Wade Turns on the Heat

June 26, 2006

by Amit Goyal

An NBA finals that is comparable to the legendary movie itself. Miami Heat came from behind after being down 0-2 in the series to wrap it off in the sixth game and win the finals 4-2.

The Mavericks won the first two games with such ease that many feared that the finals would be over by Game 4 itself. Josh Howard, Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki put up sterling performances that left the Heats frustrated and gasping for breath. The finals then moved from Dallas to Miami and the Heats got their acts together and won the next three at home to go up 3-2 in the finals. Game 3 was not easy but the Heats rallied from behind and erased a 13 point deficit with 6 minutes to go in the fourth quarter to take the game. Game 5 was another nail biter with Wade taking the game into overtime and then taking the game winning shot 1.9 seconds from the final buzzer.

The finals will be remembered for the coming of age of Dwayne Wade. It is not easy to overshadow the 7 feet 1 O'Neal, but Wade did that with such ease that he was an easy choice for the NBA Finals MVP. In the crucial Game 3 he scored 42 points and took 13 rebounds. 15 of the 42 points came in the fourth quarter where the Heats erased a 13 point deficit to finally win the game. He again proved his value in Game 5 where he scored 43 points and also a record 21 from 25 free throws including the game winning shot. He averaged 34.7 (third best behind Allan Iverson and West) in the finals and also became one of the five youngest players ever to have scored more than 40 points (he did it twice!!) in the NBA finals.

Also remembered will be the flagrant use of the infamous Hack-a-Shaq by the Mavericks, which resulted in the suspension of Jerry Stackhouse from Game 5. Arnold has a great piece on it (here). Game 5 also left a bad taste in the mouth with Nowitzki kicking the ball in the stands and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban being fined for "acts-of-misconduct".


Sporting Extrava-stanza

June 15, 2006

By Aparajith Ramnath

An avalanche of hype surrounds
This event, gargantuan in scale
That in excitement, fervour and skill abounds
Making others in comparison pale.

Say researchers, five out of seven
Or some such arcane fraction
Of people in the world will take in
At least a part of the action.

Says the fan, he will follow
Of the sixty-four, every clash
Were he to miss one, he’d feel hollow,
With only his teeth to gnash.

Say the TV networks, they will beam
Every goal netted, every tackle made
Every corner taken by every team
Every substitute drinking lemonade.

It is amidst such unabashed hyperbole
That the extravaganza kicks off
But what will it for the layman hold
Who can’t tell onside from off?
A number of intangibles, that is certain
For however much a layman one is
This tournament – and it doesn’t come often
Has an inexplicable fizz.

For who can remain unaffected
By the surge of unity that runs through
Row upon row of fans, united
Clad in the colours of the teams on view

As the band strikes up their anthems
And the players, hands on hearts
Sing proudly, and in tandem
With millions, in various parts?

By the ebb and flow of the game
As the ball criss-crosses the lush field
(Now here, now there, oh it’s back again!)
By the referee’s whistle as victory’s sealed?

By the sudden sensitisation
To thirty-two different cultures
To the style of play, the sense of tradition
With which each team on to the field ventures?

By the pot-pourri of opinions and accents
Of commentators stylish
As they chip in with their two cents'
Worth, these expert analysts?

So, getting back to hyperbole mode
(Notice how I am eloquent waxing?)
A species that can afford
A month to devote to the whizzing

Of ball from foot to goalpost
And comments and cheers around the ground
Might have a better idea than most
‘bout how happiness is to be found!

By Amit Goyal

For the second time in as many test matches India has faced the situation of being "so near, yet so far". India did dominate the second test right from the word go and if it had not been for the rain gods the series would now have had been 1-0 instead of 0-0. Even so, I would like to point out a few crucial errors that India made during the course of the match.

First of all, for the umpteenth time now it has been established that Kaif is not a good fielder in close catching positions and yet Dravid would have him field there. He has missed crucial chances there (his natural instincts being those of a cover fielder), and this has cost India dearly.Second, the Indian field placing was pretty tame on the last day considering that India had nothing to lose and there was no way that India could have lost the match. Also defying logic was the placing of fielders at certain positions they are not suited for. Dravid himself was fielding at second slip, a departure from his usual first slip position for no apparent reason. Even Sehwag, a pretty good slip fielder, was missing from the slip cordon. Dravid grassing a catch (imagine Ganguly in the same position) in the closing stages did not help matters either. Third, and most importantly,India failed to think out of the box. As Prem Panicker suggests (here), India could have replaced Laxman (why is he in the team again?) with Suresh Raina and could have thought of more unconventional field placings. Also Yuvraj could have been made to bowl a couple of his ultra slow ones just as a change.

But then such things come with experience, and I sure hope Dravid is learning fast.The rain, the lbw decisions (first Australia and now here, they do have something against us these lbws) and at times the limited experimentation by the Indian think tank have let the Windies pull off a Houdini yet again. As Gaurav Sabnis puts it (here) in the words of the inimitable Crime Master Gogo (here) "haath ko aaya, moonh na lagaaya." Let's hope that the next one would be more like another of his famous quips, "Aaya hoon, kuch toh leke jaoonga."

French Open: Highlights

June 13, 2006

by Rahul Misra

The slide, long rallies, shoes tinged in red, ball marks… all of these are variants of tennis  that can be seen only on one surface and at one Grand Slam. Yes, the French Open has ended but the hangover continues…
Saying that this was a good tournament to watch would be an understatement.
Competing with the variety of sports being played around the world, from F1 to cricket to football, French Open 2006 had to be somewhat special to retain everyone's interest. Thankfully for all tennis lovers, it was…right from the first round where Hingis, in her methodical demolition of her opponent, showed that her comeback wasn't just about the universe whetting her appetite (to borrow a Coelho idea), and Nadal broke the most-consecutive-clay-wins record, giving us a premonition of things to come.
The signs were there for all to see.
The standard of matches remained high through the initial rounds; most seeds advanced, some were troubled, and a few new stars shone. Quite a few eyes were on Vaidisova, the latest prodigy out of the Bollettieri academy, and she didn't disappoint, beating Mauresmo and Venus Williams en route to the semifinals. From Becker to Agassi, Seles to Sharapova (I choose to attribute Kournikova's tennis escapades to the law of averages!), the Bollettieri academy has been home to so many great players in their formative years that I wouldn't be surprised if Vaidisova is here to stay.
But in the end, it was the past year's champions that shone through.
Henin-Hardenne, with her average build, proved yet again that tennis is not about muscle. Class, finesse and timing have over time outshown the grunts of raw power hurled by her opponents. In an era where tennis players come out on court dressed as fashion models (not that I'm complaining!), the Belgian just lets her game do the talking for her. Which, finally, is what matters.
The men's final line-up was a dream come true – what we wanted, what we expected, what we hoped. This French Open would have been somewhat incomplete, Nadal's trophy a little undeserved, if he hadn't beaten Federer. But he did, and did it with ease. Winning the first set, Federer might have wondered if it was his day, but once the Nadal magic began there was no looking back. He won the physical battle and with the way Federer seemed to give up before one last-ditch attempt, Nadal showed he was mentally stronger as well.
However, the clay has been covered now, the season done for the year and Nadal must quickly learn to walk amongst mortals. Grass beckons, though perhaps the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon aren't as inviting this year for a regular sports-lover.
The football fever is at its peak and come 9th July, the Wimbledon finals will not even come close to boasting a viewership similar to the grand finale of the World Cup in Germany on the same day. But there are a few of us who can't wait for The Championships to begin. Having watched someone else lift the silverware at the French Open, I'm sure Roger Federer is one of them.

by Amit Goyal 

What do you think was the most significant umpiring error made during the first WI-India test match??

a> Declaring Chris Gayle not out?

b> Declaring Shivnarine Chanderpaul out caught?

c> The Dhoni out/not out fiasco?

d> The Bradshaw decision?

Me. None of the above. I think it was e> Fining (here) Sehwag for over appealing and "celebrating a dismissal before the decision has been given".

Imagine a scenario, wherein Lara gets off without even a reprimand for a behaviour which our "mann" Holding termed "insolent" (here), and in the same Sehwag gets fined for over-appealing. You got to be kidding me. Where was Jeff Crowe (match referee) when Lara unfolded what I think has been the worst example of on-field behaviour in recent times?

It is a common notion that Asians are not given a fair deal when such rules are interpreted. And this is not the first time that this has happened to an Indian. Remember the Mike Denness fiasco, when almost half the Indian side (including Sehwag, Bhajji, Ganguly) was hauled up for over-appealing, while the South Africans got away with worse (Andre Nel clearly abusing Ganguly). I think it was Ganguly (supported by a Dalmiya-ruled BCCI) who stood up and complained. The order of world cricket was on the brink of a split when ICC and BCCI backed off and tensions were eased. Alas, such an action may not be repeated anymore.

Back to the Back Foot

June 5, 2006

by Hrishikesh

At the triangular tournament involving India, Pakistan and Australia in Amstelveen in 2004,  the ICC experimented with the third umpire making calls on no-balls. Two of the most senior umpires, David Shepherd and Steve Bucknor, officiated in Amstelveen, with no-ball calls from the third umpire appearing to take David Shepherd by surprise at times. An umpire needs to be totally focused on the job at hand and the third umpire buzzing in his ears occasionally would have done him no favours at all. Subsequently the measure was withdrawn as top umpires and players didn’t really approve of the experiment. (Some trivia for you: Anil Kumble is the first bowler to be no-balled by the third umpire). 

Still, it will take just one slightly questionable call which changes the course of a match for questions to be raised again about whether the match referee or the third umpire should be given greater responsibilities to help with no-ball decisions. The use of technology is welcome but it should not be at the expense of slowing down the game drastically. Already the TV networks are worried about the slow over rates extending the day’s play into overtime affecting their scheduling.

Given that no-balls are this important, I have a suggestion: why don’t we adopt the back-foot no-ball rule once again? The advantages of this would be three-fold:

1. It would give the umpires a lot more time to view the action at the striker’s end, and in the process would improve the standard of decision-making.
2. It would give the batsman a little more time to change his shot and take advantage of the no-ball.
3. It might even bring down the number of no-balls per match and improve the alarmingly slow over-rates these days.

In fact, it would give bowlers with long bowling strides like Shaun Pollock and Brett Lee the opportunity go get further down the wicket with their front foot by a few inches. Would the batsmen relish it?

Under the old back foot no ball law, the bowling crease (the white line on which the stumps are pitched) was used. Your back foot had to be behind this line when the ball was bowled; otherwise it was a no-ball. Cricket shifted to the current front foot law in 1980, so that now the bowling crease is redundant in terms of where you can bowl from. In fact, why have the bowling crease?

A few experts including Ian Chappell have been strongly advocating a return to the back foot no-ball rule. Reportedly, Sir Donald Bradman was strongly in favour of continuing with the back-foot no-ball rule and in fact he was then the lone voice against the MCC’s introduction of the now in-vogue front foot no-ball rule.

It is reasonable at this point to wonder what the logic behind adopting the front-foot no-ball rule from the eighties was. More on that in an upcoming article.