Sports is no longer about “what matters not if you win or lose but how you played the game”. It is about win only, and win at all cost.
Not surprisingly, there is no quarter given, and opponents (and their supporters and promoters, too), often up the ante through mind games, aggressive build-ups, etc. This is, sometimes, given martial overtones, as well.
Aggression is not something new. Douglas Jardine’s England team played what became known as the “Bodyline series” in 1932-33 when the prime target was Australia’s Don Bradman. Many referred to the series as “war”.
Steve Waugh’s touring team to India attempted to conquer the “Final Frontier”.
Football fields have, on occasion, become battlegrounds where (often drunk) spectators have pitched battles with fans of their opponents, leading to injury, and, as has happened before, death, as well.
The New Zealand rugby team performs the Haka (Maori war dance) before every game – symbolic of war.
And sledging on the field has only gotten worse.
A badly battered Indian cricket team, hammered in all formats of the game on their recent tour in the summer, now prepares to take on England in a few days’ time, and everyone is asking the same question – how will the team fare?
Some players have spoken about “revenge”. The sponsors of the ODI zeries have called it the “Payback Series”.
And the media has not been shy of calling it a war, either.
The BBC website carried an article (click here) that spoke, amongst other things, of a full-page advertisement that seems to have appeared in an Indian newspaper that carried the headline, “Time for Vengeance – The war between India and England resumes from 14 October.” It showed some of the Indian players, all dressed in combat fatigues, holding bats and stumps as if they were weapons.
Sport is meant to be all about entertainment. To be sure, passions do get aroused as supporters egg their teams on. Yes, there is big money involved because of the television coverage and sponsorship.
Yet, at the end of it all, it is all about a game.
The use of the word “war” in sport might be an example of creative license – a copywriter letting his pen run riot.
It is in poor taste, though.
Thousand of Arsenal fans across the globe (me included) must be scratching their heads in sheer frustration wondering what’s happening to the club in the current Premiership season.
They have managed only seven points from seven games, are a mere two points above the relegation zone, and have played their eighth successive away game without a win.
Is this the club that earned the nickname of “The Invincibles” a few seasons ago when they went 49 league matches unbeaten?
Where are those glory days of Denis Bergkamp, Ian Wright, and Theirry Henry, when Arsenal could rip the stoutest of defences to shreds? Where are the days when a midfield patrolled by Paul Merson, Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour and David Platt created openings for the forward line to exploit? Where are the days when the back four consisting of, amongst others, Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon, offered an impenetrable wall that blunted most attacks, and, if rarely breached, had a David Seaman in goal to provide the final protection?
The current Arsenal squad leaks goals with an unfailing regularity that is alarming (16 goals in seven league matches), if not shocking.
“When I first came to Arsenal, I realized the back four were all university graduates in the art of defending. As for Tony Adams, I consider him to be a doctor of defence. He is simply outstanding,” said manager Arsene Wenger some years ago.
As an English writer put it, “The current crop have a couple of GCSEs between them.”
The forward line has been firing blanks, too, squandering the chances that have been created for them by a yet hard working midfield.
No surprise that Arsene Wenger is frustrated, however hard he might try to conceal this.
The club has not fully utilized the transfer window to buy big name players and has, instead, relied on the players that have come through the Youth Academy.
Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri have made their exit, and while players such as Theo Walcott have the legs, the fluidity visible in the midfield does not convert those opportunities up front.
The Gunners performed brilliantly for several years after Arsene Wenger took over as Manager in 1996, and finished in either first or second place in the league in eight of Wenger’s first eleven seasons at the club. It has been a sad decline, by the club’s lofty standards, ever since, though the club did well enough to qualify for the Champions League even in 2011.
Questions are now being asked about how much longer Wenger will continue even if the owner of the club declared his confidence and announced that the Wenger would leave only when he chose to and nothing else.
Wenger is a purist, and has always maintained that his club plays attractive and technically pleasing football. He has handled criticism well, and, as an English sports writer recently penned, adopts the approach befitting of Rudyard Kipling’s most famous work: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but then make allowance for their doubting too…”
However, it has been an ominously poor start – the worst in 58 years – and even the otherwise confident Wenger has conceded that the club’s Premiership title ambitions are over.
The question is whether Arsenal will do well enough to qualify for the Champions League. It appears to be a long shot right now, going by recent performances.
The Gunners have not gained a major trophy since the 2005 FA Cup. The current season, bar a miracle, threatens to leave the cupboard bare once again.
That’s a pity.
Have you ever tried to explain the game of cricket to someone? Or baseball? Are there any similarities?
I came across these very illuminative descriptions.
Cricket : As explained to a foreigner…
You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out. When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side that’s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out.
When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out. When both sides have been in and all the men have been out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game.
Baseball : As explained to a foreigner…
This is a game played by two teams, one out, the other in. The one that’s in sends players out one at a time to see if they can get in before they get out. If they get out before they get in, they come in, but it doesn’t count. If they get in before they get out, it does count.
When the ones out get three outs from the ones in before they get in without being out, the team that’s out comes in and the team in goes out to get those going in out before they get in without being out.
When both teams have been in and out nine times, the game is over. The team with the most in without being out before coming in wins unless the ones in are equal. In which case, the last ones in go out to get the ones in out before they get in without being out.
The game will end when each team has the same number of ins out but one team has more in without being out before coming in.
Seems simple enough, isn’t it?
Like millions around the globe, I keenly followed the 2010 World Cup, too. The event, but for occasional sparks, was a bit of a disappointment. Exciting matches were few and far between. And, the hype surrounding some of the big names turned into a damp squib. Advertising and marketing gurus must surely have been wringing their hands in despair when watching high ticket players such as Lionel Messi, Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, etc. fire blanks instead of conjuring up goals.
The early exit of the finalists of the previous edition – Italy and France – would have been a let-down in normal course, but their performance was nothing short of embarrassing, and the teams’ early flight home would have come as a relief to even their most ardent fans. As for the English, there will be deliberations for years to come about how different their fortunes would have been had the referee not disallowed the Frank Lampard goal, but the fact remains that the team’s weaknesses were ruthlessly exposed by a young, well organized German team.
The best team won, despite the hard tackling by a Dutch team desperate to put two previous finals losses behind them, and the final was a let down.
The exit of Brazil in the quarter finals was a shock, yes, but it opened my eyes to some important lessons that one would do well to absorb. The South Americans are the top ranked team today, and were expected to win the World Cup this year. When the Brazilians step onto the turf, they instill a sense of fear into their opponents, and an important psychological battle is won even before the referee whistles for the start. This fear causes opponents to freeze, almost under-perform. The same fear is in evidence in other sport, too, such as Tennis (Federer or Nadal), Cricket (Sachin Tendulkar), or Athletics (Usain Bolt).
The Dutch looked beyond this, displayed no sense of awe, and showed no fear, while clinically dismantling the Samba Kings. The reputation of the legendary yellow shirt did not matter. They planned, plotted, and meticulously executed a strategy that worked, and it was the Brazilians who, reputation in tatters, looked a beaten and frustrated lot.
How often in life do we get intimated by someone who appears to be, or conveys the impression of being, more knowledgeable, aware or superior? How often do we kow-tow to someone just because they are senior in their professional capacity, or more experienced? The answer is obvious.
What we fail to realize that each one of us is possessed of certain unique qualities, abilities, and skills. When confronted by a challenging situation, we get overawed by the image, reputation, stature or name of the person we are dealing with, and ignore or, indeed, forget, our own inner strengths and capabilities. We refuse to stare down the person we are dealing with, and adopt a somewhat docile and accepting posture or attitude. The battle is lost in our minds even before it has begun.
We lose sight of the fact that we, too, have a sensible and logical view, we, too, have something to say or contribute. No one is superior merely by way of reputation, position, aura or title.
The Dutch did not, ultimately, win the World Cup, but they did give Iker Cassilas a few anxious moments.
More importantly, through their performance against Brazil, they taught us an important lesson. The lesson that reputation that precedes does not necessarily demand a meek response.
Football is big business, and huge sums of money are spent in promoting major events. The World Cup, for instance, attracts a huge audience world-wide, as do tournaments such as the European Champions League or the Copa Libertadores in South America.
At the club level, too, football generates massive revenue, and the focus is always on promoting the club “brand” as prominently as possible.
One method used in recent years has been to use aircraft to display the livery of a team or a club, and I came across some interesting specimens.
You see aircraft of various airlines arriving and departing from airports world-wide. But, when one of these specially painted planes arrives, it something that is really nice to see.
It is usually enjoyable watching the later stages of the Champions League, but the past two days have been a bit of a disappointment.
It might not have been pretty, but it proved to be effective as Chelsea blunted Barcelona in the first-leg Champions League semi-final. The English team left the Camp Nou safe in the knowledge that they have home advantage in the second-leg next week.
Barcelona possess one the most electrifying attacks in world football today with Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Theirry Henry tearing down defences all over Europe. Against Chelsea, though, they came up against a wall that blocked everything that was thrown at it. Temporary coach Guus Hiddink’s pre-match battle cry of “Big clashes between big players” might have seemed like one in a series of mind games. It did not provide for great entertainment, though.
Barcelona versus Chelsea is usually one of those tinderbox ties. There is no doubt that Chelsea loaded up the testosterone for this match, employing the bulldozing power of the team’s strong men to negate Barcelona’s brilliance. If roughhouse tactics were necessary, so be it. At times it did seem that Hiddinck’s men were pushing their luck, and that eventually Barcelona would find the net, but it was not to be.
The frustration of the Catalans was increasingly evidence as the match progressed, and their inability to get onto the score sheet would worry them more than Chelsea.
Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger still harbours dreams of bagging a European title, and will, undoubtedly be satisfied that Manchester United’s rampant, incisive, and slick display did not result in more than one goal. The lack of gumption displayed by the Gunners could, perhaps, be blamed on the absence of full bench strength on the night, but the mercurial skills and ability of Cesc Fábregas apart, Arsenal will need to up the ante substantially if they are to go into the return leg next week with any hopes of going through.
I would be happy if it were to be Arsenal versus Barcelona in Rome on 27th May.
The second edition of the Indian Premier League takes off today, and millions will be glued to their television sets.
The game has been transformed, as has broadcasting. What one sees on the TV screen, apart from the players, is an assortment of commentators from different parts of the world, giving their perspective on the game.
Some of them are very good and knowledgeable, and are a pleasure to watch/hear.
Many others, though, are pedestrian and extremely boring to say the least. Some of today’s commentators are far too verbose, end up mouthing tediously long grammar, and sometimes, completely miss the point. You are tempted to hit the mute button on the remote and watch only the action on the screen.
And, there are some anchors that are really terrible and only end up trivializing the game.
Viewers of sport today have the benefit of watching the action accompanied by comments from the panel in the commentary box. Most have never heard commentary as it used to happen on radio. And, that was quite something.
There have been some wonderful radio commentators in the past such as John Arlott, Brian Johnston and Alan McGilvray, who, with their enormous knowledge of the game, and incisive comments, brought the game “live” to their listeners. It used to be a pleasure following their description of the game.
India has had its share of stalwarts, too, such as Pearson Surita, Anand Rao, Balu Alaganan, and one particular genius – AFS (Bobby) Talyarkhan.
AFST was a legend in his time. One of the earliest cricket commentators in India, he played a significant role in popularizing the game. With his polished style, a fabulous command of the language, and ability to bring the game alive, he was a treat to listen to. One unique aspect of his commentating is that he disliked sharing the mike with anyone else. Critics called him self-opinionated and ambitious, but he was a class act.
I was not born when AFST was in his prime, but have watched him on television, and also when he gave his close-of-the-day summary in a series in 1972-73. His newspaper column “Take it from me” in which he wrote about cricket, racing, football, hockey, etc was always interesting, and the sign-off line of “Do you get me Steve?” was unique.
Another commentator who I enjoy listening to is Martin Tyler, who has been commentating about European football for over thirty years, with a very long spell with Sky Sports in the U.K. Despite having been around and seen it all, Tyler has always remained unbiased. With Andy Grey, he has represented a wonderful double act, and it was no surprise that he was handed the “Best Commentator of the Decade” award in April 2003 by the English FA Premier League.
I will follow the IPL keenly on television. And shall, needless to say, try to shut my ears to some of the drivel that some of the anchors and commentators are sure to dish out.
I enjoyed watching some of the matches of the Champions League over the past two days – something I have not done for long.
Manchester United, not once looking like league or European champions, stuttered against Porto, conceding two precious away goals, and the Cup holders now cling by their fingernails to a chance to enter the semis. Porto have not lost a home game in the Champions league for long, and the return leg next week should be interesting.
What I watched last night, though, was quite something else.
Defending Bundesliga champions, Bayern Munich, currently lying 4th in the table, were up against Barcelona at the Nou Camp.
And, it was a rout, to put it mildly.
It is true that Barcelona are in great form. But, the drubbing they handed out was frightening. Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thiery Henry tore Bayern’s woeful defence to shreds, and a 4-0 scoreline at half-time suggested bigger things.
I switched off the TV and went to bed at the half-way stage.
Coming on the heels of a 5-1 demolition by Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga at the weekend, one felt sorry for Bayern’s fans, who must have been justifiably incandescent after last evening’s show. They must surely wonder what will happen when their team faces Eintracht Frankfurt this weekend.
The four-goal cushion should see Barcelona cruise into the semi-finals, but for a Bayern miracle. I remember how Deportivo La Coruna dramatically came back from 4-1 down in the first leg to beat AC Milan 4-0 in the 2004 quarter-finals, so, anything can happen.
But, I don’t think it will.