Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kimi Raikkonen was the only deserving winner. Not Lewis Hamilton, nor Fernando Alonso

Everbody has said, and quite rightly, that Kimi Raikkonen is the deserving world champion in 2007. I totally agree. Where I disagree entirely is when one says Lewis Hamilton would have been an equally deserving world champion. Kimi did not only have to fight Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, he also had to fight the FIA that looked like it was trying its best to ensure that Hamilton wins. Let me explain in greater detail.

Cast your minds back to the European GP. Hamilton beached his car in the rains. He was crane-lifted back on to the track so that he could resume racing and score some points. This was absolutely uncalled for. Did this not seem to be some sort of favouritism in favour of the new-comer?

Let’s move to Monza now, the Italian GP. He overtakes Felipe Massa on Lap 1, turn 1 by cutting the chicane. But the stewards and the FIA decide to look the other way. Had any other driver cut chicanes they would have been put under scrutiny, but with Hamilton it seemed like Caesar’s wife is beyond suspicion. He can do whatever he wants on a race-track.

More recently, at Interlagos, during the first free-practice session. Hamilton, Honda's Jenson Button, and Super Aguri's Takuma Sato were deemed to have used two sets of wet weather tyres during the first free practice session at Interlagos, in breach of the Sporting Regulations. Article 25.3 of the F1 Sporting Regulations states: "No driver may use more than one set of wet and one set of extreme weather tyres during P1 and P2." There was no grid penalty for the Golden Boy, he was fined $15,000. There was no way the FIA would ruin his chances of winning the championship. Moral of the story? If you want to break the rules, break them with Hamilton to ensure no penalties.

Now, for the Japanese Grand Prix. Hamilton comes up with a beautiful and novel way of keeping his tyres warm. He might not have done it intentionally, but he did something that could have ruined some other drivers’ race. It was a mistake for which he should have been penalized. After all, other drivers have been penalized for making the same mistake. But no penalties for Hamilton.

How would this person have been a deserving world champion? Another big reason why neither Hamilton, nor Alonso should have been allowed to compete for the world drivers’ championship was that they both gained unfair advantage over the other drivers because of what McLaren was involved in. Because McLaren cheated for an advantage, they were docked off all the constructors’ points. Why not the drivers too? If I were to use this yardstick in cricket, this thing’s equivalent would have been had the South African players been allowed to play international cricket for their individual records when the country had been banned from cricket due to apartheid.

It is poetic justice that the deserving driver, Kimi Raikkonen won the championship. And it is poetic justice that Ferrari won the constructors’ championship. They would have won it even if McLaren would have been allowed to compete. Let me explain how. Ferrari got 204 points (Kimi 110 + Massa 94) and McLaren would have had 203 points. Hamilton 109 + Alonso 109 = 218; minus the 15 points that were stripped off McLaren for the Hungarian GP qualifying fiasco, that would bring McLaren’s score at 203 after the Brazilian GP, one point lesser than Ferrari.

The only deserving team and the only deserving driver won the titles. Neither McLaren, nor Lewis Hamilton, nor Fernando Alonso deserved anything this season.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Racism in cricket, replacing the oldies, being aggressive: Indian cricket has questions but no answers

The one-day series between India and Australia is throwing up more questions than answers. The problem is that the questions that have been thrown up do not seem to have answers. Let me try and list the questions down.

1) Have the Indian media and fans realized that T20 is a different form of cricket than ODIs?

2) Have the young Indian cricketers understood that aggression does not mean snarling without substance and that the definition of an aggressive cricketer is not that of one with most theatric stunts?

3) Do some people know what racist taunts are?

Let me try to answer, rather introspect, these questions. A successful team in an abbreviated form of the game’s tournament is not the panacea for what ails Indian cricket. None of the T20 stars, and I mean NOBODY, has the wherewithal to challenge the place of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, for their places in the side. Apart from these two players, only Yuvraj Singh has scored 1,000 runs in 2007. So till some young players perform, let us stop speculating about the oldies’ future. If one were to look at recent performance, forget past records, these two cannot be touched. The ample proof came twice in this series. In the 4th ODI India won because these 2 put up 91, and in the 6th ODI, till these two were going it looked like India would chase down 318. On current form, there are only two match-winners for India in ODIs and both are in the autumn of their careers, if not winter.

The second question has bemused me more than other questions. Sachin Tendulkar is among the most aggressive players I have ever seen. And never have I seen him open his trap to talk needlessly to the other players. And that, despite having a record and performances to boast of. By acting like a bunch of theatrical drunks, and not backing it up with solid performances, is making the likes of S. Sreesanth look stupid. The person Sreesanth has picked on has responded in the most brilliant way. By performing. Andrew Symonds has been a joy to watch for a cricket lover. The prancing up and down idiotically only makes Sreesanth look like he is imitating a monkey.

Oops!! Oops!! Did I say ‘monkey’? Is that racism? Hell no! And that brings me down to the third point. If the crowds at Vadodra did indeed call Symonds a monkey, they were being blatantly stupid, but not racist. Either-ways, such people do not deserve to watch this noble game. But I must say, these people are neither cricket lovers, nor racists. I can say with a lot of conviction that monkey is not a racist remark in India. We, in India, worship the monkey-god Hanuman. The life-form that we worship cannot be a racist slur. This is a clear case of making a mountain out of a mole-hill. Looking at the form Symonds has had, be probably has had a divine hand that is making this wonderfully aggressive cricketer smash bowlers like seldom before. So, just lay it off. ICC, sections of the media, some of the cricketers.

India is in for a tough series against Pakistan in a month. And then, off to Australia. Thankfully, India can thank its lucky stars that it still has a few players who could make a match out of a few of the duels that would be played out. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and one Very Very Special player. The joke is that these people are the oldies who some sections of the media feel should give way to the likes of Suresh Raina, S. Badrinath, Venugoopal Rao, Robin Uthappa and Gautam Gambhir. Well, I did say in the very beginning, that there are questions but there are no answers.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Replacing Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid

I hope all and sundry would have now realized that T20 was a different format altogether. That is a format that relies heavily on talent and that was the reason why India and Pakistan, the two most talented teams in world cricket made the finals. The moment the game lengthens, apart from talent, temperament comes to the fore. That is one area where we are lagging behind by a long shot.

After the first two ODIs, the question of playing Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid has come to the fore yet again. It’s a clear case of not being able to plan well for a series as big as this. A good example would be to look at the opponents India is playing. Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting aren’t exactly spring chickens. They seem to be perfectly fitting into a side. That is because there is a clear plan. And players like Michael Clarke seem ready to take over from them after they have left.

The reason they can is because they have the weight of runs behind them. Not just on the account of being young or having performed well in a T20 world cup. India had just the right people to succeed the big three. Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif were doing well. Today we have Sehwag out of the team and Kaif out of the selectors’ minds. Yuvraj had a good 2006, so looks like the only certainty.

One reads reports and sees some ex-cricketers on the tele making it seem as if it’s the fault of Ganguly, Tendulkar and Dravid that they youngsters are not being allowed into the team. It is quite the opposite. Just because the likes of Suresh Raina and Venugopal Rao fell flat on their faces did the old brigade walk back in, and stayed put as they were performing. One needs to turn the clock back to 1996 when two youngsters announced their arrival. Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. They did not have a pig-headed coach backing them to keep out some players and neither did they have a chairman of selectors subservient to the coach. They walked into the team on the account of their performances and consistency only. They did not knock on the doors; they smashed the doors and made India not miss the likes of Mohammed Azharuddin, Navjot Sidhu, Ajay Jadeja etc.

The current crop of Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma, Gautam Gambhir need to do the same. A 40 odd score in the odd match is not really enough. They need to do well consistently, as the older brigade had done when they were young. They did not have the country’s media pushing their case, quite the opposite, actually. They need to look at Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He smashed the door and made the India cap his own when there were Parthiv Patel and Ajay Ratra, as young as him if not younger, in the reckoning. The yardstick for team selection needs to be performance alone.

Turn the clock back to the just concluded series against England. India won all 3 ODIs where the old firm scored 100+ for the first wicket. The top 5 scorers for the series had Ian Bell leading, followed by Sachin, Yuvraj, Paul Collingwood and Sourav Ganguly. Tendulkar scored 4 fifties and Ganguly scored 3 of them. It is true that we need young players, but what is more important is that we need young players capable of replacing these performers.

Appointing a young captain is not the panacea that India needs to win the 2011 world cup. India needs to have a pool of 20 cricketers who can call the place rightfully theirs. And the best way to groom them is by making them push out the big three on weight of their performances alone, and not because they are all turning 35 next year. That would prove the temperament of the young brigade. Else, the die is cast.