given the current climate, but believe me, they happened. But in 2007, Pepsi buckled to the increasingly prevalent jingoism. They rejected all the agency’s fun ideas, (causing me to become a gibbering wreck, abandon the brand and switch to writing novels instead) manufactured a blue coloured Pepsi (it looked like Colin glass cleaner, tbh) lined all the players up to scowl grimly into camera, and proclaim they were out to quench ‘The thirst of the Blue Billion’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a full <i>panauti</i> campaign. India crashed out of that World Cup without even making the super-eights. This excerpt from 2008’s <i>The Zoya Factor</i> sums up how I felt then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Backing cricket is always a gamble. You spend like half your annual advertising budget on a cricket campaign and then they go in there and play abysmally and the public says it’s because they do too many ads and they start hating your product. It happens without fail after every major tournament. Even after our best performance in recent times when our team managed to make it to the finals (and then lost miserably, but why go there?), this chain sms did the rounds saying, ‘On this shameful day we hereby promise to boycott every product the team endorses, Jai Hind.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It doesn’t help that the channel guys seem to get a sadistic pleasure out of running a player’s ad right after he gets out for duck. One moment he’s out, and the next he’s in the ad break, receiving calls from his mother telling him, <i>Veeru beta, karlo duniya mutthi mein.’</i> That’s why I say, give me movie stars every time. I mean, a lot of people say Shah Rukh Khan can’t act for toffee but at least he’s never given a performance so bad that it incited people to climb up ladders and smear <i>gobar</i> on his hoardings.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>See, basically, <i>gobar</i>-on-hoardings is standard Indian fan behaviour. We know it, the players know it, it’s accepted as a form of extreme, intimate love, a Kabir Singh/Arjun Reddy sort of toxic emotion where we hit each other in order to prove how deep our emotions run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The IPL helped roll back the jingoism a little, because it de-linked cricket from nationalities, and fans got to see players from all over the world (except Pakistan, of course.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And then came India’s big wins under Dhoni. Suddenly, we had so much victory that we could be generous. Even large-hearted and gracious. The pressure was off. It was a golden period.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there’s been a drought of wins post 2013.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And there’s been a surge in ‘spectacle’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Social media has made ordinary folk hungry to become superfans, to be different and noticed and earn mega-likes. There’s been mainstream movies glorifying badass fandom like <i>Fan</i> and <i>Selfiee</i>. Fangirling or having a fanboy moment for your favourite player or team is something even celebrities like Abhishek Bachchan, Varun Dhawan and Dhanush do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A young Pakistani fan went viral with a vengeance when he tearfully bemoaned his team’s fondness for <i>‘peezzay’</i> and <i>‘paastay’</i> instead of practice and performance. There’s been the sly, but wildly popular <i>‘mauka-mauka’</i> campaigns that actively make fun of the Pakistani fan. India superfan Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary, with his distinctive Sachin paint and get-up, and Bangladesh’s Shoaib Ali with his yellow and brown stripes and stuffed tiger (which was sadly ripped apart by ugly Indian fans in Pune) are well known and followed on social media. It’s cool to be a fan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Add to that the fact that the IPL, over the years, has become purely performative. The matches are rock concerts, and taking a cue from rowdy football fans, RCB and CSK fans have become infamous for their obnoxiousness. And when you factor in spiralling unemployment (which directly impacts the marriageability of young men), the increased tolerance to hate speeches of the right-wing variety, and the active fomentation of hate, things start to get ugly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, we’re seeing venom and trolling at an insane level. Virat Kohli is routinely vilified for requesting people to not burn crackers, or to not hate on Mohammed Shami or for endorsing Manyavar, a formal Indian garment brand that is brave (and savvily inclusive) enough to say <i>‘Har tyohaar, India ka tyohaar’.</i> We’re seeing wives, girlfriends, mothers and daughters being trolled and threatened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the final, deeply problematic turn of the screw which we witnessed in this just concluded World Cup was the everything-official-about-it inclusion of political and religious discrimination into the BCCI’s planning itself. How else to explain why Pakistan’s match against India was in front of a massively hostile Ahmedabad crowd? How else to explain why Mohali and SMS Jaipur, both world class stadiums in cities whose audiences are generous and informed enough to appreciate the nuances of the game irrespective of nationalities, didn’t score a single match in the schedule? How else to explain why cities with a historic, well-established cricket culture and love for the game like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata (water-bottle hurling at the Sri Lankans notwithstanding) didn’t get to host the final, but the Narendra Modi stadium did?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No wonder a spoilt, entitled fandom, fed on a steady diet of jingoistic propaganda pretending to be cinema, got up and left the world’s largest stadium when the Australians started winning, thus proving that we have the world’s smallest hearts. Honestly? The ugly Indian fan has been revealed to be a rich bullying brat who wants to win all the games at his own birthday party, simply because he’s hosting it.</p> <p>So as the team, which seems sensible and level headed enough, philosophically goes back to their regular lives, we need to figure out what to do with ourselves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s not label this one or that one a <i>panuati</i>. Let’s not say the Gujju crowd was too rich to cheer as loudly as Mumbai would have. And please let’s not troll the wives and daughters of the Australian players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead, let us resolve, as a nation, and as fans of the game, to stop caring so desperately about cricket. Pat Cummins could stand there, casually dangling the cup we’d have sold our collective kidneys to have won simply because he doesn’t care that desperately. His entire country is not a pack of manic, frantic, helicopter parents, feverishly putting pressure on their one and only offspring to fulfil their long cherished dream. Cummins has that slightly neglected middle-child energy. Australia have middle-child energy. No wonder they won their sixth World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Please let’s put aside fomented hate and seek success and fulfilment in our own lives. Let’s be fans who don’t give so much of a damn. That’s the most effective kind of fan.</p> Sat Nov 25 12:05:36 IST 2023 former-england-bowler-steve-harmison-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Steve Harmison is just barely recognisable these days. The 6’4” former fast-medium bowler is back in India, though this time with a bit more weight on and a commentary mic replacing the red ball in his hand. And, like most people in the English cricketing fraternity, he, too, is disturbed by the dismal campaign of the defending champions. THE WEEK caught up with him at the Star Sports studio for an interview on all things cricket, especially England's slide at the World Cup. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, what went wrong with England?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I don’t even know. England have won one game in the first six; no one saw that coming. They have a group of world-class players who have unfortunately found a lack of confidence and form at the same time. [The squad has] eight players who played the previous World Cup final. But in 2019, the players were at the peak of their powers and the average age was probably 33 or 34. This tells you that they are getting older and things just haven’t happened for England.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Surely they would have made plans on how to defend the title?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Oh yes, plans would have been well thought out. I think that is well drilled into the group. They have the experience to understand what it takes to play in big tournaments. But, for whatever reason, nobody can put a finger on what has happened. The top order hasn’t fired, the bowlers haven’t been consistent enough, which is a surprise. It is one of those unfortunate periods when everything seems to have gone wrong at the same time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Couldn’t they have arrested the slide?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Unfortunately, with the way England’s schedule is, they play a lot of cricket. So, you have to be careful about prioritising one format over the other. During Covid, they played the most away and at home, they kept cricket going. But that is no excuse. They haven’t performed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is this sense on the outside that England and its players don’t want to play the 50-over format.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No, I don’t think they don’t want to play ODIs. I just think that since Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum took over, Test cricket has been prioritised. They had the Ashes. [Before that,] ODIs and T20Is were prioritised and England were champions in both. I think it is virtually impossible for all three England teams to be firing at the same time because of the amount of cricket England play.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But they haven’t played enough ODI cricket.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I don’t buy that as an excuse for not performing in this tournament. The Indian [top] players haven’t played a lot of ODI cricket in the past two-three years, but there is nothing wrong with their white-ball cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ With so much cricket in England, surely there are suitable replacements for top players?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> England have got a big enough pool of talent, but the hardest part is, they have eight of the players who won the 2019 World Cup, so it is difficult to drop them for big events when they are still your better batters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ As for the art of bowling in Indian conditions, only experience can help you, right?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Yeah, but you look at Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, who have all played in the IPL. England have played a lot of cricket in India and they were here not long ago for a Test series. They have experience bowling on these surfaces, but for some reason they haven’t been consistent enough to put pressure in the powerplays and middle overs. They haven’t been able to get wickets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are there issues to correct or do these things just happen?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think a little bit of these things happen. I think not for want of trying. Jos Buttler, if you see him after the matches and his body language, he seems to be at a loss with what is happening with England. It is not just about one or two players; the collective unit hasn’t performed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Where does the coach come in then? Do you think the blame lies at his door?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yeah, it’s difficult for the coach (Matthew Mott) because, with the amount of success England have had in white-ball cricket, you are apprehensive about changing quite a few things as a new coach. Why change something that is not broken? Unfortunately, what is broken is broken all in one go in a short time. In a World Cup. That’s the surprising thing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The top three batters are not getting the starts they had in the last World Cup.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> They haven’t. They were 45-0 against [Sri Lanka] but then a soft dismissal, [Dawid Malan was] caught behind, and then a run out led to a loss of confidence and, all of a sudden, they were in trouble. In the game against India, they were bowled out. [Jasprit] Bumrah and [Mohammed] Shami bowled England out. [The English batters played] poor shots, and [there was] pressure of the occasion. From a confidence point of view, England were not in the best place. I give a huge amount of credit to Shami and Bumrah for that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you want England to address and see in the remaining matches?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Get a bit of pride back. Look at qualifying for the 2025 Champions Trophy and bring some level of consistency in the first 10 overs from the bowling point of view. [Then again] if you aren’t getting runs on board, bowling is irrelevant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the last four shaping up in this World Cup?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think South Africa and India are through. New Zealand started off very well, [but they are] missing Kane [Williamson] a little bit. A couple of injuries, bowling wise, also hampered them a bit. As the tournament goes on, and with the way they play spin, they might just come unstuck in one of the games towards the end. Pakistan might be able to capitalise on that. As things stand, it’s India, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. But I still won’t rule Pakistan out. They might have an outside chance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why not Afghanistan? You cannot call them minnows anymore.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The way they play their cricket, they can easily go and lose against the Netherlands. In the previous two games, Afghanistan played fearlessly; they had nothing to lose. The hardest part to qualify [for the knockouts] is the very last part, and that for me is where Afghanistan might [stumble]. I think the game against the Netherlands will be tough for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you excited about these newer teams becoming more mainstream?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yes. Cricket around the world is what we want. The hard part for the ICC (International Cricket Council) is to find a way for international teams to work with franchise cricket. There has to be place for both as there are financial rewards on both sides. They have got to find a way to make sure that the likes of the Netherlands and Afghanistan have enough cricket to challenge in big tournaments.</p> Sat Nov 04 17:23:45 IST 2023 tracing-the-story-of-afghanistan-cricketers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As much as overexcited broadcasters would like you to believe so, India taking on Pakistan in a cricket match is not war. Ask the Afghans. They know war.</p> <p>They started playing cricket because of war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, thousands of Afghans fled, many on donkeys, to neighbouring Pakistan. It was in the refugee camps of Peshawar that the boys first heard of this new game called cricket. (There are records of British soldiers playing the sport in Kabul, but it didn’t stick as it would in many colonies.) The boys would start playing with sticks for bats and rolled-up plastic bags for balls. The odd tennis ball was a godsend.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few years later, the country that gave them refuge would win the World Cup. It was a moment of joy for Imran Khan’s “cornered tigers”, but also for the proud Pashtuns. Though divided by a border, a lot of south Afghanistan and north-west Pakistan lies in the historical region of Pashtunistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was from these camps that a rock of Afghanistan cricket would emerge. Mohammad Nabi’s family moved to Pakistan in the 1980s. They were relatively well off, and started businesses and families there. Nabi was born in Peshawar and played cricket in the camps. “I used to hide from my parents and play cricket in school,” he told the UN refugee agency in an interview. “There was no future then in cricket; now we are a proper country with a real team.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The family, like many others, returned to Afghanistan once the Taliban regime fell in 2001. “It felt strange when I first came back,” he said in the same interview. “The war had spared nothing; everything was broken. But now, buildings have been rebuilt, roads repaired, markets reopened. We have cricket grounds and proper academies; earlier we had nothing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The all-rounder has been part of the Afghanistan story from day one. A former captain, the 38-year-old has seen his team go from the fringes of international cricket to Test status.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having played in several T20 leagues, the elder statesman has grown in stature around the cricketing world. Former England batter Kevin Pietersen calls him ‘President’; he said in jest that Nabi could one day hold that office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given Afghanistan’s political history, no bets are off. The situation in Kabul is grim. The Taliban returned to power after the US withdrew its troops from the country in 2021. The fundamentalist group had originally banned the sport, but softened its stance somewhat―the no-contact sport with full-length kits fell within its notions of morality. Also, cricket is perhaps the biggest success story of Afghanistan, with its players becoming heroes to the nation. This was a group of men who could not be suppressed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The women, of course, are not allowed to play. And this has turned off quite a few folks in cricket and beyond. In January, Australia refused to play a series against Afghanistan in the UAE because of the ban. Some Afghan fans are even boycotting the World Cup because it is the Taliban’s team that is playing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Notably, Nabi moved his family to Ajman in 2021, though he did not specify whether the Taliban’s return factored into his decision. As it is, the UAE will host Afghanistan’s home game for the next four years as political tensions back home have meant that international teams are reluctant to visit and even give visas to the Afghans. The team had previously trained in Pakistan and made Noida their base, but tensions were never this high.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Add to this the recent earthquakes that killed more than two thousand people in western Afghanistan, and the country is looking to cricket more than ever for moments of joy. One of these moments came on October 15, when the Afghans defeated reigning world champions England by 69 runs in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The celebrations were muted back home, what with the Taliban watching, but Afghans cheered on within their homes and online.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nabi, as always, was key in that win, but it was the young brigade that did the most damage. Especially off-spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who foxed the English batters en route to three wickets. “Now that youngsters are coming through, we work even harder,” Nabi told a newspaper. “They should think that we have reached this position because of the hard work we have put in. We keep narrating our stories of struggle to the youngsters.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of these youngsters is Rahmanullah Gurbaz, the wicketkeeper-batter who smashed 80 off 57 against England. “I am just running with the Afghan flag in the [Delhi] metro,” Gurbaz’s childhood friend Haseebullah Siddiqi told <i>The Indian Express</i>. “We are singing songs. This is a very emotional moment for the entire Afghan community in Delhi and those who are living abroad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“[Gurbaz] kept telling me that he wanted to score a century and dedicate it to the people of Herat. He would just scroll through all the photos and videos of the earthquake. That is why he got so emotional after getting out. He wanted to hit a century and there was a planned celebration as well. I guess we’ll have to wait for another match.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a country known to produce quality spinners, the aggressive opener offers much promise. The 21-year-old from the southeastern province of Khost is from a generation that might have experienced relatively less political upheaval, but he did have other problems. His family was against him picking up a bat. In a documentary put out by the Afghanistan Cricket Board two years ago, Gurbaz tells the story of how he skipped classes to play matches. “I worked as a daily-wage labourer under the contractor who was building our home,” he said, plucking blades of grass beside a stream near home. “I told him to not tell anyone and I did not tell my family. All I wanted was some money to buy cricket equipment.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was scolded that day, and many a time before and after, but he did not give up on his dream. As a child, he was a football lover, but when he saw the reception former Afghanistan cricketers Nawroz Mangal and Noor Ali Zadran got in his hometown, he, too, dreamt of a similar welcome. He is on his way to getting there, if he hasn’t already. Having scored a century on ODI debut against Ireland and then a scintillating 151 against a full-strength Pakistan, Gurbaz has shown skills and nerve that surpass those of the early Afghan cricketers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has also joined the ever-growing group of Afghan nomads who play in different T20 leagues across oceans―he plays for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the travel, though, has not taken the village boy out of him. “I love my country more than myself,” he said in the documentary. “I will not give up my village for any seven-star hotel.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But relentless cricket means he is rarely home. It’s a curse several of these T20 superstars face, especially Afghanistan cricket’s most famous son―Rashid Khan. When he does go home to Nangarhar, a three-hour drive to the east of Kabul, his nephews burst firecrackers and garland him. “It feels like I’m getting married,” he said on the YouTube show <i>Breakfast with Champions</i>. His nephews then ask him to pay for the arrangements. They also keep him up all night, recounting stories of his on-field exploits and pestering him for pizza. Even when he is playing in some league on another continent, they call him on WhatsApp, asking him to convince their mothers to let them have pizza.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Family is everything to Rashid. He has 10 siblings, and he holds them close. As a child, he wouldn’t be allowed to leave home alone―given the country’s politics, anything could happen. This only made him cling on to his family even more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the England match, the champion leg-spinner had said, “We don’t have these kinds of wins and that kind of situation back home in Afghanistan where people could celebrate. I think cricket is the only source which gives them a lot of happiness and a lot of good memories.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cricketers still play under the black, red and green flag, which the Taliban doesn’t approve, and have repeatedly asked everyone to keep politics out of the game. They are doing what they can to put smiles on faces back home, and they would hope that the legacy they are creating outlives the turmoil Afghanistan finds itself in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From Nabi to Rashid to Gurbaz, you can trace the story of Afghanistan cricket. And as long as boys back home keep following in their footsteps and slay more giants, Kabul could hear more gunshots. This time in celebration.</p> Sat Oct 21 15:51:04 IST 2023 former-australian-cricketer-glenn-mcgrath-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When it comes to ODI World Cup wickets, Glenn McGrath sits atop the pile with 71. One of the greats of the game, he was a major reason the Australians won the tournament three times in a row, from 1999 to 2007. Such was the dominance of that team that McGrath had to bat only four times in four World Cups. The batters would do their jobs every time. As would the bowlers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A decade and a half after winning his last World Cup, McGrath talks to THE WEEK about Australia’s chances this time, the importance of Mitchell Starc, the workload of bowlers and his picks for the semifinals. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is it about Australia and the World Cup? They have won it five times. Is it about the professionalism of Cricket Australia or is it something in your culture?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Once you get to these tournaments, there is no complacency―you back yourself, you go out there and play the best cricket you can. Australia have always been a big-match team, they like [to step up] when it counts, in front of big crowds. This team, obviously, is different to the era that I played in, but I think it is the attitude that Australians have.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think it is something in the culture. Australians are very competitive, [more so] when you are playing against your mates; there is a bit more banter. From a young age, you are competitive at school, playing different sports, and I think it is just the Australian way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You were part of four World Cups; you won three. You are the leading wicket-taker in World Cups, and arguably the best fast bowler ever. What does it take to be so formidable across conditions?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I do not know if I am the best bowler. I have got the most wickets; maybe it is because I played quite a few tournaments. I think to be classed a great bowler [you have] to be able to adapt to all different conditions. It is the same for the batsmen. The team that does that the best is always going to be tough to beat. You have got Mitchell Starc, who, if he has a great World Cup, could take over that mantle as leading World Cup wicket-taker (Starc is on 50).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In that era that I was lucky enough to play in, pitches in Australia all had a different character. So you have got to learn and adapt to play in different conditions in your own country. Now, wickets in each country are very similar. [Teams] do not learn to adapt. And I think probably more so when teams travel these days, the home team dominates. That is probably more in the longer version. The shorter version of the game is totally different now. I remember when I first started, you could score 200 runs and defend that. Now you score 330 and you think, ‘Oh, I wonder if I have got enough.’ The T20 format and IPL-style tournaments have had a big impact on scoring rates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There are a lot of injury concerns with bowlers these days. You only missed once match in your career because of injury. What’s the secret behind maintaining that fitness?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Back when I played, we had an off-season. Each year, for a couple of months, you could actually not bowl, get into the gym and get the strength back into your body. You look at someone like Jimmy Anderson or Stuart Broad. They know their bodies so well. They only play one format. So they have got time to recover and put that strength back in. Now [cricket is] nearly 12 months a year. For a fast bowler, you have to really decide what you play. Because if you keep playing week in, week out as a fast bowler, sooner or later you are going to break. It is like driving a car. If you do not fill it up with fuel, sooner or later, you are going to run out of fuel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had a very stress-free action, so I was probably a little luckier than most. You look at someone like Jasprit Bumrah―incredible bowler, but he is so explosive right at the end. He puts quite a lot of stress on his body. So, he needs time to recover and get strength back into his body. It is a shame that he was injured, but he is coming back now. And fingers crossed, he will be good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is Cricket Australia addressing that? Are they looking after their bowlers? Are they trying to make sure they do not play in certain leagues?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> You look at the fast bowlers these days.... horses for courses is spoken about a lot. It is rare for a fast bowler to play every game in a Test series. Which I’m not a huge fan of, because I like to get into a zone and then just maintain that. It is a lot different these days. They are trying to manage [workload] by not playing every game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And then it is up to the individual whether they go and play the IPL or other such tournaments. They cannot stop players from doing it. Starc has taken the option not to go [to the IPL] to help him maintain his strength and fitness... and be prepared to play at his peak in international matches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Coming back to the World Cup, which one of your wins is your favourite?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is hard to choose a favourite. In 1996, it was tough being runners-up. We wanted to make amends in 1999. We started poorly. We got into a position where we had to win every single game.... To get across that and then to win the final was very, very special. That match at Edgbaston (semifinal against South Africa) would probably go down as one of my all-time favourite cricket matches that I played in. So, 1999 was special in that respect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then to go over to 2003. We had a good team to go through undefeated. It was tough losing Warnie (Shane Warne was banned for 12 months; he tested positive for a banned substance). But the other players stepped up [and we won] undefeated. And then obviously 2007 in the West Indies. We were not really challenged in any game. For me, personally, [I got] to finish my career on a high. That was my last match for Australia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You mostly played under two captains, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. One cool as ice, while the other always ready for a fight. How do you compare them?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Yeah, they are who they are, and I loved playing under both. They let their natural, true character come out. Steve did not want to give anything away. He would run through a brick wall just to win a game or to do well for his team. Then you have Rick, who... just has that love and passion for the game. Wears his heart on his sleeve. I think he actually cooled down a bit the older he got.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You did play under Tubby (Mark Taylor) as well. How would you compare him with these two?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Tubby was very astute, tactically very good with the game. He grew up in an era where Australia were not probably as strong all the time. There were a few issues, but AB (Allan Border) and Bob Simpson turned the team around. Mark Taylor came up through there. So he had done the hard yards. So, yeah, I was lucky to play under four Australian captains and [I have] huge respect for all of them. They took the team from a certain spot and left it in a better position.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Tubby has said that Ashton Agar not being there to help Adam Zampa would be a negative. Is there a bit of concern in the spin department?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think Zampa has done really well, so it is great to have him there. But with [Josh] Hazlewood and Starc and [Pat] Cummins, you have three senior bowlers who know the game very well. Hazlewood’s done well, especially in the shorter format in India, too. So they have that confidence. Cummins is a great bowler and Starc is just a wicket-taker. When he is on song in the one-day format, he has the X factor. I think Starc’s a big key to that Australian team. If he performs well, takes two or three wickets in his first spell, Australia’s right on top. I think he can carry the team and they would not miss that extra spin option. [Glenn] Maxwell has done well and a few other boys can bowl bits and pieces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You talk about Starc being the X factor in the bowling attack. What about among the batters?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> You have got the big names in [David] Warner and [Steve] Smith, and they both have to play a big role. Warner’s form looks like he has been okay recently, which is good. Smith, I think, can live for the big games. [But] Mitchell Marsh is the one for me. He is such a powerful player, opening the batting. If he hangs around and gets a bit of form, he can be very destructive. We saw Marnus Labuschagne, who was not even in the squad, come in [as an injury replacement] and all of a sudden he has played incredibly well. Maxwell as well. He has always had that X factor, but I would like to see him come off a bit more often. And I am a fan of Cameron Green. So they have three quality all-rounders. And if those guys fire, too, that can make a big difference.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Who are your semifinalists?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>I thought the four would be India, Australia, England and Pakistan. But after that first game [where New Zealand thumped England]... that was an incredible first game. South Africa have sort of turned things around. I probably gave England a little bit more credit than maybe they deserve. I thought they (New Zealand) were very unlucky not to win that previous World Cup. They will be hungry. So, India, Australia, New Zealand, and then it is out of Pakistan and England.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ As director of the MRF Pace Foundation, how do you see the future of Indian fast bowling? Is it getting better?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Oh, without a doubt. You look at the Indian Test team at the moment; they have a quality lineup. I think India have never produced fast bowlers [like this] in the past. That is brilliant. We have been doing our work with the MRF Pace Foundation for, what is it now? 30, 36 years, and are really focusing on developing fast bowlers. We have some great talent there. There are a few guys on the edge. We have seen Prasidh Krishna doing okay. Avesh Khan has gotten the odd chance. But when you have a set bowling attack, like the Indian team has sometimes, it is hard [to get in].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the Australian team when I played, they said it was harder to get out of the team. Once you are in, you are performing. So yeah, there is no shortage of quality, young fast bowlers coming through. We have seen it in the IPL. To be involved with the MRF Pace Foundation is something I am very proud of. Fingers crossed, we can have a few of our boys having more of an impact at the international level.</p> Sat Oct 14 16:50:35 IST 2023 former-indian-cricketer-kapil-dev-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A ponytailed Kapil Dev sits in his office, a knowing twinkle in his eye. He has done this a number of times. Before every World Cup, it seems mandatory to talk to Kapil about that 1983 victory. In this interaction with THE WEEK, though, the World Cup-winning captain talks more about the ongoing tournament and the expectations of the Indian team. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on a home World Cup, especially after the pandemic?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> With the World Cup happening in our country, there is too much pressure on everybody, even in terms of getting tickets and giving passes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you think of the World Cup format? Will it be exciting? Do you expect the tournament to be full of runs because of some flat pitches?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Fifty overs will be fifty overs. You cannot say that people do not enjoy it. [There are people] enjoying the 100-ball format in England. When 50-overs cricket started in England, they called it pyjama cricket. When T20 cricket came in, it was called brainless cricket; now people love it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What aspect of the game do you think would be important in this tournament?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Middle overs. We have seen enough in the beginning and the end, but the middle overs will be very crucial. Whichever team plays the middle overs better will win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Spinners like Kuldeep Yadav have been brought in to control those middle overs and get wickets. They will be under a lot of pressure.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Your team combination is important. The spinners have to play an important role, to not only control the runs, but also take wickets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But with the pitches full of runs, more so in the subcontinent, how difficult is the role of a spinner?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Very difficult―if the pitches are going to be flat―for any bowler. Chasing 350 runs is not that difficult if there are flat pitches; the bats are good, the boundaries are smaller. I think this is all being done by the ICC for the spectators―to give them value for their money.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ While India have seniors in Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma to take the lead with the bat, what about the bowling?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The bowling looks good. [Mohammed] Siraj, [Jasprit] Bumrah and [Mohammed] Shami are good, but it will all depend on how the spinners come out and do the needful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, basically, spinners hold the key?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> [Yes,] but if the pitches are very good, it becomes difficult for a spinner to attack and contain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But don’t you think somebody like Ravichandran Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja has the experience to manage the situation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Ashwin, Jadeja and Kuldeep have enough experience. So, if somebody plays well against them, you have to give [the batters] credit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is this going to be a spinners’ tournament?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I cannot say until I see the wickets. If it is an underprepared pitch, has not been properly rolled and has taken rain, a normal spinner can be deadly. If it is a flat pitch, the same spinner could go for 10 runs an over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Being a home World Cup, there will be immense pressure on India.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> They should just enjoy themselves for these 40-odd days. That is more important. To me, it is more important to reach the last four first.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So you are only looking at the top four for now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I am only bothered about my own team. No one team is dominating. If one day you say a particular team is full of champions, the next day they could lose to the number five team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How difficult is it for a team like New Zealand, which came so close to winning the previous World Cup?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is a stroke of luck. I do not think you can carry on about it for four years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are New Zealand a favourite?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> New Zealand can be difficult for any team. I saw New Zealand playing some time back; they got 340 or 350 runs in the 43rd over. And their captain Kane [Williamson]―other people play the match, he controls it. So, yes, New Zealand always bounce back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about defending champions England?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>England have become much better in ODIs in the past few years. [They had] never won the World Cup [before 2019] and never played ruthless cricket. Now what they are doing in ODIs and T20Is is a different game altogether.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Everybody seemed to have written off Pakistan even though they are a subcontinent team. Thoughts?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is a ruthless team. The only thing [to be seen] is if they can win all their matches. That is very difficult. They can win against anybody, but they can lose to anybody, too. That is the way this team is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Does that make them all the more dangerous?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> They are a dangerous team. I do not expect them to win all their matches, but they can beat<br> anybody.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think Sri Lanka, who have won a World Cup in the subcontinent, are not given enough credit?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I would not say [their chances are high] this time because these are young boys. By the next World Cup, this will be a mature bunch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your expectations from this tournament?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I want to see good, helpful pitches; that is important. They should make pitches that are 60 per cent for the batsmen and 40 per cent for the bowlers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Back to India, could this be Kohli’s last World Cup?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Depends on how long he can keep himself fit. I do not expect him [to win], I expect the team to win matches. When you start expecting one player to win matches for you, you are not going to win the World Cup. Yes, he is an important player and should make an impact, but he can win a few matches for you, not the World Cup.</p> Sat Oct 14 15:48:18 IST 2023 union-sports-minister-anurag-thakur-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Going into the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, the target set for the contingent was 100 medals. They did seven better, ending with 28 gold, 38 silver and 41 bronze. In an interview with THE WEEK, Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur talks about how the successful campaign took shape. Excerpts:</p> <p><br> <b>How satisfied are you with India’s performance?</b></p> <p><br> It is a historic moment for India and all of us. We said it and we did it! As the sports minister, I am happy that the hard work and determination of our athletes and the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to create a holistic sports ecosystem, combined with the support extended to them through the Target Olympic Podium Scheme and other government funds, have brought about these historic results.</p> <p><br> <b>Having achieved the 100-medal target in China, what are your expectations from next year's Paris Olympics?</b></p> <p><br> The training of athletes who are likely to represent India in Paris started two years ago; it is on track. We have recently upgraded facilities at three National Centres of Excellence in Patiala, Bengaluru and Lucknow to provide international-level facilities to our athletes. Besides, we have greatly strengthened our sports science facilities and hired more than 200 experts as high performance managers and directors to improve overall training. All athletes will continue to get overall as well as personalised support from TOPS.</p> <p><br> <b>Both kabaddi teams returned with gold medals. How important was it to see them back on top?</b></p> <p><br> It was heartening to see that India won its 100th medal in a traditional sport, and that too through our women athletes. As a matter of policy, we are trying to promote indigenous sports so that the younger generation take them up. In all our Khelo India Games, we have at least five traditional sports, including thang ta, kalaripayat, kho kho and kabaddi.</p> <p><br> At these Asian Games, it was very important for the kabaddi teams to reach the top of the podium. I am elated to see our sportspersons holding their nerve in crunch situations. In Jakarta 2018, the women's team were runners-up.</p> <p><br> The victory in the men's team final awarded India its eighth men's kabaddi title in nine editions (they got bronze in Jakarta, but avenged their loss in Hangzhou).</p> <p><b>Which was your favourite performance in both individual and team categories?</b></p> <p><br> It is difficult to pick a favourite performance. All the athletes—those who have won medals and those who could not—have put in their best performance. Each one of them is a moment to cherish. I will be doing injustice to other athletes if I single out any performance.</p> <p><br> <b>Your favourite moment of the Games?</b></p> <p><br> It is a tricky question, but since you are insisting, I would say the way Neeraj Chopra kept his cool and threw the javelin to [win gold] was one of my personal favourites. Even Parul Chaudhary's dash for gold in the 5000m was a show of extreme mental toughness.</p> <p><br> <b>Shooting, hockey and archery gave India a clutch of medals. How can we upgrade the other disciplines to their level?</b></p> <p><br> India's performance in athletics and shooting was particularly impressive. We won 22 medals in shooting and 29 in athletics. I believe there are a few key factors that contributed to this surge. First, we have a strong tradition in both. We have produced some excellent athletes in these sports, including Neeraj, Avinash Sable and Manu Bhaker.</p> <p><br> Second, we have invested heavily in developing our athletics and shooting programmes. For instance, in shooting and athletics, our athletes trained abroad for a long time before the Games to get a sense of their level of preparedness vis-a-vis other countries.</p> <p><br> Third, we have a number of talented young athletes who are coming through the ranks in both athletics and shooting. They are hungry for success. I am confident that India's success in athletics and shooting at the Asian Games is just the beginning. We have the potential to become a global powerhouse in these sports, and we are committed to achieving that goal.</p> <p><br> <b>Will the government or the Sports Authority of India set benchmarks like 'Iss baar...' for the Olympics?</b></p> <p><br> It would be hard to put a number just yet because we still have some time to go. We are working with the IOA (Indian Olympic Association) to develop a comprehensive plan for the 2024 Olympics. This plan will identify the key focus areas for our athletes and ensure that they have the best possible chance of success. We have an impressive bench strength in several disciplines and we believe that we have the potential to win more medals than ever. We are investing heavily in sports infrastructure and coaching.</p> <p><br> <b>What was key to India's best-ever performance at the Asian Games?</b></p> <p><br> In 2018, we had 70 medals; this time we have 107. A 52 per cent increase in medals between two editions and 75 per cent increase in gold. In 2020, we had our best-ever Olympics, Paralympics and Deaflympics. Of course, it is owing to the hard work of our athletes and others in the sports ecosystem, such as coaches and support staff, that this has been possible.</p> <p><b>But our athletes always worked hard; what seems to have changed now?</b></p> <p><br> It is the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which he put in place in 2014, and his personal interest in sports that have brought about this sea-change. Today, the sports ecosystem in the country has a pyramidal structure—from grassroots to elite—where talent identification and nurturing have become continuous processes. It was Modi <i>ji</i>'s vision with which the Target Olympic Podium Scheme was started in 2014. He wanted elite athletes to have all the facilities that they need to bring in results. And today, that scheme and the support that has been extended through it are showing results. Under TOPS, we have two different categories of players—Development and Elite—and for both set of players, the government provides training, diet, foreign exposure, equipment and personalised support to each athlete. They are also given a monthly out-of-pocket allowance of Rs50,000 (for elite athletes) and Rs25,000 (for development athletes), so that they can support their families. In 2018, the Khelo India scheme was introduced to identify talent at the grassroots level and train them to represent India in international competitions. Many Khelo India athletes are now part of the elite TOP Scheme. In fact, 124 Khelo India athletes were part of the Indian contingent this year; most of them are part of TOPS as well. There is definite growth in the athletes' performances and there is support at every level. Khelo India athletes are not just trained in SAI and Khelo India academies in state-of-the-art infrastructure, but are also given free coaching, lodging, diet and an out-of-pocket allowance of Rs10,000 a month. We have also built a lot of sporting infrastructure to ensure that athletes in every corner of India have a place to start their career. As many as 750 Khelo India Centres have been built in districts across the country; by next year, we will take this number to 1,000. The sports budget has also been increased three times in 2022-23, compared with 2013-2014. These concrete steps have helped ensure 360-degree support to athletes. Their hard work is showing results today.</p> <p><br> <b>It used to be said that Indians don't have that killer instinct to win. But that is now changing. Reason?</b></p> <p><br> Earlier, India was seen as a nation that did well in sports like wrestling, boxing and shooting, but athletics was seen as an area where the west and African countries dominated. It was felt that we did not have the genes required for excellence in athletics. We have reached the fourth position so many times and missed the medal. But that has changed. I feel Neeraj's Olympic gold in Tokyo has made a huge difference in the mindset of athletes. There is a confidence not only in athletics, but in other sports, too, with which our athletes compete now. Avinash's Commonwealth Games [silver] medal in the 3000m steeplechase, where he beat athletes from Kenya, was another moment where it became clear that we are as good in that discipline. In these Games, Parul... showed the confidence to surpass the Japanese athlete in the last 10 seconds to get the gold. It was evident that, mentally, she did not give up on gold even till the very end. Earlier, they participated with the hope of winning; now they know they can win. They go to win, not participate. That is a big change.</p> Sat Oct 14 16:42:39 IST 2023 asian-games-silver-medalist-jaggy-shivdasani-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>JAGGY SHIVDASANI, 65,</b> was the oldest Indian medallist at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, where he and his team won a silver in bridge. He is also the youngest Indian national champion: he set that unbroken record at the age of 18, winning the Holkar Trophy in 1976.</p> <p>Shivdasani has won all the national titles multiple times and has represented India in numerous international events. In 1987, he became the first non-American ever to win one of the three major North American team events: the Spingold Knockout Teams.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Bridge requires technical skills, the ability to read your opponent, hand evaluation, maths, statistics and probability, as well as stamina and nerves,”he says. Edited excerpts from an interview about his experience in Hangzhou:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Anju Bobby George of the Athletics Federation of India said the Chinese tried to cheat India of medals. Javelin champion Neeraj Chopra said his first throw was not recorded. What has been your experience?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We didn’t have any such experience. The Chinese were more than nice; they played absolutely fair. We beat China in the semifinals. They were one of the favourites and were very, very warm about their congratulations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why did you stay outside the Games Village? Were the facilities inside the village inadequate or the rules too rigid?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The facilities were top class. But they had these five-bedroom apartments with only three bathrooms for eight people and I couldn’t manage with that, even though I would have had a single room. That is why I chose to stay in a hotel. It was just two metro train stops to the playing area, and another two stops to the village.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The security was very tight in the village, and it was also nice for me to be in my own world and see the city a bit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your impressions of Hangzhou, the city and the people?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The city was brilliant. Every street, which could be a smaller road, had four lanes on either side and a separate lane for bicycles and a separate lane for walking. People are so disciplined, and no car or pedestrian will cross on a red light. There are security cameras everywhere. You can leave a bag of $100,000 anywhere in the city or on the metro, and no one will dare touch it. There was no crime that I could hear of or see. They are at least 20 or 25 years ahead of India in terms of infrastructure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How did you get interested in bridge?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is quite an interesting story. Obviously, I had some innate ability because my father, Bhagwan Shivdasani, was a national champion. But I got exposed as a young teenager through my cousins. Then I started learning by watching players and reading. My father had retired from playing, but he came back to play the nationals with me, which he had not played for eight years. And we, as father and son, won the nationals in 1976. I was 18 years old and I was the youngest. And 47 years later, that record has not been broken.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After I started playing for India, I met for the first time in Calcutta one of the biggest superstars of bridge, Zia Mahmood, who is a Pakistani. We became friends. Actually, we beat him in an invitation to a world event which took place in Calcutta in 1982. “You are wasting your time in India,”he told me. “You should travel abroad, and you can really blossom.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ India has won more medals this time than ever, but is still far behind China. What is lacking?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>India won more medals this time because the athletes have more exposure now and are getting financially rewarded. Our 4x400 men’s team was on the same flight as mine from Singapore to Hangzhou. I chatted with some of them. These incredible athletes won the gold in Hangzhou. And the girls team won silver. Our athletics programme has developed, but we were 20 years behind in developing it. India has talent, but nurturing it is taking time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bridge was always a capable sport, but we didn’t have bridge in the Asian Games until 2018 ―we had to beg them to let us go. After that medal, they started supporting bridge, and we did well at the world level and at the Asian Games. So it is all a question of nurturing and time. India will go far, but we have a long way to go before we win 300 or 400 medals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did the Chinese you met mention tension on the India-China border?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It’s possible that the people I interacted with have not even heard of the tension at the border. I think it is all at a macro political level in China. Individual people were more than friendly. They wanted to take selfies with me, they chatted with me. Language was a problem, but everyone had a big smile and was very encouraging.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Were they aware of Indian leaders, films, culture, literature?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I didn’t really ask, but a few people I talked to were very well aware of Bollywood and they said, oh, you live in Bombay where the movies are made.</p> Sat Oct 14 15:33:00 IST 2023 world-cup-mavericks-john-snow-the-rebel-poet <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>There once was a son of a vicar;</i></p> <p><i>a fast bowler known to bicker;</i></p> <p><i>a rebel with or without a cause;</i></p> <p><i>he was once pelted with cans of liquor</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps some creative liberty was taken in this verse, but the poet inside the pacer would pardon the transgression. John Snow, not the one from <i>Game of Thrones</i>, was a lanky English pacer who had once sent Sunil Gavaskar tumbling to the ground with a shoulder tackle. He also refused to bowl in a county game saying he was being overworked; his captain, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, had to report him to Sussex officials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was Snow to a tee―hero and villain in equal measure. He would stand up to anyone he thought was in the wrong, be it an opponent, the umpire or even his captain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But that worked to his detriment, too, as authorities would wait in anticipation for the day he failed with the ball or, as with the Gavaskar incident, brought the game into disrepute.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Terry Jenner episode was even more notorious. Snow bumped the helmet-less, lower-order batter, who crumpled onto the pitch holding his head. Such was the anger from the Australian crowd that later, when Snow was fielding in the deep, a passionate gentleman―with probably a few pints in―grabbed the Englishman by the shirt. He wanted to give Snow a piece of his mind, and fist. Ray Illingworth, the English captain, asked his men to vacate the field; play resumed only after the crowd had calmed down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Snow was known to evoke such emotion in others, be it for his bowling prowess or his devil-may-care attitude. And it was perhaps this urge to defy authority that led him into Kerry Packer’s cigar-perfumed embrace. Snow was one of Packer’s early converts. He played World Series Cricket for a couple of seasons, before returning to England in 1980.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No wonder, then, that his autobiography, out in 1976, was called <i>Cricket Rebel.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A year earlier, he had been part of the inaugural World Cup, at home. And in that tournament, he took six wickets at an average of 10.83, including both Chappell brothers in a game. He was also on the field to witness one of the most bizarre innings of all time: Gavaskar’s 36* off 174 balls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Snow was more than cricket―he set up a travel agency after retirement―and he knew life was more than cricket. Just try to get your hands on <i>Contrasts, and Moments and Thoughts,</i> his anthologies of verse. Or if you are not that way inclined, this snippet from the <i>Wisden Almanack</i> illustrates the same point: “At the England team’s Harrogate hotel during the fourth Test at Leeds last July, Basil D’Oliveira in an animated dinner-table conversation said to him ‘The ultimate thing in life is to play for England.’ Snow replied quietly ‘The ultimate thing in life is death.’”</p> Sat Oct 07 17:07:26 IST 2023 world-cup-mavericks-geoffrey-boycott-the-bowler <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Geoffrey Boycott played the very first ball in One-Day cricket. There is no footage to check, but it would be safe to say he blocked or left it―he had a penchant for dead-batting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Boycott had his spleen removed when he was nine, making him more prone to infections. Perhaps this led to the doggedness to protect his on-field life at any cost. Let’s just say a Boycott innings is to a T20 fan what a silent film is to a TikToker. The Yorkshire man gathered more than 8,000 Test runs and retired with one of the most impenetrable defences in cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also retired as a character who polarised the cricketing world. While some admired him for his skills and no-nonsense demeanour―he was a northerner and the son of a miner―there were others who called him a selfish player who cared only for his own runs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But his batting or attitude are not why he is on this list. It is his work as a medium pacer in the 1979 World Cup. As a batter, he got only 92 runs in five matches. But, he took five wickets. In the match against Australia, Boycott got 2-15 in six overs, without even removing his cap or sweater to bowl. To be fair, his run-up was just a few steps and he was more Chris Harris than Shoaib Akhtar. He got another two-fer against Pakistan and one against New Zealand. It is amusing to think that one of England’s premier batters ended up doing more with the ball!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Almost 50 years on, and Boycott is seen, at least by some of the younger cricketing minds, as that cantankerous old man who refuses to keep up with the game. “If you’re going to just entertain, they might as well be a circus, that’s it. Go, be a professional circus around the world.” This was him tearing into Bazball, the new English way of batting aggressively in Tests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps the most succinct way to sum up Boycott is this: On a clip from the touring show <i>An Evening with Boycott and Aggers,</i> English broadcaster Jonathan Agnew, who worked with Boycott for 20 years, said the most common question the audience wanted him to ask the batter was this: “Geoffrey, why are you such a difficult bastard?”</p> Sat Oct 07 17:22:09 IST 2023 world-cup-mavericks-lance-cairns-swinging-excalibur <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The 1983 World Cup saw no magic from Lance Cairns; he took seven wickets in the tournament. Perhaps he had exhausted his quota of wizardry in Melbourne the same year, when he unsheathed King Arthur’s sword and whacked the Aussies for six sixes, including a one-hander off Dennis Lillee. He raced to 52 off 21 balls, the fastest 50 at the time, but all the commentators could talk about was Excalibur―the bat with its shoulders shaved off, which almost made it look like a club.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>John Guy, a former Kiwi batter who designed the bat, said in an <i>ESPNcricinfo</i> article: “It was just a marketing ploy. Although if you have no shoulders, you can’t get caught off the shoulder of the bat.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A bat is only as good as the man who wields it. And man, was he good. Cairns was an attraction. Not only did he bludgeon balls with the bat, he also bowled front-on, off the wrong foot. There was substance to go with the unorthodox style, though. He took more than 200 international wickets for New Zealand and used to partner the legendary Richard Hadlee for a time. He was raw, unvarnished talent that had not been coached a single day in his life. He credits his ability to swing the ball to the lack of coaching. If he had been coached into bowling side-on, he would have lost his swing, he reckoned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a kid, Cairns had been a promising hockey and rugby player, but he disliked the violence in the latter. He came closer to cricket through the radio, but hardly went to any matches before he started playing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What makes his story more captivating is that Cairns started going deaf at 17. “I would scream for these appeals and all my team-mates would be silent as anything,” he said in a 2010 interview to <i>Stuff</i>. “Then it would work the other way, I would get a nick and the wicketkeeper would catch it and they would all scream the appeal and I wouldn’t appeal because I hadn’t heard the nick.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problems, of course, extended beyond the field. As he could not pick a lot of what people were saying, he would avoid social situations and stay in his room to watch television.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cairns finally got a cochlear implant in 2010 and did something he had wanted to do for years―talk to his son, Chris, on the phone. Yes, Chris Cairns.</p> Sat Oct 07 17:00:49 IST 2023 world-cup-mavericks-eddo-brandes-the-chicken-farmer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Eddo Brandes had five ducks in his cricketing career; chickens served him better, though. At a time when Zimbabwean cricketers often had full-time jobs to supplement their earnings from cricket, Brandes was a chicken farmer back home. He later became a tomato farmer in Australia, but there is a lot in between.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brandes was part of the Zimbabwean team for four World Cups. In 1987, in his debut ODI, he got run out on zero and pulled a quad. 1992 was much kinder, with him winning the man of the match award for his 4-21 and 14 (24). With Zimbabwe setting England a modest target of 135, most assumed that the second innings was a formality. But in stepped Brandes, plucking four of the first five wickets, as he would feathers off his poultry. He got Graham Gooch, Allan Lamb, Robin Smith and, his childhood buddy and former Zimbabwe cricketer, Graeme Hick. He had bowled an unbroken spell of 10 overs; running after hens had built his stamina.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He seemed to take a special liking to the English. In 1997, he took a fifer against them, including a hat-trick―the batters dismissed: Nick Knight, John Crawley and Nasser Hussain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But perhaps the reason why cricket fans remember him the most is for his sharp retort to a Glenn McGrath sledge in a 1996 series in Colombo. After failing to knock over the lower-order Brandes, a fuming McGrath apparently asked him, “Oi Brandes, why’re you so fat?” Pat came the reply: “Because every time I shag your wife, she gives me a biscuit.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>McGrath had been anything but hospitable to Brandes, but his country was. After his time with the Zimbabwe team, he moved to Australia and started coaching the Sunshine Coast Cricket Club in Queensland. “I’ve found that if you put in the effort to say ‘G’day’ to people, they react positively, and once they find out I used to play cricket, things happen quickly for me,” he wrote in a 2009 <i>ESPNcricinfo</i> article. “Ian Healy (former Aussie wicketkeeper) was very kind, helping me with contacts in Brisbane and helping me find my feet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There, he turned from fowl to fruit, starting a tomato business. He produced around 50 tonnes a week for markets in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. But cricket was not out of his system. He was preparing to take on the likes of Carl Hooper and Jonty Rhodes for the over-50s World Cup (run by a nonprofit in Australia) in 2020, but the pandemic nixed those plans. No matter, there is an over-60s World Cup, too.</p> Sat Oct 07 16:57:58 IST 2023 world-cup-mavericks-dermot-reeve-the-unlikeable-innovator <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>We have seen Joe Root drop his bat in celebration. He did so after a century against India. Dermot Reeve also dropped his bat; only, he did so while batting. It was a Warwickshire vs Hampshire match. Left-arm spinner Raj Maru was bowling into the rough outside leg stump and Reeve did not want to get caught bat-pad. His solution? He put his leg forward to defend the ball and dropped his bat to the pitch. He did so 15 times during that match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was such innovation, sometimes ethically complex, that Reeve was known for. He would reverse sweep with impunity and would vary the pace of his seam bowling before it became fashionable. Basically, he would employ any method to get into the opponent’s head. This included incessant chirping at batters, regardless of reputation. As Rahul Dravid would find out. “He told me, ‘You’re the only person who’s ever got under my skin,’” Reeve told <i>Daily Mail</i> in 2021. “I went on and on. And he got out. Things like that made me very disliked. But I wasn’t out there to make friends. We were there to win matches.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was not stingy with this ideology, lavishing it on teammates, too. As captain of Warwickshire, he thought star signee Brian Lara was getting special treatment and even called him a “prima donna”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was this antagonistic attitude, perhaps, that prevented him from getting a longer career. There was that persistent hip injury, too. Of his 29 ODI caps, 11 came in World Cups. The 1992 edition was more memorable―he took eight wickets at an average of 15.75, the tournament’s lowest. His best was a three-fer against India, where he got the captain Mohammad Azharuddin and Kapil Dev. He also hit four fours en route to an important 25* in that infamous rain-affected match that saw South Africa’s target being revised to 22 off one ball.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reeve’s playing days morphed into coaching stints with a couple of teams, including Somerset and the Maharashtra Ranji side. He also took up commentary duties, but was let go from Channel 4 after news of his cocaine addiction broke. He says he is clean now. “I have no recollection of seeing the ball on Saturday and Sunday. I had to watch the match video to hear what I said,” he told <i>The Mail on Sunday</i> in 2005. It was the England versus New Zealand match at Lord’s in 2004. “They (others in the box) just said I was my usual self but chirpier―and kept doing Imran Khan impressions off-screen. They said it was the funniest commentary they had ever heard.”</p> Sat Oct 07 17:18:54 IST 2023 world-cup-mavericks-jack-russell-keeper-with-a-paintbrush <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Wriddhiman Saha would sympathise with Jack Russell. The Englishman, whom many considered the best gloves-man in the country, would often make way for Alec Stewart, who was better with the bat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But that is where Saha would stop. Though wicketkeepers are known to be an eccentric bunch, Russell would be a “bit too out there” even for them. Apparently, he once blindfolded construction workers coming to and leaving his house so that they would not know where he lived. Angus Fraser, his former English teammate, wrote this for <i>The Independent</i> in 2004: “There would be a box of cereal, tea bags and biscuits stuffed under his chair. Jack rarely trusted the food at grounds, especially on tour, and his lunch on match days consisted of two Weetabix, which had to be soaked in milk eight minutes before he came off the field. He would also use the same tea bag for the 20 or so cuppas he would drink during a Test match.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If food on tours made him jittery, one could only imagine what he went through during the 1996 World Cup in the subcontinent. On the field, he pouched seven catches and affected a stumping, but off it he indulged in a passion that had grown out of the boredom of sitting in the pavilion when rain interrupted play. He would wander the cities to find subjects he could pour onto his canvas. There is a photo of him sitting―with his bushy moustache and baggy shorts―in the middle of a vegetable market in Peshawar, painting a fruit seller.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russell ended his playing career with more than 2,000 runs and north of 200 dismissals. He then had coaching jobs in goalkeeping, with the Forest Green Rovers in the Conference National; and wicketkeeping, with Gloucestershire. Art, however, had him it its grip, and eventually led him to establishing the Jack Russell Gallery in Chipping Sodbury, South Gloucestershire. His collection includes landscapes, wildlife and sport, and portraits featuring the likes of Dickie Bird, Bobby Charlton and Eric Clapton. On his website, Russell tells the story of painting the guitarist. “When we sat down in his London home, I asked him how long he could sit for. ‘About 45 minutes,’ came the reply. I went white with panic. After an hour he had to leave. I wandered up the Kings Road, Chelsea, with a very incomplete portrait. Just an eyeball, a bit of chin, one ear, and half a nose! I sat down in a cafe with the picture beside me. A gentleman opposite peered over his newspaper, studied the painting for a minute, then remarked, “I see you’ve been to see Eric”. At that point I knew I had cracked it. I was delighted!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You can buy a print of this portrait from the gallery website at just £2,500 (about Rs2.5 lakh).</p> Sat Oct 07 17:17:25 IST 2023 world-cup-mavericks-andrew-flintoff-the-tv-personality <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Andrew Flintoff took his role as cricketing all-rounder and applied it to life in general. After his playing days, the Englishman has been a boxer, host, podcaster, author, reality TV contestant, theatre artiste and, most recently, unpaid assistant coach.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s explain the last bit first. In December 2022, Flintoff was airlifted to a hospital after crashing his car while filming for <i>Top Gear</i>. He has been a host of the famous television show for a few years now. Out of the public eye for months, Flintoff returned to cricket, albeit as a volunteer assistant coach for the national team during their recent New Zealand series.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been no confirmation of a relationship going forward, but if Flintoff does get the coaching gig, he would return to an arena where he might have some unfinished business. For all the greatness that oozed out of Flintoff―especially in the 2005 Ashes―he could never perform to potential in a World Cup. There were fitness issues in 1999; he made 15 runs in two innings and took two wickets. It was better in 2003―156 runs and seven wickets―and 2007, in the Caribbean, was good in terms of bowling. He took 14 wickets, but made only 92 with the bat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What 2007 did give us was the story of the pedal-operated boat. Drinking into the wee hours with some of his teammates, Flintoff decided he wanted to meet Ian Botham, who he thought was on a yacht. He knew swimming would be dangerous, so he got a pedal boat. “I couldn’t find the oars, so I dragged this pedalo into the water,” he told Piers Morgan years later. “The next morning, I woke up, I was on my bed… still wet and… [there was] sand between my toes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It could be one of those stories that add to the “legend” of a man, or it could be a cautionary tale. Flintoff chose the latter, quitting alcohol a few years later. He also talked openly about having depression and bulimia, setting the tone for the Ben Stokes’s of today to do the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has also done his part to grow the sport in his country, taking it from the elite to everyone. In his highly rated show <i>Freddie Flintoff’s Field of Dreams</i>, for instance, he goes about making a team from a group of eclectic teens from his hometown of Preston.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being around the boys really seems to help Flintoff, and vice versa. So, do not be surprised if you see Freddie at the Wankhede in a few days.</p> Sat Oct 07 17:15:44 IST 2023 world-cup-mavericks-collins-obuya-is-dreaming-of-ipl-stint <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Kenya was the story of the 2003 World Cup. And Collins Obuya was its most popular chapter. The African nation made it as far as the semifinals―only to fall to India―on the back of some inspired performances by the leg-spinner. In the match against Sri Lanka, Obuya took 5-24, foxing the likes of Aravinda de Silva, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He had taken lessons from the greatest craftsman of leg spin, Shane Warne, who gave him tips on how to bowl the flipper and the wrong one. With these new arrows in his quiver, he took 13 wickets in the tournament at an average of 28.76, eventually earning a contract with Warwickshire for the 2003 season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a boy who earned most of his money selling tomatoes in his mother’s market, the sudden fame was dizzying. He used to earn $1,000 a year from cricket before the World Cup; his team got a payout of $5,00,000 at the end of it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the spotlight vanished as quickly as it had appeared. Obuya could not impress in his county stint because of a knee injury, had a fallout with the Kenyan board, and was ruled out of the 2004 Champions Trophy because of appendicitis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The following year, he went to Australia to seek guidance from Terry Jenner, who had coached Warne into prominence. Sadly, that partnership went nowhere and Obuya began transitioning into a batter’s role.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a slow burn, but the results showed in the 2011 World Cup. In six matches, Obuya collected 243 runs at an average of 48.60, which included a 98* against an Australian attack that featured Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than a decade later, Obuya has not given up the dream. Now 42, and a father of two, he is till part of the Kenyan team and wants to play abroad one last time. “If we manage to qualify (for the 2024 T20 World Cup), it will be a great privilege for me,” he told <i>The Nation</i> this June. “You never know, if I perform well, I may even get a call-up by an IPL team. It has been my dream to play in the IPL, so I will seize the opportunity even if it for a short time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As his Kenya teammate Pushkar Sharma said in an interview earlier this year, “He is like Virat Kohli to us.”</p> Mon Oct 09 11:34:15 IST 2023 world-cup-mavericks-dwayne-leverock-the-rotund-jailer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Conde Nast Traveler</i> lists Horseshoe Bay Beach and the Crystal Caves among places to see on the island of Bermuda. Fans of cricket might want to visit another spot―Dwayne Leverock’s home. As a recent Reddit story goes, Ahsan Shaikh, a cricket fan, was on vacation on the isle and struck up a conversation with his taxi driver. Cricket came up and the driver was shocked to know that people outside Bermuda still remembered Leverock and that moment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the 2007 World Cup. India were batting and Robin Uthappa was on strike. Malachi Jones ran up to bowl and pitched it a bit wide of off stump. Uthappa, trying to run the ball down to third man, got an edge and the ball flew. Waiting at slip was the rotund Leverock who, in a moment of brilliance, dove to his right and plucked the ball out of the air. He was 127 kilos at the time. The moment became a part of cricketing folklore and, for many Indian fans, was the only piece of amusement from a dismal World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The catch itself was funny,” he told <i>ESPNcricinfo</i> in 2015. “I was going to give Malachi a high-five but when I saw the group of guys who were running towards me, I changed direction and went the opposite way. When I looked behind, quite a few of them were running after me. I thought that was very funny.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back to Shaikh. The driver somehow got Leverock’s number and called him up. To the fan’s disbelief, Leverock shared his address and told them to come over. They had a wholesome meeting and even recreated the catching pose for a photo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leverock was always that large-hearted, beef <i>korma</i>-loving jovial figure, but he was fiercely competitive on the field. Once, in a warm-up match against England, Leverock noticed Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff chuckling at some of his deliveries. Later, when KP was batting, Leverock lured him out with his crafty left-arm spin and had him stumped. He also accounted for the wickets of Kumar Sangakkara and Yuvraj Singh in the 2007 World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leverock knew how to deal with disrespect. As with many players from associate nations, he had a full-time job; he was a jailer and used to drive hardened criminals to and from prison. Answering a question on a BBC message board about which was harder―bowling to Pietersen or dealing with felons, he said, “Bowling to KP; he’s more unorthodox!”</p> Sat Oct 07 17:13:44 IST 2023 world-cup-mavericks-sreesanth-antics-on-field-and-on-screen <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sreesanth wore his emotions on his sleeve. Maybe both sleeves. The pacer was known to get in the faces of the batters, even towering hulks like Matthew Hayden, and was often warned for his on-field antics. The most famous of these was the confrontation with South African pacer Andre Nel, where, after being taunted for not having enough courage, he stepped out and hit Nel for a six in a Test. And then twirled his bat and hips. Also, the infamous slap from Harbhajan Singh for apparently needling him after an IPL match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was, for a while, the wild child of Indian cricket and was even banned for life for his involvement in the 2013 spot-fixing scandal. The Supreme Court eventually set aside the ban in 2019 and he returned to the Kerala Ranji team in 2022. It was in the run-up to his comeback that Sreesanth took online mental conditioning classes from mind coach Tim Grover, the man who had earlier worked with basketball legends Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for World Cups, he played only the 2011 edition at home (he was part of the 2007 T20 World Cup), but got only two games. He was, however, part of the final and went wicketless in eight overs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all the drama he created on the field, his life off it has been equally entertaining. Most people know of his dancing skills, but he added acting to his resume in 2017, with the films <i>Team 5</i> and <i>Aksar 2</i>. In 2019, he even got the ‘Best Villain’ honour at the Santosham Film Awards for his role in <i>Kempe Gowda 2</i>. “Didn’t many of my teammates always use to say that I was an actor?” he said in an interview to <i>The Indian Express</i> in 2022. “I think you need to be a good actor to get by in life. I am not talking about faking it. I mean not showing your vulnerability. I hate sympathy; I don’t want it in my life anymore. I don’t want to show it to anyone that I am down. That’s what I mean by acting.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sreesanth has also been part of several reality shows like <i>Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena</i> and was the runner-up in the 2018 season of <i>Bigg Boss</i>. He would regularly pick fights with other contestants and host Salman Khan joked that Sreesanth had threatened to leave the house 299 times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also contested elections as a BJP candidate in 2016, but lost to his Congress opponent V.S. Sivakumar by more than 11,000 votes. That, however, has not crushed his ambition. “I am a huge fan of [Shashi Tharoor] as a person who had stood by me,” he said in the same <i>Express</i> interview. “But I will defeat him in the elections in Thiruvananthapuram.”</p> Sat Oct 07 17:12:07 IST 2023 world-cup-mavericks-chris-gayle-the-chill-marauder <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Remember Prasanth Parameswaran? His career went poof in seven balls. The reason: A marauding Chris Gayle. In a 2011 IPL match in Bengaluru, Gayle ripped into the Kerala pacer, hitting 37 runs off one over (there was a no ball). Royal Challengers Bangalore reached the target of 125 in the 14th over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gayle was known to unleash such violence on the pitch. Hailed as arguably the greatest T20 batter of all time―he has more than 14,500 runs and has played for a staggering 39 teams―Gayle often brought this carnage to ODIs as well. Take, for instance, the 2015 World Cup. In the match against Zimbabwe, Gayle hit 16 sixes in his innings of 215. It was, at the time, the only double ton in World Cups. Overall, he has played five editions, amassing almost 1,200 runs and picking 16 wickets with his off spin. Off the pitch, though, Gayle was the epitome of chill, looking like he had spent all his days with Snoop Dogg. At this year’s IPL, when he made his commentary debut, there was more laughter than analysis. He even went over to the Bhojpuri panel and spoke a few words in the language.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But this casual vibe is not without its pitfalls; in 2016, Gayle was pulled up for flirting with an Australian anchor on air. Watching it could make you either cringe or validate your support of the six-pack-flexing, alpha male ‘Universe Boss’ persona he has created on social media. This version of Gayle once installed a stripper pole in his Jamaican house and told his followers that, without one, they were not cricket “players”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But perhaps this need to revel in his success comes from his past. In 2005, he had to undergo a heart surgery. In the years to follow, he was periodically at loggerheads with the cricket board. Also, having made the most ODI runs for the West Indies―10,425―and also being the most capped player in the format, he is at times left out of conversations that feature Brian Lara and Viv Richards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So Gayle is in a world of his own, and his latest goal is to win a Grammy. He has sent his album <i>Tropical House Cruises to Jamaica: Asian Edition</i> for Grammy consideration. He is featured on two of the tracks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Oh, there is also speculation that Bollywood may be calling.</p> Sat Oct 07 17:10:41 IST 2023 world-cup-imran-tahir-the-smiling-veteran <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The fall of a wicket was like a starter pistol to Imran Tahir. It was a signal to run. No matter the batter, the leg-spinner was off, celebrating as if it were his last scalp. It is a childlike joy that lasts to this day. At 44, Tahir led the Guyana Amazon Warriors to their maiden Caribbean Premier League title on September 24.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 2019 World Cup in England, Tahir became the oldest cricketer to play for South Africa in the tournament. He was also the first spinner to bowl the starting over in a World Cup, and dismissed England’s Jonny Bairstow off the second ball. A T20 giant, Tahir was great in ODI World Cups, too, taking 40 wickets in three editions at an average of 21.17.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It hasn’t been an easy ride for me as I remember working at the Pace Mall in Lahore at a retail shop where I used to earn Rs3,000 per month when I was 16,” he told <i>The Express Tribune</i> in 2015. “Since I was the eldest, I had no choice but to do what was required to support my family… I spent five years in South Africa playing domestic cricket and had to live hand-to-mouth for the first two years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Inspired by the legendary Abdul Qadir, Tahir had made it to the Pakistan Under-19 team. But progress was slow. He then moved to England for county cricket and eventually landed in South Africa. There, he became a valuable commodity. An attacking leg-spinner with a heart that would never quit. He served the country well for years, eventually becoming one of those nation-hopping talents who played T20 leagues around the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And not only did he play, he enjoyed every bit of it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Pakistan Super League final in 2022, Tahir bowled a yorker to Mohammad Hafeez, who brought his bat down just in time. Tahir convinced his captain Mohammad Rizwan to take the review. He did. DRS showed the ball hitting the middle of the bat. The next ball, Hafeez played and missed; Tahir thought there was an edge and started running. There was no edge. Hafeez and Tahir squared up in the middle, both smiling and arguing, and separated after a fist bump. It was a final, but there was fun to be had. And by God, Tahir would have it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was in this T20 journey that he helped M.S. Dhoni’s team of veterans, affectionately called the ‘Dads’ Army’, to the IPL title in 2018. Going by his current run, he might soon be looking for a granddads’ army to join.</p> Sat Oct 07 17:08:45 IST 2023 motogp-makes-a-solid-india-debut <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Watching MotoGP from the comfort of your home has its advantages. Hundreds of cameras capture the race from all angles, so that you do not miss a moment. Veteran commentators fill you in on the finer points, while animated infographics give you real-time info on the race.</p> <p>Nothing, however, comes close to the experience of being physically present on the MotoGP sidelines. Sure, you have to brave the weather, and bikes just zip past you in the blink of an eye. But the roar of the engines and the supercharged atmosphere stay with you.</p> <p>MotoGP is one of the world’s most popular sporting events, but few Indians follow it. And, although India has a high number of two-wheeler riders, not a single Indian rider competes in MotoGP. Yet, fans here have long been waiting for a MotoGP grand prix.</p> <p>Their wait ended last week. Thanks to the government of Uttar Pradesh and the Spanish company Dorna Sports, which holds MotoGP’s commercial rights, the first MotoGP Indian Oil Grand Prix of India was held at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida from September 22 to 24. Those who had the privilege of being in attendance felt goosebumps when they heard India’s national anthem before the start of the race.</p> <p>MotoGP’s main events usually last three days. First day is practice day for all three race categories—Moto3 (250cc engines), Moto2 (600cc) and MotoGP (1,000cc). The technologies first used in these races are usually transferred to mass-market bikes. In a way, MotoGP is an arena for manufacturers to experiment with new technologies.</p> <p>Free practice one (FP1) and free practice two (FP2) are held on day one. The qualification race for pole position is held on the first half of day two; the second half has the sprint race, which runs half the total distance of the main grand prix.</p> <p>Eleven teams competed in the Grand Prix of India. There were 22 riders—eight of them on Ducati bikes, four each on Honda, Aprilia and KTM bikes, and two on Yamahas. Luca Marini of Mooney VR46 Racing Team and Alex Marquez of Gresini Racing were injured in the sprint race and declared unfit for the grand prix. Marini is half-brother of nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi and Marquez’s brother is eight-time world champion Marc Marquez.</p> <p>Ducatis dominated the qualification race. The top three positions were clinched by Marco Bezzecchi of Mooney VR46, Jorge Martin of Pramac Racing and Francesco Bagnaia of Ducati Lenovo. Bagnaia, the current world champion, is leading this year’s championship as well.</p> <p>In the main race of 21 laps, Bezzecchi had a good start with Martin and Bagnaia interchanging positions a few times. Bagnaia, who overtook Bezzecchi and led the race at one point, eventually dropped to third. And then the unexpected happened—Bagnaia lost his grip and balance on lap 14. He crashed his bike and retired from the race.</p> <p>In the end, Bezzecchi finished first and Martin second. Bagnaia’s crash helped Fabio Quartararo of Monster Energy Yamaha, who was struggling this season, finish third. At one point, Quartararo even overtook Martin to come second. The heat had left Martin dehydrated, and it forced him to skip the post-race press conference as well. Bagnaia’s championship lead over Martin has now narrowed to just 13 points.</p> <p>The race was attended by spiritual guru Jaggi Vasudev and actor John Abraham, both motorcycle aficionados. Actor Ranveer Singh and cricketer Suresh Raina were also seen waving to the crowds.</p> <p>In terms of crowds, though, the grand prix was not really grand. Only the grandstand was filled to capacity, while the other stands were mostly empty. Viewing galleries had only policemen who were seen recording the race on their cellphones.</p> <p>But, with the Buddh circuit having received good reviews, things could well change in the next MotoGP season. &nbsp;</p> Fri Sep 29 17:02:32 IST 2023 ducati-corse-sporting-director-paolo-ciabatti-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Fans, riders and technical staff are usually tensed ahead of big races, but Ducati Corse general manager Luigi Dall’lgna and sporting director Paolo Ciabatti are always composed. Ducati Corse is Italian motorcycling giant Ducati’s racing division. Ciabatti spoke to THE WEEK after the first practice session on day one of the three-day MotoGP Indian Oil Grand Prix of India.</p> <p>Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>Q</b></i>/<i><b>The fight for podiums and championship this season is mostly among Ducati teams. How do you feel about it?</b></i></p> <p><i><b>A</b></i>/We are proud to have eight riders on our bikes—all capable of getting good results. So far, three riders have won, with Pecco (Francesco Bagnaia) winning the most number of races, [followed by Marco] Bezzecchi and [Jorge] Martin. Obviously, it proves that Ducati is a winning machine with riders of different styles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>Q</b></i>/<i><b>Enea Bastianini, whose performance with the satellite team in the last season was incredible, is now struggling after moving to the factory team. Is it normal?</b></i></p> <p><i><b>A</b></i>/Good question! Obviously, it is not normal. It is not what he expected, and it is not what we expected.</p> <p>Last year, in his second year in MotoGP, Enea had a fantastic season starting from that incredible first win in Qatar…. He was a contender for the title and so aggressive sometimes that even we were worried of his aggression with Pecco!</p> <p>For the factory team, the two contenders were Jorge Martin and Enea. Martin is an incredible talent, so the decision was not easy. [Enea] being third in the championship played a role in the decision to give him a chance in the factory team.</p> <p>[But] Enea came without his crew chief, because his crew chief went to KTM. That might have had an impact [on his performance]. Sometimes it’s just a matter of luck. He broke his shoulder in an accident in Portimao (circuit in Portugal)…. If you break your shoulder, [the recovery] takes long and there is no operation that makes sense. You lose your muscle and morale…. Hopefully, all the bad things will happen to Enea [only this season]. Next season, we can start from a better position.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>Q</b></i>/<i><b>Can you reveal some secrets about your 2024 plans?</b></i></p> <p><i><b>A</b></i>/(Laughs) Obviously not! As you mentioned, we are proud of being innovative. Other manufactures are not so happy about it, but everything we do is by the rulebook. Sometimes, we decide to change the rulebook.</p> <p>There was the famous protest for that spoon (an appendage in Ducati bikes that allegedly gave them an unfair advantage). We had to go to FIM (Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme) court, which was not really nice. Because, when you are there you need to show everything. Show your data and [argue] why you do it.</p> <p>In a way, you defend yourself and tell other manufactures what you do and how you do it. Which I think is unfair. You could see that everybody adopted something similar [to the spoon]…. Sometimes, it makes you feel a little bit too much under attack when you see that your good ideas are taken by others and we know that we got that idea first.&nbsp;</p> Fri Sep 29 16:59:27 IST 2023 motogp-world-champion-francesco-bagnaia-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Francesco ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia competes for the Ducati Lenovo team and is the reigning MotoGP world champion. THE WEEK caught up with him in the paddock of the first MotoGP race in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>Q</b></i>/<i><b>The Buddh International Circuit has a new track for MotoGP bikes.</b></i></p> <p><i><b>A</b></i>/I have been doing laps and I will do one after this interview. The layout of the track is great. I like it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>Q</b></i>/<i><b>India has a high number of two-wheeler riders. As a MotoGP champion, what is your message for safe riding?</b></i></p> <p><i><b>A</b></i>/It is incredible that we have no Indian rider in the MotoGP championship considering the number of two-wheelers you have on the streets. Maybe this race could bring in a new era of riders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>Q</b></i>/<i><b>You have been competing with Fabio Quartararo for long, be it last year or your final season at Moto2. But now fellow Ducati riders are your main rivals. How do you see that?</b></i></p> <p><i><b>A</b></i>/It is very different, because they can see everything perfectly, including data. I can see the data of [Jorge] Martin. He can see my data. Same with [Marco] Bezzecchi. So this sure increases the level of Ducati [performance].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>Q</b></i>/<i><b>What are your off-track plans in India? What are you going to explore?</b></i></p> <p><i><b>A</b></i>/No plans right now, because we have to fly to Tokyo [for the Grand Prix of Japan]. It is very important to remain focused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>Q</b></i>/<i><b>More and more tracks are being added every new season. Are new tracks a challenge?</b></i></p> <p><i><b>A</b></i>/We have set a limit because, for me, more than 20 races [in a season] is too much to manage physically and mentally. We are working a lot to improve ourselves, but adding races will be too demanding—not only for us, but also for the team.</p> Fri Sep 29 16:56:30 IST 2023 a-lot-of-manoeuvring-went-into-bringing-motogp-to-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Rs12,000-crore Buddh International Circuit in Uttar Pradesh last saw a grand prix in 2013—the third season of the Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix. The following year, F1 left India because of government apathy, which became apparent when the sports minister of the time declared that racing cars was not sports. The world-class circuit lay unused for a decade after that, until the MotoGP Grand Prix of India came along.</p> <p>At the heart of the F1 issue was a thorny tax problem. Whenever cars are brought into the country, a 200 per cent excise duty is levied. So it makes little sense to bring cars into the country for the sole purpose of racing them for a few days.</p> <p>Manoj Kumar Singh, chairperson of the state government’s promotional agency Invest UP, said a legal bypass was created specially for MotoGP. All bikes were held in two custom-bound areas—one at the airport, where the bikes landed, and another at the racing circuit. En route to the airport and the circuit, the police kept a strict watch on the vehicles.</p> <p>“When the organisers (FairStreet Sports and Dorna Sports) first approached the government, the chief minister was very excited, especially as this was the first time such an event was being held in India,” said Singh.</p> <p>The government looked upon it as an opportunity to pitch UP as a friendly state. On the sidelines of the event, an informal investor summit-like meeting was held with the top bosses of companies like Ducati. India is the world’s number one motorcycle manufacturer, and what better than a MotoGP thumbs-up to garner investment in the sector.</p> <p>The government helped iron out issues and chipped in with Rs18 crore to support the event. The Yamuna Expressway Authority chipped in another Rs8 crore, which was spent on constructing approach roads and beautifying existing roads. It was ensured that no part of the expressway was choked during the three-day event.</p> <p>The investment by the government made sense, given that MotoGP requires a Rs140-crore fee for hosting the event. The fee remains valid for seven years. “We were looking at creating an annual event, complete with food and entertainment, which people would look forward to,” said Singh. (Sunburn was to be an entertainment partner, but pulled out for reasons unknown.)</p> <p>Built for F1 cars, the circuit had to undergo tweaks to make it usable for bikes. Top MotoGP bikers gave the track glowing reviews and some tips. The track, which has one of the longest straights (around 1km) in the MotoGP calendar, could well set world records in the future.</p> <p>Pushkar Nath Srivastava, chief operating officer at FairStreet Sports, said preparations for the event had started during the pandemic with extensive discussions with MotoGP. “[MotoGP] were keen to take it forward, but were also sceptical because of the past motorsports experiences in India,” he said. “They were struggling to gain complete confidence. We initiated discussions and drafted agreements and MoUs with MotoGP. We stressed the mutual benefits of MotoGP in India and India in MotoGP.”</p> <p>The willingness of FairStreet Sports to shoulder the tax burden and financial matters while allowing MotoGP to concentrate solely on event management was a key factor that swung MotoGP’s decision in India’s favour. “We obtained various rights, including title sponsorship and broadcasting rights, and managed the sale of broadcasting rights and ticketing. These were the necessary adaptations we made to bring the race to India,” said Srivastava.</p> <p>Post the race, Pramac Racing CEO Paolo Campinoti said: “It was a fantastic experience. I did not expect so much enthusiasm about the race. MotoGP in India could well turn out to be the most important race of the future.”</p> <p>The fulsome praise does not obscure the fact that many issues need to be sorted out for MotoGP to have a viable future in India. For instance, riders faced visa issues; quick maintenance could not hide the flaws of the unused circuit; and it became evident that scorching September was not the best month to host the race.</p> <p>FairStreet Sports has plans for the future. “This is more than just a race; it’s a catalyst for progress and prosperity in our region,” said Srivastava. “Our longterm vision [is] to make MotoGP a year-round hub of activity by engaging in research and development projects with leading automobile companies. Our goal is to transform the space into a bike show where manufacturers can launch new models, attracting enthusiasts from far and wide. Additionally, the tracks themselves can serve as test zones.”&nbsp;</p> Fri Sep 29 16:53:32 IST 2023 top-indian-medal-hopes-at-asian-games-2023 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>One hundred medals. That is the target the government has set for the Indian Olympic Association at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. The event, starting September 23, will feature India’s largest-ever contingent―655 athletes. The country had sent 570 to the previous games in Jakarta and had won 70 medals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are high expectations from the 68-member athletics contingent, as also from the two cricket teams and the 33-member shooting contingent, which was third behind China and Ukraine in the recent World Shooting Championships. The hockey team, too, goes in on a high after winning the Asian Champions Trophy at home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here’s a look at some of the top contenders for a podium finish:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>ATHLETICS</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>* NEERAJ CHOPRA (JAVELIN)</b></p> <p>The 25-year-old is the current world and Olympic champion, and will defend his Asian Games title in Hangzhou. The fact that he came second in the Diamond League final on September 16, behind the Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch, would only spur him on to clinch gold. “In big competitions, I think it is about the mindset,” he said after the Diamond League final. “In big competitions we do not need to prepare ourselves. When we enter the stadium, our mind and body are ready for the competition.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chopra’s main challenge will come from Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem, who threw 87.82m for a silver behind Chopra at the Budapest World Athletics. Oh, and Nadeem has breached 90m; Chopra is yet to do so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>* <b>KISHORE JENA (JAVELIN)</b></p> <p>Another medal in javelin? Why not. That’s the impact Chopra has had on the sport in India. And now, Kishore Jena―from Odisha’s Puri district―will look to emulate his compatriot and aim for the podium at the Asian Games. He exceeded expectations in Budapest with a throw of 84.77m, which put him in fifth place. A medal in Hangzhou will be the 28-year-old’s coming of age party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>* <b>MURALI SREESHANKAR AND JESWIN ALDRIN (LONG JUMP)</b></p> <p>Sreeshankar had a forgettable World Athletics Championships; his best of 7.74m saw him finish 12th. It was a blemish on what has been a good few seasons―the 24-year-old Kerala jumper was part of the Tokyo Olympics, won silver at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and the 2023 Asian Athletics in August, and has been consistently crossing 8.15m.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the 21-year-old Aldrin, his best of 7.77m placed him 11th in the World Athletics Championships. He holds the national record with a jump of 8.42m, and will be one of the main challengers to Sreeshankar, along with Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yu-Tang (season best of 8.40m) and China’s Wang Jianan (8.34m).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>* <b>ABDULLA ABOOBACKER AND PRAVEEN CHITHRAVEL (TRIPLE JUMP)</b></p> <p>Abdulla Aboobacker from Kerala has every reason to be bullish about his chances. Having won the silver at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the 27-year-old followed up with gold at this year’s Asian Athletics in Bangkok.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other Indian in the fray is 22-year-old Chithravel, whose national record-breaking jump of 17.37m saw him enter the world’s top 10. However, the past three events have been subpar; he has been unable to clear 17m. He also failed to make it to the finals of the World Athletics, but that would only fuel the fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>* <b>AMLAN BORGOHAIN (200M)</b></p> <p>The 25-year-old from Jorhat is currently the fastest Indian, having clocked 10.25s in 100m. Welsh coach James Hillier spotted the 6’4” sprinter at the Reliance Foundation Odisha Athletics High-Performance Centre in 2020. His breakout year was 2022, where he won several national and international meets, but his biggest achievement was the 200m bronze medal at the FISU World University Games in 2023. A huge anime fan, especially of <i>Dragon Ball Z</i>, Borgohain takes inspiration from Goku for his on-field feats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>* <b>AVINASH SABLE (3000M STEEPLECHASE)</b></p> <p>Having failed to qualify for the previous games in Jakarta, the 29-year-old from Beed, Maharashtra, was extra motivated to not only make it to Hangzhou, but to also finish on the podium. The 2022 Commonwealth Games silver medallist holds the national record of 8:11.20s. His season best is 8:11.63, placing him second in Asia, only behind Miura Ryuji (8:09.91) of Japan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>* <b>SHAILI SINGH (LONG JUMP)</b></p> <p>Born and brought up in Jhansi, Singh moved to long jump legend Anju Bobby George’s academy in Bengaluru at the age of 14. In 2021, she jumped 6.59m to clinch the silver medal at the 2021 World Athletics U20 Championships. The 19-year-old then won silver at the Asian Athletics in 2023. The ascent continued, with Singh getting a personal best of 6.76m to win gold at the Indian Grand Prix 2023.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>* <b>JYOTHI YARRAJI (100M HURDLES)</b></p> <p>This 24-year-old hurdler from Visakhapatnam has broken the national record multiple times. Spotted by a teacher who saw raw potential in her, Yarraji took up sports to earn money―her father Suryanarayana is a security guard and her mother works as a domestic help. After stints at the Sports Authority of India centre in Hyderabad, she moved to the Odisha Reliance Foundation Athletics High-Performance Centre in Bhubaneswar in 2019. She showed remarkable improvement under coach Hillier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her form this year has been good―in 100m hurdles, she won silver at the Asian Indoor Athletics Championships in Nur-Sultan and gold at the Asian Athletics. She also won silver in the women’s 200m.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>BADMINTON</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Winning badminton medals at the Asian Games is as tough as getting them at the Olympics. Saina Nehwal (bronze) and P.V. Sindhu (silver) did so in 2018, but now the men have started pulling their weight. This time, the expectations are from H.S. Prannoy and, more so, the doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty. They won gold at the Badminton Asia Championships and are ranked third in the Badminton World Federation rankings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The concern is Sindhu’s form. She is currently ranked 15th in the world and has made just one final, two quarterfinals and two semifinals in 17 tournaments this year. Then again, Sindhu is a big-event player and is expected to pull off some magic. She has parted ways with her Korean coach Park Tae Sang and is training with Malaysia’s Hafiz Hashim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>BOXING</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>* NIKHAT ZAREEN</b></p> <p>The two-time world champion has forced the world to look beyond M.C. Mary Kom when it comes to Indian boxing. The reigning world and Commonwealth champion in the women’s 50kg category is the favourite for gold, even though she has never competed at the Asian Games. If the 27-year-old from Nizamabad wins, she will directly qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CHESS</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>R. Praggnanandhaa and Koneru Humpy will head a 10-member team (five men, five women). Humpy, a two-time Asian Games gold medallist, will compete in the individual women’s event alongside Harika Dronavalli, who won bronze in 2010. Vidit Gujrathi and Arjun Erigaisi will do so in the individual men’s event.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vaishali Rameshbabu, Savitha Shri B. and Vantika Agrawal will compete in the women’s team event; Gukesh D., Gujrathi, Pentala Harikrishna, Erigaisi and Praggnanandhaa will form the men’s team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the individual event will use the rapid format, the team events will follow the standard format.</p> Sat Sep 23 12:35:38 IST 2023 indian-cricketer-kuldeep-yadav-is-peaking-right-in-time-for-the-world-cup <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Kuldeep Yadav would have been happy had the pitches he bowls on been as uneven as his career. The Kanpur-born left-arm wrist spinner went from being the future of Indian spin with Kul-Cha partner, leg spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, to being dropped from the Indian team and benched by his IPL team, Kolkata Knight Riders, for most of a season. Now, weeks before the ODI World Cup at home, he could well be India’s first-choice spinner, given his form. He is India’s leading wicket taker in ODIs this year―31 wickets―and has become the fastest Indian spinner to get 150 ODI wickets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yadav might be a “mystery” bowler, but there is no mystery behind the fact that he thrives when he knows that his captain and coach back him completely. That backing was missing, surprisingly at times, under the leadership of Virat Kohli and the then team management. “I always believed I had the talent and skill, [but I was not] mentally strong,” he said a few months ago. “That affected my skills [and] kept [me] under pressure; [there were] negative thoughts.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having started his career in 2017, Yadav was quick off the blocks in the shorter formats, especially in ODIs, and became the fastest Indian spinner to 100 ODI wickets in 2019. However, that year was a disappointment on the whole. He had a bad IPL season, in which he picked only four wickets in nine matches. He then had an average outing in the ODI World Cup in England, and slowly went off the boil, culminating in two horrid IPL seasons―in the 2020 edition, he got only five games and just a solitary wicket; he did not get a match in the 2021 season and also picked up a knee injury, which kept him out for seven months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During this time, he worked hard with his childhood coach, Kapil Pandey, and coaches at Bengaluru’s National Cricket Academy. They saw the first glimpses of Kuldeep Yadav 2.0. Soon, Delhi Capitals picked him up in the auction for 02 crore and he had his best season yet. He got 21 wickets in 14 matches, reserving his best performance for his previous team; he got 4 for 14 against KKR.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He thrived in DC; he got freedom to play and work,” said DC assistant coach Pravin Amre. “We (Ricky Ponting and other coaches) told him in his first session here that we wanted him to play all 14 games.” Shane Watson, also an assistant coach, worked with Yadav on the mental aspect of the game. What has also helped is the feedback and confidence he got from DC captain Rishabh Pant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It has been over one and a half years since I had the surgery,” Yadav said after the Asia Cup match against Pakistan, where he took five wickets and helped India register its biggest win against the neighbour. “The run-up has become straighter. The rhythm has become aggressive. The approach is nice. Maybe my hand used to fall over, but that is well in control and faces the batter more. At the same time, I did not lose my spin and drift, and my pace increased―all of which helped me. If a leg-spinner lands the ball on a good length, there are more chances of [him] picking up a wicket. If you are a leg-spinner, you tend to bowl a lot of loose balls. But if you become consistent, you can succeed. I worked on making my rhythm faster. It took about six to seven months for [the new action] to work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kuldeep’s main weapon is his googly and his ability to bowl on the same spot again and again. This forces the batters to make errors. What will be key, though, is how he combines with the other spinners in the World Cup squad―Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel. The selectors seem to have ignored his usual partner Chahal for the World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On home pitches, India’s spinners will be under the microscope. Though the International Cricket Council will decide on the nature of the pitches used in the World Cup, they are unlikely to be wildly different from the usual Indian pitches, with ample help for spinners. Captain Rohit Sharma will miss an off-spinner but he does have variety―Yadav, Jadeja and Patel might all be slow left-arm spinners, but they have different styles of bowling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Kuldeep, for the past year or so, has been bowling really well,” Sharma said after the Pakistan match. “He has worked hard on his rhythm and you can see the results in the past 15 ODIs he has played. He gives us a lot of options. Going forward, it is a very good sign.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Clearly, Sharma, Dravid and the selectors have a role in mind for Yadav in the home World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Change in run-up helped</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Anil Kumble,</b> former India captain and coach</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The change in his run-up and his overall bowling is certainly helping him. He has been through a tough time in the past couple of years. Bowling the angles he was bowling earlier is not easy―he needed to be really strong to be effective and use the body. [Shane] Warne could do that but not all leggies. When I was the India coach, we tried to sort out his action, run-up. I am glad that he has taken this in his stride and has worked it out. It is a confidence thing for Kuldeep, as it is for any cricketer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>As told to Neeru Bhatia</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>He is a match-winner</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Venkatapathy Raju,</b> former India spinner</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kuldeep is a very important bowler for India; he is a match-winner in his own right. In between, he had lost his confidence and people said he depends on the skipper to get his confidence. But it is good that this hiccup came in the early stages of his career. It was good to hear [former Pakistan captain and fast-bowling great] Wasim Akram say, while doing commentary for the Asia Cup, that this is a guy who can win India matches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kuldeep is a wicket-taking bowler. He can go for runs, but once he gets his rhythm, all the batters will struggle against him. Having said that, he will also be targetted by opposition batters. It is all about how the team management handles him then. We do not have part-time bowlers like we had in previous World Cups; nor an off-spinner. Therefore, there will be a lot of responsibility on Kuldeep’s shoulders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>As told to Neeru Bhatia</b></p> Sat Sep 16 16:30:00 IST 2023 indian-hockey-team-coach-craig-fulton-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>August was a good month for sport in India. Neeraj Chopra won India’s first gold at the World Athletics Championships with a throw of 88.17m in Budapest; R. Praggnanandhaa emerged runner-up in the FIDE Chess World Cup in Baku; and the national hockey team won the Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai. The last of those was more relief than joy, at least for the fans who had, after the Tokyo Olympics bronze high, seen India crash out before reaching the World Cup quarterfinals at home this January. Tokyo, it seemed, was not a false dawn.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next challenge is the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China (September 23-October 8). New India coach Craig Fulton, a South African who was assistant coach with the World Cup-winning Belgian team, said the other teams would hunt India, the top ranked Asian team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Up for grabs in Hangzhou is direct qualification for Paris Olympics next year. The team is currently training at the Sports Authority of India campus in Bengaluru. The players spend more than 250 days a year at the centre, away from family and under a rigorous regimen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 2, just before the searing noontime, THE WEEK met both Fulton and captain Harmanpreet Singh to know what was cooking in the camp. They spoke about a range of topics, including the focus on defence, improved fitness of the players, the importance of mental conditioning, chances at the Asian Games and the main threats, the proposed revival of the Hockey India League and the India-Pakistan rivalry. Edited excerpts from the interviews:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Where does India stand going into the Asian Games?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is an exciting time. Before I joined, I wanted our team to be the No 1 team in Asia, and try and back that up and be consistent in that space. So, there is the challenge and what comes with that is obviously all the expectation. That is always going to be there because if you want to move the needle, something has to change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are doing well. I think the group is confident. It is fit. We have a nice team ethic. The guys work really hard together and it is a good experienced team, [with] some youth that have joined.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has made real progression in the last eight years. [From] eighth in Rio to now among the top three in the world. Obviously, the pinnacle of that progression was the (Olympic) bronze, which has been a fantastic foundation that has been laid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The pressure of expectations in India is high right now. We've been doing rather well in other disciplines. For hockey, the expectations are high when the Asian Games or the Olympics come along and then there's this thing that why aren't we as good as we used to be. Does that put a burden on the players and the coaching staff?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Well, I think that was then and this is now. You have to be realistic around how things have changed and how the game has moved on from Astroturf to the levels of fitness to the quality of hockey that's been played in Europe and where the powerhouses of our sports [are]. If you look back over the last 20 years, certain teams keep popping up that have had success and India's made real progression in the last eight years. From [finishing] eighth in Rio to now top three in the world. Obviously, the pinnacle of that progression was the (Olympic) bronze, which has been a fantastic foundation that's been laid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You've taken over from Graham Reid. What legacy has he left behind?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>He's done an amazing job. He put the team on the map, with his staff, from a physical point of view. They've got nice and fit. And Tokyo was not an easy time before with Covid-19. So, to keep any team functioning and performing through Covid-19, especially with different rules and regulations around the world regarding how people were allowed to train and not train, that was a tough time. So, the teams that did really well in in Tokyo showed their real character around how they prepared for that tournament. So, it's been nice to come in. I like where the the squad is. We've changed a few things, but there's been a great foundation left there for me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What convinced you to take up this role?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>I had done five years with the Belgian men's team as assistant and I was coaching in the Belgium National League. It was time for me to get back into the head coaching space again. I communicated that with Belgium. It was not possible and that's fine. So, I had an opportunity [with India] and it was an exciting opportunity. I think it was just needing maybe a slightly different flavour and that's where I thought I could make a difference.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is there a time frame that has been agreed between you and Hockey India or a target you have set yourself?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Yeah, I think there's more of a long-term plan. It's more a case of we really want to qualify and do well in the tournament. That's the first objective. The first three months was just to try and understand the squad. Put in my philosophy and understand what makes these players tick and then a new vision and a new Indian way of what we're trying to do. Bringing in the staff that I have and then asking Paddy [Upton] to join. It's been good. It's been a good start.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is very little between the top seven to ten teams. So, realistically No 3 puts you in contention for No 2 or No 1.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yeah. And, at the same time, if you get it wrong, No 4 and No 5. So, it is always who you are chasing and who is chasing you. That never ever stops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coming into this tournament, being ranked No 1 [in Asia], you have got an ideal goal and a realistic goal. The ideal goal is always to win. The challenge is: what is the realistic goal? How were you performing consistently in the last six months and what are you doing currently? I think on our current form we are in a good place. But, our feet are firmly on the ground. We take nothing for granted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you thinking of the Olympics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No, that is too far away. We go one tournament at a time, one game, one training session at a time. I am firmly in the space of what we have done this week, reflecting, and how we are going to improve next week.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Going into the Asian Games, who do you think are the main threats? Pakistan has been on a slump.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The teams that made the semifinals in the ACT (Malaysia, Japan and South Korea)―I am not saying that Pakistan is out of it―have done something right in the preparation and in the pool.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How is mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton helping the team?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He has just got a lot of experience on the continent, with Indian cricket. So, the way of communicating with the Indian people, in their own culture, has helped me immensely. He has done workshops and it is important to our team. We are getting a new identity and a new way of doing things, and it is positive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are you prioritising - mental conditioning, skill sets, physical conditioning, stamina, speed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>I think an integrated whole is really important. But our sport is so demanding physically. Alan Tan has come in as the S&amp;C (strength and conditioning) coach. He's brought in fresh ideas. He's got the team motivated they're having fun at training. They they're working hard and your level of skills derive from your level of fitness. So if you're not that fit to finish games, you almost peter out at the end, at the crucial moments. I think we are in a good place physically.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the strange thing was we'd had a tournament before we played this tournament [in Spain]. So it was really challenging for the boys and then we traveled to Spain and back and then played within two days. We took it as a challenge. And that's I think where the first two games were difficult for us, just to try and get back into it. I mean no disrespect to Japan. We played a good game, but we couldn't find the back of the net. We weren't 100 per cent. Then when we played them again, it showed that we were back in our rhythm. So that was great. But fitness is one of the most important things and then the ability to stay calm under pressure. That's where the mental skills come in. How to turn things around when you're tired and everything's on the line. We had a really big test of that in the [ACT] final being 3-1 down and it was just a good a good experience to have discussed it and then go through it and then come out the other side. So it was good. It's great for the fans, not good for the coaches.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It's not something that we planned, but it happens and that's sports and that's how you adapt and how you react and that's the number one thing.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Tactically or strategically, are you wanting a shift in how the team has been performing or the players because that takes then a reorientation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>I'm very clear on that vision. I've always said I wanted to defend to win but defend to counterattack to win so it's all about defence as a group, not where the strikers don't defend. They need to defend in this environment and because of that we can attack from anywhere and that's the work in progress. That's what we're trying to do and that's not easy, but at the same time, the more we attack the happier they are. So, if we're defending and winning the ball then we are attacking. That's the kind of the philosophy and vision I'd like to bring.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ To achieve all of this, you need the kind of players that you think will deliver. So, is the coach a part of the selection committee process?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>You hear a lot of stories around how teams are selected. I've been really clear up front and they've been respectful in that space to allow me to choose and finalise the team that I would like, within reason. I mean if I'm way off that's a totally different conversation, but within reason, I have the final say. That's why there's been a few changes, so yeah, I can't say that anyone has interfered with my selection. It's just maybe the timing of the selection—we get told to select quite early which is a bit difficult to manage because there's 12 games post the the original selection. But, I'm happy because we've given everyone the opportunity, the philosophy is clear and the boys are excited to play and everyone's had a good opportunity to play.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How is it having an ex-player in Dilip Turkey as president of Hockey India? Has it helped?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>For sure. I played against Dilip, so the characters of international players and support and teamwork are there. He wants the best for Indian hockey. He wants his team to do well and yeah that's been helpful and then there's also commander Elena (Hockey India CEO Elena Norman) and [Hockey Indian official Renu] Bala. All very passionate about what we're trying to do here and we had a really good send-off. They did a really good job, they brought the families in to represent the players and hand their shirts to them. I like that touch because we're all about family as well in this environment and how we try and create that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are the team’s strengths and weaknesses?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We have a strong goalkeeper situation, with three-four really good goalkeepers. Penalty corner is strong―we have one of the best in the world with Harman and we have another two-three flickers behind him. The fitness levels and skill [are good]. There is a lot of speed that Indians have naturally and they like to attack. We just need to enhance the conversions of circle entries to goal shots and maintain our high penalty corner conversion rate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You were talking about goalkeepers. Has Krishan Pathak evolved enough to eventually fill the big shoes of P.R. Sreejesh?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> For sure. Krishan has had a lot of games―100 caps. Sree is on 300, but yeah. And, there is a good group of goalkeepers coming in behind that train with us, which is really important. To answer your question, Pathak is world-class on his day and can hold his own for sure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ If you win gold in the Asian Games, you get into the Olympics directly.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yeah, I mean all roads lead to qualification and we are on this journey and we are really excited about it. But we are humble around the fact that we have work to do and everyone is hunting us as the No 1 ranked team at the tournament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The expectation is we should just win the tournament and it is never like that. We know that we have got a lot of hard work to do; we are doing it and we need to keep pushing. We go into the tournament with full confidence and if our environment is good and our culture is good, if we have done enough of the right things for the right amount of time with the right people with the right communication and the right belief, then the score takes care of itself. But, if we cut corners, we will get found out and we go again, because there is another qualification tournament in January.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the end of the day, it never stops, because what happens after the Olympics―it is going to be another tour. You want to work in eight-year cycles.</p> Tue Sep 12 17:27:35 IST 2023 indian-hockey-team-captain-harmanpreet-singh-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/&nbsp;What space is the team in coming out of the Asian Champions Trophy and heading into the Asian Games?</b></p> <p><br> <b>A/&nbsp;</b>In Chennai (ACT), almost all of our matches went well. Our previous matches were against European teams; it is totally different against Asian sides. The ACT was really helpful ahead of the Asian Games. We learnt a lot there, on how to analyse the opponents and where we can hurt them. The team is full of confidence and we are working on the areas we thought we were lacking in in Chennai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Craig Fulton has been coach for a few months. How has the team adjusted to his style of coaching?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is about how quickly the players can adjust to the new coach on the field. We have faced no difficulty in doing so; it is just that we have added one or two aspects to the structure [of play]. Overall, it has been a positive experience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is an experienced coach; he was with the Belgium team [as assistant coach] and he shares his [learnings] from his journey. This is good for the players and we are trying to adopt everything as quickly as we can.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ One of the main tactical shifts under Fulton has been the focus on defence. How successful has this shift been for you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No matter how many chances you create up front, a silly mistake in the back can cost you a goal. Earlier, the mentality was that only the defence line would defend; now everyone starting from the forwards are involved in the process. All the players are now actively thinking of what their responsibilities are when they do not have the ball.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/&nbsp;As a captain, what is your role? You are the interface between the players and the coach. How is that process flowing?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/&nbsp;</b>The bonding is great, touch wood. We don’t have the concept of juniors and seniors in this team. Everyone is free to speak their mind, on and off the field. If a junior is not comfortable speaking directly with the coach, he can come to us. On the field, I play as a free man and my role, without ball, is to communicate well with the team. For instance, the goalkeeper tells me something and I relay it to the forwards. On the field, everyone has been told to just do their best. There will be mistakes, but you should not overthink it. You put it in the past and move forward to your next responsibility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have additional responsibility as captain. You took over the role from Manpreet Singh, who is still in the team. How was that shift, how does a team come together?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> For me and the team, we have the mentality that there is no captain. Everyone who is on the field is a leader in himself. There are times when I might not be doing well and someone comes up to me and tells me to keep going. That gets me motivated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Fulton said he likes to coach only in the training sessions and not on the sidelines. That ties into what you are saying about responsibility on field.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>That is really important. The coach knows that he is only guiding the players and it is the player who has to perform. It is hard for the coach to communicate during a match because of the crowd and the noise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Talking of noise, you have to talk about India-Pakistan matches. Do you do anything different for a Pakistan clash or is it just noise from the outside?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No doubt it is an important match. We are excited to play them and of course there is aggression. However, we have to prioritise our responsibilities. We cannot forget our role in the excitement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/&nbsp;We have recently seen the camaraderie between Neeraj Chopra and Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem. It seems fresh in terms of India-Pakistan sporting history. There is a rivalry and there is also bonding.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/&nbsp;</b>On the field there is no friend or brother; off it, you can show them a different side of you.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have been with the national team for eight years now. Do you see the gap between India and the European teams narrowing? What more needs to be done?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> You have to be mentally strong. Earlier, there was this mentality that the Australians, for instance, are too good. But, as hockey has grown, we have defeated all the top teams, that too with a good margin. That gives us confidence and belief.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/&nbsp;There seemed to be a complex before, where, everything being equal, the team would still be left behind. Now it seems like the team will compete till the last second and also win.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/&nbsp;</b>Those who follow hockey had this mentality that India concedes at the last moment. I have heard this many times. We have changed that mindset; not only do we score at the last moment, but we also win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The comeback in the Asian Champions Trophy against Malaysia (1-3 to 4-3)…</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Even in the Olympics (Tokyo 2020), we were 1-3 down. Going into the dressing room―I am getting goosebumps―it was the juniors who said they had the belief that we could win. It was the same in the ACT. We had talked about being prepared for anything in the final. Whatever the situation, you have to do your job till the final whistle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ One of the takeaways from the ACT was the fitness of the Indian team.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We spend more than 250 days a year in the Sports Authority of India campus in Bengaluru. We do not regret it because the harder we work, the better it is for the team and for India. As for fitness, we work really hard. We have sessions at 2pm, under the sun. We have different sessions in the gym and for conditioning. We have red (high-intensity) and lighter green sessions on the pitch. The training staff is doing a great job. When the team is fit, there is more confidence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/&nbsp;How important is mental conditioning? Paddy Upton, who was earlier with the Indian cricket team, is now part of the setup.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/&nbsp;</b>A good example of mental conditioning was the ACT final. It is all good when you are doing well. There is no pressure. But when things are not going your way in terms of your individual responsibility, like a penalty corner, you need to know how to handle that situation. We have talked about this in meetings with Paddy. He spoke about how to keep the performance graph going up. Like, for instance, if you are tired in a match, you can keep things simple and not make a mistake. Or that you have to stay calm if you are trailing and not give away another goal because of trying too hard to score. These are things we know, but what is important is that you remember these points when you are in that situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In your post-mortems, do you review your matches? Also, matches of other teams, like Germany or Australia?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Of course. Be it during a tournament or if it is some other tournament [that is going on]. As for our own matches, we review every game and see where we can improve. We review the previous match before going into the next one. We look at whether we continued the positives from the previous game. That helps. We talk about the structure, with ball, without ball, penalty corners, how to beat the first rusher of the goalkeeper, what their pattern of running is. We analyse all these aspects. What are the goalkeeper’s plus points, where is he saving the most, where is he conceding….</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is this an open forum? Can players speak their mind?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Of course. The coach brings all his data and we analyse it. The coach asks for players’ opinions. For instance, he would ask Sreejesh, senior goalkeeper, on what he thought. Sreejesh would advise us on the flickers in their team and what they can do. These are the small things we talk about in our PC defence team. It has its own responsibility. We have to think about the first rusher, what the variations are going to be and how to block them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Even the junior players participate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Of course.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It is not only the coach, captain and senior players?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>No, no. If it is about PC (penalty corner) attack, then the whole attack team is part of the meeting; same with PC defence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ During a major tournament, how do you unwind?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>We have team dinners and team activities where we play other sports like cricket, either with a bat or with the hockey stick (laughs). I have some videos; I have hit two or three consecutive sixes from the centre line.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The cricket team needs some big hitters.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No, no (laughs).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So there are these activities?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Yes. We have team activities, we go out for team dinners. We have a good time. On the field, you can play tennis or, like I said, cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When you started playing hockey as a young boy, and over the years, you have heard of the days where India won so many Olympic golds. Does that pressure to win haunt you? Or is that a bygone era?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>No, there is no pressure as such.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is a desire.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Desire, yes. When I started, the dream was to play the Olympics. As a child, a medal was not on my mind. It was about reaching the Olympics. When I went for my first Olympics, in 2016, I was the youngest in the squad. We had a good performance there; we were close to a medal, but we lost in the quarterfinals to Belgium. But when we talk about Tokyo, it was a different era. When we had the team meeting, we sat in a circle and the players were asked about their journeys. And when they spoke from their hearts, we bonded deeply as a team. We will never forget that meeting before the Olympics. We still talk about it. Every player spoke about their journey, their sacrifices, their families, and those things connect with your heart.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So in the Olympics, we lost badly to the Australians. When I talk about team bonding, all the players gathered after the match and said that that match did not define us as a team. That meeting was really helpful. Then we had great performances back to back and we had the same mentality after the semifinal. We will, of course, never forget the bronze medal. We talked about how hard we had worked to reach there and that we had one chance. If we lost, nobody would have given us any attention. Like I said before, there was a belief. We converted the chances we got and we fought till the last whistle. We can never forget that last penalty corner. So, there is no pressure, just a dream that I have to achieve whatever I want in life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But then the early exit in the home World Cup would have been disappointing.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Of course. Especially if you talk about my performance ; in terms of penalty corners, it was the first tournament I experienced something like this (Harmanpreet was unusually out of form). But there was no negativity within the team. A lot came from outside, good and bad. But what is important is how positive you keep things for a player within the family. We are a family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The players supported each other.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Definitely. We have the mentality that if we win, the team wins; if we lose, the team loses. It’s not about any individual. So that was a good moment for me, as was coming back to form.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How is it having a former player, Dilip Tirkey, as Hockey India president?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b>&nbsp;Whenever we meet him, he tells us that we already know what to do and does not put any pressure on us. Because he has been a player himself, he knows what a player goes through. He does point out if he sees some gaps in our game but his involvement is minimal. It is a positive support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is talk of the Hockey India League being revived. Will that help push hockey to a higher level?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It will definitely help. If I have been able to show who I am, it is because of the HIL. I never thought I would be able to play with greats like Jamie Dwyer (Australian World Cup winner). When you play with such players and good teams, you learn a lot and your confidence spikes. It is a great platform, especially for Indian players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have played across the country. Does India have a good talent base in hockey? Are there talented youngsters coming up?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Yes, there are. But there needs to be a platform. And the HIL could be that platform. Apart from that, we can telecast the matches between the various departments. The coaches and the federation staff can go and analyse them. The good ones should be given a chance here. Play with the junior team, for instance. It has started now. In Odisha, there is an under-16 camp going on, which is a great move. Things like this are happening and they should continue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How are the coaching standards at the junior level? Former Olympian Viren Rasquinha has said that coaching in hockey is more focused at the top level. It should instead be more focused on the junior level so that players don’t have to relearn when they reach the senior level.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>I agree that if your base is strong, you will face fewer problems in future. But if you talk about our junior team, they give us a tough fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Viren was talking about kids as young as eight or 10.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Right coaching for them is more important. Because you develop good or bad habits at that age. And they stay with you. Hockey India has started that. My senior, Rupinder Pal Singh, holds camps of two-three weeks, in Odisha. He also comes here. More ex-players should come in. There is Raghu bhai (Raghunath). The more you attach experienced players with the youngsters, the better it is for them, and hockey. Your base will be strong. When they share their knowledge about the senior level, that is a starting point for the youngsters. They will have fewer problems going ahead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ For the youngsters, tell us about what sports has given you. What is your philosophy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Sports has given me everything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But there is a lot of hard work, too. You start as a kid and now you are spending 250 days on the SAI campus.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Hockey players, especially, come from a middle-class background and we have not seen enough of the world. The struggle begins when you are a kid; you stay away from home. You are staying in an academy and you don’t know anything. When a hockey player starts, he does it for a job. When you get older and gain more knowledge, you start setting targets. It was the same for me. My starting journey was really tough. Staying away from home. I started in a private academy. When I joined the government academy, there were a lot of senior players who were representing the national team. So I got a push from there that, yes, I can also do this. When we were young, the seniors would come to the ground. To practise with them. To see them, to talk to them, to shake their hand, all that is exciting and pushes you to do more. Getting a ground was a big thing. I am talking about the Surjit Academy (Jalandhar, Punjab). Our whole junior batch was from the same academy, and that same batch is continuing in the senior team. So, yeah, hockey has given me a lot; it has shown me the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your short-term goals? A win in the Asian Games means direct qualification for the Olympics.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b>&nbsp;It is a good opportunity and the team is also going well. Our target is to get a direct ticket to Paris.</p> Tue Sep 12 13:25:36 IST 2023 great-on-field-rivalries-and-significant-off-field-intrigues-in-icc-world-cup-cricket <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>My World Cup journey began in 1983, in a none-too-gratifying way. The immigration officer at Heathrow was condescending. “So, you have come to report on the World Cup?” he asked. “India didn’t do too well in 1975 and 1979. I can’t think it will be much better this time.” The officer could barely mask his scoffs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was not the only one who thought India were no-hopers. Odds of India winning were a mouthwatering 66-1, but found few takers. Having won only one match in two previous World Cups―that, too, against lowly East Africa―India could hardly claim great expertise at limited overs cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, David Frith, editor of <i>Wisden Cricket Monthly</i>, wrote in his curtain-raiser that he would eat his words if India won. The contempt was widespread. The Indian press corps, numbering only six, was denied accreditation to matches at Lord’s. Not unless your team is in the final, we were told dismissively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the start of the tournament, the thought of India entering the final was insane. Cricket’s magic, however, is in its unpredictability. From the brink of being ousted, India clawed back into contention on the back of a superlative 175 not out by Kapil Dev against Zimbabwe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After India beat England in the semifinal, we landed at Lord’s again for accreditation. The legitimacy of our demand could not be questioned this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The stewards at Grace Gates, not having expected India to reach this far, and perhaps miffed more because England had failed to meet the West Indies in the final, were standoffish. “Oh, we’ve got Gandhi coming to Lord’s,” said one to his colleague. His teeth were clenched, an eyebrow raised in surly disbelief.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Gandhi analogy was because Richard Attenborough’s classic starring Ben Kingsley as the Mahatma had become a global hit. So Kapil Dev and his merry band, from the land of the apostle of peace, took the field on June 25, 1983, against the mighty West Indies, who had won both the earlier World Cups. It looked a gross mismatch, but as in the David and Goliath story, against all prognostication, the giant was felled. India turned the cricket world upside down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>BEYOND THE PLAYING</b> arena, before and after the 1983 final, some developments took place which, in conjunction with the extraordinary win, were to have a lasting impact on the future of the sport.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>N.K.P. Salve (minister in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet and BCCI president), along with Jagmohan Dalmiya (BCCI secretary) and I.S. Bindra (treasurer), had asked for some extra tickets, but were snubbed by the MCC. Smarting at the insult, they decided that the World Cup needed to be shifted out of England.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>England controlled the sport. It had the guaranteed support of Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies and several associate members of the International Cricket Council. Salve and co knew they needed the support of ICC member countries to break England’s stranglehold. For this, they leaned on the Pakistan Cricket Board. In Nur Khan, retired air marshal and PCB chief, they found a kindred soul. Both the cricket boards decided on a joint bid to bring the World Cup to the subcontinent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But just having an alliance was not convincing enough. India-Pakistan political relations were always dicey. Moreover, facilities in both countries were considered second-grade. And, given that cricket was a winter sport in the subcontinent, how could a 60-over match be possibly completed? (Remember, this was before night cricket arrived.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian and Pakistani boards mooted 50-over matches, but the idea was shot down. The ante needed to be upped. As money was distributed to all member countries, enhanced earnings would be a bargaining chip. And so it turned out to be. The joint bid by India and Pakistan, backed by the hefty title sponsorship by emerging behemoth Reliance, was more than twice what England could offer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The World Cup has had 50-over matches since then, and it has travelled to all full-member countries of the ICC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both India and Pakistan failed to win the 1987 World Cup despite being joint favourites playing in home conditions. Both lost in their semifinals, leaving England and Australia to fight for the Cup in Kolkata. More than 90,000 people turned up to see this match, which a young Australian team under Allan Border won. India’s defeat sadly cost Kapil Dev his captaincy, but the massive support for the matches right through the tournament, particularly the final, suggested that the epicentre of the sport was rapidly moving from England to India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>LIKE INDIA IN</b> 1983 and Australia in 1987, Pakistan’s triumph came against all odds. Struggling in batting and bowling, Imran Khan’s team looked set for a premature exit when they collapsed for 74 against England in a league match. And then divinity smiled on them. Rain intervened, forcing a sharing of points that kept them alive. From there, Pakistan rose like a phoenix to reach the final, where they beat England in a splendid all-round show.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s campaign had petered out early, but not before the team registered a major victory that left a lasting impact. In the 1986 Austral-Asia Cup in Sharjah, Javed Miandad had hit a last-ball six off Chetan Sharma to seal a dramatic win. The defeat had so scarred the Indians that the team, while playing against Pakistan, tended to always snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1992, India and Pakistan met for the first time in a World Cup. It was a tense match, but not a close one. India won convincingly. The bogey of Miandad’s last-ball six was finally shrugged off. Since then, India has never lost to Pakistan in the World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE 1996 WORLD CUP</b> hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka highlighted the subcontinent’s growing power in cricket politics. Sri Lanka were least regarded but showed exemplary grit, determination, skill and innovation to win the tournament. That teams like New Zealand and West Indies were willing to give walkovers rather than play in strife-torn Sri Lanka motivated the Lankans tremendously. Under the astute Arjuna Ranatunga, who experimented with both openers as pinch-hitters, the Lankans pulled off impressive wins over India in the semifinal and Australia in the final.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India recorded a stunning win over Pakistan in the quarterfinal. But for a home team that boasted the tournament’s highest run-getter (Sachin Tendulkar) and highest wicket-taker (Anil Kumble), this was inadequate recompense. The semifinal against Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens ended with tears for the Indian players, and tear gas for rioters who were shocked at a campaign gone abysmally wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>AUSTRALIA WON THE</b> next three World Cups on the trot to establish themselves as one of the greatest teams.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1999, India flattered to deceive. Barring the victory over Pakistan in a high-voltage clash, there was not much truly noteworthy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tendulkar scoring a century, after flying home for his father’s last rites and then returning to the tournament, gave India’s campaign an emotional twang that was felt all over the cricket world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Centuries by Ganguly and Dravid, and their 300-plus partnership versus Sri Lanka, showcased the batting prowess of the side but to no avail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My abiding memory is of South African captain Hansie Cronje taking the field against India wearing a wireless earpiece that connected him to coach Bob Woolmer in the dressing room. This was innovative, but it also tested the limits of fair play. Rumours of match-fixing had been swirling for a while, and this only seemed to boost them. Cronje and Woolmer were first warned, and then barred by the ICC from using earpieces to communicate while the match was on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, the Indian team played brilliantly to reach the final. But they lost nerve on the big day. The Aussies, led by Ricky Ponting, pulverised the Indians. Ponting himself made a tornado-like century.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s best day, again, was versus Pakistan at Centurion. Chasing a stiff target, India got off to a flying start from which the team never looked back. Tendulkar’s ‘upper cut’ for six off Shoaib Akhtar, a stroke that bespoke his genius, also became a metaphor of India’s dominance over Pakistan in the World Cup. The match saw TV audiences peak. Indian and Pakistani fans flew in from all over the world to establish the India-Pakistan rivalry as the biggest in cricket, superseding England vs Australia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 2007 World Cup saw both India and Pakistan flop badly. They did not play each other, and were bumped off in the first stage itself. The Pakistani team got embroiled in controversy when coach Woolmer died suddenly. Conspiracy theories abounded, forcing the ICC to bring in Scotland Yard to investigate. After a protracted investigation, it was found that Woolmer, a severe diabetic, had died of a heart attack.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India was in an altogether different turmoil. Having had a bitter fight with captain Sourav Ganguly, chief coach Greg Chappell fell out with several other players. The Indian team was divided, and its insecurities and internecine misgivings played out as it lost to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. This was Chappell’s last assignment for India. He resigned after the team returned home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>IN 2011, INDIA</b> won the World Cup again after 28 years, beating Sri Lanka in the final. It was a pulsating tournament, hosted by India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. India got a major share of the matches, and was also under most pressure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The disastrous 2007 World Cup had caused a major upheaval in Indian cricket, notably in the captaincy. Mahendra Singh Dhoni suddenly found himself elevated to the top job for the inaugural T20 World Cup. India’s victory in that tournament under Dhoni made him the most compelling figure in international cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the time the 2011 World Cup began, India under Dhoni was also number one in Test cricket. Dhoni’s unorthodox cricketing skills, off-beat tactics and ice-cool temperament came to the fore as India once again won the World Cup. Dhoni sealed victory in the final at Wankhede with a soaring six. Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan played stellar roles as well. The cynosure of attention, however, was Tendulkar. Playing in his sixth World Cup, he fulfilled his life’s ambition to lift the coveted trophy. There has not been a more mellifluous swansong in cricket history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2015 and 2019, India started as favourites but stumbled in the semifinal. But these tournaments cemented the status of India-Pakistan matches as the game’s biggest blockbuster. Tickets were sold out within minutes after bookings started.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India won both the matches. But, with the title proving elusive, the World Cup campaigns were only partially fulfilling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question now: will it be different this time?</p> Sat Sep 09 12:11:13 IST 2023 it-will-take-more-for-praggnanandhaa-to-stay-in-the-hunt <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN SPORT,</b> prodigies don’t always blossom into world-beaters; Indian chess currently has a handful of teens who could be on the cusp of doing so. This includes Gukesh D., Arjun Erigaisi and, as of now, first among equals R. Praggnanandhaa, who took on the great Magnus Carlsen in the final of the recently concluded FIDE World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though he stumbled at the final hurdle, the 18-year-old had an impressive run to reach Carlsen―beating world nos. 2 and 3, Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana, who are nearly 80 points above him in the FIDE ratings. Also, he achieved the primary aim of playing the tournament―reaching the Candidates tournament. There, if he wins, he will challenge World Champion, China’s Ding Liren, for his title.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He wants to be world champion,” his coach R.B. Ramesh told THE WEEK. “Magnus became world champion at 22; Pragg is just 18. There are still three to five years for him to aim for the World Championship. For that, we have to work extremely hard. The external environment needs some changes; we need powerful machines to do the analysis. Most top players would already be using these. Also, [we have to] put together a bigger team than the one we have currently. We are already talking to people and hope it will all come together by the end of September.” The Candidates tournament is scheduled for April.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There have been a lot of positive takeaways for me,” said Praggnanandhaa. “I have never played such a long tournament and it has been a good experience for the Candidates.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vishal Sareen, an international master and renowned coach, said Praggnanandhaa surpassed his own expectations in this World Cup. “The boy has a lot of <i>dum</i> (guts); he is fearless,” he said. “He was not overawed by Magnus. Pragg has the ability to summarise things in quick time. He also acclimatised himself to the situation very well. I definitely see a hint of Magnus in him. He is self-sufficient. I saw this in [Dutch grandmaster] Anish Giri, Garry Kasparov and Magnus. Earlier, he was a contemporary, now he is treated as a feared opponent.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He even said that Praggnanandhaa was more intuitive and aggressive than Viswanathan Anand. “Having said that, he still has a long way to go,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On expanding the teen’s team, Sareen said that while the move was obvious, it would not be easy. “He would need people whom he can reach out to constantly for different things,” he said. “He will need a couple of Indians―they would be easy to reach out to.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the heels of the World Cup, Praggnanandhaa won the inaugural FIDE World Rapid Team Championship as part of a team that also had grandmasters Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wesley So. Before heading to Dusseldorf, Germany, for the event, he had said that he hoped to “have fun” there. He did that and more. Next is the Tata Steel tournament in January.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Praggnanandhaa started 2023 with an Elo rating of 2684; he is now at 2,727 in the live ratings (at the time of going to press), which puts him at number 20 on the world list. Gukesh is the highest Indian on the list at rank 8, recently overtaking the legendary Anand. So, the fact that Praggnanandhaa did better than his higher-ranked compatriots―Vidit Gujrathi was also above him when the World Cup began―made a lot of people sit up and take notice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Praggnanandhaa first got into chess when he saw his sister Vaishali play. She taught him the rules. “He is always calm; he never expresses himself,” said M.S. Viswanathan, his first coach. “Be it in victory or in defeat, he keeps it to himself, which is actually his strength.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Viswanathan coached him from ages three to seven, and said he was proud to teach some of the boy’s strategies to his younger students. “I follow his game very closely even though I trained him earlier. His opening games are always fantastic,” said Viswanathan. “His father first called me after seeing an advertisement in a local newspaper and asked if I could come home to coach him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Family has always been the main source of support for the World Cup runner-up. “I am happy with the way Pragg played in the final,” said his father, Rameshbabu, a bank employee. “It is not just a matter of winning or losing; he was there and he put up a fight. All credit to his mother.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mother in question, Nagalakshmi, had left her Chennai home to accompany her son for the World Cup. A picture of her looking adoringly at Praggnanandhaa had gone viral, prompting the great Kasparov to tweet “Congrats to @rpragchess―and to his mother. As someone whose proud mama accompanied me to every event, it’s a special kind of support!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nagalakshmi, however, takes care to never look into her son’s eyes while he is playing. She had always felt that her emotions would affect him. And so, she stands at a distance, marvelling at the rapid strides her child has made.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was at her Chennai home that Viswanathan first saw the raw talent. Though he did not know the names of the pieces, Praggnanandhaa was thorough with the rules and would never give up. “Once when I got to their house, he was playing simultaneously on two boards,” said Viswanathan. “I was surprised by his talent.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the coming years, this talent became evident. What developed in parallel was his adaptability. In 2021, when Praggnanandhaa and Ramesh went abroad to play the Tata Steel tournament in the Netherlands, the coach tested positive for Covid-19 and had to isolate himself. Praggnanandhaa, then 16 and a vegetarian, was all alone in his room. He cooked his own food, went to the playing station by himself, and connected with Ramesh on WhatsApp and Zoom. “I have always wanted him to be independent,” said Ramesh. “It was a turning point in his life because he became kind of independent in those few days.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And he started to show this independence in his game, too. On long student-coach walks during a recent tournament in Germany, Ramesh asked Praggnanandhaa to finish the first 20 or 30 moves in the first five to 10 minutes. “With slightly more time, it is easier for him to navigate,” said Ramesh. But Praggnanandhaa was clear; he wanted to play a perfect game and did not want to rush. “He is a perfectionist,” said Ramesh. “I feel really happy that he is looking at himself with a very objective outlook. When I suggest some corrections, he is able to see beyond the advice and still believe in his approach. These are good qualities to have at a young age.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He added that his ward was ready for bigger challenges. “He is not a lazy child; he does not feel entitled to be world champion,” said Ramesh. “He is fully responsible. We will give our everything for his success in the Candidates. We have to make our training more intense. We do not believe in predicting results, but instead try to give our best and accept the outcome.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is, expectedly, a lot of hope around the wunderkind. Aruna, Anand’s wife, called up Ramesh before the World Cup final was over to ask what more needed to be done for Praggnanandhaa’s preparations for the Candidates. “We will sit with Pragg and decide on how he wants to approach the Candidates,” said Ramesh. He already has experience of the big events.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the special ones, there is always a warning―‘handle with care’. And so, a couple of days with Anand, said Ramesh, would help Praggnanandhaa a lot in terms of handling what comes with the territory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramesh might be wary of which events to choose for his student, but Sareen pushed for more aggression. “He [needs to be] exposed to big events... and win there,” he said. “He is peaking at 18; it is the right time to do so, that 18 to 21 age bracket.” Especially given that there were no obvious weaknesses in his game that needed to be addressed, he added. “Especially in classical chess events, he needs a lot of exposure in the next two to three years,” he said. “There is no use holding him back.”</p> Sat Sep 02 16:15:39 IST 2023 exclusive-photos-from-viswanathan-anand-s-astrophotography-collections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A PRODIGY FINDS SAGAN</b></p> <p>When I was very young, there was a copy of [astronomer] Carl Sagan’s <i>Cosmos</i> lying in my house. As I was interested in the subject, I picked it up. There were many things inside, especially the photos. You cannot look at a galaxy or a cluster of galaxies and not think there is something amazing in the sky. The other thing that fascinated me were the distances. Many years later, when I was in Spain, a book came to my home by post. I am not even sure I ordered it; it might have been misdelivered and there was no return address. It was a gift and I read it for a while. Then I looked up the browser, which was still in its early days, and found a lot of stuff about astronomy. That rekindled my interest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The village in Spain had 6,000 people and a clear sky. I bought an old set of binoculars and found a lot of interesting objects. My wife saw this and got me a nice pair of binoculars as a birthday gift. With that, I started watching all the planets. I saw the moons of Jupiter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>BOOKING TELESCOPES, SHOOTING STARS</b></p> <p>There was a transit of Venus in 2004 (when Venus passes directly between the Sun and a superior planet) and a friend had mailed me a pair of glasses with which I could look straight into the telescope. It was beautiful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then I connected with a person called Christian Sasse; he is a photographer and a chess player. Many chess players I know are passionate astrophotographers. Many of them would sit around with their tripod, telescope and software to track the stars. It sounded too difficult for me. I enjoyed the output, but I did not get it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then Sasse and his friends started a company called itelescope―they had three telescopes; one in New Mexico, one in Australia and the third one was in South Africa. And maybe they had a fourth one in Chile. The beauty of this arrangement was that any time of the day, if you want to take a photo, it is night somewhere. You could log on [to their website]. It is still quite challenging. So you book a telescope, select the object in the sky [you want to shoot], you book how many minutes you want it pointing at that [object]... and you go to sleep. It is literally automatic. I have a reasonable collection of photos, but I confess I took them with a remote telescope.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>LOOKING FOR VISHYANAND 4538</b></p> <p>There is a web page that tells you where it is at every moment (minor planet named after him). But it is not even remotely visible. Of course, it is visible with sophisticated telescopes. It is an asteroid in the asteroid belt and it is pretty cold. There was a chess player working in NASA who was a fan of my game. And then this [minor planet] came up and he suggested my name. I think once in a year the committee meets and decides all these things. So there is a planet named after me and it is very nice! It is called Vishyanand 4538.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>GALAXIES ARE THE PRETTIEST</b></p> <p>The Sombrero Galaxy is a beautiful object, [and] I have a nice photo of that. I think galaxies are the prettiest. I enjoyed seeing Jupiter and Saturn with my binoculars, but a long exposure of a galaxy gives you colours and shapes that are amazing! I also have all sorts of nebula.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>EXCITED ABOUT CHANDRAYAAN-3</b></p> <p>One of the beauties of the past couple of decades is the number of probes we have sent to other worlds. We have managed to fly by and take pictures of even Pluto. Of course, the moon has been extensively researched and it is not going to be a surprise. But we are still sending sophisticated equipment to find new information and it is always going to be fascinating. I will be quite excited when Chandrayaan-3 lands and hopefully we will have huge success there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>As told to Bhanu Prakash Chandra</b></p> <p><b>Exclusive photos from Anand’s collection</b></p> Sat Aug 26 16:58:43 IST 2023 five-time-world-chess-champion-viswanathan-anand-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For decades in India, chess was Anand, and Anand chess. Not any more. Thanks, in part, to Anand himself. The five-time world champion has played a role in nurturing what he calls the ‘golden generation’ of chess in India, and is now working on spreading the game further. Semi-retired, the 53-year-old has taken up new roles, be it as part-time commentator, FIDE deputy president or mentor to the rising teens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Anand talks about this new crop of talent, his relationship with the greats of the game, how the pandemic helped grow chess globally and how India has become a superpower in world chess. Excerpts from the interview held in Chennai on August 21, the day R. Praggnanandhaa stormed into the FIDE World Cup final:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your protege, Gukesh D., has overtaken you in the FIDE live ratings. Is it a bittersweet feeling?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I am surprised that it remains slightly bittersweet. It is moderated by the fact that, yes, I have worked with him. He is with us in WestBridge Anand Chess Academy. So clearly I have contributed to that. Also, a couple of years ago, I semi-retired. So, for all these reasons it doesn’t really rankle or anything, but at the same time, for like 30 years you have something, you don’t think of it as a temporary feature, and then suddenly to have someone solidly above—he is at least three points above me. I felt a couple of years ago it was just a matter of time, so intellectually I understood it is going to happen, but still, there is a little bit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But you must also be proud of him.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Very much. If you look at Gukesh or Nihal Sarin or R. Praggnanandhaa—Prag did sensationally in the World Cup; he was the first one to qualify for the Candidates [tournament]. So, Gukesh is the first Indian to cross me in the ranking list, and Praggnanandhaa is the only one who has ever been in a final of a World Cup, or who has ever been in the Candidates (after Anand). So, there are some overlapping things happening here. I felt it was inevitable, but you tend to think of something as gradual, and then it is all happening in the same month. That is unusual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is it how Sachin Tendulkar would look at Virat Kohli? Like passing the baton?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Yes, in some sense.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In chess, there was Manuel Aaron and then Viswanathan Anand. And from Anand, the whole narrative of chess in India changes. And now we are seeing a massive surge of Indian talent. And a majority of them from Tamil Nadu.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yes, a majority from Tamil Nadu, but we still have players from other parts of the country and I think the game is gradually spreading in India. Maybe phones contribute to this. Earlier, if you were curious but there wasn’t some way to play chess, you gave up. Now you find it on your phone and you continue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a very different vibe now because I [have been] used to being the only Indian in a tournament for very long. Whereas all of them not only see each other, but are rivals in the same tournament. So, it is incomparable with my experience. Even when I go and watch them, I realise it is a very different vibe for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In an earlier interview with THE WEEK, you said you now pick and choose the tournaments you want to play. When did you decide that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It happened at gunpoint of the pandemic. And then I thought, this is not so bad. One of the things in chess that you know will happen, but you never really want to start thinking about, is retirement. So, around 2019, I had this hard moment—[I thought about whether] I should keep competing at this level for this long. Because the payoff is going to keep getting lower and lower. I am going to be working much harder just to stand still. [I thought about if] there were other things that I wanted to try. Because it would be a great time to divert. Then the pandemic happened and I got a test run, so to speak. And I realised, this is not that bad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I could not originally imagine a life that doesn’t revolve around [a] routine you have [been following] for 40 years. And suddenly, for 375 days exactly, I did not go near an airport. So, I came back on June 6, 2020 from Bangalore and I left on June 16, 2021 to Zagreb.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I still like playing some nice tournaments, so why turn that down? But I am not going to play the World Championship, the World Cup, the Grand Series; I am not going to go into the pathways to qualify. But a few tournaments that I choose to play, I will play and try to enjoy that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So you’re not looking at your points; it is just more of a passion, right?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> You have to care about the points, but I am also able to let go of it faster.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But when you see so many youngsters from India and with so much more activity, does it make you want to throw your hat in the ring again?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Mostly, it is not a realistic thought, but every once in a while when you see someone else make a move that you saw as well, you think, well I could be doing that. But I don’t seriously question my decision. Even three years ago, I could play a great game of chess, but that was not the question. The question was, can I do this consistently enough and deliver often enough for it to be worth it? And I thought, I should acknowledge that I am 10 years older than the nearest guy I am competing with. And sometimes 15 or 20 years older than most of the people I am competing with. And it just takes a toll, so let me move to a reduced schedule. Besides, I get my chess fix. I get to go as a FIDE deputy president and be part of the action. I do commentary for some events; that way you get to think about chess a lot and share it. And I do get to compete from time to time. In the meantime, I have learned that you can spend more time with your family, at home, and that has also been a learning process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Does age really make such a difference?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yes. In chess, many players are starting to peak in their 40s, and some are even peaking or appear to be peaking in their 30s. They are not much stronger than the ones who are 20. And then you think, well, five years down the line, what’s that going to look like? And you’re not sure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You once said that Magnus Carlsen was peaking when he challenged you for the World Championship and that you were coming down from the peak. So, can you talk about that? Also, someone slightly older than you, Nigel Short, is now playing senior chess. And there is also someone younger than you who is playing senior chess, but you are not. So, when you are coming down from your peak, how do you compete with the youngsters coming up?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> So, what happened to me roughly when I lost my match to Carlsen was that the problem solved itself. I qualified for one more World Championship match. I went through that. And then after that, I would need to win the Candidates to qualify. So, when I played the Candidates, I was still able to make a very, very good show of it. In 2016, I could have still qualified.... I finished second in the end. But after that, even the pathway to the Candidates wasn’t clear.... A couple of years later, I played the Grand Swiss and I realised it (game) is receding. And the thing that used to take the most energy out of me, gave me the most stress, the World Championship event, suddenly wasn’t there. And then you realise, wait, now I can cope with what is remaining. So, in a sense, my schedule became a bit softer.... Now at 50, I think it is nice to have enough time for other things, whether it is OGQ (Olympic Gold Quest) or especially WACA (WestBridge Anand Chess Academy), which I took on during the pandemic or the FIDE deputy president [role].... I still get the social aspect of chess. I still get to see old friends. I’m not cut off completely, but [as for] competing, I will take it slow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Talking about friendship, what is your equation with people like Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov or Carlsen? Are they friends or just opponents?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Not at all. Kasparov has become incredibly warm. I mean, we have a very good time whenever we meet because he comes to all the Grand Chess tour events for the opening ceremony because his company co-organises it. So I get to see him there. We have very good chats about the good old times and so on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is he a fun guy, Kasparov?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He is a lot of fun.... He has always got something witty to say.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ He has a completely different pursuit in politics now.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yes. To be honest, I thought he was more of a speaker and an activist.... But inevitably last year (Ukraine war), his situation changed where his activism itself became a kind of politics. So now he is firmly entrenched in that area.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about Karpov?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I [have] not seen him since the pandemic started. And he has not been travelling much. He is now 72 maybe, and he had a health crisis earlier this year.... I have friends who keep me informed. Someone like Boris Gelfand, I am very close to. He is also helping me at WACA as well. And then Vladimir Kramnik, someone I keep in touch with. So we used to play some non-castling events in Germany. Now I will see him in a few days again. But I hang out with a lot of the younger generation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Carlsen?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He is quite busy. I mean, when we see each other, we are friendly, but we are not very close... he is also in his own world and doing a lot of things.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/</b> <b>When you look from the outside, there is a lot of intrigue about chess players. I think it has largely to do with the kind of image that Bobby Fischer created in that great contest with Boris Spassky. Reclusive, a little idiosyncratic, a little temperamental and stuff like that. What are chess players like?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Certainly chess players are self-absorbed and very focused on their work. But I think not more than anybody in any walk of life. Probably both of you are very focused on your work. And, you know, if I intrude in that moment when you are busy, then only so much mental bandwidth you have for that. And the same with chess players. Bobby Fischer, it is true. He changed the image a little bit. It is not that most chess players are idiosyncratic; the problem is people remember the ones who are. And really that is what happened with Bobby Fischer.... Chess players generally are kind of university types. They like to sit and think. Now, thanks to computers, there is more of an IT gaming crowd coming in. So an interesting mix is happening.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So there are characters.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> There are characters. And if you have been in chess for a long time, you see them as individuals. And it stuns me every time there is a famous movie and everyone treats us as some collective noun again. So, you know, after <i>The Queen’s Gambit</i>, which by the way, was very successful, [I thought] well, I look up and I do think like that, like Beth Harmon (protagonist), but I don’t know that every chess player looks up and thinks like that. You know, we are not all manufactured in the same fab (laughs).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You were talking about computers and the pandemic. Do you think more people took to chess during Covid-19, in India and abroad?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Short answer, yes. It turned out that for chess, that moment had been right.... If the same pandemic had happened in 2010, we would not have noticed it. By 2020, everyone had a phone, everyone had 4G. Second, chess had much, much better apps that you could just download and start playing.... Third, they couldn’t have made it with the pandemic in mind, but <i>The Queen’s Gambit</i> was produced and released during the pandemic. And it turned out there was probably some latent desire. A lot of people had connected with chess somewhere in the past, and they had forgotten about it. And it has been sitting on their to-do lists for years and years. And suddenly they had the time, the phone, and all they needed was somebody to tell them, ‘You know, that chess thing, maybe I have time for it now.’ And <i>The Queen’s Gambit</i> comes along and reminds them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And to answer your other question, it was global. YouTube usage went up... and YouTube channels [about chess were] available worldwide.... It has gone up in every country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Let’s talk about this present lot. What’s your take on Praggnanandhaa at the World Cup?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He has improved so much in the last few months. He is playing with so much confidence in everything.... What message do you need to send the guy who’s going to be at the Candidates? Congrats. The point of the World Cup is not to win the World Cup, it is to qualify for the Candidates. He has done that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ And what about the other young Indians? How are they coming on?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think almost all of them can take heart from the performance in the World Cup... So that is quite rare. Normally you think, I have five horses, one of them will do well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But this is new, right? Because India never had that in chess. It was all about Anand. It is a revolution, in a way, what has happened.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>So I always [say] the current generation is a golden generation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Golden generation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yes. I am throwing in the title early, but they are a golden generation. They are all in the 2,700-plus group (rating). And they are all under 20. That just does not happen; it is really something special. And what this means, and the reason I call them the golden generation, is they are going to spend the next 10 years at the top. With varying career trajectories, of course, but they are going to spend the next 10 years being rivals and colleagues and friends and everything. So, for Indian chess, that augurs very well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Was there a lot of pressure when you were in your prime? You know, we are a very passionate country.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>I felt I was playing for myself. I certainly was proud to have the flag. But mostly, I felt whatever I am doing, an Indian is doing for the first time and let’s just have a good time and see how far I can get. And so, I was cushioned from that. And second, chess players those days didn’t find out what everyone thought right away, which I think is the real problem today. I am not even sure that I would want to be in this atmosphere... the intensity with which people follow these days and it is social media-driven; I think that makes a big difference in how it is seen. But, of course, it is good for them as well because [it helps] amplify their careers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about money-wise? Do you think more money coming into chess will attract more people from other parts of the country?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I believe that the number of people who can make a living from chess alone has quintupled in the last five years. So, you can be a coach, you can be an author, you can be a journalist, you can stream. There are just so many extra ways to earn a living that getting into chess is a much safer option now than it has ever been. And it is fantastic; a lot more people will be able to take this decision with much less hesitation. But there are very few chess players playing in Saudi clubs (laughs). So, there is still some room to grow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are big corporates coming and saying, you know, there is this golden age of chess, let’s be part of this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We get a lot of companies that are sponsoring chess players from a much earlier age. We say corporate money, but I believe it is also this Indian startup mentality. A lot of people are much more spontaneous and it takes a smaller group of people to sit around the room and just say, well, let’s do this or let’s do that. These kinds of projects start much faster.... So, [it is] almost crowd-funding meets corporate meets startup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You know the strengths and weaknesses of the younger lot. You would know exactly the intricacies that go into this. So, how would you tell each of them to channel their energy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I would share my experiences, especially psychologically and emotionally speaking. But chess itself has changed so much. When I was growing up, what we tried to pass on to people was, how do you find better moves? But now when the computer is giving you the best moves right away or the quickest answer, the thinking almost has to change. How do you remember what it tells you? How do you pick out what is essential? So, the skill set has changed. Also, the nature of chess. Blitz and rapid and online chess are all legitimate formats; there are events happening. I never used to play them when I was young because, first of all, they didn’t exist. So, how does my experience compare with them? I have to be careful. I can share what I think and leave it in the air, but I cannot be too prescriptive. Honestly. [they] can judge it much better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mostly what you can share is the struggle that you face and the moment that it goes wrong and the moment that you do the right thing. That will never change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Now that you are part of FIDE, how would you help chess overall?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Well, for the ticket I joined, the FIDE president is Arkady Dvorkovich. His ticket was to grow chess, especially for women. And what I am trying to add to that, is trying to make it happen in India. So, for me, the Global Chess League with Tech Mahindra was a big thing because I was working on that even before I joined FIDE.... I worked with the Tata Steel event in Kolkata. So, like that, you know, I stay involved in a lot of initiatives here. But basically, [we have to] get more and more people to compete, and improve the conditions for women because there is a huge participation gap in chess for women.... One of the things FIDE is working on is to raise the prize funds at all women’s tournaments. Because in the end, you have to make something more attractive for it to be a sensible decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ And do you see a lot more participation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> By when do you see, you know, even a 60-40 per cent split in men’s and women’s participation? You cannot have such firm deadlines. A lot of this is also cultural. So, you have got to go slowly. But for the first time, chess is reaching people even without us knowing because of the internet. So, in a sense, we also have to manage the growth. But we have done very well. Our budget has been higher every single year. Prize funds are higher every single year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you see India as an emerging superpower in chess or is it already one? Do you see a decline in Russia, which used to be a powerhouse? Do you see that power matrix changing?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Definitely. I believe that a country the size of India, if it decides to take something seriously, we are going to become important. I mean, every sixth person on the planet is Indian.... But this is genuine quality. We are not just flooding the place. We have produced an amazing golden generation, like I said. We have, I believe, some very talented female juniors. So hopefully in a couple of years, we will be able to replicate that.... If we have three or four Indians representing us at the top, inevitably Indians will keep following the game. So, yes, India is a superpower in chess and will continue to be a very important country for the game globally.</p> Sat Aug 26 17:19:14 IST 2023 total-domination-is-the-mantra-as-manchester-city-start-a-new-season <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The clock showed 6:27 when Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos lost the ball in midfield in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinal against Manchester City in May. Just over 10 seconds later, Real, having survived the City attack following Kroos’s mistake, tried to play out from the back with the poise and calm befitting the reigning European and world club champions. It took City just three seconds to win the ball back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time it was Luka Modri´c who gave the ball away. During the resulting attack, City’s defensive midfielder Rodri picked up the ball and slalomed past both Kroos and Modri´c―regarded by many as two of the greatest midfielders of all time―to fire a low shot just wide. Though City did not score from that move, it was a sign of things to come. For most of the first half, this pattern―intense pressure from City forcing mistakes from Real’s galaxy of stars―was repeated. The match, billed as the team of the year vs the team of the century, ended 4-0 in favour of City, who had utterly disregarded the pedigree and aura of the 14-time European champions. There was no longer room for doubt―City were now the best in world football.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The man responsible, manager Pep Guardiola, has a rather straightforward football philosophy. In his own words: “What we want is simple. When the opponent has the ball, take it back as quickly as possible. When we have the ball, try to move as quickly as possible, to create as many chances as possible. That’s all. And good team spirit.” Translation: Dominate. That’s all. And good team spirit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The process Guardiola has been perfecting in Manchester since 2016 reached its culmination in June when City won their first Champions League to complete a continental treble of trophies (winning the first-tier continental competition, the domestic top flight and the first-tier domestic cup in the same season). In doing so, City joined an elite group of teams which have won the European treble―Celtic, Ajax Amsterdam, PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, Barcelona (twice), Inter Milan and Bayern Munich (twice). Interestingly, Real―the team of the century―has never done it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Guardiola, City have the best coach in world football today. They also have, arguably, the world’s best players in the central positions―centre-back Rúben Dias, Rodri, playmaker Kevin De Bruyne and striker Erling Haaland. Moreover, City now have the highest revenue in world football, according to Deloitte. There are murmurs of “inflated commercial revenue” and “cooking the books” and charges of 100-plus breaches of financial rules over a decade―the time in which this new City was conceived and built by the Abu Dhabi United Group. If proven, the charges could have serious implications for the club. At the end of last season, potential sanctions, if big enough to have an impact on operations, seemed like the only thing that could slow down the City juggernaut.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The charges have been referred to an independent commission and not much has been heard about them ever since. Amid the excitement around the start of the new Premier League season, which kicked off on August 11, even rival fans stopped crying foul. Instead, they were busy dreaming up scenarios in which their teams compete with City and push them all the way before finishing second. The overwhelming feeling you get from the football community is that City winning the league is a foregone conclusion. But, it is not that simple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>City are going for a fourth consecutive title. No club has done it since the English football league began in 1888. Manchester United attempted it twice, but fell short. However, Guardiola has a penchant for setting precedents. He was only the second coach in Barcelona’s history to lead the Catalans to three Spanish league titles in a row. Since he left Spain in 2012, no team has done it. After a one-year break, he took over as Bayern Munich manager and won three titles in a row, the first time the club had done so in three decades. At City, the Spaniard has won five league titles in seven seasons. He was the first coach to win the treble in Spanish football and only the second to do so in English football, after Sir Alex Ferguson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The challenge for Guardiola will be to keep his team motivated to continue winning trophies. Ferguson has spoken about the difficulty of keeping a winning team hungry year after year. That is why it is necessary to keep replenishing the squad. In modern football, if you stay still, you regress. So, losing a 32-year-old Riyad Mahrez to Saudi Arabian club Al Ahli is not a setback for City. Rather, it is a step forward. There is no doubting the Algeria captain’s calibre, but he was not a guaranteed starter―he did not feature in the finals of the Champions League or the English FA Cup―and therefore it made sense to let him go. Youth academy graduate Cole Palmer, 21, has developed into a viable option in the right-wing position that Mahrez played in. Moreover, City are reportedly in the market for another winger to add depth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bigger loss will be that of captain ˙Ilkay Gündo˘gan, who joined Barcelona. The German midfielder was Guardiola’s first signing as City manager. Over the years, the duo, who lived on the same floor of a city centre apartment, grew close and the boss made it known that he wanted Gündo˘gan to stay. But, it was not to be. Gündo˘gan was lured away by Guardiola disciple Xavi. The German explained his move as follows: “Xavi made his ideas very clear. It is similar to how we played in Man City. The way he approached talks, the honesty, I saw my character reflected in him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gündo˘gan, who played over 300 matches for City, was not statistically as productive as some of the world’s best attack-minded midfielders. But, he is tough to replace as he had a knack for scoring crucial goals. For example, in 2021-2022, he scored two in a stunning comeback win (3-2) on the final day to clinch the title for City. Earlier this year, he scored both goals in the 2-1 win over United in the FA Cup final, including a brilliant volley 13 seconds into the match. There is a reason why he scored important goals. In tight matches, when the opposition was focused on neutralising City’s more obvious attacking threats, Gündo˘gan’s smart movement often resulted in him getting to a good goalscoring position at the perfect time. He was also key to the way the side moved the ball and his movement off the ball helped create space for his teammates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With characteristic efficiency, City brought in Mateo Kova˘ci´c from Chelsea for £25 million to replace Gündo˘gan three days before his departure was finalised. However, the technically gifted Croatian central midfielder is more defensive-minded than the German. Perhaps, as a result, City have been linked to a big-money transfer for West Ham United’s Lucas Paquetá, a more attack-minded option.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In defence, there is a growing collection of top quality centre-backs at City. Dias is the leader of the defence. His trusted lieutenants, Barnsley-born John Stones, now known as “Barnsley Beckenbauer”, and Swiss superstar Manuel Akanji, would walk into the starting lineups of most teams in the world. Guardiola has also moulded the less heralded Nathan Aké into a reliable option. Meanwhile, Spain’s Aymeric Laporte, too, has started the new season at the club. On top of this, Guardiola has brought in one of the most exciting prospects in world football, 21-year-old Croatian defender Joško Gvardiol, for around £77 million, just £3 million short of the world record transfer fee for a defender.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gvardiol is still best remembered for being turned inside out by Lionel Messi at the 2022 World Cup. In fact, the hype around him had temporarily died down after that unfortunate meeting with Messi. But, Gvardiol is most definitely not overrated. He has remarkable technical ability and the physicality to match. Combine that with his impressive pace and he is almost like a defensive version of Haaland. He is hard to get past (except, of course, if you are an all-time great) and is comfortable carrying the ball up the field to contribute to the attack. In short, he is perfect for the Guardiola way, though his integration into the starting lineup is likely to be systematic and methodical. Again, the Guardiola way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One point of concern for City is that rivals have already got significant business done, whereas, it seems, City are still mulling over a few more moves. Last season’s runners-up, Arsenal, managed by Guardiola disciple Mikel Arteta, have spent over £200 million (around Rs2,000 crore) to supplement their squad. Erik ten Hag, who was the reserve team manager at Bayern during Guardiola’s tenure as first-team boss, is revolutionising United. Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool are in the process of replacing their midfield, though they were missing a defensive midfielder at the start of the season, and Chelsea have continued to add to their squad to aid new manager Mauricio Pochettino. In Europe, heavyweights Real and Bayern have strengthened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, in spite of all this, the most significant issue for City, in the short term, is the injury to its playmaker De Bruyne. He was forced off in the 23rd minute of the season’s inaugural match and is expected to miss a few months. The match itself was an intriguing insight into potential weaknesses at City. The champions played newly promoted second division champions Burnley and though they were comfortable winners―Haaland literally scored with his first touch of the season―the contest was uncomfortable at times, especially in the first half. Burnley, managed by City legend Vincent Kompany, troubled City more than the scoreline (3-0) suggested, and it was only after Haaland’s second goal―a superb, instinctive finish in the 36th minute―that the champions got a degree of control over the match. Whether it is a case of early-season sluggishness or something more concerning will be revealed soon. But, even if City make a shaky start, they can be relied upon to level up in the second half of the season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Therefore, despite the challenges, it would not be wise to bet against City winning yet another title. The team will also start the Champions League as favourites. The next step for City is to go for the quadruple―add the second-tier domestic cup (the English League Cup) to its treble. But, it is highly unlikely that City will even repeat the treble. Firstly, it is notoriously difficult to retain the Champions League―only Real have ever done it. Second, fixture congestion and fatigue may force Guardiola to rotate his side in the FA Cup, a competition where giant killings are almost a norm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The worst-case scenario would obviously be a trophy-less season, but that is also unlikely. Therefore, a more realistic worst-case scenario would be not winning either the league or the Champions League. That simply would not do for City in the current context.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Guardiola, for his part, has already tempered expectations. “It is impossible to do what we did last season,” he said ahead of the start of the new season. “It is once in a lifetime, I told the players to forget it.” However, that statement is really a challenge to his own players. The manager’s aim, as he stated during the same interaction, is to take it game by game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dominate. That’s all. And, good team spirit.</p> Sat Aug 19 15:51:44 IST 2023 former-indian-cricketer-kapil-dev-exclusive-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A never-say-die</b> attitude. This is what Kapil Dev believes he brought to the Indian team that won the 1983 World Cup. He embodied that attitude when he walked out to bat, with India floundering at 9/4 in the World Cup match against Zimbabwe. His world-record-breaking, unbeaten 175 was, unfortunately, not caught on TV camera. A humble Kapil says it was simply his responsibility at the time and that he does not believe in talking about it too much.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, then, that is the thing about being Kapil Dev. When you are one of the greatest all-rounders of all time (the only player with 400 wickets and 5,000 runs in Test cricket), your legacy does the talking. As India go into another World Cup as one of the favourites, 40 years after drawing first blood in 1983, Kapil sat down for a freewheeling interview with THE WEEK in Bengaluru. The youngest captain, at 24, to win the ODI cricket World Cup, he recounts the memories and the dynamics of the now legendary team he led. He also speaks his mind on current Indian cricketers, the IPL, the BCCI and India’s chances at the 2023 World Cup. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It is 40 years since you lifted the ODI World Cup and we are now heading to another World Cup. What was the mood like in 1983?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the beginning, it was very simple: chill, let’s play. And once we started winning matches, the thought process changed. In cricket, once you start believing you can do it, things change. I don’t blame my team [for not believing], because we had never won anything. But, before the World Cup, in the series against the West Indies, we showed we can actually play ODIs (India beat West Indies in an ODI for the first time). Before that we neither had the attitude nor the mindset. Because we learnt traditional cricket. In one-day cricket, you have to get the runs, and I think that win in the West Indies gave us a boost. And the first win at Old Trafford in the 1983 World Cup changed the attitude.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were still a few people who were unsure. Once we beat Zimbabwe, the mindset changed. Only three matches were left after that, and the entire team started believing we can win from any situation. That was more important.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Sunil Gavaskar mentioned that two things that contributed to the World Cup win were a young captain in Kapil, who really brought energy to the team, and Cheeka’s (Krishnamachari Srikkanth) energy on the field after each wicket.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I would say character. If you have 11 Sunil Gavaskars, 11 Sachin Tendulkars or 11 Rahul Dravids, it is not going to help the team because they are so deep into their cricket. If everybody is like that, then it is difficult to make the dressing room a lighter place. In our team, we had character.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You need a Srikkanth, you need a Harbhajan Singh, you need a Yuvraj Singh. God was kind, and we had Sandeep Patil, we had Sunil Gavaskar, who was totally different, we had Srikkanth. If you want to get Srikkanth out, don’t talk to him, don’t let anybody talk to him. He wants to talk; he wants to unwind. It’s a very simple thing. Ajay Jadeja was also like that; he always talked to the wicketkeeper, to the umpire. With somebody like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid or Sunil Gavaskar, you talk to them [to get under their skin]. With Javed Miandad, don’t talk to him. If he tries to say something, ignore him; he will get frustrated. In cricket it’s very, very important to have a character.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It is very interesting, but what was Kapil Dev’s character?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My character [has to do with] where I came from. I would say, ‘never give up’. I am not trying to boast, but that was the attitude. Even if only 10 runs remain, never give up. And that was what I brought into the team. You don’t have to tell Sunil Gavaskar or Dilip Vengsarkar how to play―they know that better than me. But, sometimes, our character came out of that regional thing; you know, they were from Bombay, Delhi, from the south. I think that was more difficult for me at that time because, one, Bombay dominated for 40 years with their method of play. Coming out of that shelter, or umbrella that they created among themselves, was very difficult. And rightly so, they dominated the Ranji Trophy because they had a method. But that method was good enough for Test cricket, not for T20s or ODIs. Our people, coming from smaller towns, had that ruthless approach. And the biggest thing was that it was a break between Hindi and English. Cricket was played by English-speaking people [in urban centres like Bombay or Madras] and people who come from, say, a suburb, are more earthy, rude and hard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In sports, things were changing; you don’t have to be polite; you don’t have to be a Mahatma Gandhi in cricket. Even though our culture was like that [being polite], change was taking place. Once you started achieving [success], cricket went to the smaller towns and that’s how the change took place. A Zaheer Khan coming from [near] Aurangabad, Harbhajan coming from Jalandhar and [Javagal] Srinath coming from Mysore. So, when regional people come in, their personalities also come in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did you have a problem handling that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you are not biased, there is no problem. I came from a place where I had no cricketer friend. So, to me, everybody was just the same. It took time for us to tell the Bombay cricketer that there was much more [than the way he played]. I think once the Bombay people understood, they started believing. It wasn’t easy for them, because they had grown up [with this way], and they had taught everybody in India that this was the way to play cricket. Suddenly, other people come out, M.S. Dhoni, Harbhajan, Zaheer or Yuvraj, with this different approach. I think that really made Indian cricket what we are today. And, I always say, don’t forget the Bombay method because they still had their experience, and their understanding of the game was far better than that of anybody else.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Does that still reflect in the selection process today?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I haven’t gone to the dressing room for 20 years, so it’s unwise for me to comment on that. What’s good about the young players is that they are very confident. The negative part is that they think they know everything. They think they don’t have to seek advice from anyone. An experienced person can always help, even if he has not played the modern game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I was waiting at the Bombay airport when you called me and said, ‘Why do you want to come all the way to Delhi from Kochi? I am coming to Bangalore, which is closer to you.’ We don’t expect that from a present-day cricketer. Why is there this attitude shift?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sometimes, when too much money comes, arrogance comes. These cricketers, they feel they know everything. That’s the difference. I would say there are so many cricketers who need help. When Sunil Gavaskar is there, why can’t you talk? Why should there be ego? They feel they are good enough. Maybe they are good enough, but extra help from somebody, who has seen 50 seasons of cricket, won’t hurt. He knows which side the grass grows and where the sun comes out from.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When do you think the shift happened? Before or after the IPL?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think IPL was the big change. Look, change only comes when money also comes. I always feel money is very good; it gives you confidence. At this stage, the cricket board has the responsibility to look after them. They come from humble backgrounds; sometimes, when you get too much money, you get spoiled. Everybody can’t handle that. You need guidance; the cricket board today can hire people and give them classes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When you talk about the BCCI, we all feel that veteran cricketers should be a part of it.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not everyone. The board has to pick and choose the right people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do we have the right board now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t know. When you perform as good as that, it’s the right board, nothing wrong. But the right board also needs to improve. If I show you the fixture I have seen today, India is playing 11 matches and the amount of travelling they have to do... who made that fixture? Now, how can I look after my team when they are playing in India? You are going to Dharamshala, then to Bengaluru, to Kolkata… playing in nine different places. Somebody asked me, and I said, ‘If I were the board president, I would have a chartered flight for my team.’ I want them to give their best performance on the field. These are the things the board has to do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Also, like you said earlier, the board should consist of people who can make sure that these guys are grounded.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I would like to agree with you, but all 11 players are not of the same mind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Could this be part of the National Cricket Academy? Or the under-19 programme?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They have to groom players to be good citizens also. What happened between Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli in the IPL, it was painful for me. My two most important people―Virat Kohli, one of the top batters in the world; Gambhir is now member of Parliament―how can they behave in such a manner? But sportsmen do lose their mind, from Pelé to Don Bradman to all people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I was telling Ayaz about the time India was touring South Africa. We had this young pacer from Karnataka called David Johnson. Everyone was getting excited about him, but you said go with experience. David Johnson played the first match, leaked runs and never played for India again. So, leading up to this World Cup, how do we go about it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First you have to pick the team and then you can talk about this one method―don’t depend on one player. That’s the philosophy I had. If you are playing a team game, one or two players are important, but they are not the only ones in this team. Everybody should be important, because if you don’t believe that, and the other team members don’t believe that, then they feel neglected, which is where we fail sometimes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you saying the team should have more experienced players right now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, go with whatever team you make, but play as a unit. You are playing nine matches and everybody has to do their best. Yes, in football, we say there are three-four people who score the maximum goals, but it’s not that the midfielders or defenders never score.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the WTC final in England, if you look at the Australians and our bowlers, when you see a pitch map, we bowled more short balls than they did. What is the experience? The people who were sitting out and watching, they should have intervened. You had taken Mohammed Siraj. Is short-pitched ball the only ball? You may pick up a few wickets, but he was banging it in. You are a better bowler than that. Pitch it up. See how many LBWs they got and how many we got.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you saying we are not analysing the game like England or Australia?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I mean, fine, but sometimes the youth doesn’t believe in taking wickets, but in breaking the other person’s head. That’s what youth is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ <i>Josh hai.</i></b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Josh hai,</i> but <i>josh</i>, if used in a positive way, will be the best thing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But that’s the thing, right. Ravi Shastri was telling me in a recent interview that the seniors were ready to be phased out in white-ball cricket. In the context of the World Cup, do you play K.L. Rahul or go with someone like a Yashasvi Jaiswal or a Sanju Samson?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is about the kind of team you are making; combination is more important. You can say Samson or Rahul. No. Who fits in at that moment is more important; form is more important than anything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Form and combination.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s why I said combination first. How can a Rahul Dravid be a wicket-keeper for India? At that time that was the best combination they got to make sure Rahul also played.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In a World Cup, in such a pressure-cooker situation, can youth flourish?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Youth is the only important thing you require. The ruthless approach youth will bring in. The mature people will not bring it. You want to tell me that Virat Kohli can’t hit the way Ishan Kishan can? You want to tell me he is a better player? But there, you need a youth to be ruthless. Kohli could have played the same role 10-15 years back; today he will take 10 balls and then go on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Playing at home in the World Cup, there will be humongous pressure. How do you see the mental aspect? We haven’t won an ICC tournament in 10 years.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Doesn’t matter. We are still playing well. It’s not like winning trophies is everything, but we are reaching the final, the semifinals, we are there, but you have to cross the final hurdle to win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do we need a sports psychologist?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think these are technical things that have started coming in. Nobody is better than your senior player if they are guiding you properly. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Whom do you want to listen to? Captain? Manager? Have fewer people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do young fast bowlers reach out to you for help?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, they don’t. I learnt one thing from Sunil Gavaskar. He said, “Never give advice till they need advice; till they ask for it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ And that’s something they don’t do.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If I go there and give them advice, they might not want it. When I was playing, sometimes I used to get so irritated when I see, at lunchtime, a senior cricketer coming into the dressing room. <i>Ye aa gaya, ab free baat bhi nahi kar sakte</i> (He has come, so now we can’t even talk freely). So, I decided that when I stop playing, I will never go to the dressing room. That’s not my space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Everyone thought Hardik Pandya would be the next bowling all-rounder after Kapil Dev. Ravi Shastri says his body can’t cope with Test cricket.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why? I respect his statement, but why?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Probably he meant the breakdowns he has had.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nobody has had more breakdowns than Dennis Lillee. So, I don’t believe that. Human body can come back from any corner, come back into top condition. If you say Hardik Pandya―who is such a great athlete, looks so good―has to work hard on his body, he has to work hard. His body can’t take it? I can understand if that big West Indian off-spinner’s [Rakheem Cornwall] body can’t take it. But, over a period of time, his body can also do it if he starts working towards that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have a fantastic ODI record and an equally fantastic Test record. Why do you think people are not giving enough importance to Tests?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reduce the money in one-dayers and T20s, and increase the money in Test matches. You put so much extra money into Test matches, and I want to see how many people will say no to it. I would like to be proved wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ A corollary question to this, a little diversion, is about Bazball. What is your reading of the situation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I like [the ongoing] Australia-England series. They are not ready to go for the draw; they want to entertain people and that’s a responsibility of the cricketers and cricket boards. Look, if I have to play the last day and save the Test match, I will make sure the approach will change. But if I have 290 or 310 to chase, my first thought should be to secure a win. If by the last one hour I know we can’t win, then I will try to make sure we draw.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ And that’s how you saved the follow-on, with the four sixes you hit against England’s Eddie Hemmings in 1990.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These type of things happen in everybody’s life, not mine alone. I would say the approach has to change. As Don Bradman said, and I would vouch for that, after getting 30, 40 or 50 runs, if any top player plays a maiden over, they must be joking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think there’s too much drama surrounding India-Pakistan matches? Do you really feel the pressure?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is pressure? Pressure doesn’t come when you’re facing the ball. It starts building up when your waiter gives you coffee and says, “Pakistan <i>se nahi haarna</i> (don’t lose to Pakistan)”. So that’s how the build-up takes place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you friendly with any of the Pakistani cricketers, like Javed Miandad or Imran Khan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t meet my own team members because I’m doing my own thing. I will ask you a similar question―are you in touch with all your school friends?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Not all.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because we have drifted away or have our own life. How can I meet Imran Khan? He was the prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you spoken to him after he became prime minister?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has gone into a different phase. I would like to meet him, but does he have so much free time? So many people studied or spent time with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Does he have time for everybody? No.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, do you agree with Ravichandran Ashwin’s statement that now teammates are more colleagues than friends?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over a period of time, they become friends also. After you spend 15 years on the field together, then when anything happens, you talk to them. Sunny was my colleague, today he is my friend―anything happens I just pick up the phone. Like Jimmy [Mohinder Amarnath] was my senior, Madan Lal, too, but I spent 15 years with them and if something happens, say my daughter is getting married, I would ask them to be there if they have time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You mentioned Madan Lal. I want to talk about that catch. Madan Lal bowls, Viv Richards has a mighty swing, and you take a great catch that turned the game on its head at Lord’s. You were so cool that you didn’t jump up in joy after you caught it. What bothered you was someone from the crowd had come and scratched your back.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With today’s cricketers―I laugh at this sometimes―when somebody takes a wicket, they pump so hard it feels like oil will come out of the ground. Relax. I used to say, don’t even throw the ball up, you will displace your shoulder. But they are jumping and pumping, like when Siraj took a wicket he was like [shows aggressive celebration]. Your job is to take a wicket. I recall an incident when Harbhajan was bowling. Bishan Singh Bedi and I were on television. Harbhajan takes a wicket, and the whole team is after him. He was running around like a headless chicken. So, I told Bishan <i>paaji</i>, you know, if you plan something very extraordinary and it happens, you want to be happy. But every time he takes a wicket, he runs and the whole team is running after him. He said, ‘Harbhajan can’t believe he has taken a wicket’ [laughs]. That is his sense of humour. Look, your job is to get a hundred, so you lift the bat… but after making a hundred, you are throwing the bat and jumping. Hello, that’s why you were picked in the team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Picked in the team to get a hundred, yes. But to get 175 against Zimbabwe in that kind of a situation….</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was my responsibility at the time. I have gotten zeros also, but at that moment I stood up, God was kind, and I made it a day for everybody. So, I feel proud about that, but that doesn’t mean you want to talk about that all the time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But when you walked out, four down for nine, what was your thought?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If things happen so fast, you don’t get time to think. Storytellers will say, this is happening, that is happening. Me, I don’t remember.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is there a role for you in Indian cricket, because you’re not just a World Cup-winning captain, but your experience, humility and the maturity that you bring to the table also count?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Humility is a totally different story because sometimes I think, why can’t I be like John McEnroe? Why can’t McEnroe be like me, totally quiet and calm? Why can’t everybody be like Sunil Gavaskar―when he was given out, he would quietly come back. Why can’t everybody be like Sourav Ganguly, who doesn’t believe he is out ever. You know, that’s how people are.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Humility is one thing, but I am talking about the way they handle themselves off the cricket field.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is the cricket board’s job. If they think I’m good enough, or they think Sunil or Dilip or other people are, that’s their job to hire us. It’s not for us to go there.</p> <p><br> <b>Q/ Two prominent cricketers have led the BCCI―Ganguly and Binny. Do you think that has made a big impact?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s a good trend, but I think these cricketers also understand what they have to do. Sometimes you don’t have to be a cricketer to be a great administrator, you are looking for great people to come into the administration, people who can do the job. You need politicians, you need businessmen and you need cricketers, too. Why businessmen? To handle Rs50,000 crore or Rs1,00,000 crore worth of business, you need businessmen to understand that. Why politicians? You need a politician to ensure that cricket will run properly. I want to see how a cricket tour will take place without a politician being involved. It will take three months to pass through the sports ministry or finance ministry or something.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Who is your favourite to win the World Cup?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Your heart says India has a chance, but it looks like it is not so easy because you need a stroke of luck, you need no injuries, you need a lot of things at that moment. Let us first make it to the top four.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ One step at a time.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yeah, think about that only. Sunil Gavaskar says, “You can’t make a hundred in two overs.” So, make 20, 30, 50, 70, 80, then you start winning matches slowly and come into the semifinals. Then you need a stroke of luck also. But in the semifinals, [if] your top player gets injured, your team is shattered. Look at what happened to Jasprit Bumrah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Kapil Dev never had these breakdowns.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>God is kind. It’s not like I never got injured, but I think today they are playing 10 months a year so I give the benefit of the doubt to them. But everybody has to look after themselves. The IPL is a great thing, but it can spoil them, too. Because with a little bit of injury, you will play the IPL, but with a little bit of injury, you will not play for India. You will take a break. And most important, the cricket board has to understand how much cricket they should play. That is the bottom line. If, today, you have the resources, the money, but not three years’ calendar or five years’ calendar, then something is wrong with the cricket board. I can understand, 30 years ago, you needed more money and you call the West Indies [or someone else]. You don’t need more money now; you need better cricket. You are finishing the IPL three days before a Test match. Planning should be done at least three years in advance, five years in advance. That’s why I admire Australia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Everyone is waiting for the next Kapil Dev.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why do you want a Kapil Dev? With one Kapil Dev you can’t win a World Cup. You need a team. But you will always find someone better than me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ We still haven’t found one.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We haven’t found another Don Bradman. You don’t look for that. You make a team. You see this young tennis player come out (Carlos Alcaraz), what a player. We thought after Sunil Gavaskar nobody will come close to him. But Sachin did everything with so much ease. And after Sachin, we asked, will we get another? Virat Kohli is sitting there, better average, better score, better fitness. So, the next generation is always better. We have to invest and make sure we treat them properly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But if you’re looking at a fast-bowling all-rounder, who have we got? Probably Hardik to a certain extent.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s too much hard work today. You have T20s, you have ODIs, you have Tests, you have other cricket also, and you have commercials [laughs]. I was avoiding saying the last one. In our time, there was only cricket. It is not an easy job to be an all-rounder, it’s not an easy job to play all types of cricket. But some people can play. I thought Irfan Pathan was very close to doing that, but he faded away very fast. Why? Same with Hardik Pandya. I like to say that he can do those things; why are we trying to cover that up? He will have to work hard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also we are not counting Ravindra Jadeja or Ashwin as all-rounders. What brilliant all-rounders they are. You have a Dhoni as an all-rounder who averages over 50 with the bat in ODIs. What a keeper and what a captain. So why don’t we say, when do we get the next Dhoni?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You’ve played against the great West Indies teams of Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. Now you see them struggling to stay afloat.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cricket board or the ICC has to look after them, same way the ICC looked after Pakistan. If you can’t play in Pakistan, you play in Dubai. Try to give them cricket. I feel more sorry for Pakistan. They’re on the same track. In a few years, if they have no local cricket, what will happen to their cricket? We lose the West Indies; we start losing Pakistan. To a great extent, Pakistan still has passion for the game. As for the West Indies, they have to look after their cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Even South Africa, because the players are few. So, it’s India, Australia, England…. Youngsters in the West Indies are all going to America for athletics, basketball….</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ICC can play a bigger role. I’ll give you an example, not a similar thing, but you will get an idea about the authorities who are looking after the sport. How come tennis people are keeping grass surfaces in play? Why have hockey people not kept grass hockey alive? [Grass] is the most important thing in terms of dribbling, art. If you are giving so much to T20, you are killing Test cricket. In hockey, it was such a treat to see the dribbling; artistic players used to be there in India, Pakistan, Malaysia. They killed it. So, don’t kill Test cricket.</p> Mon Jul 31 17:00:01 IST 2023 numbers-say-djokovic-is-the-goat-sania-mirza <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>I AM VERY PRIVILEGED</b> to have not only played with and against three of the greatest players of all time, but to also be part of that era. It has been an incredible experience. I don’t know in which generation we will be able to see three of the best the world has ever produced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The debate will continue but I definitely think that, given the way Novak is playing physically, he has probably become the greatest ever male player if you look at the numbers. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal forced each other to become the best and they credit each other, and also Novak, for pushing them to their limits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since 2002, we have not seen anyone win Wimbledon other than these three and Andy Murray. But to see a generational shift, with Carlos Alcaraz winning, was very cool. I think it is great that Alcaraz came good on the big stage. People are expecting great things from him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coming back to Novak, he is very caring towards other players. He is part of the Professional Tennis Players Association (which seeks greater autonomy for players), but he does not need to be part of it. He does so because he wants to help others who are not as privileged as him. I do not know how to describe greatness, but it is not just about being a great tennis player. It is also about being a good person.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not know if he is misunderstood on the circuit; he is quite liked actually on the tour. Everybody has a lot of respect for him, as they should, but I think because it has been a Rafa-Roger rivalry, everyone spoke about him as the third man who kind of came in. Who would have thought he would surpass everybody one day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has evolved a lot physically; he has done everything in his power to be at the top of his game, especially at 36. He talks of 36 being the new 26―he truly lives by that. The way he moves and conducts himself, be it in his diet or training, is all a sign of him evolving and becoming the best version of himself. It is quite scary that the best version of himself is the greatest tennis player of all time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is gunning for it every time he steps on court. He wants to break records and I think he wants to break every limit. He wants to perfect what he wants, to be emotionally and mentally in the best shape possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>As told to Neeru Bhatia</b></p> Fri Jul 21 17:00:41 IST 2023 india-winning-indonesia-open-badminton-mens-doubles <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Match point won and victory sealed, Chirag Shetty bent down, touched his head, pulled off his bandana, and threw himself into the arms of his doubles partner Satwiksairaj Rankireddy. Then, he made fists and let out a loud yell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Weeks of frustration had finally come to an end with their victory in the Indonesia Open. The doubles pair had not just returned to winning ways after a string of early exits, but also won a Super 1000 event―one of the four biggies of the Badminton World Federation world tour. The victory also catapulted the duo to number 3 in the men’s doubles world ranking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The triumph came after early exits in Sudirman Cup, Thailand Open and Singapore Open, where they had struggled to find their mojo. Indonesia helped them rediscover it. “We told ourselves: it can’t go any worse than this, now it can only improve,” Shetty told THE WEEK. “In sport, the greatest wins come after the greatest losses, and that is what happened there. The way we were playing before, and the way we played in Indonesia―that is one thing that makes Indonesia Open more special than other tournaments.”</p> <p>Making the victory even more special was that they beat Malaysia’s world champion pair Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik, against whom the Indians had lost eight times earlier. Shetty and Rankireddy’s post-victory jubilation, passionate as it was, did not quite reflect the effort, determination and intent that had gone into clinching the title. The brainstorming sessions with doubles specialist coach Mathias Boe, chief coach Pullela Gopichand and the rest of the coaches had helped a great deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We had our first conversation after the defeat in Thailand,” Boe told THE WEEK. “I didn’t see any hunger then. You need to put 100 per cent into it to win, so we put all our cards on the table. We tried to change things in Singapore, but we didn’t have that luck. Often, luck favours the brave. We cannot be afraid of losing if we are following the plan. We again had a conversation and brought that attitude to Indonesia Open.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The idea, said Rankireddy, was to not wait for the opponents to make mistakes, but to be on the offensive. “The approach was different,” he said. “We had lost to them (Chia and Soh) many times earlier. So we decided to take it as it comes, and have fun. They, too, would be under pressure, we felt. It was the final after all.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is the first Super 1000 BWF title for Shetty, 25, and Rankireddy, 22. There are four Super 1000 events―the All England Open, the China Open, the Indonesia Open and the Malaysia Open. The top ten doubles pairs in the BWF world ranking are required to play all Super 1000 tournaments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Boe said he wanted Shetty and Rankireddy to stay “hungry and humble” as they went into the final. “During daily practice, we talked a lot about putting in 100 per cent. They are very good at handling pressure and expectations,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Shetty, the plan was to put pressure on Chia and Soh from the beginning. “In all previous meetings, we had held ourselves back quite a lot,” Shetty said. “We were in awe of their pace and didn’t charge them, and that was one of the reasons we were not able to beat them. This time, we decided that… we needed to be a lot more proactive and can’t be taking the backseat. We put pressure on their serve.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rankireddy said the quarterfinal match against world number 1 and home stars Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto was the most difficult match of the tournament. “We were up against world number 1 Indonesians. We knew the crowd would be with them. The semifinal was very tough, but we were prepared for it as we knew the Koreans would play the long game. The final was more of a mental game,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pair now has bigger plans. “Winning this title definitely helps,” said Shetty. “But we are chasing much bigger things―like the World Championships, the Asian Games, the All England Open and, ultimately, the Olympics.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their unprecedented success has triggered changes in the way Indian badminton is being nurtured at junior and senior levels. “There is a lot of talent in the country and we want to make sure that it does not go untapped,” said Sanjay Mishra, honorary secretary general, Badminton Association of India (BAI). “We have now created a junior cohort in three categories, and these groups get pruned every three months. Competition has become better and fierce. Our objective is to provide state-of-the-art junior academies and bring more initial-level international tournaments to India. We have already created a strong tournament structure in the country and our players will benefit from this.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, BAI has been sending more teams and giving exposure to younger players. Mishra said the qualifying process to be part of senior and junior teams in India has been tightened. “We now have regular trials where participation of top players is mandatory, and there is a very healthy competition to pick the best for every tournament,” he said. “For every category―singles as well as doubles and mixed doubles―there is a proper, systematic training structure for players to optimise. And as you see, results are showing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Shetty and Rankireddy, there is no time to rest. With the Asian Games still three months away, their focus will be on consistency. “Before [the Games], three-four tournaments are lined up―in Korea and Japan, and the World Championships and the China Open. Right now, we are focusing on these events till we eventually win a medal for the country at the Asian Games,” said Shetty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rankireddy, too, wants to take the contests one at a time. “The Asian Games is not a one-week tournament,” he said. “It is a long tournament, and it won’t be easy.”</p> Sat Jun 24 12:16:55 IST 2023 changes-needed-in-indian-cricket-team-after-wtc-finals-defeat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The World Test Championship final turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for India. Ranked No. 1 by the ICC going into the match, and having beaten Australia in four consecutive series―the last being only a couple of months ago―Rohit Sharma and his team took the field as favourites. But barring brief periods of brilliance scattered over five days, the performance was disappointingly below par. The huge margin of defeat, 209 runs, is tell-tale of how one-sided the contest was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Teams can sometimes be hit by misfortune, but in this match bad luck cannot be trotted out as an excuse. If anything, luck favoured India when Rohit called correctly at the toss in overcast conditions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Controversy over Cameron Green’s catch to dismiss Shubman Gill―while a good issue for academic debate―cannot obfuscate the fact that India lost because they were thoroughly outplayed. Where Australia found a way to get out of every crisis, India found new ways to slump into one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After a promising opening session in which India plucked three wickets for 76 runs, the advantage was squandered through poor support bowling. Australia recovered through Steve Smith’s resilience and Travis Head’s derring-do to finish the day at 327-3. They never looked back. India, pushed to the back foot, kept struggling to keep afloat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last day of the match, with Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane at the crease, threw up a slender prospect of a stirring run chase, but such hope was extinguished swiftly. Seven wickets fell for just 55 runs in one of the most appalling batting passages of Indian cricket in recent memory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Failure of the much-vaunted top order in both innings was the most distressing aspect of India’s performance. Rohit, Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli were guilty of lack of application in one or both innings, playing shockingly loose, low percentage shots. The pressure was enormous to be sure, but that is when the best players put their hand up. Like Smith did for Australia, and Rahane, to an extent, for India. There is unmistakable irony in the fact that the only Indian player in the squad not to have a central contract with the BCCI is Rahane!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The final began with great hype and hope, but ended in shambles, throwing up some searching questions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Was the selection of the playing XI flawed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not playing R. Ashwin was a diabolical decision. He is India’s leading wicket-taker [in this WTC cycle], and over the past couple of series against Australia, had the measure of their leading batsmen―David Warner, Smith, Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne. Australia has a plethora of left-handers against whom an off-spinner was more likely to succeed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Overcast conditions at the time of the toss obviously convinced the captain and coach to play an extra fast bowler. But the weather cleared within a couple of hours, and as the sun shone brightly, India’s hopes faded as Smith and Head hammered a double-century partnership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ashwin’s modest overseas record is every now and then touted as justification to drop him. But such decisions cannot be determined based on past results, rather they must be more dynamic. Why take him for the WTC final in that case!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ashwin’s guile, variety and strong competitive streak to match wits with batters would have been better value than playing an extra fast bowler. Nathan Lyon’s five wickets showed India’s mistake in leaving Ashwin out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Was the team poorly prepared for this important match?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was certainly a factor. India had less than a fortnight to acclimatise for the final. Rohit said after the match that 20 to 25 days would have been ideal. Players came in batches, and did not spend much time together. However, the Australian team did not have much more time in England before the match either. What the Aussies had done, though, was prepare extensively in simulated English conditions in Sydney. Bonding and spending time together, discussing the common objective of winning the title over a continuous period of time, stretching over months, was the key.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is India’s cricket establishment guilty of prioritising the IPL over everything else?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This became a raging debate as India’s fortunes started to slump in the match. From the poor bowling that allowed Australia to score 469 in the first innings to batting collapse in both innings, most blame was assigned to the IPL. While the IPL’s value as a sports property, both commercial and cricketing (in unearthing young talent), is tremendous, it is also true that in circumstances like those obtained for the WTC final, it impinges on player and team performance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To switch from T20 mode (and mood) to five-day cricket is not easy. Almost the entire Indian squad was involved in the IPL till the eve of the WTC final. From the Aussies, only Warner and Green were. Some big guns like Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc pulled out of the IPL. The focus of the Aussies, all told, was on the WTC final. On the other hand, the BCCI, smug in the financial success of the IPL, seemed to see the final as the last match of an extended season rather than the most important fixture of the year. Remember, this was the second time India was in the WTC final. In 2021, too, India went to England right after the IPL and bombed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether things will change from here is moot. Post match, Rohit wondered why the WTC final cannot be played before the IPL. In a cramped cricket calendar, however, there is not much scope for shifting dates of tournaments. Since the IPL season is unlikely to be moved around, and the next WTC final (2025) will also be played in England, teams will have to just prepare accordingly. Also, the matter of team owners releasing players before the IPL season is over, as suggested by former players like Ravi Shastri, is imbued with complexities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Does this debacle suggest the end of an era in Indian cricket and compel an overhaul?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here’s a sobering thought. Since the 2013 Champions Trophy victory, India has played two ODI World Cups, four T20 World Cups, two WTC finals and won none. Not too long back, South Africa had earned the harsh sobriquet of “chokers” for failing to come good in big matches. India’s flop show is more extended.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is galling is the failure of the big stars in big matches. None from the top four in the batting order has played a match-winning knock (like Smith did in this match, and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor in the 2021 final), no bowler has put in a match-winning spell (like Scott Boland at the Oval, and Kyle Jamieson in 2021) in the semis or the finals of the tournaments mentioned above.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Barring some additions and deletions, it is more or less the same lot of players that has played these tournaments. To take Indian cricket ahead from this moribund state, some changes look warranted.</p> Sat Jun 17 12:04:40 IST 2023 wrestling-controversy-affecting-the-dreams-of-young-girls-in-haryana <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is a hot, dry evening in June, but there is a dark cloud inside Sonipat’s biggest girls’ <i>akhada</i>. The Brijbhushan Sharan Singh controversy―women wrestlers have accused the BJP MP of sexual harassment; he is yet to be arrested―has reached training centres in Haryana, and coaches and parents are grappling with uncertainty. Veteran wrestler Devi Singh, who runs the Yudhvir Akhada, observes the class from a distance. “The boys would run away; girls are more disciplined,” he says, explaining his decision to open a girls-only <i>akhada</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh has seen a lot in his time as wrestler and coach. He does not let out much. “It is too early to say,” he says, cautiously, when asked if the issue had affected new enrolments. On the girls’ safety, he says, “We will respond when the results of the investigation are out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brijbhushan, who has run the Wrestling Federation of India for the past 12 years, has been forced to “step aside” while he is being investigated by the Delhi Police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The <i>akhada</i>, set up in the middle of a field, houses around 40 girls from in and around Haryana and also from Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Around 20 others commute from their homes every day. They are all in the junior category.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Haryana has close to 15 such girls-only <i>akhadas</i>, where hopefuls as young as eight enrol to fulfil their dream of representing India. Sadly, only a few do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sameeksha, one of the coaches at Yudhvir Akhada, says, “It has affected [new admissions] mildly, but it is not like girls have dropped out. The girls and their parents do ask questions, but we cannot say on our own who is right or wrong. We tell them even we are waiting for the result of the investigation. We tell them to be alert at camps and trials, and to not mix around freely with anyone. We also accompany them for tournaments.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under Brijbhushan, the WFI held all national camps and selection trials for women at the Sports Authority of India centre in Lucknow, his backyard. This was despite protests from coaches and even SAI officials in Delhi. In fact, one senior SAI official, now retired, had reportedly raised this issue in writing, but her request fell on deaf ears.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, SAI has moved all women’s national camps to the National Institute of Sports in Patiala. “That is a good move,” says Devi Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the background, the girls go through various drills under the watchful eyes of the coaches. They are aware of the controversy, but with no access to mobile phones or television news, information is scant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At another all-girls <i>akhada</i>, in the Mamta Modern Senior Secondary School, 12km away, the issue is more out in the open. Coach Rajesh Saroha, who runs the centre, admits that there has been an impact. “Some girls who were preparing to join the academy refused to get into the sport,” he says. “New girls, mostly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The large hall of the training centre has photographs of top Indian wrestlers on its walls, including of Sakshi Malik, one of the key protestors. Few of the girls are around. “See, it does affect the kids,” says Saroha. “So much news is coming out. The parents are confused about what the right choice is. We tell them to not let their children get carried away by various things that the coaches and officials might offer them.” Especially when they go to Lucknow for trials or competitions. “You do not get anything for free,” he says. “If a person is giving you something, he will definitely want something in return.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He gives an example that hints at the Lucknow camp’s clout. A junior wrestler, after winning her trial in Lucknow, returned to her home in Hisar, Haryana. On the evening of the same day she got a call from an official, asking her to return to Lucknow for another trial the very next day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The girl returned to Lucknow,” he says. “Her coach asked the national coach if there was going to be a weight check again. She had eaten a bit as she thought the trial was done. She had to sweat off the excess weight by working out for three hours. Then, in the bout, the referees blew the whistle controversially and, despite this one leading, the other girl was declared the winner. We counselled the girl and told her not to give up. Two months later, at another trial, she beat the same opponent 10-0 (technical superiority).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the success of the Phogat sisters―Geeta and Babita―along with the movie <i>Dangal</i>, says Devi Singh, that drew girls all over Haryana to the mat. At the Yudhvir Akhada, the girls rest in their dormitory after their training session.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At any of these <i>akhadas</i>, the average cost for a wrestler is between Rs15,000 and Rs20,000 a month. This includes the cost of staying and the nutritious meals that include fruits, dry fruits and a lot of <i>desi</i> ghee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though it is the holiday season, most of the girls at Yudhvir Akhada have not gone home; life for them is wrestling. The current controversy, however, has soiled the mat. “New girls are not coming in as many numbers as before,” says Saroha. “But parents are making their girls aware of the perils and so are we.” He added that he and other coaches would stick to their wards right throughout the camp and trials in Lucknow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sameeksha, meanwhile, just wants the investigation to conclude fast. “Trials are continuing, but competitions have been stopped,” she says. “If this gets over quickly, at least competitions will resume. Also, those who are in the right would get justice.”</p> Sat Jun 17 12:02:21 IST 2023 indian-adventurer-abhilash-tomy-completes-the-golden-globe-race-finishing-second <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The 15th century Château Saint-Clair and its imposing Arundel tower watch over the Les Sables-d’Olonne channel on the French Atlantic coast. Built as a garrison by Louis XIII, the castle currently houses a sea and fishing museum. And, on the tower is the old lighthouse. During World War II, the Nazis used the tower as a vantage point on the Atlantic Wall. Sporting venues can hardly get more historic than this. And the Golden Globe Race 2022 threw up a historic result to match the host city.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 27, South African Kirsten Neuschäfer finished first to become the only woman to win any ocean race, and then Abhilash Tomy―the only Indian to circumnavigate the globe solo and unassisted―came second and became the first Asian with a podium finish in any ocean race.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 29, the tower sported the regulation French tricolour, but the castle was a rare sight―all three flagstaffs on the ramparts flew the Indian flag. All in honour of a sailor coming up the channel. He looked thin, haggard and sunburnt, and there was quite some silver in his beard. But to those who knew him, the cheeky smile was the same, maybe a wee bit brighter than usual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Abhilash was feted on the Golden Globe Race stage, the enormity of his achievement was all around him. On stage was the crushed fiberglass nose of a Rustler 36 yacht, painted blue and white. On stage was the retired Indian Navy commander in a dark beanie. And around him were pontoon after pontoon of yachts of all models and vintage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The beanie</b></p> <p>“One pontoon in Les Sables-d’Olonne has more yachts than the whole of India,” Abhilash told the crowd, encapsulating the challenges faced by blue-water sailors in India. Then, he pulled off the beanie and shared its story. In the 2018 edition of the Golden Globe Race, Abhilash’s yacht―the Goa-built, India-flagged SV Thuriya―was rolled over and dismasted in a storm on September 21, 2018. As the storm battered the yacht, Abhilash hung from the mast by his watchstrap, before it broke and smashed him on to the deck, breaking four vertebrae.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The French fishing patrol vessel Osiris rescued him and ferried him to Île Amsterdam, an overseas territory of France with a research station. At least three friendly navies were involved in his rescue then. The Mauritians helped with the reconnaissance flights, the French sent the Osiris and the Australians dispatched the frigate HMAS Ballarat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the island, the researchers and medics became close friends with the marooned sailor. “They gave me many gifts, including this beanie,” he said. “I promised them that if I ever set out on a circumnavigation, I will wear this at the start and the finish. It was too hot here to wear this at the start, but I have worn it at the finish.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From Île Amsterdam, he was brought home by the INS Satpura and went under the knife very soon; titanium screws were used to hold his spine together. And, then the long road to recovery. So, when Abhilash stood up on the stage at Les Sables-d’Olonne, it was proof of his own indomitable will and a testimony to the brotherhood of the seas that took care of one of their own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Rustler’s bow</b></p> <p>From being bedridden in 2018, to retiring from the Navy and making a second bid at GGR 2022 was a close affair for Abhilash. Golden Globe Race founder Don McIntyre told the media, “So Abhilash comes back and says he wanted to do 2022 GGR. But there was no sponsor. We spoke all the time, and I didn’t think (Abhilash) was going to make it. I really didn’t think so. It was a lost cause!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 22, 2022, Dubai-based Bayanat announced its support for Abhilash at the Expo 2020 Dubai. The boat would be a Rustler 36 eponymously called the Bayanat, it would be UAE-flagged and its hull number would be 71―the UAE was formed in 1971, and 2021-22 was the nation’s golden jubilee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The GGR Village would open in Les Sables-d’Olonne on August 21 and the race would flag off on September 4. Abhilash had six months, barely.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the yacht in place at the last moment and with no time to test it, Abhilash set out for the two-day qualification passage―the SITraN Challenge, from Gijón in north-western Spain to Les Sables-d’Olonne―with a two-member crew. And then disaster struck again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The GGR website said Abhilash was doing well and in the lead with eventual SITraN winner Damien Guillou, when the Bayanat collided with a Dutch-flagged bulk carrier on the morning of the second day. The website said. “The yacht’s bow needs serious composite work… Abhilash has taken the mast off for a complete rig check, and has a team coming from Belgium led by Dutch designer and builder Dick Koopmans.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With most of Europe on holiday and with a €50,000 repair staring him in the face, Abhilash came back from the brink, helped by Team Bayanat, Team GGR, and the good people of Les Sables-d’Olonne.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, on the day he finished in Les Sables-d’Olonne, there was the damaged bow waiting on stage to remind everyone of the journey that started from the brink and went around the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps, amateur radio ace and weatherman Peter Mott said it best. From his base in New Zealand, Mott runs Passage Guardian―”a global (free of charge) safety service for recreational cruising yachts conducting ocean passages”. THE WEEK reached out to Mott to talk about Abhilash, whom he had shepherded through lonely waters. But Mott declined as he was on the road.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, he said this on Facebook, and that said it all: “For several months through until power problems aboard his yacht Bayanat prevented the use of the HF radio, I provided daily Global Maritime Distress and Safety System weather (reports) and relayed ship-to-shore messages to Abhilash’s family and shore team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“For me, Abhilash is the guy you want to have around when things break. He has experienced more than his share of technical issues with the boat, much of it due to heavy weather in the Southern Ocean.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Yet Abhilash’s sheer determination and creativity enabled him to keep the boat sailing and finish in a very respectable second place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I will go out on a limb here and say that no other sailor I have known, having experienced the problems Abhilash has been confronted with, would have even completed the race let alone come in second.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Well done, Abhilash, job done!”</p> Fri May 05 18:18:03 IST 2023 indian-sailor-abhilash-tomy-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q. You didn’t have much time to fit out and test the Bayanat before Golden Globe Race 2022 (GGR). The comforts were not all there. But then, you are not a person who is fussy about all this. In Hobart, you said a hatch was leaking and you were sleeping in wet-weather gear.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> (Laughs) There was not one leak, everything was leaking. My bunks were always wet and soggy. So, I used to sleep on the floor. And the floor was forever wet. My sleeping bag used to be so wet that you could wring out water from it. So, I used to always sleep in a raincoat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ And, you did not fall sick when all this happened?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No, no, you don’t fall sick at sea (Grins). In fact, my health improves at sea. I do not have acidity anymore. During GGR 2018, I got rid of cholesterol issues. In 2013 (Sagar Parikrama 2), my hearing improved. So, the sea kind of resets me in a good way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You were knocked down twice in the southern Indian Ocean this time. How did you protect your back and be safe in such rough weather?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Well, this time I made sure I was not outside. I thought it is more important to protect myself than the boat. I did everything I had to and left the boat to steer itself. It was so important that I did not suffer another injury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, your back was largely okay this time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I did have an issue on January 26 because of an unannounced storm. There was no warning from GGR or any other source. It picked up slowly, and in no time it was 60 knots or so. Through a series of incidents, I lost my self-steering and I was left holding the tiller, steering the boat for some 12 hours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Day turned into night. I had to switch on the navigation light, the compass light… I could not see the compass, and I could not see the wind vane without the navigation light.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And these are long-keeled boats, so the effort needed to steer is like rowing, not the two-finger steering (for light boats). You must hang on with both your hands and use your back to pull and push.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After 12 hours, my back packed up and it was quite bad. My legs stopped working. I was literally dragging my right leg around the boat for two or three days. So, I called up GGR and requested a call with a surgeon or a physiotherapist, and they connected me to my physio in Goa. He recommended some exercises and I was better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ These were simple exercises you could do on the boat, and were they effective?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yes, these were stretching exercises to relieve the muscular spasm. He wanted me to stretch my lower back, calf muscles… to relieve the spasm. And there was this exercise with a ball, where you roll it on the affected area. The recovery was more or less complete, because when the spasm is relieved, my back becomes ok. But it kept recurring.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I was close to Argentina and Uruguay, I had to climb the mast, which is the toughest job on the boat, and my back packed up again. But I climbed the mast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When you talk of physical challenges, gear failure seems pretty simple in comparison. What is this we hear about you using an anchor, a toilet door and other things to fix your boat? And you sewed a torn mainsail by hand! How do you manage to do these things?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> You make a plan and you just do it. You can abuse, curse, and do what you want, but at the end of the day, you don’t have a choice. Happily or unhappily, you have to do it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ About the problem with the self-steering gear.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>If you don’t have self-steering, in 48 hours you end up with hallucinations. During this voyage, when I was entering Tasmania, I had severe hallucinations. So, you cannot sail from Cape Horn to the finish line, which is almost 10,000 miles, without self-steering.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The self-steering gear has a vane on top and a paddle that goes into the water. My paddles kept breaking. I had only three spares. After my spares were used up, I crafted paddles from hatch covers, an emergency rudder, and eventually my toilet door. But they all broke. So, I dismantled my anchor and used the shaft. It held for 10,000 miles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I hear they are putting you in the next ad for Dr Fixit!</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> (Laughing) That is not a bad idea, actually! When I was back in Les Sables-d’Olonne, a lot of visitors came just to look at the self-steering gear and the anchor shaft!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Kirsten said she had to dive to clear the barnacles from the hull for a smoother passage. Did you have to do something like that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Only once, in the south Atlantic. I did not have wind for three days, so on the second day, I jumped in. There was not much to clear, so it was a small job. But it was very cold and my preparations were such that I did not have a diving suit or goggles, so it was tough to see underwater!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What was the temperature like?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Around 10 to 15 degrees. And, if hypothermia sets in, your brain stops working. Your body loses heat fast. Let’s say I would be wearing three layers inside the boat at that time. So, I would take it all off, stand on the deck in my long johns and pour a bucket of seawater on myself to get acclimatised and then jump in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had fashioned a tool with a knife tied to a boathook, and used it to scrape off the barnacles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How long were you down there?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>An hour or so, not too much. But climbing back was quite difficult because I had lost my ladder. So, I made this rope ladder by tying knots, used it to climb back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I can’t imagine being in the ocean with no one for miles and miles around! How was it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It’s peaceful (grins).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I knew you were going to say that!</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> (Grins) There is no uncertainty. No municipality decrees. No orders to take and give. It is fun!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ And, your water supplies were down towards the end, yes?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> RO plants are not allowed on GGR boats, so you have to carry the water with you. Single-use water bottles are also not allowed. So, I had 270 litres across the tanks and four jerry cans. So, the ration was one litre a day, and you hope like hell that you can catch some water on the way. Before the equator, I managed to catch 40 to 50 litres. The Southern Ocean is stormy, so catching water is tough, because the sea spray contaminates all water you collect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Southern Ocean I checked my supplies and realised that there was only about a litre a day left to finish the race. So, I started conserving water and cooking rice in seawater.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You soak rice in seawater and it absorbs the fresh water out of it and becomes soft. Then you drain the remaining seawater, add fresh seawater, and boil the rice. Then, with one cup of freshwater, I would wash the salt off the rice and eat it. I was down to one glass of water in two days and two cups of coffee every day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When you finished in Les Sables-d’Olonne, you joked and said that the race is over and now Indians can go back to watching cricket. Does India’s cricket craze annoy you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No, not at all. The love I have received from my country has always been incremental. In 2013, in 2018 after the accident, and now…. One man cannot suddenly make India a sailing country. But as long as people are open to the idea, I am happy about that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For example, the Kerala government included my efforts in school textbooks. Kids reading about it is wonderful, and in one generation we might have more sailors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I am doubtful if people reading this will take up sailing!</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>(Laughs) There is more to sailing than single-handed circumnavigation!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How will you adjust your body and mind to normal life now? Is there a protocol?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>I am on a see-food diet now. I eat everything I see. After all the canned food, I am craving fresh food and fruits. But, once in India I will consult a nutritionist who will check my levels and propose a diet. Then, the physio will recondition the body.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How long will all this take?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is anybody’s guess. It could take up to a year. I need to get used to people, too, and I am not joking. Then there is sleep. You go to sleep at 9pm and wake up at 10pm thinking you forgot to adjust some lines on the boat. Then you try hard to sleep and the same thing happens again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Would you do this again?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Personally, no. GGR is once in a lifetime, and not like the Olympics. I did this to erase the demons of 2018. Somebody said you will regret it if you do it or not. I’d rather do it and regret!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Last question. About your secret sail!</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> (Laughs) There was no secret sail. I thought everyone was using it as a joke. There was one ingenious arrangement on the back of the boat, yes. But I found it a nuisance and did not use it for more than a day.</p> Fri May 05 19:08:00 IST 2023 story-of-commander-abhilash-tomy-closing-his-unfinished-business <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Commander Abhilash Tomy (CAT) told me this four years ago: “I need to close an unfinished business.” And the cool CAT closed it this April. He had abandoned Golden Globe Race 2018 after a brush with death in the southern Indian Ocean. Only a daredevil would race again in the world’s most challenging ocean adventure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sixteen world-class sailors attempted the nonstop solo Golden Globe Race 2022, the longest yachting event in the world. They sailed out of the French coastal town of Les Sables-d’Olonne on September 4, 2022. Nearly eight months later, the intrepid South African sailor, Kirsten Neuschäfer, made it back to the base in the early hours of April 27.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CAT returned a day later, on April 29, close behind her. It was 236 days of neck-and-neck sailing, and until the end, neither of them knew their ranking while circumnavigating the globe. Michael Guggenberger from Austria is likely to finish number three at least ten days later. All three deserve the world’s admiration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The others who are still in the race will finish in the Chichester Class―a class lower than GGR, as they would have made a stop for supplies and repairs, or broken the seal on their GPS devices. While winning matters, staying safe till the very end is of paramount importance in this adventure across three oceans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CAT knew it well. As part of the Indian Navy’s second Sagar Parikrama initiative, he circumnavigated the globe in 151 days on board the INSV Mhadei in 2013. It was also a nonstop solo. He then had the benefit of a satellite navigation system. President Pranab Mukherjee received CAT at the Gateway of India to mark that historic Mumbai to Mumbai voyage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first Golden Globe Race in 1968 had strict specifications and a cash prize of £5,000 (Rs5 lakh now). The winner, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston from England, completed it in 312 days. All aspects of the Golden Globe Race remain unchanged. To mark its 50th year, the Golden Globe Race was replicated in 2018. CAT was holding the third position on Thuriya in that race, when he fell off a 30ft-high mast while attempting to repair it during a storm. Almost crippled, he lay on the deck for nearly three days with four damaged vertebrae. Rescued and taken to the Army Hospital in Delhi, CAT had titanium rods fused into his spine. After months of rehabilitation, CAT began to walk, determined to attempt the race again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To attend to the “unfinished business”, CAT took early retirement in 2019 from the Indian Navy, where he was a reconnaissance pilot. When he was preparing the Rustler 36 yacht named the Bayanat, I asked him what his feeling would be if he spotted the abandoned Thuriya still floating in the Indian Ocean. He replied, “Nobody would like to meet his ex-girlfriend on his honeymoon.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few weeks ago, he remarked that it would be an eight-month voyage on the Bayanat, and with a month more, the gestation period would have been completed to have a baby!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>GGR uses technology that was available in 1968, and allows no access to modern navigation support, such as internet or GPS. The sailors rely on celestial or sextant navigation supported by paper charts. Weather forecasts can be had only through high-frequency amateur radio, weather facsimile or weatherfax, and general weather broadcasts on radio.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A challenge to any sailor is the rounding of Cape Horn, at the southern tip of Chile. The Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean meet here, and the sea is quite treacherous. At Point Nemo, an oceanic location in the South Pacific, whichever way you look, the closest land is 2,500km away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bayanat did not carry a weatherfax, though permitted in the race. It is a receiver that gathers critical sea weather conditions but only in certain parts of the ocean. Though this was on CAT’s wish list, he decided to work out his own weather charts. The weatherfax costs $10,000 (Rs8,20,000) and he decided not to buy one as he needed to fix his boat after an accident during the qualification passage from Spain to France.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mishap happened due to the negligence of a boy who was supporting CAT to get Bayanat prepared for the race. The lad who was engrossed in a book―Sir Robin’s <i>A</i> <i>World of My Own,</i> no less―heard a thud and it was a messy one. It shook up CAT, but he bounced back to get on with the job.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though not a sailing aficionado, I was in the WhatsApp group that followed the race. Updates from Don McIntyre, the race chairperson, were educative. CAT faced unceasing waves of challenges in the three oceans. He had a broken wind-pilot, a mechanical self-steering system. With no material to repair it, he created the system’s wind vane out of the chart table. When even that broke, the toilet door came to his rescue. With his humour intact, he remarked, “Now I lack privacy, no bathroom door!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the last 10 days, a runner that supported the mast’s angles for various wind conditions needed to be fixed. CAT collected rainwater in his sails for cooking. His power system had failed, but solar energy kept the Bayanat going. So, too, did the radio. On a calm day in the Atlantic, he wrapped a rope around his waist and jumped into the ocean to clean barnacles from the hull. Fortunately, there were not too many, he remarked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CAT called on the day he returned. He said, “It has been a great voyage and I am longing to get back home soon. I need to hand over the Bayanat to my sponsors before that. They have plans to place it in a museum.” The UAE-flagged boat was sponsored by the AI solutions company Bayanat of Abu Dhabi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CAT and Bayanat made a perfect pair, trusting and supporting each other. A unique love story that would end with the voyage, but a bond that will last forever for the daredevil who knew every aspect of the boat. CAT’s wife, Urmi, too, is familiar with the inner secrets of the boat, she having respected and supported his desire to complete “the unfinished business”. The two boys, Vedant and Abhraneil, have been pining for CAT. Urmi heroically handled the home front, never forgetting the uncertainties in the oceans. The Thuriya episode popped up often in her mind. “Safe voyage was my priority,” she told me. “Abhilash has done the big ocean racing earlier, too, and I wanted him to enjoy this race to his satisfaction. And he finished it.” Full marks to Urmi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CAT’s parents, Valsamma and Commander (retd) V.C. Tomy, lead a retired life 25km out of Kochi. “We wanted Abhilash to finish the race safely and happily,” said the father. “Otherwise, he might be at it again.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For CAT it was a nail-biting finale to 30,246 nautical miles (55,000km) of precarious ocean adventure! Only a rare breed with a unique brain will ever attempt a race with multiple challenges. An eight-month-long solo ocean race with high endurance tests can be done only by a daring few who have full control of their mind, body, and spirit. And the cool CAT from India did it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Jacob Mathew</b> <b>is publisher of THE WEEK and managing editor of the Malayala Manorama.</b></p> Fri May 05 19:03:25 IST 2023 former-india-cricket-team-captain-sourav-ganguly-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHATEVER ROLE</b> Sourav Ganguly takes on, he goes into it full throttle. After finishing a three-year stint as BCCI president, the former Indian captain has returned to being hands-on with cricket as director of Delhi Capitals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has been busy watching the practice sessions, helping struggling prodigy Prithvi Shaw improve his game and reassuring the management―Delhi is at the bottom of the table after playing seven matches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been hard to catch hold of Ganguly given the team’s poor form, but when he did sit down for an interview after a late evening session, the conversation went much beyond the IPL. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Was the decision to return to the IPL a hard one?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I always knew that once I finished the [BCCI] president’s job, I would come and do this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your dynamic with Ricky Ponting?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He is a lovely bloke. He is the head coach and I am the director. He runs the cricket and I work with him. He has been with this franchise since 2018. It has been fantastic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on the India-Australia World Test Championship final at the Oval in June?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It will be a great final. I will be there to watch it. India has all the chances of winning if they put runs on the board, bat well. They have the bowling to pick 20 wickets. These boys have been in the WTC final last time as well, and their record against Australia, home and away, has been very good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Cheteshwar Pujara has made a lot of runs in county cricket. Do you see him making an impact?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He has done well for a long time. This is not easy to achieve in Tests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will India miss Rishabh Pant?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yeah, but India has enough talent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will the team go back to Wriddhiman Saha?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> There are some good keepers around. There is Saha, K.S. Bharat and Ishan Kishan. I think somewhere down the line, [India coach] Rahul [Dravid] will have to look at him (Kishan) because he can bat and change matches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about playing in England in early June?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It will be great. The Oval is a good Test wicket. It will seam a bit as it does in England all the time. There will be a quick outfield, the pitches will have a bit of bounce and our batters will enjoy batting there. I have always said that, in one-off Tests, especially in England, you need to adjust very quickly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Looking back, how would you describe your term as BCCI president?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I enjoyed it. They wanted me to become IPL chairman, but I enjoy doing this more. This is more hands-on. I wanted to get back to this. This is what I have done all my life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Any unfinished business left?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No, [but] I hope DC will hopefully some day win a title.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ DC has a lot of potential but is yet to win the IPL. Where does the problem lie?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> They have done pretty well in the past three seasons, 2019 to 2021. They have reached the finals (playoffs) but did not win it, unfortunately. If you reach the finals, you have to win it. We lost a few players―Pant was a big blow, as was Shreyas Iyer (Kolkata Knight Riders bought him in the 2022 auction). We will recover.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How big of a blow is the absence of Pant?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It has been a big blow, but you know these things happen in life. There are no guarantees. MI (Mumbai Indians) lost [Jasprit] Bumrah, KKR lost Shreyas (both to injuries); so, these things happen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about the Women’s Premier League. DC did well to reach the final of the maiden edition, but lost to MI.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Yeah, they did very well. I was heavily involved with that―selecting, coaching, etc. I was not involved in the day-to-day running of the team, though.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on the WPL?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It will do very well. It was a great tournament and I am sure some more teams will come in eventually.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will this really help improve the standard of women’s cricket and make it more popular?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Of course! From when [BCCI secretary] Jay [Shah] and I took over in 2019 [to now], you see the women’s team has improved enormously. The Commonwealth Games final and the World Cup semifinal, both times they should have beaten Australia. They will be a super side in the next few years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What stops them from being champions?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Australia is very, very strong. Let us accept that. They have tremendous players. That is the difference between the sides.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Delhi team has been around since the start of the IPL in different avatars. Why has the title eluded the team?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I was not involved with them before, so it is hard for me to say why. In 2019, we were close and in 2020, we reached the final.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is there not pressure from the team owners?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No, both Parth [Jindal] and Kiran [Grandhi] have been fantastic. This is my second season with them. We came close [in recent seasons]; we were not doing well before that. They understand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the key to winning the IPL?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>It is just about getting winning performances. We have persisted with key players like [David] Warner, [Mitchell] Marsh, [Manish] Pandey and Prithvi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You spend a lot of time with Prithvi. He has the potential but is struggling to reach the next level.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He has the talent. He has got to keep working hard and keep playing. I have immense faith in him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your views on innovations like ‘impact player’? Is it necessary?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Yeah, it adds something different. It has been accepted by players. It was experimented with in the ODI format as ‘super sub’, but it did not work. The game keeps changing. If you look around, the South African league (SA20) [and others] have new rules.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ ODIs are in danger as they struggle for space between Tests and T20Is.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I am chairman of [International Cricket Council’s] Cricket Committee. I do not think ODI cricket needs that [‘impact player’ and such innovations].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on the health of Indian cricket since you left as BCCI president?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Indian cricket is tremendous, with a strong team that has outstanding players. It will always do well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you see Tests getting more impetus?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think so. All members are keen on Test cricket, so the WTC is a step in the right direction.</p> Fri Apr 28 15:38:30 IST 2023 australia-and-delhi-capitals-women-cricket-captain-meg-lanning-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT WAS A LONG TIME COMING,</b> but it seems set for a long innings. After much deliberation and nudging from cricketers within and outside India, the BCCI finally launched the Women’s Premier League. The tournament, with five teams, has seen engaging cricket and great crowds―30,000 fans turned up to watch the Mumbai Indians Women take on the Royal Challengers Bangalore Women on a Tuesday afternoon at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai on March 21.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The league has its own advertisers, the teams their own sponsors, and while it is not at the scale of the Indian Premier League, no one is complaining. Certainly not women cricketers past and present. In an exclusive interview, Meg Lanning, seven-time World Cup-winner and captain of Australia and Delhi Capitals Women, talks about her experience in the WPL, playing with young Indian cricketers and her thoughts on the future of the game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How was your experience of connecting with young Indian players such as Titas Sadhu or Arundhati Reddy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> (Smiles) It was quiet initially. I think everyone was a little bit shy and unsure about coming together, but over the past few weeks we have really gelled as a team. Everyone is really friendly, and looking to engage, learn and ask questions. That has helped our performances on the field. They have made my job easy as a leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How was the communication on field with the young Indian girls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> That has been one of the challenges; to understand each one’s strengths, weaknesses and what role they can play. Coach Jonathan Batty and I have not seen much of them. You only see them in the nets and it can be difficult at times to know where they can fit in. We feel we have got a good handle on it now. We are particularly impressed with the young Indian girls―we feel we can bring a couple of them straight into the game and they would be totally fine. The squad put together for us was good and covered a lot of bases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Thoughts on opening partner Shafali Verma?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> (Smiles) I think for the most part you have to let her be. She plays a game that nobody else plays. I think she will continue to learn and adjust, [and] that will allow her to bat longer. And be a lot more effective. She is a clean striker. To stand at the other end and watch her whack other teams around the park has been one of the highlights of the tournament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do the girls feel pressure coming into the final? Having played in and won finals yourself, what do you tell them?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The main thing I will tell them is to embrace it and enjoy it because you might not get another opportunity. The idea is to [have] fun and have the freedom to express ourselves. No reason to change that heading into the final. The more simple you keep it in the final, the better it is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your take on the inaugural edition of the WPL?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think it has been very successful. Sometimes I feel you just have to start something and build from there. The Indian girls have been looking forward to this moment for a long time. [It] provides vast opportunities not just for players around the world, [but also those] here in India to showcase their skills and [pave the way for] young girls coming through. I have no doubt that this is just a start and the WPL will continue to grow over the next few years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the WPL shaping up compared with other tournaments such as the Women’s Big Bash League?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>I think it will certainly rival the WBBL. Having the WBBL has set the standards and style for domestic leagues [for women]. That has been very important for the growth of the game within Australia and has given good opportunities to international players as well. I think it is a good thing that there is not just one such tournament out there. It plays a part in moving the game forward and in making it more professional.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ As a veteran, how do you see such developments affecting your career?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is certainly very different now to when I first started playing for Australia. We played one or two series each year and we usually went to New Zealand because it was close by (laughs). We got paid a very small amount. I was studying full time and had just come out of school. A lot of girls were working full time and cricket was something that we were able to fit in around that. You fast forward to today, and we are playing all year both at home and abroad. I hope in the next 10 to 20 years, it is even better for the players coming through. I think it is very important that we do not stay still. There is a lot we can keep improving on [in women’s cricket]. It is certainly in a good spot now and is heading in the right direction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think other leagues will help bridge the gap between Australian women and the rest of the world?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I do and I think it will speed this up.... We need to keep growing the game around the world; not just in Australia, India and England. Competitions like these will allow players to learn from some of the best in the world. It is a two-way street [and] we are learning from local Indian players, too. That is what makes these tournaments so much fun. Learning not just about cricket, but also different cultures and personalities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is there is too much emphasis on T20Is for women?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>We are in an interesting phase [as] T20 appears to be the main driver in the women’s game. It is shorter, sharp and exciting, and easy for fans to follow. But everything has its place. We have seen recent 50-over World Cups being really great tournaments. But I understand why we play so much T20 cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think Test cricket has to be preserved, too?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think as players we would love to play more Test cricket. It is tricky to fit into the schedule because we do play a lot of the short-format stuff. The fact that India want to play (Tests) versus England and that even South Africa are looking at it is great.... It is a bit tricky when you play one Test every couple of years (laughs). It is hard to get up to speed as to how to approach it. If there is more consistency [in scheduling Tests], I think you will see some really good Test cricket in the next five to 10 years.</p> Sat Mar 25 17:23:14 IST 2023 odisha-sports-and-youth-services-department-commissioner-r-vineel-krishna-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>OVER THE PAST</b> few years, Odisha has become India’s hockey hub. The state recently hosted the World Cup for the second consecutive time, with another world-class stadium in Rourkela.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not only has the Naveen Patnaik government modernised cities and towns, but it has also focused on building modern sports infrastructure across the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the drivers of this growth is R. Vineel Krishna, commissioner cum secretary of the Odisha government’s sports department, and special secretary to Patnaik. In an interview with THE WEEK, Krishna gives an insight into the plans, execution and upkeep of the infrastructure being developed. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How did the experience of hosting the 2018 World Cup help this time round?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> In 2018, we were organising a world-level event for the first time. Not only the sports department, but all the others involved, like Hockey India, learned from the experience. We could set some benchmarks then, and we tried to set higher standards this time. That is why you will see a grander level of organisation and involvement throughout the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The new Rourkela stadium is a world-class facility. How challenging is it to maintain?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The same question was asked about the Kalinga Stadium during the last World Cup. But in the past four years, it has hosted many events. The same will apply to Rourkela. The FIH (International Hockey Federation) is keen on organising more events there. We look at it not as our stadium, but as a stadium for the federation as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you then not too dependent on FIH/HI to get more events?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We have to be dependent for international events, but state championships, coaching camps... will be divided between Kalinga and Rourkela. Kalinga will be our high-performance centre where our state-level teams and hostel are. Rourkela will be used for coaching. HI is also keen on hosting more championships there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The problem with big stadiums is the maintenance cost. It is a big drain on government resources. How will you deal with that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is definitely challenging, but if we need to have [high] standards in our stadiums, we need to have that (spending). We have engaged professional agencies for the upkeep of the stadiums. Luckily, our government, under Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s leadership, has been very supportive. The sports department budget has increased over the past four years. This year has probably seen the biggest jump―it used to around Rs300 crore; it is now almost Rs1,300 crore to Rs1,500 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not only about hockey. We have projects worth Rs2,500 crore going on across the state. We are spending close to Rs900 crore to build 90 indoor stadiums/multipurpose halls. So, funds are not much of a concern.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What would be the main challenge vis-a-vis this infrastructure development after the World Cup?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Getting the kids to come out and play. That is definitely the main challenge we face because there are not enough certified coaches. Sports is not the main priority and does not attract the best of society. The usual tendency is to focus on academics. This is going to be a challenge for many years and there are no easy answers. We are trying to see how we can upgrade coaching knowledge. For example, in hockey, there are HI and FIH coaching courses. We are trying to make as many coaches upgrade their knowledge and go up the ladder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Kalinga complex will soon include facilities for badminton, indoor athletics and swimming. How would you utilise such amenities optimally?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> In the next two to three years, [it will be about] inaugurating and operationalising stuff. We are expanding the Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance centre (opened in 2019). We also have our sports science centre―India’s largest―which the Abhinav Bindra Foundation will run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What made the state government go for such a large-scale development of the sports science centre?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>We have to look at sports science in a big manner because, at the international level, that is going to make the difference. Unless we start adopting it in a big manner, we can go to international events, but will not get medals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But elite athletes have access to these facilities in Sports Authority of India centres.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Sports science needs to be adopted at a very early level. Here, right from the sub-junior level, they are being trained in these methods. It is a big task because the coaching culture is not used to these latest, scientific methods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How will you make your coaches adapt to this big change?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> That is the big challenge. A huge behavioural change is required. We are trying.... You need to keep pushing them all the time. They see only when results come; they do not want to try new methods before that. We are also not happy with the way they adapt to technology. They have been using traditional methods for a long time. See what happens at the international level and what our grassroots or mid-level coaches teach. Hockey has moved beyond old methods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What does your experience of hosting the World Cup tell you about where you stand in terms of organisation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The response from the crowd this time has been amazing. It shows that hockey can be a very popular sport. Rourkela was full right through; even the non-India matches were nearly full.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Worldwide, it is believed that if one keeps the stadiums compact and capacity small, they are easier to maintain. Why then did you go for high capacity of around 20,000 in Rourkela?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Getting a 5,000-strong crowd is a big deal in the Netherlands, but here, 5,000 people would be fighting outside the stadium to get in. The reason we went for bigger capacity in Rourkela is that we cannot manage with 10,000. It is a major hockey centre; MLAs from Jharkhand come to watch matches in Rourkela.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you happy with the way the World Cup went?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We are getting great feedback from teams and spectators. Overall, we are quite satisfied with the way this edition has gone.</p> Sat Feb 04 14:23:47 IST 2023 wrestler-protest-wfi-brij-bhushan-sexual-harassment-proof <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THEY SEEMED</b> to be in a metaphorical chokehold for years. Finally, at Jantar Mantar on January 18, they broke the grip. Star wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and a few others made explosive allegations of sexual assault, mental harassment and financial irregularity against Wrestling Federation of India president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh and others in the organisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh―a BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh―alleged that the protests were political. He and his supporters alleged that the wrestlers, all from Haryana, had the support of Congress leader Deepender Singh Hooda. The old bogey of Haryana vs Uttar Pradesh wrestling was also raised. The Singh camp, though, is also wary of wrestlers being backed from within the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The WFI, Indian Olympic Association and the sports ministry were taken by surprise by the protest, and by the support it got. After all, it is not easy to come out against a strongman like Singh or the federation. The government, for political reasons, was careful in its reaction. The IOA, likewise. Most of those at the helm are part of the ruling dispensation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sports ministry set up an oversight committee―after two rounds of talks―to look into the matter and also run the day-to-day affairs of the WFI. A report is to be filed by mid-February. The IOA, led by P.T. Usha, formed a seven-member committee to look into the matter. M.C. Mary Kom will head both.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ministry suspended WFI assistant secretary Vinod Tomar, a Sports Authority of India employee lent to the federation. It also suspended all WFI activity, including competitions, till the oversight committee took charge, on January 24.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the years, there had been whispers of alleged sexual abuse of young women wrestlers and the high-handed ways of Singh. However, no one came out on record as they reportedly feared for their careers and families.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The protesting wrestlers wrote to the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission on January 20. A copy of the letter, which THE WEEK has, talks of Vinesh “contemplating suicide” because of the mental harassment by Singh and also pending payments to wrestlers from a deal with Tata Motors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The IOC commission has written to its counterpart in India and the United World Wrestling (the international body) is also keeping a close eye on developments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>IOC athletes' commission member Abhinav Bindra was part of the IOA's “urgent” executive council meeting days after the protest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reportedly, the IOA members heard Bindra out before setting up the committee, though how that will help remains to be seen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the meeting, said sources, Usha went by the pre-decided script; joint secretary Kalyan Chaubey was the one who talked. IOA vice president Gagan Narang was for supporting the athletes, but did not say much in the meeting. Mary Kom remained quiet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt spoke in support of the WFI, which shocked many members in attendance. The larger wrestling community was not surprised. Dutt had joined the BJP after his retirement and has been slammed for not supporting wrestlers in the past. Apparently, he told the meeting that the protesting wrestlers wanted to “take over the federation”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We have a great responsibility as athletes,” Bindra told THE WEEK. “It takes a lot of courage to come out with this. Second, it is important for stakeholders, especially the IOA, to show empathy and solidarity with the athletes. Third, the charges are grave and require proper investigation. Lastly, we fixed an IOC call with the IOA athletes' commission. The IOC has a lot of measures to safeguard the complainants.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vinesh had said at the protest: “I have received a call from a woman wrestler. I have a 30-minute recording of that call in which she has detailed what happened with her. These allegations are against a WFI vice-president (there are seven).... We have proof that people have complained about the harassment.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Parties on both sides of the fence are waiting for this proof. Said sports activist and lawyer Rahul Mehra: “According to me, enough has come out. Now a complaint must be lodged. Unless you put down the date, time and nature of the incident, it is difficult to take action. There is a trust deficit, which is quite obvious.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for Phogat and Malik “bringing up old incidents”, Mehra cited the POSH Act, 2013. “Even if the incident happened five years back, but there was also harassment three months ago, a complaint can be filed under it (the cut-off date to file a complaint is three months from the last incident),” he said. “There will be issues, but see what happened when #MeToo started. Some law somewhere will kick in.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mehra, however, did not have high hopes from the committees. “I see this (appointment of oversight committee) as a way to defuse the situation as their own MP is involved. I do not see anything coming out of it. The IOA committee, too, is of people handpicked by the government. The IOA itself has newly elected people handpicked by the government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Citing clauses of the National Sports Code, Mehra called for the WFI to be suspended. “Give a show-cause notice, too,” he said. “Why shy away from it?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also slammed the WFI for its “sexual harassment committee”, which has only one woman―Malik. As per rules, a woman must head it and half the members should be women. “Initially this was the Ethics Committee,” he said. “Once the federation came under pressure, the name was changed to sexual harassment committee.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Going forward, the fight in court will certainly be harder than anything the wrestlers have done on the mat. However, as Mehra said, “You might not win, but you must call people out to give strength to the next generation. There is no shame in coming out with details. One must shame the alleged attacker.”</p> Sat Jan 28 15:52:54 IST 2023