IN THE NEWS
With a makeshift
manager and a captain still smarting from the World Cup debacle, Team
India has its work cut out on the UK tour,
THE coach-less Indian team begins its first overseas tour after the exit of Greg Chappell with a one-dayer against Ireland today. In former captain and chairman of selectors Chandu Borde, accompanying the team as manager, the players have a veteran to look up to, but he cannot be expected to handle a coachís on-tour responsibilities.
Given Bordeís age (73), he wonít be called upon to supervise the nets and organise practice sessions every morning. His only work will be to organise team selection for the matches and hand out advice, when sought, by the players. Off the field, Borde can be a good after-dinner speaker and should be a hit, at least in England, where such an activity is taken rather seriously.
With several rookies in the squad, a coach would have proved to be of great benefit to captain Rahul Dravid, who will find it very tough to act as a "father figure" to the youngsters. True, bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad and fielding coach Robin Singh will shoulder some of the responsibility of the coach, but these two simply are not enough to shepherd a team which is slowly trying to emerge from the morass it fell into after the World Cup disaster.
The Test and ODI victories in Bangladesh might have boosted the teamís morale to some extent, but the real test will come in Ireland and England.
If Indian cricket is still trying to figure out who should step into the "uncomfortable" shoes of Greg Chappell, the blame squarely lies with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and, particularly, with the seven-member committee set up by it to interview the prospective candidates.
When the squad was in Bangladesh, one got the feeling that stand-in coach Ravi Shastri ó itís a pity he couldnít take up the job on a full-time basis due to his media commitments ó had all but settled the issue with Dav Whatmore and all that was needed was for the two parties to sign on the dotted line once the tour was over.
Even board officials who had visited Dhaka had a "great meeting" with Whatmore and all seemed well for the former Bangladesh coach to take on the Indian job.
But Whatmore did not get the job (for reasons no one is willing to spell out) and the committee then opted to interview two candidates, South Africaís Graham Ford and, surprisingly, Englandís John Emburey. To add to the boardís woes, Ford, after being found fit to handle the Indian team, declined the job for personal reasons (maybe the tenure was too short or he found the Indian system not to his liking). Former England off-spinner Emburey, who in any case was never a serious candidate, was found wanting.
It must be remembered that when Chappell was selected, he had to contend with former players like Tom Moody and Desmond Haynes for the job. Why then did the committee pick up candidates of the same class as these two is difficult to understand. Also, it must be noted that so far no Indian has been found even fit to be considered for the job, although in Mohinder Amarnath and Madan Lal (to name just two), the country has experienced and exceptional former players. But then the seniors in the team are simply not interested in Indian coaches, although they are willing to get along with Prasad and Robin. And the search began again.
But by then the tour to
Ireland and England was round the corner and even if someone had been
selected, there was very little time for him to get on with the job. And
this is where Borde walked in to fill the slot of cricket manager. The
search for the coach can now wait as Team India gets into the thick of
Barely two weeks after sweating it out on the gruelling claycourt at the French Open, tennis players are gearing up for the fast grasscourt of Wimbledon, which begins on June 25.
The menís draw will again revolve around Switzerlandís Roger Federer and Spainís Rafael Nadal. "Clay King" Nadal scored a hat-trick of titles in Paris, equalling Bjorn Borgís record. Another Borg record ó five Wimbledon titles in a row ó could be matched by Federer.
Tennis thrives on rivalries. Federer, ranked No. 1 in the world since February 2, 2004, and Nadal, undefeated at the French Open, have extended their rivalry beyond clay.
Nadal has improved his game a lot on grass. At the 2006 Wimbledon, he fell at the last hurdle to Federer. To realise his Wimbledon dream, he has to beat the Swiss, whose excellence on grass has become legendary. Federer failed to storm Nadalís bastion in Paris. Can Nadal dethrone the grass-court master?
Wimbledon underachiever Andy Roddick is also a contender. His powerful serve and blistering groundstrokes serve him well on grass. He has enjoyed success on the surface, winning the Queenís Club tournament four times in the past five years. At Wimbledon, however, he has lost to Federer in three championships: the finals in 2004 and 2005 and the semifinal in 2003.
Other players to watch out for are Cypriot Marcos Bagdatis, the 2006 semifinalist, fast-rising Serbian Novak Djokovic, who lost in the semis in Paris this year, and British warhorse Tim Henman, semifinalist in 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002. Henman will try to break the British jinx at Wimbledon (the last Briton to clinch this title was Fred Perry way back in 1936).
In the womenís section, Justine Henin is eyeing her first Wimbledon title. Like Nadal, she won her third consecutive French Open recently. She is playing with a lot of confidence, and has often been able to adapt her game from clay to grass.
Henin, who lost to Amelie Mauresmo last year in a fascinating final, also reached the final in 2001. Letís see if she can deliver something special this time.
The Belgian has to overcome the Russian brigade led by Maria Sharapova. The latterís powerful groundstrokes and underrated serve carried her to the 2004 title, and she is a strong contender again. However, her build-up hasnít been up to her expectations, having lost to Jelena Jankovic in the Birmingham Classic final last week.
The Williams sisters will be looking for a grand comeback. Of the last seven tournaments, five have been won by them ó Venus did it in 2000, 2001 and 2005, and Serena in 2002 and 2003.
Above all, women have a lot to cheer about as from this year, there will be equal prize money for both sexes. The other Grand Slam events have already removed this gender bias.
This yearís tournament will also witness the introduction of Hawk-Eye electronic line-calling technology. But weather can play a dampener because this time there will be no roof over the centre court.
Sania Mirza will spearhead the Indian challenge, but her current form and track record at Wimbledon is nothing to boast of. She made her exit in the second round in 2005 and 2006. Her performance in the run-up tournaments this year has also been pedestrian.
REAL Madrid snatched victory in the most exciting Spanish title race in over a decade thanks to a new-found team spirit, pragmatic style of play, steely determination and dash of good fortune.
The nine-time European champions clinched their first major trophy in four years when they came from behind to beat Real Mallorca 3-1 at the Bernabeu in a thrilling finale on June 17.
Halfway through the season, few people would have given the Madrid side any hope of depriving arch-rivals Barcelona of a third successive league title.
Ronaldo had been sold to AC Milan because he was seen as a destabilising influence in the dressing room, David Beckham was banished to the stands after announcing a $250 million move to LA Galaxy and coach Fabio Capello was close to being sacked.
By common consent, Real were playing some of the dullest football in the league. They had slipped to five defeats in eight games and the club appeared to be in chaos.
Real president Ramon Calderon dropped his guard in January when he accused the players of "egoism and vanity" for failing to pull their weight on the pitch.
The fact that Real turned the situation around is partly due to the weaknesses of their opponents but also a tribute to the tenacity and self-belief of Capello and his players.
The Italian, drafted in to do the dirty work and sweep the club clean of the Galacticos, made some costly mistakes but was also astute and experienced enough to rectify his errors.
Arguably, he got it right by selling Ronaldo and sidelining the rebellious Antonio Cassano but he misjudged Beckham, Brazil forward Robinho, midfielder Guti and centre-back Ivan Helguera.
The quartet were all out of favour at the start of the season but Capello was forced to backtrack on his evaluation and they played an important part in helping Real to the title.
After shaky starts to the season, new signings Ruud van Nistelrooy, Emerson, Mahamadou Diarra and Fabio Cannavaro all justified their moves. The Dutch striker played the most decisive role with his 25 league goals.
That Real even had a chance of winning La Liga at the halfway mark in the season was largely due to the weakness of Barcelona and the fact that Sevilla had to contend with exhausting campaigns in Europe and the Kingís Cup.
With leading striker Samuel Etoío and Argentine prodigy Lionel Messi missing much of the early part of the campaign through injury, Ronaldinho did an impressive job as he shouldered the burden in attack for Barca.
But in reality they were a mere shadow of the side that romped to the title in the previous two seasons.
The turning point of the campaign came when Real drew 3-3 at the Nou Camp in March, Barcelona only saved from defeat by a last-gasp strike from Messi.After that, Real grew in confidence as the Catalans stuttered away from home and, while they never set the world alight, an ability to win matches that were seemingly lost saw them wrest the title from Barcaís grasp.
A late flurry against Sevilla and thrilling last-gasp victories over Recreativo Huelva and Espanyol proved decisive for the Madrid side, while Barcelona dropped their guard and were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Real Betis.
Real almost let the title slip in the penultimate match when they trailed Zaragoza as Barca led Espanyol.
But in a late twist to a nerve-shredding title tale, Real Madrid equalised at the death through Van Nistelrooy, while Barca faltered by conceding a late goal against their city rivals.
Real went into the final game
knowing a win would clinch the title and two second-half strikes from substitute
Jose Antonio Reyes either side of a Mahamadou Diarra headed goal delivered a
record 30th Primera Liga crown for the ecstatic Bernabeu fans. ó Reuters
IN THE NEWS
Formula One rookie Lewis Hamilton says it is premature to consider his championship chances despite taking a 10-point lead over McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso.
After winning the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis on June 17 for his second victory on consecutive weekends, the 22-year-old Briton said his success had not changed his outlook.
"I came to the season with an open mind, just trying to do a good job," said the bookiesí favourite.
Feted in the USA as the first black driver to win a Grand Prix, Hamilton returned home as the best British title prospect in years.
The last Britons to follow up their maiden win with another were Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell, world champions in 1996 and 1992, respectively.
Hamilton is the youngest leader of the championship as well as the youngest British Grand Prix winner and the only driver to finish all his first seven races on the podium.
He is now sure to be at least level on points at
the top of the championship for his home race at Silverstone on July 8, even if
his astonishing run of success ends at Magny-Cours in France on July 1. ó