SPORTS TRIBUNE
 

Chalk and cheese
The World Cup semifinals will witness the aggressive approach of Australia and South Africa in contrast to the graceful restraint of New Zealand and Sri Lanka, writes Vikramdeep Johal
I
F looks (or taunts) could kill, Australia’s Glenn McGrath and South Africa’s Andre Nel would be branded "mass murderers". Their over-the-top stance can intimidate the most composed of batsmen. In contrast, New Zealand’s Shane Bond and Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan exude an air of gentle determination, even though they are much feared for their wicket-taking prowess.

Blatter’s mantra: Play ball
M.S. Unnikrishnan
S
TEP by step" is Sepp Blatter’s formula for a total makeover of Indian football, as he firmly believes that it’s pointless to rush through things without proper groundwork. The FIFA chief, on his first visit to India after taking over as the world football body’s president, stressed the need to take the game to every nook and cranny of the country — schools in particular — if India nursed the ambition of emerging as a soccer power.

IN THE NEWS
Match time in Myanmar
A
S people in Myanmar’s bustling city Yangon made their way to work one weekday recently, they heard a sound many may have struggled to identify. Through the tinkle of temple bells and the rumble of traffic was the distinctive crack of a leather ball on a bat.

 
  • Collective blame

  • Public disgrace





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Chalk and cheese

The World Cup semifinals will witness the aggressive approach of Australia and South Africa in contrast to the graceful restraint of New Zealand and
Sri Lanka, writes
Vikramdeep Johal

The Sri Lankans are much liked for their gentlemanly conduct; The Aussies are held in awe for their virtual invincibility, but there aren’t many fans of their ruthless belligerence
The Sri Lankans are much liked for their gentlemanly conduct; The Aussies are held in awe for their virtual invincibility, but there aren’t many fans of their ruthless belligerence. — Photos by AP/ PTI/Reuters

IF looks (or taunts) could kill, Australia’s Glenn McGrath and South Africa’s Andre Nel would be branded "mass murderers". Their over-the-top stance can intimidate the most composed of batsmen. In contrast, New Zealand’s Shane Bond and Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan exude an air of gentle determination, even though they are much feared for their wicket-taking prowess.

These two dissimilar on-field attitudes have marked the ongoing World Cup. A majority of cricket fans worldwide would like to see the Kiwis or the Lankans lift the Cup, rather than the Aussies or the Proteas, going by the corresponding image of the teams.

The Australian side owes its unpopularity to two factors: First, it’s a ruthless machine "programmed" to crush the opposition. They seemed vulnerable on the eve of the World Cup, losing five one-dayers on the trot, but that wake-up call helped them rectify their flaws and emerge even stronger; Second, Ricky Ponting & Co have no qualms about carrying forward the Anglo-Australian tradition of sledging — which is aimed at breaking the batsman’s concentration and making him part with his wicket. Sledging is not a necessity for the Aussies, it’s a habit.

Not content with unnerving the batsmen, they attempt to dominate the umpires too with their vociferous appealing. Wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist, with his propensity to walk if he knows he’s out, is the odd man out in this don’t-give-an-inch bunch.

The South Africans lack the consistency of the Australians, but they are no less hostile on the field. In Graeme Smith, they have a pugnacious skipper who doesn’t mind indulging in a verbal duel. His team tries to conceal its shortcomings behind an armour of aggressiveness, but their ploy works only occasionally. They tried to give Australia a taste of their own medicine in the World Cup group match last month, only to run out of steam in the final stage of the game.

The Sri Lankans might have drawn flak for their shrewd tactic of resting Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas against Australia, but their on-field demeanour has been above reproach.

Their dignified approach is best illustrated by Murali, who takes everything into his stride with a broad smile. Even during the 1990s, when he was repeatedly called for throwing by Darrell Hair, he did not show disrespect to the umpire.

The islanders’ gentleness, however, shouldn’t be mistaken for timidity — they are tough fighters who would do anything within the bounds of sportsmanship to secure victory.

Australia’s trans-Tasman neighbour New Zealand have a strong-willed captain in Stephen Fleming. The Kiwis have by and large been cool (and fair) customers over the years. One recent exception was the unsavoury incident during a Test against Sri Lanka earlier this year, when wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum removed the bails at Muralitharan’s end while the latter had merely gone across to congratulate Kumar Sangakkara on completing a century. The match was at such a crucial stage that Fleming preferred to go ahead with the run-out appeal (it was upheld). The episode somewhat dented the Kiwis’ goody-goody image, but they have made amends with their restrained show in the World Cup so far.

With the semifinal lineup clearly divided between the nice guys and the nasty ones, let’s see who finish on top.
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Blatter’s mantra: Play ball
M.S. Unnikrishnan

FIFA chief Sepp Blatter has promised to return to India after three years to review the progress made by the country in football
FIFA chief Sepp Blatter has promised to return to India after three years to review the progress made by the country in football. — Photo by AFP

STEP by step" is Sepp Blatter’s formula for a total makeover of Indian football, as he firmly believes that it’s pointless to rush through things without proper groundwork.

The FIFA chief, on his first visit to India after taking over as the world football body’s president, stressed the need to take the game to every nook and cranny of the country — schools in particular — if India nursed the ambition of emerging as a soccer power.

"Make the kids play ball" is his mantra for success. He said the creation of infrastructure should be matched by the creation of a mass base for the game. "Let the kids kick around with balls, as from quantity emerges quality. Tens of thousands of balls should be made available to the kids to play the game across the country," he advises.

In his concern to help develop soccer in India, which he termed as a "sleeping giant which needs to be awakened", Blatter said he would put millions of dollars at India’s disposal to be accessed as part of the third FIFA project for the country named "Win in India with India". Whatever FIFA does will make no sense or have any meaning unless the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) takes creative steps to identify the problem areas, rectify the mistakes and initiate the process of development of the game in earnest.

Blatter has made it clear to the AIFF and the political leadership of the country that without proper infrastructure and a mass base, India would never be able to make a mark in football at the world level. "Sadly, India are not even an Asian power in the game," he laments.

For FIFA, India is also a huge, untapped market for generating revenue which can happen only if the billion-plus population is made aware of the immense potential of the game.

Blatter’s visit seems to have had some immediate impact, as AIFF president Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi announced at the Special Congress to mark the 70th anniversary of the federation that 100 Centres of Excellence would be set up in the five zones of the country — North, South, East, West and Central. Whether this will become a reality remains to be seen, especially after the enthusiasm generated by Blatter’s visit wanes. Dasmunsi pointed that despite facing many hurdles, the federation had succeeded in keeping the National Football League, in its 13th year, going without a break.

Blatter sees India’s "continental size" as an asset as well as an impediment. For, if the AIFF succeeds in making the game penetrate into the rural and tribal belts, the reach of the game would be phenomenal. But for doing that, the federation must have tremendous capacity for hard work, resources and manpower. Of course, there should be right people at the right place to executive the federation’s plans successfully.

Blatter feels that if football is fully developed in India, Asia would emerge as a soccer powerhouse to give a tough fight to the European and Latin American heavyweights. The Asian Football Confederation has also promised a $1 million grant annually to support the clubs and the NFL as it feels that they need to be strengthened for the uplift of Indian football.

Blatter sees football as an ideal vehicle to bind a culturally diverse country like India due to the massive sweep of the game, once it makes inroads into the hinterland from its traditional pockets.

He has stressed two aspects which would have positive effects once football’s penetrates is complete: 1) Football is helping the education of the young as it’s the "school of life"; 2) FIFA can help in areas like technical assistance, coaching, administration, sports medicine, etc.

Blatter, while regretting that he could not visit the subcontinent earlier as the FIFA chief, though he visited the country in 1978 as a development officer of FIFA and then as the secretary-general of the world body during the 1982 Asiad, promised that he would be back after three years to review the progress India has made and then chalk out future plans.

He said FIFA would make available $1 million to tune up AIFF’s administrative set-up as he wanted to see "your country/continent a better place through football". Yet, the FIFA has no intention of spoon-feeding India to soccer glory — it only wants to make it stand on its own feet with timely help and guidance.

Blatter said India needed to "wake up, welcome, put together all assets, approach the social, cultural and economic forces as well as the government and then go step by step in the development of football."

"Talent is here. Develop the talent", he said, but cautioned that "you cannot attract partners (like sponsors) if you don’t offer premises where the partners cannot exhibit their products."

"Are you ready, India? A billion people cannot be indifferent to the popularity of soccer," he reasons. The FIFA chief is confident that one day, India would be a soccer power to reckon with, if it takes the right course.
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IN THE NEWS
Match time in Myanmar

A girl tries her hand at batting in Yangon
A girl tries her hand at batting in Yangon. — Photo by AP/PTI

AS people in Myanmar’s bustling city Yangon made their way to work one weekday recently, they heard a sound many may have struggled to identify. Through the tinkle of temple bells and the rumble of traffic was the distinctive crack of a leather ball on a bat.

Decades after the country’s British colonial masters departed, taking their game with them, cricket is making a comeback.

The current standing of the game in Myanmar is reflected in the lack of local coverage of the ongoing World Cup.

But on a tree-fringed field, within sight of the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda, hordes of youngsters brought out bats, leg pads, gloves and stumps. For an hour and a half, boys and girls played a knockabout version of the game, while slightly older youths practised their batting and bowling skills.

For nine-year-old William Phyowai, his first taste of cricket was a revelation. "It’s great" he enthused, "It’s fun!"

For Aye Min Than, who has been playing for two years, the appeal was more cerebral.

"Cricket’s different from other sports," the lanky 21-year-old bowler said, smiling. "It boosts your mental sharpness. It’s a game for the mind."

In some ways, it is puzzling that cricket should need a revival. After all, Myanmar — then called Burma — was a province of the British Raj, along with what are now the cricket-crazy nations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Nyunt Win, who became a cricket convert after he was sent to school in India, wonders whether bitterness over the colonial experience played a part in cricket’s nose-dive.

"When Myanmar people get hurt, it stays. Cricket was thought of as an English game: maybe that was one of the reasons our people weren’t interested. They didn’t feel comfortable."

Myanmar’s return to cricket’s international stage has not been easy.

In its debut tournament, the ACC Trophy 2006 in Kuala Lumpur, the national team suffered a calamitous defeat. However, it was not a fatal blow for the game.

With dignity, Nyunt Win sent a message to the Asian Cricket Council. "Thank you for giving us a chance to find ourselves," his message said. "Thank you for your patience and understanding. This failure has to be the beginning of our success." — AFP
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SPORTS MAIL

Collective blame

India’s debacle in the cricket World Cup raised many questions not only about the BCCI and the cricketers but also about India’s sports policy. It appears that we have become a cricket-centric nation. Can acts like burning effigies and damaging property of cricketers be expected from people of a country which claims to be the largest democracy in the world?

It is strange that before the World Cup, cricketers were worshipped, songs were written about them, yajnas were organised, but overnight they were declared as the biggest traitors of this country.

The question is: who is to be blamed — players, coach, selectors or the BCCI? If the problem is studied in a holistic manner, it can be concluded that besides all these, the Indian society, media and polity are also to be blamed for the fiasco. Cricketers have been turned into superheroes, while the feats of players in other sports have gone ignored.

The media, particularly electronic, is also to be blamed because unnecessary hype was created just to exploit the sentiments of the people and to get lucrative ads. No such coverage has been given to sportspersons like Viswanathan Anand, who became the number one chess player in the world recently. Thirdly, Indian polity must own responsibility for not coming up with a comprehensive sports policy till date. In India’s Parliament, it was debated whether Sourav Ganguly should be in the squad or not but the performance of the Indian contingent in the Asiad or Olympics has rarely been discussed.

Kulwant Singh Rana Shimla

Public disgrace

The so-called cricket lovers of India behaved shamefully after the team’s defeat at the hands of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the World Cup. Victory and defeat are part and parcel of sports, and teams have to face either of the two many a times, but this does not mean that players are subjected to humiliation by the unruly section of the public. Such acts are a disgrace to sports in general and sportspersons in particular.

Ram Murti Khanna

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