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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.

Fitting the pieces of the puzzle together: I-League, ISL and national soccer

Ask any Indian sports lover if he or she follows soccer and the answer almost always is an unequivocal ‘Yes’.

The Indian soccer fan is well aware of what’s happening in the world of soccer and follows European club soccer with a passion that’s drawing foreign clubs to form local fan clubs and try to tap local talent and markets.

But query the same Indian fan whether he or she knows what’s happening in Indian soccer and they will reward you with a blank stare.

The state of Indian soccer has never been worse.

English: Mohun Bagan AC ground. Photo taken an...

English: Mohun Bagan AC ground. Photo taken and owned by Soumyadeb Sinha. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Indian Super League that was launched with much fanfare last year promised to lift the sport out of its doldrums.

But it’s early days yet and it may take some time to see any real results.

As this writer sees it, for now, it attracts has-beens from Europe and South America who would probably have eked out the rest of their careers at their home-town clubs but have now been given a new lease of life—at least, for two months—by the lucre on offer in the ISL, salary caps notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, the I-League, which is the heartbeat of Indian soccer, languishes with teams threatening to pull out and the AIFF finding it hard to find replacements.

The national soccer team is not faring too well either.

They are ranked 155 in the world.  It is hard to believe that at one time—in Feb 1950—India were 8th in the standings.

The current side have yet to register a win in the Asian qualifiers, losing their three games so far.

The ISL promises glitz , glamour and riches for the Indian players on display. They are suddenly earning crores overnight.

But how far will it take the junior players? The established stars earn their moolah and rightly so.

The I-League can function as a feeder tourney but it’s dying out.

The I-League itself is a recent phenomenon re-launching the National Football League in a new avatar in 2007-08.

The first six seasons were dominated by Goan clubs.

Bengaluru FC sprung a surprise in 2014 and this year it was old warhorse Mohun Bagan that claimed the refurbished title.

The AIFF is considering merging the two tournaments, the ISL and the I-League.

A committee has been formed to look into the possibility and how it could be made to work.

That will be the subject of my next article. Till then…

Can Marin Cilic defend his US Open title?

Marin Cilic is in the semis of the US Open once more.

Last year, he won his maiden Slam knocking out Asian hope Kei Nishikori in the process under the watchful eye and tutelage of his countryman Goran Ivanisevic.

Tennis fans all remember Goran not just for his histrionics on court, his big booming serves but also for the fairy-tale ending to his career where he won his first and only Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2001 after succumbing at his earlier two final appearances at the sport’s Mecca.

Cilic has been plagued with a shoulder injury this season. He missed out on the Australian Open and has had indifferent results—by his newly exalted standards—losing in the fourth round and quarter-finals at the French Open and Wimbledon respectively.

The Croat has flown under the radar at his Grand Slam homecoming in New York.

It’s always difficult returning from an injury.

No one knows that better than Cilic’s coach, Ivanisevic, who was unseeded at his maiden Grand Slam triumph, only playing with the benefit of a wild card.

But it’s Del Potro, another US Open winner, that similarities can be drawn with.

The 2009 US Open champion first suffered a left wrist injury in 2010.

He returned only after a nine-month break.

He was back to his best only in 2012 ending the year ranked No.7. He returned to the top 5 in 2013.

The recurrence of his wrist injury saw him missing out most of the 2014  season.

He returned briefly in 2015 but withdrew from the Australian Open with the injury flaring up again.

He has been operated since and is now rehabilitating.

Can Marin Cilic break the hoodoo?

Since 2003, except for Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, no US Open champion has returned to claim the title.

The title has not been defended successfully since 2008 when Federer won the last of his US Open titles.

The singletons in the club—in terms of US Open titles in the modern era—include the likes of Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith,Ilie Năstase,Manuel Orantes, Guillermo Vilas,Mats Wilander,Boris Becker,Marat Safin,Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.

Cilic takes on a formidable foe in Novak in the semis. It could be either Federer or Wawrinka in the final. Interestingly, all the semi-finalists have at least one Slam to their credit. Wawrinka is the only one without a US Open title.

A trivial bit of trivia about Cilic is that he is yet to clinch an ATP 500 or Masters title.

It’s going to be a slug-fest. Sit back and enjoy the fireworks.

Can Stan Wawrinka make the US Open 2015 his third one-of-a-kind Slam?

Is Stan Wawrinka on the verge of yet another Grand Slam title?

The Swiss No. 2  just gets luckier and luckier.

This time, it’s Andy Murray, his prospective quarter-final opponent, who lost his legs against a fitter, smoother South African Kevin Anderson.

Wawrinka faces a much easier adversary in him.

Roger Federer is expected to be his antagonist in the semis should he get past the latest version of Richard Gasquet as the 17-time-champion quizzically put it.

This semi-final could be anyone’s. I give the edge to the younger man.

Novak Djokovic takes on on last year’s winner Marin Cilic in the other semi-final.

Should Djokovic win, he should be odds-on favourite to clinch another Grand Slam and repeat the kind of success he had in 2011.

Should Cilic win , Wawrinka would have a much better chance of winning the third Slam of his charmed, revived career.

Can he? Will he? The tennis Gods will let us know—very soon indeed.

Dahi handi now a safer adventure sport

Govinda celebrations during the Krishna Janmaa...

Govinda celebrations during the Krishna Janmaashtami festivities. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dahi-handi is now an adventure sport.

What’s new about that, you say?

We all knew it’s dangerous. Only reckless idiots would try to shatter an earthen pot five to six storeys above the ground without a safety net.

That is the point the state government apparently is trying to make.

Celebrations of the birth of the Hindu deity, Krishna, have to be tempered.

School-going children and college youth are not to be made victims of the dangerous stunts pulled by teams in competitions for prizes and money.

The sport will be regulated.

Human pyramids will adhere to strict standards and guidelines.

No kids under 12. Kids aged 12-15 will need their parents’ permission.

The rules apply to every pyramid that has more than four tiers.

The Dahi Handi

The Dahi Handi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Govinda troupes have to register themselves, impart proper training, hold demonstrations and institute certificates and awards.

Medical treatment is to be provided if a participant is injured. Foam mattresses, harnesses, and guards for knees, chest and head are to be put to effective use. And Govindas are  to be insured.

Child dressed up for Janmashtami/Gokulashtami,...

Child dressed up for Janmashtami/Gokulashtami, Krishna’s birthday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: It is an earthen pot.

It is an earthen pot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sport is now permitted throughout the year given its ‘adventure’  status.

The new rules and regulations have dampened many organizers’ enthusiasm.

English: I took this photo myself at Chembur, ...

I took this photo myself at Chembur, this shows boys forming a ladder on top of the pyramid of Govinda and saluting. There is no Dahi Handi. That proves that this sport does not need a Dahi Handi to play it. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the reasons is that it is also a religious activity and with the accompanying frenzy that ensues means that mandals  pay scant attention to the organizers and the rules of the game.

The Bombay High Court previously restricted the height of pyramids to 20 feet; this implies that since each layer is about five feet, only four layers are practical under this ruling.

The festival has many competitions happening all over the city and state with prize money running into lakhs of rupees. Bollywood stars are often attractions at these mandals.

English: Dahi Handi Jay Bharat Seva Sangh in 2...

Dahi Handi Jay Bharat Seva Sangh in 2007 @Borivali (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mumbai celebrated Janmashtami last Sunday. The number of injuries were drastically reduced this year, falling from 300 to 130. Only 12 were seriously injured compared to 29 last year.

There was only one fatality this year.

Ben Stokes no fury at his obstructive dismissal

Was it obstruction or was it self-defence?

Was it deliberate or was it instinctive?

Preservation of one’s self is an instinctive response in any living creäture.

Was Ben Stokes any different?

There is no one way to decide it—it all depends on which side you’re rooting for.

The third umpire’s decision is final. And Joe Wilson adjudged the left-hander out.

And that’s how it should have stayed.

Sure, Stokes was the first English batsman to be dismissed in such a fashion in an ODI.

Sure, he was only the seventh batter in cricketing history to be kayoed so cruelly.

Sure, to be run-out is the unhappiest and unlikeliest  way any cricketer expects or wishes to be dismissed and to be considered wilful in obstructing the natural course of a game is worse.

The opposing skippers have their viewpoints.

Steve Smith called for a referral after appealing and has no qualms about his decision. He will not be losing any sleep over it.

Smith said:

“If you’re out of your crease and put your hand up to stop the ball, it’s out.

It might have looked a bit worse because it went back to the bowler, but it’s exactly the same as me turning for a second run, putting my arm out and stopping the ball.

The ball wasn’t going to hit him, he was out of his crease, he put his arm out and got in the way of the ball. The ball was going very close to hitting the stumps.

If you read the rule book, we’re well within our rights to appeal and the umpires have given it out.

Not at all. I’ve got no dramas with that (his decision to appeal).

I thought it was the right decision at the time and I still think it’s the right decision.”

The English were united in deriding Smith’s characterisation of his act.

English skipper, Eoin Morgan, said:

“A guy throws the ball in your direction and all you can do is flinch.

You don’t have time to think. It was a natural reaction to avoid the ball. Mitchell Starc was about five yards away from Ben Stokes.

The decision was made. It would have been a lot different if we were fielding.”

English: Eoin Morgan in the field during the 2...

English: Eoin Morgan in the field during the 2nd ODI against Bangladesh at the County Ground Bristol. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Would it, Morgan, would it, really? Easier said than done, Eoin, easier said than done.)

Michael Vaughan said :

“Anyone who has played the game knows that when the ball is thrown at you from close range like that you put your hand up to protect yourself. When you see it in real time he fears the ball is going to hit him. It was obvious. It was a poor decision.”

Alec Stewart added:

“He was taking evasive action; he’s looking the other way. Show me someone who can catch the ball looking the other way?

You would have thought between the three umpires that common sense would have prevailed.”

Shane Warne was not quite rooting for Smith and his side.

Law 37 (Obstructing the field) states quite categorically:

“1. Out Obstructing the field

Either batsman is out Obstructing the field if he wilfully attempts to obstruct or distract the fielding side by word or action.  In particular, but not solely, it shall be regarded as obstruction and either batsman will be out Obstructing the field if while the ball is in play and after the striker has completed the act of playing the ball, as defined in Law 33.1, he wilfully strikes the ball with

(i) a hand not holding the bat, unless this is in order to avoid injury.  See also Law 33.2 (Not out Handled the ball).

(ii) any other part of his person or with his bat.  See also Law 34 (Hit the ball twice).

2. Accidental obstruction

It is for either umpire to decide whether any obstruction or distraction is wilful or not.  He shall consult the other umpire if he has any doubt.”

Stokes himself is not chuffed about the manner of his exit.

Team-mate, Steve Finn, was quite vocal with his antipathy.

He said:

“I think everyone in the dressing room, when we saw it in real time, we all thought he was taking evasive action. When you watch it in slo-mo, the fielding team were entitled to appeal if you’re going by the letter of the game. The fact that it was in slow-motion didn’t help Ben’s cause.

How often does the bowler feign to throw the ball but doesn’t actually do it? But this time he did let the ball go and, by the time you realise the bowler has actually let the ball go, then first and foremost you’re worried for your safety rather than worrying about where your stumps are.

Everyone in the dressing room was disappointed but I don’t think the game was won or lost at that moment. In the dressing room, we weren’t overly happy.”

If there was any doubt in Smith’s mind about the mode of dismissal, he should have retracted his appeal and let the game continue. This would have been within the ambit of the Spirit of the Game. He need not have looked further than former India Test skipper MS Dhoni and his recent magnanimity in rescinding his appeal against Ian Bell’s dismissal for walking out for tea before the bails were whipped off by the on-field umpires. But I guess, no one, least of all Steven Smith, wishes to be termed a sucker in this ultra-competitive day and age.

Michael Mandelbaum: An understanding of the experiences of team sports

The Meaning of Sports

What is the meaning of sports? Why do they mean so much to us?

Why do you and I invest so much time, money and emotional energy in following them?

These are some of the questions Michael Mandelbaum attempts to answer in his book, ‘The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football, and Basketball and What They See When They Do.’

Mandelbaum’s publication is divided into four chapters, three of which devote themselves to each of the team sports that dominate the American hemisphere. The first chapter deals exclusively with the questions outlined at the beginning of this article.

I have attempted to present a synopsis of this segment of this work.

Team Sports

According to Mandelbaum, baseball, basketball and football are modern creations.

Team sports have become popular as childhoods have grown lengthier in the modern age. Children no longer help out in farms and at work and thus have more leisure time than earlier. Childhood is now the most enjoyable phase of an individual’s life and it is nostalgia for a pleasant, carefree time of life that sustains interest in games into adult lives.

Schools have taken over from hearth and home when it comes to teaching skills that need to be used in the workforce. It is also the institution where organized  games are first encountered.

The growth of American cities are crucial in the rise of team sports.

The transport revolution made these sports a national phenomenon. This also led to  a series of similar formats and uniform standards given expectations of similar quality.

Sports and Organized Religion

Mandelbaum compares sports to organized religion.

Because they share the following features:

  1. They address needs of the spirit and psyche rather than those of the flesh.
  2. They don’t bear directly on basic needs namely food and shelter.
  3. They are outside the working world.
  4. They are a welcome diversion from the routines of daily life, models of coherence and clarity and have heroic examples to admire and emulate.

Drama and Coherence

Sport is a way of ‘disporting’ i.e. diverting oneself.

Human being need to be diverted from the wears and cares of modern life.

We seek diversion in staged drama.

Drama is simply tension and its release, that is, uncertainty ultimately relieved by a definite conclusion.

Sports provide audiences compelling drama.

Outcomes are unknown—for both individual games and the season.

Team sports are epics. Their protagonists overcome a series of challenges to meet their ultimate goals.

Coherence is another basic human need.

All cultures seek order and intelligibility.

Team sports is a low or “mass” form of art accessible to the majority of society. They are supremely coherent. They provide a haven from the vagaries of modern life.

Games are models of coherence.

They are transparent and they are definitive.

Hence, their appeal.

Sports and Hollywood

Team sports have evolved much like Hollywood.

At first, the major production companies were all-powerful. They decided which movies were to be made and who would feature in them.

Now, it is the actors who are arbitrators. They rule tinsel town and command astronomical fees.

Similarly, team owners were omnipotent—at first. But now, players rule the roost and decide which sides they turn out for.

Labor in movies and sports cannot be readily replaced. The best performers enjoy enormous leverage. The public pays to watch them.

Sports stars, unlike movie stars, are real and spontaneous. Sports supplies heroes.

Heroes are objects of admiration and emulation. They can be exceptions or exemplars. The latter embody virtues that everyone can aspire to and everybody can practice.

Sports stars are both.

Extraordinary mortals yet role models.

They display diligence and performance under pressure.

These are qualities much suited to the modern world. Who wouldn’t want to be described as diligent and yet graceful under fire?

Sports stars, however, possess a narrow range of skills. They are specialists—outstanding ones.

Equality and Competition in Sports

America is a democratic country.

Costumes (uniforms) worn by participants reflect its social egalitarianism. They express equality.

Team sports also express the principle of merit.

No side begins with an advantage. The score is always 0-0 at the start.

Preference is for achieved status.

Team sports is a division of labour.

It has two main parts: Specialization and Interdependence.

No player can win a game singlehandedly. Each team needs to cooperate within themselves.

Each game and each series also embody the opposite principle: Competition.

This is a parallel to modern life.

Everyone who works in an office or factory is a part of a team. These teams compete with other teams to survive and prosper in the marketplace.

Rule of Law

Rules are overridingly important in sports.

Rules, like laws, have three main properties:

  1. Universality: they apply equally to all players and citizens.
  2. Transparency: they are known to all.
  3. Legitimacy: they are accepted as binding.

Referees and umpires are the equivalent of judges.

Clarity and simplicity of rules in these three sports distinguish them from individual sports such as diving, gymnastics, figure skating or even boxing. There is very little discretion applied by officials.

Questioning and protesting an official’s decision is actively discouraged. Players can be removed from games if they are felt to have transgressed a certain boundary.

The most serious attack on the integrity of the game is not when an individual or a team tries too hard to win but when a player or group of players deliberately set out to lose.

When a contest is ‘fixed’, its outcome pre-decided, it is no longer a game. Cheating is thus the ultimate sin. This is the reason why doping in athletes is met with virulent condemnation.

Equality and Merit

Equality of opportunity and merit are deeply ingrained in North Americans.

The US is more deeply committed to ensuring the wherewithal needed to take advantage of opportunities.

The amateur draft and salary cap are the mechanisms used in professional leagues to restrict the role of the free market and make teams more evenly matched on the field.

European societies, on the other hand, are more committed to equality of results i.e., draws or ties are more common in games like soccer, cricket and rugby.

Integration and Division

Overseas, identification with teams has a polarising effect.

You support one side and rail against the other.

Team sports reflect and aggravate social and political divisions.

Not so, in the States.

They are both sources of integration and division.

They promote social solidarity.

American team sports do not have international competitions. They are self-contained.

These games are barely played elsewhere.

There is very rarely violence visited on team competitions. If fights break out, they occur over high school games.

Geographic mobility is a part of an American’s life.

He or she will move for college education and jobs—several times in their lives.

So too sportspersons.

High school teams may have co-located players.

But colleges and professional sides draw upon persons from all over, even overseas.

Professional sports are also melting pots for various ethnic groups, much like the larger cities.

Sports is thus a microcosm of cosmopolitan America.

The above are similes and metaphors for why sports is so important to sports lovers and what it actually means to all of us. Some metaphors could apply to other societies as well. It would be interesting to compare the reasons why sports in gaining traction in India as an industry to its evolution in the States. The proliferation of leagues in multiple sports as vehicles to promote them and provide means of livelihood to many is a recent phenomenon. Are there more parallels than differences?

Some metaphors may resonate with you more than others. Some of them might make you think. Aloud.

I know it certainly struck a chord with me and opened my eyes as to how and why sports can be a way of uniting rather than dividing. Sports recognizes no class barriers—in theory.

I hope you enjoy reading this piece as much as I did Mandelbaum’s chapter. If you don’t, blame me and not Mandelbaum!

Waugh, Ponting and Holding toss away the coin

If Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting and Michael Holding have their way, there will be no more commemorative coins to toss while celebrating special Test occasions.

Ricky Ponting at a training session at the Ade...

Ricky Ponting at a training session at the Adelaide Oval (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Former Aussie skipper Ponting suggested—during the recent Ashes series—that the toss be done away with and have the visiting side choose which side should bat first. This would even out any advantage from pitches prepared to suit the home side.

Stephen Rodger Waugh, former professional cric...

Stephen Rodger Waugh, former professional cricketer and captain of the Australian national team, photographed at the Sydney Cricket Ground at the start of the Test match against South Africa in January 2002 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speaking to Melbourne Radio Station, Waugh said:

“I don’t mind that, I think that’s not such a bad thing. At the end of the day I think there’s probably too much emphasis placed on the toss and the conditions away from home. I don’t mind the authorities looking at some other options.”

Michael Holding, in his column for Wisden India, wrote:

“…the concerned authorities must look at what Ricky Ponting suggested – no more tosses. The minor setback there in my opinion, is that tosses are big for television. It makes for good tension, everyone is focussed on that coin when it’s in the air and the winning captain’s decision and so on. But that isn’t relevant now, times have changed and interest is waning in Test match cricket. What you need to do now is to make sure you have even contests between bat and ball. For that, there should be no toss and the visiting captain should be allowed to decide what he wants to do after inspecting the pitch. It’ll ensure better pitches throughout the world, because no one will look to build a pitch whose features are obvious, and which will give an immediate advantage to the visiting captain. They will try and prepare good quality surfaces that give no obvious advantage to anyone, which is what you want in Test matches. Some may say that policy will produce flat lifeless pitches with boring games. I disagree. You will still see a bit of ‘hometown’ pitches which suit the qualities of the home team more than the opposition, but the slant won’t be as dramatic as we tend to see in some countries now.”

In his previous post, the West Indian fast bowler elaborated on what makes a side great.

“Great teams can win home and away, and good teams will win at home. It’s as simple as that. I don’t personally see much wrong with that, to be honest. It comes down to how people classify them. Teams should only be qualified as ‘great’ only if they can perform all over the world, and can excel everywhere. If they don’t, they’re not a great team, and that’s fine.

I don’t think the boards should actively try and do something about making it even, you don’t need to say: ‘okay, we have to find a way of making sure teams can do well overseas’. On the contrary, talk to the individuals, the players who are actually playing and performing, and see what necessary adjustments should be done for them to be successful when they leave their homes. There is nothing wrong with people failing away from home as far as world cricket is concerned. I don’t think they should try and make an adjustment. If you can, you can. If you’re not good enough, you’re just not good enough.

Having said that, when you go to some countries, the pitches are prepared in such a way that they are highly in favour of the home team. And I’m talking about even going to some parts of the subcontinent, in India, for instance, where you find – not necessarily now, but quite a few years ago – pitches that turn from day one. It didn’t matter who was touring India, because they knew they had great spinners, and they would be brought into the game from day one.

In England, they changed the nature of the pitches altogether, because they recognised that without seaming pitches, they had no chance of beating Australia. As I said before, I don’t see it as a major factor when you say teams are better at home than overseas, but if you want to have consistent pitches in countries, then you have got to adapt the principle that Ricky Ponting suggested – get rid of the toss.

All you need is for the visiting team to look at the pitch and decide what they will do. Then you will always get consistent pitches, because if it’s too heavily favoured in one way or the other, then the visiting team can take advantage with their decision. That way you’ll get consistent pitches, but that doesn’t mean all of sudden touring sides will start winning away from home. They’ll get a better chance of winning, but at the same time, they’ll have to play well to win away from home, because you can’t change overhead conditions. The ball will still swing in England, and you’ll still need good technique to play there. But the pitches won’t be that heavily favoured to the home bowlers.”

Will the ICC look into the matter?

We don’t wish to see series everywhere decided by the toss and pitches suited to the home side.

We’d like to watch real contests and adaptable players, not bully boys who score by the tons and take wickets by the dozen in their backyards and come up a cropper elsewhere.

We need classy players and their class should be evident on all surfaces and in all conditions.

Take away the toss if that’s what’s needed.

Prepare sporting wickets if that’s what’s needed.

Make curators more independent if that’s what’s needed.

Do whatever that’s needed.

Just don’t let Test cricket die.


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