stars of Lanka
Transition time, when established players and stars of a team get ready to quit the scene after playing their glorious innings, is the biggest challenge for all major cricket teams Sri Lanka cricket is in one such transition period. Doughty opener Marvyn Atappattu has already retired and stars like Muttiah Muralitharan, Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahila Jayawardene and Chaminda Vaas, are in the twilight of their career.
In such a scenario one felt that Sri Lanka will not be as combative a unit as they are now following the exit of these big names. But careful blooding in and coming good of the youngsters like Mendis, Kulasekara, Mathews and Thushara at crucial moments recently has been heartening for Sri Lanka cricket.
Rookie seamer Angelo Mathews was sensational in the crucial ICC T20 World Championship semifinal last month. The seamer bowled an amazing opening over in which he claimed three key wickets in the crucial game, virtually sealing Sri Lankan victory over West Indies.
Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, a late replacement for injured Muthiah Muralitharan, was a revelation in the first Test at Galle against Pakistan. Sitting pretty at 71 for two in pursuit of a modest 168 for win, Pakistan were skittled out for 117 in 44.3 overs. Herath achieved a virtual miracle for his team. Taking a career-best four for 15 off 11.3 overs, he pulled off an unlikely win for Sri Lanka.
Wiry fast bowler Nuwan Kulasekara came up with a mean spell in the second Test as Pakistan were straightaway thrust on the backfoot having been bowled out for meagre 90 runs on the opening day of the second Test at Colombo. Kulasekara (4-21) was backed up admirably by Thilan Thushara and Ajantha Mendis which hastened Pakistanís collapse and the visitors struggled to cross the 100-run mark.
Ever since he shot into limelight against India by taking eight wickets in his debut Test in the home series against India and later been named Man of the Series in the three-Test series, Ajantha Mendis has not looked back. The 24-year-old continues to baffle batsmen with sheer variety of his bowling. His "carrom ball" torments the batsmen no end.
He came out with his reputation enhanced after the conclusion of the T20 World Championship. The Australian campaign got derailed as Mendis scalped four for 20 in four overs. He clean bowled Ponting with a delivery that went the other way, trapped hard-hitting Shane Watson lbw and breached Michael Husseyís defence as well. New Zealand and the West Indies were at the receiving end, failing miserably to read the mystery spinner.
The success achieved by Mandis should mean that Sri Lanka will not be left with a void in the spin department after worldís most successful bowler Muralitharan decides to quit.
Though not as successful initially which saw him being left out of the Test squad, right-arm seamer Nuwan Kulasekara staged an impressive comeback to the Sri Lanka squad nearly a year back. Justifying his No 1 ODI ranking, Kulasekara added variety to his bowling. Predominantly an inswing bowler, Kulasekara vastly enhanced his effectiveness adding out-swinger and the slower one to his repertoire. His recent performance with the ball, when first-choice seamers Vaas and Lasith Malinga could not take the field, has shown that he has it in him to share the new ball once 35-year-old Vaas decides to call it quits.
In the World T20 semi-final against West Indies, rookie Mathews bowled an inspired spell scalping Xavier Marshall, Lendl Simmons and Dwayne Bravo to leave their rivals tottering at 1 for 3 in the first over of the chase. Though Gayle tonked the ball around with authority, the West Indies skipper was in no position to alter the course of the match. Mathews is no rabbit with the bat having the ability to bat at any position. With a fair amount of success in the ICC World T20 Championship with bat as well as the ball, Mathews looks a good prospect for Sri Lanka.
In whatever little cricket he has played for Sri Lanka left-arm bowler Thushara has shown that he has the skill to succeed at the highest level of the game. Besides his bowling, what makes Thushara a useful member of the side is his gritty batting.
It is, however, the form of fearless and technically correct Tillakaratne Dilshan that has made Sri Lanka look like a dangerous outfit. Now batting up the order as an opener, the short-statured Dilshan has started doing what inimitable Jayasuriya used to do during his heyday. Dilshan carried his IPL form into the T20 World Championship. Scoring heavily and at a brisk pace, Dilshan proved a thorn in every oppositionís flesh. Though Sri Lanka came a cropper against an inspired Pakistan in the final, Dilshan was adjudged the Player of the Series for amassing 317 runs at an average of 52.83.
Performances such as these augur well for the Sri Lanka cricket. With the youngsters showing the technique and temperament to succeed at the highest level, Sri Lanka looks unlikely to face the transition pangs when the biggest stars of the game to have played for Sri Lanka decide to call it a day.
When Bob Houghton spoke out against the sports ministry for not doing anything to raise quality football infrastructure, he was only expressing the anguish of a coach who was unable to find a decent enough ground to train his national football team ahead of the coming Nehru Cup tournament.
Fearing that the government would not take kindly to it, the All India Football Federation, his employers, lost little time in distancing itself from Houghtonís view, saying it was his personal opinion.
Though one need not agree with everything Houghton says, still his unflattering views about how the game is run in India call for deeper dispassionate examination. Houghton, 61, an English league club midfielder in his playing days with experience of coaching, among others, the Chinese national team as part of his curriculum vitae, was not asking for the moon when he went about searching for a single ground good enough for a national team to train.
The onset of the monsoon made things more difficult. It ruled out holding the coaching camp in Goa or other centres in the south and in the east. As for grounds in Delhi, they were closed for renovation for the coming Nehru Cup followed by the next yearCommonwealth Games. Going by past experience, even the Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex ground at Gurgaon was not an ideal venue, what with javelin throwers, shot-putters and others also training there.
Unsurprisingly, Sunil Chhetri, one of the rising stars of Indian football, came out in support of Houghton. The coach, whose methods have produced some good results, is adored by his players, who welcomed the idea of renewing his contract when it came up for review some months back, notwithstanding his rubbishing of time-honoured tournaments like the Santosh Trophy and the Durand Cup.
A way has to be found for these tournaments to play their own part in Indian football without in any way allowing them to diminish the importance of the professional I-League, now come to stay as the highest grade of football in the country, providing players an opportunity to make a decent living. For Indian football to prosper, the game has to be thriving at all levels and at all places ó in schools, small towns and villages and every neighbourhood. That is what football is all about, a truly peopleís game, or the aam admiís game if you like.
Even Houghton should have no quarrel with Gillís ministry for restoring its "priority" status to the aam admiís game, no matter if Indiaís standing in the world order is as low as 147, although the Sports Ministerís recent reported remark that any Australian school team is good enough to beat the present Indian team, a remark made in a different context. He said it at a function to honour the surviving members of the fourth-placed 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games team. It was a remark, which should not be taken too seriously.
Only a handful of teams took part in the 1956 Olympic Games in times when the worldís top teams, except some east European countries like Hungary and Yugoslavia, did not take the Olympic football tournament that seriously because the Olympic movement was strictly for amateurs. We still like to gloat over the 4-1 victory over the novice of a 1956 Australian team but forget the 0-3 defeat to Bulgaria in the fourth placed match, or the 1-10 rout by Yugoslavia at Helsinki in 1952. History, as Henry Ford has said, is bunk.
The fact is the Indian football team has made some progress under Bob Houghton but to keep pace with the developments elsewhere, progress has to be much faster and more energetic. And for this to happen the creation of basic infrastructure is important. Houghton has brought some system and new ideas to Indian football, but the momentum has to be more dynamic.
Look at it this way. There are clubs in the country over 100 years old, at least two of them in Delhi alone ó Young Men and Moghals, to name them. But none of them owns a stadium or ground it can call its own. Surely, this situation cannot be allowed to go on. Everybody has to lend a helping hand, not least the government. Houghtonís views may have disturbed many of us. But if they can stir us to create more football infrastructure, his outburst would not have gone in vain.
Meanwhile, Houghton has taken his men out to Dubai for a training stint there before some more practice games in Spain. Then it will be back to Delhiís pretty little Ambedkar Stadium, which would have been adequately spruced up by August. It was here that India had won the 2007 Nehru Cup tournament to breathe some new life and vigour into the game. ó IANS
Cristiano Ronaldo insists that the $130 million (£80 million) Real Madrid paid for him is a "fair price" and he is delighted to be the "most expensive" player in the world.
It took an astronomical fee to persuade United to part with the FIFA World Player of the Year and Madrid have come in for criticism for spending so much money during a recession. But Ronaldo believes Madrid are justified in paying the fee and that he can live up to the price tag.
"Itís a fair figure. If Manchester United and Real Madrid agree to this amount, then there is nothing more to say. Great players cost a lot of money and if you want them you have to pay it. Iím happy to be the most expensive player in the world," thesun.co.uk quoted him as saying.
"I respect everyoneís opinions but if Real Madrid have paid so much money, itís because they wanted me and have considered it a fair price. Iím going to try to do everything to play very well and I will show that the money they are paying for me has been a good decision," added Ronaldo.
Much will be demanded of Ronaldo and he is confident he can deal with the expectations.
"Iíve been used to having pressure for a long time ó in this sense, Iím calm. This price tag isnít something Iím going to think about when I go out on to the pitch, so it's not going to affect me," he said.
"I know that they are going to demand a lot of me to be successful at the club and I know that Iím going to have much more pressure than at Manchester United, because I was there for many years. But it means a new challenge and is going to help me be the best footballer.
As well as that, Spain is a different league ó with different players, a different club ó and this is going to motivate me to continue working hard and winning things," said Ronaldo. ó IANS