SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


Test of the best
All eyes are on the big names of the football world, who are under pressure to deliver during the World Cup, writes Ivninderpal Singh
As many as 736 footballers from 32 countries have set their sights on the most coveted prize in sports, the football World Cup. A few stalwarts are the star attractions. Whether they have excelled in previous tournaments or not, there are great expectations from them.

Ball boom
Waheed Khan
The World Cup in faraway Germany is putting a big bounce into Pakistanís hand-stitched football manufacturing business.

Wrong arm of the law
K.R. Wadhwaney
Since moving out of London to Dubai for financial gains, the International Cricket Council (ICC) seems to have turned mindless. Already guilty of making the chucking (throwing) issue murkier, it is now making life miserable for field umpires.

IN THE NEWS
State of grace
In these days of instant cricket, there is something very refreshingly languid about Wasim Jaffer. It was evident the way he calmly worked his way through the 190s to reach his double century in the first Test against West Indies. And even more so the way he celebrated it.

Fans of the world

unite 

Itís not just the players who 
hog all the limelight at the World Cup. Football lovers from all over the globe, too, make their presence felt with their weird hairdos, splashy costumes and vociferous chants. Their antics can make even a dull match exciting.

A Brazilian samba dancer struts her stuff A Japanese girl dons the in-vogue cap
the nose cap suits this cute German girl A Portuguese man makes an over-the-top style statement

Clockwise (from top left): A Brazilian samba dancer struts her stuff; A Japanese girl dons the in-vogue cap; A Portuguese man makes an over-the-top style statement; the nose cap suits this cute German girl.
ó Photos by AFP/AP/PTI/Reuters


 

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Test of the best

All eyes are on the big names of the football world, who are under pressure to deliver during the World Cup, writes Ivninderpal Singh

As many as 736 footballers from 32 countries have set their sights on the most coveted prize in sports, the football World Cup. A few stalwarts are the star attractions. Whether they have excelled in previous tournaments or not, there are great expectations from them.

While Ronaldo (Brazil) and Miroslav Klose (Germany) are expected to repeat their 2002 World Cup performances, David Beckham (England), Luis Figo (Portugal), Zinedine Zidane (France), Raul Gonzalez (Spain) and Hernan Crespo (Argentina) are under pressure to do their bit for their nations in what would probably be their last World Cup. Ronaldo has to perform to defend the title for his country, while Klose has to deliver on home soil to avenge the 2002 final loss to Brazil.

Ronaldo: His speed, dribbling ability and scoring prowess have made him widely regarded as one of the best players in the history of football and perhaps the best striker of all time. Voted FIFA World Player of the Year on three occasions (1996, 1997 and 2002) and already a double FIFA World Cup winner (1994 and 2002), he has scored 58 goals in 91 games.

Ronaldo was the top scorer of the 2002 World Cup, netting eight goals in seven games. Along with Pele, he has scored the most number of goals (12) for Brazil in the competitionís history. This time, Ronaldo will be looking to surpass that figure as well as overhaul Gerd Mullerís long-standing 14-goal record as the top scorer in the history of the FIFA World Cup.

Miroslav Klose: He shot into the limelight at the 2002 World Cup. The rookie striker got a hat-trick as Germany routed Saudi Arabia 8-0. He went on to become one of the shooting stars of the tournament, finishing as Germanyís top scorer with five goals and second only to Brazilís Ronaldo in the final standings. All goals were headers, which surprised people considering his average height.

Klose will be the number one striker in the German attack, having scored 21 goals in 52 international matches. His trademark somersault after every goal has earned him the nickname "Salto-Klose". German fans will be hoping to see another string of somersaults from Salto on home soil.

David Beckham: He is one of the worldís most recognised sportsperson. Beckham, who takes immense pride from his role as England captain, scored his first international goal in the 1998 finals in France and fittingly it was a trademark free kick in a 2-0 victory over Colombia. Unfortunately for Beckham, the 1998 World Cup ended in dismay as he was sent off for aiming a kick at Diego Simeone during Englandís second-round loss to Argentina.

Beckham sealed his countryís place in the 2002 World Cup with a spectacular late free kick in their last qualifier against Greece but failed to take his country beyond quarterfinals though he enjoyed a moment to savour as his penalty brought a 1-0 victory over old rivals Argentina.

Luis Figo: Known for his precision passing, pinpoint crossing and leadership qualities, he is ranked among the greatest Portuguese footballers of all time. He is Portugalís most-capped player ever, with 118 appearances. He was honoured with the European Footballer of the Year Award in 2000 and the FIFA World Player of the Year Award in 2001. However, Figo, who was a key member of the Barcelona side that won the European Cup Winnersí Cup in 1997, the European Super Cup in 1998, the Primera Liga title in 1998 and 1999, has yet to prove himself at the World Cup.

Zinedine Zidane: The 33-year-old Zidane, who led France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, is often considered to be amongst the best footballers in the world. An elegant dribbler of the ball, his passing ability and perfect balance has made him one of the gameís finest artistes.

His international record stands at 101 matches (28 goals). He has been voted European Player of the Year in 1998 and FIFA World Player of the Year in 1998, 2000 and 2003.

Injuries prevented him from performing at his best in the 2002 World Cup. He had declared his retirement from international football after Franceís early exit from Euro 2004 but he changed his plans in August, 2005, with France struggling to qualify for the World Cup finals.

After backtracking on his decision, he returned to help guide France through the qualification phase to Germany 2006. Letís see if he can inspire his country to another World Cup triumph.

Raul Gonzalez: Former Spain captain Fernando Hierro once described his young Real Madrid team-mate Raul as "a Ferrari who is going to overtake us all and break every record in Spanish football". How right he was. Raul Gonzalez, who replaced Hierro as captain at both national and club levels, has already cemented his place among the greatest contemporary players.

His national debut came at the age of 19 against the Czech Republic in a World Cup qualifier ahead of France 98. Raul was part of the Spanish squad during the tournament, but was powerless to prevent his sideís first-round exit, despite scoring a cracking goal against Nigeria.

Korea/Japan 2002 was Raulís second appearance on the world footballís biggest stage, and he did not disappoint, scoring three goals in his sideís first four games. A groin injury kept him out of Spainís decisive quarterfinal clash with South Korea, forcing him to watch from the sidelines as his team-mates lost on penalties. Only time will tell if he can win the dream trophy for his country in Germany.

Hernan Crespo: Currently playing in the English Premiership for Chelsea, he is famed for his powerful aerial ability. He is also regarded as one of the best goal poachers in the game. He is considered a perfect replacement for Gabriel Batistuta.

After spending most of the 1998 and 2002 World Cup in the shadow of Batistuta, Crespo will be hoping that Germany 2006 proves third-time lucky. He has 53 caps for Argentina, and has scored 29 goals. A ratio of more than one goal every other game makes Crespo a formidable forward.

Letís see if Ronaldo can help his country conquer the footballing world on European soil, a feat achieved only once before, by Vincente Feolaís Brazil side at Sweden 1958, or can Klose emulate compatriot Gerd Muller, who struck 10 times in 1970 World Cup. Beckham, Figo, Zidane, Raul and Crespo, too, have the ability to take their teams to glory single-handedly.
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Ball boom
Waheed Khan

A worker checks soccer balls at a factory in Sialkot.
A worker checks soccer balls at a factory in Sialkot.
ó Photo by Reuters

The World Cup in faraway Germany is putting a big bounce into Pakistanís hand-stitched football manufacturing business.

Although Pakistani balls are not actually going to be used in any of the matches in the month-long tournament in Germany, the football frenzy the World Cup generates means big orders for Pakistani ball makers.

"There is a boom for us when the World Cup is held," said Arif Mahmood Sheikh, chairman of the Sialkot Sports Goods Manufacturers Association.

The northeastern Pakistani town of Sialkot normally exports about 60 million footballs a year.

It has already exported about 35 million balls in World Cup related orders this year, valued at Rs 6,755 million ($112 million). In the 2002 World Cup, Sialkot exported balls worth Rs 6,294 million ($105 million).

"This World Cup is good for us as Germany has always been our biggest importer," Sheikh said.

Most of the footballs will be used in promotions by some of the worldís biggest credit-card, fast-food and sports equipment companies, he said.

The unassuming town, not far from the Himalayan foothills and the frontier with India, is the hub of the countryís sporting goods industry.

An old Gothic church is a reminder of its colonial past. Legend has it the town got started in the sports business in the late 19th century when an Englishman, in what was then part of British India, asked for his broken tennis racket to be repaired.

The work was top notch and the town has not looked back. Many of those working in the industry today learned the trade from their fathers, who learnt it from theirs.

Sheikh says Pakistani hand-stitched footballs are still in great demand in Europe despite the demand for machine-moulded seamless balls.

"The reason is the unique craftsmanship," said Sheikh in his simple office.

The industry has been dogged by accusations of child labour, which Sheikh says it is striving to throw off with serious action.

Signs reading "Children under 18 not permitted entry", and "Discourage Child Labour" are posted at factory entrances.

"The ILO monitors our workers regularly," Sheikh said, referring to the International Labour Organisation.

"Weíve have spent some Rs 26 million on the elimination of child labour and on their education," he said, adding that children are not strong enough to hand-stitch balls anyway.

But it is monotonous labour for the 100,000 skilled workers putting in World Cup over-time in small factory rooms or big stitching centre halls. ó Reuters

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Wrong arm of the law
K.R. Wadhwaney

Steve Bucknor stirred a hornetís nest by alleging that TV images of cricket action were doctored to show umpires in poor light
Steve Bucknor stirred a hornetís nest by alleging that TV images of cricket action were doctored to show umpires in poor light

Since moving out of London to Dubai for financial gains, the International Cricket Council (ICC) seems to have turned mindless. Already guilty of making the chucking (throwing) issue murkier, it is now making life miserable for field umpires.

In the name of utilising technology for the sake of transparency, the ICC has now started fiddling with the lbw law which has stayed in the domain of the field umpires for more than 100 years.

According to the ICC recommendation, the batting side and the fielding side can question the field umpireís verdict on lbw three times each and retain the right to refer the matter to an "electronic eye". In a one-day match, there can be 12 referential instances; in a Test, there will be 24 instances.

The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) has enjoyed special privileges since its formation. There was a time when it conducted Englandís national and international cricket. Now it has been denied that authority. But it continues to be the law-making, unmaking and remaking authority.

The ICC recognises MCCís law enforcement authority. But has the ICC sought the opinion of the MCC on the vexed issue of possibility of field umpiresí verdict being over-ruled by the electronic eye?

In the case of a run-out, stumping or hit-wicket, the umpire does not give his decision. He straightaway refers it to the third umpire and abides by the verdict. The teams accept the decision.

In the case of the lbw verdict, the umpireís decision can be challenged by the batting or fielding side and either is entitled to refer the matter to the electronic eye.

Now supposing the field umpireís verdict is over-ruled time and again by the electronic eye, will the field umpire have the courage of conviction to continue to stand and pronounce his judgment? Will the teams have faith in his judgment in subsequent appeals after some of the stipulated 12 decisions have been over-ruled?

If his decisions have been over-ruled often, will the ICC appoint him for subsequent matches? If such instances occur regularly, does the ICC have enough bench strength on the panel of international umpires to replace them?

Apart from this, there is a distinct possibility of a section of spectators taking the law into their hands and indulging in hooliganism when their favourite player has been harshly treated by field umpires or the electronic eye.

If challenging of the field umpireís verdict is permissible, why should he be asked to give his judgment? The appeal, as in the event of run-out or stumping, for example, can be straightaway referred to the "electronic umpire". In this case, he will not be subjected to humiliation and wrath of spectators.

If the verdict on LBW is vested in the electronic eye, the field umpiresí role will be minimal. They will merely be left to declare no-ball and wide-ball. Actually, there is an urgent need to appoint a judge for watching bowlerís foot-fault, as is done in tennis. In that case, he will not be called upon to stand behind stumps but at square-leg or in the point region.

The ICC should act cautiously and meticulously instead of taking hasty decision in the name of technology.

Even the images are not fool-proof. Some reputed international umpires, particularly Steve Bucknor, have levelled allegations of doctoring of images. No doubt televisionís needless intrusion affects the spirit of the game.

Indeed, one or two bad decisions have affected the ultimate outcome of the game. But TV monitoring or functioning is as much suspect as the functioning of field umpires.

The recommendation, if approved by the ICC board in July, will be implemented in the Champions Trophy, which is too important a tournament to try such experiments.

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IN THE NEWS
State of grace

Wasim Jaffer was refreshingly elegant and dignified during his marathon innings
Wasim Jaffer was refreshingly elegant and dignified during his marathon innings

In these days of instant cricket, there is something very refreshingly languid about Wasim Jaffer. It was evident the way he calmly worked his way through the 190s to reach his double century in the first Test against West Indies. And even more so the way he celebrated it.

Two boundaries, to opposite sides of the wicket, a flick to midwicket from a Dave Mohammed full-toss and a punch square to the point boundary off Bradshaw, saw him get to 195. The next ball was delicately cut behind point and got him two more.

One shot away from a double. He must have been tempted. One flashing square-drive and he would be there. He had several of them in this knock.

But Jaffer wasnít going to risk it now. A straight drive off Mohammed made it 198. Another single off Mohammed, this time to midwicket made it 199.

After toiling all day for success, the West Indies finally got a wicket at 2 pm (local time), four hours after play started. Dravidís dismissal lifted their spirits. Skipper Brian Lara brought the field in to close the gaps.

Mohammed gave the ball a little extra air, Jaffer pounced on his chance, pushed it to mid-wicket and took for his 200th run.

He didnít gallop, he simply trotted across. There was no manic raising of the hands or pumping of the fists or waving of the bat. Just a raised bat as he completed the single and then as he turned around and faced the Indian dressing room, from which all his team-mates had come out, he raised both hands in the air. It was restrained and dignified, as elegant and stylish as his innings had been. Surely, a defining moment in the series. ó IANS
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