The year 2016 has almost come to an end with just left with a few hours left to welcome the new year and a new horizon into our lives. It has been a year of joy and heartbreaks. While Cricket established its supremacy over the world, Football notched up a few rungs up the ladder, the biggest heartbreak was the Olympic disappointment with sky high hopes pinned on the participants. Badminton had a memorable year as stars emerged with proper nurture and care and Boxing now has a new superstar. The list would go on and on. But here is my list of the most memorable moments of the yer 2016.

10. WWE India Tour of India.

Although the tour had been finalized in 2015 with most shows being sold out by December 2015, the new year started of with a bang. For the first time in more than a decade the most famous wrestling sport is making base in India, this is not only a proud moment for us but shows the growing trend in the perception of India as a destination for sports. It’s an open secret that WWE is more of a rehearsed sport and much of the wrestling is dramatized, yet it has images1maintained its superiority like none other. WWE being one of the most popular sports amongst the younger generation, the chance of seeing Big Show, Roman Reign, Demon Kane is something they would always cherish. But with every good news is a conditions apply *. This condition was forced upon them with an injury to their superstar John Cena which ensured that he could not make it to the India tour. Nonetheless the tour proved to be a grand success with packed stadiums greeting their stars and booing their nemesis, WWE had a tour to remember. More recently there were news doing the rounds about their next tour to our country somewhere in 2017. I do not know the authenticity of the source, but if this does happen, none would be happy than me.

 

9. Indian Cricket’s New Frontiers.

When we have a religion called Cricket and the players being worshiped like Gods, there is nothing wrong in expecting only the pinnacle of the sport. That was achieved this in style. With the test series wins against South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand spring boarding us to the No. 1 Test team, the recently concluded series against England sealed our supremacy in the sport. Although we missed the World T20 held in India, for the first time, by a couple of feet(2 No Balls), we did win the Asia Cup T20. Agreed we haven’t been reflecting the test success in the limited over format, but one thing is for certain, we are certainly raising the bar and have been performing much, much better, and are considered true World beaters.

 

8. Badminton Glory

With the likes of Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu always in the top 10 and now the mens players catching up with 6 of them in the top 50, badminton is truly gaining popularity and growing leaps and bounds with all the credit to be pointed to just one person, the Dronacharya of Badminton, coach Pullela Gopichand. Under his supervision India produced world class performers like Srikanth Kidambi, Ajay Jayaram, Prannoy Kumar, Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponnappa and many more. With a population of around 1.25 Billion, the list is sure to extend even more. Although 2016 cannot be considered as a watershed year, it sure can be placed in the top rung for the most memorable years.

 

7. Junior colts supremacy in Hockey & Cricket.

Its always said that the true way to judge a system is to look at the youth of the World. In sports its always the Under-19 squads that we need to look at. Its easy to put aside the kids hockey-juniorstelling that they need to mature to play games under constant scrutiny, but when they are thrown onto the world stage, how they falter and come back again gives us the correct picture of their character. When the Under 19 teams of both Hockey and Cricket won the World Cup and Asia Cup respectively, we can be rest assured that the future of the sports are in safe hands and just like wine, they would certainly get better over time.

 

6. Hockey’s Champion of Champions.

It has been quite sometime since India fielded a quality hockey side, let alone a champion side. The Indian hockey team failing to qualify for the 2008 Olympics was sometimes regarded as the last nail in the coffin of the once invincible side. Not many people evethis-is-how-our-honest-indian-hockey-team-won-hearts-and-the-asian-champions-trophy-1477918888n gave second thought about the game. But as the saying goes, “the only way left after falling down is going back up”. And up did we go! With HIL giving more experience and exposure to the global arena, India notched up one step at a time. Although we did miss out on the Olympic medal, we put that aside for better and prepared for championship glory. The final would be a game that will be etched in hockey’s echelons for a long time, coz not only did we win the Champions trophy, but we won it against Pakistan when the diplomatic ties between the two countries were at a low point following the Uri and Pathankot attack. When the trophy was dedicated to the victims of the attack, not only did they win The Cup but our hearts as well.

 

5. The terrific triple.

karun-nairDespite the fact that India has been playing test cricket since 1933, with the cricketers enjoying a God like persona and even when India is known to have a penchant to produce classic batsmen, we had failed to produce people with the appetite and temperament for huge scores, with just one person scoring a triple century in 2007. That is definitely about to change in the coming years, with leaders wanting to go for the win, ALWAYS. A team is usually a reflection of the captain, with everyone wanting to perform their best with a philosophy of come the occasion, come the chances. The latest addition of that is Karun Nair, playing his debut series and under pressure to keep his place, he kept up to his captain and coach’s’ faith in him by delivering a sublime triple century in his debut series, in the process re writing many records. The most surprising fact to this, Karun Nair still dosen’t know if his placed is sealed or if he would play the next series! This is not a question about his talent or skill set, but the number of players who are performing very well with the limited opportunity they are handed.

 

4. Kabbadi World Cup and PKL (Season 3 & 4).

India/ Iran final match of ''Kabaddi World Cup 2016''

When the Pro Kabbadi League was established, supporters thronged the stadium with much fanfare and enthusiasm. That was a truly defining moment for the game as an ‘Indian sport’ had never garnered as much media coverage and the audiences were spellbound to not just watch the sport but to support and globalize it. Kabbadi had reached a greater audience through the years and a pan India following. The next step was to go for a global reach with the only way to do is to have an ‘Actual World Cup’. By Actual I mean, to have countries from every continent to participate in it and fight for the pinnacle of the sport. Hosted by the most popular country of the sport while showcasing to the world audience the power, might and beauty of the game. Needless to say India retained the cup, but South Korea gave us the most shocking game by defeating India in the opener, while Iran missed the World Cup by a whisker, Bangladesh let the world know why Kabbadi is their national sport and Thailand remained the dark horses. The sole credit to the spread of the game has to be given to the organizers of the Pro Kabbadi League for spreading the sport where Cricket is considered a religion and Football has the global popularity, and even emerge victorious. That is when we know the deep routed liking we have for the game.

 

3. BFC’s Continental Supremacy.
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BFC players are ecstatic after winning the semifinal’s home leg against JDT to become the first Indian team to enter the AFC Cup final.

When Bengaluru Football Club was incorporated, there was not much talk about it, when in fact there were criticism for including a corporate club. As Gandhi’s saying goes ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win’. BFC exemplifies this example. From being laughed at, they won the I-League in their debut season, then came 3 minutes close to in the second season, won third season and finally not able to quench their thirst showed their supremacy in the continent by reaching the AFC Cup final in 2016. Irrespective of the result, BFC have laid the pathway for Indian Football for the future. With the ISL gaining popularity with every year, the Football scene in India is getting better day by day, along with the fact that India is hosting the Under-17 world cup next year, only time will tell when we could lay our hands on the FIFA world cup.

 

2. Vijender Singh’s Professional debut.

Although Vijender turned pro last year, it was in 2016 that he earned the vacant WBO Asia Pacific Super Middleweight title, on July 16th, after he won the fight against Australian Kerry Hope in front of the packed Thyagaraj vijender-singhSports Complex in New Delhi. This has to be the second best achievement of the year, as for the first time a boxing game has taken center stage and garnered much attention. Not only did it propel Viju into the top 10 pugilists in the world, but brought the entire nation to take note of the sport.

Vijendar’s title defense against the much experienced Francis Cheka, showed us the swag of Viju, coz not only did he defend his title, he did that in just 3 rounds Knockout without breaking a sweat and continuing his unbeaten record of 8-0 after turning pro. Vijender has truly sealed his place in the pro boxing circuit and has been gaining popularity over time. With his inspiration, only time will tell when we could have our own Mohammed Ali or Mike Tyson from India.

 

1. Olympic Pride and Paralympic Glory.

With high hopes and great dreams, India fielded its highest contingent of 117 athletes at the 2016olympic-glory Olympic games expecting to bring in glory. But the results were disappointing to say the least. Never did we think that we would return with just 2 medals. Nonetheless, P.V. Sindhu and Sakshi Malik deserve all the credit and much more praise for making us proud. You are the real inspiration when the going got tuff. Although we did have our share of near miss in a lot of other competitions, like Dipa Karmakar who came 4th in gymnastics making her the first Indian to reach the top five. While Sania Mirza & Rohan Boppana went down fighting in mixed doubles and Abhinav Bindra missed his target by a whisker. All of them deserve equal credit like the other two.

With Olympic disappointment still fresh in our minds, not many people gave much thought about the Paralympics. It was this, that makes the hauls even sweeter. With 2 Golds, 1 Silver and 1 Bronze, India gave its best performance in the history of Paralympics. This is no easy task considering that India had sent 19 athletes, which in itself was its biggest contingent.

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Mariyappan Thangavelu, Devandra, Deepa Malik, Bhati Varun Singh

 

These are the 10 most memorable sporting events for India in the year 2016. With the sporting scene in India shinning brighter than ever, I wish I would be spoilt for choice when I sit down to write the year end review for the next year…

Sport. Cricket. pic: May 1985. Arundel, England. Duchess of Norfolk's XI v Australia. Kepler Wessels, Australia. Kepler Wessels, (a left-handed batsman) played Test cricket for both his native South Africa and Australia, in 40 matches between 1982-1994.

Clockwise from left Kepler Wessels, Iftikar Ali Khan Pataudi, Abdul Hafeez, Amir Elahi. Center : Gul Mohammad.

Whats common between Kepler Wessels, Iftikar Ali Khan Pataudi, Abdul Hafeez, Gul Mohammad and Amir Elahi? All of them played for two countries, not by choice but due to circumstances. Abdul Hafeez, Gul Mohammad and Amir Elahi played for India before Independence and for Pakistan post Independence. Kepler Wessels played for Australia due to Apartheid and later captained South Africa in their first test post lifting of the ban while the Senior Nawab of Pataudi, played for England as India did not have a representative team at all.

On similar lines we have another list: Ted Dexter, Phil Edmonds, Derek Pringle, Donald Carr, Paul Terry, Graeme Hick, Paul Parker and Freddie Brown. The list could be extended with a lot more names, but I’d like to restrict it to people who have made a significant impact in either county or test cricket. The list is made up of all the players who played for England but were born elsewhere i.e. South Africa or Germany or Italy or even Zambia. Most of them were professional cricketers when the ICC was still known as the Imperial Cricket Conference with the number of countries playing Test Cricket was just about half a dozen, while some of them played the sport as TCCB(Test and County Cricket Board) changed to ECB(England and Whales Cricket Board).

The final list consists of, Allan Lamb, Andrew Strauss, Matt Prior, Jonathan Trott, Ed Joyce, Eion Morgan, Boyd Rankin and Kevin Pietersen. On first glance, the stand out people from the crowd, no prizes for guessing them, Tony Greig and Kevin Pietersen, and why do they stand out? Well, how can anyone forget the infamous and now immortalized ‘Grovel’ interview, which was the reason for turning point for one of the greatest team, in the modern era, The West Indies team lead by Clive Lloyd. Or the Packer Brand of World Series Cricket, which in fact was the starting point for the transformation of the game from the Gentleman’s sport to a professional sport with commercial interests. If these two sum up the life of Tony Greig, Kevin Pietersen has a long list of controversies to his name. To put in a nutshell, KP is the only person to have such a greatly polarized opinion of both his personal and professional life by his fans and critics alike. So what is common between them and the rest of the players in the list? Much similar to the previous lists, all of them pledged their loyalties to England even when they were of different nationalities, most notably South Africa and Ireland.

England have taken in far too many players pledging their support to the nation and it does not seem to stop anytime soon. So how are they able to attract such an inflow of talent? the only answer to this, ‘The Kolpak Ruling‘. Much has already spoken about the ruling and the tremendous impact it has had on Cricket especially in the county circuit which has a direct influence on the English Cricket team.

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KP is the stalwart in this scenario. Unwilling to give in to the racial quota system, moved out of the  country to play in the county circuit. Once he had fulfilled the criteria of playing for four years in England, he was immediately picked to play for the country, keeping the selectors faith, he repaid heavy dividends by averaging 104 in his first serious. But the
following series to his native South Africa would be the apt description of his life. He was booed, jeered, heckled and called a traitor, but his critics were no match to his sheer brilliance on field and ultimately received a standing ovation on his final ton. It just proves that, whenever he is snubbed, it the team’s loss, never I repeat NEVER his loss.

The same applies to the current England team. They seem to be lacking a world class batsmen capable of taking the challenge and to take the game away from the opposition. Agreed there will be greats in every generation for every team, but England are still in the process of finding one who can replace KP. Many names have been suggested, but none were able to match up to his caliber. But one thing is for sure, given the English mindset and their expectations of a player to be more conservative, KP trying to make a come back into the team seems to be a distant dream.

Knowing KP and his thirst for runs, being a T20 mercenary or sitting in the commentary box is never his personality. So instead of waiting for the eventual dwindling into the horizon, KP should accept the fact that his English dreams are long but over and to quench his thirst should again switch allegiance. No, I’m not asking him to move back to his country of birth and play for South Africa, but instead play for IRELAND. I know this might be the most shocking fact in recent cricket history, but this move has more advantages than its share of controversies. First, Ireland’s benefit with having a star batsmen among their ranks, would not be restricted only to his experience, but would make cricket more popular than ever as it brings more than just a few controversies. Second, KP would be in a position where he is more welcomed and celebrated rather than question his entire intent of cricket. And last but not the least, it would ensure that England, would for the first time get to taste their own medicine, and understand how bitter a medicine it is when they served it to Ireland through the likes of Ed Joyce, Eion Morgan and Boyd Rankin, when they lured them with the chance of playing Test Cricket. While none of them had a successful career in Test, two of them even returning back to Ireland and the other one is no longer in contention for Test cricket.

Now imagine in Ireland’s first tour of England in May 2017, the second ODI at the home of cricket, KP wearing the St. Patrick’s green jersey coming down at the fall of Paul Stirling, another great attacking batsmen for Ireland, and providing a strong stability to a side which finds itself at the crossroads in limited overs cricket and getting to a maiden hundred on debut for Ireland, ultimately leading to a fine win for Ireland. I know the odds of such a thing happening is 300-1 but I still would like to remain optimistic about such an outcome where we see KP launching his boundaries against his former team mates.

With the likes of Kolpak ruling drawing in his favor, if KP could play in the Irish domestic season for just one year, I’m pretty sure, he could go ahead and play for Ireland sooner than possible. Having read so much about his flamboyance and his sheer disregard of the controversies that affect him and take it to the chin, KP could and should definitely consider this option and should once again pursue life as an international cricketer, which would not only benefit him but Cricket in Ireland and to some extent the leading associates. But the question remains, if KP would consider this option…

olympicscricket

Every now and then, maybe quite far, a question always pops up in the cricket community. ‘Should cricket be included in the Olympics’. It usually gathers steam, when the Olympics is near and forgotten no sooner than the Olympic Closing Ceremony. To be honest, I’m a supporter of Cricket to be included in the Olympics, but what I really want is cricket to be played in more than just the traditional 9 and a half countries where test cricket is played now(Zimbabwe being the half country and I’m sure nobody would oppose me in counting them as half).

The ICC and the member boards have constantly opposed to Cricket to be included in the Olympics. I could quite understand the reason for this – the lack of profit from revenue to them, and the fact that the member boards must be answerable to the Government. These are reasons enough to make the think not just twice, but as many times as possible, for not only does it lose its money, but it needs to go through blatant redtapism, both of which are dreadful to the cricket boards and the ICC.

One of the first question that pops onto your mind whenever there is a topic about Cricket’s inclusion in Olympics is the concept of a global game i.e. can Cricket be considered as a truly global sport, considering the fact that it is just played in a handful of countries. As an ardent supporter of Cricket, I find the fundamental reason for the lack of spread of the game globally is the over reliance on a few countries be it for either commercial reasons or the imperialistic viewpoint. Once we move away from the pretend democracy that is prevalent from the time cricket originated i.e. Imperial England in the post war period or the Packer Cricket of Australia in the early 80s or the more recent “The Big Three Takeover”, and have an actual working democracy, the global popularity of the game takes care of itself.

So how do we popularize Cricket, thats a question that does not have an accurate answer, but if we can raise the quality and standard of cricket in the associate levels and getting them to play more and more cricket with quality opposition, cricket will have newer horizons. By quality opposition I dont mean and restrict only to the international sides, rather, their A teams, their domestic champions and of course the out of favor cricketers who have just passed their prime. These facts are not rocket science and or is it a something out of the ordinary. The quality of cricket increases when there is a clear structure, both domestic and international, complimented by an organised club cricket.

So how do we implement it to have a better structure, please look no further away. There are tried and tested formula with actual results. Still have a doubt, ever wondered how Zimbabwe still has world class players who have proved time and again that they are worthy of their play only to give up on their international career just to have a secure future for them and their families? Or how could an associate nation like Kenya reach the semi final of a World Cup? The answer lies in their domestic and club structure. Zimbabwe have been playing in South Africa’s domestic competition long before they were granted test status. Kenya had an excellent club structure with the likes of Sanjay Manjrekar, Sandeep Patil, Brian Lara playing and coaching various clubs. These two countries are also prime example of how corruption can ruin, not just cricket but the economy of their country as well. Hence, in order to ensure that the associate nations cricketing standard and skill set improves, The ICC and the member boards should take a collective step by allowing the associate nations to play the domestic structure of their neighboring countries which would have not just similar pitch conditions, but have a near identical weather.

The ICC in its efforts to ensure that the associate teams do have a better track record in the World Cup had invested heavily in them and ensured that they had good match practice and they did reap in the benefits when the associate nations showed capability to beat better teams, be it Kenya in the 1996 World Cup or all the associate nations in the 2015 World Cup. Whats more puzzling is the fact that, why does the ICC restrict these investments only for World Cups and not the rest of the time? This could not only be of valuable experience to the associate nations, but would go a long way in drawing talent and popularity to the game.

In retrospect, there is no harm in trying these concepts when the ICC has tried tried radical concepts like ‘Supersub’, which was more confusing than helpful. As the world is evolving, there is definitely nothing wrong in holding on to traditions, but at the same time, embracing change is how you get to survive. Agreed you will be bruised, but you would emerge more successful and more mature. Ultimately, The Game of Cricket would be able to survive in this ever changing world, if and only if we have more countries play cricket and have equal say in the administration.

With the recent change in governance in the ICC, the hope that Cricket expands to newer horizons has never seemed so bright, while at the same time with the changes being brought into the game, Cricket seems more exciting and engrossing to both the players and the audience. With crossed fingers lets hope that Cricket could find newer countries to call it as its home…

A Utopian Scenaria

Posted: January 30, 2014 in Cricket

Out of curiosity, I googled “Cricket in China”, this is, of course a peculiar search, given the fact that cricket is never synonymous with China and evident from the levels of participation by the most populous country. But for a country never to have participated in any major cricketing events, and the highest level of cricket in the country, equivalent to a Division 5 league, the results were rather startling. ESPNCricinfo, the encyclopedia of cricket, had 30 odd articles on cricket in China, a detailed Wikipedia article about China National Cricket Team and their astonishing ambitions, a BBC article about Cricket in China, and to top it all, a ChinaCricket website dedicated solely to all the activities related to cricket in China! That’s on par, if not better, than most of the top ranked associate nations and almost equal to the lower ranked full member nations.

China-Team2012

Statistics say that every sixth person in the world is a Chinese, which also follows suit for an Indian as well. Hence deducing from the statistics, there is a Chinese and an Indian in every six member group. Now imagine if the world’s most populous country were to play the game with the the country second in line in that very list, and if that game were to be telecast?. Yeah move over football, you are nowhere close to being the most watched sport in the world. Imagine it, as almost half the world’s population would be watching this game and these also include the passionate cricket organisms living everywhere else.

chinese_cricketers_543

As Ashis Nandy once said, “Cricket is an Indian game, accidentally discovered by the British”, its no secret, that in India cricket is a religion and cricketers are ‘Demigods’. Although I have no idea, when China would be able to gain test status, or for that matter, when they would have a decent fan following, but I’d definitely like to see how it would be in those times, when the BCCI would have a worthy competitor, both on and off the field, who knows, there might be a Han Premier League(The Chinese usually refer to themselves as the children of the ‘Han’, hence the name H.P.L.), with Indians captaining the sides, or an even better, how about having another Sachin Tendulkar Stand in one of their stadiums!

china.cricket-coach201205afp

Yeah, I know, none of them are nowhere close to becoming a reality, but just like the many perfect scenario’s that’s always running in our minds(like the beautiful girl in office coming over and talking to me), this is also one of the many perfect scenarios that I wish could come true, at least before I get Alzheimer!

Football in India

Posted: January 11, 2014 in Football

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For a country playing football from the time Queen Victoria became the Empress of India, and with close to a billion people following the game, 154th rank is a reason we cannot fathom. With a popularity second only to Cricket, India has always been referred to as the sleeping giant waiting to be awakened, but when?

Looking back at the history of the sport in India, the oldest competition for football outside the British Isle is The Durand Cup. Established in the year 1888, having a British contingent play the first match, while Mohan Bagan A.C. created history when they lifted the cup in 1911, becoming the first Indian Side to win the trophy. Just after Independence the 1948 Olympic team played barefoot against a formidable France, it attracted the admiration of none other than Princess Margaret, the younger sibling of Queen Elizabeth II, while the captain that led the team in the 1952 Olympics, Sailen Manna, was the only Asian in the top 10 captains list in 1953.
Although history does have a colorful picture to paint, Football fell into the similar pit like as Hockey, or more
accurately it was actually Hockey that followed suit. Whether the sport fell into bad administration, or because of the lack of interest in people, or the meteoric rise of Cricket and eating into all the other sports, we cannot say, except for the fact that Football is still lags behind.

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Throughout its history, Football does have a few bright spots, and occasionally bringing up the spirits, only to fall deeply short of expectations. The time when India played the AFC Asian Cup and losing all three of them, or being crowned SAFF champions a number of times only to find out that it is nowhere close to a comparison for competition in the world stage. Its not that winning the SAFF cup has no value, but India is more stagnant and winning it seems to be the only achievement that India had in a long, long time. While in more recent times, India lost the finals to Afghanistan in the 2013 edition.
All said, India is a country never short of talent and all it needs is the right pedigree to groom players for the world stage. With the recent burst of interest in the I-League not only being a pleasant surprise, but a great encouraging factor for players who, would otherwise, have to convince people about taking up football as a profession rather than a sport or for passion. This again directly proportional to the fact that the I-League has more city based clubs now, unlike the earlier years, which had more of institutional clubs.
By far the best thing to have ever happened to Indian Football is the opportunity to host the 2017 under-17 World Cup. Now a tournament of this proportion would not only get the world’s attention to Indian Football but an initiative to take Indian Football to the World stage in the best possible way. Whether it is a stepping stone for India to take Football to the highest level, or one of the many great things to have happened to Indian Football which is followed by a downward spiral, or even worse what if it is a replica of the Commonwealth Games fiasco, only time can tell.