Babble Without a Pause

March 18, 2015

Chokers No More

Filed under: Cricket,Sport — rajivmathew @ 3:41 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Australia celebrate
Laugh at me. Call me a traitor. Call me a fool. Call me what you will. But with the knockout stage of this World Cup finally here, I, a perennial Indian cricket fan, have begun to realize which team I really feel like rallying behind. And it is not the country you would assume. For all the pomp of an undefeated run in the league stage, an unprecedented 6 consecutive bowl-outs, for the ripping victories, India has played some shitty cricket for a long while now. If we eventually win, it would be a result of a brief golden run, but one that is in stark contrast to a positively mediocre run for the 4 years that have gone before. No, I think the time has come for a country that has for so long played some of the most consistently top-notch cricket, and been a perennial member of the Top 3 year after year, yet has been brutally denied a single knockout match win at the World Cup, let alone the entire tournament. For a team so talented, so exciting to watch, that is a crime against sport.

So for the rest of this world cup, I will cheer South Africa on, and I will do so knowing that far less deserving countries have won it, and it is only fair that a country as talented as SA, one that endured being ostracized for decades as a proxy on behalf of a political system that wasn’t directly of their doing, one that came back from said international sport ostracism, to be screwed out of a place in the finals because of an asinine rain rule (that has since only got sillier in its new avatar as the Duckworth-Lewis rule). Once they shrug this voodoo off their back, they can, should, and will win this cup. Four years ago, India said they won it for Sachin. This year, some sixth sense tells me SA will win this for AB. And they will win it for Gibbs, who dropped the catch that kept them from greatness. And for White Lightning, who must even now be heartbroken for his role in that same loss. They will win it for Klusener, their champion who almost single-handedly won it for them 16 years ago. And lest we forget, they will win it for Cronje, who for all his failings as a sportsman and as a human, and in spite of all that he did to push them back 100 million miles in their evolution as a cricketing nation, still remains their finest captain ever. They will win it for Bob Woolmer, a coach who revolutionized the concept of technology in sport all those years ago, ushering in a new era for competitive sport. And they will win it for Boucher, for Kallis, for Kirsten, for Smith, for Ntini, for Pollock, for Cullinan, and for Jonty.

Watch South Africa play the game, and you realize why this team, more than ANY other, deserves to win, and win big this time. For a team as talented, if not more talented than Australia, South Africa really do play the game hard but fair. It’s a phrase so absolutely cliched and so triflingly used by Australia, that it has seemingly lost all meaning. When the spoilt brats of cricket have time and time again crossed the line with inappropriate behavior more suited for the WWE, their cricket achievements and all their wins have been used to defend their boorish, even juvenile ways. The ends supposedly justify the means.

But watch South Africa bat, bowl, and field, and you have in front of you a team that very rarely comes close to the line, let alone jump over it. This is a team that has, over the years, (clown characters like Andre Nel aside) maintained a very high level of class when playing the game. They don’t walk past the stumps and knock the bails off then appeal like it was out. They don’t appeal for a stumping when they know the ball isn’t even in their hands. They don’t bowl underarm to avoid losing. They don’t edge a ball to slip and stand rooted to the crease pretending nothing happened.

Don’t believe me yet? Try this for an exercise. Look up ‘South Africa cricket controversy’ on Youtube. Tell me what you see. I’ll tell you what I see in the search results: not one single controversy or video of them acting like spoiled rich kids. Hell, the top 15 search results include videos detailing a Kevin Pietersen controversy, a DRS fail, and a Shane Warne v. Marlon Samuels fiasco video. Scroll further down on the first page of results, you see the following:

  • Richard Levi Fastest T20 Century for South Africa
  • Top 10 Best Cricket Fielders Ever in Cricket History
  • Proteas Surprise Visit

    That’s right, a video of the fastest century, a clip of the top 10 best fielders, with the thumbnail appropriately enough being Jonty Rhodes flying horizontal to the earth, and finally, a clip of 6 of the team’s top players voluntarily taking time out of their busy schedules to visit a boy who idolizes them. All positive, endearing videos. If this isn’t a deserving team, I don’t know who is. This is a team that is cultured, a team that has so much talent they can afford to bench real stars, a team that respects the game, and doesn’t terrorize umpires every minute of the game. Why haven’t they won a World Cup? Your guess is as good as mine.So starting today, and until the end of this World Cup, I intend to cheer for South Africa for every fibre of my being. Because while the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ lecture is just that, a long-winded annual essay on why the spirit of sportsmanship is essential in theory, this team is one of the very few that lives it, and plays it, and believes it. Not just to win an annual ‘Spirit of Cricket’ award. But because it is the right thing.So come on, South Africa. It is your time now. Prove that nice guys can finish first. Fear not the choke. Just go for broke.

“No one is going to ask us if we played exceptional cricket when we win the World Cup, we’re just going to say that we won the Cup, so we’re just going to find a way to win the game tomorrow. All I can say is we’re not going to choke. We’re just going to play a good game of cricket tomorrow and come out on top. Simple.”

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August 4, 2008

Roger Federer ……. Nadal who ?

The human psychology baffles me. Lift a man when he is riding the wave, kick him in the nuts when he is down. For the most part of the year, the media/papparazzi/call them what you will, were on Federer’s case, constantly hounding him with such inane questions as …. “do you think you’re slowly slipping from the top ?”. A lesser mortal would’ve shot back saying “OF COURSE NOT …. IM RIGHT AT THE TOP OF MY GAME RIGHT NOW, AND HAVE BEEN FOR THE PAST 5 YEARS”. Fed though, knew he was on top of his game, and instead chose to let his wand do the talking for the Wimbledon fortnight.

Most Wimbledon stories for the last 5 years have been about Federer, and with good reason. This Wimbledon though, the talk was more about the demise of the aura, the upsetting of the world order. With good reason too. Coming into the Championships, Federer’s year had been marred by a bout of mononucleosis, leaving him looking a pale shadow of himself. Yet, he recovered, coming back strongly to reach the French Open final, being undone by a familiar foe and Australian Open seminfinals, where he was beaten by a resurgent Djokovic.

For far too long, Rafael Nadal has won too much acclaim for his exploits on clay. Agreed, he is the best player of this, or ANY generation on that surface, but truth be told, till this year, his record on grass & hardcourt wasnt one to gloat about. In the last 5 years head-to-head, Federer had won 12 grand slams on varied surfaces, including 3 Australian Open, 4 US Opens, and 5 CONSECUTIVE Wimbledons. By contrast, Nadal had won 4 French Open titles, all 4 against Federer.

Lets put this in perspective. Federer had won 11 of the last 16 slams and reached the finals in all other 5. He was, by these stats, inarguably the GREATEST player on all surfaces, and 2nd best on clay. Nadal, although emperor supreme on clay, was nowhere close to even no.2 on other surfaces, clearly trumped by other up and comers, led by Novak Djokovic. So when the media world started taking to Nadal like the English to Andy Murray, and turning on Roger like a pack of frenzied rabid dogs, it had me stupefied. How can a breed of journalists, including Vijay Amritraj, Brad Gilbert & a bunch other former pros who knew better, suddenly turn to a lesser opponent, ignoring the class of a legend who was the cream of the crop. Yet, through all this,  Federer kept playing his game, the tennis of a man in supreme control of his racquet, dispatching of opponents with the ease of swatting a fly, reaching the finals dropping only one set along the way.

The Wimbledon finals of 2008 will long be remembered as the year “the baton was passed” from the Emperor to the upstart. To those who say Federer’s aura of invincibility has worn thin, i say PHOOEY. Roger Federer has dominated the game for the last 5 years like no other, retaining the No.1 spot for a record 324 consecutive weeks. To say he’s no longer the champion he was, and that he’s no longer a force to be reckoned with would be absurd. I say, Nadal won … go ahead, by all means applaud the man who beat the king. But don’t even think of putting him on the pedestal Roger occupied and still continues to hold. For that to happen,  Nadal has to win with the same consistency, the same class, and the same style and grace that Federer did. Until he wins 13 grand slams, all you Federer bashers and doubters out there should learn respect and admiration for the man who still is the KING.

One trick ponies have been around as long as sports has. Nadal has shown so far that he can win French opens year after year with his eyes closed and by slugging it out from a mile behind the baseline. He has absolutely NO serve-and-volley game, and has never been comfortable playing at the net. He lacks the all-round game and talent that packs such a potent punch in Federer’s arsenal. One-slam wonders like Roddick, Safin, Hewitt and others have come and gone, and before long the name Rafael Nadal will join that all too familiar list. Yet, through all this, it is enduring class, and legends that never fade. “Pistol” Pete Sampras never won the French open, yet he was undisputed greatest till Federer came along. For Nadal to prove that he has indeed snatched the baton from Federer, he has to win consistently and win big on all 4 surfaces, which is beyond his reach. There always has been and always will be the chasm between the GREAT and the IMMORTAL.

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