Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Guangzhou Asiad: India’s Olympic Dreams on Track

Giving plenty of visual feasts, with displays of splendour, grit and glory, curtains finally came down on the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou in China. With the successful conduct of the games, China once again proved to the world that they are second to none when it comes to playing hosts and organizing events of such magnitude. Obviously, they exhibited that the wide experience gained hosting the Olympics has not gone waste. It was an extravaganza of 15 days where strengths and sporting prowess were displayed, friendships built and strengthened and camaraderie relived. In fact, when 45 nations came together, on show was the multitude of plural vignettes: the continent encompassing within itself one-third of the global population, cradle of major faiths and various cultures…..in short, a mélange of human civilization meeting through their ambassador-the Sport Stars.

While their impeccable organizational capacities won all-round praise, the Chinese ensured that their dominance also extended into the sporting arena too. They were several notches higher than their continental competitors; not only in traditional strength areas but they could also make successful forays into new areas. Dominance showed in not only their pet and patented events like Badminton, Table Tennis, Gymnastics and Athletics, but also in events like Shooting, Chess, and a host of other games. The result of such dedicated forays and perseverance meant that the ended up with 199 Gold Medals out of a total 416 medals. The second placed South Korea could not even reach the half-way of that gold medal tally, finishing with 76 Golds only. It was complete domination and sprint from the Chinese from the start, completely unstoppable at all points in time. Unquestionable leaders at the top. Even in Cricket-the T20 version that made its debut in the Asiad-the Chinese were able to field teams in both men’s and women’s sections (Perhaps some food for thought for the people in the BCCI who run the game in our country, after refusing to send any team for the Games!!). Clearly, the Chinese stamped their wholesome authority in all disciplines at these Games.

Indian Performance:

Team India had come to these Games on the back of their glorious and stupendous performance in the Commonwealth Games at home, a few months back.  But that barometer broke in Guangzhou. After finishing Runners-Up in the medal tally in Delhi CWG, they were brought back to the earth by losing plots and gameplans going awry against the might of the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Iranians and Central Asian Republics. The Shooters, Wrestlers, Weight-Lifters and Shuttlers who reaped a rich haul in CWG, lost their way and disappointed. Perhaps, the major disappointment was from the shooting contingent, who were only saved a complete grimace by Ronjan Sodhi’s gold in Double-Trap. The Chinese imporved their tally greatly, grabbing a lion’s share of the medals in all events in this discipline. Saina Nehwal, who had promised much, also fell by the way-side. The grapplers and weight-lifters added to the listless performances. The Hockey team that lokked set for the Gold after clean-sweeping all the league games, fell to Malaysia in the semis, during extra-time.

However, such disappointments should not cloud over the other side of the story. Performances also picked up in many other fronts and these Games have become a milestone in India’s sports journey. Pocketing 14 golds, 17 silvers and 33 bronzes, India finished overall sixth in the medal tally. Pankaj Advani bagged his second consecutive English Billiards gold to open India’s Gold Rush. That Indian sport also ventured into unchartered territories reaping rich hauls became amply clear in Rowing. Throwing his oars with strength and speed, army man, Bajranglal Takhar conquered gold. Along with this, the investments made in this sport through hours and hours of practice in the backwaters of Kerala, fetched silver and bronnze medals in the team events.

Somdev Devvarman showed the world that there was life in Indian Tennis even after the Paes-Bhupati duo hangs their boots. In the absence of seniors, Somdev channeled all this energies and grit, to work through the Singles and Doubles. Making short work of the top seed Uzbek, Denis Istomin in the finals, he made history by being the first Indian to win an Asiad Singles Gold. He also teamed up with Sanam Singh to make it a golden double. He also proved that his singles gold at CWG was no fluke.

Perhaps, the most star rises in this Asiad for the country happened in the Track and Field. At the Aorti Main Stadium, India’s athletes left their marks, in what was the best Asian Games as far as Athletics was concerned. Bagging a total of 5 golds, 2 silvers and 4 bronzes, the contingent flew the tricolour high. What is more heartening is that 10 medals in athletics were won by women. Golds by Kerala girl Preeja Sreedharan in 10000m and Sudha Singh in 3000m Steeplechase opened the campaign on track. Another Golden Double came when both Ashwini Akkunji and Joseph Abraham won the race in 400m hurdles event. The final gold in track and field came through the quartert of Manjeet-Mandip Kaur, Sini Jose and Ashwini Akkunji in 4x400m relay. The Indian 4x400 relay quartets has made it a habit now in winning the yellow metal at the Asiad, with this being a hat-trick win. Count in the miss by Preeja for a double in 5000m, heart-break for Tintu Luka in 800m(settling for a bronze), and bronze for Krishna Poonia in women’s discus….Indian Athletics has really come of age and is now beginning to peak at the global stage.

After Beijing Olympics, the hallmark sport in the country has been without doubt, Boxing. The successors following the path of Vijender Singh have been countless, and the rise in the ring has been systematic. That trend was continued by the pugilists in this Asiad too. Some lost medals within striking distance; but on the whole, 9 boxers came close. Out of this, 5 made the finals and 4 had to be content with bronze. In the five finals, Vikas Krishan and Vijender hit the gold run, while three others lost out winning silvers. The haul of 2 golds, 3 silvers and 4 bronzes is yet another best for India in these games.

There were also impressive performances in other disciplines too. While the Men’s Kabbadi team kept its date with the gold, in the debut year for the women, Indian eves also did not disappoint and were crowned champions. Tarundeep Rai’s silver in archery, Virdhawal Khade’s bronze in 50m butterfly in swimming and Ashish Kumar’s bronze in Gymnastics are among them. In fact, Virdhawal and Ashish have age on their side, and are raring to go the distance in the coming years. Also, the sport of Wushu perfected by the Chinese, saw heart-warming performances by Sandhya Rani (Silver) and Bimoljit (Bronze). Medals were also won Sailing and Roller-Sports.

All these gains and results are the fruits of the constant training, proper regimen, and on the back of improved performances. The foreign training for the athletes and foreign coaches in boxing, have also helped a great deal. It also goes to what the best available modern technology, state aid and the open mind to accept new techniques can do for the Indian sporting arena.  Continuing with these resources and culling out the problem areas can definitely put India as multi-sport country rather than a ‘sole cricket’ based one. If these games have been the barometer or springboard for the London Olympics in 2012, then definitely one can say with great confidence that the Indian dreams are well-on track.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Football World Cup 2010: A Month of the Beautiful Game

The Vuvuzelas have fallen silent, and their swarming buzz has stopped. The flags have been folded up and the colours have been washed away. The grass meadows at ten venues with gigantic structures covering stand lonely. The carnival and the fireworks are over. South Africa has been littered with memories and never disappearing images. The world has a new champion. Soccer City Stadium at the famous Soweto township, in Johannesburg provided the stage for the crowning of a new power-house, to be at the helm for four more years. The final once saw the dominance of Europe for the second consecutive edition in succession. Thus, the chain having Latin America and Europe attached in every alternate edition has been broken. A European team has succeeded, when the event was staged outside the continent for the first time. The 19th World Cup, first to be staged in Africa has finally come to end, as the ball that had started rolling on 11 June from the time Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov blew the whistle, at Soccer City between the hosts and Mexico, has now come to a stop; that, with the whistle of Englishman Howard Webb, in the summit clash between Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City itself.

The Final itself was the culmination of a month long exercise, when 32 teams came onto the world stage to show-case their exploits, attacking fervor, gritty defence, clinical, deft moves, with panache and adeptness. As the battle became engrossing, as it progressed, several of them kept falling by the wayside and the best in all moved upwards. Powerhouses and strong contenders battled it out, but crumbled and fell at decisive stages. Upward movement became tough ask and pressure added up. Spain and Netherlands moved up in distinct ways; the La Roja after suffering an initial hiccup at Swiss hands, re-grouped and made fresh forays, that paid them rich dividends. The Dutch on the other hand, came into the World Cup finals with a clean sheet in the qualification and continued that streak in the league stages as well as later in knock-outs till the big final. The Oranje won all their matches, nearly emulating Brazil in 1970, who had carried out such a campaign. Spain after being the European champions in 2008, aimed at claiming the world throne too. This was emulating Germany, who had won this double-honour, winning the European championships in 1972 and won the World Cup two years later, in 1974. However, the grand final was not one that was mesmerizing or defining the terms of beautiful football. It was clearly not the best of the finals, with as many as 13 bookings enacted by referee Webb. While the Dutch were the main culprits with 9 cards, including defender John Heitinga earning a double yellow and being sent off in the Extra-Time., the Spanish also earned 4 yellow cards. For the second World Cup in running, the game went beyond the regulation time of 90 minutes. It took a great move from Cesc Fabregas, who passed it on to the diminutive attacking mid-fielder Andres Iniesta, to seal a solitary goal win in the second half of Extra-Time. Iniesta, through his brilliant runs and moves created enough chances for Villa upfront in the Dutch goal-mouth. Throughout the tournament, the current European champions conceded only two goals, including one in the loss to the Swiss in their opening game. The Spanish also rewrote a record that no team had gone to win the World Cup after losing the opening group encounter. Spain also became one of the lowest-scoring winners in World Cup history, with their winning score always not going beyond two, in this World Cup.

Throughout the tournament, Spain under Vicente Del Bosque played some smart and sleek football, carving out chances and making deft moves. Having a team brimming with awesome talent, with the best men in best positions, the La Roja was unstoppable. Leaving aside their early setback against Switzerland, Spain re-grouped in time to shed their ‘underachievers’ tag. Over the years, Spanish sides have always faltered after promising much at the global stage. The Dutch influence on Spanish football over the years has also paid rich dividends in this triumph. Johan Cruyff, Louis Van Gaal, Rinus Michels-the creator of Total Football-and Frank Rijkaard are some of the Dutch greats who plied their trade in the La Liga, as players and coaches. Barcelona has been the club that imbibed their philosophies the most. In fact, the starting Spanish eleven in this World Cup had 7 Barca players. The Spanish also had the best passing throughout the tournament and this was guided by the philosophy of “Tiqui Taka” or “Pass and Move”. The passing of the ball denotes the team-work involved in the game; magnificent goals are born only out of the hard work of the collective rather than the individual glory of the scorer. This philosophy has seeped into the Spanish game, and has put them a few miles, ahead of the rest. Also, the multi-skilled players, with the ability to control ball possession for longer hours and frustrate the opposition were also an asset for Spain. The Spanish put this strength to full use against the Germans in the semi-final; the speed, precision and agility of the young German side was no match for the experienced Spanish team, who suffocated their opponents for time and space, thereby beating them in their own game. The Spanish game was also with the least number of fouls and bookings, something that earned them the Fair Play award as well, to top up with the glittering trophy. David Villa finished as joint top-scorer of the tournament with 5 goals and locked in a four-way tie with Sneijder, Mueller and Forlan. Played upfront as the sole striker, Villa also used both his feet to good effect and scored at crucial times. Packed with stars like Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Carles Puyol, Sergio Ramos, Capdevila, Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, Busquets, and Pique, with Navas, Pedro, Llorente and David Silva on the bench, Spain was in abundance. Finally, they dropped anchor firmly at the world stage. In contrast, the Dutch played an ugly game, often justifying the same for a win. Players like Von Bommel and Nigel De Jong playing the physical game enacting rough tackles. Even though Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben blossomed in the tournament helping the Netherlands keep a clean record of all wins throughout the qualification and tournament, they fell at the final hurdle. It was third time trauma for them, after losing in the final on two earlier occasions- 1974 to West Germany and 1978 to Argentina.               

While the description of the final above gives the pulse of the two European giants, the tournament itself needs a post-mortem. The aim is to undertake reality check on the month-long fiesta, picking up the pieces and trying to reset the jigsaw, in order to have a larger perspective

# Goals have rained rather less in this World Cup, at least in the group stages. Teams have been miserly in going for larger margins and were contended in winning by small margins, thereby deciding to safeguard even a small lead rather than aiming big. This goes to show that the teams strengthened their defences. The best example was North Korea’s show against Brazil, in their opening encounter in Group G, when they almost locked up the giants in the opening half. Many of the custodians have also protected their nets very well and have displayed their feats, in excellent fashion. Many of the big guns lost their touch, once inside the opposite D. However, this miserliness was turned over in the league stages by the Argentines, who scored 10 in all till their Round of 16 match against Mexico. Higuain, and Tevez, aided by Messi moved up. But then they were upstaged by the Germans, who not only routed them, but finished the tournament with 16 goals, pumping in 3 in the Bronze medal match against Uruguay. Klose, Mueller, Podolski, Ozil, supplied by Lahm and Schweinsteiger ran riot in rival defences and stocking up goals getting 16 in all.

# This World Cup saw the demise of certain big sharks, who only vouched by the spice of glamour and commercial interests through the hefty pay-checks and large, doughty leagues. The prime example is that of England as a team. With over-hyped personnel like Gerrard-Lampard-Terry-Rooney, England collapsed under its own weight. This was further enforced by the early exit of France and Italy. This also proved that performances in national colours are not necessarily dependent on the heights of your glamour professional leagues.

# The World Cup was one, wherein the dominance shifted from Europe to Latin America and then back to Europe. This movement of back and forth was a highlight of this World Cup. After the early exit of France and Italy, with England in the Pre-Quarters, Europe had only 3 teams that moved into the Quarter-Finals out of the total 13 that competed. In contrast, out of the 5 that qualified for finals, four moved into the finals. Thus, all the 4 Quarter-Finals had representation from all these four teams. But by the time, the quarters were finished, except for Uruguay, other three exited. But with Spain, Netherlands and Germany moving into the penultimate stages, the balance again shifted to favour Europe. With Germany grabbing the bronze, other two were assured of the top two spots.

# The exit of Brazil and Argentina in the quarter-final stage is the biggest sub-plot within the larger landscape of the World Cup. Two of the biggest nations in world football followed two altogether different trajectories in this World Cup; though they moved up, some thing was amiss and clearly, they fell at crucial hurdles. The elimination at quarter-finals this time around, was similar to their exit in the last World Cup in Germany, as then too, it was in the last eight. Argentina which had a disastrous qualification campaign, wherein they lost to even light-weights like Bolivia and Peru, got through in the last grasp. With the legend, Diego Maradona at the helm of affairs as the coach, almost 110 players were tried before the final 23 were selected. Attack was the keyword for Maradona, and he got six strikers to South Africa. Without playing the aggressive attacking game, Maradona felt that the spirit of the game could never be preserved. With the World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi moulding himself as a play maker, El Diego reinforced the dictum that attack was the best form of defence. His team surged through the group stages with greater goals. Even though Messi could not find the net, he amply supplied and created enough chances for Higuain and Tevez. Some of his runs and moves were deft as well as filled with panache. However, while they scored freely at the opposite end, chinks were clearly visible in the defence. This was beginning to show in matches where they conceded goals that could have been well prevented. The defence armour of Otamendi, Burdisso, Heinze and Demichelis were not match for a superior attack, as shown by the Germans. They were torn apart in the quarters at Cape Town, as Germany with their deadly counter-attacks, marched ahead with speed, aggression and clinical precision. Pulverized by 4 goals, the Argentines were also suffocated by their superior opponents. The sole dependence on Messi also proved to be a bane for them, as the staunch German defence crowed him out for time and space. Maradona’s decision to leave out experienced hands in the defence in team selection, like Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso cost La Albiceleste very hard. Also, denying a place for veteran playmaker, Riquelme in the squad meant that Argentina were exposed thoroughly against tough opponents like Germany, even while in possession of a supreme strike force. While Maradona the coach was more passionate shouting inspiration and encouragement from the touchline, he met his match in the tactician of Joachim Loew, the German manager. Maradona somewhere failed in this tactical brilliance.

Quite contrastingly, Brazil shut out its flair and attacking mode, or the Latin American style in this World Cup. Coach Dunga, the ’94 World Cup winning captain, employed the tactics of strengthening the defences and relying on counter-attacks. With just one striker, in Luis Fabiano in the upfront, the mid-field held through under Robinho and playmaker Kaka. With Lucio, Gilberto Silva and Maicon to shore up defence, Brazil locked away their traditional attacking, elegant style. This meant that footballing powerhouse, lost its sheen and style. An alien style of play occupied the team’s game plan and Dunga was at the centre of it. However, despite the murmurs of protests from many quarters, the Selecao, continued their spirited run. They finished the group stage with two wins and a goalless draw against Portugal. They prevailed upon Chile and even dominated the Dutch in the first-half of their quarter-final; however, their strategy misfired once they were trailing. Two headers by Sneijder negated the early Brazilian lead. The formation of 4-2-3-1 by Dunga couldn’t last the distance. With a rough tackle by Felipe Melo receiving a red card, Brazil collapsed under its weight and fell apart. The crashing out of the Latin American giants in opposite within the space of a day, finished the lion’s share of interest in the World Cup. The contrasts also do not end there. While Dunga and his coaching staff lost their job once they returned home with brickbats, the welcome for Maradona and his boys had no animosity. In fact, almost the entire country wants Diego to stay as coach and take Argentina to Copa America title, they are hosting next year.

# “This Time for Africa”-this was the official song of the World Cup by Shakira. But on the field, with 6 teams, the continent failed to impress. Except for Ghana, all other teams like Algeria, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Cote D’Ivoire did not see light beyond the group stages. South Africa also called Bafana Bafana became the first host nation in the history of World Cup to be eliminated within the group stages, despite a win over France. However, the continent as a whole got behind Ghana and cheered them all along till the quarters. Ghana, despite their captain Michael Essien missing the entire action due to injury, played with all passion and energy, scything through the opposition. Even in the last eight match against Uruguay, they had almost got through to the semis, where no African team had yet reached, if not for Luis Suarez’s Hand of God. Asamoah Gyan had led from the front in the whole tournament, aided by Stephen Appiah, Sulley Muntary, Ayew and Kevin-Prince Boateng. But at the closing stages of the Extra-Time, Gyan’s penalty could only find the upright and Uruguay made the Black Stars pay the penalty in the shoot-out. The World Cup, thus once again proved that African teams had to still go a long way at the global stage.

Japan and South Korea were impressive and carried the Asian flag with high hopes. Even though they lost to the superiority of opposition in the knock-out, that too to Latin American teams, their progress to the next stage outside their own continent was something to savour.

#  The World Cup also send a strong message to those who were stubborn that there could not be even a slight tweaking or tinkering of the gameplan. Those who refused to budge, were shown the hard lessons too. The best case scenario was that of the English under their Italian manager, Fabio Cappello. He remained confined to his plans during the qualification campaign and refused to re-work that strategy, even when the gears changed coming into the actual competition. He simply refused to believe that the traditional formation had to be changed to match faster and agile opponents. Mid-Way through their campaign, former captain John Terry even murmured points of dissent against the coach. Thereby, England once again left the world stage, early, compounded with a goal drought in their entire entourage. However, despite the exit, the English FA has allowed Cappello to continue as the manager, to make the team qualify for Euro 2012. Changes from the old guard in the team are expected, as fresh blood is sought to be infused in the squad. But the unfortunate thing for Cappello is that the young talent pool in England through their premiership league, is not exactly brimming up.   

# Many of the big stars also failed to shine in this World Cup. Half of them were wrecked by injuries and could not make the trip to South Africa. Even those who made it, could not turn up in full potential, as they stunted by lingering niggles. While Michael Ballack, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Essien surrendered to the injuries, the likes of Thierry Henry, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba left much to be desired in this gala tourney. The effects of long club seasons were clearly felt on the players. However, despite recovering late from injuries, Arjen Robben and Fernando Torres showed their supreme touch later in the tournament.

# This world carnival was also an exhibition of youth over the aged horses. Clearing away the old men, the youth flowered further and took wings, with full exuberance. The teams with such renewed energy and fresh talent saw the blossoming of greater performances. Team Germany led from the front in this area. Bastian Schweinsteiger is only 25 years-old, but he is already a veteran of three World Cups, carving out their attacks and shoring up their defences. Also, with a much more vibrant multi-cultural approach through the easing of immigrant laws, Germany showed their supremacy and aggression were miles ahead. They had players of various descent: Tunisian, Turkish, Ghanaian, Brazilian, Polish, and Spanish. In Ozil, Mueller, Khadeira, Jerome Boateng, Cacau, and Gomez, along with the senior pros like Lahm, Podolski and Klose, Germany became a team with the features with speed, agility and surgical precision along with their famous deadly counter-attacks. Aging war-horses were shoved out of the way, as happened in the case of defending champions, Italy. Marcello Lippi was back at the helm, but could not prevent the team from crashing out in the group stage itself.

# One of the defining results of this World Cup, is the strong need felt for using technology. Errors by Referees and Linesmen swarmed in this tourney that resulted in wrong judgements on goals, and fouls. Mali referee Koman Coulibaly disallowing a goal denied the USA a much needed win against Slovenia. Similarly, Stephane Lannoy’s role in sending off Kaka following clear simulation by Keita, in the match between Brazil and Cote D’Ivoire drew much criticism. However, the errors by Jorge Larrionda of Uruguay led to the disallowing of Lampard’s phantom goal against Germany when England was trailing by 1-2. That clearly upset the team’s rhythm and could never recover from it. Roberto Rossetti, the Italian referee allowed Tevez a goal, against Mexico that was clearly offside. Sepp Blatter could only offer his apologies for the teams at the receiving end and do nothing more. Perhaps, FIFA would be now forced to re-think on its age-old strategies and make the best use of technologies available. Football’s world governing body, cannot remain evasive on this issue any more.

# The organization of this World Cup has once again brought the best out of South Africa. A country, shut out of sporting ventures during the dark years of Apartheid, the World Cup is definitely an opening. After organizing the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and Cricket World Cup in 2003, Soccer too has found its place in South African sports management. The Rainbow nation was on target, both in terms of infrastructure and organization. 10 great venues like Soccer City and Ellis Park in Johannesburg, Green Point in Cape Town, Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban, and Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth displayed the best soccer for one month. Great seats, well-maintained playing pitch along with electrifying atmosphere made sure the matches were played without a hitch. The capabilities of South Africa in organizing this spectacle as one nation were also something to watch out. Infusing indigenous cultures into the mega tournament also proved wonders. Terms like Vuvuzela, Jabulani and Zakumi will always remain etched in memory. Even the mighty venue of Soccer City was built on the design of Calabash, or an African Pot. This was to also reflect the venue being a melting pot of various cultures. The nation turned out as one to make the entire month memorable and long-lasting for the entire days to come.

But FIFA also has to take note some glaring aspects too. Many seats could not be filled up in some matches and that too in slightly large numbers. Vacant seats were clearly, as a result of FIFA’s decision to sell tickets only through the internet. This was clearly neglected by them, when most of the African population cannot afford to such luxuries. For them, tickets over the counters are the most viable way of getting into the matches. Also, the raising of fares by airlines and hotel rates ensured that many within the continent could not take part in the tournament. The FIFA had sub-contracted the hospitality aspect to an agency called Match, and this concern in fact, worked to jerk up prices, hitting the fans below the belt. In future, such actions have to be clearly checked by FIFA to ensure greater comfort level for the countless fans, who criss-cross continents to come and join the carnival. Stricter measures have to be in place to ensure that such firms and agencies are always on the watch list. FIFA’s attempts to only concentrate on reaping profits should not leave out the millions of fans and leave them in despair. While World Cup is the major engine for FIFA to earn revenue that has to be channelled back for the development programmes across the world. South Africa’s tourism industry has also earned hugely in this month. But the future also has to be clearly looked into. The giant stadiums have to be put to best use and make them filled with games round the year. This also comes in the backdrop of several fears and apprehensions raised regarding many of these magnificent structures that many feel could turn up as White Elephants!! Some grounds like in Polokwane have no football clubs to play, and so it would depend on how the nation’s football federation comes up with plans to use them in optimum manner. Already, there have been proposals floated to get Rugby, a favourite sport for the people in the country, as an event in these grounds too.

In the past month on the whole, the world chased the Jabulani and life moved with it. The anticipation with which, billions waited with bated breath and anticipation for the carnival to begin. But the 4 weeks passed away swiftly; and wait has again started for the 20th World Cup. As Spain joined the club of World Cup winners, the game has once again turned to be winner. Football has once again proved to be the game with the largest following, where the world irrespective of language, cultures, creed, colour, nationalities and faiths, joined as one to celebrate the ‘Beautiful Game’. The Fireworks have been extinguished, the broadcasters have rolled back their long wires, and the players/officials have left the shores of South Africa with a promise to meet again in four years time in Brazil. But the reverberations and echoes are still alive of the past one month in its entirety. Life has returned to being normal; the World has turned from ‘Round’ to ‘Flat’. But somewhere, deep down in the heart, there is an emptiness and there is a lump in the throat. The wait has started for Brazil 2014. Thank You, South Africa for the Golden Memories!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Football World Cup 2010: One World, One Universal Language, One Identity

At the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg on June 11, with the ball at his feet, Tshabalale breaks into a run and moving forward with amazing agility and speed. Mexican Defenders try their best to match him and mark him. However, he is unstoppable and moves into a far left position of the Mexican penalty box and sends a swirling left footer that flies into the net on the far side. With the ball kissing the back of the net, He breaks into a traditional dance, joined by his cheering team-mates of ‘Bafana Bafana’ along with thousands across South Africa. Switch to the next day, at Ellis Park in the same city, Veron-fondly called ‘the Witch’ is back at his best and takes a flag-kick that swirls away outside the penalty area, where there seem to be none waiting to receive. But out of the blue, Gabriel Heinze, jumps forward with a brilliant header, that sends the ball into the left corner of the Nigerian goal. That goal is enough for the Argentines to ensure victory.

Welcome to World Cup 2010. These images and countless others will follow for one entire month in South Africa, are treasures, if one can call that. Soccer at its classic best, with a feast of world-class footballers batting it out for the ultimate prize, to be crowned the champions of the planet. The wait for the last four years was intolerable. This one month will be taken over by fever, raging amongst the fanatics of the game. Millions across time-zones will cheer and join the carnival for their teams. The carnival includes all the attackers, the magicians, back-benchers, and dark-horses. As dreams, hopes, tears and madness amalgamate and sit side by side for this month, emotions run like a river in full torrent.

Every World Cup has enough myths, tales of bravery and heart-breaks to share. The History of World Cup begins in 1930, as Uruguay hosted the inaugural edition, something that was given for them being the reigning Olympic Champions. With Lucien Laurent etching his name in history as the first goal-scorer in World Cup, the tournament was a rage. Uruguay met Argentina in the final, going on to be crowned the World Champions.

Latin American dominance of the game thus began with that crowning glory. That style of play had a special touch to it, as the beauty of the game increased manifolds with teams from the region, especially Brazil and Argentina. The Latin American style is also a pleasure for the eye, having a unique charm and elegance. As every World Cup begins, Brazil and Argentina go into the tournament, having a ‘natural and sole claim’ to the crown. Most of he eye balls at the global stage, follow both these team, more than anyone else. 5-time champions Brazil and two-time winner, Argentina are rich in both the game and legends behind it. Having legacy of greats like Pele, Garrincha, Vava, Didi, Jairzinho, Zico, and Socrates, their followers seek nothing short of the crown for the 6th time. With 1994 winning captain Dunga at the helm as manager weaving the tactics, their moves are sharpened by a force having names like Kaka, Fabiano, Robinho, Maicon, and Lucio. Brazil is one of the teams that appears complete both in the defence, mid-field and up-front and is a top favourite of the bookies. Even before the kick-off, the best on paper. However, Argentina are not ready to give that status yet to their arch-rivals and are ready for the battle, A magician by the name of Diego Maradona-still capable of many a battle on field-is their coach and that perhaps is a big plus in their campaign for a third crown. Despite having an eventful qualification campaign, that saw them enter the final 32 as fourth in the region, one can only write them off at their own peril. Losses to Bolivia-something described by Maradona as “six bullets piercing the heart”-Chile and Brazil seemed to dent their hopes, but they recovered in time. But the Argentinian hopes and dreams are carried on the shoulders of a host of battle-trained players. Leading from the front as the trump card is none other than, Lionel Messi, or the “the Messiah” as Maradona calls him. The reigning FIFA World Footballer of the Year, Messi is also widely seen as the successor of the great Diego. Plying his trade for Barcelona in the Spanish league, his tremendous form is definitely the talking point. His role as the Argentine fans see, is that of a helmsman who has to take the ship through the rough seas. Apart from Messi, Argentina arrives in South Africa, with 5 other best strikers, Diego Milito-from his heroics for inter Milan taking them to the Champions League podium, Carlos Tevez from the English League, Sergio Aguro, Gonzalo Higuain and Martin Palermo. Also, they have Mascherano as captain, Walter Samuel, Angel Di Maria, Maxi Rodriguez, Heinze, and Veron to strengthen their strike force. But Maradona and his boys, have to ensure that all the prowess isn’t just restricted to being on paper. Apart from the ‘Selecao’ and ‘Albiceleste’, there are Argentine Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay-who again ride on the back of the veteran, experienced Diego Forlan. But the Dream Final everyone is looking forward on July 11, is that of the arch-rivals, Brazil and Argentina. Another history is waiting at the threshold-if either Maradona or Dunga ensure their team as world champions, then he would emulate the great Franz ‘Kaiser’ Beckenbauer

Moving on from Latin America, we come to another style matching the former, the European variety. In terms of abundance of talent, the team matching Brazil and Argentina is Spain, the reigning European champions. With stars like Casillas, Fabregas, Puyol, Iniesta, Ramos. Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Silva and Villa, jostling in one single team, the Spanish Armada is brewing with richness. Under the coaching of Vicente Del Bosque who has taken over reigns from the successful Luis Aragones, Spain have staked their claim authoritatively on the glittering trophy. Under Fabio Cappello, England had a remarkable qualification campaign. But injury to captain Rio Ferdinand has been a set-back. But under Steven Gerrard wearing the captain’s arm-band, Rooney and Crouch as strikers, Lampard, Aaron Lennon, John Terry, Ashley Cole, and Shaun-Wright Philips, the English hope to get their second title after 1966 at Wembley.  Under ‘Magic Boy’ Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal to better their performance four years off. But they will definitely have to play out of their skins in their Group G games, having tough opponents, Brazil, Ivory Coast and North Korea. The French, whose qualification play-off was marred by Henry’s ‘hand-ball’ against Ireland, are in Group A with Uruguay, Mexico and hosts South Africa. Missing from their squad is the legend, Zinedine Zidane, whose ‘magic legs’ won’t be on show this time.  Also not in action are Trezeguet, Barthez, and Patrick Viera. But Raymond Domench has at his disposal the strength of Malouda, Ribery, Abidal, and Anelka, hoping they would carry the flame ahead.

The reigning world champions, the ‘Azzuri’ are also under the stewardship of Marcello Lippi. Coming in the midst of ugly and corrupt scandals in their domestic league, Serie A four years before, Lippi had marshaled his troops well then leading them to their fourth championship title. However, after Roberto Donadoni failed for a brief while, making way for Lippi again, this time around, the Italians are one of the oldest in the tournament. With play maker and skipper Michael Ballack missing the action due to injury that has in fact, almost finished his World Cup career, Germany is still looking forward to bring out is lightening football. Coach Joachim Low would hope that Klose, Podolski, Schweinsteiger, and Philip Lahm would make sure Ballack is not missed and go to win their third world title. The proponets of ‘Total Football’ have always had the case of “so near, yet so far”. The Dutch who boast of legends like Cruyff, Van Basten, Rikaard and Ruud Gullit, would hope that Arjen Robben, Sneijder, Von Bommel, Dirk Kuyt, and Giovanni van Bronckhorst would make some deep in-roads in this edition.  Apart from these teams, Slovenia, Slovakia, Serbia, Switzerland, Denmark, and Greece complete the European line-up. Europe also has the distinction of having the oldest and youngest managers in this edition of the World Cup-them being Otto Rehhagel of Greece and Vladmir Weiss of Slovenia respectively.

The host continent Africa, have always had the tag ‘Dark Horses’ attached to them. The African style has an all together different charm. Something that begins slowly, going on to reach an aggressive crescendo; they also have a rich legacy to safeguard. Cameroon under Roger Milla in 1990, Nigeria in 1994, Senegal in 2002, and Ghana in 2006, have been great examples of African dream runs.  In South Africa, Ghana would be there, but without their star player, Michael Essien, as the Chelsea star is out wit an injury. But they would hope Asamoah Gyan and Stephen Appiah would be at their best. “The Elephants” or Ivory Coast would ride the waves under their star Didier Drogba, who has under his belt a successful league and goals with Chelsea. Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, would also have with him Salomon Kalou, and the brothers Kolo Toure and Yaya Toure. But to negotiate their way upwards against Brazil, Portugal and North Korea would be a stiff challenge. The ‘Super Eagles’, Nigeria would also be knocking at the high doors, as the successful coach of Sweden, Lars Lagerback tries to devise ways to progress from their tough Group B, having Argentina, South Korea and Greece. Under Samuel ‘Eto’o-experienced from the Spanish and Italians leagues with Barcelona and Inter Milan-as captain and Rigobert Song, the ‘Indomitable Lions’ Cameroon, march forward hoping to emulate Milla’s legacy. But Eto’o would correct the criticisms of Milla against him. South Africa called ‘Bafana Bafana’ are the only team to escape the trials at qualification, as being the hosts. Coached by Brazilian Carlos Alberto Pereira, they would seek to make strong dents and move to the second round from Group A. The ‘Desert Foxes’ Algeria who defeated Egypt in an eventful play-off at Khartoum, complete the line-up from Africa.

From Asia, comes Australia, who changed their confederation from Oceania. Under Mark Schwazer, Bresciano, Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill, the Socceroos would hope to make good progress in the tournament. Japan have also made their presence felt from Asia along with South Korea, who would hope to re-work the magic at home eight years back when they reached the last four. North Korea makes its entry into the World Cup after 1966, where they had shocked Italy and went down fighting to Portugal, who were saved by Eusebio. Then there teams like Mexico, whose hopes hinge greatly on performances by Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Rafael Marquez and Javier Hernandez. USA would have Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsy under the managership of Bob Bradley who tries to fit into the shoes of Bob Bradley. Honduras is the other team from North-America Concacaf region. Completing the entire line-up would be New Zealand under Ricky Herbet, who was also part of their only World Cup appearance in 1982. The New Zealanders enter the final round defeating Bahrain in the Play-Offs. This effectively ended any possibility of the participation of a team from the Persian Gulf. This World Cup is marked by their absence, which has never happened so in near past. Also, this World Cup would be unique in the fact that, there would be no team making its debut in the World Cup finals. Each team has featured in either of all 18 previous editions.

I have the belief that there is no one single Group of Death in this World Cup. While without doubt, Group G having Brazil, Ivory Coast, North Korea and Portugal is the toughest. But Group B comprising Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea and Greece is also a challenge. So is Group D with the Germans, Serbs, Ghana and Australia. Even Group E comprising Netherlands, Denmark, So tough battles can be expected in the 10 venues that South Africa has brought forth for this tournament.

History and Legacy abound in World Cup along with controversies and scandals too. A host of names are legends in their own right at the global stage. Puskas, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst, Vava, Didi, Pele, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Beckenbauer, Pele, Maradona, Johan Cryuff, Michel Platini, Paolo Rossi, Dino Zoff, Gerd Muller, Linekar, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Romario, Roberto Baggio, Rivaldo, Batistuta, Maldini, Cannigia…………..the list is endless. Several moments in the field have given their share of controversies, whether it be Geoff Hurst’s goal in 1966 final against West Germany at Wembley, something debated under the same breadth as Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ in 1986 quarter-final against England. Snippets and Trivia also abound in the World Cup. The tale of how after winning the 1934 World Cup winners, Italy safeguarded the Jules Rimet Cup, when their Football Association Vice-President kept its under his bed-trunk even at the height of Allied attacks in Wartime, as how the cup was stolen in 1966 and the English being saved of massive embarrassment by a dog called Pickles, which retrieved it. The World Cup has come a long way from its inception,. The trophy itself underwent change, as the Jules Rimet Cup was replaced by Silvio Gazzaniga’s sculpted piece used to this day. Franz Beckenbauer had the honour of raising it first in 1974, as the Rimet trophy was handed over to Brazil permanently, who won it thrice.

Every sport connects millions through its transcendental effect; the power to provide unbridled joy from multitude of problems for people and take their dreams as well as aspirations on top flight. Football thus makes a ‘Global Unifying Factor’. Carrying dreams, hopes and a special mania, millions welcome the World Cup world over. Despite the drives and penetration of commercialization, the essence and spirit of football still stands undiluted, tying together people like no other force. A Ball and 22 bodies running behind it is just a mirage….when the ball rolls in World Cup, the entire world runs behind it, eyes riveting towards the goal mouth. ‘Jogo Bonito’ or the Beautiful Game may be a Brazilian axiom, but its connotations are global in nature today, as it creates new meanings and adages. So whether it be in Savannah of Africa, Amazon jungles of Latin America, Prairies of North America, the Meadows of Europe, Deserts in Arabia, towns of Asia or high lands Down Under, the World united. As the whistle blew at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg on June 11, when the sounds of Vuvuzuela resounded, as Shakira joined in chorus with ‘Waka Waka’ and various colours & jerseys, came afore, the World for One Month has a Universal Language, Universal Identity: Football!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

SFI's Position on Incidents of Violence in JNU in the Aftermath of Maoist Killing of CRPF Personnel in Chhattisgarh

Following is the position of SFI on the violence in JNU over the killing of CRPF Personnel in Chhattisgarh on 6 April by Maoists




Last two days have seen shameful and condemnable incidents in our campus. On 9th of April, the activists of NSUI, ABVP and YFE disrupted a program of the JNU Forum against War on People being held at Godavari Dhaba by indulging in sloganeering and physical violence. Yesterday, once again when the members of this forum were doing a mess campaign for a protest march against the incidents of 9th,, they were stopped from speaking in the Mahi-Mandavi Mess by a group of students under the leadership of NSUI and ABVP. When the protest march reached the Mahi-Mandavi Hostel, once again there was counter sloganeering and commotion creating a completely anarchic atmosphere. Later, indulging in the worst form of lumpenism, this right-wing mobilization tore all posters from the walls of different hostels and burnt them down. Even posters of the upcoming Bengali New Year program were torn off in some hostels.

The SFI strongly condemns such acts. We believe that they are completely antithetical to the democratic culture which has been the hallmark of the student politics of JNU. Diverse and conflicting political ideological views have always been debated in the most democratic manner in our campus over the years and nobody has any right to undermine or weaken this culture under any pretext. The SFI appeals to all sections of the university community to reject such lumpenism and unite for safeguarding and strengthening our democratic ethos.

Unfortunately, because of the irresponsible and callous attitude of the JNU Forum against War on People which did not take a prior permission for holding a program on Godavari Dhaba, the administration has got away without any responsibility of taking action against the disrupters and is taking a moral high ground. Had the organizers taken prior permission and informed the administration, it could have been easier to hold it accountable to take action. Contrary to what has been claimed by the Forum in its notice that no permission is required to having programs at Godavari Dhaba, the SFI would like to inform the student community that we have been taking permissions for our programs for the same venue. We would like to underline the fact that while there is no question of accepting any kind of censorship on political programs in JNU, it is also important that certain basic norms are adhered to for the sake of maintaining co-ordination and ensuring that if any untoward incidents happen, responsibility can be fixed.

As far as the larger question of Maoist violence is concerned, which was used as an excuse for the hooliganism which has happened, the SFI would reiterate its opposition to such violence in the name of left. We also believe that the political position of the JNU Forum against War on People and the DSU is extremely hypocritical on this issue. We challenge both these outfits to come clear on the recent killing of 74 CRPF personnel and Maoist violence in general. The DSU in the past has justified the killings of SFI and CPI (M) leaders in West Bengal. There is a need to politically isolate such anarchic and bankrupt outfits who have refused to condemn the mindless violence, which is completely unacceptable in a democratic set up like ours. Such outfits only strengthen the canards which are spread by the right-wing forces against the Left being undemocratic and programmatically violent. We appeal to the student community to see through the anti-left and anarchic politics which these organizations are propagating under the garb of left.

However, any such political debate or discussion cannot be held through lumpenism or undemocratic acts like what has happened in the last two days. It only reflects the undemocratic politics of right-wing organizations on campus. We would also advise the NSUI look into its own closets first before trying to claim any high moral ground against the Maoists. The self-righteous and arrogant attitude of the Union Home Minister who till the Chhattisgarh attacks had conveniently shifted all responsibility of dealing with the Maoist with the State government has definitely not helped matters. The NSUI should also answer the student community as to what is its take on the gang up between the Maoists and the Trinamool Congress, the second biggest constituent of the ruling UPA, for killing the activists and workers of the CPI(M) in West Bengal.

We appeal to the student community to reject any activity in the name of politics which seeks to vitiate the peaceful and democratic atmosphere on campus. The SFI also believes that hooliganism or violence is not the way to build opinion against the Maoists. The struggle against Moist violence on campus must be waged on a political ideological basis and mobilizing larger sections of he students behind democratic issues.

Sd/- Lenin, President, SFI-JNU.
Sd/- P.K.Anand, Secretary, SFI-JNU.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Copenhagen Climate Change Summit: India Crumbling before US-led Developed World??

The Following is the release brought out by the SFI-JNU on the Copenhagen Summit and India's shifting stances. With due acknowledgements to Arjun and Anagha, publishing this as a post

From today(7th December), the attention of the world would be turned towards Copenhagen which is hosting the two-week United Nations Climate Change Conference that would last till 18th December. The issue of the change in our atmospheric temperature fundamentally caused due to Global Warming is definitely of a serious nature, that can no more swept under the carpet. Any rise of global temperatures above 2 degree Celsius, according to experts and scientists would have catastrophic effects. This would in fact lead melting of glaciers, change climate patterns, and raise sea levels that would in turn make way for submergence of low-lying areas and islands, as has been feared with countries like Maldives. This would also affect the level and pattern of rainfall, leading to drastic impact on agricultural production and turn farm land into the deserts. The rise in global temperatures is brought about by the emission of Greenhouse gases that includes Carbon Di Oxide, Methane and four other gases, which severely damage the ozone layer. Therefore, the world should definitely look at the impact of climate change on livelihood of people as well as on the environment.

However, developments leading up to the global summit on climate change in Copenhagen have demonstrated yet again the sheer tenacity of the Rich and Developed countries in preserving their unequal and unjust privileges with respect to the rest of the world. In the last few months, the developed world, under the leadership of the US, has tried every trick in the book to transfer the entire burden of climate change on to the shoulders of the Developing Countries. This has been attempted in several ways. Firstly, developed countries have been shrilly insisting that developing countries take on legally binding and specific obligations to reduce their carbon emissions. This demand is accompanied, of course, by a view of the problem of climate change in which the historically dominant contribution of the developed world to carbon emissions is completely denied. The fact that different countries, at different stages of development, contribute differently to global emission levels, and should therefore bear the burden of emission reduction differently, is completely glossed over. India’s per capita emissions, for instance, are around one-tenth of the per capita emissions in the developed countries. In such an unequal scenario, insisting on an equal commitment to reduction from every country amounts to the worst kind of inequity. This view is outrageously blinkered to another important fact. The brunt of climate change, in terms of its impact on the quality of human life, is already being unequally and disproportionately shouldered by the Developing World–particularly the poorest of its inhabitants. Climate change has exceptionally severe consequences for countries that are predominantly dependant on agriculture or other kinds of primary economic activity. This is particularly the case where artificial irrigation is not very developed and extensive. In India, for instance, climate change can play havoc with agricultural activity by interfering enormously in patterns of precipitation. Further, as climate change is beginning to substantially impact the physical shape and ecological constitution of coastlines, activities like fishing, particularly in cases where levels of mechanization are comparatively low, stand to get acutely affected. The Developing countries and the lesser developed countries, therefore, is disproportionately vulnerable to the ravages of climate change.

Secondly, there has been a concerted effort by developed countries to shamelessly distance themselves from their obligations under the Kyoto Protocol and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The principle that served as the foundation of the understandings reached at these conventions was that of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. On this principle, developed countries were supposed to take a lead in emissions reduction with specific legally binding reductions within specific lengths of time. Most developed countries have grossly violated these binding targets. (The US, of course, which refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol has unabashedly let its emission levels rise). They have also tried, over the last few months, to systematically remove these legally binding obligations from public memory. Most developed countries, therefore, pretend that the Copenhagen summit is a forum wherein deliberations on climate change can be ‘begun’ from a clean slate! The sheer deceit of such a stand has had several crude manifestations. The blatant lie that the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012, for instance, belongs to this category.

Thirdly, there has been a strong insistence by the developed world that technology and knowledge transfers to the Developing and less developed world, pertaining to emission reductions, should be subject to international Intellectual Property Rights frameworks. It is an undeniable fact that countries in the Third World, if they are to develop–if they are to lift themselves out of the mire of poverty, unemployment and economic stagnation–they will have to increase their levels of carbon emissions.

What can, however, mitigate the consequences of such a rise is the adoption of technologies that can help reduce the level of pollution relative to a given level of production. However, plagued as these countries are by economic and technological underdevelopment, their capacity to develop these technologies on their own is limited. Hence, the transfer of ‘green’ technologies from the developed to the developing world is of extreme importance. The developed countries, predictably of course, are attempting to profit from even this dire situation. By insisting that IPR norms apply to these technology transfers, the Rich countries are, in effect, insisting that the developing world and lesser developed countries be incapable of pursuing a trajectory of development. Through this insistence, the developed countries, under American leadership, have revealed their stark and cynical indifference to both the question of climate change and that of the welfare of the overwhelming numbers of people languishing in situations of extreme want and underdevelopment in the Developing World.

The position of the Indian government, in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit, seems equally shocking. The government seems to be extremely keen to accede to the unconscionable demands of the US-led developed countries. This has largely been in the form of the reversal of several of the principled positions that India has traditionally had on the question of climate change. In fact, in all the dilution and watering down the principled positions, the role of the Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh has been that of leading from the front!! The Prime Minister’s earlier stated position was that India’s per capita emissions “would not exceed” the per capita emissions of the Developing World. However, Jairam Ramesh, has recently modified this position by replacing the words “would not exceed” with “will stay below” thereby making room for negotiations under the per capita emission levels of the developed world. This amounts to nothing but shocking enthusiasm for the inequitable and unjust pressures exerted by the rich and developed countries. The minister has also announced 20%-25% reduction in emissions, while stating that this was ‘only domestic measure and would not be legally binding’. Further, the same minister has gone to the extent of claiming in the Lok Sabha that taking per capita emissions as the key standard is mistaken in the first place as it is largely a function of the population size. The concept of ‘per capita emissions’ has been central to the arguments of resistance made by the developed countries against the iniquitous designs of the developed countries on the question of climate change. To attack the use of this concept is therefore to render this resistance toothless. Further, he has offered to make India’s internal emission reduction efforts open to external monitoring and verification, regardless of whether technology transfers outside the domain of IPR are carried out at all or not, thereby deviating from one of the key components of India’s stated position on the issue. Of course, this has been accompanied by a vehement dismissal of the importance of the G-77, which till some time earlier had been viewed as a principally important formation as far as the resistance to the first world’s climate change-related bullying was concerned. These constant flip-flops and dilly-dallying by Jairam Ramesh in the past few days, and now the only goes to show the dilution in India’s Negotiating position on this issue and thereby, kowtowing or acting in the interest of the Developed World led by the US. Hence, this sudden shift in the country’s Environment and Climate Change is not hard to comprehend as it only points to the larger strategic alliance with the United States. In fact, two key members of the country’s Negotiating team in Copenhagen, Chandrasekhar Dasgupta and Prodipto Ghosh had even initially sought to not travel for the Summit due to differences with the Minister’s position.

Finally, the recent announcement of the Prime Minister attend the final days of the Summit only raises apprehensions as to whether this came under the pressure of the US, where Barack Obama would also be in Copenhagen. In fact, this is in contrast to his earlier position that if the proposed terms of understanding were unequal, he would not be a part of the forum. His decision to attend it, therefore, represents the final confession on the part of the UPA government that it has no intention whatsoever to resist the US-directed imperialist tyranny of the rich and developed countries on this issue. The series of agile u-turns and somersaults the government has done on the question of climate change have been nothing but a part of their systematic effort to dismantle mechanisms and space for resistance to US imperialism and hegemony in general. Finally, it represents a deep-rooted and fundamental callousness, on the part of the UPA-led government, to questions of the welfare of the Indian people, particularly those enormous sections of it grappling with material want and abysmal conditions of life.


Therefore, there has to be a united opposition to these positions of the Indian government. The need for all concerned sections is to ensure that even while taking into cognizance and acting on the perils envisaged by Climate Change, there can be no reversal or dilution of Principled Negotiating positions, by kowtowing to the diktats of the US and the Developed World

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sachin Tendulkar: A Journey of Two Decades

The time of growing up is very interesting; very often, it is a time of innocence. A time when the vagaries of the world seemingly leaving us unscathed. For a person like me and my generation, the beginning of the decade of the 90s was still embalmed in innocence. The hard realities of the world seem to be not affecting our morale. I would still vouch that, many facts and realities were yet to sink in. It was after covering great distance, from my formative years, that one is able to come to terms with those years. I could not understand, that the Post-Rajiv's assassination, the Narasimha Rao government at the centre was in fact in minority; I was still trying to understand the communal polarization being built up after the Babri demolition; the nitty-gritty of the 'Manmohanomics' in the form of economic reforms were still to be dissected; corruption and scandals in the form of Harshad Mehta, Hawala, et.al were still throwing up new truths and one was yet to see Shahrukh Khan as the Badshah of Bollywood!! Life for a school boy in the beginning of the decade of 90s was dominated by only one name......an image built stronger by conversations among the friends.....a time when everyone just watched him and forgot the happenings around them...perhaps his act was that of a transporter, who took us on a ride, into surrealism, away from our troubles and miseries........SACHIN TENDULKAR!!

Every person needs someone to look upto as he/she grows up......Every generation have their icons to remember...........My generation of the 1990s have not had anyone better than him. The first instance of observing him was the 1992 World Cup. Catching up with the rage and seeing a short, sturdy guy playing solid cricket shots was nothing sort of magic. Cricket for us was then identified with him. He was the 'Be All' and 'End All' of everything associated with the game. He was the prized wicket and his dismissal ended all the high hopes. The nuances of his game were still not understood. Neither were his array of shots nor his poise. The only thing that mattered was his image, his presence to face the bowler. The shouts were only for him blast the bowling and cart the deliveries all over the park. Eager eyes followed his exploits, at home against England, as he scored his first test hundred in India, at Chepauk-a ground where he has continued to maintain a great record-in Madras. On one early February morning, on the way to the morning school assembly, a friend informed that Sachin had made his debut as opener in the ODIs in New Zealand and scored an aggressive half-century. One still fondly remembers, how curses were breathed, for not having a cable connection at home. The feeling was one of missing the good things in life!! Curiosity and passion ruled the minds, as one saw him score his first ODI hundred at the Premadasa Stadium against the Australians in Colombo in 1994. Life has from then, carried on along with his journey, watching him score heavily in the 1996 World Cup till that stumping by Kalu off Murali in the Eden Gardens on that fateful day.

As one grew out of boyhood, into the responsible time of adolescence, the image of Tendulkar changed from a dasher to that of an accumulator. Along the way, he also accepted captaincy, where despite his best efforts he faltered. The most challenging time for him definitely seemed to be that test match at Bridgetown, when in the face of the gettable score of 120, the team just wilted away and crumbled for around 90. Nobody would have been more dejected than the skipper himself. It was only when the growing up as a youth was complete, that a closer peak into Sachin's beginning years could be developed. His exploits for Sharadashram along with mate Kambli under the tutelage of the Achrekar in the Harris Shield. The Mumbai cricketing nursery had produced another gem, having been tested in the fire of the different leagues in the city. The Bombay school of batsmanship was driven into him deeply. His performances in the Harris Shield and the Kanga League catapulted him into the Mumbai Ranji line-up. Scoring heavily, he also made a Century on Debut in the Ranji trophy as well as in the Irani trophy. As a 16 year-old, Sachin's only purpose on this planet seemed to play cricket. In fact, in one of his last interviews before his demise, Raj Singh Dungarpur remarked as how the Cricket Club of India had to revise its rules to allow the teenager to practice at the venue. Having been selected for the Indian team at the tender age of 16, he was straight away thrown into one of the toughest cauldrons, to tour Pakistan. That challenge was not only uphill, but was also demanding mentally for any youngster. His first captain, Krishnamachari Srikkanth got him into the final XI and he had to literally undergo his Baptism by Fire. Facing the pace of Wasim Akram along with another tearaway from Burewala-also making his debut-Waqar Younis, along with the astute leader in the fiery Pathan, Imran Khan, at Karachi, the 'boy' was not one to be intimidated. Even though hit by a snorter of Waqar in the second test at Faislabad and having his nose bleeding, Sachin defiantly carried on and made a half-century. Navjot Singh Sidhu was his partner at the other end. It was on this tour that he even took on Abdul Qadir for 16 runs in an over.

He reached his first big landmark of getting the initial three figure mark at the Old Blighty in the company of Manoj Prabhakar. But he would have scored that earlier in the year, on the tour to New Zealand. However, in the midst of a well-made 80, he was caught by John Wright. His room-mate on that tour, Sanjay Manjrekar during his commentary in later years, remarked as to how little Sachin cried for missing that hundred. But it was his tour to Australia that put him in an altogether different plane. His remarkable tons against the marauding pace attack of McDermott, Whitney, and Hughes in Sydney and Perth displayed his strengths. Driving good length deliveries, he also cut and pulled well. Perhaps, the best shots were the punches down the ground, that were played with supreme class and precise timing. The hundred at WACA at that age, is still adorned and forms part of the folklore. Over the years, following and keeping track of him has been an exercise, worth every single pie. The country cried as he lost his father in the midst of a World Cup and stood together in solidarity as he cracked a hundred against the Kenyans immediately after his return. That battle for Tendulkar was one he fought within himself more than with the opposition. His grit and determination were best displayed in that knock of 131 against Pakistan on a searing hot day at Chepauk in 1999. Fighting a back injury,while wickets were falling all around him on a fifth day track, he held one end up and almost took India home. One of the most epic chases with just the climax being different. Falling to a skier off Saqlain, Sachin walked off and India were left high and dry by 12 runs. People still remark how he didn't come to collect his Man of the Match award and just cried the entire day.

As time has progressed, his body has also undergone enough wear and tear. Playing for two decades is no mean achievement. Injuries have plagued him greatly and there is no part of the body left, which has not been placed under the scalpel. His stroke-making has changed. The booming drives and dances down the track have become less pronounced. But the sobriquet of the 'Run-Machine' still holds onto him. The timing and compose is always there. he still shifts gears with ease. Take the match in World Cup 2003 against Pakistan for instance. he just tore into Akhtar and rest of the attack. Missing the ton by just a whisker, it was wanton display of brutal, but still calculated aggression.

The 1990s had only one image of the Maestro: that of him taking the entire burden of the team on his shoulders and getting into the assault mode. Many a match can be remembered for analyzing this effort of Sachin. The battles against the Aussies in Sharjah in 1998, in the famous 'Desert Storm' was one such. Scoring two back-to-back hundreds-one in the final on his birthday night-wherein he launched himself against Kasprowicz, Fleming and Warne, was an image etched in stone.So me of those towering hits still encapsulate his batsmanship. Switching gears according to his will, he took control by being in the driver's seat. No wonder, the Aussies still consider him the biggest threat!! The team's fortunes hinged on Sachin's show. How he batted and how his work report sounded became the benchmark for the team's upward mobility. That clearly overburdened the champion, but he never let the team down. It was only in the beginning of the Sourav Ganguly era, where the vision and trajectory of the team changed. Greater challenges were identified and determination was plugged in to fulfill targets. The Indian batting became more stabilized with the emergence and flowering of the Dravids and Laxmans. New talent was unearthed and nurtured in all departments of the game like Sehwag, Zaheer, Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Kaif, Raina, Rohit Sharma, Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma, Ojha, Nehra, Irfan Pathan. The team began to win tests and even series abroad. The raw talent was getting more polished with greater exposure and more competency through the astute coaching under John Wright. New thoughts and ideas were planted and germinated. A New purposeful Aggression was visible in the march of the Indian team. Followers began to believe in the team itself as a whole and not just limit their interest in Sachin getting a hundred, even if India lost in the process. The New Sachin was born. Gaining the status of an elderly statesman, he was more a guide and a father figure to the youngsters. That certainly freed Sachin, making him more reassured that there were others to shoulder the burden and he could play lot more freely.

Batting is just class. It is not just about taking the attack to the opposition. It is in fact an Art Form; an Amalgamation of lots of components. The essential features includes timing, placement, transfer of body weight, playing with soft hands, using the bottom hand to good effect, rolling of those magical wrists-typical to the batsmen of the sub-continent-and much more. The battle is also of the mind. To overcome pressure; to know that one may be still on high after getting a ton, but the next incoming delivery may send you back to the hut. Its about concentration, perseverance and elegance. The beauty of watching Tendulkar on song cannot be compared to anything else. Its a magician or great artist at work. Working the ball into the gaps, running hard converting ones into twos and twos into threes along with launching those big hits. The lovely straight drive, the crisp cover drive, the short of the jab pull, the hook, the mesmerizing square cut, nice on-drive, the brilliant punch back past the fast bowler, the elegant late cut, the cheeky paddle sweep, the mighty slog, the calculated reverse sweep......these and much more are all integral part of the Tendulkar book of batsmanship. Pure orthodox cricket shots, nicely off the meat of the bat....that sweet sound as the ball wheezes off to the boundary. But the most rapacious picture, without doubt is his dance down the track to hit the spinner down town. The way in which he picks the length early and positions himself to unleash his barrage of strokes. Even the way in which he scored the last of his test hundreds against Sri Lanka in Ahmedabad, he reached close to the hundred after getting one past the ropes, after picking it up from outside the off-stump off Welegedara and depositing it away from mid-on. The experts have often opined on how he dictates terms; how the opposition bowls to his own terms. How the picking of line and length makes the bowlers to bowl, not to their fields, but to how Sachin wants to bowl. That puts forth a psychiatric pressure from the master!! He may have cut down on many of those shots with the age catching up with him. But he still displays them on the needed occasions. Just like that innings of 175 against the Aussies in Hyderabad, few days back. Hitting back-to-back sixes of Hauritz, keeping the run-rate ticking; Even if there was a dip in the rate in one over, he compensated it in the next over with those meaty blows. Even when the going is tough for him, he still is able to come out with flying colours and finding opportunities in adverisities. The Double Hundred(241n.o) at Sydney in 2004 was made in the backdrop of a string of poor scores in the earlier 3 tests. In fact during that innings, he did not play a single boundary through the off-side. That was a complete story of leg-side shot making. Such was his planning and execution that the double hundred became more sweet.

It is not only his batting, but his bowling also need strong mention. He was on his own terms, a mystery bowler, by not moving him into any category. He was a tweaker, bowling both the off-breaks and the leg-breaks. He even bowled pace up at times. Captains have used him often as a breaker of partnerships. Whenever, given the ball, he has most of the times delivered. His best have come in high pressure games. Those three wickets in the defining test match against the Aussies at the Eden Gardens in 2001, with his victims including the dangerous Gilchrist, trapped in the front. The two important wickets of Damien Martyn and Steve Waugh at Adelaide, caught by Dravid in the slips ensured that the Australian second innings was broken, later opening the doors for Ajit Agarkar to get a six-wicket haul, that in turn culminated in India winning that epic test match. Again, his tight bowling during the Hero Cup semis against the Proteas in that final over amidst great pressure ensured the team's passage to the finals. Also, the two 5-wicket hauls against Australia and Pakistan in different years in Kochi. It must be noted that whenever he didn't shine with the willow, he made for it with the ball. His bowling even finished careers-the tweaker to Moin Khan in the Multan Test match in 2004 on the final ball of the third evening, squeezed through between the former's legs and crashed into the stumps. And ever since, Moin Khan did not play any international cricket!!

Critics have often passed judgements stating that he had failed to take the team to victory batting wise, or falling at hurdles on the way. But as recently, he has dismissed those notions through his willow. Not a great deal of time has passes since that hundred against the Englishmen at Chennai chasing 387 on the final day, a century he later dedicated to the victims and Martyrs of the Mumbai Terror Attacks. Or his innings of a ton and 91 in the two finals of the CB Series against the Aussies in Down Under in 2008. Even the latest 100 against the Sri Lankans on the final day of the Ahmedabad test was a sign of him putting himself in to save the test match. Out his 43 hundred, one of the testing, of attrition was against the Englishmen in 2001 in Ahmedabad, when Nasser Hussain and his main bowler, Ashely Giles were sticking to negative bowling to dry up the runs and frustrate him. Or how about his 160 odd in that test in Cape Town in 1996-97 in the company of Azharuddin to take the game to the Proteas and saving it ultimately.

In each of the media sessions and interviews on him completing 20 years in international cricket, Tendulkar remarked that he would like to be remembered for 'giving 100 per cent' for team and country. Thats what has come to symbolize him. The perfect balance, both on and off the field. He may have a million endorsements, multitude of fame and have the charm of the global icon; but his feet are still on the ground, the passion for the game growing with each passing day, the hunger for runs still unabated, seeing each upcoming day as a new challenge, willing to learn something every day, trying to gain perfection with those teeny-weeny bits of advice.....that makes Sachin the best!! Retirement may be far off, despite his aching body taking great toll. There are still aims to be fulfilled, even though he may possess the record for the highest runs and most centuries in two leading forms of the modern game. His poise and passion are still intact, the intent well preserved. The aim for larger causes for the team and country still there....an elusive World Cup that has continued to slip from the grasp. Despite coming close on two occasions in 1996 and 2003-when he single-handedly almost won it-the spirit of Sachin being part of a World Cup winning unit is still alive and kicking. That would be ultimate dedication the current Indian team can do to the Little Champion.

Fortunate are we for witnessing the acts and exploits of this Gentleman in this era. Sachin Tendulkar is like the Kohinoor; that diamond only comes once in a generation. The Maestro is like that. People have started demarcating the timeline in international cricket, by drawing in the prefixes of before and after, against Sachin's name. That may be a bit off the cuff, but still Tendulkar has come to be identified as a phenomenon. my generation is fortunate to follow his gamesmanship, integrity, sacrifices, determination, grit and glory. In fact, I have even the audacity to state that I have watched all his centuries now-even if that meant, exploring through various channels to access his knocks in the beginning of the last decade, mainly those in the tests. One can also remember the grounds, opposition, atmosphere and nature of the attacks against which he made them. It was in the Caribbean that he had not scored much. But he erased that glitch too, when he equalled his admirer, the great Don Bradman, after scoring in the second Test match at Port-of -Spain in 2002. Erasing landmarks and conquering new peaks, the voyage of the legend called Tendulkar continues into the 21st year. Tracking and following him as an avid fan has been truly enchanting. Today, the government at the centre is a coalition against a

minority with the Congress party back to the helm, the neo-liberal economic policies have deprived people, the Liberhan report on Babri Demolition is finally public after 17 long years, terrorism is a major challenge, mass struggles are now on the horizon, nuclear deterrence has again been tested, the country has its own Moon Mission, Shah Rukh Khan is now the Badshah, and the country has hit gold spot in the Olympics......Many things have changed and many have stood still; some have even given way to newer forms. But Sachin Tendulkar continues playing and that Age of Innocence still lingers on. The eyes continue to follow him avidly with greater expectations, for that surreal experience, giving that hope for millions watching. As Sachin himself said for the forward march for any player or performer, there needed to be people to celebrate with, to constantly look upto and feel motivated. He was happy that for this precise purpose, he had "A Billion".....Play on Sachin, the world continues to look forward to that sweet music from your hand, whether it be by the willow or by the cherry.