by Ojas Sabnis 

I am not a sportomaniac. Being a decent swimmer (and a rookie badminton, table tennis, basketball, cricket and tennis player), I have a natural affection for sports. I don’t watch television and I am a lazy person, so I can’t really ‘follow’ any games. Obviously, I can’t write anything about any sport for nuts.

But then there were times when we used to follow F1, cricket, tennis and NBA like anything. Gone are those days, but some memories are still fresh! So when Goyal asked me to write a post for Pavilion Seat about something (actually, anything!), after a little apprehension in the beginning, I got myself going eventually. Old love, you see. I am not a master of F1 per se. Schumi has always been my hero. It’s something like this – whoever claims to be a music fan will love U2 – no matter what. My Schumi love is just like that. But everybody seems to know too much about him. I remember one of his strong contenders from the mid-nineties – Damon Hill. 

1994 was the time when we started following Formula 1. Those were the crazy days … all my cousins used to support Schumi. He was the master, he simply ruled. We’d watch all the races together and support Schumi. Though when we talk about it now, nobody remembers the great rival who brought immense fun in the game – Damon Hill. And I don’t understand why. 

Damon Graham Devereux Hill was an awesome driver. It takes something to bag 22 Formula1 Victories and a World Championship – and that explains why Hill was one of the greatest of his era. He became the world champion in 1996 in Japan, driving for the Williams team. Williams was the best car in those days and Hill never looked back once the season started. Nobody could stop him from qualifying for the front row in every single race he played. Not even our hero Schumi, who then raced with Ferrari, which in my opinion wasn’t as good a car as Williams. But then, a victory is a victory, and I give it to Hill for that!

I remember Hill as a good rival of Schumi. I don’t want to comment Schumi’s sportsmanship, but we enjoyed the battles between these two as much as we enjoyed the delicious fried bombeel (Bombay Ducks) that were made by my aunt and served during all of those races (with beer for my uncles – sigh)! This rivalry brought immense fun into the game. In races like 1994 Australian GP, the rivalry reached its peak. It was a battle for the World Championship, with a difference of only one point. Shumi was on 92, Hill 91. A nasty hit on the wall was about to cost Schumi his championship when he cut back, (deliberately?) brushing Hill’s car, and throwing both of them out of the race. Schumi won. Off the track. I felt genuinely bad for Hill – and I was a Schumi supporter! There were many such incidents and somehow Schumi never accepted the blame.

What a rivalry! What a game!

Even though Hill’s career ended in a very poor manner in the 1999 season, he will always remain in my heart for his sporty nature, the fighting spirit, his victories, his defeats, and the fact that he was 32 when he started his career – that too with a giant like Ayrton Senna as his team-mate in the initial stages of his career. 

Reflections on Wimbledon

July 11, 2006

by Rahul Misra 

Sample these names – Andy Roddick, David Nalbandian, Ivan Ljubicic, Lleyton Hewitt, Mario Ancic, James Blake, Nikolay Davidenko, Fernando Gonzalez, Tommy Robredo, Thomas Johansson, Tomas Berdych, Radek Stepanek.

These were the players seeded 3 – 16 at Wimbledon 2006. How many of these names actually inspire the slightest degree of awe within you? If you ask me, the answer is none of them. There is not one name here who I can say is a jaw-droppingly amazing player. And I’m measuring them on an absolute scale, let’s leave Federer out of this for now.

On the other hand, here’s a similar list from Wimbledon 1998 – Petr Korda, Greg Rusedski, Carlos Moya, Patrick Rafter, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Cedric Pioline, Richard Krajicek, Alex Corretja, Jonas Bjorkman, Tim Henman, Andre Agassi, Goran Ivanisevic.

While I’m not saying that the 1998 list is filled with world-beaters, just a casual glance will show that there definitely seems something amiss in the levels of competitiveness in men’s tennis today. The evolution cycle that went from Borg-McEnroe-Connors-Lendl to Edberg-Becker-Sampras-Courier to Sampras-Agassi-Rafter-Ivanisevic seems to have lost a wheel somewhere. The next generation which was supposed to take over the Sampras-Agassi legacy doesn’t seem to have arrived yet.

Other than Federer and Nadal of course… this developing rivalry is our silver lining, the meeting of the top 2 in the finals at least is something we can look forward to. And if this year’s final match is anything to go by, we’re up for royal treats in the years ahead.

The Wimbledon finals of this year seemed to follow a track similar to the French. With the first set in Federer’s bag quite early, Nadal joined the party and seemed to match the champion shot for shot in the 2nd. An enthralling match followed, one that was played with tremendous grit but in the end Federer took it. Perhaps a little bit of his experience shone through, this was after all Nadal’s 5th career grass tournament. But we did get glimpses of what Nadal is capable of even on grass, his least favourite surface, and the promise of many more glittering matches has been made.

All that is for later though, this weekend belonged to Roger Federer. With a 4th consecutive Wimbledon title, he has cemented his place amongst the greatest in this sport. Even after the match, Federer seemed completely at ease, walking around with the air of someone who’s getting used to his success now. It was very interesting to see him even trying to make a fashion statement, complete with a very ’60s blazer. Though for someone whose finesse and calmness on court is a favourite topic of discussion for sports writers, the blazer seemed an ill-fit, a little too extravangant and out there. And he seemed to overdo it a little by wearing it to the Champions Ball too. Federer may be the undisputed master of all things on court but in such mundane matters, perhaps a few lessons from Maria Sharapova are in order.

Tour-de-Farce

July 5, 2006

by Amit Goyal

The around-3700 km long Tour-de-France, the true endurance testing event according to yours truly, has always survived the doping allegations bound to hit it due to the limits to which the human body is pushed during the event. But it seems that this year may be the beginning of the end for the great event.

The Tour, already battling for attention after the retirement of Lance Armstrong, the ensuing doping scandal, the FIFA World Cup 2006 and the Wimbledon, has been hit hard by yet another doping scandal of such a massive scale that none of the top 5 riders of the 2005 edition are a part of this year’s line up.

The doping scandal has forced Ivan Basso (2nd, 2005), Jan Ullrich (champion 1997, five times runner up, 3rd in 2005) and Francis Mancebo (4th, 2005) out of the race. Alexandre Vinokuorov, the unluckiest of them all, was forced to withdraw when the eligible riders on his Astana-Würth Team fell below the minimum of six (5 of the 9 riders of the team were suspects in the doping scandal). Though none of the charges in the Operación Puerto doping case have been proved the teams (T-Mobile, CSC and Astana-Würth, amongst others) have withdrawn the implicated riders. Mancebo has announced his retirement from the sport and many more are expected to follow suit.

The Operación Puerto doping case has implicated close to 200 athletes of using prohibited doping practices to enhance their performance. A Spanish newspaper El País published secret details of Operación Puerto and accused Manolo Saiz (ex-manager of the erstwhile Würth) and Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes of doping practices along with several riders. Ullrich (who had earlier announced that he will retire after 2007 season) has denied all allegations and threatened to sue the newspaper.

Sometimes I think it is best that the WC2006 and Wimbledon has kept it out of the limelight and has prevented a further fall from grace! Also comes to mind the thought (however unholy it may be) of making the race a bit easier for the normal human body so that not many are tempted to dope and not many are required to.

Meanwhile, the Tour carries on with the promising Australian Robbie McEwen leading the points classification and the Belgian Tom Boonen wearing the hallowed yellow jersey. I sincerely do hope that the event emerges from the shadow of doping and that human spirit is the final victor.

One Great Weekend

July 3, 2006

by Amit Goyal

The exit of Argentina from the Football World Cup 2006 meant that my interest in it was over and I focused again on the other two sports I love: Cricket and F1. And interesting stuff happened in both over the weekend.

In F1, the US Grand Prix brought a sense of deja vu as only 9 of the 22 cars finished the race with Nico Rosberg being the only one out of points. The first corner on the first lap was a mess and resulted in the elimination of a lot of cars (including the “ever unlucky” Kimi) and yellow flag for around 6 laps. As soon as the yellow flag was removed another accident removed a few more cars from contention and brought back the yellow flag. Felipe Massa (who is a great driver on his day) was in the lead, then held on to it till the first round of pitstops where Schumacher drove the Ferrari like crazy on the entry and exit laps (like only he can) to reclaim the top spot. He then drove a brilliant race from there on to gain a 12+ seconds lead before the final lap. I have always felt that one of the greatest strengths of Michael Schumacher is the way he drives his car in and out of the pits and the way he blazes his way away just after the pitstop with the new rubber on the car. Also, the fact that the Indianapolis track is better for the Bridgestone helped Michael’s case. Alonso’s Renault seemed a bit off colour and he had to give up his third place on the starting grid to team-mate Fisichella after showing resistance for a couple of laps.

After the race Michael has cut down the Spaniard (reminds me of Crowe in The Gladiator) Alonso’s lead to 19 points with 8 races to go in the season. It also brought up a Ferrari 1-2 after a year (the last one being at the last Grand Prix fiasco here last year). Also the Contructors Championship lead has been cut down to 26 points.

In cricket, Jayasuriya and Tharanga tore into the English attack to chase down 322 in 37.3 odd overs and the way Jayasuriya was going (152 off 99 balls) a 400 run target wouldn’t have been difficult at all. To add insult to injury, it completed a 5-0 whitewash of England in England. Also they erased the long-standing 285 run opening stand held by Ganguly: the Sri Lankans put on 286.

The best event, however, was a very sweet Indian victory in the West Indies. This is only the second Indian series victory in WI and has come after 35 long years. Also it is a first actual Indian test series victory outside the subcontinent (Zimbabwe was a farce, though the victory against Pakistan was of much better quality) in 20 years and has finally erased the dubious record of sorts. Kumble was ecstatic after taking the last wicket and the joy of the Indian team was there for all to see. Dravid and Kumble’s batting and Sreesanth and Bhajji’s bowling in the first innings and Dravid’s batting and Sreesanth and Kumble’s bowling in the second were the highpoints of the Indian team. Dravid (the Man of the Match and the series) was a manual on how to bat on a difficult wicket. I have been a great critic of Dravid the captain and a great fan of Dravid the batsman. This test match (and the series on the whole) again showed why Dravid is easily one of the finest craftsmen in the trade and explained his being called “The Wall”. Also, the test highlighted the utility of Anil Kumble to the Indian team and I sincerely hpe that the Indian selectors (led by the irrepressible Kiran More) would see sense and keep him in the scheme of things for the WC2007. Kumble bowling India to victory reminded me of his valiant attempt to bowl with a broken jaw. It almost seemed poetic justice that this man should get the final wicket to lead India to a victory that will be remembered for some time to come.

A low point in the test, however, came just before lunch on the third day when Lara missed a Harbhajan ball that spun miles and turned around and mockingly applauded the curator for making a turner despite his request for a pacy one. The fact that the amount of spin on the ball would have put Indian tracks to shame did not seem to go down well with the WI captain. Agreed that Lara did not get the team and pitches to match his demands but that does not justify his on-field behaviour. There are forums to express such displeasure and the cricket field is the last of those. Also it once again shows the difference between Tendulkar and Lara. Tendulkar by his behaviour and demeanour has achieved the status of a demi-god while the mercurial Carribean batsman is still a mortal. Throughout the series the only glimpse of the great Lara was in the third test when Lara anchored the West Indies and averted an otherwise clear defeat. I hope Lara realizes his mistake and apologises for his naive behaviour on the field.

Once the dust settles India must realize that the victory has come against a comparatively inexperienced and weak WI team, that bigger and tougher battles lie ahead and that to prove themselves, they require many more such victories.
 
PS: The past week’s sporting events consisted of news concerning two more greats. First was the exit of one of the best tennis players (and my all-time favourite) Andre Agassi from Wimbledon. Next was the superb play of the legendary Zidane against the mighty Brazil to take France into the semis of the FIFA World Cup. I wish I could write about those too.

by Rahul Misra

The first match of the soccer World Cup had 6 goals being scored, one of them is still on the top-5-goals of the tournament list. If instead of a tourney, this was a book, you could easily break all proverbial rules and judge it by its cover… because the first match was just a small glimpse of the magic that would follow.

Let me remind you of what we’ve seen in the past fortnight. We’ve seen Germans playing a very uncharacteristic game, for once they’re not afraid to attack (it might have something to do with having a star striker as your coach!)… there has been a heavenly strike from Beckham playing in a team that’s drowning in mediocrity… Ronaldo, the joke of the first week, has come back to break the oft-spoken-about record… and of course, the 14-pass goal that Argentina thumped in. This has not been a World Cup where people defend before they attack, and by the way the matches have gone, this is a World Cup that will be won by goals scored and not goals saved.

And let’s not forget the Samba magic in the second half of Brazil Vs Japan… where every yellow shirt on the field seemed to be chanting…

“You’ve had your share of the fun,

Now let us show you how it’s done”

Their defence is porous, but then I’ve never seen a Brazilian team with a strong defence. They’ve got more of a “if you score 2, we’ll score 3” strategy going for them. And well, as they’ve shown on 5 previous occasions… it works!!

Even the minnows, the Africans and the Australians have played with grit, showing everyone how passion can translate to finesse. They’ve impressed us so much that we have Indian ministers citing their performance to further the reservation policy!! More of that somewhere else though, this is not the forum to start on that.

We couldn’t have asked for a more thrilling QF lineup: Germany and Argentina coming together for what most call the match-of-the-tournament, a resurgent France against Brazil lineup, the Italian defence pitted against Shevchenko’s magic, and a depleted Portugal (who played a 16-yellow-cards, 4-red-cards match to beat Holland) against England.

One thing’s for sure, some absolutely awesome matches await us, and one shouldn’t miss it for the world. After all, this fiesta happens only once in every 4 years, and when it does, the world stops.