Aggression in the time of Virat Kohli: Justified or not?

Aggressive teams win, right?

That’s the conventional wisdom.

What if I told you it isn’t so?

It’s not aggressive teams that triumph but offensive ones i.e. teams that play offense as against defence.

Note the difference.

Why is this relevant?

It’s of significance because Team India—in cricket—have turned over a new leaf under Virat Kohli’s leadership and Ravi Shastri’s stewardship.

They are playing aggressive cricket—always looking to win and willing to give as good as they get on the field.

This is the New India—the India borne of the BCCI’s clout and Indian cricketer’s early exposure via the IPL to the rigors and pressures of international cricket.

They are fearless, they will not give a damn or that’s what they would have you and I believe.

They have something their predecessors lacked—attitude.

It’s not that Indian cricket hasn’t seen aggressive skippers before.

Sourav Ganguly was a brat as skipper—irrepressibly keeping Steve Waugh waiting for the toss and tearing off his shirt at Lord’s when they clinched the NatWest trophy.

He was also extremely successful—but his success came from his recognition that to win overseas, he had to build a conveyor belt of world-class pacers to be able to take on the English, South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders at their own game in their favoured conditions.

Ganguly’s churlishness was reactive; he had a point to make. Indians did not like to play tough or rough but would do so when push came to shove. They were not to be cowed or rolled over that easily.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni for all his tactical acumen in ODI cricket wasn’t as successful as Ganguly when it came to playing abroad.

He was more a defensive skipper; he would rather ensure that the game was not lost before seeking the win.

Virat Kohli’s assertion that he would play five bowlers  and let the specialist batters do their job is a breath of fresh air.

If he can find the right personnel to do the job, it is a strategy that can pay huge dividends.

What would Kohli not give to to have had Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Tendulkar—in their prime—in this side? No disrespect to the current bunch of cricketers but they have miles to go before Indian fans sleep.

What is aggression?

An essay titled “Aggression in sport” on site defines it as “any form of behaviour directed toward the goal of harming of injuring another live being who is motivated to avoid such treatment”.

While viewed as a negative psychological characteristic, aggression can improve performance.

Assertive behaviour happens when a player will play within the rules of the game with high intensity but has no intention of harming his opponent(s).

The essay states:

“In sport, aggression has been defined into two categories: hostile aggression and instrumental aggression (Silva, 1983).  Hostile aggression is when the main aim is to cause harm or injury to your opponent. Instrumental aggression is when the main aim is achieve a goal by using aggression. For example a rugby player using aggression to tackle his opponent to win the ball. The player is not using his aggression to hurt the opponent but rather to win the ball back. Coulomb and Pfister (1998) conducted a study looking at aggression in high-level sport. They found that experienced athletes used more instrumental aggression in which they used to their advantage and that hostile aggression was less frequently used. Experienced athletes used self-control to help them with their aggression.”

What could be the source of this aggression?

Frustration due to goal blockage is considered one reason.

Situational and personal factors are other reasons i.e. a player’s personality and socially learnt cues that trigger an outburst of emotion are determining factors.

Stress can have a negative impact on performance and can even increase the possibility of injuring oneself.

The pressure to perform constantly, poor form and high expectations can all affect players adversely.

It is also not easy for focused athletes to balance their lives especially their non-sporting commitments.

Mitch Abrams, in his book “Anger Management in Sport”, writes:

Anger is a normal emotion. Anger is neither good nor bad, and no judgment need be attached to it. Some people believe that a problem arises if a person becomes angry. This idea is not true. To pass judgment on anger and condemn those who admit to becoming angry is the equivalent of robbing people of their humanness. Disallowing oneself from any part of the human experience weakens the experience in its totality. Sadness gives a reference point that makes happiness more appreciated. Tension can be better understood when compared with relaxation. It is about time we stopped making value judgments about anger. No one has ever gotten in trouble for becoming angry. You could be furious right now, but no one would know it unless you demonstrated some behaviour associated with the anger. The belief that anger is bad is so strongly engrained that people will sometimes deny its existence even when it is spilling out all over the place. We have all heard someone with a red face expel incendiary words accompanied by saliva and then follow up by saying, ‘I am not angry!’.The bad rap that anger has received has made it even more resistant to examination.

Truth be told, anger can be harnessed and used as fuel to assist in performance. Can it interfere with performance? You bet! Does it have to? Absolutely not. I have helped athletes compete harder with greater intensity for longer periods, motivated by their anger. The issue is not a matter of eliminating anger; it is a matter of keeping it at a level where it assists, not detracts from, performance.

Studies have shown that as anger increases, cognitive processing speed goes down, fine motor coordination and sensitivity to pain decrease, and muscle strength often increases. So for some athletes doing some tasks, anger can be helpful. For example, the defensive lineman who must make his way past a blocker to make a tackle might benefit from having some level of anger. For other tasks, anger would be a hindrance. The quarterback who needs to read the defense before deciding which receiver to throw to would likely perform better if he was not angry. In fact, some research supports this thesis. Players at football positions that require a lot of decision making tend to demonstrate lower levels of anger than players at positions that do not.

Therefore, when we talk about anger management for peak performance in sport, we are not always talking about making athletes polite and calm. Rather, we are referring to their ability to self-regulate their emotions to what their tasks require.”

Abrams has this to say about reactive aggression:

“Reactive aggression is behavior that has as its primary and sometimes solitary goal to do harm to someone. Usually, this action is in response to a perceived injustice, insult, or wrongdoing. This form of aggression is related to anger and is the behavior that gets athletes in trouble, both on and off the field. An example of reactive aggression may be the pitcher who is furious that the last time a certain batter came to the plate, he hit a 450-foot (140-meter) homer that cleared the bleachers. Still fuming, the pitcher aims his 95 mile-per-hour (150-kilometer-per-hour) fastball between the hitter’s shoulder blades.”

Abrams also elaborates on the difference between incidental and reactive or hostile violence in sport.

He says:

“Incidental violence is an extension of acceptable behavior. Checking in hockey provides a useful example. The line that differentiates checking from cross-checking or boarding, both of which are penalties, is often blurry. Overzealous players can certainly have their behavior spill over to being illegal. This behavior is different from reactive violence, in which the behavior is retaliatory. This kind of behavior can also be broken down into two categories. The first is the spontaneous response. There are some players who pride themselves on their ability to get inside their opponents’ heads and will deliberately provoke them to take them off their game. New York Rangers forward Sean Avery, often described as an agitator, is particularly proficient at this. So, the player provokes the other repeatedly, perhaps by checking them with their stick. Finally, the provoking player checks the first player one too many times, and the player turns and swings the stick at the opponent’s head. The response, although extreme, was not planned. This is spontaneous reactive aggression and is directly related to anger. Anger management programs specifically target reducing this type of behavior. More immediately though, the league or organization must penalize, fine, or suspend players engaging in such behavior as it can very easily cause serious injury.”

Ishant Sharma’s outbursts on the field in Sri Lanka that led to a one-match ban is an example of  reactive aggression. Sharma was reacting to what he believed was provocative behaviour on his opponent Dhammika Prasad’s part. He also appears to take his cue from his skipper’s aggressive nature on the field.

Virat Kohli was not seen to be rebuking his star ‘pupil’.

Instead the Delhi player glossed over his Ranji mate’s behaviour.

He said:

“I was very happy with the incident (argument with Prasad) when he was batting. It happened at the right time for us because we had to bowl yesterday and they made him angry It could not have happened at a better time for us. And the way he (Ishant) bowled in the second innings, he didn’t concede a boundary for 19 overs. That’s the kind of pressure he created on those batsmen because of one incident. He bowled his heart out like he has always done when the Indian team has needed to defend scores in Test matches. An angry fast bowler is a captain’s delight. I was really happy to see what happened yesterday and it switched some things on in the right ways. It had to be controlled but in the end it benefitted us.”

Kohli, too, doesn’t seem to believe that he has matured as a skipper despite the historic series win in Sri Lanka.

He added:

“I don’t want to say that I have grown as a captain as the moment I make a mistake, I will be treated as a child again.”

Former players are a divided camp when it comes to their reactions to Virat’s all-out-aggression.

Fast bowlers Sreesanth and Venkatesh Prasad were quite enthusiastic about Kohli’s handling of Ishant.

Sreesanth said:

“Look at any pacer playing any form of cricket and you will see that he wants to be aggressive. Being aggressive is in the DNA of a fast bowler. Without aggression, a pacer cannot be at his best. What is aggression? It’s a quality that brings the best out of a pacer. I must say I was delighted to see Virat Kohli support Ishant Sharma. Virat is naturally aggressive. I like his style. Indian cricket and world cricket need captains like him.”

Prasad said:

“It’s always nice to know that your captain backs you in all situations. A captain’s backing always builds confidence.”

Former cricketer Akash Chopra had other thoughts.

He said:

“Aggression for me is not just verbal aggression. For me the kind of determination and grit shown by Cheteshwar Pujara during his unbeaten century in the third Test was also aggression. Virat might have backed Ishant in front of the media, but I am sure he will not be pleased to lose his premier bowler for the Mohali Test. The Mohali pitch has been known to assist pace bowlers in the past.

Ishant bowled superbly right from his very first ball of the first Test in Galle. There was no doubt that the defeat in the Galle Test was demoralizing for the team. We are not privy to conversations in the dressing room, but the entire team, and Ishant in particular, seemed pumped up for the challenge for the second Test at the P Sara Oval.

His behaviour against Dhammika Prasad, however, was pretty surprising to me. The Sri Lankan paceman might have been bowling deliberate no-balls and bouncers, but that’s nothing new in international cricket. The Ishant that I know doesn’t behave like that with anyone. I watched him bowl bouncers at Lord’s as well but at that time, he didn’t lose his.”

Ganguly is, however, quite pleased with Kohli.

He said:

“I am a big fan of Virat Kohli. He is a captain who always wants to win matches on the field and I love that passion in him. It is also a proud moment or all to see him lead a side with such passion. I want Kohli to do better than me as a skipper. But his main challenge will be when India tour abroad. Australia, England and South Africa will test his captaincy. All the best to him for the South Africa series.”

Steve Waugh believes that every cricketer should be passionate when he turns out in his country’s colours. He feels that Kohli is in the Ganguly ‘mould’.

He said:

“I don’t know what a gentleman’s game means. But as long as it is played in the right spirit. You’d be disappointed if the Indian side had no passion because they are representing 1.2 billion people. The Australian side represents 24 million people.

There is a lot at stake when you are playing for your country. You want passion. Sometimes that can bubble over but you want to see the emotion and see them really wanting to do well. You don’t want to cross the line where it becomes unsportsmanlike but that can happen occasionally in any sport. We want to see players with emotion and passion.

He (Kohli) plays aggressively and I guess his captaincy is a bit in the Sourav Ganguly mould, where he can be in your face and he can be a bit prickly at times. But I don’t mind that, I am happy to see that.

As a captain, he is never going to back down or be trampled upon by the opposition and that’s a good thing for India.

He will do well. He had a good win in Sri Lanka and few sides in the past decade have won away from home, so that’s a good feather in his cap. I haven’t seen him captain much but I assume by the way he plays the game that he is out there to win.”

Ishant Sharma’s childhood coach Shravan Kumar is displeased with his ward’s new-found aggro.

He said:

“He bowled very well but got too aggressive. That is something he could have avoided. Aggression is fine as long as you are not making a physical contact or abusing. There should not be any body contact. If you do that then you are penalised. That is what happened with Ishant.

It (Ishant becoming overtly aggressive) is because of Kohli’s aggressiveness. He believes in playing fearless cricket and doesn’t hold back. The atmosphere of the dressing room is to play fearless and that rubbed off on Ishant too. But fearless does not necessarily mean that you become ill-mannered. What happened was in bad taste.

Ishant is back home but I have not spoken to him yet. I will give him my piece of mind when I meet him. Aggression is acceptable if you are getting the batsman out, else there is no point of being belligerent.

Sledging is to distract the player but there should not be any physical contact. It (sledging) has been there for many years but there is a way to do it. Now that he has got a one match ban, it is not good for him as well as the team.”

Sanjay Manjrekar is another who has his doubts over Team India’s newly adopted philosophy.

In an article for Cricinfo entitled ‘”What’s eating Ishant Sharma?”, the former India player wrote:

“India may say, ‘We won the series, and this is what you need to be a winning team – a bit of aggression.’ A simple retort would be: ‘Why didn’t aggression win you games in Australia?’

What I can’t fathom about these send-offs is: when a wicket falls, it means the batsman has failed and the bowler has succeeded, but it’s the bowler who is angry for some reason. Why should anger follow success?

When the anger of the victor is aimed at the vanquished, it’s a brawl waiting to happen.”

Lendl Simmons and Therese Ho are in breach of confidence

English: Cricketer Lendl Simmons playing a sho...

Cricketer Lendl Simmons playing a shot for the West Indies during the tour match against Leicestershire at Grace Road. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lendl Simmons is in the news and it’s not for his cricketing skills.

It’s for his lack of non-cricketing acumen—rather the appearance of it.

The West Indian cricketer has been dragged to court by a love interest with whom he had an extra-marital affair.

Account executive, Therese Ho, is seeking damages from the sportsman for breaching the common law principle of confidence by leaking intimate photos of her.

Simmons, in his defence, claimed that the plaintiff was the one who first breached his confidence by sending a picture to his fiancée—now his wife.

Simmons then sent the aforesaid photograph to Ho’s spouse.

He said:

“It was not an act of revenge or malice. I was  upset.”

Ho feels otherwise.

She says she believed that it was her moral obligation to tell Simmon’s fiancée of their relationship.

The judgement will occur on October 26. It is considered to be momentous given the increasing use of smart phones and social media in the dissemination of information.

Justice Frank Seepersad is presiding over the case.

The verdict depends on who can prove who did what first.

Ho claims further that Simmons shared her explicit pictures with teammates Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo while in India.

Wikipedia states:

“Breach of confidence in English law is an equitable doctrine which allows a person to claim a remedy where their confidence has been breached. A duty of confidence arises when confidential information comes to the knowledge of a person in circumstances where it would be unfair if it were disclosed to others. Breach of confidence gives rise to a civil claim. The Human Rights Act has developed the law on breach of confidence so that it now applies to private bodies as well as public ones.

English courts will recognise a breach of confidence if the following three things are present:

  • The information has ‘the necessary degree of confidence about it’
  • The information was provided in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence
  • There was an unauthorised use or disclosure of that information and, at least, the risk of damage”

Historically, privacy has never been a concern under English common law except for the breach of confidence doctrine.

That has changed since the Human Rights Act 1998 incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into English law.

The earliest definition of privacy is by Judge Cooley who said it was simply “the right to be left alone“.

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights deals with privacy. It reads:

“Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Whether Lendl Simmons is acquitted or not is for the esteemed judge to decide. Methinks, the real aggrieved parties are Simmons’ and Ho’s spouses. Don’t you agree?

Sourav Ganguly succeeds Jagmohan Dalmiya: The King is dead, long live the King!

The King is dead, long live the King!

It is, perhaps, fitting that Sourav Ganguly, Jagmohan Dalmiya’s erstwhile blue-eyed boy, succeeds him as president of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB).

The deal was sealed when the chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, threw her weight behind Ganguly’s candidature on Wednesday.

Ganguly was only recently elected to the CAB serving as a joint-secretary.

With Didi playing kingmaker, Dada has been fast-forwarded to the corridors of power within the BCCI.

Ganguly had always enjoyed a special relationship with ‘Jaggu’—as Dalmiya was fondly known.

English: Sourav Ganguly at the opening of the ...

Sourav Ganguly at the opening of the mascot of Knight Riders (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The southpaw ‘Maharajah’ was recalled to the Indian side in 1996 allegedly at Dalmiya’s behest.

It is also believed that Ganguly managed to hold on to his post as skipper through all the early turmoil because he enjoyed his benefactor’s support much as N Srinivasan is believed to be MS Dhoni’s champion.

It was also during Ganguly’s tenure as skipper that the BCCI under Dalmiya introduced centralised annual contracts for Indian cricketers.

Ganguly’s exit as skipper coincided with Dalmiya’s departure from the echelons of power.

The elegant former all-rounder is 43—still a relatively young man for the job.

It was six years ago that the former India skipper made known his ambitions of becoming the BCCI chief by 2014.

Speaking to Times of India then, the left-hander said:

“I am convinced that I can play a positive role. Having played the game at the highest level and being part of the system, I know what it takes to make a difference. At some point, I will find a way to get into the CAB where people have known me since I was a kid. I have respect for them and I am sure they will appreciate my concern for Bengal cricket and the difference I can make. I am in no hurry.”

It’s been six years but Ganguly has already taken a giant leap towards fulfilling his new dream.

It’s not that Ganguly is a total novice at this game of musical chairs.

His father, Chandidas, was a member of the CAB serving as assistant secretary, treasurer, secretary, vice-president and member of trustee board.

In turn, Ganguly has a chance to play kingmaker at the BCCI elections when they meet to elect the new president. It will be interesting to see how he plays his cards.

Ganguly is loyal to a fault. Dalmiya’s scion Avishek replaces his deceased father in the CAB as the joint secretary.

English: Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Baner...

Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee attends a news conference in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata September 7, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mamata Banerjee denied that it is at her interference that Bengal’s favourite son ascended to the throne.

She said:

“We are going through a big crisis after his (Dalmiya) unfortunate death. Someone has to head CAB. Dalmiya loved cricket so much. So it’s important that the people closed to him (should run the show)… cricket family is most important. My only request to all of you that be together, remain united and take the Jaguda’s legacy forward. It’s not fair for me to interfere. I just want them to do well, I’m there with them like a deputy or colleague. It’s what they have decided together.I should not be announcing this but since all of them are requesting I feel that as someone (Sourav Ganguly) who had led India so many years should now take charge of the role and they should form the set up with Abhishek, Subir, Biswarup and all other senior members.”

She added:

“Please don’t involve the state government here. I am nobody. It’s what they decided. Please don’t bring any controversy here. It’s their decision as they all are cricket lovers. After Jaguda’s death, CAB is without a head now and they have decided that Sourav will become the president and in his place Avishek will become the joint secretary till the next elections in July.”

Ganguly said:

“Anything in life is a new challenge. I am particularly happy that Avishek is coming into administration as it is a very emotional time for him. Myself, Biswarup, Subir would all work together and there won’t be any problems. We have 117 (actually 121) members and we will decide the way forward. Like she said, it is not her decision. She had spoken to the members. For me this is not everything. I will do whatever I can, whatever they want me to do. Will take over immediately as we have a game on October 8. These are big shoes to fill.”

Former India cricketer and Ganguly’s teammate VVS Laxman welcomed his elevation to the post.

He said:

“It’s Sourav who brought me here and I’m seeing him as an administrator for last one year. He’s trying his best to take Bengal cricket forward. It’s a great selection and a positive sign for the Indian cricket.”

Laxman is the batting consultant with the state’s Ranji side.

Ajay Jadeja was more circumspect in his reaction.

He said:

“Ganguly has been a good leader but administration is a different ball game. At the same time, being a former cricketer, it is beneficial for him. Have faith in him. Wait and watch. It is his new innings and I wish him the best.”

Ganguly, however, will not have everything going his way.

He has already ruffled feathers within the CAB by seeking the chief minster’s blessings sidestepping the democratic process. The Prince of Calcutta was probably well aware that he might not be able to command the majority required.

Derek Abraham, writing for the DNA, commented:

“Two years ago, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had accused the Union sports ministry of trying to ‘assume control’ of sports federations by bringing in the National Sports Code. Soon Ajay Maken, the sports minister, was shunted out by all those politicians controlling various federations, including the BCCI.

However, when Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee threw her weight behind former India captain Sourav Ganguly on Wednesday, virtually anointing him president of the Cricket Association of Bengal, none of the so-called custodians of the BCCI’s autonomy came forward to slam the move.”

He adds:

“The CAB is an institution dating back to 1928. Ganguly has, quite shockingly, made a mockery of the institutional process that ought to have been followed. By using his good offices with the most powerful person in the state, India’s second-most successful skipper has subjected himself to scrutiny both within and outside the cricket fraternity.

A joint secretary serving his first term, Ganguly has bypassed many veteran administrators who have been serving the association for decades. Worse, he got Avishek Dalmiya, the deceased president’s son, to become the joint secretary. For the record, Avishek never been a part of a sub-committee of the CAB. If Ganguly is a novice in cricket administration, then Avishek is a fledgling.

To quote a CAB insider, the ‘new president’ has done exactly what his predecessor never wanted — play into the hands of the government of the day. ‘He has disappointed us all by sidestepping the democratic process of the CAB. But there is nothing we can do because he has Madam’s support.’”

Boria Majumdar, blogging for the Economic Times, raises similar points in his post.

He is , however, optimistic that Ganguly may just be the ‘breath of fresh air’ the Board needs.

He writes:

“The BCCI needs men of credibility and integrity after what it has gone through the last few years. Ganguly should come as a breath of fresh air for the board’s mandarins. He is a face they can thrust forward as a diplomatic shield in many uncomfortable situations. His presence in the board’s special general meetings (SGMs) and annual general meetings (AGMs) should result in him making tangible contributions to improving Indian cricket both at home and abroad.

Can we add another feather to the many that he already wears? With Sourav Ganguly you just can’t tell.”

While the political patronage sought by Ganguly is to be deplored, why do members of the BCCI (and other sports bodies) not take issue when politicians such as Sharad Pawar and Arun Jaitley make the BCCI an extension of their political masters’ rivalry? We also have to ask ourselves that if it had not been Ganguly but some businessperson who sought the Trinamool Congress’ leader’s support, would there have been such a hue-and-cry? If the answer’s no, then why the hypocrisy?

It’s time that the national sports federations revisited the provisions of the Draft National Sports Development bill which they rejected and added clauses that would bolster their independence. Till then, the kind of politicking and ad-hoc decision-making process typical of Indian sports bodies will continue to be a feature of the national landscape.

Stuart Binny: Somebody’s son, somebody’s spouse

It must not be easy being Stuart Binny.

His father, Roger Michael Humphrey, was a member of the 1983 World Cup winning squad. He claimed 18 wickets at the Prudential Cup in England, arguably Team India’s greatest overseas triumph, and 17 at the epochal World Series Championship in 1985. He played 27 Tests accumulating five 50s and bagging 47 wickets.

He was the first Anglo-Indian to play for the country. He is now a national selector.

Stuart’s wife, Mayanti Langer, is a TV sports journalist with Star. The daughter of an army-man, Lt. General Sanjiv Langer, she is a BA (Hons) graduate from Hindu College, University of Delhi.

So who is Stuart Binny?

Roger Binny’s son?

Mayanti Langer’s spouse?

Take your pick.

If you know your cricketing onions, you would have guessed that Stuart is purportedly the answer to every Indian fan’s dreams of a seaming all-rounder in the mould of Kapil Dev or Manoj Prabhakar.

Team India has always been on the lookout for a pacer who can bat as well as he can bowl.

Irfan Pathan was supposed to be the next big thing. But he turned out to be an enigma breaking down more often than playing.

Pathan overshadowed Zaheer Khan in the squad when he turned out in Indian colours. His Test statistics read one ton, nine fifties with a round 100 wickets with seven instances of five wickets or more in an innings and 10 wickets in a match on two occasions. All this in 29 games.

He is described as one of the lost boys of Indian cricket by Shashi Tharoor in an article for Cricinfo.

Tharoor writes:

“Of contemporary cricketers, at least two seem in danger of adding their names to this tragically distinguished list. No one who saw Irfan Pathan swinging India to victory in the one-day series in Pakistan in 2003-04, or taking a hat-trick against the same team two years later, or scoring a century against them the year after that, or winning the Man of the Match in a Test in Australia and in the final of the inaugural World Twenty20 tournament in South Africa, would imagine that he could be washed up at 25. And yet he is deemed to have lost his mojo to the point where he is not even in the frame for selection for the 2011 World Cup.”

Bhuvaneshwar Kumar with his gentle medium-pace swing and combative batting promised to be the all-rounder Indian cricket deserves. But he, too, has been plagued by injuries and finds himself waging a comeback battle against the odds.

Binny, however, leads a charmed life.

Selected to be a member of the 2015 ODI World Cup, whence his father famously recused himself when his name came up for discussion, Binny was one of the rebels who joined the Indian Cricket League (ICL) in 2007. He returned to the BCCI fold after two seasons and is now with the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL.  He surprisingly has the best figures for an Indian in ODI cricket—6-4 against Bangladesh.

Binny did not feature in a single game in the World Cup and was distinctly lucky to be recalled for India’s recent tour of Sri Lanka. India sealed the Test series 2-1 winning the last two matches. Binny did not play the first game but was swapped in for Harbhajan Singh in the latter two.

Roger and Stuart are only the fourth father-son pair to represent their country in World Cup cricket. The other three are Lance and Chris Cairns (New Zealand), Don and Derek Pringle and Chris and Stuart Broad (England).

Binny has a chance to make sure of his spot as a bowling all-rounder in the upcoming series against South Africa. He is a part of both the ODI and T20 squads.

The 31-year-old believes that he can only improve with more international outings.

He said:

“As Virat (Kohli) said, if I get more opportunities, I would get better – that’s very much true. It is not only more opportunities one gets, but also off-field preparations, that helps. International cricket is a lot of mental pressure. It is about dealing with situations which you have faced in Ranji Trophy, but it is on a much larger and bigger scale, so you have to go out and do the same in international cricket as well. I haven’t made too many changes when it comes to skill work, but I have made lot of changes when it comes to my game in my head.”

Binny’s romance with Mayanti Langer has been compared to the Iker Casillas-Sara Carbonero pairing. The Spanish TV journalist followed her beau during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Langer ,too, was around during this year’s ODI World Cup in New Zealand and Australia. Langer, however, was much too busy with her role to have time for her husband.

She said:

“Anchoring is now my career and I am ready to give my hundred percent for the job. Stuart is a pro while I am a professional presenter, too. Our jobs do not overlap. He is doing his job for the team while I am doing mine. There is no time even to think of doing something else, the job is so intriguing.I have a specific job to present shows. I am a member of the broadcasting company and thinking about the job assigned to me only. He is doing the same for his team, I know. It’s a huge event back in India, the ICC World Cup. I have to be ready always.”

Langer added that live anchoring is a tough job and one has to think on one’s feet.

“You are doing the job as an anchor and commenting on a particular match, but you need to know what is going around the tournament, too. You may try to be as well prepared as well before the match, but unless you know what’s happening round the corner, you cannot excel. Neither you can win hearts of the viewers then.”

Mayanti began her career as a football correspondent. She was a soccer player while in school.

She believes that she’s an original. Ask her about ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ and she’s quick to retort that she began much before that.

Is Mayanti Stuart’s lucky charm? They married in 2012 and Stuart’s career post the honeymoon has been on the upswing.

But it’s for Stuart to change the perception that he’s not just Roger’s son and Mayanti’s husband.

Will there come a time when they will be Stuart’s pater and better half respectively instead?

The forthcoming series against South Africa at home just might settle the issue.

An apertura and clausura for the IPL?

In a recent article on the ISL, I briefly expounded on the J-League and how it has two sections in a season. There are two champions in a year and the league champion is decided by a series of playoffs between the winners of each section and the top two point accumulators in each phase.

This also happens to be a feature of Latin American soccer leagues with the traditional season from August to May divided into two parts termed the ‘Apertura’ [aperˈtuɾa] and ‘Clausura’ [klawˈsuɾa] tournaments. These words are Spanish for ‘opening’ and ‘closing’.

Light-green shows countries that have Apertura...

Light-green shows countries that have Apertura and Clausura tournaments during calendar year. Orange shows countries where seasons are similar with European system Autumn/Spring. Number 1 shows countries where the Apertura and Clausura are parts of a larger tournament, and the winners are not national champions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Haiti, where they speak French, it’s ‘Ouverture’ and ‘Fermeture’. In Belize, where English is the pre-dominant tongue, it’s simply the ‘Opening’ and ‘Closing’ seasons.

The National American Soccer League also adopts a similar regime dividing the second-level league into ‘Spring’ and ‘Fall’ championships.

The terminology varies across different countries.

In Argentina, it’s ‘Inicial’ and ‘Final ‘(Spanish for “initial” and “final“). In Colombia, ‘Apertura’ and ‘Finalización’ and  in  Costa Rica, ‘Invierno’ and ‘Verano’ (Spanish for ‘winter’ and ‘summer’).

In some countries, these tournaments are national championships by themselves. In others, there is a final stage much like the J-League where the top teams play each other to be crowned the season’s winners. In yet others, the two league winners play each other in a curtain-raiser at the beginning of the next season.

Most tourneys with fewer teams utilize a double round-robin format while in leagues with many more sides participating, only a single round-robin format suffices.

Relegations, if any, are usually on an aggregate basis.

Application to IPL

A photo of a match between Chennai SuperKings ...

A photo of a match between Chennai SuperKings and Kolkata Knightriders during the DLF IPL T20 tournament (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This year, the Champions League Twenty20 was scrapped by the Australian, English and Indian boards jointly.

The reasons given were poor viewership and lack of sponsorship.

Franchises from India, Sri Lanka, West Indies, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and England take part. England have not participated since 2013 citing clashes with their domestic season.

Amongst all the T20 leagues taking place today, the Indian Premier League is the richest, most glamorous and most successful by far.

However, the competition is plagued by player withdrawals and injuries as well as viewer fatigue given the sheer number of matches over a period of two months.

This year, the IPL followed the ODI World Cup. It was difficult to attract television sponsors given their budgets had already been exhausted on 2015’s premier cricket tournament.

This is a perennial problem with the IPL when international tournaments are scheduled either before or after it. The BCCI, with its clout, may have cleared the ICC calendar for its showcase tourney  but it has no control on the purse-strings of corporate sponsors and where they choose to spend their advertising money.

The splitting of the IPL into two phases can be the solution to these worries.

A shorter tourney would be more attractive to sponsors, cut both player and viewer fatigue and keep interest right from the beginning without having the audience tune in towards the end of the league to clue in as to which teams would finally qualify for the knock-out rounds.

The current format is a double round-robin league featuring home and away games.

Each side plays a total of 14 games. In a single round-robin league, this would be reduced to seven each.

Seven is not an even number. Half the teams would be slightly advantaged, playing one game more at home. This, of course, is offset by them playing one less home-game in the latter phase.

The division into two pieces would allow for a much tighter ship. Interest in the next phase would be retained by the addition of a playoff round deciding the eventual victor.

This would also allow players to make themselves available for at least one phase of the tournament and not have them either arrive or leave abruptly midway through the tournament. The first phase could be scheduled for April and the second in October using the spot vacated by the Champions League.

An addition of four more games as a season closer can always be accommodated. This, of course, may entail expenditure on two more trophies but that is a small price to pay for a much more streamlined event.

The clamour for reform in the IPL ought not to be confined to spot-fixing allegations, conflicts of interest, transparency and probity in ownership.

The tournament itself needs to be examined and vetted to see that it can withstand the wares from mushrooming leagues in other sports that slowly but surely will erode their viewership.

Standing still on a moving treadmill is never a good idea.

Pawn Sacrifice: Must-see for chess fans and Cold War buffs

Boris Spasski

Boris Spassky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: American actor Tobey Maguire at the p...

American actor Tobey Maguire at the premiere of Spider-Man 3 in Queens, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chess is a game that requires patience and utmost preparation. I have neither; neither the patience nor the inclination to prepare thoroughly for a board game that supposedly teaches strategy. I, however, do have the greatest admiration for chess wizards and their dedication to the sport, the art, and their understanding of  its intricacies. I consider it a waste of time to be seated across a board where in most cases you’re just waiting for the other player to commit a glaring error, rather than going all out for victory. When even a silly miscue means that you lose the game is not something that appeals to me specifically when I’m a person who simply hates to lose. I’m disinclined to play any game I’m ill-prepared for. I guess, you could term me a sore loser.

Pawn Sacrifice’ directed by Edward Zwick and co-produced by Tobey Maguire is a must-see for chess buffs and for those who’d like to know what life was like at the height of the Cold War. Else, the movie might leave you cold unless you’re a huge fan of Maguire.

Tobey Maguire enacts Bobby Fischer with insouciant nonchalance, his hooded eyes betraying his age and which he uses to judicious effect while portraying the brooding protagonist.

Liev Schrieber plays the American genius’ acclaimed opponent Boris Spassky in an understated way. That’s understandable given that most of his dialogues are in Russian and he alternates between looking like a gangster with his dark glasses and decidedly bemused at enacting such a sterling role.

Peter Sarsgard has by far the most interesting role in the film.

He is William Lombardy, a Catholic priest who is Fischer’s second for his acrimonious title match in Reykjavík,Iceland.  He defeated Spassky and Fischer when he was much younger but readily admits that they have since left him behind.

English: World Chess Champion Boris Spassky, F...

Having a priest as a second is quite surprising. That reads like a page out of a novel. Truth certainly is stranger than fiction. Lombardy is believed to have coached Fischer since he was 11-and-a-half till the World Championship.

Bobby Fischer Against the World

Bobby Fischer Against the World (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The movie begins by Fischer failing to turn up for the second game of the title match handing his opponent a 2-0 lead. The chess world is bewildered at the young eccentric’s chutzpah and his demands that the match be moved to a ping-pong room in the basement.

Bobby Fischer at the age of 17 playing world c...

Bobby Fischer at the age of 17 playing world champion Mikhail Tal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The film then flashbacks to Bobby’s childhood and how he hates losing on the chessboard.

Grave of Bobby Fischer in Laugardaelir Church ...

Grave of Bobby Fischer in Laugardaelir Church Cemetery, Selfoss, Iceland. The little black statuette at the left was not permanently attached to the ground. Hooked around the angel on the left is an Orthodox prayer rope. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jack Collins with Bill Lombardy and Bobby Fischer.

Jack Collins with Bill Lombardy and Bobby Fischer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throughout his progression to the title match, Bobby displays immense self-belief in his powers and his destiny to be the best player in the world.

Fischer is aggressive on the chessboard preferring to go for a win than play for a draw—the reason for his losses to Spassky in his initial bouts.

Tobey Maguire is intense when seated across the board. His attempts at displaying Fischer’s paranoia and obsessive delusions seem overdone though. It is not convincing enough and is a side-story in the bigger picture which is about a David taking on the Goliaths of the chess world. The story is not just about a battle on the board but a battle of ideas, cultures, and economic systems.

A smiling Bobby Fischer

A smiling Bobby Fischer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fischer, as played by Maguire, comes across as one-dimensional yet likable. The confidence and arrogance with which he takes on the Soviets and beats them is  at odds with his fearful and suspicious nature when closeted in his room checking for bugs and listening devices in his phone. He is also not comfortable with changes be it not having a wooden table for the title match or the sound of whirring cameras.

He’s not the only one afflicted so. Spassky has his chair x-rayed and the hall combed only to discover two dead flies in the light bulb fixture.

While Fischer’s demands appear extreme, the reasoning can hardly be faulted by Spassky and that is probably the reason he accedes besides not wishing to win by default. Machismo is on display and the clash of egos makes for interesting watching.

Fischer is the face of capitalism  with his stipulations for more money. The young man is quite aware of his drawing power and wants his share of the pie. Chess transforms into a spectator sport, with the drama followed all over the world.

The biopic does not delve into the chess itself but the personality of  Bobby Fischer, his state of mind and the run-up to his greatest triumph. It would have helped if the other actor’s characters were etched out as well. Their roles are much too sketchy.

Bobby Fischer , to the Russians, with his tantrums is the embodiment of capitalism and the ‘we want it and we want it right now‘ culture of the Western world.

The willingness of the Russians to embrace the paraphernalia of the west such as limousines, dark glasses and bask in the sunshine of California beaches underscores the lure of its hedonistic culture and is the reason so many Soviet and east European athletes, diplomats and writers would emigrate when they visited the West. The right to express oneself freely, right to the pursuit of happiness and the right to privacy are not to be factored into the equation, right?

The movie skims over the use of psychologists and hypnotists as part of mental warfare waged by chess players and their entourages. It is a mental game where even the slightest disturbance can derail one’s train of thought and a hurried or casual move can end in disaster on the board.

(Viktor Korchnoi, the third-ranked player at that time, later defected to the West. When he played Anatoly Karpov for the world title, he complained about a hypnotist among Karpov’s supporters present only to mesmerize him into losing. )

Michael Stuhlbarg plays Paul Marshall, the patriotic  lawyer who makes the title match happen, hustling and pulling strings behind the scenes.

Bobby Fischer’s overriding wish was to become the world champion and then he had nothing else to prove. That could explain why he lost the desire to dominate the board game aside from his psychological problems. Luckily for the west, they soon found a darling in Garry Kasparov, the outspoken and debonair  product of the Soviet system.

Bobby Fischer ended up a crackpot and a recluse ending his days in Iceland, the site of his ascent to glory.

The decadent West made him a vagrant and had him ignore their sanctions when he played Boris Spassky again in trying to relive the glory days. Nostalgia in him was not matched in them. Their disapproving eyes disowned him making him a wanderer from country to country.

For the protagonists, the match is less about politics than about proving themselves to be the supreme players of their time. They are seekers of excellence on the chessboard. Spassky’s hotel room scene where he agrees to Fischer’s demands underlines the omniscient eye of the  KGB. The Soviet State was a mistrustful regime where one in two persons was an informer to the government. That was the harsh reality of those times. You could not trust your neighbors.

Fischer is shown to be a genius who continually learns from his mistakes on the board. Alas, not so with his life.

Another scene from the movie where Fischer frequents the Russian embassy bookshop to learn the latest games of his opponents is interesting. The woman proprietor remarks, “You don’t like us Russians but you admire our brilliance.”  Or something to that effect. How true. Respect transcends borders.

An infuriated Bobby Fischer storming out of the World Chess qualifiers , his ambition of becoming the world’s youngest chess champion thwarted by the gaming of the tourney by USSR players is captured brilliantly. Fischer’s arrogant confidence is matched by his aspiration for fair play. This marks the beginning of his disillusionment with the existing chess set-up, specifically the Soviets. Fischer petulantly states that he’s quitting chess.

Paul Morphy crushed all opposition in 1858

Paul Morphy crushed all opposition in 1858 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lombardy,  in conversation with Marshall, is prescient when he warns the lawyer that if Fischer’s fragile mental state is not addressed, he could end up reprising another historic American chess player of the 19th century, Paul Morphy. Morphy, a chess prodigy, was the unofficial World Champion of his era. Though he never beat the reigning European champion Howard Staunton, Morphy was considered a superior player. Morphy retired from chess to to begin a law career that never really took off. He was twenty one when he quit. Morphy considered chess to be amateurish and not a serious profession. Chess players , in those days, were considered no more than professional gamblers.

Catch the movie if you’re a fan of chess history but don’t expect fireworks. The movie, though not cerebral, works if you’re aware of the back story else you might as well stay at home.

Serena Williams is no choker: Statistics don’t lie

English: Serena Williams at 2009 Australian Op...

Serena Williams at 2009 Australian Open, Melbourne, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does Serena Williams choke?

This must seem like a really stupid question given that Williams has 21 singles Grand Slam titles to her credit. She also has 13 doubles titles with her sister Venus.

Is this the hallmark of a choker?

I repeat the question: Is Serena a choker, that is, does she lose matches she was expected to win relatively easily?

This year’s loss to Roberta Vinci in the US Open semi-final is a case in point.

Serena had come into the year’s final Slam on the back of another Serena Slam.

Maria Sharapova was rendered hors-de-combat before the tournament qualifiers began.

This was her golden opportunity to go down in history as only the third woman in history to record a Calendar Grand Slam.

Alas, it was not to be.

Serena choked or at the very least appeared to.

She was not at her best, seemingly sluggish throughout the match. Her customary speed deserted her. Her Italian opponent was on song, storming back in the final two sets to make her first ever Grand Slam final.

To answer the question again, one has to check Williams’ record in Grand Slam tournaments.

What we need to know are the instances when Serena has lost in Grand Slams when she was doing well and expected to go all the way.

There are always giant-killers, there will always be giant-killers in any sport. That is the beauty and unpredictability of it. An underdog comes in and knocks out a fancied opponent. But it is rare that the unheralded player goes on to overcome every obstacle in his or her path. That kind of consistency is not to be suddenly expected from , say, a rank qualifier or wildcard unless their names are Goran Ivanisevic or Kim Clijsters.

That said, let’s look at Serena’s record in Slams specifically the instances when she lost out after making it past the first 7-8 days of the tournament.

Let’s look at her record when she has lost in quarter-finals, semis and finals after putting in all the hard yards to get that far.

Serena has an awesome record in Grand Slam finals: 21-4. Her record in women’s doubles is even more terrifying to her opponents: 13-0. Her four losses in singles finals have come against three opponents: her sister, Venus (2), Maria Sharapova and Samantha Stosur. Her mixed doubles record is 2-2; this was in the early part of her career before the 2000s.

Serena has appeared in 61 Slams with a winning percentage of 34%.

Steffi Graf has 22 singles titles in 56 appearances including qualifiers with a win percentage of 39%.

Margaret Court who holds the all-time record of 24 titles in 47 appearances with a win percentage of an astonishing 51% i.e. she won more than half of all the Grand Slams she played. Add to that 19 women’s doubles and 21 mixed doubles titles and you will just begin to comprehend her dominance of the game in her era.

Nowadays, Court is more known for her strong views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage in her role as founder-minister of a Pentecostal church called the Victory Life Centre. Court was raised a Roman Catholic but converted to Pentecostalism in the 70s.

Court states that she does not hate the LGBT community and welcomes them to be members of her congregation.

I digress.

Serena has made the quarter-finals or better 42 times, winning 21 thus equally likely to clinch the title or (somewhat) lose her way.

The table below chronologically lists Serena’s career losses in Grand Slams—quarter-finals and better.

Tournament Serena’s Ranking Stage of Tournament Opponent Opponent’s Ranking Eventual Winner
Wimbledon 2000 8 Semis Venus Williams 5 Venus Williams
US Open 2000 5 Quarters Lindsay Davenport 2 Venus Williams
Australian Open 2001 6 Quarters Martina Hingis 1 Jennifer Capriati
French Open 2001 6 Quarters Martina Hingis 1 Jennifer Capriati
Wimbledon 2001 5 Quarters Jennifer Capriati 4 Venus Williams
US Open 2001 7 Final Venus Williams 4 Venus Williams
French Open 2003 1 Semis Justine Henin 4 Justine Henin
French Open 2004: 2 Quarters Jennifer Capriati 7 Anastasia Myskina
Wimbledon 2004 1 Final Maria Sharapova 13 Maria Sharapova
US Open 2004 3 Quarters Jennifer Capriati 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova
French Open 2007 8 Quarters Justine Henin 1 Justine Henin
Wimbledon 2007 7 Quarters Justine Henin 1 Venus Williams
US Open 2007 8 Quarters Justine Henin 1 Justine Henin
Australian Open 2008 7 Quarters Jelena Jankovic 3 Maria Sharapova
Wimbledon 2008 6 Final Venus Williams 7 Venus Williams
French Open 2009 2 Quarters Svetlana Kuznetsova 7 Svetlana Kuznetsova
US Open 2009 2 Semis Kim Clijsters 19 Kim Clijsters
French Open 2010 1 Quarters Samantha Stosur 7 Francesca Schiavone
US Open 2011 28 Final Samantha Stosur 9 Samantha Stosur
Australian Open 2013 3 Quarters Sloane Stephens 29 Victoria Azarenka
US Open 2015 1 Semis Roberta Vinci 43 Flavia Pennetta

The statistics in the above table show that Serena has lost to an opponent who was ranked lower than her and not the eventual winner a total of just 5 times.

That’s 5 out of 21. It’s less than a 25% chance that Serena will lose crunch games to players ranked lower than her and not red-hot coming into the tournament and continuing that streak.

The players she lost to? Jennifer Capriati (2), Samantha Stosur, Sloane Stephens and Roberta Vinci.

Despite appearances, Serena is a model of consistency when it comes to performing at Grand Slam tournaments.

Her latest loss notwithstanding, Serena is difficult to get away from when she’s on song and at the top of her game.

Serena is a champion among champions.

Kim Clijsters

Kim Clijsters came into the tournament unseeded on a wild card after coming out of retirement. She went on to win the first Grand Slam of her career. The win lifted her ranking to 19.


Case for non-merger of ISL, I-League: Uneven standards and inferior finances

2010 AFC Champions League Final

2010 AFC Champions League Final (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Read the first two parts of this piece, here and here.

Is an ISL/I-League merger on the cards?

As with any new endeavour, there are naysayers.

Former India skipper and ex-Bury FC player, Bhaichung Bhutia, is anti-merger.

He believes that a union at this stage could dilute the standards of the ISL.

He said:

To have one league is very important, but at the moment it is not right to merge ISL with I-League and I don’t it should happen also. Two to three years down the line it can be thought and be implemented but currently it should not be done.

I think the inaugural ISL season was really successful, top foreign players are coming to India and the Indian players are getting to learn a lot from them. Last year players like Alessandro Del Piero came and now Roberto Carlos and Lucio are coming in.

To make it one league, we really need to wait and watch. At the moment I think ISL has done a lot for India and it should not be merged. I think I-League should be taken to a standard where ISL is at the moment and then think about merging. The ISL has set a high standard and its level should not be pulled down. First standard of I-League should be upgraded and the merging should be thought about.

It is just because of the ISL that Indian football fans have started watching football. It is really sad when you see I-League matches being played in almost empty stadiums, and when ISL is happening in the same place, thousands of people turni.

The authorities should step up and take a note of it about upgrading the level of I-League and then focus on merging the two leagues. All the state associations also have to come forward and help in upgrading the I-League. We also have to see if the teams and players get a chance to train in better facilities, better ground.

The ISL is beloved by the players with most, if not all, aspiring to be members of the elitist league. The current format allows only six foreign players to be fielded by a club in a game. The other five have to be domestic footballers.

The Indian Premier League is much more supportive of home-grown talent.

The rules state that each squad will have:

  • A minimum  of 16 players, one physiotherapist and a coach.
  • No more than 10 foreign players in the squad and a maximum of four foreign players in the playing XI.
  • A minimum of 14 Indian players.
  • A minimum of six players from the BCCI under-22 pool.

The ISL rules allow up to 17 domestic players , four of which could have been purchased in the players auction. The rules also require that each club have at least two domestic players under 23 years in the squad. The minimum squad size is 22 and the maximum is 26. Indian players can be either free agents or loaned from from the Hero I-League.

FC Goa co-owner Dattaraj Salgaocar also does not believe that a fusion of the two leagues is a possibility.

Speaking to Times of India, he said:

Certainly not in the short term. The dynamics are different, especially with I-League teams qualifying for AFC tournaments. Add to this, we have to look at the financial implications of a merger … A longer league will adversely affect the financials of a team, unless the revenue model changes and all franchisees get a proper share of the sponsorship and broadcasting revenues.

Desh Gaurav Sekhri, a sports lawyer, blogging for the Economic Times, has his own viewpoint about the proposed unification.

AFC Champions League

AFC Champions League (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While he agrees that the ISL is too abbreviated a league to do the sport in India any good and an extended season is the need of the hour, he does not believe that a joining of forces is the solution.

He writes:

The I-league has been a product of the team-owners’ passion for football, and an outlet for stirring the loyalties of die-hard football enthusiasts for their respective teams.

The ISL on the other hand is a commercially driven entity, promoted and supported by the experience and monetary clout of its promoters. It has focussed on a more international flavour, and in its short window, excites the fan-bases who are as likely to flock to the stadiums to see their favourite international stars of the past as to become die-hard city-team loyalists.

A merger of both leagues would not work, because teams in each are established with different ideals. The I-league teams are bankrolled by their promoters, and are rarely profitable. Most would be valued at significantly less than a comparable ISL team, due to the latters’ entry price, a cap on the number of franchises in the league, and the guaranteed sponsorship money that the ISL teams receive.

A combination will add six-seven teams to the mix and may still not allow teams to make profits or turn the finances of the existing I-League teams around quickly enough.

Sekhri suggests a series of playoffs between the I-League and ISL champions. Also, a series of games featuring  all-star teams from both leagues that would play each side in the opposing league is another option.

He adds:

The ISL as the sole flagship league in India would be a folly, and one which could be attributed to the false optimism that the Indian Premier League has given to Indian sports. The IPL is only able to succeed because it is backed by a complete domestic season to develop cricketers, and the successful Indian national team has a huge following by itself.

Football, if it loses the I-league won’t have the former, and given its current state, the national team is very far from the latter. Unless the ISL becomes an extended league along the lines of the Premier League or La Liga, a merger of the two will not only be a failure commercially, it will also set Indian football back another decade or so.

Sekhri has a point. Indian football requires a league that goes on for at least five-six months and featuring 90-120 games for it to match the best of European leagues.

The Chinese Super League has 16 teams. It begins in Feb-March and ends in November-December. The top three teams plus the winner of the Chinese FA Cup qualify for the AFC Champions League. The bottom two teams are relegated out of the competition to the China League One and the top two teams are promoted up. The I-League,which is somewhat analogous,functions similarly with relegation and promotion with the I-League second division.  However, no club has till now participated in the AFC Champions League.

The J-League has an even more interesting format. The year is divided into two halves—two seasons—with each half crowning a champion. At the end of the two stages, each stage’s champion and the top two-point accumulators in each stage take part in a playoff to decide the league champion.

The above is similar to what Sekhri recommends except at least three more teams in the fray. That could be another possibility. This is also the format followed by many Latin American leagues who term it  ‘Apertura (opening)’ and ‘Clausura (closing)’.

The I-League and ISL could be treated as two different stages. Standards across the I-league would have to be raised though. This could also be the blueprint for a melding in the future. It certainly calls for more teams and a longer season. The J-League features 18 teams.

2009 AFC Champions League Final

2009 AFC Champions League Final (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This makes a case for a non-merger of resources and teams given the current scenario.

What are your thoughts? Over to you.

ISL and I-League must merge: AIFF and players

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) finds itself at the crossroads.

On one side, they have the Indian Super League (ISL) that has corporate sponsors, star coaches and players, Bollywood glamour and Star Sports.

On the other, they have the national tourney, the I-League that languishes with failing clubs, poor marketing and little or no television audiences.

Praful Patel, the AIFF president, is the man in the centre of the storm.

Both tournaments want longer terms but that can happen only at the cost of the other.

It is a fine balancing act. And the AIFF is wary of treading on anyone’s toes.

They do not wish to do away with the old without checking that the new will work out.

The I-League has tradition and history on its side.

The ISL has deep pockets and committed owners.

Patel does not believe that the I-League is doomed for extinction—yet.

He said:

There’s no question [that the I-League will stick around]. It is the league of India. ISL is a tournament — like the Rovers Cup or a Durand Cup. It is a tournament — not a permanent league as a league of the country recognised by FIFA. I-League has to remain as the principal league of the country.

An immediate merger with the ISL is not on the cards either.

The I-League teams don’t have any illusions about their financial future. Two Pune clubs, Pune FC and Bharat FC, have already put up their hands as being candidates for dropping out from the league.

A meeting of ISL promoters IMG-Reliance and I-League club representatives led to no resolution of the football calendar.

Patel said:

I-League clubs felt that new challenges have come after ISL’s success. This was a meeting on how to strengthen the I-League and make it more marketable. After ISL, television viewership of I-League also went up. While it may not translate into tangible benefits immediately, it shows one has had a spin-off effect on another. It will be better to take this to the right direction.

Patel warned that even a merger is no guarantee that teams will not continue to lose money.

A committee has been formed to look into a possible merger.

Patel added:

Even ISL clubs lose a lot of money. But we need to bring in people who have to be committed to that. If somebody is committed and passionate they will come forward. It’s not the first time clubs have gone out. I would like to see clubs remain but that won’t affect Indian football in the long run.

The I-League clubs have historically been there. Clubs are open to the merger but it would be unfair to say it’s done. There will be issues, because there are legacy clubs in Kolkata and Goa too. The ISL being a city based tournament, the question is how we integrate. Therefore this subgroup has been formed to give us an agenda.

The AIFF chief believes that a merger may take two to three years.

The I-League begins in January and ends by late May.

The ISL has a three month slot beginning October and ending in December.

AIFF general secretary, Kushal Das,  maintained that they are not being pressurised by FIFA or AFC into committing to just one league.

Das said:

Across the world, we have just one league and we have to follow the best practices. This was an excellent meeting and everyone agreed that, for the sake of Indian football, all of us have to work together.

I-League team owners are not convinced that they are not the football association’s step-children.

A disappointed club official said:

There was no commitment from the AIFF or genuine concern for I-League clubs, two of whom are close to shutting down. There was no discussion on how we can enhance the popularity of the I-League. All we are hearing of is another committee and we have seen all of this before.

English: Selwyn Fernandes is an Indian footbal...

Selwyn Fernandes is an Indian football player who plays as a Defender for I-League team Pune FC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Das insisted that the AIFF has a roadmap for merging the two leagues.

He added:

We have a roadmap which is to have one league within two-three years. But we have to chalk it out on how to go about it. There will be a shake-up in Indian football. There has not been any impact so far but it will happen in future and we have to sort this out. More or less all the teams — ISL clubs and I-League clubs and IMG Reliance — are of the opinion to have one league.

The AIFF general secretary also clarified that they are not keen on forming new I-League teams from existing cities specifically from Bengaluru.

Pune has three clubs, two of whom—Bharat FC and Pune FC—have threatened to shut shop.

The clubs claimed to have difficulties forming fan bases.

English: Lester Fernandez (born 6 December 198...

Lester Fernandez (born 6 December 1986) is an Indian football player who plays as a Midfielder for I-League team Pune FC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The I-League currently consists of 11 teams.

Team City State Home venue Capacity
Bengaluru FC Bangalore Karnataka Sree Kanteerava Stadium 24,000
Bharat FC Pune Maharashtra Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Complex 22,000
Dempo Panaji Goa Fatorda Stadium 19,800
East Bengal Kolkata West Bengal Salt Lake Stadium 68,000
Mohun Bagan Kolkata West Bengal Salt Lake Stadium 68,000
Mumbai Mumbai Maharashtra Cooperage Ground 10,000
Pune FC Pune Maharashtra Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Complex 22,000
Royal Wahingdoh Shillong Meghalaya Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium 30,000
Salgaocar Vasco da Gama Goa Fatorda Stadium 19,800
Shillong Lajong Shillong Meghalaya Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium 30,000
Sporting Goa Panaji Goa Fatorda Stadium 19,800

Source: Wikipedia

Das said:

The bid is already open and we will not take another team from Bengaluru as we already have BFC there. When BFC came into existence we had already made it clear there would not be another team in near future as per the contractual obligation.

English: Team photo of the Indian Football tea...

Team photo of the Indian Football team Pune FC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prodded on the subject of clubs folding, the AIFF chief, Praful Patel, said:

I want each and every club to keep functioning. But clubs do close down in football and a lot depends on financial planning.

The Indian players do not seem to have a problem with the proposed merger of the leagues.

Pune FC defender, Anas Edathodika, said:

The standard of the ISL is pretty good. There were several World Cup players in the ISL in 2014 and the youngsters can learn a lot from them. But if these great players could be involved in Indian football for a longer period, we could learn even more from them.

If the ISL is merged with the I-League, then we could have a longer tournament which would give Indians more opportunities to play alongside these foreigners. It would also force the I-League clubs to become more professional in their approach and that can only be good for the game.

Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri has no qualms either.

He said:

I would love to have just one league in the country…. where there will be 16-18 teams and which goes on for 11 months and there will be a format of Federation Cup like the FA Cup in England. I just hope things work, like I-League, ISL and the Federation and AIFF sit together and chalk it out. It would be great to have that for Indian football.

English: R.C Prakash (born 1979) is an Indian ...

R.C Prakash (born 1979) is an Indian football player. He is currently playing for HAL SC in the I-League in India as a Forward. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With so much said about the non-viability of two independent leagues and the problems with the existing I-League and with the players all for it, it must seem a  cinch that a merger is the best thing possible for the future of the sport in India.

Is it, really? More on that later.

Kashmir’s first half marathon only a partial success: Eve-teasing, protests mar event

The route was scenic looping from University of Kashmir’s Hazratbal campus along the banks of the Dal Lake via Foreshore Road-Cheshmashai and back.

Houseboats are floating luxury hotels predomin...

Houseboats are floating luxury hotels predominantly seen in Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir. They offer a wide variety of services besides the luxurious lodging and catering. See more pics at Flicker for Kashmir; Flickr Pool and Kashmir set at Flickr (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kashmir’s first international half marathon had everything going for it.

Themed ‘I am the change’  and organized by BIG 92.7 FM, it aimed to promote a happy and healthy lifestyle in J&K. It also sought locals’ assistance in tackling social causes like saving Dal Lake, fighting drug abuse, keeping the city clean, promoting traffic awareness and respect for senior citizens and women.

The ‘CCDU Big Kashmir Marathon’ was held in two categories: the main event, a 21K run and a fun event, a 5K dream run.

The event was supported by the J&K Sports Development Association (JKSDA).

Former chief minister, Omar Abdullah, tweeted his support and promised to participate.

It was not to be.

Protests that began during the 5K run marred the 21K award ceremony.

Pro-Pakistan flags and slogans were raised.

Stones and bottles were pelted at the dais.

Abdullah subsequently tweeted:

The police later lathicharged and fired teargas shells at the protesters.

That was not all.

A ‘traditional’  Indian malady manifested itself.

Obscene and lewd comments were passed at women runners. Some women were molested en route and at the University.

12 miscreants were apprehended by the police.

While the context may not be the same, the incidents only serve to highlight the problems of eve-teasing and molestation that Indian women face in running under the public gaze.

More recently in July this year, in India’s most women friendly city—Mumbai, three boys on a motorbike hit a professional woman runner with a belt on Marine Drive.

The woman said:

“This has been going on for a couple of years. If you are a girl walking, they whack you on your butt or they yell and stare. I’ve been hit twice – once on my back, and another time on my hips. The most recent incident was last week when they hit me with a soft belt.”

Prakash Jain, president of the Marine Drive Senior Citizen’s Association, said:

“Bad elements cause trouble on the road. They leave me alone because of my age but target women. They snatch valuables like chains or rings.”

Rajiv Bhatia, who runs a water sports company, is another victim of these bike gangs.

He said:

“Four bikes came and one guy swung a stick at me. They were shouting, ‘Bhaag raha hai, hero hai. (You’re running, are you a hero?)”

Do we want women runners to gravitate towards women-only events like the DNA Run?

Are running events suburban trains with segregated compartments for women or public buses with reserved seats for women? Should event organizers consider separate lanes for women runners? Is that really the way to go?

Leave our runners alone.


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