by Aparajith Ramnath 

In the time it has taken us at Pavilion Seat to sit back and take a breather, the ODI half of the Indian cricket team’s Caribbean sojourn has drawn to a close. It has been a dramatic series, not least for the manner in which the of late under-performing West Indian team picked itself up, dusted off its worries, and emerged the emphatic victor. India, ranked near the top of the ICC ODI rankings at the start of the series, faltered and failed to produce anything like the form that has led to astounding successes in recent series (notably, all on the subcontinent), giving rise once more to the classic discussion about how they are tigers, but only at home.

Of course, it is important to stay clear of hyperbole and to view the series in perspective. It was, after all, one series; any team can have a bad series. Remember India’s disastrous tour of New Zealand months before its clinical performance in the last World Cup? Viewed through such a lens, the series would show itself, even to the ardent supporter of the Indian team, as one with a lot of interesting highlights worth remembering.

One of these must surely be the sheer confidence exuded by the team under Brian Lara’s calm but assured captaincy. It has been disheartening of late to see the Windies team a pale shadow of its former self, but this time the players drew themselves up to their full heights and stood proud on the field. For a man who took over the captaincy for the nth time amid reports that not all the team members were thrilled with the decision, Lara’s achievement in marshalling his men is no mean one.

Of the individual performances, Dwayne Bravo’s excellent all-round display must naturally figure. Starting with the last-over ball that bowled Yuvraj Singh in the momentum-turning second match, he cleaned up the stumps time and again with different versions of his slower ball. Add to this his excellent back-to-back fifties in the last two matches, and you have a complete performance.

Ramnaresh Sarwan’s dogged vigil at the crease won the Windies two crucial matches and served as a perfect reminder of what the Indian batsmen failed to do: drop anchor. It was a lesson in determination, and playing out perfectly the role one is assigned.

There were, of course, bright spots on the Indian side. Dravid began the series with a match-winning hundred. Kaif emerged from a dismal run of scores to notch up three sixty-plus scores. Yuvraj showed that his development into a reliable middle order batsman is almost complete.

Finally, the sheer spectacle of cricket in the West Indies, the charm of which has been written about a thousand times but still bears mentioning. Swaying all day, playing music, shouting, clapping, the crowds showed us what it means to enjoy the game. The camera stepped back at moments when the game proceeded at a languid pace to show us breathtaking landscapes and sapphire-blue oceans. I can barely think of a better place to watch a Test series.

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The answers to the football quiz (two posts below this one) are posted as a comment below the quiz.

Club versus Country

May 20, 2006

by Aparajith Ramnath

As one who is little more than a casual follower of football, the World Cup is, by comparison, a big event for me – World Cup matches are the only football games I have any distinct memories of. Perhaps that's why South Korean striker Ahn Jung-Hwan's decisive goal that saw Italy exit the 2002 edition of the World Cup is still fresh in my memory. Well, not the goal itself, but the aftermath of it.

Perugia, the Italian club that Ahn played for, sacked him.

I remember being shocked at what seemed to me a display of rank immaturity. When you're on the field representing a team, you put all past associations and thoughts out of your mind and play for that team. When playing for Perugia, one expected to Ahn to be Perugian; when he played for South Korea, nothing less than South Korean. The episode seemed too ridiculous to be true, and sure enough, it was not quite so simple as all that.

"It has nothing to do with the goal he scored against Italy," said Perugia president Gaucci, according to a BBC Report (here). "He could have scored 10 and I wouldn't have felt offended. It was simply the comments he made.

"He said Korean football was superior to Italian football, when Italy is a footballing nation."

I haven't been able to locate the exact comments that Ahn made, if any, but even if he did claim Korean football to be superior to Italian football, well, that's just a matter of opinion, isn't it?

I was reminded of this incident upon reading recently some rather telling statistics about players representing clubs and countries. A report (here ) featured on espnstar.com informs us that according to accountancy firm Deloitte, upward of a hundred players who play for English clubs will be representing their native countries at WC 2006.

German clubs will contribute 70 players to the tournament.

70 players then, will be striving to score and save goals for their own countries – as they must – on fields where they might very probably have been scoring and saving goals for their German clubs until months ago.

As I have already indicated, I see no contradiction in this. When you play for a team on a particular day, you play for that team. That's the beauty of sport. At the same time, it is worthwhile examining the level of passion that players, fans and observers invest in their support of their teams at various levels. Clearly, football fans are passionate about their clubs to an extent that is unimaginable in some other sports. Look at cricket; the Indian fan who lifts an eyebrow as if to ask, "Do you imagine I have nothing better to do?" when you ask him the latest Ranji Trophy score, sits up all night in front of the telly to cheer the national team on against the West Indies. The hockey fan who cares two hoots about the Chennai Veerans or the Maratha Warriors will keep a close eye on the fortunes of the Indian team at the Olympics.

I am not well-read enough on the evolution of football as a sport to comment authoritatively on this, but this extreme enthusiasm for club as well as for country seems to be one of the defining features of the sport's following. It would be quite fascinating to undertake some day an analysis of how this came to be.

Football Quiz

May 15, 2006

With the upcoming World Cup, football is the flavour of the season. Here's a quiz on the sport with special focus on the World Cups.

compiled by Sohail

1. The first question is on the coveted prize, the trophy itself. The Jules Rimet Trophy, designed by the French sculptor Abel Lafleur, was awarded permanently to Brazil after they won it for a record third time in  Mexico in 1970. This trophy has a very interesting history. It disappeared in 1966 in England before it was found under a tree by a dog. Name the dog.

2. The 1974 World Cup is remembered for many classic matches, the final being the best among them if not the best of all times. Hosts Germany defeated the surprise package of 'oranje' men 2-1 after trailing by one goal at one stage. What was special about the first goal scored by the Dutch team? Who scored that 'special' goal?

3. The 2002 World Cup Final is best remembered for a certain Mr. Ronaldo who successfully exorcised the ghosts of that ill fated day of the 1998 World Cup finals when he fell ill just hours before the kick-off. Though he played that match (half fit) against Lez Blues, his team went on to lose the match. He scored two goals in the finals in 2002 against Rudi Völler’s men. What did he achieve with his second goal of the match?

4. Continuing with the 2002 Finals. The finals was a clash of titans – four-time champions Brazil pitted against three-time champions Germany. When was the last time before the 2002 finals that these two teams met in the World Cup?

5. In the five international matches that I played for my country the team lost all of them by a combined score of 21-4. I was the first from my country to be appointed to the top job of Ajax and turned them from relegation-threatened to the European Champions in 1971. I coached an entirely new generation of players to Euro Cup glory in 1988, which incidentally (and very sadly) was the only major trophy won by my country. I am best remembered for the 'revolution' I brought on in coaching. I think that’s enough clues. Who am I, which country do I belong to and what is the 'coaching revolution'?

6. He started his football career with the Melbourne Knights and has played for different clubs like Croatia Zagreb, Celtic and Leeds. He is presently with Middlesbrough. Best remembered for all the four goals in the 4-3 win over Liverpool when he was with one of his former clubs and was also instrumental in the club's surprise run till the semifinals of the Champions Trophy in the 2000/01 season. This man of Croatian descent is the main architect of his country's reappearance on the biggest football stage(Germany 2006)after a gap of 32 years. Who is the player and which country does he represent?

7. What is the unique connection between George Weah and George Best?
8. The 1990 World Cup semifinals between Argentina and Italy is infamous for the controversy surrounding extra time after the first half. What exactly happened?

9. Golden Shoe-1930.
   Golden Ball-1982.
   Yashin Award-1994.
   FIFA Fair Play Award-1978
   Most Entertaining team-1994
   Which new award is instituted in this year's World Cup

10. In the third place playoff against South Korea at WC 2002, Hakan Sukur of Turkey scored the a goal in just 11 seconds, setting a record. Whose record did he break?

11. What record did Franz Beckenbauer achieve in the 1990 World Cup in Italy?

12. Team           Pts Pld W D L GF GA GD
      England        4    3   1  2 0  2  1    +1
      Ireland          3   3   0  3 0   2  2     0
      Netherlands   3   3   0  3 0   2  2     0
      Egypt            2   3   0  2 1   1  2   -1

What is unique about the group table shown above? What first did it lead to in World Cup history?

13. "Give us the World Cup as we don’t have any other thing.” Whose slogan was this and why did they not have any other thing?

14. Name the only person to have played both the football World Cup and the cricket World Cup?

15. Give the connection between these World Cup teams. Scotland of 1974, Brazil of 1978, England of 1982, Cameroon of 1982 and Belgium of 1998.

The Goal-Maker

May 13, 2006

Starting a series where we draw your attention to sidelights at the FIFA World Cup, perhaps one of the biggest sporting events on the planet. As usual, our focus will not necessarily be news, but "interesting asides."

by Aparajith Ramnath

The Süddeutsche Zeitung’s online version recently carried an interview with Helmuth Löhr, whose company Sportgeräte 2000 is the one manufacturing the goalposts for the upcoming FIFA World Cup. 

Some nuggets: apparently the goalposts are made of aluminium, and each one is welded in one piece, unlike those of other manufacturers. One of the concerns is that the dimensions of the goals should be perfectly standardised. According to Löhr, the stadium in Brussels had goal posts differing in height by 20 centimetres during the European Championships in 2000!

There are some things that we just accept are there, never wondering where they came from or how they came to be. Certainly, goalposts on a football field belong to this category. Which is why the interview with Löhr made for interesting reading. When the whistle goes off for the first match less than a month down the line, I think there's a good chance I will be thinking of batches of standardised goalposts being transported out of Hildesheim to twelve German cities!

Comparing Greats

May 10, 2006

by Rahul Misra

Pete Sampras (1988-2002): 286 weeks at the top of the ATP rankings, 64 ATP titles, 14 Grand Slams

Roger Federer (1998 – present): 119 weeks at the top of ATP rankings, 37 ATP titles, 7 Grand Slams

Who's better? The answer is not easy. It is perhaps an unfair comparison; after all, how do you decide which of two sporting champions is the more deserving one? Playing conditions change, equipment gets better, opponents are different, styles vary…

Yet, and even though their career paths only minutely intersected, there are millions out there who saw them both play at their peaks and who would love to watch the Pete Sampras of the '99 Wimbledon Final ("Pete could have walked on water today," Agassi had said after a three-set whitewash) playing the Roger Federer of today on Centre Court at Wimbledon. That is the only way to get a sureshot answer, but it's one that we have been denied.

So how do we go about this? Sampras had the better serve and was a better volleyer, while Federer wins the groundstrokes category. A very superficial comparison, don't you think? For there's much more to a tennis champion than the way he handles his racquet.

Let's look at their matches then, the quality of their opponents, their career graphs. It is here that, for me, Sampras wins hands down. For the simple reason that we have the luxury of looking at Sampras' career in totality. We know that he began his career competing with Edberg and Becker, moved on to baseliners like Courier and Kafelnikov, heavy servers like Ivanisevic and Rafter and of course, let's not forget Agassi. We know that he did what he did over and over again, continuously, over a career span of 14 years. And that is what counts.

As for Federer, he has dominated men's tennis in a way rarely seen for the past couple of years. While it's a promising beginning, it's still too early to call the shots in his favour. There have been too many Jim Couriers in this world who have shone with potential only to slip into oblivion a couple of years later. That's the difference between the greats and the greatest. Federer still has to cross that line. As far as his attempts to overtake Sampras are concerned, Federer's challenge is still nascent.

Another aspect which is important here is that Federer hasn't been put to test enough. Perhaps that time will soon come – his Australian Open campaign this year was a little shaky. What puts the best of the best in another league is the ability to pull out that little extra something in face of extreme adversity. Whether it's Steve Waugh's double hundred when he was being asked to retire or Michael Jordan's 38 points while playing with flu in the 1997 NBA finals, the greatest of champions shine when it seems impossible.

Sampras showed us he had that ability – crying his heart out during the changeovers, he won the Aus Open '95 QF against Courier as his coach battled cancer… everyone remembers his marathon QF against Corretja in US Open '96 where he fought extreme exhaustion puking on court twice… and finally, the US Open final against Agassi in 2002, winning his final slam when critics had all but buried him. Federer hasn't found himself in this sort of a position yet. It's quite possible that he'll respond to such challenges the way a true champion is supposed to, but till he does, one can never be sure.

So we need to wait and watch. In my view, Sampras is still the king but Federer has definitely come closer to the high pedestal than most. Whether he succeeds in displacing Pete, only time will tell. For all we know, it might only be a four-month wait. After all, a Grand Slam is a Grand Slam.

And that's the one thing Pete doesn't have tucked under his belt.

by Hrishikesh

India’s chess talents

For years, India has been producing some of the brightest talents in the game of chess. Consider the following:

• Vishwanathan Anand with an ELO rating of over 2800 is a Super Grandmaster and the World Number Two, trailing narrowly behind Veselin Topalov.
• From India, today there are eight GMs- Vishwanathan Anand, Dibyendu Barua, Pravin Thipsay, Abhijit Kunte, Krishnan Sasikiran, Pendyala Harikrishna, Koneru Humpy and Surya Sekhar Ganguly, nearly 33 IMs, Two WGMs- Subbaraman Vijayalakshmi and Aarthie Ramaswamy and 15 WIMs.  
• Parimarjan Negi has set a world record by becoming the World's youngest International Master in the game at present.
• Krishnan Sasikiran is on the verge of breaking the 2700 rating points mark.

It must make you wonder whether the balance in world chess too is tilting noticeably towards India. Undoubtedly these are watershed years for the game of chess in the country.

But something seems to be amiss. In spite of India producing many chess whiz kids, very few have made the transition to the higher level and made an impression barring Vishwanathan Anand.

I am no chess pundit myself, except for following the game sporadically through Aravind Aaron’s insightful coverage of major chess events across the globe in The Hindu and The Sportstar. I am aware of the fact that there is a huge difference between Anand and the other Indian players at the moment and most of them wouldn’t even qualify to play him. But sometimes I am left wondering whether Anand should be playing in a lot more events in India to help foster the budding talents in the country. Except for a few promotional events, Anand plays very little competitive chess in India. Anand has certainly helped lift the profile of Indian Chess across the globe. But there is lot more talent in the country which needs to be harnessed to make India a chess superpower to reckon with.

Would the same logic of cricketers and footballers playing a lot more on the domestic circuit to help improve the standard of the game in the country apply to top chess players? I am not sure, but there should be some way of helping these young chess talents to realize their full potential. Ideas, anyone?

Did you know?

Most people (myself included) think that the ELO rating system followed in chess is an acronym. In fact, it is named after the family name of the system's creator, Árpád Élő (1903-1992), a Hungarian-born American physics professor and also a master-level chess player and an active participant in the United States Chess Federation (USCF) from its founding in 1939. 

Read more about the ELO rating system here

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ELO_rating_system

The FIFA world football ratings are also based on the ELO rating system.