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.


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".

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

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.

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

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

Please see the comments below the Tennis Quiz post (filed under Sports Quotient) for the answers. Hope you enjoyed the quiz. There were a lot of hints in each question and we thought they were workable, that way it's more fun all round. Thanks to those who gave the questions a try in the Comments section.

On Clay

May 4, 2006

by Aparajith Ramnath

The spacing of the tennis Grand Slams is a bit odd. After the Australian Open in January, the players scurry around the professional tour for around four months. And then, out of the blue, the next two Slams pop up: the French in May-June, and Wimbledon in June-July. One of the consequences is that the ‘clay court season’ as it were is longer than its grass court equivalent. Players usually have a quick warm up for Wimbledon by playing one of a few tournaments like the Stella Artois Championships (popularly referred to as Queen’s Club after the venue) in London, and the Gerry Weber Open held at Halle in Germany; aspiring French Open champs have a longer list of tournaments to choose from, spread out over a longer time. With the French Open a few weeks away (slated for May 28 this year), we profile briefly some of the clay court tournaments leading up to it.

The Monte Carlo Masters (formerly the Monte Carlo Open) is a men’s tournament held, as should be obvious from the name, in Monte Carlo, the wealthiest of the four quarters of the Principality of Monaco. The tournament began in 1897 (the year the electron was discovered). Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer in four sets in the finals in April this year en route to an astounding series of successive wins on clay, the number of which now stands at 47.

The Rome Masters (formerly called the Italian Open, and now referred to as the Telecom Italia Masters) has been held in Rome since 1935 (though it was not held between 1936 and 1949), but the Italian championships trace their origins to Milan in 1930. No surprises, the defending champion (Men’s) is Nadal again; the Women’s defending champ is Amelie Mauresmo.

The Hamburg Masters (formerly the German Open) is a men’s tournament held in May in Hamburg, Germany, one of Europe’s largest port-cities and a major centre for trade. Roger Federer has won the tournament the last two years, beating Richard Gasquet in the finals in 2005 and Guillermo Coria in 2004.

The Estoril Open is a men’s (since 1990) and women’s (since 1998) tournament held in Estoril, Portugal. Last year Gaston Gaudio won the men’s event and Lucie Safarova the women’s. Estoril is a resort town close to Lisbon. In this year’s tournament, in progress at the time of writing, Nikolay Davydenko has defeated Marat Safin to reach the quarterfinals.

Other clay court tournaments include the events at Barcelona, Casablanca and Munich.  

Reference: Wikipedia and the Internet