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K L Rahul: What he said, really meant and definitely didn’t


What he said:

“My mother gave me a bar of soap. She told me to go wash it off and not act like a kid. I was 16 years old. She thought my tattoo was a Boomer [chewing gum] sticker.”

K L Rahul describes his mother Rajeshwari’s reaction to his first skin etching. The Karnataka batter was speaking to comedian Vikram Sathaye on his podcast, Viu’s What the Duck 3.

What he really meant:

“While tattoos rock my world, they don’t impress my mother in the least. She’d rather lather me instead.”

What he definitely didn’t:

“Hmm… So who could my agent  approach next? Makers of Lux, Liril, Lifebuoy or Dove? Tattoo removal creams? That’s branding of a different kind, innit?” 

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Jemele Hill: Two-fold resentment


“When it comes to sports, women are big targets for abuse because the resentment is two-fold. Some resent us for our confidence and beliefs. But there also is an added resentment because we are supposedly infiltrating a space that has been decidedly male.”

—Jemele Hill.

Tim Bresnan: What he said, really meant and definitely didn’t


What he said:

“In the past five or six years we’ve just done it like a Chinese parliament.”

Tim Bresnan, former England seamer, reacts to his appointment as vice-captain of Yorkshire’s country cricket side.

Yorkshire have not had a deputy leader  for a few seasons now.

Former captain, Andrew Gale, is the current coach and Gary Ballance the newly appointed skipper.

Bresnan said:

“Gary phoned me and said, ‘I’ve got to ask you something, mate, would you be vice-captain for me?’

And I was like, ‘Yes, I’m over the moon’.

It was a bit of a shock because we haven’t really named one over the past few years; it just came out of the blue.

I never even thought that Gaz would be having one.

It does make sense, though, if he gets called up for internationals.

I’m immensely proud, and it will be great to work with him and Galey. I’ll just do whatever is required of me.

Pretty much everyone in the team is in the senior leadership group as it is.

In the past five or six years, we’ve basically just done it like a Chinese parliament.

We’ve talked through anything that was going wrong and how we were going to improve as a collective, and we’ve done everything as a group really.

There’s never been any sort of group within that which has sat down separately to discuss things.”

What he really meant:

“Yes, we ran the side based on consensual authority with collective responsibility. That’s how Parliament works, doesn’t it? And we had no real opposition, hence, we’re obviously Chinese.”

What he definitely didn’t:

“I guess I’m Mike Pence to Yorkshire’s Ballance. That Trumps it all, doesn’t it?”

English: Tim Bresnan playing for Yorkshire

Tim Bresnan playing for Yorkshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Vice Captain Sports logo

Vice Captain Sports logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anxious stars: Stanislas Wawrinka, Mardy Fish and Rebecca Marino


Sportspersons are also human.

Much as we may be intimidated by their almost superhuman prowess on the playing field, they are just as prone to the same worries as any other man or woman. 

Stress or panic attacks are no longer uncommon in our heroes.

Stanislas Wawrinka is the latest to open up about his demons detailing the tears he couldn’t prevent before the Australian Open final against Novak Djokovic which incidentally he won after dropping the first set.

The pressure of expectations can be high and the bulky Swiss almost came undone in dramatic fashion.

Speaking to Sport24, Wawrinka said:

“A lot of people are asking me how I was able to take the court, nonchalantly, when five minutes prior to that I had a stress attack and I was trying to hold back tears. I tried [but] I wasn’t able to.

I was close to breaking point – the moment where you let it all out, physically and nervously. I really felt I was at my limit. Maybe with the heat everyone thought I was perspiring.

So,  how did I do it? I’ll tell you. I hurt myself. I tried to extend rallies as much as possible – one more shot, and another – to make the legs churn and not the head.

When I’m nervous like that, the fatigue feels a lot, lot stronger. And my legs hurt so much. I even screamed at my box, ‘I can’t make it. I’m dead. My legs are gone’. I was hurting so much. I was pushing myself so hard. I was so out of breath that I finally ended up muffling those little voices in my head.”

Brazilian great Ronaldo was not so fortunate.

The buck-toothed striker pulled out of the 1998 World Cup final against France demoralising his side which then succumbed to Zinedine Zidane’s magic. Many believe the script would have been different had Ronaldo taken the field.

Tennis stars Mardy Fish and Rebecca Marino succumbed to the vagaries of the games and ended their careers prematurely.

Fish struggled with anxiety attacks and a heart problem for three years before calling it a day in 2015.

Writing for Player’s Tribune, Mardy says:

“‘Don’t play.’

I am hours away from playing in the biggest tennis match of my life: the fourth round of the U.S. Open … on Labor Day … on my dad’s birthday … on Arthur Ashe … on CBS … against Roger Federer. I am hours away from playing the greatest player of all time, for a chance at my best-ever result, in my favorite tournament in the world. I am hours away from playing the match that you work for, that you sacrifice for, for an entire career.

And I can’t do it.

I literally can’t do it.

It’s early afternoon; I’m in the transportation car on my way to the courts.

And I am having an anxiety attack.

Actually, I’m having several anxiety attacks — at first, one every 15 minutes or so, but pretty soon every 10. My mind starts spiraling. I’m just freaking out.

My wife is asking me, ‘What can we do? What can we do? How can we make this better?’

And I tell her the truth: ‘The only thing that makes me feel better right now … is the idea of not playing this match.’”

The ironic part is that Mardy Fish always had problems with his weight.

But he turned himself around soon after his marriage in 2009 and lost 30 lbs going from 202 to 172.

In 2011, he became the highest ranked American surpassing his close friend Andy Roddick.

In 2012, he was No. 8.

He was one of the élite.

And that’s when the anxiety levels increased.

He writes:

“The idea that I wasn’t good enough was a powerful one — it drove me, at an age when many players’ careers are winding down, to these amazing heights. But it also became a difficult switch to turn off. I was, objectively, doing great. And looking back, I wish I had been able to tell myself that. But doing great wasn’t something that my frame of mind back then had time to process. All I could focus on was doing better. It was a double-edged sword.”

He started experiencing heart arrhythmias and underwent a corrective procedure called an ablation.

But the anxiety attacks continued.

Things came to a head when he decided that he couldn’t go on court in front of 22,000 spectators at the 2012 US Open and play Roger Federer.

And then he just stopped playing.

He concludes his piece thus:

“But I am here to show weakness. And I am not ashamed.

In fact I’m writing this, in a lot of ways, for the express purpose of showing weakness. I’m writing this to tell people that weakness is okay. I’m here to tell people that it’s normal.

And that strength, ultimately, comes in all sorts of forms.

Addressing your mental health is strength. Talking about your mental health is strength. Seeking information, and help, and treatment, is strength.

And before the biggest match of your career, prioritizing your mental health enough to say, You don’t have to play. You don’t have to play. Don’t play …

That, too, is strength.

As for what comes next, I’m not sure. I’m 33 now, and I know that I’ll never do anything as well as I played tennis. But that’s fine.

I still deal with my anxiety on a daily basis. I still take medication daily. It’s still in my mind daily. There are days that go by where I’ll think to myself, at night, when I’m going to bed: Hey, I didn’t think about it once today. And that means I had a really good day.

Those are the victories, for me.

But there is no tournament to win for mental health. There are no quarterfinals, or semifinals, or finals. I will not be ending this piece with a sports metaphor.”

Because sports end in a result. And life keeps going.

Mine, I hope, is just getting started.

 

Rebecca Marino—Canadian top player of the year in 2010 and 2011—quit the game because she could no longer stand the incessant trolling on social media. She had been battling depression for six years.

Marino, however, has not given up on sport completely.

She’s a member of University of British Columbia’s rowing crew.

She said:

“It’s been a while since I’ve had a bad day. I honestly can say I’m a different person. That’s why I stepped away from tennis — to find myself and work on my mental and physical well-being.

And here I am.”

She adds:

“I’m pretty comfortable with how things went. I can’t really look back and wonder: ‘What if?’ I’m in a really great place.

I’m doing things I love now. I wouldn’t change it.”

Rowing is in the family too.

Her uncle, George Hungerford, represented Canada at the 1964 Rome Olympics and clinched gold. Her brother competed at the University of California.

“I actually avoided rowing for a long time.I just thought: ‘I’m never going to wake up at 4 a.m., come to practice, go until I almost want to puke.

Who would want to do that?’ 

…There’s a camaraderie. You really bond together as a crew.”

Marino still doesn’t watch tennis though.

Why India shouldn’t try to avoid Pakistan in sporting encounters


Should India take on Pakistan in the international sporting arena?

BCCI boss Anurag Thakur doesn’t believe so.

The BJP leader, while ruling out resumption of cricketing ties with the rogue neighbour after the latest attacks from across the border at Uri, said:

“Keeping in mind that the government has adopted a new strategy to isolate Pakistan and in view of the public sentiment in the country, we request ICC not to put India and Pakistan in the same pool of the multi-nation tournaments. If the two countries reach the semi-finals and have to clash at that time, it is another situation which can’t be avoided.”

The statement above reeks of political opportunism while ignoring commercial considerations and the future success of ICC tournaments.

While it’s no one’s case that Pakistan is a sponsor of terrorism, to ask the ICC or any other sporting body to accommodate the Indian government’s  views would be setting a bad precedent—if accepted.

What happens if Bangladesh or Afghanistan make similar demands? Will the ICC oblige?

What about other sporting events such as the Olympics or World Championships? Are Indian sports persons to refuse to take on Pakistani athletes in group encounters but not in knockout rounds?

Can the US decline to play North Korea or Iran in international competitions?

India last toured their north-west neighbours in a full-fledged series in 2004. The last bilateral series occurred in 2012 with the visitors drawing the T20 series and clinching the ODIs.

India are grouped with Pakistan for the 2017 Champions Trophy.

ICC President Dave Richardson said:

“No doubt we want to try to put India versus Pakistan in our event. Its hugely important from an ICC point of view. Its massive around the world and the fans have come to expect it as well. Its fantastic for the tournament because it gives it a massive kick.”

It’s unlikely that the ICC will oblige Thakur by moving India out of the group. If the BCCI insists on making a political statement in the cricketing world, Team India might have to forfeit their game against their arch-rivals.

The men’s team are the only ones affected. The women’s side are slated to play Pakistan in a bilateral series. Should the tour be called off, their ODI ratings will be affected that may reduce their chances for automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup.

Thakur’s statement was greeted with disdain across the border.

Mohammad Yousuf said:

“I just don’t understand what he wants to say. For the last eight years India has avoided playing us in a proper bilateral series even when relations were better.”

He added:

“The ICC keeps on saying it will not tolerate politics or government interference in member boards and the BCCI President is making political statements. Either he speak as a BJP leader or BCCI head.”

An unnamed Pakistan Cricket Board official said:

“It is an out and out political statement from the President of the BCCI. We are disappointed as we have been trying hard for a long time now to normalize cricket ties with India and we have always believed in keeping sports and politics apart.”

In another news report, sources within the PCB revealed that they do not take Thakur’s tirades seriously.

“If they really don’t want to play Pakistan at all would they be willing to forfeit the match against us in next year’s Champions Trophy. No changes can be made now so what is the purpose of such statements except to play to the galleries.

…But for public consumption he (Thakur) gives different statements.”

Were the UN to declare Pakistan a sponsor of terror and impose sanctions, then it’s possible that sporting bodies across the world could declare it ‘persona non grata’, much like South Africa was for its heinous policy of apartheid.

But until then, it’s downright foolish to expect to be able to avoid Pakistan in multilateral contests.

At the same time, to simply claim that sports and politics shouldn’t mix is being naïve in this age of realpolitik.

Sports is a metaphor for war without weapons or bloodshed. 

It is also  a vehicle for peace such as when the Pakistani premier visited India for the crucial quarter-final encounter during the 2011 World Cup paving the way for resuming cricketing ties even if it was short-lived.

The issue at hand is complex. Simplistic statements from the BCCI chief muddy the waters especially when he must and should know better.

What has happened to Michael Fereira?


 

Michael Fereira  was India’s foremost billiards player much before the likes of Geet Sethi and Pankaj Advani arrived on the scene.

He was preceded by Wilson Jones, the nation’s first amateur world champion. 

The 77-year-old is now running scared—implicated in a cheating case involving QNET, a multi-level marketing company  using the banned pyramid business model.

Ferreira, Malcolm Desai, Srinivas Rao Vanka , Magaral Veervalli Balaji, and Suresh Thimiri were all directors of Vihaan Direct Selling India (Pvt) Ltd., the entity that ran QNET.

Fereira, however, claims that he was a ‘mere shareholder’; he did not mislead or dupe any investors or customers.

He also never received any commission or dividends from the company. He attended the company’s programmes overseas to inspire them in his capacity as a former sportsperson.

His counsel Amit Desai said:

“The prosecution’s case is that Vihaan Direct Marketing had misled people through false representation. Ferreira was not involved in sales, he did not earn any commissions or dividends. The talks he gave were inspirational and not to sell products under the scheme. He is a well-regarded, respected sportsperson. He is 78 and tomorrow (on Saturday) is his 79th birthday.”

Public prosecutor Pradeep Gharat informed the Bombay High Court that Fereira owned 80% of the company.

Gharat claims that the company ran a ‘Ponzi scheme’ seeking amounts ranging from Rs.30,000 to Rs. 7.5 lakhs. The money earned was then repatriated abroad.

An FIR was registered in August 2013 under the Prize, Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978 and Maharashtra Protection Of Interest Of Depositors Act.

Fereira—who surrendered yesterday—has been remanded to police custody till October 13.

Fereira—nicknamed the ‘Bombay Tiger’—was a three-time billiards world champion.

The septuagenarian learnt to play billiards while schooling at St. Joseph’s School, Darjeeling. His interest continued through his college days at St. Xavier’s College and the Government Law College.

He famously rejected the Padma Shri in 1981—on winning his second world crown— contending that he should be honoured with the Padma Bhushan instead like Sunil Gavaskar. He was. 

 

Why Anurag Thakur is wrong to criticise Sandeep Patil


BCCI chief Anurag Thakur has an opinion on former India chief selector Sandeep Patil.

Thakur termed the erstwhile swashbuckling batsman and coach “unethical” for revealing the deliberations around Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement and MS Dhoni’s continuance as India skipper.

He said:

“Let me make it very clear. Sandeep being a former chairman should not have made these comments. When he was the chairman, he replied differently to the same questions. But after that (his tenure), it was different. It was totally unethical of him to do that.

One should refrain from making such unethical and unwanted comments in this area (selection matters). It is because he has been trusted to become the chairman, because he has played enough cricket. There were four more selectors with him, they did not say anything. He (Patil) should have avoided that.

…Right people in the BCCI will speak to him soon.

…Any organisation, if they hire him (Patil), will think 10 times that after leaving the organisation, he will speak about the organisation.”

Patil appeared to have been disillusioned with his tenure as the chief selector.

He first stated he had lost friends as a selector.

After picking the Indian side for the New Zealand home series, he confessed:

“The only sad thing about being a selector is that you end up losing some of your friends.”

Later speaking to Marathi news channel ‘ABP Majha’, he revealed:

“On December 12, 2012, we met Sachin and asked him about his future plans. He said he did not have retirement on his mind. But the selection committee had reached a consensus on Sachin… and had informed the board too about it. Perhaps Sachin understood what was coming because at the time of the next meeting, Sachin called and said he was retiring (from ODIs). If he had not announced his decision to quit then, we would have definitely dropped him.”

The bearded ex-cricketer contradicted himself on the same channel’s website, saying:

“As long as I remember, it was December 12, 2012, Nagpur. Sachin got out and the selectors decided to meet him and ask him about his wish. I was the one who staged the meet, being the chairman of selectors, and it was purely to understand what was running in his mind. It was a good thing to do. It did not happen in one day, one month or one year, it took two long years. Sachin retired in 2013. The meeting in Nagpur was just to ask his plans. Sachin wanted to concentrate more on Test cricket. So, it was decided that he would retire from One-day cricket. He called me and Sanjay Jagdale (then BCCI secretary). Then it was collectively decided that he would retire from ODIs.”

It was Patil’s disclosures about current ODI and T20 skipper MS Dhoni that set the cat among the pigeons.

“Things didn’t move in our favour, and in that backdrop one of your senior players decided to hang his gloves. That was shocking, but in the end, it was his decision (to retire from Test cricket).

…We, of course, had a brief discussion about it (sacking Dhoni) on few occasions. We wanted to experiment by shifting the baton but we thought the time was not right as the World Cup was fast approaching. New captain should be given some time to set things right. Keeping in mind the World Cup, we chose to go with Dhoni. I believe Virat got the captaincy at the right time and he can lead the team in shorter formats as well. The decision rests with the new selection committee.”

Patil also asserted that Dhoni had no hand in the dropping of either Gautam Gambhir or Yuvraj Singh.

He added:

“I feel disappointed when I read reports about Dhoni’s relation with Gambhir and Yuvraj. Dhoni never opposed their selection.

It was completely the selectors’ decision to drop them and Dhoni did not have any say in dropping Gambhir and Yuvraj. Both the captains never opposed any player.”

While Thakur may be miffed at Patil’s forthrightness to the media soon after quitting the selection panel, he can hardly comment about taking any action against him or on his employment chances in the future in the absence of a non-disclosure agreement with a stated cooling off period of  a year.

Anything more than a year might be excessive. And why should selectors be hog-tied when cricketers, past and present, publish freewheeling accounts of their run-ins with their teammates, coaches, selectors and sections of the media in their multiple best-selling autobiographies.

Are they to be held less accountable?

The BCCI has (rightly) opposed the opening up of selection of the Indian team to public scrutiny (via the RTI act) stating that appointed selectors are more than qualified to do the job and that choosing of the Indian cricket team cannot be done by a majority vote of the public. Would you let public opinion decide what the justices of state and national courts have been appointed for?

There has to be a balance struck. Where do you draw the line?

Should selectors and administrators be continually vilified in the court of public opinion long after their tenures have ended? Are they not to be allowed to state their version of events past? If not to defend themselves,  then to promote transparency and debate. 

National governments have a cut-off period after which classified documents are to be made public for historians and buffs to discover the inner workings of past decisions.

Aren’t public bodies like the BCCI not to provide the same courtesy to the sports loving public of this nation?

 

 

 

Why our sporting heroes don’t deserve biopics


Sports biopics are the flavour of the past few years in Bollywood.

But have they really been worth catching on the big screen?

‘Bhaag, Milkha, Bhaag’ was phenomenal.

And ‘Budhia: Born To Run’ with its almost documentary-like yet moving treatment of the young boy from Orissa who languishes in a sports hostel, still banned from running by the state, was worth a dekko.

But you can’t say much about ‘Azhar’ or, for that matter, ‘Sultan’, a fictional wrestler’s story, that enjoyed blockbuster success at the box office.

I haven’t seen ‘Mary Kom‘ but I’m against the very concept of having a Punjabi actress depict a North-Eastern boxing icon.

Gautam Gambhir stirred a hornet’s nest on Twitter with his remarks criticizing the trend of biographical films on cricketers.

He said:

Given that Neeraj Pandey’s ‘MS  Dhoni: The Untold Story‘ was slated for release in the upcoming weeks, many of Dhoni’s fans questioned Gambhir’s intent and timing.

Was the Delhi cricketer taking a potshot at his former skipper? It is no secret that Gambhir could have been in the running for the captain’s post had his stint in the side continued.

James Erskine’s ‘Sachin: A Billion Dreams‘ is also expected to be in theatres in the near future.

I, for one, saw nothing wrong with the left-hander’s statements.

Successful  cricketers are accorded the status of demi-gods in India. Reams of  traditional and online media are dedicated  to telling and retelling the stories of their humble beginnings.

Gambhir is right that we need to focus on real heroes who have devoted their lives to the country whether it be on the battlefield, social service or business.

Yet, sports other than cricket need heroes to follow and for every successful sportsperson, there are countless others who have tried and given their best—participating or coaching.

Wouldn’t you like to know the story of Ramakant Achrekar?

How about Sakshi Malik’s coach Kuldeep Malik who is yet to receive his cash award of Rs. 5 lacs? He has in his possession a photo-copied cheque instead!

Celebrate India’s successful sporting stars? Yes, do. But don’t forget those  who helped them become great and in the process made  this country greater—in all spheres. 

Is Lokesh the next Dravid? 


Mohinder Amarnath,  in his latest column,  anointed Lokesh Rahul as the next Rahul Dravid. 

He may be right,  he may be wrong. 

Much earlier,  Cheteshwar Pujara was Dravid’s logical successor. 

Then,  it was Ajinkya Rahane. 

Now,  it’s KL. 

It’s never easy to step into the shoes of colossuses.

I’m sure each of the above would rather be recognised for themselves rather than somebody’s clone. 

And it will take some doing to match Dravid ‘s feats and consistency over a sustained period of time. 

Greatness doesn’t occur overnight. 

In some way,  Dravid seems a little short-changed by these comparisons. 

Is it because his achievements are the result of constant improvement, endeavour,  discipline, technical correctness and correct temperament rather than simply genius, wristiness or off-side godliness? 

No one points to any of the current lot and claim that they’re the next Tendulkar,  Ganguly or Laxman. 

Comparisons are sometimes drawn between Kohli and Tendulkar,  but the Indian test skipper has etched out a stellar place for himself. 

Coming back to the question,  is Lokesh the next Dravid? 

He’s surely  the next Rahul. 

Is Shobhha De completely out of kilter? Not really!


Shobhha De’s series of ‘well-timed’ tweets deploring Indian athletes’ performances at the Olympics was roundly castigated by the Twitteratti with Abhinav Bindra and Sachin Tendulkar joining the discordant chorus.

 

Sachin Tendulkar:

“The athletes give their best in their efforts to win a medal. All the Indian athletes in Rio 2016 have my support. They work for years and years but when you miss out narrowly, you obviously feel bad.

When the results don’t go your way, that is when you need to support them.

The first half didn’t go our way but you have to support them when the chips are down.”

But there can’t be smoke without fire (not unless it’s dry ice, of course).

Five days into the Games and the medals tally still shows nought against India’s listing.

The shooters have disappointed sorely with only Abhinav Bindra coming close to a bronze and Dipa Karmakar making the vault final in gymnastics.

The archers continue to keep Indians back home waiting for their maiden medal despite years of selection and training to  promote this ancient art and its modern avatar.

The London Olympics saw India claim six medals—two in shooting, two in wrestling and one each in badminton and boxing.

The expectations were that the Indian contingent of 119 would clinch at least seven this time.

That’s less than a six per cent chance of a medal for our sports-persons.

Is that what’s to be expected from our competitors—that 94 per cent of them are to be no-hopers and just make up the numbers and soak in the sights?

Admittedly, the qualification marks have been made stiffer in recent times and for most Indian athletes from sports other than cricket, a chance to participate in the Olympics is the highlight of their low-storied careers.

But surely we can and should demand more from them. Surely at least 25% of them should be realistic medal contenders and the rest should be earmarked as talents for the future sent to assimilate the ethos and pressure of the Games so that they are not overcome with stage fright the next time around.

The qualification marks too could be made a lot more stringent than the minimum needed.

Yes, De’s remarks were ill-advised and probably nothing more than a publicity stunt. It’s a wonder whether our Indian athletes would worry too much about a socialite columnist otherwise.

Perhaps, it’s time Ms. De penned a novella on the state of Indian sport and its heroes (and heroines) rather than her much-beloved Bollywood which conversely draws significant inspiration (and box-office success) from the annals of Indian sport in recent times.

 

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