By Madhu Kshirsagar

25 Feb 2013photo-2

The International Olympic Committee has decided to drop Wrestling as an Olympic sport from the year 2020.  Yes, you heard it right.

Wrestling, which is one of only a handful of sports to have survived from the inaugural Olympics in 1896, will now compete with seven other new sports – including karate, baseball and softball, wushu (whatever that is), roller sports, wakeboarding(?) and sport climbing (huh!) – for one remaining spot at the 2020 Games.

The Committee members in their collective wisdom have decided that wrestling is not popular enough – or at least they did not believe it to be so based on some graphs and numbers that the computer might have spit out.

Wrestling featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman at last year’s London Olympics. Women’s wrestling was added to the Olympics at the 2004 Athens Games.

The problem with sports like wrestling are that they are not high profile sports and do not get media coverage in many countries including Australia – generally watching Olympics on Australian TV is like watching a swimming carnival anyway.  But what is baffling is that America is a strong contender in wrestling along with countries such as India, Russia, Germany, Korea etc.  Surely they will be able to rattle the cage and attract attention to this folly with key members of the IOC.

At the risk of many disagreeing, I have to say why should there be so many medals in swimming for instance?  There are 34 gold medals in swimming and 102 in total including silver and bronze. In the next Olympics they might come up with a medal for scratching yourself under water. Surely they can save other exotic sports from other countries and rationalising on the number of medals in sports that are played and practiced mostly in rich countries. Personally, I would rather watch wrestling than swimming. And synchronised swimming? Please!

Now they want to sack wrestling because it is not popular in developed countries and therefore they are not making money. Unfortunately Olympics, like everything else these days is a question of whether things stack up fiscally. I understand that. But surely that should not be the only criteria! If so we can never get to appreciate sports such as wrestling, martial arts or even kabaddi.

I believe field hockey came very close to being eliminated from 2020 Olympics.  That would have been a tragedy. They have almost killed field hockey as a sport anyway with the abolition of off-side rule and introduction of synthetic turfs.  It has become a sport of power and long hits compared to a time when short passes and delightful stick work used to be in vogue.  It used to be exhilarating to watch players use skill and weave their way past opponents casting a magical web of deception. Nowadays you see people hitting the ball from one end to another with power and precision and somehow it has robbed the charm of the old hockey.

Anyway, it has been a wake-up call for all hockey administrators and they have to fight fiercely in the future to keep it in the Olympic fold.

Be that as it may, I hope IOC comes to its senses soon enough to reverse the decision and reinstate wrestling.  Otherwise, it would be tragedy.


By Madhu Kshirsagarphoto-2

25 Feb 2013

Illegal drugs are widespread throughout Australian sport and are being facilitated by sports scientists, high-level coaches and sports staff, a 12-month investigation by the Australian Crime Commission has found.

ACC has also found evidence of personal relationships between professional athletes and criminal identities and groups that may have resulted in match-fixing and the fraudulent manipulation of betting markets.

The average Australian may not realise this, but Australian sports is currently a laughing stock in the world of sports. Its reputation has been badly damaged and the concerned authorities have to act swiftly to punish the guilty and steer sports in the right direction in future. They have to do the right thing and also be seen to be doing the right thing. They have to do it to at least keep the next generation of athletes clean and also bring integrity to a corrupt and broken system. They also owe it to the impressionable children of this country who will be the next avid sports fans of the future. Is this beyond the average football clubs and other sports administrators of the country? Time will tell.

Australian sports for a long time have bent the rules and have the motto of ‘win at all costs’. While used on the field in a competitive sense it is quite laudable – but when the win is achieved by hook or by crook then it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. History is littered with umpteen examples of Aussie sporting culture leading to unsporting behaviour – from the infamous underarm ball to 2008 Sydney Test.  Such an extreme need for winning at any cost drove Lance Armstrong, and his teammates to systematically abuse the system by doping for many years. And Ian Thorpe for a long time has been the subject of criticism that his exploits have been fuelled by performance enhancing drugs. There are also rumours that such drugs are widely used in Australian swimming.

Aussie rules football is a sport that not many in the world would care about and there are obvious reasons why it can never be a premiere world sport.  But the Aussies – at least some parts of Australia – live and breathe this manic free-for-all brawl; anything goes as far as one can kick between the poles.  But it is fast and furious and requires a lot of strength and stamina for the athletes who participate.

Such sports which require superhuman brawns are catalysts for substance abuse. These football codes seem to have a very poor moral compass – forever enmeshed with drugs of various kinds, sexual misdemeanours, and penalties for bad behaviour of the many athletes involved.  The football administrations are also very lenient towards such incidents and try very hard to brush everything under the carpet. Three strike policy in dealing with drug usage in Aussie rules is a mindboggling rule which is laughable in this day and age. What is the chance of a drug cheat being caught three times publicly when the sports administrators are actively sweeping such things under the carpet?

On top of all this the massive machinery of endless commentators in all forms of the media and sports administrators make it a thriving web of vested interest all round. Today the Melbourne football club was found not guilty of tanking despite the whole footy fraternity knowing otherwise. But the manager and the coach have been suspended and the Club has been fined $500k – reasonable people have been left speechless and fuming at the action – what is the penalty for if they have been found to be not guilty? They will soon need a high speed electric broom for all the sweeping under the carpet that’s been happening – the manual one is just not fast enough. AFL will struggle with integrity in footy as they seem to live in a cocoon and seem to have their heads well and truly buried in the sand.

And then there is match-fixing and association with criminal activities. Match fixing or at least spot fixing has been going on in Aussie cricket for a long time – remember Lillee & Marsh betting scandal – when they bet against their own team in which they were key members? – and more recently with Mark Waugh and Shane Warne which the ACB tried to brush under the carpet – the broom’s indeed been working overtime all these years!

It is astounding that such evidence based accusation has been levelled against sports in Australia by investigative authorities. Can one expect that sporting bodies will react positively and punish the guilty and try to eradicate drugs and criminal elements that have infiltrated the sport? One can only hope! Or will they just batten down the hatches and hope the storm will blow over?  I have a feeling that months will roll by, with all and sundry providing lip service, and things will be forgotten eventually. An odd someone will be nominated as the scapegoat, like Joe-the-cameraman, and some wrists would be slapped. Nudge, Nudge! Wink, Wink! And everything will be back to normal. Drugs? What drugs? Match fixing? Come on! Such a long time ago, let’s move on.  OK, now can we look at the footy tipping for next week?

If the way they have handled the question of tanking in AFL is any indication, then Australian sports integrity has no hope in hell.


Dhoni’s Impact on Indian Cricket

By Madhu Kshirsagarphoto-2

27 Jan 2013

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s captaincy for India is a boon and a curse at the same time.  Dhoni’s current captaincy form shows a woeful 9 losses out of the last 16 Tests – and the 5 win includes the 2 in West Indies and a series win at home against cricket’s favourite punching bag NZ. The period includes humiliating series losses to England and Australia overseas and against England at home. Unfortunately, India is fast becoming a ‘punching bag’ itself.

Critics of Dhoni are slowly outnumbering the supporters as a number of hitherto Dhoni fans are losing hope.  But there is more to the story than meets the eye.  The average cricket follower has to be pointed out that there is a vast difference between Test cricket, one-day cricket and Twenty-20 cricket. And there are not many cricketers who are good in all forms and there are not many captains who understand and appreciate all the different varieties.  Dhoni is no exception and my following arguments will support my view he is a boon to Indian cricket in one-dayers and Tweny-20 both as player and a leader, and a curse in Test cricket as the leader.

Dhoni’s style of cricket, and hence his thinking and understanding of the game is second to none when it comes to one-day cricket and Twenty-20.  Dhoni’s record as a player and also as a captain in one-day and Twenty-20 cricket is staggering, which includes 2 World Titles. His strategy and execution in the shorter versions of the game are far superior. His calm demeanour and his body language – or the lack of it – lends a rock-like steadiness during often chaotic situations. And when he comes out to bat towards the end he is the only person that you will put your faith in to deliver – and deliver is what he often does – in his own inimitable style – slow first and demolition later.

More recently, Dhoni has played 27 ODI innings since 2011 World Cup and scored 1166 runs at a mind-boggling average of 83.28 and at a strike rate of 92.39 – ok the average has been helped by 13 not-outs during this period due to the fact that he bats low down – but even allowing for that the above are staggering numbers during a time that India as a team have done precious little. He guides the team when wickets fall all around him during the middle and closing stages, and during the slog overs he really lets loose to put any bowling attack to the sword. Therefore, as a batsman too Dhoni is invaluable to the team in the shorter versions of the game.

In short he is the most valuable cricketer for India in the shorter versions of the game.

We then come to the long version of the game, Test cricket. Here his record is patchy and in the recent past has been nothing short of abysmal.  Sure the fact that “a captain is only as good as the team” is not something we should forget. He has had to deal with massive changes to the quality of the team in the recent past with the departure of invaluable players such as Dravid, Laxman and Kumble – and Sachin brought back to mortal levels.  He bats so low in the order himself to actually make a great meaningful impact in Test cricket any way – and that is not to blame him for failure of specialist batsman ahead of him – he can’t be expected to do everything. His role as a wicket keeper batsman in the Test team is also not questionable and I would give him a hearty tick.

The only flaw in his career (and show me which great cricketer does not have one) is his indifferent approach and often inaction in the Test arena as a captain.  He is over defensive and also gives the impression that he is bored during the 5 day matches and lets things drift mechanically. He either does not completely understand the subtle nuances of the long version or is not interested in them.  Articles and reports would indicate that he has said as much during his early days.  This in itself is not a flaw – not everyone has to like all forms of the game. In fact I can’t imagine a captain who is or was as effective in all forms of the game as Dhoni is in the shorter version.

Perhaps, and more importantly, his influence and views on the impressionable minds of young cricketers in India is also a factor that India is not producing good players of the game in the long format. It is a changing paradigm in India. Is it a temporary phenomenon or a long lasting shift in the meaning of cricket itself in general towards shorter versions of the game? Is it only in India or is it more widespread in the rest of the cricket world? Is the rest of the world deceiving itself by giving disproportionate importance to Test cricket? And they will be taken to the new world kicking and screaming? But later will the rest of the world realise that shifting grounds have left them behind? Time will tell. But that is a topic for another day.

So what is the answer for Dhoni?  Relieve him of Test captaincy but keep him as a player and keeper in Tests? Perhaps.

Retain him as captain for ODIs and Twenty-20s? Most definitely. And thank God everyday that Dhoni is in the Indian team for the shorter versions as both captain and player.


By Madhu Kshirsagarphoto-2

24 Dec 2012

“The stream will cease to flow; the wind will cease to blow; the clouds will cease to fleet; the heart will cease to beat; for all things must die; death waits at the door.” Tennyson was probably talking about great careers coming to an end, as all good things have to.  But I am sure he would have said it differently if he had followed the career of the cricketing phenomenon called “Tendulkar”.  He would probably would have added, “let me wait for a while and make myself sure; for here is a man who can rekindle the glory of yore”, or something to that effect.  Every knowledgeable cricket fan wanted him to continue, defy age and recapture his glory days. But alas, the time has come.

463 matches, 23 yrs, 18426 runs, 49 one-day centuries, 96 one-day half centuries, at a strike rate of 86.23, 62 Man of the Match Awards! To put this in contemporary perspective – Ponting has 32 Man of the Match Awards and Kallis has 32 also.

The greatest one-day player ever! Many favourite memories of Sachin’s exploits in one-day cricket flash past in my mind – he almost always rose to big occasions – his exploits in all World Cup matches over 20 years are gems to be cherished.

Sachin Tendulkar has announced his retirement from one-day cricket.  For all the cricket followers, especially Indians this is indeed sad. One-day cricket will not feel the same again without the familiar walk to the middle by this small but colossal figure.  Generations of Indians will feel the emptiness, the void.  Some had unfairly started questioning his presence in the team. But in my opinion his retirement from one-day cricket has been of impeccable timing. If he had scored tons of runs in the current English series as most of the Indians were hoping – albeit against hope – his detractors would have been forced to shut up.  But all things have to come to an end and father time catches up with everyone – he does not differentiate or show partiality towards geniuses.

There is really no argument – Sachin is the best batsman of his generation and arguably best ever. Some other great batsmen over the last 30 odd years, such as Lara could come a distant second in Test cricket or a Viv Richards in one-day cricket. But Sachin is a complete package – in both forms of the game – the most complete batsman of all.

No great cricketer in my knowledge has ever retired at his peak.  Cricketers have only quit when they ran out of form towards the age of 40 or their bodies just didn’t cope. Name one batsman in the last 30 years who gave away cricket when he was scoring oodles of runs!  All great players have an unshakeable self belief that they can battle through the lean patch towards the end of the career. But alas they find that it is not that easy! And only then they come to terms with hanging up their boots – never before!

Even Ricky Ponting who retired very recently had been reduced to a scratchy batsman who averaged in his 20s for the last couple of years until be polished off some runs in a home series against India’s innocuous and friendly bowling attack.

Seriously there is no one batsman in the history of the game who has achieved so much and with such grace and aura. He stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Lara was inconsistent in Tests and was never a force in one-day cricket. Ponting was always suspect against genuine high quality bowling, whether spin or pace. Sachin has excelled against all kinds of bowling, in all parts of the world and in all conditions. A journey through his 100 international centuries – and 152 half-centuries – shows how he had mastered every bowling attack in the world.  And yet Tendulkar’s numbers and records are only half the story – the other half is how he gets his runs and his demeanour on and off the field – which sets him apart from every one of his contemporaries.   There is really nothing left in cricket for Sachin to prove or achieve!

People expect him to score every time he walks to the middle, and one cannot blame Sachin for failing to meet this unrealistic feat.  This does not reflect in any way on the greatness of Tendulkar but merely reflects the folly and naivety of people at large.  People are the ones who enshrined him as an immortal and have come to expect the most unreasonable exploits from him.  Yet all along he has been the only mortal, level headed and humble human being you can expect to meet in this crazy, egotistic warped world of ours.

It is probably our own limitations, and our own inability to achieve greatness that has made us to crave and seek improbable glory, and look up to someone else for this.  We made him invincible because it suited our own psyche to introduce invincibility into him, and beat the everyday reality in our own lives with some kind of superhuman – and believe me Tendulkar has often delivered on that expectation.  But Tendulkar himself has all along been the most stoic and the most balanced person that one can imagine.

The Tendulkar phenomenon is very hard to explain and yet is very easy to feel.  A generation of Indians have grown up with this feeling.  For all the street cricketers, those playing in the local grounds, the rich, the poor, the young and the old alike have come to revel in his glory.  He started playing cricket at the highest level at the tender age of 16.  From there it has been a fairy tale of glory.  100 international centuries!  Even if he does not add to it, he has dominated the world cricketing scene like no other before, and has already left an indelible mark on international cricket in general.

People have come to regard Tendulkar as a talisman for success, glory and reward.  Indian minds are so deeply etched with the Tendulkar phenomenon that they see their own reflection in him.  A failure in an innings from him is a failure for themselves personally and a failure for the nation.  His aura has lifted an entire nation and has instilled the resolve and the inspiration in every Indian heart to challenge the ordinary and meet the extraordinary head on.  Many ordinary Indians fell in love with cricket because of Tendulkar. They will today be sad, but I am sure will understand that this man has done more to provide them with entertainment and hope through his 23 years of tribulations, achievements and glory.

He is not just a hero; he is much more than that.  Most Indians have lived their own lives through his life.  They have been crestfallen when he failed and have been ecstatic when he succeeded.

And now, when nearing the end of his career some in the media pushing their own barrows, and a small minority of misguided new cricket fans have unfairly mocked and derided him.  How heart breaking is that!  How cruel! No one person is greater than the game itself.  But there are always exceptions, especially Tendulkar who has lifted the game of cricket to greater heights, and deserves special consideration and more leeway to fight his way back.

He has left one-day cricket but let him choose when he wants to say goodbye to Test cricket too and walk away into the sunset.  Believe me sunsets will not be the same again!

Sachin as a phenomenon transcends sports and embraces the good in all walks of our lives.  Enjoy this phenomenon because there will not be another one of its kind.


Indian cricket team hits nadir

By Madhu Kshirsagarphoto-2

24 December 2012

After the initial euphoria of winning the first Test at Ahmedabad, India was completely outplayed in the next 3 Tests by England and the series ended 2-1 in favour of England.  Currently Indian cricket is at its nadir and the only silver lining is the fact that there is no other way but up.  They have been so outplayed in Tests over the last 18 months that their defeat at home at the hands of a good English side seems in hindsight only inevitable.  But for the Indian cricket fan the performance of the Indian team is frustratingly inadequate and reeks of indifference from their spoilt top cricketers.

The main reason for India’s dismal performance was the inability of the current Indian spinners to bowl well consistently over a long period of time. Welcome to Test cricket! This is not a Twenty-20 circus or even a one-dayer – this is Test cricket and the main requirement for this type of cricket is consistent effort at a high level over all of 5 days.  Our current day cricketers are falling alarmingly short on playing the longer version of the game.

Twenty-20 has a role on the cricketing landscape without a doubt.  But when the whole cricketing apparatus becomes slave to this form of the game, then it adversely impacts on the long version of the game.  Young cricketers of today from India are more interested in bashing a few sixes into the stands, or give away the least number of runs in 4 overs – and think that they are great cricketers.  The lure of quick money and quick fame goes to their collective heads.

India is the only country currently where Twenty-20 is played for sickeningly high stakes. This has clearly adversely affected the quality of young cricketers being churned out by the system. This rot has to be stemmed and pronto. If Indian cricket officials do not take corrective action to somehow curtail the impact of Twenty-20 then they might as well give away playing Test cricket.  Test cricket fans will not tolerate this complete indifference and lack of application from young cricketers for too long.

That English spinners were able to bowl much better than the Indian pretenders is by far too hard to swallow for the Indian cricket fans.  On top of that Indian batsmen showed complete lack of application or the grit and skill that is required to play long innings.  So it was a failure in all quarters of the team – a great team effort indeed!

On the other hand English batsmen showed great skill in playing for long periods of time with superior patience and application.  The pitches seemed to suit Monty Panesar’s fastish spin and he probed away with a lot of precision. And Graeme Swann is a fantastic spinner under any circumstance and Anderson was magnificent under trying conditions for fast bowling. Cook led the way in batting and is fast becoming one of England’s great batsmen. Pietersen lived up to his promise and Trott and Bell also proved their worth.

There was no redeeming feature for India.  I am not sure whether Ashwin is a Test quality bowler. He has been ineffective over the last many series and bowls with complete lack of imagination, although he seems to have a bagful of tricks.  Spin bowling is all about setting up a batsman and that requires imaginative planning and high class execution – and I am sure current Indian spinners are not capable of this. Ohja needs a second chance and maybe Chawla needs to be nurtured. But really the spin cupboard is bare of quality spinners.

And its best we don’t speak about the quality of the Indian pacemen. India has never had a fearsome fast bowling unit. Some medium pacers have done well under some circumstances over the years after Kapil.  But India probably has the most innocuous and toothless fast bowling attack and oppositions plunder them for plenty. This is the main reason why India does not win a lot of Test matches.

Also the team is led by a skipper who does not understand Test cricket. His do-nothing strategy at times is just too much to take. He might seem to be a cool captain in one-dayers and T-20s when there is frenzied activity, but his coolness in Test cricket is frustratingly paralytic and shows complete lack of imagination.

Well, like I said we can only expect India to go up as they have gone as far down as possible – or have they?